Monday, January 14, 2019

By in a blur


Hello from the land of unexpected wintry weather! We've been having a real winter this year, the first one in several years, I think. It's been almost back-to-back snow or rain or mixed precipitation storms since the end of December and I have to say that we've all been loving it! Those are my feet up there, in the Bear's snow boots. I don't own a pair myself - it's never wintry enough to justify the purchase in my book - but we do have his, so if we need to go out in the snow to collect eggs, say, we wear his. We are getting eggs again, by the way. I thought we'd have to wait until spring, but we're getting one egg a day already. Nobody knows what's going on around here.


We had a wonderful Christmas! So relaxing, especially with a few different storms mixed in. We hardly left the house, aside from trips out for groceries, the occasional walk, and an afternoon spent at the movie theater on the military base where the Bear works, for a showing of Home Alone on the big screen. I was really glad the kids had a chance to watch it that way; my first viewing of it was in the theater as a special treat for my twelfth birthday a week after it was first released. It's been one of my favorite movies ever since, Christmas-themed or otherwise. Our holiday was lovely and we had a very nice time just sitting around, trying out our new things and enjoying the break from school and work. One of our "family gifts" was an XBox One, which has been great. We're using it for games as well as for streaming programs. Netflix and Amazon Prime look completely different on the XBox. It's a lot like when we upgraded from using our Nintendo Wii to a BluRay player for streaming. I guess that's what happens when you jump 5-10 years in technology with every move. Go figure.


Life since Christmas has been busy in a somewhat annoying way. There have been multiple home issues to deal with; nothing major, just smallish, irritating things that we needed to address, like a damaged window frame, a minor roof leak, a broken sprinkler head, clogged canales, and other assorted small-but-niggling concerns. Today, we're having a much more major project completed, though we're having it done professionally. I have given up on the carpeting in our family room and we are having hard flooring installed. It's what they're calling "luxury vinyl plank flooring" these days; it's like a wood-laminate floor but it's made with vinyl in the top layer to be waterproof. Since the family room borders on the kitchen, with the dishwasher built into the peninsula that separates the family room and kitchen and where water has leaked previously, we decided that waterproof flooring was a must. We had never even heard of this type of flooring (the vinyl I knew was limited to peel-and-stick tiles), but apparently there have been innovations. I already have a new room-size Oriental-style area rug to put down (it will only cover a portion of the room, just for warmth and the look of it). I'm excited to be getting a new floor, but it's that mix of annoyed and excited because the carpet was only five years old but it wore horribly and the room looked awful.

By the way, does anyone remember when we got this carpet? I blogged about it in 2013! You can see my then-tiny children and also the basic look of the room before today. We had hardly changed a thing since the last time we fixed it up. I think mainly the GB's toys in the corner are different now. I sure hope this flooring lasts better than the carpet did. I do not want to do this every five years.


I've been enjoying my regular pursuits in the meantime. Highlights include baking focaccia to have with slow-cooker minestrone soup (the focaccia recipe is from my Betty Crocker cookbook and also found here, and the minestrone is my own recipe, found here). Yesterday, we made potato knishes from this recipe and they were fantastic - almost as good as the ones I remember from my New York upbringing. I will definitely make them again. I've been enjoying new recipes and healthier ways of doing things. I don't like to announce things like this because I am a strong if misguided believer in jinxing, but I have lost 30 pounds over the past year, largely because of a change in how we cook and eat, and feel really good. Otherwise, I've been reading a lot and also finished a cross-stitch piece and another crocheted blanket, the ripple I started in September to finish up some more yarn. I even did some machine-sewing, finishing a project that sat waiting for my attention for over a year. I've been watching Forensic Files, mainly, and of course, watched Victoria last night when it came back for a new season. But honestly, I enjoyed Lucy Worsley's show afterward on Victoria and Albert's wedding so much more. It was fascinating! I love her shows so much. I try to watch them whenever I see a new one.


Thanks to those who reached out wondering why I haven't blogged lately. I've just been busy with other stuff and not really feeling in the blog groove, you know what I mean? I miss it, though, and will be trying to get back to it now. I guess it just got away from me these past few weeks. I hope you're doing well and having a good return to normal programming after the holidays. This is one of the best times of year for me, and having it feel more wintry is only a bonus, so I'm very happy about January. No blahs here at all.

***Links in this post that are meant to go to other posts on my blog seem not to be working right now; they all go to this post. Sorry about that. I hope it's just a Blogger glitch!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas Eve! We're enjoying a quiet holiday at home together. Everyone is getting over bad colds which started at the tail end of last week (we pretty much dragged ourselves to the finish line to wrap up school and other activities before the break; it was sort of pitiful). But we're mostly on the mend now and looking forward to time off from school and work, some fun plans, good things to eat and drink, and much togetherness.

I just finished icing and decorating my Christmas cake; my first attempt at working with fondant went reasonably well. They probably won't ask me to appear on Nailed It!, anyway. I'll show it to you soon. We're going to slice into it tonight after dinner. I'm making chipotle/green chile/vegetable enchiladas tonight, and crab cakes for Christmas dinner, as well as a challah French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast. We also have snacks and appetizers; I'm particularly looking forward to shrimp, nuts, and all the cheese.

There is a possibility of snow later this week - two separate snowstorms may come through here and that's just the most exciting thing we've heard in a long time. Some of us are losing our minds with anticipation; others are merely looking forward to having a reason to stay close to home. Whatever happens, we're happy to be here together.

I wish you and your loved ones are very happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Cookie caboodle


Hello! Thank you for your comments on my post about My Christmas Treasury! I'm so happy to know that you enjoyed seeing some of it, and that some of you even have your own memories of this book!

Well, I've spent the past four days in a veritable baking frenzy! I started on Friday afternoon when we came home from school and I finished mid-afternoon Monday. I used 12 cups of flour, 9 sticks of butter and so much sugar I stopped keeping track. I enjoyed every bit of my bakeapalooza, though. I always bake a massive amount of cookies on the last weekend before school ends for the holiday break; we have our annual art show at school on the last Wednesday every year (that's tomorrow), which also includes a bake sale. We're asked to donate cookies to the cause. I always give them a lot of cookies, usually most of what I bake. I also send a fair amount to work with the Bear, to share with his coworkers. He took some in today and I'll give him more on Thursday. This will leave us with plenty to eat at home, rest assured, but not so many that we're pigging out on cookies day and night.

This year's cookies are a mixture of some old favorite recipes and a few new twists, but nothing really exotic. I've tried that in the past, and while I love to experiment with baking, I find that when you need to make tons of cookies fairly quickly, it really pays to stick with simple, prolific recipes. With that in mind, I chose recipes that I've made before, mostly sticking to plan, but I made a couple of tweaks just for variety. Looking at my cookie plate above, going clockwise from the top, these are my recipes:

Nestle Tollhouse Mint Chocolate Delights
Land O' Lakes Mexican Wedding Cakes
Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookies (I substituted white chocolate chips and added dried cranberries for a more festive look)
Land O' Lakes Spritz Cookies (I divided my dough in half and dyed it red and green; 8 drops of liquid food color for each half, and decorated the trees with nonpareil sprinkles and the hearts with red sparkle sugar)
Betty Crocker Peanut Butter Blossoms

I'm happy with all of my cookies. I think the spritz cookies came out really cute and I'm just as in love with that cookie press as I was last year (I have this cookie press, by Kuhn Rikon). I used the heart disc for the first time and was a bit surprised to find that it took a bit more skill to get nice shapes than it does for some of the other shapes, but I got the hang of it. I think next time, I'll try smoothing down the extrusion ridges with a wet fingertip. I just love using my press, though. I should have gotten one a long time ago.


Guess what else we made this weekend? TAMALES! Yay. I guess 250-plus cookies just wasn't enough kitchen labor for us. Ha. We love to make corn tamales just before Christmas every year. We enjoyed our tamales for dinner on Sunday night with some homemade red chile sauce, a real New Mexican meal.

Friday, December 14, 2018

My Christmas Treasury


When I was three or four years old, I was given a copy of this book, My Christmas Treasury. It was one of my favorite books when I was little, and I read it all year long, not just at Christmas. I still remember it being around the house for my youngest sibling to read years later (I was eight and a half when he was born), but sometime after that it disappeared. I guess it may have been donated or given away, or possibly irreparably damaged after four children had enjoyed it over more than a decade.

I have a number of my other Little Golden Books from when I was very young, and always wished I could have a copy of this one for my collection because I had loved it so much. I decided to see if I could find a copy, and it took a bit of searching, but I finally found one on Etsy and ordered it for myself right away. I think I paid about four dollars for it (five or six if you include shipping), which is a lot more than the 49 cents marked on the cover (and it probably cost even less than that when my parents bought it, since my other Golden Books from the same era have 49 or 59 cents on the cover but also have price stickers from stores such as Kmart saying 39 cents; maybe I really am getting old). Honestly, the mark-up was worth it, even after accounting for inflation. Having a copy of this book again has been a delight, especially now that the holidays are here.


The book was published in 1976; I would have gotten my copy about 1981 or 1982. It's a collection of Christmas-related stories, poems, facts and riddles with cheerful, brightly-colored illustrations. I just love Golden Books. I have shared all of my old ones with my children and am glad to have this one to show them now, though they are getting a bit grown-up for Golden Books. The GB still likes them, though, especially when she's sick or in need of comforting. Actually, that's when I like them best myself.



In looking at this book as an adult, I see that it's fairly heavy on admonishment. I don't remember snooping around looking for presents in my house, and even now, I'm not really sure where they would have been hidden. I think maybe they would keep them in the attic. Anyway, I remember being a little mystified at the idea of presents being hidden somewhere. Not enough to go looking, however.


Several of the pieces in the book were written by an author named Kathryn Jackson, whom Google tells me was a prolific writer of Golden Books, including The Saggy, Baggy Elephant. I like the above story specifically for its description of a Christmas dinner that rabbits would enjoy: "A big roast carrot basted in sugar, mashed turnips with butter, and cranberries red and shining. And for dessert, a round pudding all lighted up, with holly on top."


And then in the middle of fanciful stories like that one, there are more sacred-themed pieces like the poem "What Can I Give Him?" by the Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti. Later in life, when I sang in my college choir's Lessons and Carols programs, which included her beautiful carol "Love Came Down at Christmas," I had a sudden memory of her poems in this book. As a child, I had no idea how important she was to our celebration of Christmas and to literature in general, as I also learned as an English major.





What Christmas treasury would be complete without discussion of holiday traditions in other parts of the world? This is one of the best parts of the book. About 10 countries are discussed, but these are some of my favorites. I've always been intrigued by how people do things in other places and cultures, from a very young age. One thing I've always wondered about the Yule log, as discussed above; how do you save a piece from the year before? Is it a burnt piece? Where do you keep it until Christmas? These are serious questions. I could look it up, but if you do this, can you share?


Some Christmas riddles for you to ponder (click on the photo to enlarge it). The answers spell out a festive word!


This is a somewhat convoluted story wherein a polar bear cub is entrusted by Santa Claus to carry a rainbow around and drops it, whereupon it shatters into small pieces. Cub is sad, Santa cheers him up by helping him hang bits of broken rainbow on the Christmas tree. I liked this picture very much, even if the story seemed a bit weird even to preschool me.


This is the last page of the book, and looking at it now, I see that it may be one reason I love blogs so much as an adult, along with the international holiday section. The poem on this page is by Phillips Brooks, who also penned the lyrics to the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem", clearly another literary figure with Christmas influence. I'll reproduce the poem for you here:

Christmas Everywhere
by Phillips Brooks

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine,
Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where cornfields lie sunny and bright!

For the Christ Child who comes is the Master of all;
No palace too great and no cottage too small.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at one of my childhood books which I am only too happy to have in my life again. Have a lovely weekend, from your friend in the high desert, where the land is brown and the sky is blue, and the mountain's peak is faintly dusted in white.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

December-ing

During this cold and sunny (just right!) month of December, here are some of the things I'm doing...


Awaiting...the first slice of my Christmas cake, which I made from a different recipe this year, with my own customization. I've been feeding it every two weeks but I'll stop now so it can dry out before I ice it.


Anticipating...my first attempt at decorating with fondant. I bought a small package of green fondant to use on my Christmas cake. I'm going to ice it very simply with white sugar icing, then cut out some holly leave from the green fondant and put some glace cherry halves with them to look like holly berries. I'm a little nervous...stay tuned.


Sleeping...much better since I put the heavier comforter on the bed a couple of weeks ago. We'd been using our lightweight quilted cover, with the addition of my big hexagon afghan since October, but we were not staying warm enough. I'm so glad to have our warmest blanket back on the bed again.


Appreciating...my new little alarm clock. I bought this clock about a week ago to replace a big, clunky old clock radio that I couldn't stand anymore. There were too many knobs and controls and it was all I could do to remember how to set the alarm. The radio reception was very poor. I just wanted a simple, basic clock, nothing fancy. I found this one at Target for seven bucks. You can hit the top for a snooze or to turn on the light for 10 seconds. That's it for features. Perfect.



Loving...my new kitchen tablecloth. It's just an inexpensive vinyl one, which I bought from an Amazon store called Deb's Buried Treasure. I'd wanted a durable, easily-cleaned Christmas tablecloth for the kitchen for a long time, ever since my old one finally gave up the ghost a few years ago. I just kept regular cloths on through the holidays, but I missed having something more festive in the kitchen. I'm enjoying it very much.


Assembling...a jigsaw puzzle under the Christmas tree, a longtime family tradition. Everyone wants to be near the Christmas tree, and this is definitely the warmest, sunniest room in the house in winter, so we all flock here to play games, work on crafts and, lately, put together puzzles.


Reading...my December magazines. I've cycled through some of my subscriptions lately, and right now I'm getting Real Simple, Family Circle and Sunset. I love to sit with my tea and flip through them a few pages at a time, trying to savor them over a few days.


Reverting...to an old childhood thrill with the Christmas ornaments. I loved to put glass or other see-through ornaments in front of the lights to make them glow, and I still do it every year. Does anyone else do this? Most of our ornaments are opaque painted glass, but there are a few, like this blown-glass angel playing the flute, that I always try to light up. It's kind of a weird obsession.

How is your holiday planning coming along? Are you having a calm time, or a crazy one? It's surprisingly calm here, more than usual. I'm planning to bake lots of cookies this weekend, starting Friday afternoon. I'll give most of them away, as I always do, but we'll keep some too. I can't wait to get started! I think we'll make tamales this weekend too. I still want to make marmalade, especially since I currently have more oranges than I know what to do with, but that may have to wait until next week. Meanwhile, I still have all the gifts to wrap, but I like to do that in the evenings while I watch TV. I find gift-wrapping quite relaxing, as long as I don't leave it so long that I have to wrap them all on one night...a lesson it only took me once to learn. Hope you're having a good week, friends!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sno-el


December came in with a storm! A few flurries had begun to fall before we went to bed on Saturday night, and we woke up to about an inch of snow outside. It was just wonderful. We were especially excited because we'd already planned to put up our Christmas tree on Sunday, and now it was a day with snow outside. How festive is that?






It wasn't very much snow, and it was already starting to melt on the paved patios when we woke up at 7 am, but it was still very pretty and we were all very happy to have some snow outside. We had just filled out bird feeders the day before, so there were many interesting birds in the yard, including goldfinches on our thistle feeder.



After lunch, we hauled out the Christmas tree and all of the indoor decorations. The kids put on the lights mostly by themselves, a first this year. I mean, the LB is taller than I am now. Everyone pitched in to hang ornaments and then I vacuumed up the loose fake pine needles on the carpet and put the skirt on the floor under the tree. Our decorating is pretty simple; we like having the tree and a few other items up for a month or so, but I'm sure we'd like it less if we had more stuff out.


I bought a new tree-topper this year. It's from the Hearth and Hand Magnolia line at Target (by the ubiquitous Chip and Joanna). I was looking for something to replace an old country-style angel made from burlap and paper with grapevine wings, which I liked very much when I was first married and that was more of the style at the time. But it was looking very old and tired, and not really my taste anymore, so I decided to find something new. I saw this one and really liked the spareness and simplicity of it; it's all metal and has a simple plastic clip to hold it on the tree. I like this because I can move it lower on the tree to avoid touching the ceiling.


After the tree was up, I planted some paperwhite bulbs and put the pot on my little plant table next to the tree. I bought the paperwhite kit on Saturday when I went grocery shopping. I plant amaryllis most years, but I felt like having paperwhites for a change. I was lucky to get them; the store had about twenty amaryllis kits and only one paperwhite kit. I grabbed it!



I'm so glad to have the tree up. I love being at home with it during the day, just knowing it's sitting in the living room, glowing away. I go in and out all day, sitting in a chair to read, crochet or just look at the tree. I wish I could invite you in for a cup of tea and a little chat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Forty



Hello! Thank you for the get-well and holiday wishes on my last post. We had a nice Thanksgiving, in spite of the fact that the Bear had fallen to the illness by then too. I stayed well through it all, though, and a good thing too, since I had a lot of cooking to do. It was a lot for one person to do all by herself, I will admit, and as usual, the "man" version of the illness seemed ever so much more dire than the child version, but that's neither here nor there; everyone appears to be back to normal, more or less, and the holiday was a good one. Over the weekend, I also celebrated my fortieth birthday, with a dinner out (this wasn't looking like it would happen, but we made it in the end), a lovely cake and presents. Coming at the end of a very hard week, my birthday pictures feature a fairly haggard crone-like figure, so I'll keep them to myself. I assure you, I was very happy on the inside.

My birthday last year was shared with Thanksgiving, as sometimes happens (I was born on the day as well), so I was happy to have the days separate again this year. It's a lot for one day and my naturally guilty conscience won't let me enjoy my birthday fully when I suspect that people are trying too hard to juggle my day and the holiday. They'll never say so (well, some of them will, and have, but I don't invite them to my birthdays anymore), but it's a feeling I have within myself and I don't like it, so it's good to have the holiday and the birthday fall on different days like they did this year.

Last year, we went out for a mediocre Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant; this year, I could cook the big meal and have the birthday dinner out too, which is so much nicer. I also went back to my old tradition of having a store-bought cake (the same one I've had many times, the Berry Chantilly cake from Whole Foods Market), instead of making my own; last year, I made a delicious dulce de leche cheesecake from Pati Jinich's first cookbook, which I enjoyed very much, but I really, really love that berry cake and I liked having it all ready and waiting in the fridge.

I had perfect (for me) birthday weather this year too - sunny and chilly, with crystal-clear blue skies. Last year, my birthday was a weirdly warm and hazy day, sunny and something like 75 degrees. On Thanksgiving! People were outside barbecuing and drinking beer on their front lawns. Sorry, that's just not right for late November. I liked our normal November weather much more, especially our cold, cloudy Thanksgiving Day. I'm complaining, I know, and I don't mean to. It's just funny how differently birthdays can feel from one year to the next.


My gifts were really lovely. This is my favorite gift, a group of three cakes of gradient yarn. I mentioned this yarn before, as well as the project its intended for (the Trio crocheted blanket by Susan Carlson of The Felted Button); I didn't expect to ever have any of this yarn because it's out of my normal crafting budget, but I was asked to provide gift suggestions and because it was a BIG BIRTHDAY, I decided to ask for this yarn for a present. The Bear was only too happy to provide. I was so excited! The yarn, Scheepjes Whirl, is a light cotton/acrylic blend and comes in so many beautiful colors (click the link in the yarn's name to see them). My colors are (clockwise from the top): Black Currant Squeeze Me, Lavenderlicious and Green Tea Tipple. Fun names, right? I love these colorways so much. Honestly, I'm just in love with gradient yarns lately; I really can't get enough.

As much as I love these colorways, I had a little trouble deciding on them, but then I usually do. I needed three cakes for the project and I loved looking through examples of the blanket made by other people, many of whom are a lot more adventurous with color than I am. In the end, I decided to go with my favorite tones. I guess I played it a little safe. My favorite colors include purples, blue-greens and grays, and I loved all three of these colorways, so I took a chance on them and I think they look fantastic together. The blanket design will have the colors pooling and blending from one end to the other, so I have to decide whether to use these yarns from the inside of the cakes or the outside. I'm not sure yet, it's kind of complicated to think about it, actually! I haven't started working with the yarn yet, since I'm still plugging away with my stash-buster ripple, but I'm looking forward to it. I've decided the Trio blanket will be for me. I've never actually made a blanket just for myself, and I'm not exactly sure how to go about having a blanket be just for me, but it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I'm sure I'll be willing to share sometimes, but only with nice, careful people.


I also received a wonderful gift that I've wanted for a long time, a new ice cream maker. We have an old one that doesn't work as well as I'd like it to, needs to be used outdoors because it's noisy, and requires copious amounts of ice. It works, but it doesn't, you know? I love to make ice cream, and would really enjoy branching out into sorbets and sherbets, and I'd really appreciate the convenience of a countertop appliance, so this is something I've had on my wishlist for a couple of years. I'm really glad to have it. Sorry for the box photo, as if this is a low-quality catalog; I just haven't unboxed it yet but it's coming soon.


Miss GB made me a very pretty bracelet. The beads sort of click together to open and close, which is nice for putting it on myself. The colored parts are plastic, but they look like sea glass. She has a bag of them that came with a DIY jewelry craft kit and she kind of hoards them, so I feel very lucky to receive something like this from her. I also received Ghirardelli chocolates and a small baking dish, as well as lovely cards and a DVD of one of my favorite movies, Peggy Sue Got Married. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant and came home for delicious cake. It was a really lovely day.

And now I'm forty years old. I'm still getting used to that. On the other hand, I've always felt much older than I actually am, and for some reason, always had the idea that when I was forty, I would finally feel like my age matched my sense of myself. I think it's accurate, actually. There's something about being able to say that I am forty that feels correct and fitting. I think I felt forty at fourteen, honestly. I probably looked it too (I've never gotten enough sleep). I'm happy about it. I feel settled in my life and I like where I am at forty. I don't have big ambitions and never have; I like being a wife and a mother, a homemaker, a general helper-outer in my kids' school, a good-enough daughter, sister and friend. It's enough. I think I like myself more the older I get, which is what they always said would happen, so I'm right on track there too.

I will say that my birthday feels like a finish line, of sorts, after a difficult year. A few very challenging things went on behind the scenes here, but I don't want to dwell on them. They've kept me away from blogging, commenting, emailing, socializing, creating, and a lot of other things I wanted to do, and they don't deserve the space anymore. It's just good to be getting back to the healthy mindset that I've worked hard to develop in myself - one of gratitude and appreciation for the life we've chosen, the relationships we know we can count on, the loving home we've created for ourselves, our happy marriage and utter joy in parenthood, my meaningful and healing hobbies - and when I think about all of that, I know that's what matters. So, while I'm never one for resolutions or hard promises, I do feel like I've reached a turning point and that I have the strength and sureness to move forward and leave a very bad time behind, looking instead to the good and positive things once again, but not to pressure myself. A birthday is not a deadline or a magical new beginning, it's just a day (and this one happens to be a big cultural milestone, and it also happens to fall at the end of the calendar year), just a jumping-off point for better things and I'm more than ready to embrace them.
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