Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last days of Christmas - more caroling moments

Christmas Eve at Knott's Berry Farm!

Here we have it - the last bit of favorite moments from our season of Caroling together:

*Three rockin' nights of Summit House and 5 Crowns back to back, people's generosity was astounding!

*Rhonda as "Bessie the ____________ Cow".

*Singing for a table of men who sing barbershop and their wives who play handbells. They were so much fun!

*The big group at the end of the night at 5 Crowns - young people who just thought we were AMAZING. They were a BLAST to sing for!

*Amy's rescue of a very sick Rhonda, and finishing the night singing for Michael, a very special man whose family brings him to 5 Crowns every year just to hear the carolers.

*My family having dinner at the 5 Crowns, and getting to sing for them.

*Anytime that Reggie and Nate ate together - you have never seen anything like their mutual appreciation for food. TOO CUTE.

Reggie as a "Snowman". He's so cool!

*Christmas Eve at Knott's Berry Farm again this year. :) We were the last quartet to go through Knott's, and were able to be a special part of many folks Christmas celebrations.

*Steph and her sister Jenny coming out to hear us at Knott's and having a BLAST!

*Singing requests for Myrna and Cassie during our last set at Knott's.

Intently jingling our bells at Knotts.

*Dec 26th at Disney. We were also the last quartet to go through Disney this Season. I felt like a celebrity! Nik, Solange and Caity; Jenny; and Debbie and Kevin all came out to see us. :) Here's a video that Jenny shot of us singing Kids Medley C!

*More hysterical laughter than you can imagine. Usually inappropriate, always funny!

*Rhonda - my beautiful, talented, hilarious soprano. She is going through some tough stuff this year, but you would never know it on set. She is the epitome of professionalism. Rhonda, it has been such a joy getting to know you this season. Rhonda = Thank you for making me laugh (and sometimes cringe) time and time again. Thank you for your professionalism and willingness to fight through tough times in your life when most others would just crumble beneath it all. I wish so many good things for you, and hope that 2011 kicks 2010's ass!

Rhonda in her special outfit.

*Nate - my tall, hungry, super-busy bass. This man is SO busy, doing his student teaching and credentialing program. You would never know it when he was with us - he was so focused and prepared. Such a solid musician and patient singer, Nate also has a mischievous spirit to him and I loved the moments when I would see a smirk on his face and think - "Gosh, what is going on in that brain of his?" Nate, you will never know how much you helped and supported me this season. You have such a kind, genuine heart and good spirit. THANK YOU for your patience and encouragement!

This is Nate from a Child's perspective.

*Reggie - my jolly, fortunate, soon to be married tenor. Reggie had an AWESOME 2010 - not only is he engaged to the woman of his dreams (you should hear and see the love in his voice and face when he speaks of her), but he landed small roles on HOUSE and Modern Family. Such a talented guy - so generous with his time, energies and laugh. Watching Reggie eat is an experience - the man ENJOYS his food - we should ALL learn to enjoy our food as much! Reggie - I could not be more excited for you and Katie. Thank you for your kind, precious spirit and jolly laugh. You are a JOY to sing with!

Reggie just as he is.

So, I wrap up Caroling 2010 with mixed feelings - relieved for the vocal rest that January will bring, sad to be separated from these new friends who became such an important part of my life in 2010!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

R.I.P. Stanley Sourdough

Poor Stanley... If you remember, my Sourdough Starter from last week was named Stanley. It's been a busy caroling season. I'm exhausted and concerned about my vocal health, my husband was sick all day yesterday, my god-daughter had her second birthday, Christmas is in less than a week. All excuses. I killed Stanley this week. I forgot to feed him for 3 days, which wouldn't be a problem if I was keeping him in the fridge. Instead, I starved him to death, and then he grew a layer of the strangest mold I've ever seen, floating right above his hooch. Poor Stanley.

Now I know something new about sourdough. Don't starve it. The results are no bueno. And don't start your sourdough during Caroling Season.

After the holidays, when life is slower and less Christmas driven, I will start again with Stanley 2. And when I get busy, I'll stick him in the fridge so he doesn't starve. :(

I'm a bad sourdough mama!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More favorite Caroling Moments

*The happy family of Christmas-o-holics who stayed for our entire set at Disney and sang along to every song. We each thought they were friends of one of our quartet members - but they were not. They were just in the spirit of the season, and it was a joy to sing for them.

*More delirious, cannot be stopped laughter in the break room at Disney.

*Rogers the Red Nosed Reindeer - singing this on video for Rogers who is very, very sick, and praying that our voices will bring him joy as he fights for his health.

*The Rubiks Cube champion of the world sitting at one of our 5 Crowns tables.

*Gluten Free Cookies in the break room (Thank you, Dennys!)

*My husband's heroic drive to rescue me from a flat tire in the pouring rain - I made it to Summit House with 10 minutes to spare!

*The teenage boy with braces who took his date to dinner at the Summit House - too cute.

*The other teenage couple at the Summit House, who didn't know where to look and seemed embarassed that we were singing for them. As we walked away, Ben and I heard the girl say, "Wow. I really wish I could sing like that."

*Nate half dressed in his Knott's costume - tux shirt, cravat and vest with maroon boxers and wearing Charlie Brown's oversized shoes from the Christmas Tree-Lighting Show. I promised not to repost a picture here. TOO FUNNY.

I'll have one more batch of these favorite moments in a few days.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Here we come a caroling

At Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel, singing in the lobby. This was taken on someone's cell phone. Sorry for the bad quality!
L to R: Nate, Rhonda, me, Reggie

Caroling season is in full swing and I'm loving it. I have another wonderful quartet this season, full of great people whose company I truly enjoy. We are SO busy singing this season, and are currently on the freight train to Christmas. Since I had a lunchtime gig instead of an evening one today, I'm happily at home procrastinating on cleaning, waiting to have dinner with Jason and my wonderful mother-in-law, Catherine. In the meantime, while I continue to procrastinate, here are some of the highlights of this year's caroling season so far!

*Singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" for a table at the 5 Crowns and hearing this comment afterward: "The man who wrote that was a good friend of mine. He's no longer with us, but his song lives on."

*Singing during dinner at the Wellington Center for some active and not-so-active seniors - seeing the joy and memories in their eyes, and listening to their stories.

*Moo-ing with my soprano Rhonda in the breakroom at 5 Crowns. You had to be there.

*Simple Green luncheon - we each walked away with a big bucket of free cleaning supplies from Simple Green. Woo-hoo!

With Ben (who was subbing for Reggie) with one of our buckets of Simple Green products.
The picture does not do the amount of free products justice!

*Delirious, can't-be-stopped laughter with my quartet while on break at Disney.

*The kid at Knott's who I have decided will end up in prison someday - he grabbed Nate's bell and looked under my skirt. Good parenting.

*Fifteen little kids in their jammies, having a dance party while we sang "Jingle Bell Rock", "Rudolph" and "I Want a Hippo... for Christmas" in the lobby of the Paradise Pier Hotel.

*Being told that I look just like Jane Seymour, and the woman's surprise that I'd never heard that before.

*The little blonde girl and her sweet mother, dancing around in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel like we were the best thing she's ever heard.

I'm sure there are so many more. I may add to this list as I think of them. These are the reasons I love to sing at Christmas time. 9 more days of singing until Christmas time!

As the Knott's Calico Carolers. L to R: Reggie, me, Rhonda, Nate

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I assume if you read this blog that you already know that I am gluten free. And although this is not a blog ABOUT cooking gluten free, it does sneak in every few posts simply because it is how I live.

I follow many gluten free blogs, though, and through one of them recently found this post describing how to make gluten free sourdough, from starter to bread. Needless to say, I was very excited and immediately went out to find all of the flours I did not have and a big glass jar.

I could not find all of the flours, even at Sprouts and Whole Foods, and so had to wait for them to ship directly from Bob's Red Mill. But they sent them!

Day one with my sourdough starter. Not very exciting.

Once the flours arrived, I began my experiment with my starter in its glass jar. After one week, I became impatient and decided my starter was ready. It was not. The bread, although it tasted like sourdough, did not rise and was a failure. Instead of giving up, I went back to feeding my starter.

Another week passed. At a gig on Friday, I freaked out and realized that I had forgotten to feed the sourdough starter for two days. Frantically, I texted my husband. Reggie, my tenor in my quartet, joked that if you have to feed something everyday that it should have a name. So he named it Stanley Sourdough. Finally, my starter was behaving exactly like it should every day. I would feed it and stir it. It would bubble up and consume the flour/water mixture and within 24 hours settle into two parts: wild yeasts and starter on the bottom, hooch on the top. Stanley was finally ready.

The finished sourdough boule. I was so excited to bake it, I forgot to cut slices in the top! Oh well!

So yesterday, I made another loaf. I let it rise. It didn't rise as quickly as I wanted it to, but rise it did. This morning, I baked it in my Le Creuset dutch oven. It is perfect. Delicious, and sliced warm with butter melting on top of it, it is the sourdough of my dreams.

And Stanley? He was moved out of his jar so I could clean it, and he is happily re-fed, making hooch in his jar. :)

Stanley in his jar this morning, pre-feeding. See the two layers? Yeast and starter below, hooch above.

Thank you to the gluten free doctor for steering me in the right direction and for helping a bread lover turned gluten free girl gorge herself on hot homemade sourdough. Want the recipe? Check out the link at the top - I cannot take any credit for it at all.

The best part? Before I went GF, I would have never considered growing a sourdough starter in my kitchen. Perhaps Stanley will become a family heirloom!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

O Christmas Tree (and Cookies!)

We finally decorated it!

The Speer household had a special Thursday night this week. Thursday is our usual dinner night with Jason's mom, Catherine, who lives in Orlando, Florida and works in LA from Monday through Thursday every week. Since her work is keeping her in California half of the time, it's been a very special opportunity for me to get to know my mother-in-law who I would otherwise rarely see!

This Thursday, we had a Christmas tree and cookie decorating night, complete with assistance from Catherine, my sister Kelli, and my dear friend Steph.

Kelli cutting cookies (yes, they're gluten free, and I made the dough from scratch).

Indy thought having all of these women in the house was AMAZING. Lots of attention for the puppy.

Here's what happened when I suggested a family photo in front of our first Christmas tree:

I latch onto Jason's leg and try to keep him from escaping. (Excuse the mess in the background)

Jason gets tired of me hanging on his leg and scoops me up. He's a strong one. :)

Our final family photo - unconventional and perfectly us.