Saturday Meanderings

Welcome to the first Saturday Meanderings of 2024. I am really excited about this even numbered year. This week is turning out to be a very productive one, and I am thoroughly enjoying the last of the 12 days of Christmas, which is today, January 6th, the Epiphany. Thank you so much for joining me today for Saturday Meanderings, where we chat about all good things this week.

Toasty cup of hot cocoa

My Daughter’s Birthday

Today is my youngest child, Elisabeth’s 23rd birthday. She and her friends are celebrating at our cabin in the snowy mountains of Arizona. When I asked her about a birthday cake, she replies, “oh, I will just pick one up at the grocery store.” Wait? What? After years of a homemade birthday cake, well that is just unacceptable to me. After determining her favorite cake flavor is chocolate, I start planning to make a cake that would be transportable in a long car drive.

Black Forest cake

My favorite go-to cake cookbook is Layered by Tessa Huff. This dog-eared, food stained book has been well used over the years. I try a new recipe for her birthday celebration~a Black Forest cake. Four layers of sour cream chocolate cake with heritage frosting and cherry chocolate ganache between the layers, milk chocolate buttercream frosting on the outside with chocolate shavings and fresh cherries on top.

Cake Carrier from Walmart

Because of the height of the cake, most cake carriers will not work. However, a last minute trip to Walmart, I am able to find this carrier with the proper clearance. The base of the carrier flips so you can use it for cakes or cupcakes. Now, I just hope the cake makes the car trip and is as delicious as all the spoons and bowls I licked.

New Product to Keep on Hand

We often have guests dropping by unexpectedly and we like to be able to offer up an appetizer. I discover this during the holidays and they are perfect with a glass or wine or champagne. Imagine freshly baked French cheese puffs that are ready in 25 minutes! Shipped to you frozen, an order includes 36 of these delicious cheese puffs.

Bougie Gougies

I just received my second order of Bougie Gougies and love having them available in the freezer when I need them. Each box has 36 cheese puffs. They are a bit pricey, but you are paying for the convenience. Now my goal is to learn to make these. Has anyone made gougères from scratch?

New Year’s Eve Brunch

New Year’s Eve brunch

Instead of an evening New Year’s gathering, we decide to do a brunch this year. As I age, I find myself wanting to go to bed earlier and late nights are suffered the next day. I serve the tried and true brunch recipes of my egg casserole, blueberry coffee cake, and a fruit salad (without the unripened cantaloupe). In addition, I try a new recipe of Spiced Dark Chocolate Cherry Saltine Toffee (recipe below) and a Coconut Mojito cake (from the Layered book mentioned above).

Spiced Dark Chocolate Cherry Saltine Toffee

The saltine toffee recipe (from Virginia Willis, author, Secrets of the Southern Table) is excellent and listed below. Now you know why I need to diet and exercise in January!

Daily Planner Week 1

In my post earlier this week, I share my new daily planner and annual calendar. It is so nice to get back on track and I can report that everything that I tasked myself with this week I accomplished! So far it is working!

1st week of using a planner!

In addition to using a planner, each day I am trying to keep ahead of my email in-box. At the end of December, I had nearly 10,000 emails in my inbox….mostly junk. Daily I am taking 30 minutes and cleaning and purging. Does anyone else have this problem?

Frost Warnings

This next week it will be quite cold in Phoenix. I believe the City’s temperature reading comes from Sky Harbor Airport and our property is approximately 6 to 9 degrees cooler. When you see those astronomical summer temperatures, it is mainly due to all the concrete and tarmacs surrounding the airport. Since we have so much vegetation here and in our surrounding neighborhood, it’s important to pay attention to the weather forecast.

Tomato plants

My garden is covered with Christmas lights and a layer of protection. Since my garden greens and tomato plants are so abundant right now and I’m taking extra precautions.

Protecting plants

Mary’s Must Haves

I don’t know if it the cold weather or I’m exerting muscles in a different way, but I am using Arnicare Gel frequently. This homeopathic topical gel, is quickly absorbed, non-greasy, fragrance-free and helps reduce muscle pain and stiffness.

Arnicare Gel

Every night I put it on my left knee and left wrist (injured in my fall last year), and it really seems to help. I like the fact that it is a natural pain reliever from the Arnica montana plant.

4 pack of leggings

This time of year I am content being in a pair of comfy leggings and a warm sweater. I bought these for my daughter for Christmas and she loves them. You can get all black or a combination of colors. Super soft, and non-see through, they are also high waisted. Can’t beat the price at $36.99. See it here.

Zand Elderberry Zinc lozenges

During this time of year when so many people are getting sick, these lozenges are a good item to have handy. At first I balked at having to buy 12 bags, but they are small and we go through them quickly. Each drop contains elderberry and a throat-soothing herbal blend. The 5 mg of zinc per lozenge may help your immune support. I always take a bag when traveling and like the fact they are non-GMO, gluten-free, no cane sugar, artificial sweeteners or colors. See it here.

5 pair cotton socks

I bought these cute cotton socks last year and received them after Valentines Day. These socks are so adorable and would also be a great Valentine’s Day gift. The price is so low at $13.99. It also looks like the delivery date will be a while so order them soon to get them before February 14th!

This weekend we will be dismantling Christmas decorations, which is always bittersweet. Do you have any fun plans? Stay warm out there and have a happy weekend!

As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. My blog may contain other affiliate links but not all links have affiliations. I truly love to share products that I have personally tried and highly recommend.

Spiced Dark Chocolate Cherry Saltine Toffee

Transform a basic cracker into a classic holiday treat

  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers (about 40)
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter ((2 sticks))
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 12 oz. finely chopped 70% dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick foil or spray with cooking spray. Arrange the saltines, salt side down, in a single layer in the pan. Set aside.

  2. Melt 1 cup butter in a large heavy-duty saucepan over medium. Add the brown sugar and cayenne pepper and raise temperature to high to bring to a boil. Cook for 3 minutes. Immediately pour toffee mixture over the saltines and bake for 6 minutes.

  3. Remove from oven and nudge the saltines back together if they're floating in the toffee.Set aside for 3 or 4 minutes.

  4. Melt the chocolate over medium heat in the top of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water. (Or place the chocolate in a microwavable container and melt on low power until smooth, about 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.)

  5. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and the black pepper to the melted chocolate. Pour over the toffee and spread in an even layer with an offset spatula. Top with pecans and dried cherries. Let stand to cool slightly, then sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer to the refrigerator to harden completely, about 1 hour.

  6. Pop loose from the pan, break into pieces, and store in an airtight container separated with sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper.


Saturday Meanderings

Happy Easter (or Passover) weekend! The weather is certainly warmer in Phoenix but hoping it will get back down to something less than 88 degrees. Our Easter dinner will be small but we will do all the traditional family events just the same. Welcome to Saturday Meanderings where we chat about all things good and wonderful this week.

Amazing Online Magazine

Chic & Country Magazine

I just discovered Chic & Country magazine and I am SO impressed. This virtual magazine comes out quarterly (I think) and you can access it anytime.

Chic & Country is a magazine about country style interiors with a touch of French chic and Nordic whites, featuring house tours, home stories, decor ideas, food recipes, flower design, gatherings’ styling, gardens and unique travel destinations. The subscription is $20.00 a year. This is my new go-to read just before bed. Here is the link.

Doing a 5K

My daughter has a goal to do 52 hikes annually. And she’s added a few 10Ks as well. As a result, I am supporting her efforts to be more active so I am participating by signing up for the same races~but only the 5Ks. I can no longer run, as my knees cannot tolerate the impact after multiple knee surgeries. In completing the Shamrock Run last month, I received this Mr.T-like medal and cool t-shirt, so I am looking forward to participating in the Hippity-Hop run today.

A 5K sounds impressive but it is only 3.11 miles and my fast walking time is about 50 minutes. The good news is that I can log my time and get another t-shirt and medal!

Disappointed with Results

One of my garden goals this year is to grow abundant amounts of strawberries. Typically I will buy starter plants from our local nursery, but this year I purchased strawberry starter roots online from Gurneys. Twenty root stock and crowns arrive and I plant them according to the instructions.

All the strawberry plants showed good signs of growth for a few weeks and now nearly 50% of them are dead. Literally. No reason, as I am taking care of them. Every day I go out to my garden another plant has died. So I am supplementing with locally grown starter plants from Whitfill. Live and learn, I guess.

Best Cake Ever

Hands down, my new favorite cake! I made this for my daughter’s birthday in March and am excited to make another for this weekend. It is a London Fog Cake~ a chocolate cake with coffee, smothered in Earl Grey tea infused buttercream and then drizzled with salted caramel sauce. Oh my.

The recipe is from my favorite cake cookbook, Layered, by Tessa Huff. Truly a winner. And if I have shared this with you before, it’s worth repeating…’s that good!

New Eating program

My metabolism is very slow, unfortunately. Unlike my son, who has an extremely fast metabolism, mine just chugs along. Barbara, from Mantel and Table, recommends this program to me to jump start my metabolism. We are both doing it for the next month.

I am completing my first week and love it so far! Grounded in real science and written by nutritionist, Haylie Pomroy, it’s a 28 day program. The hope is to mix things up and get my metabolism working at an optimal level. Will let you know how it goes! Here is a link to the book if you are interested.

Annual Lamb Cake

Traditional Easter Lamb Cake

As a child, I have fond memories of Mom’s lamb cake at Easter. Made in a cast iron mold, this cake is now an annual tradition in our home. I will be baking it on Saturday, with an orange blossom cake recipe. So excited to try this new cake as right now, our orchard is filled with orange blossoms. If you would like to see a post on how the lamb cake is made, click here. Isn’t he cute?

Easter Dinner table

Since we are expecting a few more guests, Easter dinner will be in the dining room. A few weeks ago I did a post on a yellow and blue Easter table (see here), but for Sunday, this one is more blue and pink.

If you missed the post this week on these sweet decoupage eggs, click here. The block print tablecloth is just the right shade of blue for Spring. The bunny plates from Pottery Barn connect the patterns and colors in the Royal Doulton Juliet plates. Scattered about are birds, bunnies, and even a stone frog.

That wraps it up for Saturday Meanderings. I hope you have a glorious and blessed weekend. My goal is to stay away from my phone and social media and just relax a little. I know I will be making adjustments to the Easter dinner so I do not stray from my new eating plan, but it will still be wonderful to share it with family and friends.

This post shared with Between Naps on the Porch Tablescape Thursdays #654

Saturday Meanderings

Finally hanging some of my artwork

Happy Saturday morning! Gosh, it is hard to believe the first week of the New Year is over. Thank you for joining me for Saturday Meanderings as we reflect on the comings and goings of the week.

It always takes me a while to file away the holiday spirit. Slowly we are dismantling our holiday day decor as we leave it up until January 6th, which is the Epiphany. Organizing and storing it all always takes a bit of time. We’re not in any hurry.

Thinking about my Spring Garden

When it comes to gardening, I feel rather knowledgeable about the vegetable garden. The last week of February through the month of March is the ideal time to get growing, and get the most out of the 2021 tomato season here in Phoenix.

If you live locally and want to start a garden, Farmyard Farmers is an excellent resource. The year I had extensive shoulder surgery I hired them to design and plant my garden. They did an incredible job. You can also purchase seeds and seedlings from them. Here is the link to their website.

Hollyhocks growing like weeds everywhere

However, I am a novice in planning and planting a flower garden. The thought of having access to fresh cut flowers is a dream of mine. I am awaiting several packets of seeds from Floret Farm. A family run flower farm and seed company, they specialize in unique and heirloom varieties. They have a lovely website and their seeds sell out quickly. Once the seeds arrive, I will develop a plan and share that with you. We can learn together.

New floret flower varieties
Floret Farm

Inspiration from other sources

As much as I don’t enjoy spending hours on the computer or social media, I do love the inspiration from other sources. A comment from The Vintage Contessa on my last post about the grilled cheese tomato soup party led me to another blogger, Annie from Most Lovely Things (who also happens to have a grilled cheese recipe).

Aiden Paez
Aiden Paez @throughaidenseyes

On her post, Annie shares her five favorite things and one is the artist, Aiden Paez. Aiden is a self-taught, 14 year old and don’t you just love the picture above? You can follow him on Instagram @throughaidenseyes.

Sandra Sallin~Apart from My Art

Another inspirational artist and blogger is Sandra Sallin. Sandra started her blog at age 72. An awarding winning artist, her energy and sense of humor is contagious. Her informative blog, Apart from My Art is here. A good lesson in that it’s never too late to learn something new.

Pasta Fagiole recipe from The Enchanted Home

Last week I was craving a hearty, warm Mediterranean style soup~like a tortellini or a good minestrone. And then I read The Enchanted Home’s Seven on Sunday (one of my favorite reads) and lo and behold, there is a recipe for Pasta Fagiole. That was it! I made it right away and it is so delicious. The timing is great because we had a bit of Elisabeth’s homemade bacon that I used instead of pancetta. Adding jars of our garden tomato sauce, this soup is a winner. Here is the link to that post. Note: I doubled the recipe as the original one serves 4.

Auzances, France for $56,435 USD

Another blog that sets my mind into dream mode is Cheap Old Houses. Do you follow them on Instagram @cheapoldhouses? Not only do they feature homes for sale (cheap) domestically, but also internationally. I have often fantasized about restoring a villa in Europe! Once you sign on, it’s hard to not go down the rabbit hole and spend hours on this site.

Fun Recipe

Do you recall back in November we made the Alton Brown Aged Eggnog Recipe (see post here)? Well, it aged for approximately 6 weeks and we consumed it on Christmas. It is D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S! I also discovered that my sister, Susie and her family, made a batch last spring and had it aging for months. We will definitely be making more soon. You can find the recipe here if you want to make it now.

Elisabeth’s Birthday

Hard to believe my youngest is now 20 years old. It seems like yesterday that she was dressing up and twirling around the kitchen. Well, she still twirls around the kitchen! And what a fine young woman she has become.

Elisabeth’s birthday cake

The children always get their choice of homemade birthday cake. Elisabeth decided on a Chocolate Matcha cake from my favorite cake cookbook, Layered by Tessa Huff.

Chocolate Matcha cake ~recipe in Layered

This is a HUGE cake with 4- 8″ cakes~2 chocolate and 2 matcha flavored. The filling is a white chocolate matcha ganache, all covered in Swiss meringue buttercream.

Alternating layers of chocolate and matcha cake

For Christmas, I received a professional revolving cake stand from my son. Being an amateur cake baker, I still need a lot of practice on this new stand, however, it made frosting this cake a bit easier.

Fortunately, half of the cake is now at college with her and not part of my thighs.

Funny Photo of the Week

As you know, our large dog, Cooper, loves sitting on whatever is around.

However, one night he decides to sit on the sofa on top of our cat, Donovan. Poor thing. The cat tried using all its might to push Cooper off. Not sure Cooper felt a thing.

Well, that’s a wrap! Will be spending the weekend taking down the balance of Christmas. Our houseguests (our son and girlfriend) will be leaving on Sunday to head back to D.C. We feel so blessed to have had our son here for a month. Sad to see them go but know they have their own lives too.

Have a beautiful weekend!

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Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

We recently held a small surprise birthday dinner party for my husband, Scott. All intentions for a larger surprise gathering evaporated with COVID. But since this is a landmark birthday, we did try to make it a bit special regardless. Here are the grilled cheese and tomato soup ideas we created based on a grown-up theme.

Entertaining at home is limited to very small groups. We are careful to be outside in the fresh air. As much as we want to include all our friends, we are being conscientious until this whole pandemic settles down.

In planning, I need to be more aware of how food is served, social distancing and the weather conditions. Our winters in Phoenix are chilly, especially at night and in the morning.

With the help of my children, we did all the cooking while trying to keep Scott out of the kitchen (that could be a blog post in itself!). It was a bit frenetic to say the least. Before any event I am so swamped I forget to take really good pictures of the setting and food. I need to get better at this!

The Menu

The menu for the dinner is:

The recipes for the creamy tomato soup and artisanal grilled cheese are from Bon Appetit’s October 2012 issue. Guests design their own sandwiches from a table of curated fixings.

The Fixings

To make the sandwiches have adult appeal (but who really doesn’t love a crisp, gooey grilled cheese sandwich?) you can vary the ingredients. For this party, the meat fillings for the sandwich include: thinly sliced ham, prosciutto, smoked brisket, and crispy bacon.

Pre-shredding the cheese allows for faster and even melting. Dill havarti, sharp cheddar, pepper jack, gruyere, and smoked gouda are good cheese choices.

Sliced sourdough bread is an easy store purchase, and you can use whole grain or rye. Whole grain mustard, fig and sour cherry jam, are nice spreads to add. Though we did not include these, thinly sliced apples and sauerkraut would work too.

The Soup and Salad

This easy, delicious tomato soup can also be made ahead of time and reheated. If you haven’t made my Winter Kale salad, this is a winner. For this particular event, I did not include the wild rice, but made the salad with chopped fresh kale, feta cheese, pomegranates and toasted walnuts. See the recipe here.

The beauty of this meal is that you can prepare most of it ahead of time. On the day of the event, slice and skillet (or broil) the bread, grate the cheese, make the salad. The soup can be prepared up to 2 days earlier. Just before guests arrive, re-heat the soup and set everything out.

The Preparation

Let your guests decide their fillings, and then finish the sandwich off on the grill or in the oven~hot for consumption. It is fun to take everyone’s order and with one person grilling, the sandwiches are ready quickly.

Soup is served in mugs so everything can fit onto one large plate.


For dessert, our guests choose from either rich, fudgy brownies or Black Forest cake or both.

Brownies with walnuts from my son’s favorite cookbook, Bravetart
Black Forest Cake from one of my favorite cookbooks, Layered by Tessa Huff

This warm and comforting meal is very appropriate for a rather chilly evening outside. I was afraid the cake was too small to serve everyone, but thin slices are appropriate for this rich, dense and delicious cake. And I always forget to take off my apron!

Homemade layer cake!

Happy Tuesday, my friends! I guess the New Year has officially begun. How nice to have a weekend after the holiday! We are celebrating our youngest’s birthday this week and I will no longer have any teenagers at home. Where does the time go?

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Creamy Tomato Soup

This recipe can be easily doubled to feed a larger group and makes great leftovers.

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 10 sprigs thyme (tied together)
  • 1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole tomato
  • 1-2 tsp sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup (or more) heavy cream
  • kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  1. Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add thyme, onion, and garlic. Cook until onion is completely soft and translucent. 10-12 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; add tomoato paste. Continue cooking, stirring often, until paste has begun to caramelize in spots, 5-6 minutes.

  2. Add tomatoes with juices, 1 tsp. sugar and 8 cups water to pot. Increase heat to high, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer until flavors meld and soup reduces to about 2 quarts (8 cups), 45-55 minutes. Remove soup from heat; let cool slightly. Discard thyme sprigs. Working in small batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return to pot.

  3. DO AHEAD: Soup can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool slightly; cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.

  4. Stir in 1/4 cup cream. Simmer soup until flavors meld, 10-15 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and remaining 1 tsp. sugar. Add more cream if desired.

For a lighter soup, omit the cream; or for a little decadence, add more cream or swirl in a little crème fraiche.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

The secret to making grill cheese for a crowd? Turn on the oven (or use the outdoor grill). Encourage guests to customize their sandwiches with the cheeses, breads and fixing you have set out. Then simply pop them on a baking sheet or grill and cook.

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 16 1/4" thick slices assorted bread
  • 1 1/2 lb. Assorted cheeses (coarsely grated)
  • Assorted fixings (meat, spreads, etc.)
  • Kosher Salt, freshly ground pepper
  1. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Set a wire rack inside each of 2 foil-lined rimmed baking sheets. Butter 1 side of each bread slice with about 1/2 TBSP butter.

  2. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat until very hot, at least 2 minutes. Melt 1/2 Tbsp butter in skillet. Add 2 slices of bread, buttered side down, cook, pressing down often with a spatula to ensure even basting and rotating pan frequently, until bread is evenly golden brown, 3-4 minutes. (Do not rush or increase heat, or your bread will burn before it can evenly toast).

  3. Transfer bread slices, toasted side down to prepared wire racks (this will keep bread crunchy). Repeat with remaining bread and butter, wiping out skillet between batches. (If all the bread doesn't fit on the racks, you may need to bake sandwiches in two batches).DO AHEAD: Bread can be toasted 1 hour ahead; let stand at room temperature.

  4. Garnish untoasted side of each slice of bread with fixings, then top each slice with a small handful of cheese (about 1 1/2 oz.), scattering evenly. Season with salt and pepper (do not skip this steps; it really elevates the flavors in the sandwich).

  5. Bake bread slices, rotation baking sheets halfway through, until cheese is thorougly melted, 10-12 minutes (begin checking after 8 minutes, some cheese melt faster than others). Working in batches, firmly press 2 cheese-topped sides of sandwiches together. Let rest for 1-2 minutes. Slice in half or into quarters. Serve hot or warm.

We grilled the sandwiches on an outdoor grill, not in the oven.  Either works fine.  Fixings can be:  sliced ham, prosciutto, bacon, smoked brisket.  Cheeses suggestions: cheddar, Swiss, Havarti, pepper Jack, gouda.  Spreads: fig jam, sour cherry jam, chutney, cranberry sauce, whole grain mustard, Grey Poupon.  Other: thinly sliced apples, sauerkraut. Get creative!

Post Christmas News

It was a very rainy Christmas morning here in Phoenix~~just perfect for lighting each of the fireplaces. This is one of the first years we didn’t have guests, so it was just our family. That set the tone for a very relaxing and easy day.

After reading Santa’s letter and opening presents, Dad made his legendary Eggs a la Goldenrod for breakfast. Click here for previous post recipe. This breakfast dish has been a family tradition and is a big hit with the children.

Benjamin made mimosas with fresh squeezed orange juice and Prosecco.

Picking fruit in the rain in his annual holiday suit

I set an easy table this year for dinner, mostly because I left that chore to the last minute. In keeping with my “simple” theme, we used holiday placemats in lieu of a tablecloth.

The 3 silvery trees came from Whitfill Nursery

The Christmas dinner was also simple. Benjamin made a reverse-seared prime rib and the rest were items from the garden. Two types of cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, carrots and beets were seasoned and roasted. I even managed to dig up potatoes too!

As you know, each holiday we bake, from scratch, a new cake for dessert. This year’s selection was superb! From our favorite cake cookbook, Layered by Tessa Huff, we made the Gingerbread Coffee Toffee cake. Four layers of an old fashioned molasses cake, with coffee French buttercream and toffee pieces between the layers. It was covered in a Swiss Vanilla Meringue buttercream on the outside and a toffee molasses sauce on top. Ooh la la!

We also tried a new cocktail from Half Baked Harvest~~White Christmas Mojitos. It was surprisingly light and refreshing. An easy blender drink using coconut rum, white rum, coconut milk and sparkling water. We used cranberries instead of pomegranate arils for garnish. Click here for the recipe.

My big surprise present from Santa was an Apple Watch. With news this year of a few friends having cardiac moments, I am happy to be able to track my heart rate and workouts going forward (plus work off that delicious cake!)

Nearly fell off the elliptical taking this picture-which is why it is a bit blurry!

We had a REALLY good Christmas. I hope you had the same. Not sure what, if anything, we will do to celebrate the New Year. But I am truly enjoying this quiet time in between. Happy Saturday!