The Countdown Begins with Worship and Music

Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas; Christians are told in scripture to prepare for the coming of Christ. In the Empty Nest, Advent will also be a time of preparation for a glorious celebration with family and friends during the Christmas holidays. There are many traditions of Christmas that we celebrate which are connected to our religious beliefs, but there are also many things we will do over the next twenty-five days that are all about our secular celebrations.

25 Days of Christmas 2013 Intro

I’m okay with both the sacred and the secularity of Christmas, and that’s what I’m going to be sharing with you during my 25 Days of Christmas 2013 countdown. We are an Empty Nest where the birds will all come home for the holidays for the first time. I talked about my hopes for grace and patience here.

GotMyReservations-Advent WreathAs in life, some days are glorious and awe-inspiring and others are just full of work. I’m going to talk about both types of activities throughout the series. I hope that you will follow along as we clean and decorate, go to church, perform in and attend concerts, go out to dinner, and prepare meals in our home — the normal events in life that lead us closer and closer to Christmas.

Today we celebrated the first Sunday in Advent at church, and watched as two young families lit the first candle of Advent. We remembered the first time our little family participated in a similar service, and our four-year-old daughter read the prayer. It was enough to make the Empty Nest cry to think about that day.

This afternoon we enjoyed a brass concert with many different styles of carols and songs offered by five different brass groups. One of the people in the audience asked if we actually used the pipe organ in our sanctuary, and I assured her that we certainly did — along with our praise band, our folk service, our big band Sunday, our youth services, and our newest additions, masterworks Sunday, which featured strings, choir with pipe organ, and brass quintet. We are an equal opportunity musical church. ūüôā¬†Here’s a beautiful rendition of the¬†Hallelujah Chorus¬†with pipe organ and brass quintet to get you in the mood for Christmas!

I’m ready to get ready for Christmas; will you join me?

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford.
Like a child in wild anticipation,
I long to hear that, ‚ÄúAll aboard!‚ÄĚ

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

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Christmas Is Coming and I’m Not Going to Let My Goose Get Cooked

Last night I went to a merchandise party at a friend’s house. It was good to get out of my rehab clothes, put on a pair of skinny-ish jeans and visit with my friends. While I was only able to have about an ounce of wine, it was my first glass since before the surgery, and I enjoyed that as well. I finished up the evening with Pellegrino and lime — yes, I was a very good girl!¬†My friend had a lot of funny cocktail napkins, but I just had to take a photo of this one, with proof of my non-drinking in the photo, of course.

GotMyReservations Cocktail Napkin¬†Thinking about this napkin made me realize that for the first time in many years, I am going to have what I’ve always dreamed of — a house full of family and friends around my table for Christmas.

And we may need alcohol to get through it all.

When my daughter asked me if we could have British Christmas this year, it was shortly before my surgery and I agreed happily to host the party. British Christmas is a tradition that we have celebrated several years with friends who are originally from England, and some of the group currently live in England. When they come over for the holidays, they bring puddings and sauces and traditional English Christmas specialties. Being the Anglophile that I am, I have reveled in this opportunity to do Christmas English-style. We watch the Queen’s Christmas message on BBC and we open the crackers and wear silly paper crowns for the meal. It’s just heavenly for the little girl who grew up reading every book about English royalty that I could find in the library. ¬†My caveat for doing the hosting this year was that the “kids” would have to chip in and do a lot of the work as both my English friend and I (the moms) will be post orthopedic rehab and not at our full hostessing potential.

Do I have it in me to let go and let someone else do Christmas in my house?

It turns out that my daughter’s British boyfriend is quite the chef – I already knew he was a foodie — and has opinions as to what should be served at this meal. And from there comes the rub. There’s the two young men from England who want to cook, and there’s the friend who will choose the wine. There’s the list of side dishes that are traditionally English and not what my family traditions dictate. I already ordered nuts and bridge mix from the church fundraiser, cheesecakes from the marching band fundraiser and there’s the annual gift of a¬†b√Ľche de No√ęl from another special friend. What is there for me to do?

Got My Reservations - Yule LogAnd that’s the silliest question ever, isn’t it?

My grown-up children are taking charge of the meal and putting most of it on the table. For once, I can be the sage on the side and sit with my knee propped up as needed. They can provide me with a list and we’ll do the shopping. I can plan a drop-dead tablescape and they can put it on the table for me. It’s every mother’s dream to see her children grow up and become adults who can do holidays themselves.

My son and his new bride will arrive the day AFTER Christmas, and of course, we will do it all again with a small open house to welcome them back to Chicago. I will need help with that as well. Another fun meal, and another chance to create a new tablescape. I can’t wait.

But I’m still a little wistful. I remember when my mom stopped having Thanksmas (our family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one holiday), and we started having the party at my brother’s house. My mom seemed very old and fragile, but I doubt that she was even as old as I am now. I feel as though I’ve never had the chance to celebrate Christmas in my house as we have often traveled out west or to Ohio to have Christmas with family. My table here in Chicago has seen very few Christmas feasts — metaphorically, of course, as my table is brand new.

¬†I’m finally having Christmas at our house but I won’t be in control.

That’s even sillier than the last statement. Control is an illusion. Is one ever “in control” of anything?

So here’s my plan for the next four weeks. I’m going to decorate the heck out of this house, with the help of Music Man who seems to be eager to participate this year. I’m going to do a little redecorating and freshening up in the guest rooms — sleeping in one’s guest room post-surgery is a good way to find out the the ceiling fan hums way too loudly. Sorry about that, all the friends and family who’ve slept there before. I’m going to make lists and lists and lists, and encourage people to choose jobs from those lists.

I’m going to step back and let them do it.¬†I promise, here in front of the world and everyone, that I WILL NOT let Christmas cook my goose this year.


Image Credit

I can do it. With grace and patience. Because I love them.



Tablescape Thursday: A Nice Italian Red

The phrase “setting the table” has different meanings for different people.

When my kids were little, it was their job to set the table. Needless to say, it wasn’t this formal for everyday. It still isn’t in our house for our empty nest meals.

For me, setting the table means to create a tablescape with my collection of tableware.

I love having my table set with a pretty seasonal display, so that if I have unexpected visitors, the dining room always looks nice.¬†I also enjoy setting a pretty table when we have dinner guests. I’ve always told my friends that setting my table is a pleasurable hobby for me, and I’m just as comfortable in their houses with paper plates. No pressure, folks.

Setting a pretty table is just part of me, and I’m not ashamed of my little secret.

Especially now that I know there’s a whole subculture of people who like to set their tables for fun and then put the photos on their blogs. I’m linking up with¬†Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday; please be sure to click in and enjoy all the beautiful inspiration to be found among the bloggers’ links!¬†I’ve spent way too much happy time looking at tablescapes from bloggers’ archives, especially the amazingly talented Alycia Nichols (this one is going to make Music Man VERY nervous).

This tablescape started with this Pinterest photo from 2011.

Image via Pinterest; original source unknown

Once I figured out where to find fake lemons and limes (the dollar store), I couldn’t resist making the display, even though it was after Christmas. Next time I’ll try layering the pieces, but this worked (except for the red glitter all over the kitchen).

What’s not to like?

So, today’s my inaugural entry into the tablescape world. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the last of my Christmas decorations, and I’m showing my last hurrah before I bow to the Christmas decoration police. And since I see Italy in my table setting, my linens, and my colors, this tablescape had to have an Italian theme.

We probably all could do with a nice Italian red in our lives.

 Buon Viaggio!

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Christmas Day 2011: Cords of Love

The other day I got a new insurance card. Someone — it appears it was actually in my school’s administrative office, not Blue Cross — decided that since I clearly was using a nickname on all of my work documents, I should be using my “real” name for my insurance. This person changed my name to Jennifer on my medical insurance documents.

This is wrong on so many levels; how dare someone do this when absolutely nothing in my file says Jennifer? I was named Jennie at birth and have remained Jennie throughout my entire life, except on occasions such as this when someone decided to be helpful.

With this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to the original Jennie, the great-grandmother after whom I was named. I am almost six months old in this photo with Grandma Jennie.

This photo reminds me of what the holiday means. It’s not about the petty annoyances of life such as a bureaucrat renaming me. It’s about the ongoing cords that bind us together. When I look into the face of my great-grandmother, I see glimpses of the beloved¬†mother I lost this year.¬†I can see Christmas ornaments on this simple Christmas tree that were passed down to me and¬†are now on my tree.¬†¬†Even though my son never met the original Jennie, her hall tree holds pride of place in his home. I just had a rocker repaired that belonged to Grandma Jennie’s parents. I hope to rock my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren in that rocker some day, and I will tell them why my name is “just” Jennie.

Merry Christmas from my house to yours. May your family’s cords of love keep you together and safe in the coming year.

22 Days of Christmas 2011: Christmas in Austria

Does your cable channel carry Anthony Bourdain? If not, you should picket your cable headquarters until you get it. Bourdain is the most irreverent-while-being-fascinating host on television today (I LOVE hyphenated adjectives!).

I blogged about Anthony Bourdain earlier this year¬†when he visited El Bulli, but his Vienna show really hit home with me. It’s a long story– are you ready for it?

I had never been to Europe prior to our Spring Break trip in 2003. Our family friend Lara spent her junior semester abroad in Vienna and it seemed the perfect place to initiate the Europe virgin (that would be me) into European culture. I mean, really, how many books had I read about Marie Antoinette at that point? I was pretty sure I could handle Vienna. I don’t speak German, but my mom did. Isn’t that enough? I speak some passable Spanish and NRB speaks some passable French. Between our passable Romance book-languages and Lara, we figured we could probably get by.

Fast forward to nine years later. I’m looking for something fun to watch on the tube on the eve of my Veterans’ Day holiday off from school. Usually we don’t get Veterans’ Day; we trade it for an extra day before Thanksgiving or something. This year, we got both. It was a rare gift. I scrolled through my DVR’d programs, not finding Glee. What happened? I watched a bit of Hung on HBO. Really? I’m going to have to come back to that one. So I settle for Anthony Bourdain in Vienna which I know doesn’t require me to remember any backstory.

Yet I had my own personal backstory.

Tony visited Schloss Schoenbrunn, the childhood home of Marie Antoinette and so did I.

Tony toured Vienna, and so did I.

Tony didn’t go to Salzburg, but it wasn’t a trip to Austria for me without paying homage to Maria Von Trapp and Mozart. This is kind of a cheesy video, but does give some interesting information. If you keep clicking through the videos, you’ll get the whole Salzburg story.

We also took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. We bought our first digital camera right before this trip and were still learning how to use it. As I looked through these photos, I realized that in my rose-colored view of our vacation, I had forgotten how cold and often rainy it was in Austria in March.

The Austrians love Christmas, and there were Christmas stores everywhere. Of course we bought an ornament at this store and I’m getting ready to hang it on my tree this year along with all of my other vacation memory ornaments.

For your Austrian music companions to today’s post, I chose The Best of Christmas in Vienna¬†and Christmas in Vienna. Both feature Placido Domingo with friends.

As I look at this 22 Days of Christmas post from last year, it’s hard to believe that we were anticipating snow. Today was a balmy and sometimes rainy day in the upper 40s. If it’s not global warming (as some of my students and their families believe), Mother Nature sure is playing tricks on us. See you tomorrow, and be sure to comment!

Food Cult: Oyster Dressing

As we enter our week of Thanksgiving and gluttony, I would to pause and give thanks for the many creatures that give up their lives for us at this time of year.

Insert. Silent. Pause. Here.

My little family band gets together with my brothers and their families on the day after Thanksgiving. We have been doing this since 1976; I have not prepared a Thanksgiving meal in my own home since then. Every year, we drive the 600 miles round trip to be with our family to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year we decided to forego our gift giving to each other and donate to Heifer International instead. We’ll still be giving gifts to the young ones, and it will be fun to see them open their presents. We also sing Christmas songs — we are THAT family that could make our own Trapp Family Singers — and I’m looking forward to hearing three-year-old Libbie sing her part in The Twelve Days of Christmas.

For me and some of my family, it just isn’t Thanksmas without oyster dressing. It’s unclear where our family recipe comes from, but my mother started making oyster dressing for our holiday gatherings a long time ago. In fact, I can’t remember when she didn’t make it. It was just always there.

My mom passed away in June, and as the eldest child, it has become my job to bring the oyster dressing. I’ve been making it for events here in our Chicagoland home for a while, but no one loves oyster dressing as well as my brothers and I do. My niece Jessica wrote about our family recipe on her Vanderbilt Wife blog, calling our treasured oyster dressing our “grossest family recipe.” I beg to differ, but as she is allergic to clams, I wouldn’t want her to get sick on oysters. I do, however, want to share the recipe for what I consider to be the crowning glory of our holiday buffet table.


Another recipe can be found here:

Grandma’s Oyster Dressing

Cooking spray

Four cans frozen or canned oysters (fresh would be fine, but not necessary)
Four ribs finely chopped celery
Four cans mushrooms
One box saltines crushed
one pound butter pats
About two cups of milk

First spray a 4.8 quart (15″ x 10″ x 2″) rectangular casserole dish with cooking spray, and then add a layer of crushed crackers. Begin layering the ingredients. After each cracker layer add some milk and the juice from the mushrooms and oyster cans. You should have about four layers of crackers and three of “goodies.”

Cover it with foil so that it doesn’t dry out and take the foil off for the last 15 minutes so the top gets a little crusty. Bake at 350 degrees for at least an hour until the texture is puffy like a souffle. It is okay to prepare it in advance and let the liquids sink in.

A large Pyrex casserole dish will serve eight people comfortably as a side dish.


And just we’re clear about the popularity of oyster dressing, even the fabled Ree Drummond published a recipe for Oyster Dressing on her Pioneer Woman blog this week. I’m not alone in my love for this succulent awesomeness. Ree’s is a little different from ours; hers is more like traditional tossed bread-cube dressing. Grandma’s Oyster Dressing is more of a souffle-like scalloped oysters. It might be fun someday to make both recipes and see which one we like better!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m going to take a week off and enjoy my holiday with friends and family. Safe travels to you.

P.S. I’ve been collecting ideas for 25 Days of Christmas — I can’t resist doing it again this year!

It’s got to be the morning after*

And we’re back to regularly scheduled programming . . . can I please be snarky again?

Image via Got My Reservations

*With apologies to Maureen McGovern and the songwriters, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, who wrote the hauntingly beautiful love theme for The Poseidon Adventure.

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