December 31, 2011

Life and Living, 2012

One of my favorite things to do is find a quiet place, with fresh notebook and pencil in tow, to ponder thoughts and plans.  What is working in this world of mine?  What's not?  What must change to maintain sanity, and what more can be done to squeeze out (in?) more goodness and delight?

Life is easy to take for granted.  A quick trip to a third world country changes that.  So does an illness, a change in job status, or a new babe.  Those things give us new lenses.  And since they make us view our world in a more precious and meaningful way, shouldn't we accept those opportunities for genuine growth, whether or not it comes in ways we prefer?

Work and schedules and duties are often so complicated that "real" life -- that part that is the most meaningful and feeds our souls -- is awash.  Then one of those "opportunities" arises, making life more complicated than ever before, and you realize that all of the regular stuff is real life, and we need to jump in with both feet and embrace the living to be had in the midst of it all.

And thus my paper and pencil.  The New Year brings with it the fresh chance to sort it out. Wouldn't it be great if all of the stupid things we bring on ourselves could be culled out to make room for what's important?

So I ask you to join me in evaluating the stuff of life.  What can be changed for the better?  What needs to be eliminated at all costs?  Where are the dreams and what can be done to move forward to catch them?  And do those dreams include bettering the lives of those around us?  Being a blessing to others?

I'm willing to try this radical approach to life in 2012.  But it takes a lot of faith and a lot of friends.  Thanks ahead of time for being there!  God help us.

December 28, 2011

Miss Mia




Miss Mia and I are spending some quality time together over the holiday!  She is a punkin head, a little button, a cutie patooty, a lovey -- sweet, determined, cute as anything, with a little mind of her own.  Her big cheeks and soft neck just beg for a million kisses!

And she makes me laugh like crazy.  This girl kills me!

She eats most anything, but if she tires of something she conveniently drops it through a little gap in her high chair down onto the floor.  Sometimes it's just a few bits, but other times she'll donate a whole fistful of food, much to the dog's delight.

Then she laughs like crazy.  Just like her favorite Aunt Nancy.  =)

December 26, 2011

Going With the Flow, Part I

Sometimes you can plan things so carefully and still not be prepared.  You just can't anticipate all of the contingencies.

Who knew that Christmas 2011 would be the day our oven stopped working?!

December 24, 2011

The Cattle Are Lowing



The cattle are lowing
The baby awakes...

May you have a blessed Christmas as you remember the birth of the Christ Child.

December 21, 2011

Christmas Menu Planning

As a general rule, I try to avoid menus...because I try to avoid cooking.  With all of the excitement and pleasure of being around family, being stuck in the kitchen is less than appealing.  Just thinking about it makes my lip start to curl.  But this year the celebrations will be at our house, and I'm in charge of food.  So menus must be made.  And this is one year I am determined to enjoy.

You will notice that these menus lack gourmet quality.  Nothing with 14 ingredients, and no unknown spices.  Just simple food and some honest baked goods, and I'm totally happy with that! In case there are any real cooks out there, someday I will interview you and then ask you to invite me over for dinner.  Just so you can fully appreciate my point of view, this is how I size it up:

  • Ham - A brilliant food.  It comes cooked and sliced.  You can even serve it cold.
  • Rolls and scones - Made ahead of time and frozen.
  • Clementines - Another ingenious food.  Store to table in a flash. 
  • Roasted potatoes and fruit salad - Chop and bake, chop and toss.  Gotta love it.
  • Butter and cheese - Thankfully, there are cows around the world that can help us with these. (And whoever invented Stilton cheese deserves high accolades!)
  • Jam - Maybe next year it will be homemade.  
  • Pumpkin bread - Thanks, Ginny, for bringing it.  I love this tradition.

With a couple of candles, beautiful tableware, and lively conversations, I'm convinced no one will miss anything.  Relationships, conversations, and laughter trump kitchen slavery.  My hunch is that there will be a number of new and glorious memories to be made out in the living room!

Hear, hear!

December 20, 2011

Christmas Tree Ornaments

The Christmas tree is done!  While we have tons of boxes of ornaments, I decided this year just to use my favorites.  So here are two to share with you...

Something old...a little elf doll that sits in the branches and has adorned every tree my entire life...

And something newer...I just love her precious little face.  So full of character!


December 16, 2011

Christmas Is HOW Many Days Away?


It's been busy, crazy, over-the-top.  The kind of insanity that makes you sick, and too many of you know exactly what I mean. Today is my first quiet day and rather than jump in and get going on Christmas, I have decided that tea, bonbons, and Kleenex will more appropriately ring in the season of peace. No bonbons in the cupboard, but Nutella works!  Our Christmas decorations are in boxes...

 


The ladder remains in the living room...



The lights?  Suffice it to say I'm married to a teacher and after he finishes the day and sleeps for about 27 hours, we should have these up and shining...



And so this is where I rest my feet for the day.  Cookie-baking can wait.  The dog's chewing on a bone.  Time for a nap.  =)


December 15, 2011

I Love the Math

The average American gains 2 lbs every holiday.  Over 10 years, that's 20 lbs.

It takes approximately 2000 steps to walk a mile.  At an average pace, that burns 72 calories.

3500 calories = 1 lb.

Therefore, it will take 97 miles of walking to lose the 2 lbs gained this Christmas.  No thank you.

But think of this!  If you walk in place while drying your hair and log 533 steps every day, over the course of the year that would burn enough calories to equal 2 lbs.

VoilĂ !

December 14, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake


The thought of lemons must have gotten me in the mood for a fresh pineapple upside down cake. Not sure of the exact connection there, but I guess they both grow in warm climates and I'm really cold.

If you haven't tried your hand at this Southern dish, give it a whirl - surprisingly easy!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
1/2 pineapple, cut in rings or wedges
4 Tbsp butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
14 pecan halves
2 c. flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla

Place 1st 4 ingredients in largest cast iron skillet.  Melt together, and arrange in a flat pattern.
Mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl. Pour over pineapple mixture.
Place skillet in oven, making sure your racks are sturdy enough for this heavy pan.  Bake @ 375° x 35-40 mins.  Cool x 4 mins only; then, placing a cake plate over the top of the skillet, carefully and quickly flip it out onto the plate.

December 13, 2011

Take a Gander



This is a plant I would be willing to bet no one in the Northwest could identify.  Any guesses? OK, drum roll...it's a lemon tree!  I bought it a few years ago and this sumer I kind of forgot about it until one day it was too cold for anything non-native to survive.  In my hurry, I threw it upstairs in a room far away from the puppy, which happens to be the warmest and sunniest room as well.

Magic!  A little sunshine, a little warmth, and now we have blossoms!  The fragrance is heavenly.

If we're lucky, we'll get a lemon or two, and if that happens, we might need to have a Winter Lemon Fest.  =)

December 12, 2011

The Next Nurses


What an honor to watch Ginny at her pinning ceremony.  We are in good hands with this next generation of nurses!

December 9, 2011

Moments of Beauty

While I am blogging away about delightful things such as pecan pie, nature, and dreams of travel, another young woman with a two year old writes:

"...we undeniably acknowledged the beauty and light of life.  We cried when we were happy and smiled when we were sad.  Life is not easy and it is not what you expect but there is beauty and release everywhere you choose to look..."

These words are inspiring enough, but even more so knowing her husband passed away a few days ago from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  Neither she nor Harper let the disease define their life together.

Take a moment today to appreciate those around you, savor the moment, and look for the beauty.

December 7, 2011

Pecan Pie Longings


It looks good, and it improved with age.  But it wasn't great.  In my opinion, it was too sweet and took a day or so to set up.  I figure that if one goes to all the effort of making pie (and consumes all of the sugar-and-calorie loveliness), every single bite better be unbelievably, astonishingly fabulous! Legendary. Life changing. Anyone have an amazing recipe for pecan pie they'd like to share??

December 6, 2011

Jingle Bell Run 2011

We didn't win any prizes, but we had fun participating in the Jingle Bell Run.  Team Gingerbread was mighty and strong!  Austin removed her costume to change into her serious runner clothes, so she took our picture.  And just so you know, it was freezing outside and we bundled in many layers.  We did not, in fact, gain 20 lbs overnight. And I did not, in fact, ever get warm.

See the rick rack?  Half of it's fake.  We made it out of DUCT TAPE.  We should have been awarded a prize just for that alone!


4000 participants, all dressed in Christmas cheer!

And a team of elves and reindeer greeted us at the finish line...

December 5, 2011

Duck Hunting

Oh, how I wish I could have been there to see it.

Sir Bradley and Elsie, The Great and Mighty Hunter, went duck hunting together.  Bradley had on his full gear (camouflage, neoprene "overalls" sewn to tall wader boots; camouflage jacket; baseball cap; duck whistles around the neck; gun), and as he sludged through the water Elsie swam beside him to get to the duck blind.  From what I can tell, the blind is quite primitive with a small roof and a bench.  A place where men like to sit frozen, in silence.  I do not fully understand it. Elsie settled down beside him on the bench for some serious hunting.  Bradley started his duck calls, and the two of them watched overhead as the ducks started circling.  Elsie leaned into his side and he had his arm around her.

The man and his pup.   Calling, watching, waiting.  Calling, watching, waiting.  Neither tired of the game.  By my watch, it went on for hours.  Both were completely happy and contented upon their return.  Partners for life.  No ducks for dinner, but it didn't matter so much.

December 2, 2011

Oranges & Cloves


We used to make these orange-studded cloves as kids, so I decided it was time to play around with them again!  No need to ask around or check online instructions...how hard could it be, after all?  Child's play should be simple for an intelligent adult, no?
 
No.

  • Since when are cloves so sharp?  Not on the end that pokes in, but the other end that meets your fingers.
  • Little clementines/tangerines are pretty cute.  But they also have thin skins surrounding juicy insides, making for a drippy mess. Of course the dripping wasn't part of the early memories - we always used thick-skinned oranges.  What was I thinking?
  • Cloves don't poke very well.  Knitting needles to the rescue!
  • Now how do those ribbons really attach?  

My creations probably don't deserve the sophisticated title of Pomanders.  As they continue to drip, let's just say they are more country style...pioneer style...kid style.  Perfection is not always required. =)

December 1, 2011

Incredible Dinner Rolls!


OK, these are among the best rolls on the face of this earth!  They contain yeast, buttermilk, AND soda (go figure), and don't take all day to rise.  No kneading required and really easy to make.  How great is that?

I found the original recipe online, with "flower" listed as the main ingredient.  Obviously the guy couldn't spell, but his rolls looked promising.  And because I can never resist the temptation to make a few adjustments and play a bit, what follows is a lovely creation that will change every holiday in our house - and maybe yours.


Buttermilk Dinner Rolls
1 c. buttermilk --> Heat buttermilk and water to lukewarm.  Add yeast.  Let sit for a few mins.
1/4 c. water
3 tsp yeast

2-1/2 c. unbleached flour
1 c. whole wheat flour (the fresher the better)
1/3 c. honey
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Mix everything together until moist but not sticky.  (Add a little more flour or a little more water if needed.)  Let rise* 15 mins.
Cut dough into 4 pieces and then each of those into 4 more pieces.  Roll into balls.
Place into a 9x13" glass dish with the balls barely touching.  Let rise* 30 mins.
Bake @400° x 15-20 mins.
Brush tops with butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

*Find a lovely 90° spot for rising.  Here in the cold NW, that would be by the wood stove (but a big risk with Miss Elsie, who can sniff out food a mile away) or in the oven.  Heat it up and then turn it off so it's nice and warm to the touch, not too hot.  Your yeast will revel in it.  =)

November 30, 2011

Berries






Berries, berries everywhere!  It's a genetic thing, always being on the lookout for them.  It runs in the family.

It should also be mentioned that I managed to snap these pictures with a wild, dancing puppy at the end of a leash.  I'm learning an entirely new set of skills.

November 29, 2011

Advent Is Here!




Something new for advent!  There's still time to count down the weeks until Christmas, so here's a 15 minute project.  You can make it as fancy as you want, but I chose to use things around the house.  (OK, I had to buy the Epsom salts!)
  • 5 wide mouth pint canning jars
  • Epsom salts for "snow"
  • 5 votive candles - the kind that come in packs of 100...I took the foil off 
  • Ribbon - I had silver in my recycled ribbon bag
  • Wooden container - this came from the garage, but anything will do.  You can also just line these up on a table.
  • Greenery - come on over if you need some. We've got lots!  I really like the idea of laying it around the candles, because you can always keep it fresh.  Wreaths are all wired together and they get pretty crispy by the 24th.
Each night this week during dinner we are lighting the first candle representing HOPE.  It's beautiful.

November 28, 2011

Frolic in the Pits? Really?

I finally used a book store gift card and bought Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2012.  It's a fascinating book with all kinds of instructions and tips for travel! Among the travel skills, itineraries, and recommendations, he addresses the concept of attitude adjustment.

"Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys.  Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic.  If something's not to your liking, change your liking."

"Expect problems, then tackle them creatively."

"Make an art out of taking the unexpected in stride....Be a good sport, enjoy the uncertainty, and frolic in the pits."

Wouldn't it be great to be so skilled in the attitude department that we could do this not just in travel, but in life?  Every day? (Or how about most days?) In spite of xx, xx, and xx?  It really is an art.  And I really do want to be an artist.

November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks 2011



A very happy Thanksgiving to all of you, my family, friends, and friendly readers.  May we all be "voicing our love and rejoicing"!

Nancy

November 22, 2011

A Pleasing Day of Art

You know it's going to be a good day when you get to sleep in and then there's a warm fire waiting for you downstairs.  The kitchen's clean, the dog's sleepy, the calendar is full of only pleasurable things, and there's a new book on the couch.  That's the kind of day that inspires art.

And so I have completed my Thanksgiving card, learned how to draw bittersweet (the plant) and curved pumpkin stems, and written a first draft for a new children's book.

Another pheasant is roasting in the Dutch oven on the wood stove.

It doesn't get much better than this.  Even in France.

November 21, 2011

Sunshine


Morning sun makes everything more beautiful, don't you think?

I love how all of the raindrops ran down to the end of the pine needles.  I tried calculating how long it would take for that to happen, to figure out when it had rained.

4 a.m.

It's not often we get the privilege of thinking through these things.  Because usually (just like now) it's raining nonstop. =)

November 18, 2011

House or Travel?


And then we passed this lovely house.  Wouldn't it be a beautiful one to live in?

On second thought, I'll take a cute little hut and save the money for traveling.  =)

November 17, 2011

Free Fish?


Went for a walk while we were in Newberg and saw this boat through the trees.  Wonder how much free meat that fisherman brings home.  Assuming he's a man, and assuming he's got a wife, I wonder what she does with all that fish.

Right now in our neck of the woods, "free" pheasant is running about $98/lb.  This wife is wondering what she will cook when all the pheasants start pouring in.

November 16, 2011

We Walk On Moss



Here in the Great Rain Forest, otherwise known as the Pacific Northwest, it rains so much that moss grows on stones, paths, roads, buildings, sidewalks, and rooftops.  Fortunately, that's not our roof.

The top picture lets you get up close and personal.  And it's not only a fabulous example of what we walk on here, but of what I'm learning about photography.  The small area in focus has a very shallow depth of field and can be adjusted with things like light and shutter speed.  Someday I'll figure it all out, but for now, I'm enjoying the journey.  =)

November 15, 2011

A Happy Daughter


And lucky us, we got to see both our kids in the same week.  You have to be thankful when your daughter loves school and friends and is happily moving towards a life of her own.  She is full of laughter and love. That's her on the right (otherwise seen on this blog as The Giraffe), headed out on Sunday morning to church.

Couldn't be more blessed.

November 12, 2011

Bright Minds in the Photo Studio


It's not every parent that gets to see their son at work in a photography studio.  There was more expensive equipment in that place than I have ever seen. This day was the beginning of an art project on ties, and Sir Bradley modeled nine of them.

It is always a privilege to be around people who are experts at what they do.  It fascinates me to watch them, be around them, and learn their manner of thinking.  This day was no exception. Well done, son.  We couldn't be prouder.

November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011


To our veterans and military personnel, we thank you and salute you.

November 10, 2011

The Old Table


And so you see another, smaller centerpiece.  But now it gets a bit more personal as you see more of the old table.  It's awfully worn and a tempting source of embarrassment.  The finish is peeling and the leaves are warped just enough so that game pieces go awry. It's seen 25 years of meals, projects, homework, kids, hot dishes, and one superglue experiment.  (It was a babysitting thing. There was also a big green blotch on the couch.  We never did find out how that happened.)  But it's served us well and we figure it all adds up to a lot of character and memories.  Life!

P.S.  Isn't that little acorn marvelous?

November 9, 2011

Centerpiece for the Table


A bare table should be against the rules.  It is in my house, at least.  But my centerpiece creations are never fancy - just simple things I can gather from the yard or around the house to bring a touch of cheer or beauty.  Or both.  Last week I used a couple of, ummm, recipe boxes.

This week pears and a cake stand did the trick.

I'm wondering if people in Greece use centerpieces.

November 8, 2011

Lacamas Lake



This is our neck of the woods (as in, it's in our city, so we claim it).  We enjoyed a peaceful walk here late yesterday afternoon, watching the colors change by the minute as the sun moved lower in the sky.  Walks like that give me time to think, time to sort out the events of the day.  Always good for the soul.

November 5, 2011

Apple Crisp


So here you have it, the world's best apple crisp recipe I copied from my friend, The Other Nancy H. She made it the first year our families were together at the beach, and I begged for it a million times after that.  Good for dessert, breakfast, snacks, and meals.  Amazing.

My own version varies slightly from this, because I get caught on the first item.  4 pounds of apples?  How much is that, really?  So I throw in as many as I can and pray there's still room for the topping. I also use just a sprinkle of sugar in the apples because I never have a lemon in the house.  And I only use one cube of butter (to save the arteries, you know), melted. Sometimes I'll add in some flax meal with the topping.

The difference between hers and mine is over-the-top fabulous vs. just regular, amazing fabulous.

Best eaten with friends by a warm fire.  Sand optional.

November 4, 2011

Lacking Fresh Eggs

This little Wyandotte is the shyest and always at the bottom of the pecking order even though she's our best layer.

Actually, she's our only layer, as the other girls have decided that even though they're young, they're done with the whole egg-laying idea.

Actually, she's molting in this cold weather - nary a fresh egg to be seen.

That means new chicks will be arriving at the end of winter.  (Please read between the lines.) This one will soon be at the top.

November 3, 2011

Cranberry Orange Bread






Oh, my gosh!  This stuff is fabulous!  I can't imagine how the combination of those deep reds and brilliant oranges could turn out any better!

I found Grandma's recipe in the old wooden recipe box and did a little skip in the kitchen!  I admit to making a few changes (which I always seem to do, with moderate success), as I have the advantage of a blender and the desire to make it a touch healthier. I think she would have approved. This is a hearty tea or breakfast bread, rather than a true dessert bread.  It's full of whole wheat, cranberries, and orange, which make it very tangy but not bitter.  Even better the next day, toasted, with a bit of cream cheese spread on top.

Sorry, I can't seem to get any pictures of the final product.  I lose my mind just waiting for the first piece and by the time I remember to get the camera out, there's not much left.  So you'll have to trust me that it's delicious AND beautiful.

Cranberry Orange Bread
2 c whole wheat flour
1 c sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 c nuts (pecans are amazing)
2 c fresh cranberries cut in half
Pulp and juice from 1 orange (leaving the skin stuff behind) and peel of 1/2 the orange (leaving the white part behind) - blenderize until smooth.  Use 3/4 c. of this mixture. (*I started by cutting the orange rinds into strips, intending to chop them into bits as originally instructed.  But I decided to throw it all in the blender.  Beautiful.)
1 egg
2 Tbsp melted butter

Stir all ingredients together just until barely mixed.  Spoon into bread pan.  Bake @ 350° x 1 hr.

November 2, 2011

College Fun

That's my giraffe! (And her amazing roommate.) 

November 1, 2011

Drying Pears - All 40 Pounds




When organic pears are on sale for 78¢ a pound, the Hokes go shopping!  That means millions of pears all over the counters, waiting to ripen.  And ripen they do, in about 4-5 days, and our world then revolves around 12-hour drying cycles.  Our dehydrator runs all day and night, and I'm always surprised that the motor doesn't burn out.  But it's a workhorse and has lasted for more seasons than I can remember.  

The investment in a good food dehydrator is one of the best decisions you can make, so if you're on the fence, get one! This year we had so many pears ripen all at once that I tried a small batch in our convection oven.  In theory, it should have worked - racks, blowing air, 135°.  But it didn't.  

Pears are one of the easiest fruits to dry, right up there with plums.  The trick is knowing when they are ripe.  A farmer once cautioned, "Remember that they're ripe when the green skin between the dots start to turn yellow and the stem end begins to soften.  They ripen from the inside out, so don't wait for the skins to turn all yellow.  If you wait that long, you'll cut them open and find they're all bad. If you get it right, those pears will be dripping sweet and soft as butter."  

Thanks, Farmer Bob.  I can't remember if that's really your name, but we're just going to run with it.

October 31, 2011

Happy Pumpkin Hunting!


May your evening be filled with ballerinas, farmers, kittens, princesses, giraffes, pumpkins, candy, laughter, and fun conversations with neighbors and their kids. =)

October 28, 2011

Inspired by a Stranger

The blogging world is interesting.  Like people, there are all varieties - soft, loud, cheap, colorful, fun, too busy, international, lavish, comforting, inspiring - you name it.  Once in a while you land upon a site that makes you want to pour yourself a cup of tea and find a laptop so you can sit in your favorite rocking chair and have a good read by the fire.

Today's landing brought inspiration from a stranger.  She loves to write.  She still does all her own photography (yes!) and, by choice, uses old-fashioned film cameras.  She takes pictures of custard donuts in London and loves the surprises her "mistake" shots bring.  All the while, I'm moping around because I have to use my very unforgiving, nondigital Canon.  She uses Blogger like the rest of us and she doesn't know how to write code for websites and she doesn't accept ads.  And yet her blog is a reflection of her extraordinary skills and passion.

And here's the real kicker.  She plans a trip to Paris with a friend and a year later actually does it, bringing along 40 rolls of film.  And uses the opportunity to think about writing a small book about her adventures.

Thanks, Molly.

October 26, 2011

First Fire Celebration


So we had our first ever First Fire Celebration.  We turned all the lights out and wondered if the occasion warranted something official, such as singing the national anthem.  In the end we just lit the fire in haste, quickly closing the door to the wood stove as the little puppers decided that matches and kindling are fun things to eat. With the fire roaring, we drank hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows and danced our way to silly fits of laughter.  More good memories were made along with promises to find more things to celebrate.