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'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 hard could it be, after all?  Child's play should be simple for an intelligent adult, 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...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.  =)