Friday, December 28, 2012


It happens every year. There comes a day when I suddenly wake up and discover that, all which once filled me with delight, is suddenly driving me absolutely bonkers.

Today is that day. Christmas has GOT to GO!

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Remember the ornament that started with an old lightbulb covered in air-dry clay? Well, this is where it went from there!

She was meant to resemble a Matryoshka, or Russian nesting doll, so I went online, printed up examples of five or six different ones, and began to paint. Somewhere along the way though, my little babushka morphed into a German Fraulein, complete with dirndl. Not sure how that happened!

Of course, I couldn't resist adding a little dusting of glitter-snow here and there.

Have I mentioned yet how much I adored participating in Christy Tomlinson's 12 Artsy Ornaments of Christmas class? And how much I look forward to doing so again next year? The very best part was being introduced to, and getting to work with, so many wonderful and talented instructors, whom I might never have discovered otherwise. My only complaint was that the class didn't open until early December, and with all that's going on at that time of year, there was just no way to make it through all twelve projects before Christmas.

Still, maybe that's not such a bad thing after all. Instead of feeling bereft now, because it's all over and done with, I still have several projects left that I can work on throughout the year. Plus, I now have plenty of time to keep scouting for the colorful wool sweaters I need, which will get felted, cut into strips, and turned into the most darling little Christmas trees ever! I dug through all of our drawers and closets, and couldn't find a one. Guess it just doesn't get cold enough for wool in these parts. My only hope is that some northerners moved down here, then dumped a few off at the thrift stores once they realized how pleasant our winters are. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Well, it's all over and done with for another year. It just never ceases to amaze me how you can go from this...

and this...

and this...

to this -- in the mere blink of an eye!

From lavish decorations, beautifully set tables, tins filled with home-baked delights and sumptuous meals, to something that more closely resembles a bomb site!

It's funny...well, not really. Perhaps odd would be a better word. OK, it's odd, but I used to start planning for Christmas in August, got really revved up by Halloween, and started getting disappointed that nothing was going as planned shortly after Thanksgiving. Then, by mid-December, I'd be getting depressed about it being almost over with for a whole 'nuther year, when there were still so many things that I hadn't got 'round to doing -- all those picture perfect moments which you see in the magazines and commercials, that we never quite got around to creating.

All that began to change the very first Christmas spent here in our Hill Country house, and I seemed to have mellowed a bit more with each passing year. This year, when we finally crawled into bed on Christmas Eve, I suddenly turned to my hubby and said "Oh my gosh! I totally forgot to get depressed this year!" "That's because you were too busy having fun, creating all your Artsy Ornaments, to even notice that it was almost over with." Not only did I forget to get depressed, I somehow got through it all without making my usual lists and schedules, didn't even start my shopping until after Thanksgiving, and never felt panicked or even close to a meltdown, despite doing Christmas dinner and the baking on my own this year, since both kids were right in the middle of moving and hadn't yet got their kitchens set up.

You see, all those things that I thought I could make happen, if I did everything the magazines told me to do -- like hubby jumping in to help decorate on his own accord, snuggling with me on the sofa to watch Christmas movies, and popping into the kitchen to say"What else can I do to help?" -- never really did until now, and I'm not sure why. Could it be because he's finally completely retired, and free of all the stresses connected to being part owner of his company? Could it have something to do with his recent health scares? Or could it be that the more mellow and relaxed I became about it all -- the more willing I was to let go of perfection -- the more he wanted to participate? Dont know. Don't care. All I know is, I finally got it right this time, and I'm sending up some serious prayers of gratitude!

Sunday, December 23, 2012


A few ornaments made with oven-dry clay and stamps.
I think I probably misunderstood my sister when she said she'd be moving out of her friends' house by Christmas. I took that to mean she'd be moving into her new townhouse then, but perhaps she just meant she'd be moving over to her daughter's house at that time. 'Cause, judging from the latest round of photos I received, she still has a good ways to go before it's livable. I should have known better than to think it could be ready in a month, right? I am, after all, a builder's daughter!

Things are pretty much gutted right now, and everything is on hold until the cabinets come in, but I'm beginning to see the possibilities -- something that might have been a wee bit difficult in its original state, unless you were a person of vision like my sister.

Rooms have been opened up to one another, and doors removed.

Bathrooms and kitchen are getting new cabinets.

The master bath tub is being replaced with a walk in shower, and an extra, unnecessary door has been walled off to make room for a storage unit. Yep, it may not be anywhere close to finished, but I see great possibilities!

Speaking of unfinished projects, it looks like I'll only be able to complete one more project, from my 12 Artsy Ornaments class, before Christmas day is here! But that's ok, it's a doozie. It began with my covering a spent lightbulb in a thin layer of air-dry clay. Can you guess what it's going to be?

Nooooo, not a pear, but something ever so cute! Plus, I'll have another half dozen projects left to work on over the summer, and have ready for next year. This class is a gift that keeps on giving!

Well, better make my final shopping list and head for the grocery store. I'm running out of time! We're meeting up with the kids at Armadillo Christmas Bazaar this afternoon, to visit Fiber Woman's booth and hear Carolyn Wonderland perform, and tomorrow will be my baking/cleaning day, in preparation for our family dinner tomorrow night.

I may not have time to visit with you here for a couple of days, but I wish you all a wonderful celebration of all that is most meaningful to you, spent with people you love. If that is not possible for you this year, then I hope you can find joy by spreading a little cheer to someone in need.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


When our son Austin joined the band in middle school, he started out on trombone. A few weeks later, the band director let a few of the kids have a go at playing one of the school's tubas, and that was all she wrote. He never touched that trombone again. He started going to tuba lessons with a private instructor every week, and when Christmas rolled around, his teacher told him about something called Tuba Christmas -- concerts which take place in cities across the country, where anyone with a tuba or euphonium can show up to play carols together. He played in these concerts every year, using a tuba borrowed from school, until he graduated.

The concerts here in Austin are always held on the steps of the Capitol building. We went together as a family a couple of years ago, but our son said being a spectator just wasn't the same as being a participant. In fact, it made him kind of depressed. Not long after that, he started searching in earnest for a decent second-hand tuba that he could purchase (tubas are very expensive), and this year, he was up on the steps, instead of in the audience!

We were a little worried that morning when we woke up to find it was only 25 F out. We feared there would be some tongues stuck to tubas! However, by the time the players marched out of their brief practice session, it had warmed up to a wonderfully sunny 60 degrees -- the best weather we've ever had for a Tuba Christmas!

Austin was able to reconnect with high school friend David, who is himself now a private tuba instructor for several schools in the Austin area.

They had all ages there, from sixth graders up through people in their sixties.

Almost all wore festive hats, and many decorated their tubas as well.

At one point they let the youngest musicians do a song or two on their own, then they sat out while the more experienced players did one of my very favorites, Carol of the Bells. Soooooo beautiful!

It was pretty much a perfect day.  The only thing that could have made it even better, would have been if Austin and David had inspired others to break into some spontaneous, synchronized tuba-dancing, the way they always did back in high school. That, my friends, would have been awesome!

Friday, December 21, 2012


I told you, didn't I, that Hubby took me adventuring on Sunday? Unbeknownst to be, we were headed to Austin's 2nd Annual Holiday Window Walk. I guess he'd heard me reminiscing about the wonderful Christmas displays of my childhood often enough to know that this would be right up my alley, but he managed to keep it all under wraps. When he parked in the garage next to the Violet Crown theater, I assumed we were going to see a neat art house flick, but then we exited onto 2nd St. (aka Willie Nelson Blvd.).

Once there, John just stood in the middle of the sidewalk, turning in slow circles, muttering "Huunnh?" When he finally told me just what we were looking for, I proceeded to do the same thing. It wasn't until we finally spotted those red Window Walk signs in a few of the windows, that we figured out which ones were actually participating in the judging.

Princess and the Pea
Apparently they had each been assigned a story book theme, and the designers had all gone for "artsy" rather than "Christmassy." Or maybe they were aiming for "inoffensive." The one thing they didn't manage to pull off was MAGICAL.  Well, I guess they didn't manage to pull off "well-merchandised" either, since not one of them even managed to lure my hubby the shopaholic into their store!

Jack and the Beanstalk
This Pinocchio window was the only one that might have held a child's attention for a minute or two.
I have to say, we were a bit disappointed, and if I had been little kids whose parents had told them they were going to see wonderful Christmas displays, I would have been a lot disappointed.

While there, we spotted this place called Taverna. It looked so much like the cafes in Europe that we adored, we couldn't resist giving it a try.

It was already packed by 11:00, probably due to the $1.00 Belinis and Mimosas. The decor was quite chic, and the food was pretty good, but John's verdict was "A bit too 'trendy', a bit too pricey, and way too noisy." My feeling was that, like the shop windows we had just seen, it was a bit too artsy -- a bit too "Disneyed-up." Like so much of downtown Austin these days, it was so sanitized and inoffensive that it had lost its magic altogether. Or maybe I'm just getting old, and the Austin I remember has the sheen of nostalgia. All I know is that if we are ever in the mood for a Euro-style brunch again, we will probably go back to the Blue Dahlia over in east Austin. Not only did it feel more "real", it didn't have a parking garage that charges a flat fee of fifteen bucks, even on Sunday!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Yesterday I shared a monologue from Seth Meyers on facebook that was humorous, yet thought provoking. It was about the second amendment, militias, and what the founding fathers would have to say if they were here now. An old buddy from our days in west Texas responded with that infamous quote, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." I wasn't the least bit surprised, as this subject came up often back in those days. Those were the good ol' days, when people could discuss stuff like this without becoming mortal enemies and slinging vicious slurs at one another, or threatening bodily harm. I welcomed her comment, and laughingly replied "Sorry Char! I'm afraid we are never going to see eye to eye on this one!"  I hope she won't object to hearing my thoughts in return.

You see, I had a group of buddies back in those days who got up before dawn everyday to go walking together. Discussing politics and religion and what we were cooking for dinner made the miles pass more quickly and, as I said, gun control was a topic that came up fairly often when you had a group that contained one gal who was a UT hippie, and another whose hubby kept cages full of huntin' dogs in their back yard.

We usually managed to keep it all quite friendly, but there may have been a time or two when I might have thrown my hands in the air and said something like "What's  it gonna take to convince you all? Losing a child?" I pray that I didn't, but I probably did. Why do I pray that? Because a couple of years later, one of them did. It was not at their own house, or with their own gun. It was at a cousin's house, with an uncle's gun -- even though the gun was locked in a gun safe, and the ammo had been "hid" elsewhere. Because, well, as you may know, young boys will go to amazing lengths in order to impress one another.

So, when you tell me that guns don't kill people, I hear what you are saying, but all I see and feel is a young boy who never made it past his eleventh birthday, and a great big, loving, close-knit family getting blown all to bits.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Summer before last, when we were in Marseilles, I had the most orgasmic meal of my life. It was at that little cafe tucked behind a butcher's shop -- the one I told you about here. What did I have? Beef Cheeks with Foie Gras. I doubt if I would have had the nerve to try something so scary-sounding, had I not read about it beforehand in a novel written by Peter Mayle -- a serious foodie whose opinion I trust.

My Most Memorable Meal
Needless to say, I have never run across beef cheeks at my local supermarket, nor on any restaurant menues hereabouts. So, imagine my surprise when they suddenly popped up as an offering from one of our local producers at The Bountiful Sprout! Well, I just had to order some, now didn't I?

This is what they looked like when I took them out of the package. Not too scary, right?

Well, except for this one little bit that looked like it had feelers on it, which I disposed of post haste.

The thing is, when I had that meal in Marseilles, I thought I was probably eating one of the most expensive cuts of meat -- something on the order of tenderloin, which is what it reminded me of, with a tenderness that almost melted in my mouth. Turns out, beef cheeks are one of the most economical cuts there is, but you have to know how to cook them -- slow and moist.

I went on-line to look for recipes, and found this one on epicurious:

Braised Beef Cheeks
Gourmet | March 2003
Adapted from Uno e Bino

When braised, these beef cheeks become meltingly tender, with a rich, deep flavor. You may want to check with your butcher when planning this dish, since it's often necessary to order beef cheeks ahead of time.

Yield: 4 main-course servings

4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 (12-oz.) beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat (another recipe I found said "but don't go crazy trimming". I think I went a little too crazy)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups red wine (preferably a dry Lambrusco or Chianti)
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 c.)
1/2 T. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Heat 2 T. oil in an ovenproof 6-qt. wide heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot, but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat beef cheeks dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown beef, without crowding, on all sides, about 20 minutes total, and transfer with tongs to a bowl. Pour off fat from pot, then add remaining 2 T. oil and cook onion, carrot, and celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Stir cocoa powder into vegetable mixture, then add wine and scrape up any brown bits. Increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

Return cheeks (with any juices) to pot and add tomatoes with juice, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in middle of oven until very tender, about 3 hours.

Beef cheeks improve in flavor if made up to 2 days ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, surface covered with parchment paper or wax paper and pot covered with lid. Remove any solidified fat before reheating.

Back to Becky: OK, my version may not have been orgasmic, but it was pretty dang good. Probably would have been even better if I had actually followed the recipe. For one thing, I needed to cut the recipe in half, since I only had 2 beef cheeks, but I didn't have a small can of tomatoes, so I threw in a large one. As you can see, my sauce if very tomatoey. For another, if you are halving your recipe, you can probably reduce the cooking time. Or else, maybe you need to add a bit of water along the way. You know how people say something is so tender you can cut it with a fork? Well, you could have cut ours with a spoon. Plus, three hours of all that tomatoey goodness, but not enough actual liquid, really did a number on the white enamel interior of my no-longer-beautiful Le Creuset pan. Still, it was pretty tasty. Can't wait to try again!