A New Radio

As you may have noticed, I spend quite a bit of my spare time in the kitchen.

And often, when I'm not in the kitchen, I'm sitting nearby at the dining room table working or writing or reading.

In all the time we've lived in our house, I've had this feeling something was missing from this area.

And then, a while ago, I realized what the kitchen needed: a radio.

But I knew I didn't want just any radio. And so I spent quite some time thinking about what I wanted, searching for just the right thing.

And I found it, in all places, in My Sister's kitchen.

You see, she picked up an adorable little blue Tivoli radio at a yard sale back when she lived in Boston. It was a steal of a deal—$10, maybe $20. Whoever sold it had no idea what a gem the brand-new radio was, that it sold for around $150 normally.

So I pined for this radio that was out of my price range for years. I hoped (quite unrealistically) that I, too, might stumble across a garage sale bargain like My Sister did.

I gave up on that wish this winter, when it was time to think of my Christmas wish list, when I decided I would go ahead and ask for the darn radio that had been missing from my house for so long.

I picked out an equally retro-looking radio, much bigger than the Tivoli I coveted, but that looked nice and was an easier-to-stomach price.

Only we discovered, after Conservative Hubby dutifully purchased it for me as requested and even wrapped it up himself, that the sound of that darn radio was terrible. Absolutely horrible.

So back the cheaper radio went and I spent another month without my precious radio.

And then I broke down and did it. I chipped in on my own Christmas gift and ordered my dream radio, the little Tivoli that matches my retro kitchen beautifully and boasts wonderful, full sound for such a small package.

Right now, I am listening to a little "All Things Considered" while dinner cooks. Once Conservative Hubby joins me (because he is not a fan of NPR like I am--or at all), I'll switch to listening to some music from my iPod, which hooks up to the back of the radio.

I'm feeling a little Eric Clapton tonight to go along with our roasted cod, potatoes, and lemons.

It makes me happy, happy, happy to have this little friend on the countertop next to me. And it makes me want to spend even more time in the kitchen (if that's possible).


Cinnamon Rolls

If you've ever walked by a Cinnabon in an airport (and if you've ever been in an airport, odds are you have), you've probably experienced that moment when you are so overcome with the scent of the cinnamon rolls that you momentarily forget about how bad they are and begin salivating on the spot.

It can be hard to resist temptation, I know.

You should try making Cinnabon cinnamon rolls in your own home and then try to resist temptation.

It's even harder. Especially because the hit to your bank account is considerably less than it would be in the airport. And the cinnamon rolls are much more accessible.

Then again, when you see just how much butter is in this recipe, you may have a bit more willpower to resist. If it's possible to suffer death by butter, then this recipe will get you dangerously close.

But the thing is, life's too short not to try these ridiculously over-the-top goodies.

That's why, armed with a recipe My Sister sent me, I set about making these cinnamon rolls a couple of weekends ago.

First came the dough, with 1/3 cup butter as one of the ingredients. Then came another 1/3 cup softened butter, which I spread on top of the flattened dough.

After that, on went cinnamon and brown sugar. At last! A reprieve from the butter.

Then I rolled up the dough.

Next, I sliced the rolled dough and placed the individuals rolls in the pan.

Then, while baking the rolls, I whipped up the icing, which included (naturally) another 8 tablespoons of butter.

On went the icing, and then the rolls were ready to serve. I promptly took some down to the basement for the boys, who were hard at work.

(We'll pretend I was being nice and generous, but really I just knew I had to get those darn things out of the kitchen so I couldn't overdose.)

On a side note, I realized after I ate one of the cinnamon rolls that for all the butter in the dough and on the dough and in the frosting, my granddad Charlie still would have slathered the top of the frosting on the cinnamon roll with butter. No joke.


Lavender in Winter

This is the lavender that sits next to Butter in the front window.

This is the lavender that used to live outside in the planter in front of our house, until the weather turned cold and I placed it in a pot and moved it indoors.

I did the same thing last year with a number of herbs but, alas, they didn't last long.

This year, however, is different. This year my lavender is thriving, much more than it ever did outside in the summer. It keeps growing, stretching toward the sun outside the window. It's even flowering.

And oh, the smell, when I walk by and brush my hands across the lavender.

It's heaven. It makes me forget, for just a moment, that it's winter outside.

Of course, then I see what's sitting right on the other side of the glass and I am reminded of precisely what season it is.


The Bathroom Remodel (Part 2)

It probably won't come as a surprise that last weekend's basement bathroom remodel hit a few snags.

Doesn't every home-improvement project get stalled by unforeseen challenges?

The challenges in this particular project took the form of a leaking shutoff valve (for the whole darn house) and leaking pipes in shower.

And an extra trip to Home Depot in Bloomington and about 50 extra trips to Ace Hardware in L-Town.

Despite these holdups, the boys made progress.

First all the plumbing fixtures came out.

Then the ceiling came down and was replaced with a nice, smooth drywall ceiling.

Then the shower underwent some demolition and gained new tile-covered walls.

And a lovely tile floor too.

Next came the bathroom floor.

It was at this point in the process that I was completely shocked and amazed and impressed to learn that the fellow working the wet saw in the basement was none other than Conservative Hubby.

I did not know he possessed the skill to make such delicate cuts.

(For the record, he didn't know this either. And T-Bear and James K. were as surprised as I was.)

But it turns out he's got a talent for the tile-cutting.

This came in handy, along with T-Bear's knack for laying tile in perfectly straight lines and sacrificing holiday Mondays to grout said tile, even after the others had to go back to work.

But you're just going to have to wait on the edge of your seat for those grout photos. Sorry! (But not really.)


The Bathroom Remodel (Part 1)

You might call the bathroom in our basement partially finished.


It has beautiful wood paneling on the walls—the same paneling that graces some of the walls elsewhere in the basement.

And it has a sink and a toilet and a shower.

Well, if you call this a shower.

I can tell you I certainly haven't ever showered in it.

The bathroom floor is concrete. And the sink doesn't actually work anymore, because the faucet leaked so badly that we couldn't fix it and so had to disconnect it from the water.

(And by "we," I mean T-Bear, with Conservative Hubby's assistance.)

In other words, the bathroom in our basement leaves something to be desired.

And that's why, last weekend, T-Bear and Conservative Hubby and his long-time friend James K. decided it was time to do a little HGTV-style weekend remodel.

Well, HGTV-style with plenty of expletives and a couple of beers thrown in for good measure, that is. Perhaps that would count as HBO-style HGTV remodeling? I don't know ...

Regardless of what you call it, make sure you come back tomorrow to see how far the boys progressed last weekend.

Yes, that's right, I'm making you wait until tomorrow.


Winter on Lake Michigan

When I mentioned my visit to Wisconsin for a service-learning workshop last week, I failed to share with you the snapshots I took on the first incredibly chilly day we were there, when I grabbed my camera and braved the cold to take a walk near the lake.

The thing that amazed me most is, sadly, something you can't see from the photo. It was the way the water undulated beneath big chunks of ice. I could hear the gentle lapping of the water but couldn't actually see any waves at first, and then all of a sudden I realized what looked like a mirage of sorts was actually the water slowly moving the chunks of ice up and down, up and down.

The next day, the waves told a different story, for it got colder and windier. Then the ice mounded up near the shore and the water crashed with ferocity against the temporary ice cliffs that formed. I braved the weather again that day to see how drastically the water had changed since my last visit, but left my camera behind tucked safely in my room.

That first day, before my fringers froze from snapping photos of the water, I also managed to capture a few other photographs.

One was of the labyrinth near the shore, which in nicer weather is a place for people to walk in peaceful meditation. The next day, the labyrinth was covered in snow, so we were lucky we got to see it before the weather changed.


A Close Look at Butter

When I look at my dear dog, I can't help but wonder what it is that makes him such a wonderful pooch.

What is it about him that compels people to ask what kind of dog he is, to comment on his appearance, to stop and wave at him when he sits in the front window?

It is his big, sweet puppy dog eyes?

Or the wet nose that he uses to nuzzle you when he's feeling particularly affectionate?

Perhaps it's his big puppy dog paws, that look almost as if he still has room to grow into them.

Is it his big, furry, floppy ears?

Or maybe it's the tail that gives a hint of the husky in him.

Then again it could be his soft mouth, dappled with whiskers.

Maybe it's all of these things together that make Butter who he is.

Then again, I think it's something more than just his appearance.

It's his gratitude for being rescued, the loyal way he follows us around the house and looks up at us adoringly whenever he gets the chance.

The way he playfully races around the living room and bounds through the snow in the backyard.

It's the way he so fearlessly guards our house from intruders (particularly of the postal service variety).

And it's how he lovingly cuddles up next to us on the couch in the evening and later hops up on the edge of the bed to say goodnight.

Whatever it is that makes Butter who he is, I'm grateful that he's around.


Red Velvet Cupcakes

In honor of a very important day (that would be Conservative Hubby's birthday at the beginning of the month), I made a very important treat.

Red velvet cupcakes.

To make these red velvet cupcakes, I used Paula Deen's recipe. (Except I skipped the toppers, because why would anyone mess up cream cheese frosting by topping it with nuts or berries?)

The cupcakes turned out pretty darn good. At least the birthday boy thought so.

And he should know--he ate nearly the entire batch himself.

But if you make this recipe, please be warned: It makes copious amounts of cream cheese frosting. I don't think I was stingy when I frosted the cupcakes, but I still had half the batch of frosting left. No joke.

So go ahead and cut the frosting recipe in half.

Or not. I discovered it's awfully tasty sans cupcakes.



Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the mayhem, in the to-do lists and the buying and busy schedules.

It happens, particularly, at the holidays. Yet go-go-go, spend-spend-spend isn't limited to certain months. It's a pattern many of us fall into nearly all the time, almost all the year.

I am reminded of this occasionally, at random moments.

Like when I'm baking at My Sister's apartment, where I can't microwave the butter because there is no microwave and I can't plug in the mixer to blend the dough because there is no electric mixer.

I come to realize you really can get by on very little, on the necessities. And in the process you can live beautifully, you can live fully. You can still make pretty darn good sugar cookies.

I am reminded of this on the beach, when I notice something as minuscule as the way someone has carefully placed a handful of shells right where I can see them as I wander by.

You don't have to hoard the shells, to take them home for your collection. You can stop and examine them, admire them, and then leave them for someone else and move on.

I am reminded of this right now, too, at a spartan retreat center run by Dominican Sisters in Racine, Wisconsin. Here I have no choice but to slow down and to contemplate life, as I sit in my tiny room after the day's activities are done or as I wander along the snow-blown path toward the icy shore for a glimpse of the lake in the early morning light.

It's something I think we all need to do more often.

To pause.

To look around and finally notice--really notice--our surroundings.

To appreciate the fine details--the handheld mixer with its faded handle and the distinctive shape of each shell and the way the winter wind roars across the lake.

To stop counting gadgets and tasks accomplished. Instead, to count blessings and blissful moments.

We all need to drink in a big, deep breath of life once in a while. To slow down. To live in the moment, not in the madness.


California Dreamin'

Since it's pretty darn frigid here right now, I've decided to extend my reminiscences about Christmas in California for one more winter day.

Why wouldn't I, when I have yet to show you the beautiful post-rain sky I spotted from the front door of My Sister's apartment?

And when I haven't shown you a few photos from the wackiness that is Venice Beach on Christmas Eve day ...

... the wackiness that Conservative Hubby said was making him break out in hives?

I know what you're thinking right now. "Ah, yes, that's the way to spend the holidays."

You know what else makes for a great holiday?

Dining on wonderfully fresh fish tacos at a big farmhouse table in My Sister's apartment.

Trust me, I know.

And to cap it all off, there's nothing like a stormy dusk walk on the beach.


Surfing Tales, Part 3

As I mentioned yesterday, about halfway through My Dad and Conservative Hubby's surfing adventure, My Dad decided to take a break.

And, because surfing instructor Peter had a van full of different-size surfboards and wetsuits, My Sister decided she'd take My Dad's place.

You see, she does a bit of surfing herself now that she lives so close to the beach. But because things were getting going so early and the water would be so darn cold, she decided she'd sit things out and keep My Mom and I company.

Only the water looked too inviting, so she had to give in to temptation.

Right away, she showed us how things are done.

Doesn't she make it look easy?

Then, while Conservative Hubby and My Sister waited for the perfect wave, I noticed there was something moving toward them in the water.

A fin! Ack! SHARK!

Only no, it was a dolphin. Two, actually. (They really are there in the photo above. You just have to use your imagination because I didn't have a long enough lens.)

So Conservative Hubby and My Sister hung out on their boards and watched the pair of dolphins swim past, then returned to surfing.

Meanwhile, on the beach, I snapped a photo of these fellows fishing. Apparently the older one is there quite often. My Sister said he fishes for little sharks, and often catches them.

At one point, we thought he had a big catch, but then the line snapped. I like to think he might have reeled in a shark had the line held, but then again since two of the most important people in my life were in the water at the same time, I'm going to go ahead and be thankful we didn't see any sharks.

There's not much more to say about the surfing adventure, so I leave you with one last photo of Conservative Hubby hanging ten while My Sister looks on.

I don't know if this is the proper use of "hanging ten," but it sounds really hip, like I'm all down with the surfing lingo.

So this chicken who didn't even get in the water is going to go ahead and use it, like she knows what she's talking about.


Surfing Tales, Part 2

Bright and early on Christmas Eve day the crew--My Mom, My Sister, and I the casual observers; My Dad and Conservative Hubby ready to hit the waves--headed down to the beach to meet Peter, the surf instructor.

Peter was, of course, exactly what you'd expect from a California surf instructor. Laidback. Lean and muscular. Shaggy blond hair. Willing to leave late for his Christmas Eve travels in order to squeeze in an extra surf lesson.

He met us in the parking lot by the beach and proceeded to pull surfboards and wetsuits out of the back of his white van.

My Dad and Conservative Hubby got geared up and we snapped the requisite pre-surfing photos. (Please note Conservative Hubby's loafers. Only Conservative Hubby would wear loafers while in a wet suit.)

Then we all headed for the beach.

And oh what a glorious surfing morning it was. Bright blue sky, sunshine, great beginner waves. It started out a bit chilly but got warmer as the morning progressed.

The boys began on land, of course, learning how to properly navigate the waves on their boards, how to stand, and what to do once they were standing.

My Mom and My Sister looked on.

Once the boys were good and practiced onshore, it was time to head for water.

And to promptly get knocked over by a wave.

My Dad came out of the chute ready to go.

He was on the board paddling.

He was breaking through waves.

He was making his move.

He was on his hands and knees.

He was almost up.



He was riding in

like a pro

thinking this was a piece of cake.

No problem.

And then he was off the board.

And then he was down.

Between Conservative Hubby and My Dad, we experienced more than a few glorious wipe outs. (This one was Conservative Hubby ... or at least his board.)

Conservative Hubby did not have the initial showy surfing skills My Dad exhibited--he was more careful, methodical, waiting for the right waves. But he may or may not be in slightly better shape than My Dad, so when they all came in for a break, My Dad decided he was sufficiently exhausted.

Conservative Hubby chilled for a minute,

reluctantly participated in my photo shoot, and then headed out again.

Only this time, the long-haired family member heading out with Conservative Hubby and Peter wasn't My Dad ... it was My Sister, who decided it was time to get in on the fun.

What happened next?

That, my friends, you'll have to wait and hear about tomorrow.