Monday, December 31, 2018

My Favorite Photos from December 2018

As I look back on photos from December 2018, these are my favorite ones. As I've noted before when looking back on a month of photos, these aren't artistically excellent in any way. Rather, they are meaningful to me and bring back good memories from the past month.

On December 1st, we went to a senior center across the river where they serve lunch, have a bake sale, and have Santa visiting with guests. We started doing this many years ago when the girls were much younger. This is the final year that Sophia will be here with us for this tradition since she'll be at college next year. Thought it would be good to get a photo with Santa.

The next day, December 2nd, we went to an art studio that specializes in fused glass. Olivia and I have fused glass projects before, but Sophia and Paige haven't. So, we each made a Christmas ornament. Paige was especially happy with how his gingerbread many turned out.

Sophia had a few harp performances this month to celebrate the holiday season. The first one was on December 5th at an assisted living facility in St. Paul. She said it was challenging to play the harp because the staff turned down all the lights. It was kind of strange - people were eating in the dark and she had to use a light to see her music.

St. Nicholas Day is on December 6th. When I was growing up, we didn't celebrate this holiday. However, when the girls were little I thought it would be fun to learn more about St. Nicholas and celebrate this special day.

The things we've done have changed throughout the year - sometimes visiting a local nursing home and sharing the story of St. Nicholas; another year making little shoes for each of the nursing home residents who came to our program and putting a little gold coin in each shoe; and other years making special food for breakfast.

What hasn't changed is that we put one shoe out for each of us on the mudroom bench and during the night St. Nicholas fills them with gifts. Olivia (and Eenie) are looking at the gifts she received. Some are practical and others are art projects she can do for the county fairs.

Something that never gets old is seeing raptors - hawks and eagles in particular - resting in our trees. This red-tailed hawk was sitting on one of the top branches of the oak tree at the end of our driveway on December 7th. I was able to get up close to it and watch it for a while before it flew off.

On December 8th, my coil bowl came back from the kiln. It took a couple of weeks to make all the coils and balls that filled the interior of the bowl (the exterior is a smooth slab of clay that was molded to a large bowl - probably about 15 inches in diameter or so).

I used a blue glaze with the hope it would turn out blue. The exterior is easier to see the blue. The interior is blue, but there are hints of brown on the inside parts of the coils. So, it's not as bright as I had hoped. I'm wondering if I had used a white clay if the glaze would have been brighter.

One of the traditions at church is the St. Lucia Day ceremony. The seniors who will be graduating participate in the ceremony with one being St. Lucia at the 8:15 a.m. service and another being St. Lucia at the 9:45 a.m. service.

So this year, on December 9th, Sophia was St. Lucia at the 8:15 a.m. service. The crown has seven candles that are lit. The inside of the crown has a protective covering so if any wax drips down, it lands on the covering and not on one's hair. Sophia did a nice job at the service and held her head high as she walked up and down the aisle with her crown of candles.

At the second service, she was an attendant and wore a different headdress and carried a candle.

That afternoon, we went to a new place to get our Christmas tree. Normally we go to Prairie Restorations, but it was closed on Sunday. So, we went to a tree farm and walked through the aisles of trees. We finally found one; and Paige and Sophia cut it down.

All the excitement of seeing a tree in the house wore out Scooby. He wanted to rest on the bed by my legs.

Less than a week later, on December 15th, we had the tree up (after it fell over three times), lit, and decorated. Sophia put a few ornaments on the tree. However, I was happy to see that we had more ornaments than I originally thought. (I thought all - or at least the majority - may have burned in the fire that happened back in May.)

So, I wanted to see all the ornaments on the tree. It was a profound sense of gratitude that these ornaments - these memories - these connections to my parents, to the girls when they were little, to trips we had taken - all could be displayed on the tree.

There was one section of the tree that had a cardinal ornament that I hand-embroidered after my dad died. He loved cardinals. Next to it is a tear-drop shaped ornament. It is from a family friend; and the quote refers to the loss of a loved one.

Below those two ornaments is a hand-beaded and sewn duck that my mom made decades ago when she still could see well. (In her later years she was legally blind and relied on her sense of touch to get around and do daily-living activities.)

She used a lot of beads and sequins in her holidays decorations - so this was a nice reminder of her. It is now the 7th and 4th years that my dad and mom respectively have not been here. At least reminders of them are still with us.

Speaking of reminders - this is one of the lit buildings that was part of a Christmas village that my parents had. I thought the entire set was burned in the fire because I found remnants of a couple small buildings in the rubble.

I was SO happy - so grateful - that this building and another one were brought to our basement at some point. They were not in the hobby shed when it caught fire. So, there are two lit buildings, a Christmas tree, and figurines that create the scene. There's even the "snow" (sparkly batting that my mom put down for the scene that she created each year in the living room).

On December 21st, Sophia was ready to record two piano pieces for a music scholarship at one of the colleges she applied to and was accepted at. The church said she could use their piano, so we did some re-arranging and lit the advent candles.

With the candles, poinsettia, and Christmas tree - Sophia had her stage set. We spent about three hours recording the pieces until she had several different versions to choose from for submitting. It was a relief to get that part of the application process done. Now it's a matter of waiting to see the financial aid packages for both of the colleges, and hearing which college Sophia feels called to attend.

On Christmas Eve, we went to the service at church (the earliest one), had pizza by the Christmas tree, and opened some gifts. The sunset that evening was beautiful. The horses were out in the pasture eating when I went out to take a photo. It was peaceful and relaxing to look out at the sunset and clouds.

We did something kind of new this year. When the girls were young, we would go out for a short drive on Christmas Eve after church to look at the lights. This year, we went to Minneapolis and Edina to look at the light displays that many families did at their homes. Entire blocks were lit up with Christmas lights and luminaries. It was beautiful. We talked about how we should decorate our home and trees next year for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, the dogs were particularly excited to open their gifts from Santa. They know the routine..and were eager for their turn. Cooper was very happy to finally get his turn opening his gift: chicken treats.

We opened some gifts on Christmas morning and then Sophia finished decorating a three-layer chocolate cake with mint frosting between the layers and on the outside. The top of the cake had a chocolate frosting that drizzled down the sides. Around the base were crushed candy canes. On the top, two miniature candy canes formed a heart.

Going with the love theme, Sophia found this ASL chocolate. It says, "I love you" and has a little red heart on the index finger. She found it for me at a candy shop in Stillwater. It was a thoughtful gift. I grew up interpreting and talking with two friends who were deaf in first grade (Jennifer) and then again in ninth through twelfth grade (Lynn). Because of these girls, I learned sign language - first finger spelling and then signing.

Sophia is interested in getting a minor in ASL when she goes to college. It will complement her social work major and music minor quite well.

Olivia received many puzzles for Christmas this year. All were in the 2,000-3,000 piece range. Much more complicated than I can do...but just the right level for her.

A few days after Christmas, I spent some time trying new patterns for window stars. This is one that I especially like with the combination of purple and blue with white background.

At the end of the month, December 30th, we celebrated Sophia's 18th birthday. She's now officially an adult. I decorated the windows with some window stars that I made.

Her birthday banner is almost complete - one more photo left. On her 19th birthday, I will add a final photo to this birthday banner so that there is one photo each year from age 1 to 19. It's interesting to see how a child changes from year to year.

For Sophia's birthday, we went to Keg & Case - a relatively new building that has a variety of restaurants and food-inspired shops. The girls both wanted pizza, so they went to one place; and Paige and I went to another restaurant that had barbecue; and then we all found a table to eat at together. We all were happy with our meals.

At home, Sophia enjoyed a cheesecake that she picked out at a nice grocery store; and we opened gifts. The purse below is a handmade one that was done by a Hmong woman. She had picked it out when we went to a holiday craft show back in November. I set it aside and told her it was going to be one of her gifts at an upcoming holiday...she'd have to wait to see which one.

The purse is in the shape of a cat; and is cute. It has a little bell that jingles each time the purse moves.

Even though Sophia is 18 years old, she still likes things that are cute like this. She has a youthful attitude and positive outlook on life...and I hope that never changes!

Christmas Punch

This Christmas, I couldn't find my Christmas folder that had recipes that I've made in the past. Hopefully, it will turn up as I go through my files.

At any rate, I looked for some new recipes to try this year and came across a recipe for Sensational Slush by Taste of Home. I've had this recipe in my "Want to Try" file for 13 years now. Wish I would have tried it sooner. Everyone at Christmas enjoyed it - even the most finicky youngest kids.

Had I read the recipe the day before, I would have made it properly and allowed it to freeze and then thaw a bit. I made the recipe on Christmas morning and put it in the refrigerator to cool down a bit. However, it wasn't as slushy as I think the recipe intended. Either way, it's a delicious blend of flavors.

It takes about 25 minutes to make the recipe plus the time for freezing (if desired). It makes about 20 servings.

Sensational Slush

The Happy Holidays cups belonged to my parents.
They would use these each Christmas morning.
We served the punch in the cups this year.
The bowl behind it also belonged to my parents. 
My sister has it, so we used it as a punch bowl.
My parents would use it make my Grandma's rolls and
stuffing for Thanksgiving.


1/2 cup sugar
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 can (12 ounces) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 can (12 ounces) frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
2 cups cold water
2 liters lemon-lime soda, chilled


In a large bowl, dissolve sugar and gelatin in boiling water. In a blender, combine pineapple juice and strawberries; cover and process until blended. Add to gelatin mixture. (Note: I did the reverse. I added the gelatin and water to the mixture in the Vita-Mix Mixer.)

Stir in concentrates and cold water. Cover and freeze for 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from the freezer 45 minutes before serving. For each serving, combine 1/2 cup slush mixture with 1/2 cup lemon-lime soda; stir well. (In our case, I poured the concentrate into a big bowl and then added all the pop to it.)

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 151 calories, 0 fat (0 saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 22mg sodium, 39g carbohydrate (35g sugars, 1g fiber), 1g protein.

Some Tips from Other People Who Tried the Recipe

- Make half at the beginning of the summer when strawberries are in season; and then freeze half of it for later in the summer.
- Freeze the mixture in gallon zipper bags for when smaller portions are wanted. The base lasts for months in the freezer.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sophia's 18th Birthday

Day before Sophia's birthday...the last day she was a child:

- Slept in until 1 p.m. She had difficulty sleeping during the night, so I let her sleep in as long as she wanted. She was shocked that it was as late it was and that I hadn't told her to get up...repeatedly. A small - but obviously needed - gift.

- In the late-afternoon/evening on the last day Sophia was 17 years old, she and Olivia went to see Aquaman. They enjoyed the movie and were excited to have popcorn that they could load up with various flavored toppings (versus the butter-and-limited-salt-only popcorn that we would typically have when we go to a movie together as a family).

On Sophia's 18th birthday...the first day she is an adult:

- Marked her height on the closet.

- Took photos of the birthday banner.

This year, I added the final photo to the banner (Sophia's 2018-19 photo that was taken at the homeschool co-op).

It is hard to believe that she is 18 years old. It seems like yesterday she was an infant and toddler.

- We were going to do a special breakfast of her choice. However, because we were going out to lunch we decided to do the breakfast on another day during the upcoming week.

Instead, I set the table with a white tablecloth, had a vase of flowers, and put the presents and cards on the table.

- Decorated the windows with window stars that I made that matched the flowers, gift wrap, and color scheme.

- Ate lunch at a new establishment in St. Paul. The building is Keg and Case; and in it there are a variety of restaurants and shops.

Paige and I got our food at Revival Smoked Meats. I had a pork sandwich with coleslaw and pickles. It was delicious. Sophia wanted to try the macaroni and cheese, so we got the side dish (which would have been a meal in itself). We took the macaroni and cheese home to enjoy on New Year's Eve.

Paige had a pastrami sandwich.

The girls went to a pizza place and got pizza.

Afterwards, we went to another shop that sold macarons; and then another that sold cotton candy.

There are no dyes in the cotton candy - only flavor. Mine was pina colada with coconut chips sprinkled on and an umbrella.

Sophia got butterbeer (a drink referenced in the Harry Potter books) cotton candy. Hers came with sprinkles and a bow.

- Visited the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul. There was a special exhibit about Somali-Americans. Below, Sophia is standing by a nomadic Somalian home.

There also was a special exhibit about the year 1968. There was a medical helicopter in the exhibit that was from the Vietnam War.

There were household items and toys - including a Mrs. Beasley doll and thermos.

Another part of the exhibit looked like it could have been from my parents. That plaid cooler is one that we owned; and we had mesh chairs very similar to the ones shown. It was like looking at our backyard - a glimpse back in time.

Olivia and Paige were done before us, so Sophia and I explored some of the other exhibits. There was a buffalo near the Native American area. You could take out the different parts and scan the code under a computer. It would tell you the body part and how Native Americans would use it.

When we were done, the girls and Paige stood by an oversized postcard on the staircase landing.

- Visited Kowalski's where Sophia picked out a cheesecake with caramel, chocolate, and pecans for the topping.

- Took photos of Sophia with both parents.


- Enjoyed appetizers.

- Opened presents. Lucy wanted to help Sophia. He's about 15 years old now and has limited (if any) vision in his right eye.

Many of the gifts were ones that she will need at college next year. She's opening a clothes dryer which the girls both said that we could start using now rather than hanging some clothes to dry over the shower curtain pole, hanging up in closets, and/or putting over the edge of Sophia's metal bedframe.

She got a set of four corkboards for her dorm room. She's debating  about whether to keep them plain or cover them with fabric to match her room.

Sophia and I went to a craft show in November at a local church. Each year there is a vendor who is an Hmong-American who sells work that she and her mother sew  or cross-stitch. Sophia liked this kitty purse. It even has a little bell under its chin.

There was a box of hangers of different types - some to hold clothes, others to hold slippery clothes, another to hold pants, one to hold scarves, and another to hold camis. I had no idea there were so many different types of hangers.

- Had birthday cheesecake. It's a good thing we got the larger cheesecake so we could fit all the candles on it!

Sophia liked the purple theme with the candles, plates, and napkins.

It was a wonderful birthday; and memorable way to spend Sophia's first day as an adult.