Spring Tea

Last week I hosted a spring tea for Peggy’s birthday. Our weather has been so cold and rainy so it was a bummer that we couldn’t sit on the back deck but we made do inside. I bought this vintage tablecloth on eBay and it arrived just in time to be washed and ready to go!

I used the blue dishes Karen gave me for my birthday and added these strawberry & butterfly dishes that Peggy gave me. The butterfly glasses were also a gift from a book club member who moved away.

Karen, Susan, and I made the food. We ate ham salad and cucumber tea sandwiches, Helen Corbitt’s chicken salad, fruit salad, and scones with whipped cream and strawberry jam. I made May Day cocktails—I’ll share the recipe soon! They are so perfect for spring!

For dessert, we had petit fours from the Forest Park Bakery. They were such a fun treat and made a pretty addition to the table.

It’s so nice to be hosting again and I always love using my vintage treasures. Hopefully more tiny parties can continue through the spring and summer. I’ve missed them.

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Dive Bar Letter Writers is Back

After a bit of a hiatus for the holidays and Covid, the Dive Bar Letter Writers are back again! We met last month for National Card & Letter Writing Month and I’m scheduling our summer meet-ups.

Naoto has been a regular at our meetings but this time he actually wrote a letter! (Usually he reads or just eats a burger.)

If you’re in Chicagoland, please join us for our next meeting, May 22 at 2pm in Goldyburger’s beer garden! You can sign up for email reminders here.

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March & April Book Report

My reading has slowed down…partly due to April’s wacky schedule, but also Souls for Sale may not be the book to get me over my reading hump.

Souls for Sale by Rupert Hughes
I’m halfway into this…when I’m reading it, I like it, but I’m not excited to pick it up. I will report back in May, unless I give up on it.

As it Was & A World Without End by Helen Thomas
These two memoirs…just beautiful, and perfect for spring. It is Helen Thomas’s telling of her marriage to poet and writer Edward Thomas who struggled with depression and died in World War I. Helen and Edward had three children and lived in poverty most of the time, since Edward was something of a struggling writer. He was also a nature lover, so their explorations of the wilderness and the descriptions of flowers and birds and the forests are gorgeous. He may have been a published writer, but her talents for writing are extraordinary.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
This was our April pick for book club. The writing was beautiful and there was a lot of marital strife and family drama. (The book is semi-autobiographical so that made it even more interesting because it was as if Stegner was working out his childhood trauma in the book.) It wasn’t an easy read, but everyone in book group appreciated it.

The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
Written in between Native Son and Black Boy, The Man Who Lived Underground was just published last year. I read both of those books and a lot more Wright in college so I was really interested in this one that Wright called one of his best. We read it for book club in March. Wright is a very effective writer, and this book could have been written this year, sadly. I can’t say I enjoyed it–it was definitely a tense read with a sad ending, but I’m glad we read it. If you’ve never read Richard Wright, I would suggest this as a good place to start.

Spring Came On Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich
This was my first Streeter Aldrich but hopefully not my last! This one was written in 1935 and follows two families moving from Illinois to settle Nebraska. It’s a family saga that covers three generations of both families. There’s love and heartbreak, pioneer struggles, marital strife, and beautiful descriptions of scenery in this book–it was a good spring read that I stayed up way too late to finish.

My April was bananas with Easter at work and a ton of volunteer stuff to manage. I am hoping I can slow down in May and get back into my habit of dinner reading and doing more things for myself this month.

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Cherry Blossoms in Chicago

Cherry blossom season is almost over in Chicago, and while we didn’t have perfect timing, we did make it down to Jackson Park in time to see some blooms! Cherry blossoms are fairly new to the city. 2020 was the first year the trees were set to bloom, but we all know what happened in spring of 2020–everything was shut down and the parks were closed. Then last year, Naoto and I went down, but we both forgot our masks at home and it was super awkward because everyone in the park was wearing masks. (Now we know that it was probably ok, but at the time we felt so guilty!) We also pretty much missed full bloom.

This year, I watched Twitter and Instagram like a hawk so we could get down there in time to catch the blooms. It’s so difficult to plan around the blooming season, especially with unpredictable weather and work schedules getting in the way. When we both had a Tuesday afternoon free, we decided that would be the day. All of the trees weren’t in bloom and it was freezing cold, but we got to see the early bloomers and it was a gorgeous sunny day and the park was really quiet, so no regrets.

Someday, we hope to actually have hanami under Chicago’s blooms. (I’d also settle for hanami in Japan…)

This is in the Garden of the Phoenix within Jackson Park. There’s a gorgeous gate that you can enter and walk around a koi pond with a waterfall and bridge. There are hellebores and azalea and other spring blooms around the garden, but only the hellebores were blooming when we went. We have decided that we need to go again in May to see what other flowers we can find.

Just outside the gate, you’ll find this sculpture by Yoko Ono. Named Sky Landing, it was placed on the site of the Japanese Pavillion from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition and is a symbol of peace, according to Ono.

Spring has been really cold, rainy, windy, and pretty miserable, so I am grateful we made it. Hopefully it will warm up soon and we can enjoy our own garden a bit!

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Our Pleasant Homes Book Club Turns 20

February was our book club’s 20th anniversary. Because of Covid numbers, we waited to celebrate together in March with a 1920s party. (You can read more about why we chose a 1920’s theme on this post that talks more about the history of the group.) Sadly we were missing Virginia, who is only one of two original members still with the group, but we had a great time and really landed the theme!

Susan decorated the table with many old copies of books we’ve read. It was so fun to reminisce about each book–it’s also amazing how many we forget reading! We ate tea sandwiches, Waldorf salad, stuffed celery, relishes, deviled eggs, pineapple upside down cake, chocolate phosphates, and Southside cocktails.

We read Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground, which was written in between his novels Native Son and Black Boy in the 1940s, but not printed until last year. It was a really good, but really tough book.

I’m so thankful for this group and for a chance to talk about old books.

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Letter Writing Presentation with Lake Villa District Library

Have you been celebrating National Card & Letter Writing Month? I’ve been trying to work through my to-be-returned pile and get back into the habit of writing, but I’m a little bit behind my goal. I’m determined to finish strong next week!

Tonight I’m joining the Lake Villa District Library for a discussion about letter writing. It’s an online session and if you’re interested in joining us, here’s the link.

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Cocktail Perfected: Clover Club

I’ve been working on an egg project, so it’s only fitting that I added an egg cocktail to my repertoire. I’ve never made a proper Clover Club with the egg white foam on top before and it was time I tried! I can’t believe I waited so long!

The Clover Club

2oz gin
0.5oz lemon juice
0.5oz raspberry syrup
1 egg white (or 3T of egg whites from a carton)
fresh raspberries for garnish

First, make your raspberry syrup. In a pot, add one cup of sugar and a half cup of water. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Reduce heat and add a half cup (or more for a stronger raspberry flavor) of fresh raspberries. Smash your raspberries as they heat up. Remove from heat and let your mixture stand for a few minutes before straining out the seeds with a fine mesh strainer. Chill before using.

To make the cocktail, add your ingredients to an empty cocktail shaker and dry shake (without ice) for about 20 seconds to fluff up the egg whites. Then, pause to add ice. Shake until fully chilled (>15 seconds) and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with three fresh raspberries. Enjoy while painstakingly covering hallowed out eggs with Japanese papers.

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February 2022 Books

February flew by and so did its books!

If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson
This was our book club pick for our 20th anniversary. It was the #1 best seller in 1922 and for most of the book, you are kind of left wondering why. Not much happens, except you watch an unhappy marriage slowly fall apart. But in the last section, all the drama hits the ceiling and then you understand why it sold so well. I personally love a book with some marital strife so I loved this book, from start to finish. Reviews in our group were mixed.

The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eilliot
This is a play about an unhappy marriage. (Fun accidental theme for February?!) There are eccentric characters, therapy sessions, lots of cocktails and conversation. I loved it.

How to Carry Water by Lucille Clifton
This was my introduction to Clifton and I loved her work. Some of my favorites were “note to myself,” “new year,” “cigarettes,” “shapeshifter poems,” and “November 1, 1975.” I don’t read enough poetry.

All the Days and Nights by William Maxwell
I still have a couple of stories to finish but I had to return it to the library, so stay tuned for a final review when I get the book back. I have been trying to go through these stories slowly. Sometimes I tend to rush short stories and then I miss out on the enjoyment they can bring. Maxwell’s stories and books are made for lingering…so that’s what I’ll do.

Month by Month Gardening in Illinois
This was supposed to motivate me to plant some seeds and get a grow light set up in the basement. So far, it hasn’t worked. I did, however, buy a bunch of seeds and tubers to plant as soon as the threats of snow and frost are over…which at this rate, will be May.

March was a slower reading month for me, so expect a full report on that soon…ish! Tell me what you’ve been reading!

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New Vintage Linens

This winter I fell down the eBay rabbit hole and landed in the vintage linens. It started with a search for some dainty, plain cocktail napkins and then I quickly veered into the Vera options. Her designs are so bright and colorful and cheerful which is just what I needed in January when things were gloomy and the pandemic was raging again. The napkins gave me some hope that I’ll be able to host a spring garden party someday soon…

I ended up getting the cream linen napkins with the crocheted trim on eBay. I got the unbranded turquoise and the Vera strawberry ones on Etsy from a seller who specializes in vintage linens. (Those came in acid-free paper and really felt like a gift to myself.)

I wasn’t able to host a garden party, but I did host a small dinner party with a few friends last week. I used my turquoise napkins for our appetizers and the cream linen ones with dinner. It was fun to set the table again! I even starched the napkins because who doesn’t love crisp linen? (Plus I couldn’t get them smooth enough without a little starch!)

I asked Naoto to pick up some pink flowers and he chose these orangey carnations. (I know carnations get a terrible rap, but I really love them! Their fluttery petals are so pretty!) The color ended up working perfectly with these paper placemats from Japan. (I have a few different sets of these that I need to use up!) And the placemats worked with the vintage pink runner I had on the table. (The pink of the candles didn’t really work but hey, it was close enough for a Thursday night!)

For dinner, I made this Smitten Kitchen dish. It was so easy and really tasty! Plus it’s one of those dishes that takes little effort to prep and kind of does it’s thing until you take it out of the oven–low maintenance so you can enjoy your friends without being stuck in the kitchen. I haven’t cooked in so long and I was very nervous about it working out, but it all worked out. Whew!

It’s been so nice having people in our house! Last month we had our Olympics party, a little ramen dinner party, and this dinner party. It’s made us really want to get the kitchen remodeling done (hopefully this year!) but otherwise, we really like entertaining here. It’s nice to be fully living in our house after almost a year of being here!

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The Beijing Bobsled

The Olympics are flying by like a bobsled on a fresh track, so I thought I’d make another cocktail to drink while I watch the wildly unfair women’s figure skating events this week. This is a variation of a gin rickey, with the addition of lychee liqueur. It’s refreshing, like the monobob.

Beijing Bobsled

2oz gin
1oz lychee liqueur
0.75oz lime juice (freshly squeezed!)
club soda

Add gin, lychee liqueur, and lime juice to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to chill and combine and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with a lime wheel and lychee fruit. Enjoy from your warm, comfy couch while you watch amazing athletes competing in the freezing cold.

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