Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Christmas Card

T'was the night before Christmas and we wanted to make sure you got our Christmas card in time. Sue and I have been at this blog now for about 8 months and it's been an absolute joy to share our time with all of you. Thank you for the comments and thoughts, both on our facebook walls and right here. We're truly happy to have the opportunity to get to know you better.

If you'll simply click above on the cover of our Christmas Memories album, the interwebz will whisk you away to the actual card. Once you're there, click the exit (the little door) button on the left to come right back here. We hope you enjoy it, and we wish you a very happy Christmas!

We are planning to take the week off - but who knows - we might slip something in for New Years. Otherwise, we'll see you in 2012!

Sue and Brian

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Jesus

It's Christmas time and I would be remiss if I didn't go off on Jesus!
So - here we go - three good things about God-Jesus-Holy-Spirit at Christmas.

Let me start by saying I'm not anti-Santa. I think that Santa is very cool and a really fun traditional part of Christmas. He looks way better on a Coke bottle than a polar bear does. Having said that, I do think that sometimes we get confused about what Christmas really is all about and confuse the unconditional love of God with being good for Santa. So - love God, and I think Santa is cool.

If you don't want to keep reading - at least watch the Charlie Brown Christmas video here.

2) Who gets gifts?
While Santa Claus gives gifts to the good little girls and boys, God’s gift to us is for everyone.
John 3:15 Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life. [CEV]

3) What kind of gifts? and why?
While Santa Claus gives us toys that break, socks that wear out and candy that is gone in minutes, God gives us Jesus and eternal life.
John 3:16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. [CEV]

John 3:16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. [CEV]
Santa Claus is making a list and checking it twice making note who is naughty and nice, God gives us his gifts out of his great love for us.

John 3:17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! [CEV]
Santa Claus gives bad girls and boys lumps of coal, God wants to save us.

1) How do we respond to gifts?
John 3:21 But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do. [CEV]
Children write letters to Santa Claus asking for things up-front but with no thank you afterwards. We respond to God’s gift to us with thankfulness for his love and personal change to be better for him.

I know that the idea of a God with no conditions on his love seems strange to some. My hope is that if this does seem odd to you, that you'll see that it's in the Bible - that I believe is God's word to us - and feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

And Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Merry Christmas Munchies

You've got Andy Williams on the turntable and one or the other treatments of A Christmas Carol on the flatscreen. What are you going to eat and drink?
Friday list-day again and after a week of music and then movies, it's time we got to the munchies.

Let's be honest food is a pretty serious component of our holidays. From your Thanksgiving harvest feast to the Christmas Roast Beast, we love our main dishes, festive sides, sweet desserts and the snacky things. Here are our lists of good Christmas food sure to get the visions of sugar plumbs dancing in your heads.

Sugar-coated Sue because she's so sweet!

2. Potica: What? Pronounced (paw-tee'-tzah), it's a Slovenian pastry - a bread-like nut roll stuffed with walnut filling, and really, really yummy with coffee. My late grandma T used to bake them at Christmastime. Delicious!

3. Christmas cookies: Sugar cut-outs with sprinkles, chocolate chip, nut crescents, oatmeal, magic cookie bars, mini pecan cups, peanut butter with a chocolate kiss on top, thumbprint cookies with jam, and so on. I like them all. Every year since I was a child, we've baked dozens and dozens of cookies for snacking, gifting, and leaving out for Santa along with a glass of milk and some carrots for the reindeer.

1. Eggnog: Unless you're Martha Stewart, most likely you simply pick up some nog at the store. The best around these parts is from Oberweis Dairy. Even better with a little nutmeg sprinkled on top, and a little something-something added for the grown-ups ;)

Brined Brian (it sounds the same when some of my relatives say it)

2) Caramel Corn - I don't know why I associate this with Christmas, but I do. Pop the corn, make the caramel, pour, stir, bake, stir... mmmm so good! If you're not into making it yourself, I highly recommend getting it from Nuts on Clark.
(ahem, Sue here, the top caramel corn in Chicago is from Garrett's just like the best pizza in the windy city is from Pizzeria Uno downtown, silly Brian!)

3) Gingerbread - but not just any gingerbread man or house. This is Nigella Lawson's Sticky Gingerbread. So good - that's a link to the recipe.

1) TURDUCKIN - this is the holy grail of feasting. You stuff a chicken into a duck and stuff that into a turkey. Roast/Bake and carve it up. WOW!
(Sue again, putting in my two cents - meat stuffed in meat stuffed in meat. BLECH! You kind sir, can have your funky chicken and my portion, too. In my cookbook, that ranks right up there with fruitcake (which T loves to eat), and figgy pudding. What the heck is that anyway? But to each his own)

So what tastes good to you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

OH Christmas Tree!

Because my December birthday has come and gone, the official start of decking the halls here at the Borowiak household kicked off this weekend with the selection, purchase, and set up of a lovely Frasier Fir from a local garden center.

It's been about three years since we've had a real tree in the house, so the kids and I were very excited about this endeavor - T not so much, but he played along with just a little bit of Scrooge-like grumbling!

There are lots of good things about trimming the tree, especially when it is real, like the nice, fresh Evergreen smell, or the pretty and green, but not-so-perfect branches.

But my favorite part of decorating the tree is unpacking all of the ornaments, and remembering the stories that they tell. "My ornaments have lots of wheels," exclaimed A excitedly, who does have a wide collection of planes, trains, and automobiles. A's collection of ornaments that "go" are among the hundreds and hundreds of ornaments in our vast array of Christmas decor.

We have so many ornaments that we barely cannot squeeze them all onto the tree, and that's a good thing, and here's why:

2. Memories: Like I said, each ornament has a story to tell. We have ornaments from our honeymoon trip to Maui including a colorfully painted starfish Santa (which btw the kids think is stinky, so they won't hang it up), and a small bride and groom that says "Just Maui'ed". I have many ornaments from my childhood including a little plastic sheep given to me at religious education classes, while T has a snowman shaped like a bell that he chose at Marshall Field's downtown when he was a boy. We have a variety of ornaments given to us by others as souvenirs from their travels, and we have a shiny Mickey ornament from our family trip to Disney World in 2007.

3. Milestones: Many of our ornaments mark important events in our lives such as Our First Christmas ornament from 1995. Both kids have their Baby's First Christmas ornaments from 2000 and 2002, respectively. We also have two very special handmade ornaments, one with Miss O's tiny baby footprint, and a small felt replica of A's hand. Every year, they match up their hands or feet to see how much they've grown over time. We have a New Home ornament from 2003 - the first year in our humble Yorkville abode. I also cherish many ornaments from my past life as an elementary school teacher. One of my favorite's is a small felt mouse with a mini-chalkboard given to me by my former colleague and good friend Kate.

1. Merriment: Many of our ornaments reflect the many interests and activities that bring us joy, happiness, and inspiration such T's collection of bicycle ornaments, A's soccer ball ornaments, Miss A's ornaments that feature polar bears and penguins, or my huge collection of snowmen/women ornaments - most of which could not fit onto the tree so they were designated to the garland on the stair railings, well, except for one of my favorite's from T ~ a Christopher Radko glass snowman that is holding a string of hearts.

Click to play this Smilebox collage
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~ All photos by Miss O
Hint: If you click on each photo, you can see a close-up!

Ornaments - good memories, milestones, and merriment.
What stories can be told from the ornaments on your tree?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Going to the show with Sue and Brian

It's Friday Dec. 9!

16 more days 'til Christmas. There's still time for shopping, wrapping, baking, caroling, eating cookies, sipping eggnog, ho ho ho-ing, mistletoe-ing and more!

Amidst all the holiday hoopla, it's nice to sit back, relax, and take time out to watch a good Christmas movie. Most likely, you have your favorites, so do we here at the 2-3-1 blog.

Let's begin . . .

Suzi Snowflake

2. A classic classic - Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, the 1938 black and white version presented by Family Classics with Frazier Thomas on WGN/TV-Chicago back in the day when me and Brian were just tiny tots with our hearts all aglow. My favorite scene is when Bob Cratchet hits Scrooge with a snowball knocking off his hat!

3. A magical journey - The Polar Express, the 2004 motion-capture, computer-animated film based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. An enchanting story capturing the spirit of Christmas, and the notion that you're never too old to believe. My favorite scene - Hot Chocolate!

1. A delightful comedy - A Christmas Story starring the bespeckled Peter Billingsley as nine-year old Ralphie whose ultimate Christmas wish is to receive a Red Ryder BB gun. Too many funny scenes to list. If you haven't seen this 1983 film, you've truly missed one of the greatest holiday movies of all time. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra!

Merry and Bright Brian

Sue called *dibs* on my favorite version of "A Christmas Carol" above, but that doesn't mean I don't have some good stuff too!

2) Scrooge - it's the 1970 musical version of "A Christmas Carol" with Albert Finney, who won a Golden Globe for his performance. The film earned 4 Oscar nominations and a slough of others, but only one win. The music by Leslie Bricusse, known for music in over 100 movies and television shows from the 1950s to present day - from Goldfinger to Glee, is infectious! I defy you to get "Thank You Very Much" out of your head once you've heard it.

3) Elf - I just love that movie. Sure, it's newer (2003) than our others here, but it's become part of Christmas for me. Will Ferrell is simply amazing as the wide-eyed innocent Buddy the Elf (what's your favorite color?). His performance makes the movie. The rest of the cast, including James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart ain't too shabby either.

1) Quick list of "I'll bet you didn't think of these as Christmas movies"
Sure - anyone can like the Christmas movies with a clear message - but what about the ones that slip under the Christmas radar?
The Godfather - Key plot line develops when "The Don" is the victim of an assassination attempt at Christmas. Meanwhile, the adopted son, Tom Hagen, is held captive in a trailer at a Christmas Tree lot while the family gathers to war.
Citizen Kane - Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. (Spoiler Alert) Hint - there's a Christmas present involved...
Die Hard - New York City Detective John McClane has just arrived in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his wife. Unfortunately, it's not going to be a Merry Christmas for everyone. Plus, you get Alan Rickman as The Grinch! "Die Hard so perfectly represents the Christmas spirit, it makes It's a Wonderful Life look like a brutal Nativity-themed snuff film by comparison." (5 Reasons Die Hard Is The Best Christmas Movie Ever Made - Don't follow this link - not for the faint of heart)

AND not to mention... The Shop Around the Corner, Anne of Green Gables, The Thin Man, Rocky, and Twelve Monkeys!

Okay... despite what Brian likes to call Christmas movies, what's on your must-see Christmas movie list? Do share your thumbs-up choices with us, and your popcorn, too!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I cannot contain myself. I have a love affair with boxes. Boxes are handy things. They can be plain and simple, or pretty and embellished. They can be big, small, wide, or tall. Cardboard, plastic, wood, glass, ceramic, and so on . . .

Think about how boxes are an important part of our lives. A festively wrapped present brings joy to young and old alike. And for many small children, the box is often more fun that the gift itself! Have you seen the recent commercial with a cute toddler crawling in and out of a box? Priceless! A box can be a house, a car, a hideout, or with some paint and a few holes cut out – a costume for dress-up. The possibilities are endless.

Boxes are good things. Here's why:

2. Everyday boxes are useful. They store lots of things like cereal, macaroni, shoes, mail, crackers, and even juice. I like boxes because they can hide things like the clutter that piles up on my countertop. They are a home for old toys, books, magazines, paperwork, or outgrown clothes. I even have a decorative box that houses many of my medication bottles. It sits on my kitchen counter within easy reach, and most visitors don’t actually know what’s inside.

3. Many boxes are the keepers of memories. I have boxes holding tons of photos, my children’s artwork and school projects, momentos from special occasions like our wedding or the kid’s milestones such as their births, baptisms, and first birthdays. Tucked away in my dresser drawer, I have the tiny red box from one of the most precious gifts I ever received– my engagement ring.

1. Boxes help us move our treasures (or junk) for one place to the next. My husband has unpacked boxes stored in the basement that we moved from our first home to our present home more than eight years ago! We have boxes for our holiday decorations – Christmas, Halloween, Easter, and more. I also have boxes storing my books and supplies from my past teaching days. We even have boxes that hold empty boxes! Needless to say, our basement is just one HUGE box holding many, many other boxes!

The list of wonderful boxes goes on and on – pizza box, jewelry box, hat box, Monopoly box, a box that holds a shiny new pair of shoes, a Chinese take-out container, a heart-shaped box filled with chocolates, a music box that plays a favorite song, a box for tissues, the 64-box of Crayola crayons . . . like I said, I just can’t contain myself!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Music Friday

Here at the 2-3-1 blog we like to post the occasional Friday list of good things.
Andy Williams: The Godfather of Christmas Music
Andy Williams: The Godfather of Christmas Music

Now that it's finally December we can get to some Christmas lists. (that is... lists of Christmas good things, not lists of things you want for Christmas, though - those can be good too. I guess we could do that later on this month - right now we're doing Christmas music... but I digress)

Today's list is good Christmas music. I grew up on Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole - also Brenda Lee, The Drifters, Burl Ives and of course James Brown. In my mind, no one holds a Christmas candle to Andy Williams; the Godfather of Christmas music. The man had a golden voice and his Christmas specials on TV were something I looked forward to.  However, there is plenty of really bad Christmas music out there as well, so before we each give our list of good tunes, here's a short list of the worst Christmas music ever recorded.

Worst Christmas Music on Record
2) Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk this Christmas) - I like country music, but this song is everything that has ever been wrong with the genre all wrapped up in a shiny red bow and doused with Jack Daniels and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Anyone got a match?

3) Santa Baby - that's right, sexual overtones for Santa Claus. The Madonna version has got to be the worst version.

1) The Christmas Shoes - undeniably the worst Christmas song ever (possibly worst song ever) and a horrible movie. Yes, they made a movie out of it. This is a prime example of maudlin, manipulative, and moronic.

Now on to the good stuff.

Sleigh bells Sue

2. Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi, released in 1964, and made popular by the classic TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Not really a Christmas song per se, but it has a nice beat and you can dance to it just like the Peanuts gang!

3. Winter Wonderland, circa 1934, music by Felix Bernard, lyrics by Richard B. Smith. This Christmas time pop standard has been recorded by 150 different artists including THE Andy Williams. It's a catchy tune, and it conjures up warm wintry memories.

1. O Holy Night composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847, originally a French poem (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau - who was asked by a Parish priest to compose a Christmas poem. I think it's a beautiful song, and illustrates the reason for the season! I like the versions by Jewel, and my dear friend, Josh Groban.

Bah Humbug Brian (I actually love Christmas, but you try to find something alliterative)

2) The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting...) by Mel Torme - he wrote it and I like his recording best.

3) White Christmas by Irving Berlin - first performed in 1941 by Bing Crosby and subsequently included in the movie "Holiday Inn" where it won the Oscar for best original song in 1942, and the movie "White Christmas" in 1954.

1) It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle and sung by the Godfather of Christmas Music, Andy Williams.

So, break out the Christmas music, fire up the turntable, or the CD player, iTunes, Pandora - what-have-you, but do it. Christmas music is a great way to get the good stuff into your heart.

Honorable Mention:
Baby, It's Cold Outside by Frank Loesser - This one also won an Academy Award for best original song in 1949 in the movie "Neptune's Daughter".  Try to imagine two versions - one performed by  Ricardo Montalb├ín and Esther Williams and the other by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. The one I like best is by Diane Reeves & Lou Rawls, though the Dean Martin recording is pretty good.