The Quiet, Cozy, Rejuvenating Days of January

For years, I've taken January as a quiet month. My birthday is in January, so I can reasonably justify a little self-indulgence. Even with small children, I tried to keep January to a low hum. Tired of the errand running and shopping that the Christmas season demands, I'm content to hunker down at home and focus on the little things. This year, I also needed to concentrate on organizing our upcoming trip to Europe. And I needed to set in place some personal disciplines.

- The trip is completely planned, with just a smattering of advance tickets to this and that left to be bought and one tea reservation to be made.

- I'm working on reading through the Bible this year, and find the discipline works well with my life using the MacArthur Day Bible app on my phone.

- Colette and I started Carnegie Mellon University's online French class. She, learning French for the first time. And me, brushing off my high school and college French skills.

- Exercise. That's a bugaboo, isn't it? With Lyme Disease, I've realized that exercise can no longer fall by the wayside for me, even on busy days. It has to be a eating. Making a simple 3 x 5 card, that moves from day to day on my calendar, with boxes to color in for each time I exercise has kept me on track. Yoga - three times/wk. Weights - three times/wk. Walking - three times/wk...1-2 miles each time.

- Quietly practiced my hand-lettering skills.

- I've spent the last 10 days watching over the dog after she had surgery. She's on the mend, has been as good as gold, and her stitches come out tomorrow!

- And in the last two days, I've made a flannel baby quilt for a baby born months ago. Long overdue gift. Coziness heading to the west coast tomorrow.

Now that I feel rested and rejuvenated and set on a track for the new year, I think I just might be ready for February.

On Top of the World

A few days ago, Max texted me from the top of the world. He was at the observation deck of the new World Trade Center. Despite the cloudy weather...what a view! I was thrilled he had the opportunity to do some exploring in New York City. But mostly, I was thrilled that he's curious about the world around him and has the adventurous spirit to go along with it.

Garden Planning

Snowy January days are the best for garden planning. A cup of hot tea and a gift of herb stakes made it all the more pleasurable. And now everything is ready when it comes time to order seeds or mark out the beds one warm spring day. "To everything there is a season." - Ecl. 3:1
The woods today.

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.
It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.
It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil
On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.
It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.
--Emily Dickinson 

Julia Child's French Onion Soup

A dear friend gifted me with Julia Child's cookbook a few years ago. And although the two-volume set sits on my kitchen counter, I had not actually cooked anything from them. Colette and I discussed that today and decided it's because we find them intimidating. That is pretty silly, since Julia Child's intention when she wrote them was to make French cooking accessible to American cooks. Casting aside all caution, I tackled her Soupe a l'Oignon today!

Superb! The cookbook was very easy to understand, and even though it took 2 1/2 hours to cook, from first chop to steaming bowl, it was worth it. Excellent! And since snow was just starting to fall, it was wonderfully warming.

I suggest serving it with a Cabernet and a salad of fresh field greens topped with an excellent bleu cheese and dressed lightly with a champagne vinaigrette.

Bon Appetit!

Trip Planning

Our big plan for 2017 is a trip to England, Scotland, and Paris! It's been a lifetime dream of mine and it is coming true! *giddy happy dance* Plane tickets have been purchased. Tickets to tour Highclere Castle were purchased next. (Priorities, you see.) And I just finished booking all our lodgings. I've been pretty much planted right here for the last two weeks...surrounded by maps and Rick Steves' London guide and endlessly studying hotels and tea shops and street views on Google maps.

Two weeks to make a few hotel reservations seemed ridiculous on one level. But we've never done this before, and I wanted the full experience in each place. I want to immerse myself in each, distinct location and feel like each place is the quintessential experience for that locale. Our lodgings include: a London hotel in a row of beautiful white buildings built in the 19th century, a classic Parisian apartment with tall ceilings and equally tall windows that open onto a wrought iron ringed balcony, an 18th century former country estate in Scotland that turned into a hotel when the aristocracy took a down turn post-World War I, a hotel in the Scottish Highlands (haggis served there), a farmhouse in the Lake District (our Christmas present from Colette) outfitted with wellies and a hamper of treats, a stone cottage in the Cotswolds with robin's egg blue kitchen cabinets and an Aga range (can't wait to try that out!), and (at the end) a London hotel built when Queen Victoria was on the throne. 

If you're planning an extensive trip, here are some things I learned in my planning:
- Set a budget and try your best to stick to it with each booking. If it's a bit over, but includes breakfast, it's probably still on budget.
- Maps are your friend. And Google Maps street view is your BEST friend. It enables you to check out the surrounding area.
- Rick Steves is a good starting place, but don't overlook Trip Advisor reviews too.
- Check out the traveler photos of hotels on Trip Advisor.
- Hotels are great, but get creative and check out Airbnb and other such sights for more distinct offerings.
- And when all else fails, try Expedia, which, despite what the hotel sites tell you, sometimes beats the hotel's best price.

Resolve to...

This week, I made good on my resolve to keep fresh flowers in the house more often this year. My favorite, reasonably-priced sources for fresh flowers are: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods (these beauties came from there), and local farms (in season). 

What have you resolved to do this new year?
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