26.12.11

Thanks for the Heads-Up

Someone looking after the health of our nation wrote a warning article last week that gave advice concerning holiday food. One of the cautions was, “Eggnog, not surprisingly, contains eggs and dairy.” Seriously? I could have been fooled on that one. Who would have guessed that something with “egg” in the title contains eggs?

Further attempting to mess with holiday menus, the author warned that:
a) Gingerbread contains gluten.
b) Ingredients in holiday cookies include nuts, dairy, eggs, and gluten.
c) Potato latkes are full of eggs, nuts, and gluten.
d) Hidden in pumpkin pie are wheat, gluten, dairy, and eggs.
e) Secreted in the green bean casserole are dairy, gluten, and wheat.
f) Many sauces and salad dressings have fish and shellfish as ingredients.

Concerned Lady somehow overlooked mentioning the most hyped of all food allergens, peanuts. Maybe she has never heard of Scotcharoos, Peanut Butter Pie, Coco-peanut Butter Bars, and Peanut Blossoms.

Not happy with just listing the potentially offending ingredients in the old stand-bys, the article concluded by warning that dishes containing any of the listed allergens might contaminate even allergen safe dishes just by being in close proximity to them on the table.

Guess what, Ms. Concerned. I didn’t let you ruin my holiday feast.  But I do think that while you were passing out warnings, you really should have warned everyone that Avocado Cheesecake might contain avocados.

19.12.11

It’s the High Altitude

Moving to Colorado provided me with the perfect excuse for cooking failures. Pie crust not tender? It’s the high altitude. Cake falls? The high altitude is to blame. Brownies gooey? High altitude again. Candy too hard? You guessed it, high altitude.

Our family loves homemade candy, so once again making candy was my seasonal challenge. After six years of trying to figure out candy making in Colorado using the old-fashioned cold water testing method, I decided to purchase a very nice (interpret pricey) candy thermometer. The first batch of fudge cooked to “soft ball” stage on said designer thermometer proved to be a dismal failure.

My next step should maybe have been my first. I searched the web and located the following directions on the Colorado State University website: “Both humidity and altitude affect candy making. To prevent excessive water evaporation during the cooking of sugar mixtures at [high] altitude[s], cook to a ‘finish’ temperature that is lower than that given in sea-level recipes. If you use a candy thermometer, first test the temperature at which your water boils, then reduce the finish temperature by the difference between the temperature of your boiling water and 212 degrees. This is an approximate decrease of two degrees F for every increase of 1,000 feet in elevation. You may also use the cold-water test, which is reliable at any altitude.”

Turned off by directions that reminded me of math story problems from my elementary school years, I decided to forget the thermometer and go back to the cold water method. But one set of directions caused extra stress. The cooking time for the syrup is to be “exactly twenty-three minutes.” This is a Kansas recipe. What to do? How much time should be added (or subtracted) at over 6000 feet? That candy is now done and I can tell you that I still don’t know how many minutes it should have cooked.

After midnight last night, during my staring at the ceiling time, I was wondering if my family would notice the difference if I made a visit to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory™. It’s located right down the street and they have the high altitude cooking times down to a science.

Maybe next year!

12.12.11

Please Tell Me I’m Cute

I read this week about a nine-year-old boy who was suspended from school in Gastonia, North Carolina, for sexual harassment. It seems that a substitute teacher overheard him say that one of the teachers in the school is “cute.” Yikes! Might they have charged him with a hate crime if he had said she was “ugly?”

This news story caused me to reflect back over my many years as a teacher, and I started to wonder where such a kid as this one was while I was teaching. I had many first graders call me “mommy,” a fifth grader who wanted to know if I might be planning to get a divorce  because she wanted me to meet her dad, and a second grader who asked me if my age was seventy-five. (I was thirty-nine at the time.) But never did a student say that I was cute.

While thinking about school systems where I taught and about what is going on in schools across the nation now, it occurred to me that absurd punitive measures have been administered all too frequently over the years. These actions are not the actions of the majority of educators, but rather a tiny minority of administrators and teachers. Unfortunately, the actions of these people sully the profession as a whole and cause children to dislike school.

For the small minority of educators who apparently know little about children, I have some advice. Get your semi-educated minds in gear. Go back to the university and retake the Child and Adolescent Development course. The little people you have been charged with educating are not miniature adults. They have experiences based on the years they have been on this earth; they think as children think; they understand as young minds comprehend; they analyze as immature brains process information; they act as children act. Get off their cases and let them be children. Better yet, find a new career.

I know stupid can’t be fixed, but ignorant can be remediated. Get to work on it, teachers and administrators!

Now that I’ve vented, I feel better.  But I’m still upset that at least one child I taught during my career didn’t think I was cute.

5.12.11

Credit Card Village

Many people have beautiful Christmas villages that they purchase one piece at a time, carefully selecting each building, figure, vehicle, tree, and then choosing “can’t live without” pieces from among a gazillion accessories. That would not be my village. My village is an after Christmas leftover that was purchased at a pitifully small price. I’m sure the little gift shop lost big time.

I like after Christmas sales, though I do have a “no shopping the day after Christmas” policy. So by the time I get to the mall, “The pickins are slim,” as they say.

Thirty years ago, during my after Christmas shopping spree, I went to a little gift shop at the mall to see what might be left over that I really needed. The final sale shelves were almost empty, but I did find a complete Christmas village still sealed in the original packaging. A small picture of the village was on the front of the box. Having wanted to change it up under my tree for a couple of years, this village seemed perfect. I decided I needed the village, and so it made its way home with me.

Still in the sealed box, the new Christmas village was packed away in basement storage with the rest of my Christmas decorations. Out of sight; out of mind.

As happens with each calendar year, the next Christmas arrived. When I got my decorations out of storage, I discovered an early gift – the long-forgotten village. A trip to the mall yielded the perfect staging material for my village, Buffalo Snow™. This soft, fluffy product provided a beautiful cover of “snow” under my tree and I set about unpacking my early present.

Five buildings were in the box, along with several accessories. My first task was to set each building in place and connect the lights so the cords were hidden in the soft snow. A church, two houses, a bank, and WHAT? Yes, I had read the sign on the last building correctly – a tavern. Not a bakery or candy store or any building one might consider Christmas related. A tavern! But after some pondering about this selection for the village, and considering making a new sign for the building to hide this drinking establishment from my minister hubby, I decided I would just name my village, “Credit Card Village.” What better place than a tavern to forget how much one racks up on credit cards during the Christmas season?

Credit Card Village


December 26th Drinking Establishment

28.11.11

Child of Desire Website

During the month of November, things came together very quickly with relationship to the release and distribution of my new novel, Child of Desire. The release date for the novel was November eighth and the final media piece, my website, is now in place. Tate Publishing web designer, Kammi Kunkel, has a keen eye for design and is very much into detail. My thanks to Kammi for an outstanding website.

Visit my website at:  www.childofdesire.com

21.11.11

Overachievers

It seems that no matter how many my wonderful seasonal accomplishments, my friends make my contributions to the spirit of Christmas seem paltry.

The one Christmas tree I decorate in our great room looks pretty, quite pretty, in my opinion. But being on Facebook has caused me to realize that I’m not contributing enough by way of making the holiday season merry and bright.

Five trees? Seriously? That many trees in our space would mean one for each room. With that many trees, we might just have to book a hotel for the season and let the trees take over our home.  

I do have collections that I put out. Maybe they can count for at least one tree: Simpich Carolers, four Nativity sets, Nutcrackers, and Byers Salvation Army and Nutcracker Carolers.

It’s a big deal in our household if sometime during the Christmas season I manage to make one recipe of chocolate fudge with walnuts, one recipe of divinity with pecans, a few pretzels dipped in chocolate (two kinds of chocolate if I’m feeling ambitious) and, during a very good season, one batch of Christmas Frances.

Imagine how mediocre my efforts at candy making seemed after reading the following post by a Facebook friend (and former student at MidAmerica Nazarene University): OK.....so I made 178 chocolate-covered cherries yesterday (yes, you heard that correctly), along with helping to make 90 turtles, 90 caramels, 120+ chocolate centered candies and nearly 200 peppermint patties. I think I have a candy-making hangover today. However, it was a very productive day, and we are that much closer to ready to pack them all when we start back into things on Friday this week. Such fun, such fun.”

Sharon Cage Lockard, the lucky people on your Christmas list will enjoy your efforts! Maybe you should start a candy making business. Or not!  I’m sure your students would not agree to having any one else as their teacher.

(And just thinking about changing out the bedspreads and curtains every season makes me tired. So, I don’t even want to go there, but I do admire my wonderful friends who have the energy to always be in season.)

Byers Salvation Army Carolers – in honor of our son and daughter-in-law, Merrill and Nancy Powers, officers in the Salvation Army. This year their center will provide Christmas dinner for around 1500 needy people.

14.11.11

Thinking Precedes Sending

When email was first used at my workplace, I would sometimes receive messages that ended, “If you don’t receive this message, please let me know.” But that was quite some time ago and it has been several years since I’ve read that closing line in a message.
During the recent devastating snowstorm in the Northeast, I was reminded of those early email messages when my sister, Ilene, forwarded to me one of the daily updates she received from her electric company. She was one of the lucky ones. She only lost power for about twenty-four hours. Some households were without power for many days.
Imagine what you might have said when, after days without power, you opened your email to the following “Important Safety Messages” sent to you by the concerned staff at your electric company.
  • “Downed wires should always be considered "live."  STAY AWAY FROM ALL DOWNED LINES.  Do not approach or drive over a downed line and do not touch anything with which it might be in contact.  To report a downed wire or other visible equipment damage, call 1-800 ... . Provide the street as well as the nearest cross street.
  • Check on the safety of your elderly neighbors.  See if they are safe and if they need extra blankets or other help.  Contact local officials if assistance is needed.
  • Do not try to use a gas oven or range to heat a room. The appliance will deplete oxygen from the air, causing asphyxiation or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Be cautious if using space heaters.  Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions and heed warning labels.  Be sure all members of the household understand how to operate space heaters safely.”
It was sweet that those electric company people had the best interests of their customers at heart. Really very sweet!  And, if the customers weren’t asphyxiated by gas ranges and didn’t burn down their homes with space heaters (electric?), probably many got a laugh at the expense of those who wrote the thoughtful daily updates and then had senior moments before pressing “send.”

But those Northeasterners aren’t the only ones who have apparent lapses of memory when sending messages to people who have lost power. High winds in our state over the last few days have caused severe damage and loss of power in some areas. While searching the internet yesterday, this message came up on the local TV station feed I have on my computer.
“Just got off the phone with Custer County Sheriff. He says there is a lot of damage west of Westcliffe. Could be about 75 downed power poles. He says some homes may not get power back for a couple of days. So, if you don’t have power by tonight, you might want to start making some plans.”
Okey-dokey, the next time I lose power, I’ll try “making some plans” while running around the neighborhood checking to see if anyone needs blankets. I’ll just pray that I don’t step on one of those downed electric lines.

7.11.11

Don’t Mess With My Autumn Food

During autumn recorded messages that fill my head start to play back to me. These recordings contain information regarding right and wrong. Not only do they dictate how Halloween and Thanksgiving should be done and how my home should be decorated, they also dictate recipes for foods and drinks that produce aromas and tastes guaranteed to help me make the transition from summer to fall.

Since I now have time in my life to read magazines, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of food editors out there messing with traditional fall recipes. The November issues of the three publications (yes, three) that currently occupy my magazine rack are filled with examples of recipes that put new spins on my old favorites. 

Apple cider is a drink that, in my opinion, can’t be improved. Heat, pour in mug, curl up, read a book, sip cider, enjoy. How hard is that? But now, in order to “get in the winter spirit,” I apparently need to add ingredients such as hibiscus tea, allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bourbon, orange juice, sugar, pear nectar, honey, brandy, and club soda to my cider.

Hot chocolate has always been a quick and easy warm drink. Right? Wrong! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that hot chocolate needs ingredients other than cocoa powder, sugar, milk, and marshmallows. Modern hot chocolate recipes call for ingredients such as: chocolate bars (both semi-sweet and white), chocolate chips, chili powder, cinnamon, vanilla, maple flavoring, crushed candy canes, instant coffee, butter, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, and whipped cream. I've decided I might be too tired or too old to make modern versions of hot chocolate.

What else might be wrong with modernized favorite fall recipes you might ask – or not. So I’ll pose some questions of my own here. Why would I add:
  • pureed sweet potatoes or pumpkin to cheesecake?
  • bourbon to pecan pie?
  • blackberries to apple pie?
  • port or jalapeño peppers to cranberry sauce?
  • carrots to my sweet potato casserole?
  • asparagus to my broccoli casserole?

No wonder recipes call for various kinds of “spirits.”  The cook needs a bottle to tip occasionally in order to deal with all of these messed-up recipes!

31.10.11

Your Space is Incredible, My Space is Incredible

Recently I spent time in New Jersey and Connecticut. Turning into a street or onto a country road in those places gives one the feel of entering a tunnel.  And in October, those tunnels are composed of brilliantly colored leaves: oranges, yellows, and reds mixed with the various greens of leaves that have yet to decide to change color.

Yearly precipitation close to fifty inches contributes to the beauty of these places.  I felt a little (okay, maybe a lot) envious.

Beautiful Connecticut View

But when I arrived home after my trip to the Northeast, I found that while we were away, the tree in our front yard had donned its colorful fall garb. Yes, it’s just one tree, but it’s a beautiful one. So I decided to stop with the envy and enjoy the beautiful display in my own yard.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that even though Connecticut and New Jersey fall colors are incredible, Colorado fall colors are incredible, too.

Beautiful Tree in Our Yard




24.10.11

Three-Year-Olds and Fun

At various times during the past month I have had the privilege of spending time with great-grandchildren and great-nephews.  Two of them are three-year-olds who were born on the same day. These two toddlers look enough alike to be siblings: blond hair, big blue eyes, big smiles, light complexions. It’s easy to see the family resemblance.

Both of these little people have baby brothers. Based on my experiences as the only sibling of an older brother for ten years, I think it is guaranteed that the older siblings will be in charge. I’m fairly certain the in-charge thing starts to happen the minute a new “bundle of joy” is introduced to an older brother or sister.

My jobs while visiting two homes, separated by almost 2,500 miles, were to play with three-year-olds and hold babies. Really great assignments!

Olivia, my great-granddaughter, loves princesses, so we played with princess dolls in her room. I was Princess Jasmine. Clearly, I need to assimilate more Disney information. Princess Jasmine is not a princess who is allowed to follow Princess Belle as she scales the bed post. She also does not have as many speaking parts as does Princess Belle.

Olivia’s second love is her new swing set that has a playhouse built below the platform of the slide. “We” decided to swing, which means I pushed as she glided through the air yelling, “Higher, higher!” The little playhouse was a challenge to the old knees when it was pointed out to me that I needed to come in rather than peer in from the outside.

Olivia is an informer. I now know which things in the formal living room can’t be touched and that the declaration, “I Love You,” on the chalkboard in her playhouse was written by her grandpa who “came last night.” Hubby was the grandpa referred to when talking to me as “the grandpa who came with you.” A child with as many grandparents/great-grandparents as Olivia has definitely needs to develop a system for keeping track of who belongs to whom.

Carter is my great-nephew and a very active little boy. Upon my arrival at his house, he ushered me into his playroom. I was impressed with a playroom that is almost as big as our den. But he needs that space for his many toys. Carter makes and initiates the plans. I like to read books; he likes more action. We played cars. Unlike playing with gentle princesses, his cars crashed into my cars and wiped them out. This caused hearty laughter on his part. My cars were targets, not the bullet-type super cars that instigated the crashes. They were not allowed to cause crashes, only to be involved in them.

I was impressed when Carter introduced us to his daddy. We were sitting around the dining room table when Carter’s dad opened the front door.  Daddy works in New York and commutes home by train, so he arrived home late in the evening. Carter’s excitement at having Daddy home was obvious. “Daddy’s home!” he yelled.  Then he said to his daddy, “This is Uncle Elvin and Aunt Verla” as he pointed to me and Hubby. Then he pointed to his daddy and said, “This is my Daddy.”  Making the introductions – definitely the role of an initiator.

Precious toddlers; precious baby boys; precious memories. I am so blessed!

17.10.11

Sunday Dinner

On Sundays Hubby and I find a place to eat dinner after we attend church. Sunday is my day for not cooking. I’m sure there is something in the Bible that supports the need for a break from the kitchen, but I've yet to locate it. When I find it, I think the wording will go something like: “No woman shall be required to labor in the kitchen for the purpose of preparing Sunday dinner.” 

When we enter restaurants on Sundays, we are often the only ones dressed up in what we view as “Sunday-go-to-meeting duds.” Our town is a town of casual dress, and sometimes I have to wonder what others might be thinking about us. But I don’t wonder enough to wear my jeans and sweatshirt to worship service.

A couple of Sundays ago we decided to go Italian and went to a favorite place that serves up great Italian dishes along with delicious salads and bread. The wait was not long, mainly because we never manage to beat the Presbyterians, or any other group of believers, to the restaurant. By the time we have choir practice and various other after church activities and meetings, the rest of the city’s believers are home taking siestas.

On this particular Sunday there was a table waiting for us and, as the hostess led us to our places, a young lady who was waiting tables stopped in front of my husband, smiled broadly, and commented, “I love your beautiful suit and tie.” 

This out of the blue compliment could be interpreted in one of several ways:
  • Hubby really looks nice in comparison to the other male diners.
  • Hubby looks so out of place in his suit and tie that he caused this shocked reaction.
  • Hubby’s outfit is the first of this type of clothing the young lady has ever seen.
  • Hubby has been mistaken for someone famous who actually wears suits when dressed up – maybe Jay Leno.
  • Hubby looks really great in contrast to the frumpy clothes his wife is wearing.

I’m actually going for the last interpretation.  I think I feel a shopping trip coming on.

10.10.11

Bad Hair Days

Some might picture a bad hair day (BHD) by showing individual strands of hair pointing toward the sky as though the owner just stuck a finger in a light socket. That’s not the picture of a BHD for me. When I have one of those days, despite much blowing, brushing, and spraying, my hair stays plastered to my scalp like a kindergarten child clinging to Mom’s legs on the first day of school.

Many days during summer, I have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hair days* (THNGVBHD), something probably much better understood by gals than by guys. But the cause of those bad hair days may be over for a while. We just skipped fall here in Colorado, and winter has begun. So I will be trading the bad hair days for snow days, the first of which arrived on Saturday. 

I was not aware that winter had turned up until I looked out my kitchen window mid-morning and saw something white floating in a downward direction toward the ground. At first I thought, What? This is only October 8.  So I kept squinting at the white stuff and thinking it might be seeds blowing out of season from the cottonwoods. It wasn’t. Indeed the cold stuff was here. (They say eyesight is the first thing to go. But in my own defense, cottonwood seeds and snowflakes are very similar in size, shape, and behavior as they travel toward earth.)

I probably should write an Ode to lost autumn. But as a child, when my third grade teacher, Ms. Hodgkinson, said we would be writing a poem for Mother’s Day, that was cause for me to panic. So I know that writing lyrical verse is way out of my league.

I think I’ll just go get my flannel jammies out of storage. But before I do, I should at least try to write a little thankful verse.

            Thankful for hibernating bear,
     Thankful for changes in the air,
            Thankful for soft and fluffy hair,
     Thankful bad hair days will now be rare.

How’d I do, Ms. Hodgkinson?

*Great read – even for adults:  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst

4.10.11

Gummi Bears and Writing

Sometimes I feel inspired to write; sometimes not. Writing a dissertation is a good example of a time when I felt compelled, but not inspired to write. That dissertation is what I now refer to as my “Gummi Bear Project.”

It would seem that a looming deadline should mean scheduling writing into one’s day, thus making it a priority.  Not so for me!  Deadlines cause a little voice inside of my head to whisper, “You can do that later.” Because of my response to the quiet suggestion of the little voice, writing that I do against deadlines almost always takes place in the wee hours of the morning.  This is where the gummi bears come in.  When I’m writing during hours when I should be sleeping, I consume lots and lots of chewy food. After trying many things that messed with the computer keyboard and my waistline, I finally discovered gummi bears.

During the seemingly endless hours of reviewing research and writing “stuff” for my committee, I had probably tried every brand of gummi candy on the market. I also knew which stores to visit in case of a mid-night emergency. So, in light of the many pounds of gummi bears I have consumed, I am a self-proclaimed expert on gummi bears. From my experience, I declare the best of the best to be Haribo® Gold-Bears®. I still crave them while I’m typing.

I know, I know! They are little animal-shaped lumps made with sugar, glucose, corn syrup, starch, citric acid, gelatin, flavoring, coloring, and a few other things thrown in just for good measure. Empty calories!  I also know there are some who contend that gummi candies may harbor prions, cause tooth decay, and contribute to obesity. But, if you ever see an open package of Haribo Gold-Bears® beside my computer, be warned: I’m meeting a deadline. And, just so you know, my mood may be a little bearish. I just might attack in order to protect my food supply!

26.9.11

ShpnCurmudgeon

Every once in a while I visit the Twitter Account of ChrchCurmudgeon. His entries make me laugh. I suspect Mr. Curmudgeon is not in the age group his posts indicate, but sometimes I can relate to the grumbling.

Last week I dropped in to read some of his posts and found a few gems he had entered since I last stopped by:
  • “Had my Metamucil. Guess that makes me a Regular Baptist.”
  • “Thou shalt not repeat that chorus one more time, for we get it already. #10 Curmudgements.”
  • “Turns out Amos wasn't planking after all. Services will be Friday.”
  • In an effort to attract aging baby boomers, we are now the Seniorz Ministry.”
  • “We can drop innovation in its tracks at fifty yards. We are…the senior saints phone list."

After returning home from a recent shopping trip empty handed, I spent quite some time stewing over the fruitless afternoon. That was when Mr. Curmudgeon came to mind and I decided maybe I should start a Twitter Account and become known in Twitterdom as, “ShpnCurmudgeon.”  I’m sure my common sense approach to fashion would seem curmudgeonly to Boomers, Gen-Xers, and The Millennials.

The outcome I desired when I went to the department store was to return home with a nice dress to wear to a wedding. Not mother-of the-bride or mother-of the-groom standouts, just a little number that would cover a portion of my body but not scream, “Bag Lady,” thus causing all of my relatives to sit on the other side of the room and pretend they have no idea who might have invited me to the wedding.

Saying, “A dress to wear to a wedding,” to the cute little sales assistant was followed by being directed to a section of clothing where all of the garments had been created using fine fabrics. The dresses differed in design but were alike in that the top portion of each dress was covered with blinding ornamentation - well, the fraction of the tops that were included by the designers. I have decided that tops of dresses designed as wedding attire are conceived on Friday afternoons when all of the designers are anxious to begin their weekends. No time for sleeves or necklines!

The fall wedding to which I’m invited will be held outdoors. The place is Connecticut. I suspect I won’t need to expose cleavage in order to stay cool. But then maybe I have a totally distorted image of October weather in the Northeastern section of our country.

In addition to questioning how low-cut my dress can be before every other guest is able to estimate my age to within one day and three seconds, I have a few other questions.
1)      Will I be able to do enough arm flab exercises between now and October 15 to trim the old arms sufficiently so I can wear a top with spaghetti straps and not freak everyone out?  (Who would ever have guessed that the shape and size of spaghetti – a food – would one day be copied in fabric and used as the part of the dress that insures everything stays in its appropriate place?)
2)      How many of those Body Shaper undergarments will I need to wear in order to negate the gross effects caused by the stretch-factor in fabric that can turn a dress into the shape of a broom handle when it’s suspended on a hanger?
3)      How short is too short for a skirt when the wearer has been a senior citizen for more years than she cares to (or maybe can) remember?

Just wondering!

Link to ChrchCurmudgeon: http://twitter.com/#!/ChrchCurmudgeon  If you are of a “certain age” you might enjoy!

19.9.11

Gourmet Cooking

On my recent Alaskan cruise, I was privileged to enjoy gourmet cooking on a daily basis. In addition to having unusual names and being delicious, each dish set before me in the beautifully appointed restaurant was a work of art.

A tour was offered to watch these works of art being prepared in the ship’s kitchens and I accepted the invitation. There I observed mid-day meals being prepared with the largest kitchen equipment I have ever seen. At the end of the tour I purchased the Princess Cruises volume titled, Courses: A Culinary Journey – autographed, of course, by one of the executive chefs. I was now prepared to begin my own journey into gourmetdom. Judging from the number of cookbooks sold times price paid for said volumes, I’m guessing that enhanced revenue from cookbook sales might have been the desired outcome for the tour.

Back home and ready to cook again, I chose the courses for the meal I planned to prepare according to “presentation,” as those who cook for show like to say.  The appetizer was be a “Caramelized Onion and Bacon Tart;” the salad, “Radicchio, Endive & Butter Lettuce;” the entrée, “Farfalle Alla Rustica;” and for dessert, “Opera Cake.” Now I needed to assemble the ingredients.

The four basic recipes for my meal called for 102 ingredients. Checking my kitchen for what I had on hand, I found seventeen of the ingredients. Had the entrée recipe not informed me that farfalle is “bowie pasta” I would have thought that I had only sixteen. But I do keep an emergency box of bow-tie pasta for times when I’m out of ideas. Those little dehydrated shapes can be easily transformed into either a salad or an entrée.

The list of ingredients I assembled did not include ingredients for additional recipes for the sponge cake, chocolate ganache, and the two sauces needed to complete the dessert, or for the entrée's demi-glace.

Sadly, I’m quite certain my little condo kitchen will not accommodate all of the ingredients needed for a gourmet meal, so I guess I will have to stick to my old standbys: pot roast with potatoes and carrots, pan gravy, garden salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, and iceberg lettuce, and apple dumplings with cream for dessert. But I do have a beautiful, autographed book!

Watermelon Sculpture - Princess Cruise Kitchen

12.9.11

Giveaways

A TV show I saw the other evening featured people surrounded by things they had won. Until seeing those people, I wondered what happened when I submitted my name hoping to become the “winner” of something I don’t actually need. I think the last time it was a kitchen appliance featured in one of my magazines. Even though I have very nice appliances, the “grass is always greener” principle took effect and I envisioned this exquisite cooking appliance setting in my kitchen. Never mind that in an upstairs condo unit the kitchen floor would have to be torn up in order to run the gas line so I could actually use that coveted gourmet model. Well, another option would be to remove the downstairs ceiling.  But, as sweet as Erma is, I don’t think she would take to that idea.

I’m sure I would be a much better cook if I had a great stove in place of just a good stove, but Hubby will just have to settle - either that or spring for the great stove. I actually have come to believe that entries I submit go into a dark hole and end up somewhere in China, probably close to where appliances are made.

Seeing the show on winning served to remind me that some months ago I promised that, once published, I would give a copy of my book to a randomly selected blog follower. Just this past week I received copies from the publisher, so now is the time to do that. Of course, me being me, I did not think to have people post a response if they actually wanted a copy.  Not sweating the details is one example of why I am never put in charge of major projects. However, since I promised and, so no one comes to the conclusion that the whole project traveled down a dark hole, I researched and found what seems to be an equitable way to give away a copy of my book.  The program I found is called a “List Randomizer.”

While typing my followers into the program, it occurred to me that most blog followers go by a user name or just use a first name. One more detail I did not take into account. But fate smiled on me this once. When I finished typing names and ran the program, a full name ended up in the number one spot. Not only is the “winner” a blog follower, but she is also a Facebook friend. So I’ll be able to easily get an address for mailing the book. 

Using the list randomizer was so much fun that I wanted to keep pressing the button just to see the list rearrange. But I controlled that impulse and Mary Beth Neighoff still appears at #1.  Now to see if she actually wants a book!

6.9.11

Fifty-Five Years

When I stood at the altar and took my wedding vows in 1956, it seemed to me that couples who had been married for five years had been married for a very long time.  Now, fifty-five years later, I look back and wonder where the time has gone.

Hubby, Elvin, and I celebrated our fifty-fifth with an Alaskan cruise on board the Island Princess. Instead of the traditional photography session documenting our time together, our anniversary photo was taken as we disembarked the ship in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. After a great day in the city, we were served a delicious anniversary dinner on-board the ship in one of the beautiful dining rooms. I had Beef Wellington (first time ever) and a chocolate ganache covered cake decorated for the occasion was delivered to our table.

The celebrating was nice, but the events of the years that brought us to that point make up the fantastic part of our story. We have been blessed with four wonderful, successful children, great and loving in-laws who have added immensely to the joy of our family, thirteen “beyond-our-dreams” remarkable grandchildren, incredible friends, and fulfilling careers.

We are blessed!


29.8.11

Help from the Fox, the Dog, and Miss Phelps

Miss Phelps was my high school typing teacher.  I’m sure that her long-term objective stated: “Each student will be able to type a jillion words per minute by the end of the semester.”

Sitting in a basement classroom filled with ancient typing machines, I viewed Miss Phelps as a demanding taskmaster who had no life beyond the dimly lit room where she persistently attempted to squeeze from us at least one more word per minute.

The most important sentence to master in typing was, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  This sentence was the practical application of all of the letters of the alphabet, requiring the brain to notify the fingers to locate the correct letters while racing against the clock to correctly complete repetitions of the sentence until the bell rang. It was then that all fingers had to be in the air and visible to Miss Phelps. Trying to type one additional letter after the bell meant no credit, regardless of how many points might have been earned without that small infraction.

Many of my fellow classmates aspired to get by with the grade of “C.” This was the lowest passing grade. Our high school did not recognize “D” as a grade.  I, on the other hand, was the uptight student striving each day to beat my own record from the previous day. If stress actually produces ulcers, by the end of the semester I was a candidate for them. And it was a miracle that my teeth were not all cracked from the fifty minutes of clinching each afternoon. 

Many years have passed and I now have great appreciation for demanding Miss Phelps. Whenever I am in an airport or restaurant and watch the younger generation (that would be anyone younger than me) using two index fingers to enter things on their computers, I am grateful for Miss Phelps, the brown fox, and the lazy dog.  Thanks to her, I can type quickly without ever looking at the keyboard. I really can’t imagine what it would have been like to type my novel with two fingers.

My brother recently wrote a blog titled, “Not All Change is Progress” http://vanilla-ststt.blogspot.com/2011/08/not-all-change-is-progress.html. In his blog he wrote about the abandonment of “skills” by our educational institutions. His blog made me ask myself: What happened to all of those correct ways of doing things? Did those things make us intellectuals or just get in the way of our creative thinking?

22.8.11

Parties and My Diet

It was a great party!  I have a plan that I rehearse repeatedly in my head before I go to a party. “I will avoid seconds, I will avoid seconds, I will avoid seconds.” For the most part psyching myself up brings success. But at this party, the very high calorie drink being served was Iced Coffee Frappé.

I sipped my little punch cupful of the delicious drink for a long period of time. Finally, the cup was empty and I reasoned that just one more cup (the cups were small) would not add significantly to the girth of  the hips. So I headed for the canopied patio and the punch bowl. 

There was only one other occupant of the patio and he was very much enjoying the drink that was showcased with beautiful decorations.  I returned to the other guests and the conversation, empty cup still in hand!

You guessed it!





+ innocent looking 
= sticking to my diet plan.
  


Recipe for the delicious drink:

Iced Coffee Frappé
Stir together:
¼ cup instant coffee
½ cup chocolate syrup 
¼ cup sugar
1½ cups boiling water

Cover and chill

Before serving:
Pour the coffee mixture into a punch bowl.
Add 2 cups Half & Half
Scoop 1 quart vanilla ice cream on top

Put the cat in a cage!



Images from dreamtime.

15.8.11

Shopping

In the past, where I chose to shop was based on experience and value. I like stores that are well-organized, have high quality merchandise at reasonable prices, and do not employ helicopter clerks.

In my opinion, helicopter clerks are some of the world’s most interesting people in that they have the ability to sustain a conversation based solely on what they say while they hover over customers who are attempting to ignore their presence.

Conversations with helicopter clerks go something like this:
HC (Sweetly):                        
Are you looking for something in particular?
Me (Sweetly):                        
No, thank you. I’m just looking.
HC: (In head):                        
Bet me!  No one is allowed to “just look” in this store.
HC (With set jaw):                  
What size do you wear?
Me (Sweetly, sort of):              
I’m just browsing. But, thank you.
HC (With eyes narrowed):       
What colors do you like to wear?
Me (In head.):                         
Okay, Ms. Helicopter, now I’m going to ignore you.
HC (Picking up an item):          
We are having a sale on our summer tank tops. 
ME (Turning away):                 
I’m ignoring the whirring sounds in this room.
HC (With disgust):                   
I’ll be by the cash register when you need me.
ME (In head):                          
That’ll be the day!!     

Until recently avoiding helicopter clerks was my biggest shopping challenge. But that was before buying things made in America became an issue. It was when Diane Sawyer and ABC challenged us to purchase things made in the USA that I discovered I was mostly shopping Brazil, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, South Korea, & Cambodia.

So where is that helicopter clerk when I need her to help me read the fine print on the tags?

8.8.11

Don’t Steal the Cherries

It was in my friend’s yard on Saturday that a little cherry tree caught my eye. I’ve always loved those plump morsels of fruit, so I went over to take a look.  No cherries.  But even if there had been I could not have reached out to pick one and put it into my mouth. That’s because my friend wasn’t home so I could ask him for a cherry.

My paralysis when it comes to picking a cherry from someone else’s tree is the result of an experience I had as a three-year-old.  An action I took + my mom’s reaction = an impression that has lasted a lifetime.

We lived in Cañon City, CO, where my dad pastored a church.  The Mobleys were our next door neighbors. In the Mobley’s yard stood a large cherry tree that, in season, was loaded with beautiful red fruit.  Once the cherries were ripe, the branches became so heavy that they hung close to the ground, just within reach of someone about thirty-three inches tall. Since there were no fences between our houses, and because the Mobleys were such nice people, I assumed that picking and eating a few cherries would be an okay thing to do.

When I arrived back in my own yard after my feast, and my mother saw the cherry juice on the front of my dress, she became quite upset. But her distress was not because of the juice on my dress.  Her distress was caused by the sudden awareness that her daughter was a thief.

It took a week of “chores” to earn the three pennies Mom had decided would be sufficient payment for the cherries.  In the early ‘40’s, Dad’s salary from his church consisted of one of the Sunday offerings and I’m sure even a few pennies took a bite out of the family budget. (What a deal! If people don’t like something the preacher says or does, they just withhold their offering. But I digress.)

At the end of the week, Mom escorted me to the Mobley’s house where I was required to confess that I had stolen the cherries and give Mrs. Mobley the money. My very gracious neighbor forgave me. But on that day stealing made my “Things to Never Do Again” list.

It was not until years later that I learned Mrs. Mobley returned the three pennies to my parents. 

1.8.11

I’m Not Getting Old …

I’m sure I’m not.  It’s just that my cell phone has a way of moving, unbidden, to places I would never dream of putting it. 

I was getting ready to leave the house and wanted to be sure I had my cell phone along. So I went to pick it up from the exact spot where I had put it only minutes before. Magically it had moved.

I have a lot of patience – well, at least I’m somewhat patient.  Okay, I’m not patient at all and when my phone is no longer where I remember leaving it, I talk to it and say things like “Okay, where did you go this time?” 

For some reason it’s difficult for me to make the decision to go to my home phone and ring my cell. So I attempted to reconstruct previous movements with regard to my cell phone. I remembered unplugging it.  At least it’s good that I remembered that much.  But beyond unplugging and thinking I laid it on the desk, nothing else was retrieved from memory.

Finally, I gave up and used my land line to dial my cell.

So why was my shoe ringing?

Throughout my childhood I laughed at the idea of goblins. Now I’m not so sure!

 At any rate, I’m trying to catch my goblin in the act of hiding my cell phone - and I just might catch him hiding my glasses.


Goblin from ClipartHeaven.com

25.7.11

What’s in a Name?

Over the weekend I was thinking maybe I should start a business that creates original names for new churches. What brought this to mind you might ask – or not. But even though the question may not have entered your mind, here’s the answer. I saw a reference to a new church “plant” last week that was called, “Overflow Church.” This clued me in to the fact that the apparent important consideration in naming a church is that it be different.  Maybe this is good since finding a church named “Harvest,” “Cornerstone,” or “New Life” would involve driving only a few miles from one’s home.

My first choice for the name of a new church plant would be “Church of We Dare You to Discover What We Believe.” But that’s a little long to get on a sign, so I looked to past experience for an idea.

While stressing over what to name my novel, I discovered a random title generator on the internet. There should be a warning on the site that tells people it is addictive. I know from experience that it can become a mesmerizing pastime. This random generator gave me names such as “Secret of Waves” and “The Valley of the Window.” But with all of the time I spent asking for titles, and as different as the titles were, I kept the name for my novel that I dreamed up on my own.

I’m quite sure I can create a better random name generator than did the book title people. I will use my version for naming churches.  This will simply involve entering words from my concordance as well as current catch phrases and words. With my very first effort (random pointing with eyes closed) I came up with “Superior Fortress Church” and “Double-Edged Fellowship.” I might suggest the former for a suburban wanna-be mega church that dares non-suburban types to attempt to become a part of the club. The latter would probably be fitting for the congregation that has yet to craft a statement of beliefs.

Okay, back to the drawing board!  My after-the-fact internet search found a “Mighty Fortress Church” and a "Double-Edged Sword Church.” It really is hard to come up with an original name for a new church! Maybe we should just follow the example of banks and use such names as First Third Baptist or Twelfth Fourth First Methodist. Just a suggestion!


...that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

18.7.11

The Mood

I often cause problems for myself when I become project oriented. This happens when “the mood” strikes and I decide that something needs to be done “right.” Recently, the mood almost caused me to miss out on going to my favorite morning coffee place with friends.

I was ready for the day when I looked closely at the brush and comb I had just used and determined it might be good to clean them. So, after being sure there were no strands of hair on either, I ran warm water in the bathroom sink, swished a generous amount of shampoo into the water, and threw my comb and brush into the mixture.

It was then that the mood whispered to my brain – obviously not to the left and logical thinking side, “As long as you already have the water in the sink, why not throw in all of your combs and brushes?” “Good idea,” the non-logical (and larger) segment of my cerebrum responded. So I rounded up all of the combs and brushes I call mine: the large metal-lined curling model, the Vidal Sassoon half-round styling model,  the round RPM -12, the oval shaped lifting type, two rattail combs, and I even tossed in my pretty blue hair pick. Then for good measure I went to my purse and took out my four inch wind-defense comb.  It joined its pals in the water.

Totally forgetting about the bathing combs, I accomplished several tasks indoors before going to the yard to water my plants and do battle with the dandelions.  As expected, the wind was blowing, and by the time I finished working in the yard, my hair was standing on end. 

As I climbed the steps to return to the condo, the phone was ringing.  Friends wanted us to go for coffee.  A wonderful idea! I just needed to brush my hair. 

Note to self: Never wash all hair brushes, combs, and picks at the same time.

Drawing by Edward Lear (1818 – 1888)


11.7.11

Haunted by the Past

It was an embarrassing moment!  I was vacationing in Colorado and decided to visit one of the places where our church teen group went to ice skate. As I walked around the lake on that beautiful summer day, I paused before a bench on which hand carved (aka graffiti) names and initials covered both the seat and back. In the middle of the seat, the deepest and largest carving had the full name of a young man in our youth group, a plus sign in the middle, and my full name carved below.

People who have common names can get by with putting their names out there. Years after the fact no one would have any idea which of the thousands of girls named Susie Smith might be referenced. But not only did my uncommon name stand out as one-of-a-kind, the name of the young man was also of the one-of-a-kind variety. I did not know about it when it was carved, but when I saw it that day, I had no doubt that it referenced me.

This past week I returned to that lake with visiting family, including a grandson who is a teen.  There are still benches by the lake. How grateful I am that they have all been refinished or replaced and that visitors to this little mountain community apparently now have some class. No names were carved on the wooden benches!

The Lake at Green Mountain Falls
The gazebo and bridge have been added since we skated there more than fifty years ago. The gazebo is used often for weddings.  The falls at the end of the lake are now blocked by a grate and the water goes under the road and flows to the creek. Still a cool place!





Geese and ducks swim on the lake and fishing is allowed. The limit is four fish per day, so in order to catch enough for dinner the whole family needs to fish – and be successful.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note: Future blogs will be posted on Mondays.

7.7.11

Lunch Bunch

My lunch group meets once a month at a nice restaurant where we enjoy the food and “chew the fat,” so to speak. We are called WOW.  When I tell people about our group, the response I often hear is, “I’ve heard of your group.” No doubt these individuals are thinking of one of the popular groups identified with the acronym, WOW.

Written “WoW,” the letters represent World of Warcraft. But to know us is to recognize that as somewhat past middle-age, semi-retired to fully-retired ladies, we might not be easily assimilated into the Warcraft world of Aseroth.

Most people guess that we are a part of Women of the Word. Flattering, but wrong! We are the Wild Old Women. Our mission is threefold:  to have fun, to laugh a lot, and to eat dessert when our husbands aren’t around. To check out our name with relationship to appropriateness, we might be found on a Thursday in a restaurant known for its good food. And you just might hear us before you see us.

4.7.11

So Sorry!

My community was counting on me, but I was dragging my feet. Failure to fulfill my duty to my neighbors is related to living in a second story condo that has sliding windows, vintage 1970’s. But, even though my excuse is as good as any excuse can be, I accept total blame for causing concern in our community.

It was with a great deal of dread that I finally faced responsibility and tackled my designated job. All of the windows in my house were removed from the tracks and each endured a cleaning, shining, repositioning process.  The result was spectacular. My windows now sparkled as the sun shone brightly on its way to disappear behind the mountains. 

Morning found me admiring the windows and the views of the mountains. Then, in a matter of minutes, crystal-clear drops started to appear on the outside of the panes and very soon moisture was pouring from the sky in sheets. Thanks to me, our spring rains had finally arrived.  The vegetation greened, the drives look freshly scrubbed, and everyone now knows that their roofs survived the winter without springing any leaks. Of course, rain is now a regular event, and my windows, once again, are covered with spots.  Even so, I must apologize for postponing my duty as the rainmaker for the mountain side of the city and for causing everyone to worry. In the future I’ll try to be more conscientious in fulfilling my responsibility.