New Years, Fresh Starts

The holidays are officially over. NaNoWriMo is done: I didn’t win – I only got to 20,000 words or so, but I’ve got lots of material to mine for this blog. Our semi-annual trip to the mid-west is complete: even though we went earlier this year to avoid severe weather, we still wound up coming home a day early to avoid a winter storm. Christmas has been wrapped, sent, unwrapped, and put away: except for the tree and decorations, they’re still up. And the cookies – we still have plenty of cookies. And the New Year has been celebrated and welcomed in.

Our Christmas celebration experienced a minor glitch when both of our debit cards were compromised. We made the mistake of shopping at Target for the first time in years, and Dan’s card was one of the 40 million that were exposed to fraud, so his card was cancelled and we had to wait for them to send a new one. Then, while going through our account looking for possible problems, we found a $151 charge to my card that we didn’t make. So that card was also cancelled. Two days before Christmas. It all has been an interesting exercise in learning just how much we have come to depend on those cards. (I had to pay for my groceries with a check, of all things.)

Just so you know, the company that was party to the fraudulent charge on my card was Beach Body. They refused to do anything about it, and just said we needed to file a report with the police. Fortunately for us, our bank is more honest – they have refunded us the money and are pursuing the matter. There was also a fraudulent charge to Staples, but they caught it themselves and refunded the money within days.

Then, this morning I woke up with a burning desire to make a cheese souffle. Go figure. I’ve never made a souffle before, but the chef at the convalescent home where I worked many years ago used to make them. Well, now I have made one; and it turned out very well, thank you very much.

Now we’re hunkering down for the next winter storm that will be coming through tomorrow. I’ve got two cartons of milk keeping cold out on my front porch, along with the cookies and a few other things that won’t fit into my refrigerator, and I make my own bread, so I’m good there. But I’m out of cheddar cheese. Oh dear.

Here’s to 2014.

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NaNoWriMo Interuptus

I am sure that my readers have been wondering where I’ve been – let me put all three of your minds at ease. Against my better judgement, my daughter-who-loves-writing-more-than-almost-anything has convinced me to participate once again in the National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo. (Because saying National Novel Writing Month all the time just gets old.)

NaNoWriMo is a challange to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, during the month of November. People from all over the world participate – you can even buy t-shirts. I tried last year, and came up short. I only got up to 22,386. My story was fun, but my characters were boring. This year I’m doing more of a memoir, so if my “characters” are boring, that’s just too bad.

The good news is, I’ll have plenty of material to work with for my blog when I’m done. Meanwhile I’ll be working at cranking out 1,667 words per day, so I probably won’t be posting much.


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It’s a Sign(ing)

I went to my first book signing yesterday. What sort of book, you ask? The latest novel? Political exposé? No, silly. A cookbook, of course! Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman herself, was coming to promote her latest tome at a Barnes & Noble 35 minutes from my home, and I just couldn’t resist.

My cookbook purchases have necessarily been cut way back – I’ve run out of places to put them. But still, every now and then a new one comes out that screams, “buy, me!” and my kind and generous husband lets me indulge. (To be fair, he does benefit at dinner time.) And lest you think he keeps a grip on the purse strings, magnanimously doling out cash according to his whim, the permission-to-spend thing goes both ways. In fact, he’s much stingier with himself.

Anyway, since the aforementioned bookstore is in parts East (read: very urbanized, congested, confusing…) my kind and generous husband agreed to drive there with me. Making a wrong turn, or missing an exit while heading off in that direction can have you winding up in Secaucus, an hour out of your way and still not knowing quite how to get home. Ask me how I know this.

Back to the signing. As my out-of-state in-laws have noted, when you ask someone from New Jersey how far it is to a given destination, they will respond in terms of time, rather than distance, usually preceded by questioning the time of day and which direction you’re headed. We were headed east during the evening rush hour, so we made pretty good time and arrived at the bookstore just after five.

The bookstore, I have to say, was very well organized. I think they’ve done this once or twice before. There was a person right by the stacks of The Pioneer Woman Cooks a Year of Holidays and Charlie and the Christmas Kitty to explain the process. We were to buy our book and get a wristband for entry, then wait upstairs. So we made our purchase, got our wristbands, and went upstairs to get in line behind the 200 or so people that got there before us.

Since there was such a crowd, with an hour yet before the event was set to begin, Dan decided to give up his seat and spend the time perusing the computer and science sections (which were, by the way, abysmally small). He’s very considerate that way.

They finally started letting us in (I was seated at about 5:40), very carefully making sure each row was full, “walk all the way down to the end”, before letting more folks in. At six o’clock they were still seating people. There were 320 chairs set up, and they had to bring more in.

We all waited with bated breath, cameras ready, focused on the door in the front right corner of the room. The staff teased us mercilessly by coming in and out of there numerous times. I finally caught a glimpse of that fabulous red hair leaning over a table writing something. A minute or two later, one of the staff came in and placed an autographed poster in one of the many frames that were around the room.

P1010034(Sorry it’s blurry.)P1010035

It wasn’t too much longer before Ree made her entrance. She apologized for being about 20 minutes late. Apparently the traffic caught her off guard. We’re from New Jersey, Ree. We get it about the traffic!

Ree gave about a 45 minute presentation, showing some of her beautiful photos, and some of her not so beautiful ones. She gave a history of her blog, and how she got into doing the recipes, the books, and the TV show. It was fun. She was delightful. You don’t see a lot of women wearing cowboy boots in these parts.

After her presentation she sat down under that poster and started signing books. It was very orderly – first in, first out – they did one row at a time, and the good news is you got to sit until it was your row’s turn. Keep in mind that those 200 people (well, 195 to be more precise) were still in front of me. She chatted with each and every one, and posed for a picture with everybody.

There were several staff around, I’ll call them the enforcers, who kept things moving: queuing the rows, snapping pictures, making sure everybody knew what to do. They even came around with post-it notes and wrote down what you wanted her to say in your book. All Ree had to do was open it to the predetermined page and look at the note – no misunderstandings or misspelling. I counted about a minute and a half per group of two or three.

The crowd was very pleasant. There were a number of very well behaved kids and babies there. A little girl, maybe four years old was in the row in front of me. She was so excited when their turn finally came. (Keep in mind that there were 162 people in front of her.) She was jumping up and down, and gave Ree a big hug.

At some point I waved Dan into the room and he came in and waited with me. The seats next to me had been abandonded by a mom with a cute little baby – she spent most of the time in the back corner keeping her entertained.

Our turn finally came a little after nine. Dan took the pictures while I went up. Ree was still smiling and chatty after all those people (with at least 130 more behind me).  Since there were two of us I figure we should’ve had at least 60 seconds. We got maybe half of that. The enforcers couldn’t get us out through the door fast enough. They were the only negative of the whole evening, and even they were smiling.

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It Slices, It Dices

Our refrigerator is still limping along (see: Random Laundry Rant), but our old mixer/blender/food processor/juicer finally gave up the ghost. It was an Oster Kitchen Center and it could perform any of those functions depending on the attachment you used. It had stopped being a mixer a while back – the motor no longer had the oomph to run it. But the blender still worked. Until a few days ago.

A while back I made off with my grandmother’s KitchenAid mixer that was stored in Mom’s basement, and it moved further up in life when my bread machine started spewing smoke. With the demise of the bread machine the mixer no longer resides in my basement to be lugged upstairs when called for, but has a place on my rather crowded kitchen counter. Both the Oster and the bread machine were over 20 years old. They served me well and deserve their retirement.

Now I have a brand-y new blender sitting in the Oster’s place. To be fair, I don’t think it slices, or dices, but I’m looking forward to finding out what it does do. So far we’ve made smoothies and soup. According to America’s Test Kitchen it should serve marvelously. (I got the cheaper winner. Even if I could have justified the expense, the more expensive model wouldn’t fit under my cabinets.)

There was a bit of a learning curve to make bread in the KitchenAid. I was used to taking the dough out of the bread machine and baking it in the oven – my model made those funky round loaves – and using the mixer is a tiny bit more involved than “dump in the ingredients and set the timer”. I can still only make one loaf at a time this way, mine is the smaller model – not great for bulky recipes, but much better for fitting into my kitchen.

A million years ago, when I was working as a housekeeper in a convalescent home, the head housekeeper’s assistant once said to me, “I bet you never thought you would get excited about a new mop.” (She was right.) Now I’m excited about a not-so-new mixer and a new blender that promise to make my life in the kitchen more pleasant. Who knew?

Oh, yes. And now my kitty has a new box.

2013-10-23 Goldie-in-the-box

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It’s True, What They Say About Socks.

So much for my intentions to write at least one blog post a week. What can I say… I was on vacation.

I’ve been slowly trying to reclaim our front porch from the clutter that has gathered out there. There are school books and lesson planners, musical instruments, toys and games, school and craft supplies, bird seed, umbrellas, and an old cat-litter box. And rocks. And baskets. And with the colder weather, some potted plants. Lest you think it’s all in piles, there are some storage cabinets and shelves out there. But there are plenty of piles too. To give you some perspective, our porch is about 6.5′ by 19.5′. Yes, you could walk from the front door to the living room door, but walking from one end to the other was a challenge.

There has been some progress. I cleaned up and removed the litter box, and went through a big basket of toys that needed to be cleaned up or tossed. I am not parting with Kristy’s first “piano”. One can now actually walk from one end to the other.

One of the gems I came across was this game, called Dizzy Drier. Here it is, all cleaned up:


It has hands too, but they’re broken off and I can’t fit them back on. I thought it looked a little creepy to have them lying on the table with the rest of the pieces.


It was a fun little game. When you turned it on the drum would spin around, and the idea was to throw in the “clothes” without anything falling out of the drum. Sadly, the drum no longer spins. I tried replacing the batteries, to no avail. But here’s the thing: we’re missing two pieces of “clothing.” Have a look and see which ones are missing.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Yep. It’s the socks.

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Petunias, Onions, and Cellar Doors

I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch,
an onion patch, an onion patch.
I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch,
and all I do is cry all day. Boo hoo.

Want to hear it? ↓

I have always wanted an onion patch. I’ve also always wanted a flock of chickens, but that’s the topic of another day. My mom used to sing that little ditty to me when I was little. She always kept a big garden and we grew up eating fresh, organic produce, including onions. I love gardens, but I’m no gardener, which is just as well since we have a postage stamp yard and are overhung by great big ol’ trees. There’s a tiny patch by the driveway that gets enough sun to grow a few things, and I enjoy going out to pick fresh mint, oregano, sage, and basil.

We had a plot in the community garden for a couple of years when the kids were little, but it was not a pleasant place to work as it was right next to a busy highway; you had to yell to be heard over the traffic. The soil was dead when we started so the payback was pretty sorry. By the time we gave up there were plenty of earthworms in the soil, so hopefully the folks who took over the plot got some benefit from our efforts. We didn’t grow any onions.

Here’s another one Mom used to sing:

Oh Playmate, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three.
Climb up my apple tree,
Look down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends forever more.

Give a listen here: ↓

Now, our cellar door was a plain, old, ordinary door that opened out at ground level, so I used to wonder how you would slide down it. The funny thing is, I had a friend who had one of those slanty cellar doors – and we used to play on it. It was only a couple of years ago that I realized what kind of door the song was talking about. Go figure. We live in a neighborhood filled with old houses with those slanty cellar doors. Our house has a regular door.

And if I ever do have an onion patch, there’s going to be a petunia planted smack in the middle.

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At Least They Were Easy to Peel

I told myself to clean the refrigerator today. It was about as empty as it ever gets with my keep-it-stocked-because-you-never-know mentality. But no. Then we went to Costco this evening and filled the thing right back up.

What does that have to do with things peeling, you ask? Well, we have a plastic egg container that holds two dozen eggs. The organic eggs we get from Costco come in cartons of two dozen. I had seven eggs left. The little pot that I hard boil eggs in holds exactly seven eggs. So I emptied the old eggs into my little pot, and filled my egg container with the new eggs. Then I set the little pot aside while we ate the Costco pizza we brought home for dinner.

Later this evening, after dinner and a show (The Dog Whisperer on Netflix) and evening devotions, I filled the little pot with water and set it on the stove to heat. And then sat down to read some facebook while I waited for it to boil. Ironically, I was watching videos of the 10 alarm fire down at Seaside Heights.

Ah. I know just what you’re thinking. And you’d be right. Fortunately, before it got to the snap, crackle, and pop stage – go ahead, ask me how I know what that sounds like – Dan walked into the kitchen and noticed the eggs were completely out of water. He wisely backed away when I brought a pitcher of cold water over to the stove, but I managed to dribble it in slowly enough that nothing spectacular happened.

The eggs were removed from the pot and run under cold water. Not being one to waste food (I am my mother’s daughter; some day I’ll tell you about the ants in the cereal box) I set about peeling them, hoping I’d be able to salvage at least some of each egg. And, indeed, they did peel very easily. Apart from a small brown spot on each one, and a slightly smokey smell, they seem to be quite edible, even if a bit overcooked.

So there you have it. The exciting conclusion to my day. (And, no, I’m not being sponsored by Costco – or Netflix, for that matter.) Maybe I’ll invent a new dish: smoked egg salad.

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And Then There Were Cats

Quite a few years ago we had some friends over for a picnic at my parents’ house. As we sat around after eating we started sharing family stories about the pets and other animals in our lives. It seems that our stories got more and more wild, because by the time we were done our guests didn’t believe a word of them. But they were all true!

My first animal memory is of the pets we had in our first home: a cat named “Mickey” and a parakeet named “Butch”. They must have both died around the same time, because my “memory” of them is of them both going out the door, never to be seen again. I wonder how my mom explained their leaving to me, to have that sweet picture in my head. The only other things I remember about Mickey, are that he was dark – gray, I think – and the size of a panther. I was only two or three at the time, he was probably almost as tall as I was!

The next cat we had was Jinxy, an orange tabby. Where do I start, to tell you about this amazing cat? He was so gentle, that when he went outside the birds there on the ground wouldn’t even fly away. He had a doe-friend that would stand in the yard and stamp her feet until we let him out for a visit. She even brought her fawn to show him. The big bulldog and black lab that lived across the street, however, wouldn’t mess with him.  I remember seeing them back away from a spitting, arching Jinx.

The only time he ever scratched me (and I was little, so I’m sure there was plenty of motive and opportunity) was the time I tried to dress him up in doll clothes. Well, it worked in the story books.

Jinxy also had a mischievous side. He liked to hide behind the furniture, then jump out and grab your leg as you went by. You’d jump, of course, but when you looked down there would be nobody there. One time my parents were painting the hallway and had laid newspaper down to protect the floor. Jinxy looked that over, then circled through the kitchen, picked up speed in the dining room, more on the carpet in the living room, sat down on the first sheet of paper and slid the whole length of the hall. Yee-hah! Then there was the Christmas tree incident: he almost got the star, and Mom managed to rescue the tree before it toppled over completely.

Jinxy even won over my dad, who started out as no lover-of-cats. Cats don’t accept disdain – they see it as a challenge. When Dad was reading the paper with his legs crossed, Jinxy would squeeze through the crook of his knee and purr at him. Jinxy knew just who needed to be converted. My brother turned out to be allergic to cats and dogs, so when Jinxy went the way of all things, we had no other cats in the house until he left for college. There would, however, be plenty of other critters in our lives.

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Oh, Brother!

My brother, Jim, returned home today. So now he is 1200 miles away instead of only a few. He stops in for a visit whenever he comes north on business; I love to cook for him. And most of the time I make food he can actually eat.

The last time he was here, I was so proud of the delicious chili verde I had made. A nice pork dish. Only, just as we all were about to take a spoonful, “Oh <expletive deleted>, don’t eat that!” I realized just in time that I had used chicken stock as the base, something my brother can not eat. His reply? “I didn’t know you used those words. I guess when we were kids you were listening to Dad in the basement too.” He was so gracious, and happily ate the quesadillas I made for him, while the rest of us ate soup. This trip I managed to cook him a whole meal without poisoning him: spare ribs, corn on the cob, and coleslaw.

With the economic downturn and all, his company pretty much put a halt on business travel. Jim said it’d been four years since they’d sent him up here. He’s come north with his family a few times since then, and I’ve seen him: Mom’s 80th birthday, PopPop’s 100th(!), PopPop’s funeral; just not in my neck of the woods.

It’s just the two of us siblings, and we’ve always gotten along pretty well. I’m sure we had our spats – you can’t live in the same house with someone for 15-16 years without a disagreement now and then. But I don’t remember them. (Maybe it’s because I’m the baby sister, and I was the one being annoying.) Since we’re three years apart we had different circles of friends. Still, I have many fond memories of playing together on the “matchbox hill” – which was a pile of dirt in the back yard left over from the house construction. A myriad of roads and dwellings were carved out with tiny bulldozers on that hill. We protested mightily when Mom had it removed to make way for a patio, even though we hadn’t played on it for years.

Jim is one of the hardest working people I know. He’s had one job or another since he was twelve. And he can fix any mechanical gizmo on the planet. I remember the day a big, burly biker came riding down our driveway so my high-school aged brother could fix his hog. If I recall, Mom told me to stay in my room.

Growing up I was the “student” and the “active” one – but he’s the one who’s earned two degrees (the second one while working full time and raising a young family) and spends his leisure time hiking all over creation geocaching, while I sit here getting fatter by the minute with my high school diploma and technical certificate.

Do I give the impression that I admire my brother? He’s hard headed, er… strong; a family man, who, by the way, married an amazing woman; a faithful servant at his church; a loyal friend. I give no apologies if those virtues sound old fashioned. He’s an amazing guy.

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Shoes. Who Knew?

I like pretty shoes as much as the next person, only I’ve never been able to be real picky about the shoes I wear. My feet have always been hard to fit. When I was a kid my mother had to take me to a “special” shoe store a couple of towns away. According to the sales guy (this was in the olden days when shoe salesmen actually knew what they were talking about, and measured your feet with a special gizmo) I had a wide ball and narrow heal. If only my foot troubles stopped there.

Skip forward quite a few years to an eight year bout with plantar fasciitis in both feet and subsequent weight gain. Probably due to the extra weight, my feet have apparently gotten wider. Have you tried to find wide sized shoes in a shoe store lately? Over the last few years, the selection has gotten smaller and smaller, and now it seems that most stores don’t carry any at all.

Combine feet that are an “odd” size with feet that are sore most of the time, and you get feet that are very hard to find shoes for. With the ever expanding size of the American population, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one with wide feet who needs shoes.

I need shoes. And I need comfortable shoes. I would like to have shoes that don’t look like they belong on a 90 year old using a walker, thank you.

I even tried mail order – out of the five pairs of shoes I ordered, I had to return three. To save shipping we were allowed to return them to a local retail store. This resulted in an adventure to an urban mall the likes of which I hope to never experience again. (Another story. Valet parking, really?)

Anyhow, all this is to explain the heart stopping excitement I experienced yesterday when I went to get some cat food. A new Martin’s shoe store was having its grand opening a couple of doors down. Oh great, another place I won’t be able to buy shoes from. I paid little attention as I walked by on my way to the pet food store.

On the way back, however, loaded down with about 20 pounds of cat food, I stopped to look in the window and out of habit started scanning for boxes marked with “wide”. There was one, and another, and another… I kept looking. Those beautiful red stickers were all over the place. I went in to take a closer look. Glory! They not only had wide sizes, but they had them in multiple styles.

I wanted to kiss the sales clerk, but he was busy. But I’ll be back.

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