An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Waterworks
Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!

Friends in town

You know it’s going to be a good weekend when friends get off the plane bearing cheese curds and a CD of Jack White’s B-Sides. Adrienne and Derrick flew in from Wisconsin a week ago for a few days visit.

Friday afternoon we headed out to visit some of the history of Philadelphia – the City Tavern, serving beers from recipes that date back to Ben Franklin – of course!

Luke and Derrick at City Tavern

Luke and Derrick at City Tavern

Later in the weekend we visited Independence Hall, a much less pleasant experience than our first visit with an overly excited ranger tour guide. More enjoyable to walk through the parks and trying to guess the age of houses. A walk out to the river; ducking in for a cocktail to escape the rain.

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Adrienne stocking up on chocolate at Reading Terminal Market

We stopped at the Head Nut at Reading Terminal Market for staples (more coffee!) and delicious snacks (chocolate covered pomegranates). Visiting our favorite local bar, Tattooed Mom, for Victory Hop Devil and several games of pool.

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Luke and Adrienne at Tattooed Mom

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Luke and Derrick shooting pool at Tattooed Mom

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Stephanie and Adrienne at Tattooed Mom

Plenty of time to catch up, talk of future plans and trips, laughing and listening to music, but never enough time when friends must leave to catch their plane home. Envious of their return to a white winter scene, but thankful for our time spent together here in Philadelphia.

Walking along Addison St

Walking along Addison St

Movie Marathon

Luke is traveling for work this week, which means I am spending most nights curled up under a blanket with a bottle of wine, a bowl of popcorn, and a handful of good movies.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947):

Photo source: Vintage War Bride

Photo source: Vintage War Bride

Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney star in this new-to-me classic film. Every respectable film buff I know loves this movie, so I knew I was sure to follow suit. And true enough, it’s lovely.

Three Coins in a Fountain (1954):

Source: Jackal's Film Corner

Photo Source: Jackal’s Film Corner

This movie is silly, but I still like it. It’s like the girlfriends version of Roman Holiday. I remember watching this in high school and day dreaming about living abroad in a villa with a job that primarily consisted of attending cocktail parties and touring art museums with writers and princes.

White Christmas (1954):

Photo source: Cocktails, 365

Photo source: Cocktails, 365

My great friend Adrienne introduced me to this movie last year, and I’m delighted to add it to my yearly December must-see list. While the all-star cast is great, I’m going to call out Rosemary Clooney…not only is she gorgeous, but her timeless voice sounds better with each listen.

Charade (1963):

Any movie with Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant is worth watching. Sabrina, Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember, North by Northwest, Arsenic and Old Lace…I could go on and on. It’s an extra treat to watch both actors on-screen together. She’s witty and beautifully clad in Givenchy, he’s dashing and delivers dry humor better than anyone I’ve seen. Swoon.

Sometimes you just need a friend

The semester is rapidly coming to a close, job applications are out and juries are deliberating, and my husband is out of town for work. (finger drumming sounds, finger drumming sounds). I haven’t had the chance to meet many people in Philadelphia yet, and have been craving a good long chat with a friend over drinks. Right on queue, one of my best friends sends me a message that she’s working in DC for a few days. (trumpet sounds, trumpet sounds). I grabbed student papers, a big cup of coffee, and took the train down for an afternoon adventure with Christine.

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Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station

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Grading on the train

Our plans were loose – leisurely lunch and cocktails with our friend Eric, then wandering through DC’s art museums. One of the best parts about traveling to DC for a few hours is that, with no admission costs for any of the museums, you can easily say hello to your favorite pieces while bypassing exhibits that don’t grab your attention. And if you think of something really important to tell your friend, you can just step outside and laugh.

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Christine in the National Portrait Gallery

Although I’ve been to the Portrait Gallery before, it was an entirely different experience to walk through the halls with a fellow artist. Christine is a crazy-talented painter, and hearing her perspective on the pieces made my heart smile.

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Happy day in DC

I was also happy to be there to snag this photo of Christine with Super-Obama. I love how her toe points out in classic heroine style.

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It was such a nice day – perfect weather, great conversation, art masterpieces, and cocktails. Thanks, CRXB. Sometimes you just need a friend.

Charleston, SC

After a lovely day at Cypress Gardens, we all headed into the historical section of Charleston for a few days of relaxation. The weather was a bit chilly, but the delicious food and drinks, good company, and pleasant walks kept us all sufficiently warm. Here are a few shots of our family outings:

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Luke watching the birds

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Group break along the coast

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Lovely architecture and palm trees

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Greenery becomes architecture

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Pineapple fountain

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Paul and Suzanne on the ocean-view porch swing

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Stephanie on the swing

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A southern feast at Hominy Grill: macaroni and cheese, tomatoes and okra, squash casserole, collard greens, cornbread, and an Old Fashioned

It was a quiet getaway filled with happy memories, sea air, and cornbread. Perfect.

Cypress Gardens

Luke and I spent the Thanksgiving weekend in South Carolina with our parents. It was so nice to have both sides of the family there to celebrate. After two days of my mom’s amazing home cooking, we all piled into the car and drove east to the coast.

I’ve wanted to visit Cypress Gardens ever since reading this blog post. The Gardens were everything I was hoping for and more! Beautiful weather, no crowds (thank you, Black Friday), and an abundance of flora and fauna.

First stop, the Butterfly House. Their winter butterflies were small and striped, and were largely attracted to these two varieties of fun flowers:

Inside the Butterfly House

Onion-y flowers

Back outside, a nice walking trail follows along rows and rows of Cypress trees. I was delighted to learn that these trees grow “knees” that stick out above their roots.

Cypress tree “knees”

Changing leaves and more “knees”

The highlight of the Gardens is definitely the free boat rentals. Luke, Paul, Tom and I cruised through the swamps on the lookout for alligators (none, phew!) and other swampy wildlife. It was magical to traverse through the tree mazes in complete silence except for an occasional oar in the water.

Paddling through the Cypress swamps

How many vultures can you find? Hint: There are a lot. Creepy.

Spanish moss

Our crew – Luke, Tom, and Paul

The main blooming flower for this time of year is the Camellia. While several of the trees were just starting to bud, we found a few that had already come alive.

Camellia in the sunlight

Luke, Paul, and Suzanne in the Camellia Garden

Carla, Stephanie and Tom in the Camellia Garden

A lovely day!

More to come on our adventures in Charleston!

Braving the flu with hikes, Greek food, and movies from the 1980s

One of the unexpected challenges to living in a small apartment is the cyclical nature of colds and flus. Just when one of us starts to feel better, the other starts displaying symptoms. The bags of cough drops, boxes of Kleenex, and plastic cupfuls of Nyquil move from one nightstand to the other, and back again. It’s been a sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching few weeks of limited rest coupled with important work deadlines.

Despite this, we’ve enjoyed a few new places in Philly worth sharing. Our neighbor recommended Kanella to us, and last Friday night we finally gave it a try. We started our meal with Bureki (fillo pastry parcels stuffed with feta and thyme, drizzled with thyme honey, and served with roasted beets) and a less memorable roasted pumpkin appetizer. The Bureki was so amazing that anything standing next to it was bound to be forgotten.

Our entrees were vegetable moussaka and a goat stew with fried okra that was “smack yo’ mama” good! Definitely a great night!

Luke enjoying the Goat Stew

We also took another afternoon hike, this time along the trails of Ridley Creek State Park.

Sunny fall day

Friendly Monsters

Last bits of changing leaves

Other than a not-very-well-organized running event, the trails were empty. This meant that we not only felt like we could happily lose ourselves in the woods, but that also we’d occasionally encounter a neon-wearing athlete looking confused and exhausted. It was fun to watch them approach from far off, and disappear equally fast over the next hill. It reminded me of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, popping onto the scene just long enough to announce he’s late before hurriedly continuing on.

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

As a side note, does anyone remember the 1980s TV version of “Alice in Wonderland? The cast was incredible – Carol Channing, Sammy Davis, Jr., Scott Baio, and (my favorite) Lloyd Bridges as the White Knight? Amazing. If you saw it as a kid, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, there is no point watching it now. I’m sure it will just seem silly and outdated.

It’s sometimes hard to introduce something you loved as a child to your adult friends (and husband). I saw The Goonies about nine blu-gillion times growing up, and so whenever I think about it, I’m transported back to that happy place of Chester Copperpot and inhalers. Whenever I try to encourage Luke to (finally) see it with me, though, I know in the back of my mind that it won’t be as meaningful to a 30 year old as it was to a 12 year old. He won’t develop a secret crush on Sean Austin, think Martha Plimpton’s wit is so great that it requires rewinding (yes, rewinding) and repeating until you’ve got it perfectly mimicked, or be absolutely terrified of playing the wrong key on the skeleton piano before Mama Fratelli’s boys grab you.

Photo credit: Nerds at the Cool Table

I’ll still watch it, though. Especially on sick days, with my go-to blanket and a big bowl of soup. Or popcorn.

“Rocky” and the Art World

My aunt Lisa came to visit from Illinois this weekend. While the wind and cooler temperatures tried to slow us down, Philadelphia’s hometown hero inspired us to brave the weather as we made our way across the city.

And our reward…

Lisa and Rocky

Lisa and Luke after running up the “Rocky Stairs”

How lucky am I to get smiles like these? Very.

We also visited Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written and signed. Here we paid homage to Philadelphia’s other hometown hero, Benjamin Franklin, and I left with even more inspiration for my Revolutions class next semester.

That’s really George Washington’s chair up there

Lisa, Luke and I ate a lot of good food, enjoyed delicious margaritas, and spent a lovely weekend catching up with each other. We are looking forward to another visit from her in the spring.

Delicious breakfast sandwiches before Lisa’s flight home

To round out the weekend, Luke and I curled up at home with giant bowls of popcorn and documentaries about the art world.

The Art of the Steal made us hesitant to visit any of the art museums in Philadelphia:

Alternatively, Waste Land inspired us with the power of art and humanity:

We recommend both.

Hurricane Sandy and “The Language of Men”

While Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast yesterday, Philadelphia remarkably managed to miss all of the destruction, power outages, flooding, and (for the most part) high winds that all of our neighboring areas experienced.

Luke captured this fantastic screen shot showing the storm moving in a vortex all around us, while we stayed safely inside our little storm-free bubble.

Around 5pm, we even went for a walk – good gusts of wind every once in a while, but mostly it was a chance for us to test our outerwear for Fall/Winter and to be re-energized by the feeling of rain on our faces.

Nice and dry on the inside
Photo credit: Luke

A view of the Delaware River – and no cars – as seen through a protective Ziploc Bag
Photo credit: Luke

We hope all of our friends and family who endured greater difficulties are doing well and getting the help (and power) they need.

While the threat of the storm loomed large, I spent all day yesterday reading “The Language of Men” by Anthony D’Aries. I’ve met Anthony a few times, thanks to our wonderful mutual friend Adrienne, and always leave with memories of great conversations with him and his lovely wife, Vanessa.

Photo credit: Hudson Whitman

This book is a personal and emotional account of growing up, understanding your family, and most importantly, learning how to ask questions of yourself and those you care about. Anyone who has had book conversations with me knows I am a tough critic who is more likely to HATE something and throw it across the room in disgust than to sing its praises. Anthony’s book is so well written, so realistic and relatable, and aches of so much sincerity, that I could not put it down.

A short excerpt:

“Why do you gotta ask this shit?” my brother says across a table of empty wine bottles. We have just finished an expensive dinner for my father’s 60th birthday. I had asked my father if he was satisfied with his life. He shrugged. The question ricocheted off him and landed in front of my mother. She didn’t answer.

You can find more eloquent reviews here and here.

A walk in the woods

This semester is flying by! I cannot believe Trick-or-Treaters are out, and that it is only a month until Luke and I travel Down South for Thanksgiving with our parents. It’s all really exciting, but also a little overwhelming.

My first attempt at teaching has had a lot of ups and downs. I know this is a normal experience, but it’s not yet a comfortable one. I’m learning so much about how to prepare lectures, engage students with the material, choose reading assignments that provoke discussion, organize a class (and then reorganize it when it is not working), establish class policies and how/when to bend them. I still feel like I have a long way to go before I’m “seasoned,” and the fact that we’re already halfway through the semester is simultaneously a relief and strong motivation for ending the year on a good note.

With all of these thoughts weighing on my mind, Luke took me on a beautiful hike this morning in Fairmont Park. We meandered along the trails, climbing over logs, bouncing off of rocks, sliding on the leaves covering the ground, and breathing in the amazing smells of Fall. It was just the break I needed – a perfect mix of physical exertion, quiet calm, and clearing my head by talking and talking to my patient husband.

Last night, we danced and danced to Brown Bird and Yonder Mountain String Band at a venue just down the street from us. Taking time out of our normal routine to dance and to talk, to play outdoors and to hold hands…this weekend has reminded me how important it is to relax and to breathe before gearing up for whatever is next.

Brown Bird

Yonder Mountain String Band