Saturday, December 31, 2011

Don't let the door hit you in the ass …

So long, 2011, it's been – all in all – a pretty crappy year, one which actually began in September of 2010 when I lost my dad.

You've continued down that path of loss and worry and crisis, 2011, and I'm glad to see you go. I love fresh starts, and flipping the calendar over to a new year is Fresh Start X-treme.

To put this year in perspective, the best thing that happened is my husband's neck tumor was benign. We spent three weeks last spring in malignant limbo, getting things in order, fattening him up for chemo, preparing for the worst, which was what the initial diagnosis indicated we should be doing. One more test showed us – and his incredulous doctor – the precious diagnosis: benign. Snip-snip and the tumor was gone.

Actually the very best thing, as a result of the scare, is that my husband once-and-for-all, a-day-at-a-time, quit smoking. And with all the electronic calendars at my fingertips, I failed to record The Date, but we know it was sometime in March. So, YAY for him! He could've had a baby by now!

In 2011 I lost a close friendship, the ending of which still baffles me. I saved the e-mail exchange upon which it ended and look at it every now and then. The very next week began the trips to doctors and hospitals with my husband, so I didn't have

  • much emotional support during that issue or
  • much time to worry it.

Also in 2011, my AA sponsor lost her battle with cancer just as her beloved garden began to bloom. And there's been some family drama I can't really write about. And I've gained 13 pounds since last January.  At one point this year I hit my highest weight ever, a very scary number indeed. (I'm back down from it, but just barely.)

Whatever is going on in my life, the underlying theme is always and forever my weight. I have for years been working on it. Many of you have been working on it with me, since the early days of The Shrinking Knitter.

A year ago today my goals were to

  • eat from the newly introduced U.S. Food Pyramid
  • do a minimum of 60 minutes of intentional activity every day
  • strength-train twice a week 
  • run a marathon before the end of the year and
  • take a picture with my good camera every day.

Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail. Well, unless I run a marathon today. Heh.

But notice how I've evolved! I don't set weight-loss goals, I set action goals, goals which will get me where I want to go (which is, of course, weighing less) but that don't set me up for failure by specifying a number or by being too vague.

But I failed anyway.

Therefore, the only way to go is up. RIGHT??? Please tell me I'm right, because if 2012 turns out to be anything like 2011 I'm not sure how I would handle it.

No goals this year. No resolutions. No setting myself up for failure. All I really want to do is to stay motivated to keep on keepin' on, and to dig myself out of this negative, crappy mood. (My husband would be so grateful.)

Today I will take a walk, watch more football, knit more clogs, clean my house, cook a good dinner, shell the dried black-eyed peas I harvested last fall, sit near my lemon tree and breathe the heady fragrance that fills the living room and promises fruit, and a future. And lemonade. Mmmmm, lemonade.

Tomorrow I will make Hoppin' John from those black-eyed peas, and I will knit and take a walk and, as Frasier always said, "Enjoy my day." That's one more thing no one else can do for me.

So, 2011, I for one am not at all sorry to see you go. I will look back on you with relief that you're gone, and I won't miss you at all. See ya. Wouldn't wanna be ya.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Just clogging along

The first pair (child-sized) is done!

The little ghost is my granddaughter's footprint.
I love how unfelted clogs look like clown shoes
right off the needles!
There are four games today. Theoretically that's enough time to make the two adult pairs on my list. HOWEVER, I don't think I'll be knitting non-stop from noon 'til midnight. (And I won't be felting them until all three pairs are done.) A girl's gotta eat. And walk. Because it's going to be nice again today – light winds, mid-50s, sunny. I'm not turning my back on an opportunity like that. And, frankly, a girl's gotta sleep. I haven't seen one complete night game yet, although I hear the Baylor-Washington game last night was an Instant Classic!

I hit the elliptical day before yesterday but got back outside yesterday. FIVE DAYS IN A ROW, people. Woo hoo!

I thought of a new reason to get back in shape in 2012:

I want to feel as comfortable in my street clothes I do in my pajamas.
~ Debbi McNeer

Whatever it takes, right?

To wrap up this randomness, I'll leave you with sunset at dinnertime, December 29, 2011.

A stunning image to remember when I start missing bookstores and coffeeshops
and shopping opportunities, oh my. I truly have a wonderful life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Got motivation?

I'll use all available resources at this point, and I hope I don't forget them as time goes by. This one looks like a good one, should I decide to begin using music when I'm walking outside again.

In other news, I made a frittata last night for the first time in my life. I got some iron skillets for Christmas, so it was the first time in my life (seriously!) I've had an oven-proof vessel for making frittatas.

Sautéeing spinach and diced ham in buttah.
Blurry (sorry) stovetop shot of the egg mixture nearly set.
Top with shredded cheese – I used fontina.
Out of the oven, perfectly broiled, sprinkled with freshly ground pepper.


While we have no snow here (yet), I thought this was just too cute to keep to myself. More than likely someone in your circle of friends has already displayed it. Apologies if that's the case …

Hundreds protest global warming.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Yes, some real knitting happened here yesterday, and more is lined up for today. And tomorrow. And the rest of the college football bowl season.

My son's wife loves, loves, loves the felted clogs (note: this is an updated version of the pattern) I've been making her since the original design was published way back in the 20th century. Her daughter wants a pair "just like Mommy's." I seriously thought she'd want pink ones with purple soles. Yes, she's four, how'd you guess. Heh. But shades of blue were what she requested. I cast on last night around 7 p.m. By 9 p.m. I'd finished the sole and upper portion of the first little clog.

I'm going to make her mother a new pair and am also going to make myself a new pair, after inspecting mine and finding a hole in the sole of one of them.

Back when I was cranking out clogs for everyone I knew, I could knit one adult pair in six hours. (The only reason I know that is I had to have some kind of lab test done at which I had to wait three hours between needle sticks and I finished one clog while I waited.) I'll be done in five games. Heh.

I've written here previously the suggestion that if you're not hungry enough to eat an apple (you – I'm lookin' at YOU – could insert any boring food of your choice), then you're not really hungry. When you want to eat for entertainment – the crunch of Cheez-its or the creaminess of ice cream, for instance – that's a craving, not hunger.

I was up later than usual last night and started feeling a little hungry about four hours after dinner. Normally I don't eat after dinner. I would have enjoyed a leftover Christmas cookie or a little plate of cheese and crackers, but instead I had an orange. And it hit the spot. Another theory proven to be true.

It comes down to mind over matter, right? It almost always does. Which is why my laptop wallpaper now looks like this:

I've snagged several other motivating images from the Fitness boards at Pinterest, and will be swapping them out when I get tired of the current one. Or when it stops working, whichever comes first.

As for activity, I've walked two miles every day beginning Christmas afternoon. (Two miles isn't much, but it's a beginning. Again.) It's going to be pretty cold today, so I'll either dress for sub-40 temps or hit the elliptical with an episode of Glee.

So nice to have options.

How are you handling the week between holidays? Is it still all-party, all-the-time? Do you make resolutions? If you're blogging about them, leave a link in the comments.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The thing about Pinterest …

is if you see something you'd better snag it NOW. Otherwise you'll never find it again.

I'm just sayin'.

The rebel in me respects the rebel in you

That would be the punk version of namaste, I guess.

I'm completely obsessed with Pinterest these days. I scroll through first thing every morning, clicking and repinning and dreaming and being inspired. There's so much talent and creativity and humor displayed! It's a great way to begin the day. (Feel free to follow me on Pinterest, there's an easy-peasy link in one of the sidebars.)

Naturally, now that Christmas is over, fitness quotes abound. I found a tumblr blog through Pinterest called Reasons to be Fit, and this is a big one of mine.

There are only two people who tell me I can't do something. My husband is one (he's so afraid I'll die running, after he saw a fit young athletic man do just that at the finish line of the Army 10-Miler in 2008).

I'll give you one guess as to who's the other.

Ding, ding, ding! You're right if you said it was me.

I've been working on (or not working on) losing weight for most of my life. I must either accept that I'm not meant to be a normal weight, or I must get on with it, accomplish it, Just Do It.

Of course I'm motivated right now. It's time for new beginnings! Fresh starts! Resolutions, decisions, commitments! But what happens in late January, when skies are grey and enthusiasm wanes? WHAT THEN?

You tell me ... 'cause right now, I'm strong and dedicated and ready to rock. But imma gonna need some help in a few weeks. Thanks in advance.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Done, done and DONE!

All in all, we had a lovely holiday this year. I'm usually depressed because Christmas just isn't as it used to be (and why should it be? I'm 60, not six). The usual (husband's) family drama was kept to a minimum. His mother loved her gift (a digital photo frame filled with old and new family pix), and promised to return yet another jacket (this makes five consecutive years she's given me a jacket that doesn't fit) and choose something from a gourmet cookware shop instead.

My ideal Christmas this year would have been away I'd have loved to have taken a little trip, but it wouldn't be nice to leave my mother-in-law alone on the holiday. (My husband is an only child.) He and I are going away the end of January as our gift to each other.

The first thing I did Christmas morning was admire the very heavy
frost covering everything outside. It looked like it snowed from a distance!
My menu worked out great and all the food was delicious and devoured. I was the only one who ate any Waldorf salad, but since that's my family's holiday tradition, I was fine with that. My husband and his mother always want sauerkraut for holidays (never heard of that one), and there was none left over.

Time to get back on the healthy living track. I started yesterday by taking a two-mile walk around 4 in the afternoon. My October attempt at creating several healthful habits has totally sputtered out – I think sugar overload will do that to you. The least I can do is begin drinking lots of water again. That was, by far, the most effective habit I worked on, so why not start again? In fact, hold on a minute while I go fill my cup.

My ginger-haired friend has been fasting one day a week, and I'm thinking of following her lead.

There are so many things I've done in the past that have worked well for me, I have to wonder what is it that makes me stop doing them? It's easy to blame it on the holidays (and, to be sure, October probably wasn't the best month to begin, with the holidays right around the corner), but lots of people sail through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's without packing on pounds and totally giving up the good-for-you stuff.

This is starting to feel like True Confessions. That's not my intent. I just want to get focused again, and this week between Christmas and New Year's will be all about focusing.

Who's with me?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas. Yes, it's time yet.

This is my FAVORITE Christmas song.
Which probably tells you everything you need to know about me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Here's another use for that parsley salt

I thought about the traditional pimento olive slice to add a little
red-and-green goodness to my deviled egg tray.
And then I remembered: Parsley salt! Alternated with
a sprinkle of smoked paprika, they look pretty festive.
And oh, so trendy. Heh.

The day before

Before I wish you a merry Christmas Eve, I want to give you a Knit Thing and an Eat Thing. (Click on the captions for pattern or recipe.)

This bacon jam –
I'm sooo not kidding –
just sounds DELICIOUS!

The open house we go to every Christmas Eve has had a time change. We used to go after church, which used to start at 7; this year the Episcopal service begins at 8, and the Presbyterian service is at 6 and since guests of all religious persuasions will be at the party, the party begins at 4:30.

Which is fine by me.

A 4:30 party seems more casual to me, and I've been fretting silently about What To Wear To An Evening Party for several days. Now I can just throw on whatever is clean and still fits and be both comfortable and presentable. And no one is going to be judging my wardrobe anyway.

Christmas dinner prep begins today. Here's the menu (items in red get done today):
  • Baked ham
  • Baked acorn squash
  • Waldorf salad
  • Sauerkraut
  • Green beans or peas (haven't decided)
  • Dinner rolls
  • Deviled eggs
  • Pecan pie
  • Pumpkin pie
My mother-in-law will be our only dinner guest, so I might scale back a bit. I bought a huge, whole, semi-boneless ham simply because I wanted to get several meals from it. I'm going to chop it in half right off the bat and only cook the boneless part. The rest is going into the freezer in meal-sized portions, with a prayer that we don't lose power.

The freezer, you see, is FULL – a quarter of a cow, produce from the garden, chicken that I buy whenever it's on sale, big bags of nuts, a pork tenderloin that has been cut into one-pound pieces – there's enough food in there for a year, I think. Losing power would NOT be a Good Thing.

Back to my wardrobe for a minute. I guess all the candy- and cookie-making is my way of trying to generate Christmas spirit around here (my husband is a bit of a curmudgeon about it) but it doesn't help either of us either maintain (him) or lose (me) weight. I hate (and I don't use that word lightly) not having a closet full of clothes that I can just grab and throw on and know that I'll look good.

The painful part is that I used to.

So today, on the day before the day before, I'm thinking that if I am able to get to a reasonably healthy weight by next Christmas, I might make another batch of cookies or pan of fudge. (Or jar of bacon jam? Mmmm, bacon.)

If not, I can always make more in 2013, right? This year-end cooking frenzy hasn't been at all helpful or healthful, and if I'm deliberately doing something that in the moment is fun and happy and it's-Christmas-after-all, but in the end makes me feel bad about myself, well …


And that, my friends, is the day before the day before 25,000-calorie question.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Straying from the whole "gift" theme

I haven't used a single NaBloPoMo writing prompt this month, mostly because I've been waking up every morning thinking about something to write about on the blog.


I had a great gift-themed post in my head this morning, but it needs lots of pictures and I'm just not in the mood to find and edit all of them. I would even have to find, SCAN and edit one. So that one will wait until next week, more than likely.

It only takes one easy-to-download (Bluetooth from cellphone to laptop), easy-to-edit (crop/resize) photo for today's rant thought.

When I saw this guy's license plate, my first thought was, "Who BRAGS about being a JAILER?" (My husband's first thought was that he misspelled the word, but it can be spelled with either an E-R or an O-R. We checked. Heh.)

Of course, I'm coming at this from the perspective of one who has volunteered in a federal prison camp for women for a dozen years. Who goes to a federal prison camp for women? First-time, non-violent, mostly drug offenders. My service to the prison is inmate-related. In other words, I'm on their side, and am not too inclined to stick up for the staff.

There are many, many wonderful staff members who work in jails and prisons all over the country, including the one at which I volunteer. You might feed your family by working in corrections, and I hope my negative reaction to this license plate doesn't offend you as much as seeing the license plate offended me.

I have seen prison guards removed from the grounds in handcuffs. I have seen them blow smoke in inmates' faces after federal prisons went smoke-free (for inmates, not for staff). I have heard their negative comments about inmates in general and inmates in particular. I've seen them relish the power they have over others, including me, and volunteers are supposed to be treated as staff members, not outsiders or inmates.

I have seen their closed minds and closed hearts. I have seen the rules be more important than humanity or compassion. I have seen saving money trump dignity, privacy and good nutrition. I have seen three-squares-and-a-cot deemed "enough," leaving the inmate to come up with enough money from her 12-cents-an-hour job to pay for postage and phone calls.

Yes, it takes half a day's work to buy a stamp.

Some people think anyone who has gone to prison deserves for the rest of her life to pay for his or her crime. I feel differently. Most of us have slipped up, made a bad choice, taken a wrong turn. It's by the grace of God we weren't arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated.

I feel that once you've done your time, you should be DONE. You shouldn't have to check the box on a job application that you're a former felon. You should be able to vote as soon as you leave the facility. You shouldn't be discriminated against because of a mistake in your past that you've paid for with years of your life.

Some feel that former inmates are bad role models. I feel differently. I feel that one who has endured the indignity of strip searches, bed checks, four-times-a-day counts and 24-hour-a-day surveillance (among other things) with grace and humility and even gratitude (because nearly every inmate I've met ends up grateful for God's grace in saving his or her life) is an excellent role model.

There are good people working in corrections. The chaplain at the prison where I volunteer presided over the blessing-of-a-civil-union ceremony for my husband and me when we returned from our wedding trip to Las Vegas. I have wonderful memories of a couple of previous wardens and one assistant warden who really seemed to bring out the best in the women under their care.

The thing is, I don't think they would display a JAILER vanity plate. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I feel as though I'm wasting a post, I could so easily save this for tomorrow. NaBloPoMo is winding down, and while I'm definitely not feeling like I'm running out of words, there are still times when … well, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Sweet. Salty. Smooth. Crunchy. Easy. YUM!

Okay, so the original recipe is really called Terribly Terrific Toffee and you can find it here. This treat goes together in about half an hour, and who doesn't have an extra 30 minutes the week before Christmas to whip up something scrumptious?

My husband helped with this part. Line a cookie sheet with foil,
coat with cooking spray and cover with a layer of saltines.
Bring a cup of butter and a cup of brown sugar to a boil, then cook
and stir for 6 to 8 minutes.
I forgot to try to capture pouring the brown sugar/butter mixture on the
saltines. Not sure how I would have done that anyway. Here's the pan
in the oven, baking at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes. 
Let the pan cool for a couple minutes, then sprinkle two cups of chocolate
chips atop the bubbling toffee. I put mine back in the oven for a minute
to hasten the melting of the chocolate procedure.
Cool in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so, then gently break into chunks.

After I made this recipe and a batch of fudge but before I made the pizza, I carved out some time to use the elliptical. Wouldn't you know that would be the same time my wi-fi went down? Grrr. I took the Nook with me anyway and just read while I worked out. Ended up doing 40 minutes, after I told myself 30 would be enough. Yay me!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Same mountain, different day

Okay, no brilliant sunrise  today, but I love how that cloud just kind of
tucked itself into the mountainside.

Who had Santa call me?

Late yesterday morning Santa left a voice mail on my cell phone. (I was driving in one of the many cell phone dead zones here in the Middle of Nowhere, or I would have answered his call!) The beginning of it was cut off, which probably had a clue or two in it to let me know who put the big guy up to it.

It was funny – Santa somehow knew that what I wanted most for Christmas was a better economy (tru dat!) and he actually mentioned that I lived in the middle of nowhere (I guess it's true that he sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're holed up in the middle of nowhere!) He asked me to leave him vegan cupcakes and he mentioned he was going to do some yoga. I've erased the message so I don't remember all the variables.

At the end was a hint that it's a GMail product, so it wasn't difficult to find the website where I could arrange to have Santa call someone I know and love. (How did you – the one out there who arranged it for me – find it in the first place? Did GMail e-mail you to let you know? I would have gone the entire holiday season not knowing about this!)

The options are funny and clever and, like yesterday's snowy screen, the call from Santa makes me think working for Google must be a hoot!

Time for some food porn. I'm really glad the end of December is on the horizon. January approacheth! Fresh start! New beginning!

Horrible photo, but delicious treats!
And so, so easy. If you're short on time,
this should be on your to-do list.
The Cookie Truffles are delicious! And pretty! And, um, delicious! I allowed myself just one, and I made sure my husband knew we were taking them to the party Saturday night so I wouldn't wake up to an empty plate. (He's a night eater. And skinny. SO not fair.)

I also made more peppermint bark (so easy), but used a recipe that mimics Williams-Sonoma's layered $22/pound treat. Next up is Saltine Toffee (I'm SO not kidding and it's SO addictive) and then a batch of salted caramels and some kind of nut brittle. Probably with cinnamon.

I think five things is enough to share with a houseful of people, and there will be tons of other desserts. Our hosts are Greek, so there's always baklava, and Christmas Eve is the only day of the year I ever eat it.

It's a really good thing I figured out the Netflix-Nook-elliptical connection, don't you think? Today's agenda is:

  • breakfast
  • make mozzarella
  • Season 1, Episode 5 of Glee elliptical
  • make treats!
  • make pizza

Time's a wasting. Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


My NookColor software has been updated, and the best new feature is that I can now watch Netflix on the Nook. This may not be a big deal to you, but around here, I'm not in charge of the television. If I were, it would be all Glee and Mad Men and Nip/Tuck (until it got really gross in the final season) all the time.

But the husband likes the news.

Our workout room on the second floor of the garage is a great space with a huge television, but it's an old television that is not Apple TV-ready. So … no Netflix upstairs.

Until today. It is so freaking cool to set the Nook up on the elliptical and work out rather effortlessly for the length of one episode of Season 1 of Glee, which is about 15 minutes longer than I did with great effort two days ago watching Sportscenter.

The gift of Netflix on the Nook. It's a Christmas miracle!

Let it snow!

Thanks for your comments on my mountain photo. I entered it in a little photo contest, hope it gets some recognition!

I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the Google Geek Department. Here's their latest amusement:

I tested it on my computer using the Google Chrome browser and it works. So clever. Not that I want it to snow for Christmas or anything. Heh.

Grocery-shopping today, for Christmas dinner and a bag of Oreos to make these three-ingredient treats. (I already have the cream cheese and dipping chocolate. And sprinkles!) I don't need to add them to the stuff I'm taking to the Christmas Eve open house, but they look easy and fun and new. If I put a lolly stick in them they could even pass for some trendy cake pops.

Wow, I'm all about the trendy this week, eh?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tangerine is the new Honeysuckle

Remember when grey was the new black? My friends and I thought we were sooooo clever when we said that.

We were graphic designers working in the ad industry, and it was important to be aware of color trends. Pantone, according to their website, is the world-renowned color authority, and each year determines the color of the year. Designers of all stripes – graphic, industrial, clothing, floral – incorporate that color in their products and ideas, until the next new color is announced.

This year Tangerine Tango is the belle of the ball. I missed the memo earlier this month, but did my research after my trendy daughter mentioned she was looking for some artwork with orange in it for her newly painted bedroom. The walls are grey – pewter or gunmetal or something like that – and she wants to kick it up with orange accents.

Of course she does. Do a search on etsy or Pinterest for orange and grey and you, too, will be inspired.

I actually liked last year's Honeysuckle better. I've always liked pink, especially pink with grey. (For the record, the honeysuckle blossoms that climb up the side of my garden shed are yellow. Which also looks good with grey.) To be sure, I like my pink much lighter – baby pink or sky blue pink, rather than deep rose. But sticking with pink in any shade would mark me as sooooo last year.

So in order to display my trendiness, yesterday I finally framed and hung a picture I took this past fall. To me, the color is much more tangerine than Pantone 17-1463. There is no way this reduced-in-size .jpg version even remotely resembles the majesty of the real-life view, or even the larger RAW image I was able to capture with a Canon Rebel and a lot of luck.

Our view to the west, illuminated by the sun rising in an
otherwise gunmetal-grey sky. 10/27/11, 7:10 a.m.

And it's certainly not the modern orange vibe my citified daughter's looking for. But it's not bad for the Middle of Nowhere. When you add all the orange marmalade in my pantry, I'd say it's pretty darned good. And trendy.

Apologies to those of you who were reading back in October and have to look at this yet again! Heh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I have it on good authority …

that the marmalade turned out great. The friend I was helping with the holiday card went home with two jars and he called it "mmmmmmarmalade." Sounds to me like he liked it!

I'm still working on the 2010 jar I opened the other day. When I tilt one of the new jars, the contents move a little and the color is lovely. Last year's overcooked batch was darker, and the content wasn't really mobile in the jar unless it had been warmed. Delicious, but not something I would serve or give away.

That's the thing about home-canned jams and jellies – you don't know how they'll behave until you open the jar. Surprise! It's like Christmas every time you want a piece of toast. And you can process two batches identically with different results. That happened to me with apple jelly last year. One batch was truly perfect, while the second was a little runny. Which, of course, adds to the charm of home-canned fruit. Heh.

I have enough citrus "in stock" to make two more batches of marmalade, with a couple pieces of fruit left over to eat, though I'll probably just make one. Six pounds of fruit yielded 13 8-ounce jars on Friday. Which reminds me, I should probably check my jar supply.

I spent yesterday hunched over a scanner and the computer, preserving old photographs to load onto the digital picture frame we're giving my husband's mother. I hope she likes it, and I'm wondering if I could hire myself out as a digital picture frame loader-upper. People my mother-in-law's age would really enjoy the memories, but generally don't have the equipment or technical skills to set up the frame. Hmmm. I think I'll put an ad in the paper.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my weight and fitness and health in general, and I have some stuff to say about it, but not today. All those ideas need to cook a little bit more. Like, maybe, until January 1st. In the meantime, there's football and knitting and Christmas dinner to plan. This week I'll be making candy to go with the cookies we're taking to the Christmas Eve open house we've gone to for the past 15 years.

Probably not a good week to write about my weight and fitness and health. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Also ... does your bank do this?

I was reading the list of NaBloPoMo entries from yesterday and this one made me smile all the way through. Need a smile today? Just click!

Making her list, checking it twice

Remember that to-do list I posted a couple days ago? Well, it's ta-done!

Didn't walk yesterday, darn it, but did take two-milers
Sunday and Wednesday and three-milers Monday and Tuesday.

I wish I could show you her sweet face, but that's not how I roll.
Each grandchild got a similar card but with his/her own little
refrigerator magnet. And some cashmoneybucks inside.
Oh, and handmade, color-coordinated envelopes. I'm so classy.

The ornament image is repeated inside (without the ho to the third)
along with our warm wishes for Christmas and always.
[Disclaimer: These cards are not my original ideas. I wish they were. Many thanks to the generous and talented card designers who freely share their inspiration all over the internets.]

Since I was already in card-producing mode, I agreed to help some friends with theirs yesterday, which is why the walk didn't happen. It's all good, though. I had a fine time, felt productive and useful and wasn't tempted to snack.

Which brings us back to the "eating" part of this blog. (The knitting part is happening this weekend. So nice to have all the hustle-bustle over with and have time to sit-and-knit for fun, without guilt.)

Y'all know how I love a breakfast of plain yogurt mixed with some kind of fruit preserve and topped with granola, right? Well, yesterday I opened the last jar of orange marmalade in the pantry, from way back in January. I've been putting off opening it, first because it's a tiny jar and second because it's the last and third because I have other jams and preserves in the pantry, so why waste the very last jar of marmalade. But I did open it. And even though it's on the thick side, it's delicious and sweet and yummy and did I say delicious? As I like to call it:

Sunshine in a Jar!

My philosophy about food has been evolving lately and my new mantra is this:
There will always be more. I can make more or I can buy more, but I don't have to eat it all now, because … there will always be more.
And as far as marmalade goes, today's the day for more! We bought 20 pounds of oranges to support the high-school band's fundraiser, and a friend is bringing mine to me today and we're making more, using the same recipe I used last year.

I promise not to let it cook so long this time. Orange marmalade is much better cold than nuked. Which is what I had to do to this batch to make it spreadable. And since I took all those pictures last year, I'm not going to embarrass myself by taking more today in front of someone else.

Wouldn't want to let my non-blogging friend know how crazy we bloggers are about decorating our blogs. Heh.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Healthy stuff: It's what's for dinner

Yeah I've totally highjacked the Beef Council slogan, and I actually could have said, "Beef: It's what's for dinner," 'cause that's what we had.

But it was so much more.

First let me tell you about a typical day here in the Middle of Nowhere as it relates to meals. I'm a three-squares kinda gal and am holding steady with the no-snacking rule. For the most part. (Thank goodness all the Snappy Turtles and Snickerdoodles are in the freezer. In the garage. Destined for a Christmas Eve open house.)

My husband is more of a one-square kinda guy with the addition of an afternoon snack, usually yogurt, and a late-night gorge, usually whatever is lying around that looks good to him at that moment. Could be half a loaf of banana bread, as it was last night. Or half a bag of cashews, as it was the previous night. Or several large spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar, as he has done waaaaaaaaay too many nights.

Whatever he eats late at night he will swear off forever until the next time the following morning. And he will not eat a healthful breakfast of homemade yogurt and granola, as I do, because he's not hungry. Because he ate two pounds of crap the night before.

He will, however, at about 10 a.m., wonder what's for dinner. If I'm in a good mood I'll ask him what he'd like. If I'm in a normal mood, I'll tell him what I have in mind. And if I'm in a bad mood I'll ask him what he's fixing for dinner. Heh. (You have no idea how funny this really is.)

After last night, I think I'm going to just make whatever I want from now on and let him deal with it, because he did pretty darned well with a bowl of HEALTH that was so delicious I can't wait for lunchtime to eat the single leftover planned-over serving I stashed in the refrigerator before I served dinner.

You see, he doesn't care for squash. And he thinks we eat too much beef. (Is there such a thing as too much delicious, hormone-free, grass-fed beef?) And to him, a grain is rice. Period. No couscous, no barley, none of that fancy-pants quinoa.

But that fancy-pants quinoa was the foundation for a concoction of browned ground beef, cubed butternut, torn kale, mushrooms, and other goodies that was so comforting and good. I could have stuffed it in the butternut shell and baked it for an even fancier-pants presentation, but I just mixed it all up in a skillet and dumped it in a bowl. 'Cause I'm fancy like that.


He had two huge servings. I had one normal one. (He, of course, maintains his weight eating like this and I, well, we all know I have, um, issues, with my inability to lose weight eating moderately and exercising regularly. It's a gift, what can I say.)

Here's the recipe, recreated as closely as I can remember it, all nice and neat, in case you'd like to serve health in a bowl to your husband (or yourself) as well.

Superdinner! Healthy and delicious, what a great combination.
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Beef, Squash and Kale Mess
Serves four, unless you're married to my husband. Then it serves two.

1 cup quinoa
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 three-pound butternut squash
2 large kale leaves, torn, stems discarded
1 4-oz. can sliced mushrooms, undrained (or half a pound of sliced fresh)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional, I wouldn't have missed them)
1 celery stalk, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tblsp. turmeric
1 tsp. fennel seed

In a fine-mesh strainer, thoroughly rinse one cup quinoa under cool running water and set aside.

Pierce the squash and bake in 350° oven for 30 minutes. (You can do this earlier in the day, as it will need to cool a bit before you can peel and cube it.) After squash has cooled, cut in half lengthwise and discard seeds. Peel one half of the squash and cube the flesh. Reserve remaining squash for another use.

Swirl one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add ground beef, breaking into pieces with a wooden spoon and brown for five or six minutes. Add onion, celery, fresh mushrooms (if that's what you're using) and pine nuts, cooking until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic, being careful not to let it get too brown.

If you're using canned mushrooms, add them now, along with the kale, squash, raisins, quinoa and spices. Add a cup of water, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is cooked.

Spoon it into a shallow bowl and dinner is served! Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Early to bed. Again.

I was so wiped out last night. It wasn't because I stayed all the way up to 10:30 the night before. It wasn't because I walked three miles yesterday afternoon. [Three days walking in a row, woot!] It wasn't because I worked my fingers to the bone crafting Christmas cards for the grandchildren. [So cute and so easy – a Dymo label maker to spell out "MERRY CHRISTMAS," a photo of each sweet little face printed on a magnetic business card and a snowflake brad. Done!]

It was because the AA meeting I went to at the prison was beyond sad.

One of the inmates shared that she'd talked with her mother, whom she's seen only once in nine years, earlier this week, and she told her mom that next year she'd be straight and sober for Christmas. And Mom said, "I love you, baby, and I can't wait for that day."

Two days later her mother died.

As always happens when an emotional issue arises, the women took over with more comfort and wisdom than I could ever muster. The daughter was sad and angry and she wanted the world to stop. How dare we carry on with our lives [that's the editorial "our"] when her heart was broken?

Well, that meeting stopped for her, at least for a little bit.

Those of us who have lost a parent know "it gets easier" and "time heals." It's true. But I couldn't bring myself to say it to her, she was so very raw.

What I said – and what I've shared only with my husband, until last night and, now, with you – is that when my dad died, I wanted to die, too. I didn't see much reason for "keeping calm and carrying on." I just wanted to leave this world as quickly as possible so I could see him again. That may sound silly or maudlin or deranged, but it's how I felt, and if there's one thing you have to do when you're sober and grieving it's FEEL.

And boy, does it suck.

Her mother lived half the country away from southern West Virginia, and yes, the Bureau of Prisons granted the inmate a furlough to go the funeral. For two hours. And so she's not going. She felt it would be too hard on her children to see her for only two hours at their grandmother's funeral.

Already she's thinking of others instead of herself. Already she's thinking things through and making good decisions. Already she's healing.

So what are the gifts in this scenario, since this month's writing exercise is supposed to be all about the gift?

For me, it was seeing a hundred women wiping away sympathetic tears, offering their own experience, strength and hope, stopping time for that young woman, wrapping her in their collective arms. The humanity and compassion they showed their sister will stay with me long after this season's tree lights are put away and the wrapping paper has been tossed.

The gift of compassion is one we could all use a little more of, and one we could all give.

What other gifts am I missing?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Late night shenanigans

I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kinda girl. I usually toddle off to the bedroom around 9 to read magazines or a Nook book, and am asleep by 10, meaning I'm up before the birds start chirping.

Unless it's July. Then the birds wake me up.

I was still awake, hunched over my laptop, last night at 10:30, working on resizing/reformatting digital photos to display on the electronic frame my husband and I are giving his mother for Christmas.

My husband's son and his family gave us ours, and we love it. We think she'll enjoy one but she doesn't have a computer so it's up to me (because my husband is computer-phobic) to get the images ready to load. He's going to pick up some prints that she's gathered, which I will scan. The SDHC card has been ordered, along with a card reader.

These digital frames look easy, but there's a lot of prep work before you give one to someone who isn't computer-savvy. And believe me, my mother-in-law isn't! She paid for wireless internet with her cable bundle for several months before we realized it. Wireless services aren't much use if you're a computer-free household.

But I digress.

Going to bed late (well, late for me) doesn't necessarily mean sleeping in. I've been up since 5:30, thinking about everything I have to do today. (At 5:30 a.m., thinking about it is all I can manage!) Here's a partial list:

  • Wrap gifts for my daughter and her family.
  • Package and mail those gifts.
  • Write thank-you notes.
  • Either make or buy Christmas cards.
  • Print out address labels for cards.
  • Walk.

Yes, it's such a busy day I thought I'd better add a line item for exercise.

This is old news if you're one of my
Facebook friends. And if you're not
one of my Facebook friends, why
aren't you? Just sayin'.
Yesterday's three-miler went well, and I wore the Vibrams for the first time on a walk. They were surprisingly comfortable, and I even jogged a little bit on the way home. There's more of a mid-foot strike, rather than a heel strike, which must be a good thing for non-aggravation of the plantar fasciitis.


In other news, I've been playing around with the blog a bit, adding a couple tabs at the top that will take you to some easy knitting patterns and a few of the food topics I've written about. Feel free to share links! The more the merrier!

Merry, get it? Holidays ... gifts ... NaBloPoMo December ... heh.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The gift of healing

As both of you know, I used to walk every damned day. (In fact, I used to run. Wow, was that ever a long time ago.) It resulted in absolutely ZERO pounds lost, but I felt like I was doing something good for myself, and walking is my intentional activity of choice.

I took my BlackBerry with me and posted a daily walk photo to Facebook, to 'prove' I'd taken a walk. Y'all wouldn't ever know or probably even care if I'd driven to that spot and snapped a photo, but I can be trusted to not cheat. If I walk, I post a picture. If I post a picture, I took it while walking.

There haven't been any pictures cluttering my Facebook feed for a while – since October 9, if I'm sorting my uploads correctly. That feels about right to me. It was sometime in October when I first noticed the sharp pain in my right heel. I tried to ignore it but, having experienced plantar fasciitis before, I knew what was happening and I knew what to do.

When I was running it was so, so hard to stop and give my foot the rest it needed. I love to run and I dearly wish I were in shape to begin again. Not running was hard on my emotional health as well as my physical health, and taking a break for an injury didn't sit well with me.

This time? Not so much. Am I more accepting that my body is what it is, and no amount of dieting and exercise is going to change it? Perhaps. It's not like I'm giving up on eating healthful meals or working out, but this time I didn't feel antsy or anxious because I was healing my heel. I had other things to do – you'll remember I opened a sweatshop for doll clothes – and I traveled quite a bit in the past two months.

Daily stretching and no long walks seem to have done the trick. My son and his family left yesterday morning for their long drive home, giving my husband and me the afternoon off. I decided to delay the putting-the-house-back-together chores one more day and just do what I wanted to do.

Our Amish neighbors, out for a Sunday drive,
while I was out for a Sunday WALK!
That included a walk. Only two miles. My daughter-in-law, granddaughter and I walked about half a mile Saturday afternoon and my heel felt good the whole time and afterward. I woke up Sunday with no heel pain at all (plantar fasciitis pain is the most intense first thing in the morning). Two miles felt just about right – I was out of breath climbing the first hill and pleasantly warm by the time I got back home.

The gift of healing is most welcome now that the busy-ness of Christmas present making is done. My husband and I have just one open house to attend and his mother will be our only guest on Christmas day, so we can spend as much time as we like walking without feeling like there's something else we should be doing.

The gift of time combined with the gift of healing added to the gift of a Monday (good day to start new behaviors) and topped off by the gift of nearly perfect walking weather (sunny with temperatures in the 50s) the next few days makes it feel like Christmas is already here!

May your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be upright. Heh.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Well received

Lucy and Little Pink loved their new outfits, I'm happy to say, and my granddaughter was as sweet as she could be, trying all the clothes on each of her dolls, wanting to put her new pajamas on right now, and playing with the other little things we gave her. I felt so good about deciding to make her gifts.

While many children don't get a lot (or any) Christmas gifts, the ones on my list have multiple grandparents who have the desire and means to indulge their every whim. I expect many families in which spouses have divorced have the same issue. Giving experience gifts, such as the family museum membership we gave my husband's grandchildren, is a great solution and, if you ask me, giving handmade ones is another.

I will mail gifts to my two older grandchildren and that will be the end of the gift-giving season for my husband and me. It's not like my childhood Christmases at all, nor is it like his, but we've come to terms with it in our own ways and we're actually looking forward to just winding down, not being "on" all the time.

[There is a housefly buzzing around here somewhere that's driving me CRAZY! Would love to shoo it out to freeze in the cold, cold air we're not enjoying right now! Heh.]

One other highlight and then I'm going to knit for a while.

My daughter-in-law doesn't eat red meat, but my son enjoys a good burger or steak occasionally. He and I had discussed the menu and agreed that pizza (one Greek and one plain cheese) on Friday would work, and that a vegetarian lasagna would be great for Saturday.

Well, we have a freezer full of grass-fed beef, so I thought I'd surprise him with his favorite dish for dinner last night. I'm not quite sure how I was able to pull it off under his nose, but when I took a cheeseburger pie out of the oven, along with the lasagna, he looked as delighted as a little kid. His eyes, how they sparkled, his dimples so merry!

And it's easy-peasy to make, too. Mix up your favorite meat loaf using two pounds of ground beef, dump it in a pie crust, bake at 350° for an hour, top with a cup of grated cheddar, sprinkle with a couple glugs of Worcestershire and bake for 10 more minutes. Let it sit for a few minutes, then slice and gobble it down.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

There's still time

If you're a knitter and you've finished all your gifts and you're wondering what to make next, you still have time to whip out a Wee Santa Hat to put in a charity box or atop your Christmas tree or on a little one's noggin.

You can make one in just a few hours and if you're like me you probably already have the perfect yarn stashed away. And if it's not perfect, you know how to substitute, right?

This has been a very popular pattern on Ravelry and I've shared it on Facebook this year, too. But I would certainly be remiss if I didn't use up one of my December NaBloPoMo posts tooting my own horn about the Wee Santa Hat. Enjoy!
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Full moon

This morning's full(ish) moon, getting ready for her big day tomorrow.

Giving a winter dinner party

We don't entertain much, and when we do our guests are usually family. But we're acquainted with a couple whom we'd like to know better, so we asked them to come for dinner last night. It worked out perfectly since my son and his family are coming tomorrow for the weekend: Clean once, entertain twice!

In years past, if we didn't have company over the holidays, I didn't bother to decorate or put up a tree. Yesterday, after the floors were tidied and the tables dusted, we hauled my ancient fake tree from the storage shed. Dotted with white lights and pink and silver ornaments, it screamed festive. Oh, and I had to pull a real bird's nest from the branches before I decorated it. Seriously!

I also put a glittery burgundy-and-gold candle arrangement on the coffee table.

Of course the best part of a dinner party is dinner. I made beef stew in the slow cooker, along with a spinach salad (with clementines, goat cheese and pine nuts, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette) and biscuits. And a peanut butter pie for dessert. Because cookies aren't enough.

I didn't get an after picture of the stew, because I felt awkward about shooting dinner in front of people we don't know well. But the before one gives you a pretty good idea of how HEALTHY it was. Proof that healthy doesn't have to taste, well, healthy. It tasted rich and savory and YUMMY!

Grass-fed beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, beef stock, spices. 

Using the slow cooker is a great strategy for a cold-weather party. Pop everything in first thing in the morning and then get the house ready, get yourself ready, set the table and you're done. Well, except for making the salad. And the biscuits. And dessert. But you can see how not having to fuss over the main dish totally saved a lot of time. Heh.

Here's the recipe, which was merely jumping-off point for me. I noted my changes.

Today's Beef Stew
Crockery Favorites
[Note: I doubled everything because I started with a 3-pound rump roast instead of stew meat.]

10 small new potatoes, halved but unpeeled [I used two large peeled baking potatoes.]
12 small white onions, peeled [I used two large yellow onions, peeled and cut into chunks.]
30 baby carrots [I used four large organic carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces.]
1 red or green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces [Ewww! Pepper in stew? I don't think so!]
2 cups beef broth [I used stock.]
1-1/2 lbs. stew meat [I cut a grass-fed rump roast into stew-meat-sized pieces.]
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano [I used dried.]
1/4 teaspoon paprika [I used smoked.]
1 tablespoon chopped parsley [I used dried from my garden.]
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt [I used parsley salt.]
1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water

Place potatoes, onions and baby carrots in slow-cooker. Add bell pepper and beef. Combine broth with oregano, paprika, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Pour over meat and vegetables. Cover and cook on LOW 9 to 10 hours. Turn pot on HIGH. In small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water; stir into cooked stew mixture. Cover and cook on HIGH 15 to 20 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Serves 6.

Other changes I made were to add a turnip and a sweet potato, each one peeled and cut into chunks. It's a good thing my slow cooker is BIG!

Enjoy! What did you have for dinner last night?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cookie postscript

Okay, two Snickerdoodles and a Snappy Turtle are a healthy breakfast, right? Heh.

My go-to Christmas Cookie, Part Two

Snickerdoodles recipes are all over the internet, so I'm going to leave it up to you to Google if you want to make one of the softest, creamiest, meltiest-in-your-mouth cookies for this holiday season.

Okay, okay, here's the one I used.

They're basically a ball of sugar cookie dough (with a shot of cream of tartar) rolled in a cinnamon/sugar mixture and then baked just long enough for them to flatten out.

Much easier than rolled-and-cut sugar cookies. Wonder why Mom didn't make these more often? Again, these were Christmas-only treats. Also? The house smells DELICIOUS! I wish computers had a scratch-and-sniff feature. Go grab your cinnamon jar and then look at the pictures.

Fresh from the oven. These make the whole house smell good.
I don't have enough cooling racks so I stack them as soon as they're cool.
All the cookies are packaged and in the guest room a holding area. My husband never goes in the guest room, so I think they're safe. Heh.

And if you think it's all cookies, all the time around here, you would be wrong. I had a delicious evening meal of steamed spaghetti squash topped with a creamy mushroom sauce to which I added a little goat cheese and some browned grass-fed beef. So tasty!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My go-to Christmas cookie, Part One

I don't ever remember a Christmas without Snappy Turtle cookies. My mother made them every year, only for Christmas, never any other time. When I got married, she copied her recipe for me, along with her Snickerdoodle recipe (that's my go-to Christmas cookie, Part Two). Sometimes I made them and sometimes I didn't. I was, um, somewhat flighty and irresponsible during my early adult years.

Nothing and no one lasts forever, though. She didn't make any cookies in 1989; she was dying of cancer, although I didn't know it at the time. Fortunately I was just barely sober by then and was able to help her and tell her it was okay, we could live without Snappy Turtles this year. Her other favorite Christmas thing to eat was chocolate-covered cherries, and I remember that both my sister and I brought boxes of them to her.

Sometime during my flighty and irresponsible years I lost her recipe. I counted it as a small but painful consequence of my alcoholism. No one else I knew ever made them. I figured I'd never get to eat another Snappy Turtle cookie again.

When I moved to West Virginia in 1997, my husband's home was completely furnished, and in the "den" was a shelf of cookbooks. You know what's next, right? In the Cookie chapter of The Southern Living Cookbook, was a recipe for "Snappin' Turtle Cookies."
The recipe is slightly different from hers – she used maple flavoring, while the recipe calls for vanilla, and she cut the number of pecans down from five to three. Probably because pecans weren't cheap, but maybe because five pecans was too many. I think three are perfect.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? You haven't even read the recipe. Heh.

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Snappin' Turtle Cookies
The Southern Living Cookbook, 1987
Makes 30 cookies.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
90 pecan halves
Frosting (recipe follows)

Cream butter; gradually add brown sugar, beating at medium speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and vanilla, beating until well blended.

Combine flour, soda and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Chill dough at least one hour.
Arrange pecan halves in groups of 5 on ungreased cookie sheets, resembling head and legs of turtles.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and dip bottoms in remaining egg white. Press gently onto pecans to resemble turtle bodies.

Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Spread frosting on tops of cookies.

2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
About 1-3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Combine chocolate, milk and butter in a small saucepan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Add powdered sugar; beat until smooth. Yield: about 1 cup.

Yes, these cookies are a little fussy. Busy working moms probably wouldn't make them today, but moms in the '50s and '60s didn't, as a rule, work outside their homes, so a putzy production like this wasn't out of the ordinary.

And yes, I know it's a little early, but we're having guests for dinner tomorrow night and an early family Christmas celebration over the weekend, so making treats was on yesterday's to-do list. I felt happy (but tired) at the end of the day that my granddaughter will get to eat a Snappy Turtle.

Maybe you'll eat one, too. You can snag a .pdf version of the recipe here. Merry Early Christmas.