Monday, December 16, 2013

A Wedding in December

On Saturday, we attended the wedding of my nephew David and the lovely Kayla.  The reception was held in a renovated barn called "Oak Lane."  Thought I'd share some of the pictures from that fun day!

The venue for the reception--Oak Lane in Oregon, IL

My three nephews who have all gotten married this past year, and their lovely brides

David and Kayla

Hubby and me enjoying the reception

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Easiest and Most Delicious Beef Stew Ever (Crockpot or Not!)

For me, few things herald the arrival of colder temperatures than beef stew.  (Chili and all things pumpkin go without saying, of course!)

Granted, "my" beef stew recipe is about as basic as you can get...but the results are mouth-watering all the same.  It's kind of hard to ruin the combination of stew meat and tasty veggies.

You can make this for the crockpot or for a big pot on the stove.  Right now, I'm about to start getting ready for work (I just work afternoons.)  My stew is in the crockpot already, with all the flavors mingling nicely.  When I get home from work, all I'll need to do is spoon it into bowls!

Here's the basic recipe, but remember, you can always improvise.  Throw in those left-over veggies in the fridge...have less of this or more of that.  It'll still be yummy.


1 package of stew meat pieces
Seven or eight potatoes, peeled and cut up in chunky pieces
[NOTE:  Since my husband and I are being careful about carbs, I actually use only 1 large potato now, when it's just the two of us.  It still tastes wonderful!]
1 package baby carrots (cut each carrot in half if you wish)
[NOTE:  I used "real" carrots this time.]
1 can mixed vegetables
1 can green beans
1 can corn
1 large can tomato sauce
1 and a half packets beef stew mix
[NOTE: Since my hubby and I are empty-nesters and don't have to make the stew stretch to feed several, I just use one packet of the stew mix]

Brown the stew meat in a little oil. (My mom advocated dipping the pieces in salt-n-peppered flour first, but I don't always take the time to do that.)

 While browning, chop up veggies and put them in the crock pot. Add tomato sauce (you can add a can of diced tomatoes if you like--my family just doesn't like to SEE tomato pieces in anything. Weird, I know.)

Add canned veggies, INCLUDING the juice. (Again, this might also be a good time to get rid of left-over veggies that may be in the fridge and are still good.)

Pepper the meat and add some seasoned salt if you like, then dump in the crockpot with everything else. Add beef stew mix.

When making this in the crock-pot, you probably won't need to add extra liquid...but if you're making it in a big pot, you'll probably need to add at least a cup of water, maybe more. Play it by ear.

If using a crock-pot, cook on HIGH for four or five hours.  If cooking in a pot on the stove, cook on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Some of my favorite Christmas music

Some of my favorite sounds of the season...

Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas"

I fell in love with this album the first time I heard it several years ago, and it has certainly stood the test of time.  The very traditional arrangements of classic favorites...the gorgeous orchestration, with Amy's pleasant voice...the few "newer" songs that have since become classics as well ("Breath of Heaven," "Grown-up Christmas List)'s all combined to make this one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.

4Him "The Season of Love"

It just wouldn't be Christmas for me without this wonderful CD.  It first came out so long ago that the cover picture shows the four guys in full early 90's glory, mullets and all.  But the sound never gets stale.  The gorgeous 4-part harmony, as well as the guys' distinctive solo voices, shine on unique arrangements of traditional favorites as well as others that have also become classics, like "Strange Way to Save the World."

Michael W. Smith's "Christmas" and "Christmastime"

Again, it would not be the Christmas season for me without these two albums.

I wrote about them several years ago:

The arrangements and orchestration (in "Christmastime" are absolutely gorgeous... This is one of my very favorite Christmas albums. It is the perfect, joyous blend of the lighthearted and the reverent. Now I can't imagine the Christmas season without it. 

His first Christmas album, "Christmas," also remains a Christmas season staple for me, but it has a much different tone. The first album is more quiet and worshipful overall. 

Point of Grace "A Christmas Story"

Another really beautiful album that as more than stood the test of time.   Lush, shimmery, angelic female four-part harmony, with a nice balance of the sacred and the secular.

Bryan Duncan "Christmas is Jesus"

There's something unique about Bryan Duncan's voice...I've always loved it.  And his Christmas album is a wonderful blend of traditional and inspirational.  His "Angels We Have Heard on High" is a joyful celebration, while "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is thoughtful and hopeful.
The song, "Form of Man," really encapsulates what Christmas really means...God coming down to earth and taking on human form:

Jesus, lowly born, brought riches to the earth
Lord of Heaven coming down, risking human birth
God’s thoughts and ways are not our own and I can’t understand
Why He wrapped His love in flesh and blood and He took the form of man.

Oh, and I wrote in an earlier post...I  just have to listen to Handel's Messiah.

A few years ago, I wrote about going to Trinity Lutheran Church in Rockford and hearing the Messiah performed live...

...Finally, the lights were lowered, and the small orchestra began the overture. I was instantly captivated.
The first song sung by the choir is "And the glory of the Lord." As soon as it began, and the beautiful voices wafted over us in stately and gorgeous harmony, I started crying and didn't stop for the entire length of the song.

It was not only the beauty of the music that caused my awestruck was the power, the majesty, the dignity, the authority. "And all flesh shall see it together...for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." 

I love "The Hallelujah Chorus," and it also has a powerful effect on me. But probably my favorite song from Messiah is "For unto us a child is born," and has been since I was in junior high. I don't know what it is that captivates me so much about this piece. I love the intricate harmonies, the amazing run-on vocal phrases that spiral skyward, the joyful elation of the violins. [Do listen to the video below if you have a few moments and have any appreciation at all for classical music.]

I honestly don't think I've ever heard any music with the power to transport me to the heavenlies like Handel's Messiah. If the music in heaven is even slightly more amazing and awe-inspiring--and I believe it will actually be much more so--then we certainly have a lot to look forward to!

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