Monday, December 22, 2014

A Very Merry Christmas!

It's December, and that means, as the old song says, that it's "The most wonderful time of the year!" I truly believe that it is! This time of year is so special in so many ways and for so many reasons. I love the build-up to Christmas and all the various traditions we've developed in our family over the years. We always try to get our Christmas decorations up right after Thanksgiving, so we have time to really enjoy them before they all come down on January 1st. And this year we did better than last year, but still didn't quite get it all done as early as we hoped.

 But I think it all turned out great and it's such a joy each day to be able to enjoy our festive holiday home! We're toying with the idea of getting our Christmas stuff up right after Halloween next year (or better yet, maybe before Halloween!)...

And speaking of Thanksgiving, that's definitely one of the "most wonderful" parts of this time of year. it's Thanksgiving that really sort of kicks off the holiday season, after all. Every year the boys and I look forward to Colette's Thanksgiving dinner more than I can begin to express
--it's always unbelieveable and this year we all unanimously concurred that this was Colette's best Thanksgiving meal EVER! The turkey was cooked to perfection - juicy, hot, mouth-wateringly delicious!
 My favorite part is always the stuffing--I think this year I ate no less than 20 lbs of it! And then there was the green bean casserole, chipotle sweet potatos, rolls, apple and pumpkin cheesecake pie...all of it prepared with the joy, love and impeccable expertise that are Colette's signatures...

As we rolled into December (and after the Thanksgiving meal I had, I am using the term "roll" literally) we brought out our traditional advent calendar/box, which we've been doing for years - a box with a small drawer for each day of December leading up to Christmas - a tradition the "elves" began years ago with the boys when they were little, filling each day's drawer the night before with various candies, treats, and words of encouragement. And even though the boys are older now, and the responsibility for the nightly filling of the advent calendar has passed to Chloë's "Elf on the Shelf" Lucy Grace, we do notice that the boys still make their daily morning trip to the advent box to collect their prizes!

And of course, one of the things that absolutely makes this the "most wonderful time of the year" are all the Christmas cookies…
Holy cow the mouth waters just thinking of them. Colette's cookies are out of this world - the chocolate peanut butter ones are my all-time favorite, but then there's the coconut macaroons (of various flavors), gingerbread, traditional, and always something new like thie year's chocolate ones which were a huge hit! And then after the cookies comes the homemade hard candy!
 All of it out of this world, brought to life by Colette's artful hand to our immense taste-bud overloading pleasure!

But even more than these things, this time of the year is the "most wonderful" also simply for all the normal stuff that goes on as part of our day-to-day life, all of which has an extra-exciting "buzz" about it as it all gets laced with Christmas music, lights, countdowns till school's out, and visions of sugar plums dancing in...well, you get the picture.

It's been a busy but truly great November/December, with the boys' football seasons all wrapping up--Jackson and Hunter ending with their trasitional Thanksgiving games, Jackson's football awards banquet, and Mitch ending another hugely successful season with a 4th straight Shrewsbury Massachusetts state championship!

There was Christmas ornament making and gingerbread decorating with Chloë and her little friends,
Colette and Chloë's "girls-only" trips to the mall including a special visit with Santa,

 family trips to Boston

 including a special overnight trip where we all dressed up and went to dinner high above the city at the Top of the Hub.

 Chloë's first-ever acting performance,
 a special birthday celebration dinner with Colette's long-time friend from the 8th grade Laurel and her husband Tyler, Mitch's birthday topped off with Colette's amazing homemade birthday cake pops,

Hunter's basketball games,
 Chloë's swimming classes,
 nights and days in the family room by the fire watching our favorite Christmas movies…

..And so much more. yes, this truly is the "most wonderful time of the year." For me, it is most wonderful for all these reasons, for sure, but as I reflect on the year that is so swiftly coming to a close, I acknowledge it's also "most wonderful" for something much more than these things. In a few short days we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate gift to all of us. He has brought me new life and into a new life, and when I think of all the unmerited and limitless blessings I enjoy each and every day of my life--my precious, beautiful angel-wife Colette whom I love more than life itself; our 3 amazing boys who are all gifts from God, and our incredible little princess-gift Chloë--I am reminded that all of this, all of everything good in this life and in the life beyond, is only possible and provided first and foremost because of the eternal love of our savior Jesus.

So to Colette, Jackson, Hunter, Mitch, and Chloë--Merry Christmas to you all. I love you more than I can say.

And to Jesus--Happy Birthday to You, our King! I love You, and to You goes all the glory - forever!

Merry Christmas everyone, and a very happy new year to all!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jumbo Cranberry Lime Pound Cake Muffins

Hello friends and family and happy almost Halloween/Harvest/Fall Celebration or whatever you call it!

We have a couple kids in the Gorgas household that are getting really excited for costumes & candy: Chloë is going to be Princess Merida from the movie Brave, and Hunter who says he will not dress up but he will go get the candy anyway.  I told him to at least put his football helmet on! Jackson has a football game (which we will go to around half-time after the candy extravaganza) and I am guessing that Mitch will find a way to conquer the candy as well.

Of course, that all being said, my latest post has absolutely nothing to do with any of that but of course has to be something sweet.

So with no further ado, I give you: Jumbo Cranberry Lime Pound Cake Muffins!  I thought of these as I was finishing up some artwork. (Once a multitasker always a multitasker~ but aren't we all in today's world!)

I knew the boys & Chloë would be requesting a dessert later when they got home from school & football so I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone; actually maybe it's just 1 bird. (I love that I can say anything I want on here even if it makes absolutely no sense!)  I have had a fascination with the large, jumbo muffins forever...strange, I know. Also, I was daydreaming about ways to use fresh cranberries (which I didn't have) and it dawned on me that they can be rehydrated which I had never done, so I was curious.

Bottom line I love this recipe! I have played with it and many variations of it a lot.

I figured out the time needed to turn it into 12 jumbo muffins changing only a few ingredients to go with the recipe I was trying to make.  Here's a picture from my instagram a few months ago of the original recipe as muffins- Lemon Blueberry Poundcake Muffins.
I've made this recipe as Chocolate Chip with Peanut Butter frosting, Banana Nut with Marshmallow Frosting & Lemon Meringue with Lemon Mousse Frosting.  It seems to turn out great every time!

Here's what I did for the Cranberry Lime ones:

Preheat your oven to 350. Line your tins with 12 jumbo muffin liners. I bought mine at Micheals, but you can get them here too: Jumbo liners
Blend the first 3 ingredients on medium speed till well blended- about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until very well blended. It's never exactly as long as they say in the original recipe.
Add all the dry ingredients a little at a time until very well incorporated-about 4 minutes total.
Drain the rehydrated cranberries.
Squeeze as much water from them as you can so the flour sticks & the cranberries separate in the batter. 
Toss the rehydrated, drained, dried cranberries with 2 TBSP additional flour.
Add the greek yogurt, Lime juice, butter extract & vanilla extract,  Blend for 1 minute. 
Fold in the cranberries. Not the most beautiful picture but you get the gist.
Drop about 5 TBSP of batter into each liner-about ¾ full. Fill ½ full first & then go back and divide the remaining batter amongst them- they don't have to be perfect- there is no such thing as perfection! Cook for 23-25 min. I used a convection bake setting & mine were done at 23 min.
Mix up the glaze while you're waiting
Take out of the oven. Let cool a few minutes. Breathe in the sweetness...
Lift onto foil with a fork & drizzle glaze on them and let them cool.

I couldn't help myself & played around with a Christmas idea with these by using 1 drop of teal & one drop of yellow in the glaze & mixed.  I used a red candy 'DOT' in the middle.

Printable Recipe

Thanks for reading! Praying everyone has a safe, happy, blessed weekend!


Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Install a New Mailbox

There's an old saying that "necessity is the mother of invention." If this is true then, from my experience, one of necessity's other kids may be home improvement. As much as we'd like to do only the fun home projects that we plan out, oftentimes it's the unexpected projects which take priority--out of necessity. Such was the case with this year's mailbox replacement project at our place, a project borne unfortunately out of complete necessity last winter. I thought it might be worth sharing a little bit about our mailbox experience, just in case anyone reading this wakes up one morning to find yourself suddenly without a mailbox, as we did.

When we bought our home it was equipped with some really nice outdoor granite light posts and a matching granite mailbox post. These features were among the many outdoor landscaping and decor features the prior homeowners had incorporated which originally drew us to the home. So it was really disappointing to wake up one morning last winter, after one of the many heavy snowstorms we had, to find our nice granite mailbox post lying flat on its back in the snow.
It was pretty obvious (at least to me) that one of the town's highway plow trucks had hit the mailbox while plowing the night before, as the thick granite post was snapped cleanly in two at the very base and was lying exactly parallel to the direction of the road. My attempts, however, to convince our town's highway department of this (i.e., to convince them that they'd wrecked our mailbox) ended unfruitfully and ironically with a simple form letter received in our temporary replacement mailbox that read something to the effect of, "Sorry, despite all the facts and pictures your shared indicating otherwise, we took a look ourselves and concluded that whatever hit your mailbox was not one of our trucks."

So with an unwelcome new project now on my list, I set off on a two-step process to resolve: Step 1 would be to get us back to a functional mailbox in the frozen short term, and step 2 in the distant and warmer long term, would be to get us back to a permanent mailbox we like. The 2-step process was necessary because at the time the sub-zero temperatures and mountains of snow still on the ground required all plans for a permanent mailbox to wait until Spring. But it's worth noting here that if your mailbox gets wrecked in decent weather you could skip right to the permanent solution described below, which can be completed in 1-2 days.

Step One: The temporary mailbox. This was pretty quick and easy. To get us back up and running, I made a trip to Home Depot and got a bag of fast-setting Quickrete and a pressure-treated 4x4 post. I mixed the concrete in a plastic 5-gallon bucket, then set and leveled the post in the bucket and let it dry. A tip on this...make sure you read and follow the Quickrete mixing and proportion instructions which vary slightly depending on the outside temperature, and also allow extra time for the concrete to dry if it's cold out. (Also, if you don't have any 5-gallon buckets on-hand you can get them for $3 at Home Depot).

After the post was fully set in the bucket of concrete I unbolted our mailbox from the fallen granite post and used wood screws to bolt it onto the new homemade 4x4 bucket post. Finally (while fully acknowledging that there's no way to make a mailbox stuck inside a bucket of concrete look aesthetically good) I spray painted both the post and bucket black and then set it in the snow right next to our granite post. Voila! Temporary mailbox up and running!
Step two: (Finally - our real mailbox!). After the snow had melted and the ground was thawed enough to dig in, I set out to install a permanent mailbox. We decided against another granite post and after searching around a bit Colette instead found a really nice-looking stone post mailbox which we both really liked and thought would be perfect.
From looking at the picture, I imagined this sort of mailbox would require sinking a wooden post into the ground and then laying rock around it (something I wasn't exactly excited to do but was determined to make happen). But then, after getting frustrated at every investigatory turn by the high cost of stone, none of which seemed to be the right style and size for what we needed anyway, I somehow stumbled on this replica stone mailbox post from Home Depot, made from glass fiber reinforced concrete designed to have the look and feel of natural stone. I was shocked at how real it looked in the picture and we decided to order it and give it a shot.

After the new replica stone post arrived I was even more impressed with the quaility and how real it looks, and I quickly found myself very thankful I would not be trying to piece together hundreds of individual stones around a wooden post to make something that would essentially look the same as this.

The first task in installing our new mailbox was to get rid of the old fallen granite post, which by the way we found out was unimaginably heavy and took 4 of us (myself and all 3 of our big boys) to haul off.
 The next step was to dig a deep hole right next to the spot where the granite post snapped in two. We dug our hole about 3 feet deep and about 2 feet wide.
Then we stuck an extra-long pressure-treated 4x4 (longer version of the post used for the temporary mailbox) into the hole and the mixed up and poured 4 bags of Quickcrete in the hole all around the post. As we were pouring the concrete in around the post we used a level on all 4 sides to make sure the post was setting straight up and down. The Quickcrete sets pretty quickly so it's really important that you check and re-check the post over and over as you go to make sure it remains level as the concrete hardens.
With the concrete fully set, we then marked and cut the cemented 4x4 post to the proper height to fit inside the new replica stone mailbox post that would go over it. Detering the proper post height is best done by simply setting the replica stone mailbox post over the top of the 4x4 post, then have one person hold the replica stone post at the desired height above the ground (we settled on about an inch above the cement to allow for dirt fill to be spread under and around the bottom of the post). While one person is holding the stone post at the desired height, the other person can mark the wooden 4x4 post and then you can remove the stone mailbox post and cut off the top of the 4x4 where you marked it.
imagine someone marking it ;)
Next, we cut a 2x4 to the proper length and screwed that onto the back of the 4x4 post. This was just to provide more thickness to the underlying wooden post to better fit the width of the opening inside the new replica stone mailbox post.

With the underlying wood post now at the proper height and thickness to secure the new replica stone mailbox post, we then measured, marked, and drilled holes into the replica stone post at the proper places to secure the mailbox support arm, which is included with the replica stone mailbox post.
Finding the right place for the holes is done by measuring the desired height from the ground to the bottom of the mailbox (we used standard postal service height specifications, which were included in the directions that came with the replica stone mailbox post) and then this becomes the spot for top of your mailbox support arm.

We held the suport arm in place at this height then just marked the screw holes with a sharpie and drilled holes through the faux stone using a masonary drill bit. With these holes drilled we next held the mailbox post and support arm in place together on the 4x4/2x4 wooden post, then marked and drilled corresponding guide holes into the wood post underneath. With the guide holes drilled, we were then able to screw the support arm and mailbox post into place right into the 4x4/2x4 post using the screws provided in the mailbox post kit.

For extra support we drilled a few holes through the back of the faux stone post and into the back of the 2x4/4x4 post underneath, and then screwed a few masonary screws into the back.

With the whole mailbox post now in place and secured, we then secured the post topper using clear adhesive/caulk, and then finally screwed our brand new mailbox onto the support arm.

(Note: we just located and purchased the mailbox we wanted online- there are a million different styles and colors to choose from).
All done! We love our new mailbox, which we are praying survives this winter intact! (But just in case, we saved our temporary bucket mailbox in our basement!)
…and that's the happy ending to our mailbox woes.

Thanks for reading,