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Masterpiece Monday: Downton Abbey, 5.1

DA season 5

Well, my friends, Happy Monday!

Now, I wasn't sure I was going to revive my Masterpiece Monday posts because I don't know that I'll be able to catch Downton "live" each week, but as it happened, Little Bear fell asleep right before 9 p.m. so we were able to watch the episode in its entirety last night ... so here I am! I'm still processing it all, but there is clearly a lot to discuss, and I would love to know what you all thought! I jotted down a few notes of my own ...


I also must ask, if anyone else caught the new PBS show that aired right before DA (in my market, anyway) ...

* The Great British Baking Show *

Oh my, I loved it and am abslutely hooked! It's like all my favorite things rolled up in one show, a beautiful location - a bunting-bedecked tent set up on the grounds of a gorgeous English manor - and inside, a baking competition between 12 home bakers. Now, normally I do not care for reality shows but I am going to brave the cringe-worthy moments and unnecessary melodrama in order to follow this show. It is GORGEOUS. And inspiring. And talk about eye candy, lol!


Ok, but onto some DA chat ... here are my scattered, barely-caffeinated thoughts:

Tom and Miss Bunting - I don't like her! I don't like her one bit! I know she is playing a part in resurrecting Tom's (political) passions, but I simply do not like this character at all. She is rude and brash and pushy. So there. That's how I feel about that, lol.

Mary and Tony - So, hmmm. I need to remember how things ended last season (I meant to go back and re-watch before the new episodes began but that was pretty much a  pipe dream). Tony ended things with this fiance (or almost fiance?) and told Mary he'd wait for her ... but what happened with Charles? The other one (whom I actually preferred, last season anyway ... Tony is growing on me). Is Mary torn between the two of them or just not ready to commit to a new man after Matthew? It does seem as if they foreshadowed a physical relationship beginning between Tony and Mary very soon which will surely complicate things! (Especially if Papa finds out!)

Isobel and Mr. Merton/Dr. Clarkson - This is a cute triangle (quadrangle?) with Lady Violet working her own meddling magic to make things happen for all interested parties. I remember being disappointed when Isobel originally spurned the Doctor's advances ... but I'm wondering if she might be more receptive now?

Jimmy - Well it looks like the scamp might be out of a job! Caught with that woman for whom he once worked (and by whom he was relentlessly pursued). Of course, I couldn't help noting - rather irritably because, really, fair's fair - though I'm not fan of Jimmy's - that Lord Grantham once nearly dallied with a maid himself, if we all recall season one (or two?). I still haven't forgiven him for that! He really can be such a hypocrite.

Baxter - So she finally confessed! Was it what you expected? I was not expecting thievery! There's something more there, though ... And once again Thomas worms his way out of a bad situation and solidifies his place with the family. (After saving Edith from the fire, which, admittedly, was quite couragous of him.)

Edith and Marigold - Oh my goodness, I just love that name, Marigold! It's a tricky situation to be sure, but I'm wondering ... is there something happening between her and the farmer, or was the wife off-base? She doesn't know the true connection, of course. (Though he figured it out as we all knew he would.) And what was that mysterious book about? The one Gregson left in the Downton library? Was that a clue of some sort?

Daisy - She wants to improve her mind so she can run the Masen farm more responsibly, so that's a good thing. But it's sad that she feels so badly about herself (yet again). I hope this character finds some happiness and strength in this series. I'd love for her to experience a true romance as much as I hope she comes more into her own as a woman and valuable member of the Grantham household and the village as a whole.


Ok, I think this is all I have time for at the moment ... my own household is stirring. I'm down here in the kitchen preparing the breakfast and while there are no politely ringing bells, I am shouting up the stairs for certain older children to get their sleepy selves moving! There's trash and recyling to get in order and lessons to get on with today!

So if you have time, please drop me a note and let me know what you thought about the first episode of Downton's new season as well as if you caught the Great British Baking Show ... my new Anglophile obsession. ;)

Have yourselves a great Monday, and see you here again very soon ...

p.s. Thank you all for your very kind comments about my planner ... I'll be popping into that post a bit later today to chat more with you all about that. :)

Advent Tea Journal ~ Peace Be with Us

  Advent tea peace 15

Happy Monday, my friends! Welcome to another afternoon tea. :)

Today we begin the second week of Advent, and it is also the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of those lovely Marian feasts we enjoy celebrating at home in small, thoughtful ways. At this time of year, we are reminded of Mary's motherhood and her role in the life of her son, Jesus. I have four sons, and they're my whole world; together with my husband, and our home, my life revolves around them. So I often find myself in prayer, thinking of Mary, asking her to guide me in her gentle, peaceful ways. Goodness knows, I can use all the help I can get!

Now, whether we're talking about world peace or inner peace, it certainly means different things to different people. But right now I'm thinking about peace in the weeks before Christmas: how we can find it (create it?) in the midst of all the holiday bustle? Not just for ourselves, but our loved ones as well?

Here are a few of my thoughts - and I'd love to hear yours!

 * Keep the December calendar as low-key as possible. I know it's hard to say no to the myriad invitations and activities that take place throughout the holiday season, but there has to be a limit. Make room for peace in your life by setting a less-busy stage.

* Create cozy corners in your home that encourage folks to sit down a spell. Stock some lovely books on the table beside a favorite chair or couch corner (Christmas books would be perfect of course), and add a pretty coaster that will remind you to make yourself a hot cup of tea (or cocoa).

* Find yourself noticing nature. I purposefully filled our Advent calendar with "nature moments" - watching the moon rise, walking in the woods, feeding the birds, apprecating the beauty of a poinsettia. Cultivate a habit of observation - brainstorm simple activities that connect us with nature and remind us to slow down as the earth stills itself for the Winter. 

* Light up the darkness - with string lights and candles, real or electric. The days are so short and dark now, I find my home all the more peaceful when there are soft lights to welcome us, and comfort us, late in the day. This only enhances the feeling that our home is a haven from the outside world. Sitting in a quiet room illuminated only by tree lights is one of my favorite things about these short December days.

* Make time to sit quietly in thought or prayer each day - 10 minutes before the kids wake or 10 minutes after they go to bed? Try not to let your mind go right to your to-do list, but instead, keep your thoughts on spiritual matters. A quick "thank you" for the day's blessings, a simple prayer for a loved one, a fond memory, a favorite carol. (This can be done with a sleeping babe in your arms, too!)

* (But, speaking of to-do's) make your list and check it twice. A well-organized list and an internet connecton are great for keeping stress down. Because let's face it - we all have things to buy or make or do, and lots of people rely on us to make their Christmas merry. Peace is hard to cultivate when you're panicking, and if we didn't start early, then the to-do's are best addressed sooner rather than later. Nothing wrecks my Christmas spirit like last minute shopping, whereas feeling prepared gives me true peace of mind. Noble? Maybe not. But realistic.


Ok, here are a few peaceful moments from my day ...

Advent tea peace 10

Bill took this picture of Little Bear and me (without my knowledge!) and I just love it. This is quite early - if you can't tell by our "bed hair," lol - and we are starting our day as we usually do ... in the library, in "our" chair, with a few good books (and a cup of coffee for Mama). We're in this chair reading, many times throughout the day ... but there's something so special about that first snuggle of the day. :)

Advent tea peace 1

A little "sneak peek" at our Christmas card this year - it reads: "Peace on Earth." 

(I'll share the card in its entirety after we've mailed them all out!)

Advent tea peace 2

The absolute glee on my little boy's face when he noticed the nativity stickers I placed on the window behind our chair ...

Advent tea peace 12

Where's the baby, Little Bear?

Advent tea peace 6

Working on the Christmas mantel, here's a pretty corner: flowers and stars for the Mother of God.

Advent tea peace 8

Our Oliver, mid-scratch. :) It's impossible to see in this picture, but there's a cardinal at the feeder just beyond this window. Also, it is lightly snowing and this is what I'm looking at as I drink my tea ...  a little bit of domestic tranquility, with some serene nature thrown in.

And speaking of tranquil ...

Advent tea peace 11

Here's what else I am looking at as I enjoy my tea ... a sleeping Little Bear who opted not to stay in his crib for the entirety of his nap. He slept for a good hour here while I sipped and worked on this post.

A happy, sleeping baby = a happy, refreshed Mama.

Peace personified.


~ Tea Journal

In the natural world ...

A cold day of clouds and flurries here, and a Nor'easter arriving tomorrow! High winds and heavy rain in our part of the region (if it was snow, we'd be buried!). Here's our front walkway as I stepped out to get the paper this morning:

Advent tea peace 4

What I'm drinking & eating ...

Oh my goodness!


I wanted to do something white in honor of today's feast, so I chose a London Fog Latte for my beverage. I had heard from friends that it was a simply delicious drink - and now I can happily agree - it is! Sweet and milky, with a nice citrus-y bergamot flavor. And as you can see in the picture at the top of my post, I once again used a pretty "vintage" tea cup, another from my grandmother's collection. It is called "Yuletide," and fittingly, it was made by Royal Albert of England. :)

Keeping with the "British Christmas" theme - and more stars for the Feast! - I made mini orange-mince pies for a lovely holiday treat!

Advent tea peace 13

I have always loved the look of these traditional English confections, and knew someday I would try making them! (Though admittedly, pastry intimidates me.) Well, my dear friend Shirley Ann inspired me to give them a try this week, after she shared a picture of her own on Facebook! I made these up Sunday afternoon while the baby slept - very easy to do - and goodness, did the house smell like Christmas!

And I must tell you - they are so very, very yummy. A tender crust with orange flavor and a spicy-sweet filling ... gah, so good. Bill had one on his way out this morning and he absolutely loved it! And this is a man who had never before tried mincemeat because "it frightened him" lol. I will definitely be making a large batch of these for Christmas day ... I wonder if I can freeze them ahead?

What I'm reading ...

Advent tea peace 7

I've just started reading back through my annual domestic journal pages, which are kept in this gigantic binder. (Only the current month is kept in my primary binder.) Also, lots of board books. (A post on LB's favorites to come soon!)

What I'm working on ...

Well, the big thing this week is setting up the tree ... we just brought it home yesterday. Also, still packing away all the fall decorations and finding all the Christmas books. Then there's lunch for Earlybird and Dad on Sunday ... and oh, getting the Christmas cards mailed out! 

 Words to ponder ...


It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.

~ Anonymous

I love this quote so much - I have the magnet, I have the mug! - it's kind of my personal mantra. And, it's a skill I'm working on all the time - because as nice as it is to slow down and "make room" for peace - life just doesn't always work that way. My life as a mum - a special needs mum, especially - is filled with all the things mentioned above. But I know how I want to be. I want to be a source of peace for my children, their beacon in any sea. It's important, especially as a mother, to carry peace with me, and keep it with me for when I - we - need it most.

(I plan to revisit the theme of peace next month. I'd love to hear your ideas on the subject.)


And now, my friends, I'm finally going to stop talking, lol. This really was a rather long journal entry! But I'm so pleased to share my dear friend Mary's contribution to our Advent Tea Journal this week. Here are her thoughts on keeping peace in the season ...

What a lovely theme for a tea - Peace - especially since slowing down to make and drink tea can definitely bring peace into one’s life during the hustle and bustle that leads up to the Christmas season.

As a family, things that help us to find peace during this season is the simple process of eating a family supper together at night and starting by saying grace before we eat. We do this all year long but during this season, in particular, our family meal continues to serve as a wonderful anchor to slow us down, light the advent candle, and talk with one and other remembering to focus on all that we are grateful for.

We also enjoy walking around different “trails of lights” hosted by different towns around the Texas Hill Country. (We avoid the Austin Trail of Lights because it is a zoo - and definitely doesn’t bring peace to our lives!) The cool nights, the lights, and sipping hot chocolates as we all walk together as a family is always so peaceful.  

And this may sound funny - but we also enjoy walking around an open air shopping mall looking at the lights - and watching the other people hustle and bustle to shop. Instead, we walk slow, look at the lights, and chat. It’s funny how peaceful it is for us. At Christmas we exchange very few gifts freeing us of the need to rush and shop. It is so liberating - and brings peace to our lives. 

Here is a picture of me with our teenage son, walking around a festive open air shopping mall.

Mary tea peace 1 

On our Tea menu...we are continuing to enjoy Celestial Season's Peppermint tea and also some decadently rich double chocolate hot chocolate. And for a real treat - we twirl both with a candy cane!

Mary's tea peace 2

 Thank you so much, Mary, for this wonderful reflection on how you bring peace to your family at this time of year. I love the picture of you with your son - those smiles are beautiful! Family togetherness is a gift he will remember all his life!


Thank you, all, for joining me here today. If you are so inclined, please leave a comment below with your thoughts on finding peace in the hoilday season. Also, what are you drinking for "tea" this week? Baking anything special?

Hope to hear from you, but until next time, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!

Thoughts on, and from, My Kitchen ...

Happy Wednesday, my friends! What's up in your kitchen this week?

Are you trying a new recipe? Is your sink shiny, a la Flylady? Are you happy with how things are organized?

Well, it's a snowy winter's day here, which is lovely ...

Snowy kitchen day

... and a quiet homey day is just what I need. :)

According to my weekly routine, it's "kitchen day," but friends - my kitchen is in such a state, I can't tell you! I really haven't cleaned it much since Christmas. Or maybe even before that, I'm afraid ... Because first there was morning sickness slowing me down, and then there was the rush of the holidays, and then we got sick ... so I've mostly just been keeping up with the dishes, sweeping the corners, and giving the counters an occasional swipe - just to keep things somewhat sanitary. Clearly then, this room's due for a deep cleaning!

And as if I needed further inspiration, I came across a picture I had taken a few years ago - a snap for a post, I'm sure - and in this particular picture my kitchen is the cleanest it's ever been. It looks so fantastic! I showed it to Bill and the boys and they didn't even recognize it as our kitchen at first!

Clean kitchen picture

So I've posted that picture near my workspace as a reminder of what can be. The kitchen is the heart of our home and when it's looking its best, my "homemaker heart" feels its best. That may sound shmaltzy, but it's true - for me, anyways. And all that open space really makes me want to cook up a storm! Nothing fuels the urge to bake/cook/create like a ready-to-go kitchen ...


Now, I have a couple of cookie recipes to share ...

The first is a recipe I've shared off and on over the years: my favorite (and dare I say, signature) Christmas treats - lemon snowballs. Reader Joanna brought it to my attention that the posted link no longer leads to the original recipe. So I searched through my (seriously disorganized) recipe collection and found the print-out I'd kept. (Good ole paper to the rescue again!)

In case you're interested, here it is ...

Lemon Snowball Cookies

Cookie Dough:

2 sticks butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups flour


1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kool-Aid lemonade unsweetened drink mix powder
(Mix these together in a bowl)

Cream butter, sugar and flavorings. Add flour and mix until a dough forms. Roll into 1" balls and bake 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 F. for 15-18 minutes. They will not be brown on top. While cookies are warm, toss them in the lemon powdered sugar mixture and put on a plate to cool.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

(My print-out does not say where I got this recipe, but I know I found it somewhere online. Also, when I make these, I roll a few in plain powdered sugar so that Earlybird may indulge if he wishes.)

Snowball cookies

And as I was searching through all those recipes - making plans for a major pruning and sorting - I came across one for lavender tea cookies. Generally speaking, I love the idea of herbal cooking moreso than I do the actual flavor, but I'd like to give this one a try. Because I read somewhere that the expecting Princess Kate has been craving "lavender biscuits" lately ("biscuits" meaning cookies in Britain). As you all know I'm a certified Anglophile as well as a big Princess Kate fan ... and I also happen to have a large lavender patch in my front yard. So yes, I'll be trying these cookies this summer ~ I've even made a note in my summer planning pages. (Had I managed to dry and save those lovely buds last summer I'd have some to try now, but alas, I must wait till my lavender's in season.)

In case you'd like to try this recipe as well, here 'tis!

Lavender Tea Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup minus 1 tbsp. superfine sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. self-rising flour

1 tbsp. fresh lavender flowers

 Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar, add egg and beat well. Stir in flour and flowers. Drop by teaspoonful on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing widely to alow for spread. Bake 15-20 minutes until pale golden and edges tinge brown. They will be soft until cooled on waxed paper. Store in airtight tin.

(From The Summer Book by Susan Branch. I find all those SB cookbooks so charming - I've had my collection for years. )


Speaking of cookbooks, then ~ can you recommend any new/good ones?

I have The Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace on request once again ... Elizabeth Q. first mentioned this book to me some time ago, and today Elizabeth F. reminded me of it! I liked it the first time I got it, but as usually happens with me and library loans ... I only get a chance to skim a book before I have to return it. This time however, I'll make time to get through it.  :)

Also on my hold shelf - The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier and Meat-Free Monday: A Full Menu for Every Monday of the Year. The latter I read about in a magazine this week, and the idea of more meatless days really appeals to me. While the former is chock full of meat recipes, I'm sure - but hey, it's all about balance, isn't it? And finding what works best for my family. We'd never give up meat entirely, but we are trying to cut down on our consumption - for economic, environmental *and* health reasons. Ironically I was told to up my protein intake at my last OB appt., so I'm looking for ways to do this without just adding more meat. I've never been a big meat-eater really - except it seems when I'm pregnant. ;)


OK, one more kitchen topic before I go - how are your coupons working for you?

I myself am giving up on coupons ... for the time being at least. Yes, there, I said it. No more coupons for me. I'm just not finding the time to deal with all the steps involved in successful couponing - clipping, sorting, comparing, matching - and they get to be such a mess ...

So instead I'm concentrating on other methods for keeping grocery costs down ... cooking more from scratch, buying in bulk, meal planning, etc. Perhaps I'll revisit my Money $ Monday posts for more ideas? I'll let you know how it goes. :)


Well my friends, I guess I'd best wrap up this post. Goodness, I can be wordy!

I hope wherever you are - on this earth, in this day - you are feeling healthy, happy and hopeful ...

See you here again very soon!


Jane Austen Fans: Take Note ...

... of the second link down in my post. :)


Just ahead of the weekend, I like to make up little "to-do" lists for myself. Some of these tasks are rather bland - paying bills, pulling weeds or attacking bathroom mold, for instance - but some things will be quite nice ~ like framing artwork, watching our Netflix pick, and catching up on my reading - online and otherwise. 

And so I just added this blog post to my "to read" pile. In it, Susan Branch describes - in delightful prose and fantastic pics - her visit to Chawton House, otherwise known as the home of Jane Austen! I've only just skimmed the post, because I want to be sitting quietly and comfortably (and preferably outside with a tall glass of iced tea) when I properly dig in. But at first glance, there seem to be many lovely things here: quill pens and teacups and rose-covered pubs and cottage gardens and all kinds of wonderful interior shots of the very rooms inside which Miss Austen composed all those Great Works ...

(And speaking of, which was your favorite? I think the popular pick tends to be Pride and Prejudice, but I myself am awfully fond of Emma.)

Anyhoo, I wanted to share that link here this evening, because I know many of my readers share in my enthusiasm for all things Jane Austen. :) I thought you might like to add this to your weekend reading list, too.

Either way, I wish you all a good one!

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again sometime soon!