Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Day

We spent Christmas at Kathy's again this year and since it will be (we hope) the last one in this house, I wanted to get pictures of Kathy in her festive home. Here she is in front of the kitchen fireplace.

And then on the other side, in the living room. So pretty!
And so are the decorations.

The Christmas tree was very attractive, even with decorations only on the top half - out of reach of little hands...

So everyone settled in to enjoy opening some gifts. Shannon sat with Tigger.

At first, Amol helped Samuel with the concept of opening gifts but he soon caught on.

I'm such a self-serving Auntie. I pick out things that I like to play with also so that we can play together. His mother probably wants to brain me. We got him blocks (read, lots of stuff to get underfoot) when we were in PA. Then we added these Duplo blocks with farm accessories, like livestock and truck parts. I'm very fond of toys that can be used a hundred different ways and encourage creativity. Hence the Play-Doh, as well.

Here's Kathy modeling the laundry apron I made her and the beautiful quilt she recieved from Val and Amol.

Valerie made me (and all the family members with computers) protective sleeves for our laptops! How groovy is that?

And look at this wonderful retro print she selected for mine. I looked at Val and said, I've got to get a picture of this for Diane...

And Shannon also got a wonderful quilt from Kathy!

I made Val a laundry apron, also. And it turns out that when you've got a toddler, it becomes an all day, every day apron to help you keep organized. She's a girl after my own heart.

Sam modeled my new gloves for the camera. He really has a thing for giant sized (to him) grown-up gloves and boots.

And I don't have a picture but I got a super groovy Griswold cast iron waffle iron from my sister. Now I'm having fantasies about making waffles on a wood cookstove with my new (old) waffle iron.

I really have felt so blessed to have family around. My nieces are very special to me and I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Amol and Sam. I have such a great family!

Christmas Morning

We have a Christmas morning tradition of homemade doughnuts. I make the doughnuts, volunteers ice and sprinkle, and everyone eats them. Christmases past, Shannon has always been on the volunteer team. Here is a shot from a Christmas past of the doughnut making. Yes, it's critical that I perform this function in my jammies.

This year, however, after I had prepped the batter and rolled and cut the raw materials, Shannon took it to a whole new level. Here she is wielding a meat injector syringe for filling the doughnuts with cream filling.

Ahh, those look mighty tasty with their Bavarian cream innards and iced and sprinkled tops!

It's hard not to be your own best customer when you've got this job...

And here is the pro with a platter to be proud of - Thanks Shannon!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

There Was Much Rejoicing

The days leading up to Christmas were filled with family time. We were blessed to have Shannon in from DC and Amol, Val and Samuel came from PA. We spent as much time together as possible. Although perhaps not EVERYone was thrilled. Here I went to go upstairs and I saw this dejected sight.

He's doing a fine job of looking longsuffering.

I've been enjoying my (grand)nephew so much. I'm really glad that we'll soon be moving nearby and I'll get to be involved in his life without missing huge chunks of time. I got him some Play-Doh but first his nana and I had to test drive it. I'd say we've still got the kid-at-heart talent.

There were crafts, including paper snowflakes.

These are really pretty and go together with just 6 pieces of paper, a scissors, tape and staples. This particular flake is 16" across!

The cloud on our otherwise sunny time together was that my father, who had planned on joining us, fell and had to go to the hospital in Las Vegas. We missed him, kept tabs as best as we could, and prayed for him continually. He had surgery yesterday and the doctors have said they have not yet had any surprises. For now he is in good hands.

This Will Explain Everything

It's been 15 days since my last post. But I can explain. First, though, let's recap some of the goings on around here...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In the Kitchen with My Best Friend!

The other day I made up the dough for sugar cookies. Today Kent helped me finish making them. I started cutting cookies the way I always have. Some of my favorite shapes to use were the elephant and squirrel. Yeah, I know, they ARE Christmas cookies. Who says they all have to be trees and stars?

When Kent, the efficiency expert, showed me his technique. It's like doing a puzzle to see how many of the cookie cutters you can get on the dough without wasting more than a 1/4 inch piece.

And since I was feeling a little lazy, we weren't going to paint these with colored icing. My solution was to make up a nice, sticky, sweet icing that I could paint on with a big brush,

And Kent helped me apply multi-colored sprinkles of many wondrous and sugary shapes which stuck to the icing before it set up.

The fruit of our labor is a mountain of tasty treats to enjoy and share with friends and family.

I must really love this guy to pose when he asks me to. I typically hate having my picture taken. Here's proof of my love, dear:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Go-To Menu

This is a great meal to share or make on a night when you don't want to fuss. A warm, satisfying casserole and a crisp, fruity salad. Kent and I loved this one right away. I passed the recipe around. A friend recently told me it was a real hit with her family, too. Last night I took it to my brother's and again it was well-received. It travels well, it reheats well, and it's ready in a snap.

Photo from

The original recipe is from Taste of Home magazine. Around here we subscribe to a few select magazines and Taste of Home has made the cut at my house for over a decade. I find multiple items in every issue and at least one usually makes it into our regular repeating line-up. I have made several modifications to the recipe, so I feel comfortable sharing my version here.

Enchilada Lasagna

1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (14-15 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (10 ounces) enchilada sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 egg
1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) 1% cottage cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Mexican cheese blend
4 flour tortillas (8-10 inches)

Grease a large, round casserole that is approximately the same size as your tortillas. Your dish should be at least 4 inches deep to accommodate the layers.
In a large skillet, cook the beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; add garlic and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, enchilada sauce and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine egg and cottage cheese and beat together; set aside.
Spread thin layer of the meat sauce into the bottom of your casserole. Top with one tortilla. Spoon 1/4 of remaining meat sauce onto the tortilla. Spread with 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Place 2nd tortilla. Spoon another 1/4 of meat sauce onto the tortilla. Spread another 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Place 3rd tortilla. Spoon another 1/4 of meat sauce onto the tortilla. Spread remaining cottage cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Place 4th tortilla. Spread with remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle with last 1/2 cup of shredded cheese.
Bake, uncovered at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before cutting.

Yield: 8 servings

I believe that a salad should incorporate whatever is seasonal and/or in your fridge that day. This time of year our salad will likely be:

Lettuce, broken into fork-manageable pieces
Thinly sliced cucumber
Thinly sliced crisp apple quarters
Clementine segments

And here's a delicious dressing to put over that:

Balsamic Dressing
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Dash of hot sauce

Place all ingredients in a small contaner with tight-fitting lid and shake well.

And seriously folks, if you enjoy cooking real food every day and you don't want to be overwhelmed with feeling like you need to be a gourmet chef or buy lots of expensive ingredients, Taste of Home should be on your reading list. My library even carries a subscription.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll post my own, original Enchilada Sauce recipe...

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Husband

Is an amazing man. He's kind, warm and thoughtful. He's strong, protective and capable. He's lots of fun with a great sense of humor. He's also wise and responsible. He is nurturing toward me and I've blossomed under his loving care. He's also empowering and encouraging. He has confidence in me even when my own is wavering. In short, I'm a very blessed woman to have this incredible man in my life.

He is also a man of great resolve and innovation. Here is his latest acquisition. It's a surface grinder. You can't tell by looking but it weighs approximately 4,000 pounds.

He got a great deal on it and brought it home last Monday on his trailer. It was loaded on the trailer with a forklift at the plant where he got it. We don't, however, have a forklift here at home (though I'm sure he'd love one). I thought it looked like an insurmountable problem. I couldn't imagine how it was going to get from the trailer to his shop.

But my husband looked it over, did some mental engineering, and moved it from the trailer to the shop using only gravity, a pallet jack, a crowbar, a hand-crank winch, rope, blocks and some small pieces of sheet steel. I don't know if he realized how impressed I was.

I thank God each day for making me his wife.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Quandry

Yes, English, where alliteration can begin with a C and a Q. I'm so glad it was my first language. Even better would be if it weren't my only language.

Anyway, on to the post... Today I decorated. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It almost seems as if the world has stolen away our holiday. But if so, when exactly would that have happened? Let's go back to my childhood... Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch. What Biblical reference do I find to nativity there? Ok, further back, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life. Sure, there's celebration, redemption of a kind, good will, gratitude and other great sentiments but I'm still not getting the nativity. Suddenly it feels very empty. Still, I have wonderful warm memories of the Christmas season from my childhood. So I'm not immune to them.

So my decorating is a hodgepodge of a nativity that I'm sure isn't nearly as dirty and cold as the one my Messiah was born into, warm fuzzy memories and "Isn't nature pretty?" Not really sure if I'm hitting any marks here. Plus, since the house is on the market and it's "The Holidays", we kind of felt obliged to show some spirit.

I broke out of my box a little this year. I put a small tree in the kitchen, where I'll likely spend a good bit of time between now and Christmas since I'll be doing our regular, from-scratch cooking and special baking.

Here's a tree behind the kitchen sink. I do like twinkie lights. The more the merrier and I don't believe they only belong to December.

One special ornament in the tree. This quail matches the one I bought for Samuel. I've been collecting feathered birds and various pinecone ornaments for several years now.

And how about this sweet pair of birds under the tree. They'll be out year round but they look quite cozy under the branches.

Here's the warm fuzzies... I remember this illuminated cathedral from my earliest childhood Christmas memories. It is also a music box. I've had to rewire it for light and perhaps this year I'll actually get the steeple's gold cross out of my jewelry box and replace it on the peak. It came off a number of years ago but I know exactly where it is. That's saying something special about this little piece of history.

And here is my focal point of this years decorating: the nativity extravaganza. More twinkie lights, more greenery, a big star (Though I don't know if the wise men can see it from my kitchen where they are currently wandering around).

Do you see what I see?
I've got a chicken collection including all sorts and sizes of chickens. One year I added the little chickens to the stable to make it look more realistic. My family got involved and now there are the original three sheep with shepherd boy, cow, 5 chickens, 6 chicks, 2 rabbits, 1 squirrel and a raccoon. Sounds like your basic barnyard to me.

And the rest of my decorating consists mainly of greenery and, yes, more twinkie lights.

Now if I could only figure out how I feel about this. Maybe I'd be happier if we called it Advent and left Santa out of the picture. I just can't help but think that we've got things a little out of whack.

I wish for you peace in this season of reflection and hope.

O, Holy night, the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
Til he appeared and the soul felt it's worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
While yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees. Oh, hear the angel voices.
O night divine. O night, when Christ was born.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Belated Birthday

I was traveling on Kathy's birthday, so we made up for it over the weekend. Saturday we did some necessary shopping and went to lunch. On Sunday Kathy came to my house.

So what do you get when you combine two sisters, a sugary cake, tea and a new craft tool? Some fun sister time!

I baked Kathy a cake - white with vanilla frosting - her favorite. And then we decorated it with the crafts we were learning to make.

But the rest was Kathy's doing. She brought tea that blooms when you steep it. This was a walnut sized ball when she put it in the pot and then after the water works it's way, you have a lovely floral arrangement.

And she also brought a new Cricut. She said that she got it as a Christmas present for all of us (Kathy, Valerie, Stephanie and me) to share. I am so amazed at what it can do. And it's fun to watch it do it! We played with different shapes and functions and were totally captivated. I can see so many great applications for what it can do.

And, yes, we ate cake with that tea.

Thanks for a great day, Kathy! And thanks for sharing a great Christmas gift! (Did I mention she left it with me for the time being? I'm a lucky girl)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Welcoming Sunset

We left Linesville on Wednesday morning after deciding to do the return drive - Pennsylvania-Ohio-Indiana-Illinois-Iowa-Nebraska-Colorado - in just 2 days rather than three.

By the time we got home we had logged over 4,400 miles, been in 16 states, and used at least 16 tanks of gas. Kent takes such good care of me and I realized I had done only ~6 hours of driving for the whole trip. We reached Colorado in the late afternoon. I always think about the pioneers when we drive around the country. I noted that you could begin seeing the mountains (on this not quite clear day) about 90 miles out. And I imagined the folks traveling at maybe 15 miles a day watching the mountains loom larger and larger for nearly a week.

Here's a poorly pieced together "panorama" of the sunset as we drove southwest toward Denver.

God was so gracious to us. The car ran great, the weather was good, and we had no problems along the way. It was a four star trip. And I'll admit that this time I was happy to get home. Home to our pets. Home to our own bed. I was happy but done in, you might say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leafless in Linesville

Next stop - Lineville, Pennsylvania. This is where we had left Stephanie back in August. What a difference in scenery a few months can make. When we last visited the land was alive with plant growth of all kinds. The orchard was filled with tall plants and the back side of the property was nearly impassable with growth. This time we could clearly see more of the property and marveled at the way things had changed.

By this time I was getting really bad at taking photos. I only snapped two the whole time. I don't know why I managed to not get a single photo of Samuel. I tried to take one of a flock of wild turkeys in the yard but it came out looking like the inside of an unlit coal furnace at night. And the other? Something amazing? Something truly significant? Not really.

It's a cup of cocoa with a single marshmallow floating on top. But look at the size of the spongy, sugary goodness!

We so enjoyed finally getting to meet Amol. And Sam has grown so much, he was a baby when last we saw him in person and now he is a little boy. He wasn't too keen on me at first but he warmed up after a day or two and then we were golden. He has a delightful laugh and giggles when you tickle him. I'm quite enamored of my nephew, yup, I am. And best of all, we'll see them again in a little over a week when they come to Colorado for Christmas.

Some highlights were a visit at the home of some Amish friends, shopping at an Amish store, and a visit to a baker's heaven - Chupp's Country Cupboard. I brought home sweet popcorn glaze, exotic extracts, Bavarian Cream filling, and minute tapioca. I left behind sprinkles of every color, more flavorings, more fillings... Oh, I could have me a grand time baking if I lived there.

And this was also where we would again (temporarily) part ways with our daughter, Stephanie. Sigh. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed our time together. She's such a part of me and such a delightful person. I'm a proud mother.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We Interrrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming...

to bring you this conundrum. Last night I prepared and scheduled posts about our trip but I have to slip this one in because my brain hurts from trying to figure it out by myself. I need some help!

What algorythym suggests that since I liked Sense and Sensibility and One Night with The King,

that I would also be thrilled to watch Madea Goes to Jail, Full Metal Jacket, Saving God and Good Will Hunting?!?

Does. Not. Compute.

I'd bet my readers would have better movie suggestions than Netflix does. So throw me a bone here, is there a great movie you like, that isn't peppered with foul language, doesn't include gratutious sex scenes, is PG rated and worth 110 minutes of my life?

Fun with Family and Friends

So half the time (or more) I was not only not updating my blog, I was having too much fun to remember to take photos.

Not pictured, Dinner with old friend Jim Kibbey. We made a small detour as we grazed the eastern side of Raleigh to meet up with a dear friend I hadn't seen in 14 years and who Kent had yet to meet. Jim made us a tasty dinner and we chattered away like it had been 14 days, not years. It was great to see you, Jim! Love ya, brother!

Also, not pictured, we had dinner and spent the night in Reston, VA, with Kent's brother Ron and his family. Warm and welcoming as always, we were so glad to have a chance to see them. A real treat was that their son, Alex, and his wife, Emily, came for dinner as well. Ron and Ann had never met Steph and she enjoyed the opportunity to meet them and visit.

Next up, Fredericksburg, VA, for Thanksgiving with my sister, Karen, my brother-in-law, Brian, and my amazing niece, Shannon. Their home is so beautiful and inviting, it was like being at a retreat for three days. Thanks for showing us such a wonderful time and making us feel so very much at home.

Kent put his feet up and enjoyed some relaxed reading time. (This room features FIVE recliners - two each in the loveseat and sofa. Kent heaven.)

Karen, Shannon, Steph and I played a good bit of Wii. I was really beginning to lust after a Wii after playing it at Josh and Jessie's and then Karen and Brian's. I surprised myself with my golf score, demonstrated repeated "yard sales" in the ski jumping, blew my claim that my kung fu powers were strong, bowled, balanced, played tennis, and I can't remember what all. It really was a lot of fun.

Watching us demonstrate our prowess wore out little Lacie, though. She had to take a nap.

While most people mobbed the malls on Black Friday, we girls headed to Old Towne Fredericksburg, where you feel like you've stepped back in time. Multi-paned shop windows, stores that are narrow and deep, pretty lights, friendly folks strolling about... Even this anti-shopper was glad to go along.

We strolled the main street, Caroline, and stopped in wherever it looked interesting - teas, spices, kitchen gadgets, banjos and guitars, vintage candies, even a cigar shop to get something special for my brother who was looking after our house and cats in our absence.

(L-R: Karen, Kristine, Kent, Stephanie and Shannon)

The time flew by, visiting and enjoying being together. The next thing we knew it was time to head out for the next leg of the trip. Sad to say goodbye but happy to know that soon, Lord willing, we'll be a much shorter drive apart and we will certainly be seeing more of each other.