Monday, December 30, 2013

December Daily #29 ~ Redeemed with the Dog and Hoppin' John

It was another beautiful day in Colorado today and I rose from bed resolved to make good on my promise to take the dog to the park. I did knock out a few more scrapbooking pages while we waited for the weather to warm up. Then we headed to the Golden Dog Park, a nice, woodsy place. Larr brought along a pocket full of treats to use while helping teach Remmie to come when we call him. I stayed at the bottom of the hill and Larr was up a short trail. This was also a sneaky way to get the dog to run.
It worked like a charm. A bit later other dogs started showing up and Remmie had a grand time. Larr also began working with Remmie on climbing trees, or at least walking up one. This is part of what the breed does. Remmie was a quick learner.
He is such a good pup, and lovely, too.
By the time we were home I was inspired to take down the Christmas tree and begin to put the place back into order. I even started doing a semi-deep cleaning in the craft room. It is nice to see the table top again.

We heard from the kids several times. They are headed back home at full speed ahead as they both have New Year's Eve plans. Thankfully, they still both sound happy, though California, or at least San Diego and La Hoya, were different, colder I think, than they had expected. I think they might have underestimated what winter is like there. They enjoyed the visit, but don't have any plans to move there any time soon. I am always glad that I am from Colorado, no matter where I roam. Perhaps they are the same way, too. Several people asked about their accents - funny, I didn't think we had any.

Inbetween stages of cleaning I also made a vegan batch of Hoppin' John, as well as a batch with ham added in. It is said to be good luck to eat black eyed peas on New Year's Eve. (I also happen to like black eyed peas.)

As I lounge with the husband, play with the dog, cook a meal, worry about the kids and do a bit of cleaning, I have music in my head. Today it was a good day for Leonard Cohen and The Beatles. I wonder what it will be tomorrow.
Here's the recipe I used, except that I will not add in the hot sauce until just before serving it as I want the pop of flavor that it will add, instead of it mellowing while it settles in.

Creole Black-eyed Peas
via: Fat Free Vegan Blog

This is so much faster in a pressure cooker, but if you don’t have one, soak your peas overnight and follow the instructions at the end of the recipe.

1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
5 cups water
15 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon hot sauce (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke flavoring

Spray the bottom of a large pressure cooker with a light film of oil. Over high heat, sauté the onion until it begins to brown; add the bell pepper, celery, and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and water, seal the cooker, and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to come down naturally.
Once the pressure is down, open the cooker and add all remaining ingredients except Liquid Smoke. Cook for 15-30 minutes, until peas are completely soft and thickened. Add the Liquid Smoke and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve hot over rice with more hot sauce on the table.
To make without a pressure cooker, soak the peas overnight in cold water. Drain. Follow the directions for sautéing the vegetables. Then add all ingredients except liquid smoke to the pot, along with enough additional water to cover the peas by one inch. Cook until peas are completely tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding more water as necessary. When they’re tender, add the Liquid Smoke, cook for 5 more minutes, and serve over rice.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s) | Cooking time: 2 hour(s)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December Daily #28 ~ Cocooning, A Sad Dog and Tammy's Home for Wayward Plants

Today Larr and I had what my mother-in-law would have referred to as a cocooning day. It is a day spent mostly at home, doing mostly relaxing things. Thus, you might find yourself cocooning in a blanket in the sunlight streaming through a window while reading a book.

I, on the other hand, spent much of the day at my computer. Most of the time I worked on scrapbooking pages from 2012; sometimes I met with design problems that were blocking my creativity, so I spent that time trying to organize my computer files. You see, my main drive is nearly full and I need to reduce the redundant files and move some of the less frequently used files to one of my back-up drives. It is involved and tedious, but important work. I would get bored of that and go back to scrapbooking. I am really trying to finish the 2012 book before the end of this break. I'm crossing my fingers on whether I can pull it off or not.

Since I was so busy Larr took Remmie for a walk instead of my taking him to the dog park. I thought it would be nice for both of them and while it was indeed nice, it did not fulfill Remmie's need for a bit of doggy play time. He is a very reasonable dog and he seems to understand that sometimes after I come home from a long, hard day at work, I do not have the energy to take him to the dog park. However, it seems that he has decided that if I am home all day then I most definitely need to (rather, have to) make time to take him to the dog park. He waited patiently and was a good dog. Once it started to get dark, he realized that we would not be going to the dog park- this made him very sad. He whined and then he cried, pitifully and loudly, and for a long time he sat by the back door with his furry little shoulders slumped, his face down and his smile droopy. If he could have, I am certain that he would have shed tears. I had no idea that he would be so upset. I promised him that we would be certain to go to the dog park tomorrow. I also got off of the computer and worked on Christmas cards while sitting on the couch. This made it possible for him to snuggle with me which improved his mood somewhat. A little later in the evening Ellie called from California and talked to Remmie on the phone. He was confused. He sniffed the phone trying to locate her, but he seemed cheered by hearing her voice. I am sure she will receive a very energetic greeting when she arrives back home in a few days.

Earlier in the day Remmie and I made a quick trip to Target in search of some coconut creamer. I came home with two amaryllis plants instead. I love them and usually forget to buy them around Thanksgiving to get them started on time for blooming around the holidays. Instead, I do like I did this year, I notice some poor, hopeful, eager plants that have managed to send sprouts out of the side of the box in search of light only to find that there is no such glory to be had in the big, artificially light box that we know as Target. It's after Christmas so they are on deep discount. This year I had to have two of them. (I was tempted to get more of them.) The pots are lovely and the flowers will be a radiant joy later on in January or early February. Right now the stems are at crazy angles, but I have prepared the soil and planted the bulbs, putting the on a happier journey. Tomorrow they will feel the warm glow of the sun on their greenery. And I will watch them work their magic over the cold month that is to come. I guess tomorrow will be a day for fixing hopes and fulfilling needs, even if they be of the canine and fauna variety.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December Daily #27: A Shift in the Weather

"Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin..." (from "Saving Mr. Banks")

Yesterday was a fine, clear blue sky kind of day in Colorado. You could water the yard, take a walk and play with your dog in the park all without a coat on. And that is one of the things that we did - we took the dog to the Evergreen DOLA (dog off leash area) where he could run, play, bark and explore. It was a busy and productive day at the park. Larr and Remmie got in a bit of play in. This evening, however, there is a change. The dark clouds rolled in during the late afternoon and now the ground is dotted with snow. Ah the joys of weather in Colorado.
I also tried to relax a bit. I even managed to finish the book I was reading, which is both good and bad. It was nice to reach the end of this book, but now I have to wait for the last book in the series to be published and since it is still being actively written, it will be a while. I will miss her writing style - that is the bad end of that deal.

The kids spent yesterday driving and camped out in the Needles district of Canyonlands in Utah. They arrived after dark and set up camp in a wilderness area. They had a relaxing evening, pitched the tent and enjoyed a small camp fire. Their slumber was abruptly interrupted when some people began shooting around midnight. It caused Ethan to wake with a start. He woke up his sister and warned her to stay down. It took a while for him to figure out that they were shooting nearby and over them. Once that was all figured out they went back to sleep and drove into San Diego today. They had expected to spend much of the day on the beach, but soon found out that the coastal highway is slow and frustrating. They did eventually find their way to the beach and to the hotel room they had reserved before leaving. It was nearly 80 degrees where they are. I am happy to know that they will be sleeping somewhere clean, warm and safe tonight. Ethan says that hotel is nice and spacious. I'm sure that they will also be happy to shower. They are looking forward to a day at the beach tomorrow.

This afternoon Larr and I went to see "Saving Mr. Banks." We both really enjoyed the movie, though it was far more serious and somber than I had expected. Now I would love to read Mary Poppins, but there are no copies of the book to be had at the book stores or to be checked out from the library. It seems that everyone else beat me to it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

December Daily #26 ~ On The Road Again

In the quiet of the evening on Christmas day there was a lot of rustling going on at our house at the kids were getting ready for a road trip to beaches of California, just the two of them. It was both exciting and a little scary for me. After all, both of my babies will be on the trip together; I made them promise to be super careful. They had dreamed of doing something like this for so long and now it was about to happen. They left bright eyed and bushy tailed on Thursday morning.
I was pleased to find that some of the gifts that I made for my boy were being put to immediate use. This included the leather atlas cover (which is currently housing 4 atlases and a number of folded maps), his leather field notes cover and his cord bundle.
I found that I really enjoyed making things out of leather. I made the items from a bunch of chap leather that I purchased at the stock show many, many years ago. Ellie took along her cord bundle, too.

On Thursday the kids took a wrong turn and ended up in a part of New Mexico where they were not headed. That diversion cost them four hours, but it is an adventure, so that did not seem too upset. Last night they made their way to the Moki Dugway in Utah, setting up camp in the dark of the cold night. (Actually, I think they opted for sleeping in the car.) This morning they set off early again in good spirits. We've had phone contact with them a few times. They still sound great and happy. I think they will camp in California tonight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December Daily #25 ~ Christmas, Merry and Bright! + Recipes

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was wonderful. Here's a glimpse at our day:
We had some lovely decorations:
And a nice meal. I even made an Angel Food cake with my brand new Kitchen Aide mixer:
Larr is vegan (no meat or animal related products) so I made sure we had a few things for Larr to eat. We had:

Appetizers ~
Greek Olive Salad
Olive Tapenade with crispy rice crackers
Aunt Kathy's Oyster Dip
Gouda Cheese

Main Meal ~
Spiral Ham
Fruit, Nut and Jello Salad
Orzo, Garbanzo and Cheese Salad
Powderhorn Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Spinach Salad with Assorted Berries
Croissant Rolls
Yams with Marshmallows

Desserts ~
Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream
Tarte Tatin (apples and pears caramelized in brown butter)


Janet's Cranberry Jello Salad

1 bag Cranberries, fresh
4 cups Apples, cut into wedges, seeds and stems removed
2/3 cup Nuts (I used Almonds)
3 stalks Celery
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 tea. Unflavored Gelatin, dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
1 large box or 2 small boxes Raspberry or Cranberry Jello dissolved in 1 cup of boiling water
1 1/2 cup Water, cold

Grind the above in a food processor until everything is small. I actually ground the almonds and nuts. Then I sliced the cranberries and celery. Add the sugar to the mix and let it sit for at least an hour.

Combine the softened unflavored gelatin with the flavored jello. Stir in the fruit and nut mix. Add in the cold water then place in a 9" x 13" pan.

Janet's Orzo Salad

4 cups Broth (Chicken or Vegetable)
1 1/2 cup Orzo
15 oz. Garbanzo Beans
1 1/2 cup Grape Tomatoes, cut in half
3/4 Red Onion, chopped (I left this out)
1/2 cup Basil, chopped
1/4 cup Mint, chopped
1 1/2 cup Fresh Mozzarella, cubed
3/4 cup Red Wine Vinaigrette (I put this one the side so people could add it to suit his or her taste)

Prepare the orzo with the broth. Once it is done, add in the remaining items. The salad is served at room temperature.


Angel Food Cake
via: Sweet Kat’s Kitchen blog

1 c. sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c. sifted sugar, divided
1 1/2 c. (about 12 large) egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. almond extract
berries, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased large tube pan, preferably with a removable bottom. If the pan bottom is not removable, line it with parchment paper, but DO NOT grease or the batter won't be able to climb the sides of the pan and you will have a very flat angel food cake.

Whisk together the flour and half of the sugar in a small bowl. Set aside. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer at medium-low speed until they are beginning to froth. Add cream of tartar and salt and beat at medium speed until whites form very soft, billowy mounds, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the remainder of the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are shiny and form soft peaks. Add the vanilla extract, lemon juice and almond extract and beat for about 30 seconds at highest speed. Resift the flour/sugar mixture and spoon it over the egg whites, about 3 tablespoons at a time, folding in gently with a large spatula. Gently scoop the batter into the pan, smooth top with spatula, and give the pan a couple of gentle raps on the counter to release any large air bubbles in the batter.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and top springs back when pressed firmly. Remove from the oven and invert the pan onto its feet or the neck of a wine bottle. Let cool completely. Gently run a long, thin-bladed knife around the outer sides of the pan, pressingly it firmly against the pan to prevent tearing the cake. Then run the knife around the inside of the tube. Invert the pan and let the cake slide out. Remove the paper lining, if using. Garnish with berries.

And one more, very predictable, but lovely, Christmas movie:

December Daily # 23 & #24~ Playing Catch - Up

Things got a bit busy, so I am a bit behind. My plan is to play catch-up in this post.

December Daily #23 ~ An Electrifying Time

Aaron and I have been working on a very special present for Ethan - a personalized poker set. I designed a logo, of sorts, for Ethan. He has always loved compass roses and traveling so I incorporated that idea into what you see here:
Then I researched poker sets and bought a vintage set from a man in town who creates poker sets for professional poker tournaments and casinos. He was wonderful about helping find, put together and afford a wonderful set for Ethan.
I then worked with Aaron to engrave that logo on every chip - all 500 of them.

I also had custom cards made for the set through Shutterfly. I am very pleased with how the whole set came out.

Earlier in the day I had taken Remmie to the dog park to play. All of the dogs were a bit crazy, just like toddlers. It seems that they could tell the holiday season was upon us.

December Daily #24 ~ O' Holy Night

We attended my mother's annual Christmas Eve party. We share a meal and she has stockings for everyone in the family. My mom always includes fun stuff in the stockings.
She and Aunt Kathy open the gifts that we gave them.
We also went to the church that I grew up with in my youth. It was wonderful to attend with my mom and aunt. They have a new, young minister who did a wonderful job.
The candlelight part of the service is my favorite. It connects me with the past and sets me ready for the future. It helps me set the stress and concerns of the day aside and fills me with light. I hope you have something in your life that does the same for you.

And a few last Christmas season videos, of course:

Monday, December 23, 2013

December Daily #22 ~ Over the River and Through the Woods, + December Daily #23 ~ Creative Mojo and Chirstmas Movies

Please pardon the fact that I am combining two days in one post as I am a little bit behind schedule.

Larr and Ethan have worked very hard this year and both were in serious need of a break. Larr worked through both spring break and summer break. Ethan had worked most days mid-April until about a week ago. A road trip was the very thing they needed. One of them, most likely Ethan, had come up with the idea. It got tossed around a bit, but Larr was not sure it was reasonable to go. Afterall, there was cleaning today. However, I told him that I thought they needed to go. There is always cleaning to be done. Besides, who knew when or if the opportunity to go on a road trip together would happen again any time soon. After a lot of discussion, they decided to give it a go.
They wanted to go somewhere warmer. It has been so cold around here lately. They thought about Texas or California, but that was simply too much drive time considering that they need to be back by the afternoon on Christmas Eve on Tuesday. They also considered Utah, as the desert always calls to Ethan, but they are experiencing a cold snap, too. In the end they drove down to La Cruces, New Mexico and work their way back home.

They've called each night. They are having a fine time and are seeing lots of interesting stuff. I think White Sands is the big hit, so far.

Ellie spent most of the day with Kohlton and joined in at his grandmother's holiday celebration that evening. I spent most of my day trying to get myself going on making the a few gifts, but my creative mojo was not to be had - very frustrating, indeed. I think it is that I am simply too worn out and tired from the school year. I think the last time I was this tired from work was when I was a brand new teacher.

Here's a holiday video that Ellie enjoys:


On Sunday, I was finally able to get my creative mojo working. I spent the day working on a present and watching predictable holiday movies.
I'm sure that this pictures just looks like a mess on the desk to you, but it is a welcome sight to me. I am finally getting to make one of the gifts I have been planning on for a while. If I showed any more, it would give it away.

I locked myself away in my husband's man cave, turned on the holiday movies and set to work.

Now, I need to finish that gift, meet up with a friend to finish another gift, plan Christmas dinner, do shopping for said dinner, take the dog to the dog park - well, I'd better get at it.

"Christmas with the Kranks"

"The Christmas Child"

"Holiday in Handcuffs"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December Daily #20 ~ Christmas Break Begins

Yesterday was the last day of the fall semester and we were all so ready for the break. The day at work was easy and the evening was even better.
I had expected to spend the evening at home, possibly cleaning and reading. However, Natalie had other plans - fun ones.

She had a gap of time between commitments which gave us time to have dinner together and time to do a bit of shopping. The night was crisp, clear and the lights added a touch of magic. Natalie also gave us a gift for our family. I think it is lovely.
It was a special hot cocoa kit adorned with snowflakes, including one that came from the fabric snowflake from the German Holiday Market. It also included a lovely tag.
The art of the tag might find its way onto the bottom of my winter coat.
I hope that the magic of Christmas is finding its way to your home.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Daily #18 ~ The Kindness of Strangers

At the school where I work we have a very high "free and reduced lunch" population. I think it is at about 80% or higher. The holidays are hard for and on many of the families. Some really wonderful people and organizations work together to make the holidays a bit more merry for many of those families. The Gear Up counselor, Craig, and the students in his program decorated candy canes to give to the people who attended a special dinner on Tuesday. I really loved checking their creative progress and cheering them on each day.

On Tuesday we, along with the local police department, put on a dinner for about 50 families from our school who are homeless (this means that they live in shelters, hotels, cars, etc.). It was about 300 people. Folks from my school, along with many local police officers, took the wishlists of the kids and made sure that every kid received a gift he/she really wanted. I am certain that many of those people took money out of their own pockets to make this fine event happened. Local restaurants provided food, drink and desserts. A small group from the Marine's Band provided a color guard and music. It was a jolly event indeed.

I organized a large group of freshmen students and their teachers to create nearly 100 individualized cards that will grace the dinner plates of the people who are in a medical rehabilitation center near my school. I am certain that it will bring a smile to the faces of people who are spending the holidays in a hospital setting instead of with family at home.

My friend, Natalie, worked with a group of church women to deliver plates of holiday cookies to people who are homebound. She said that many of those women were fully dressed, hair done, impeccably made-up and nails perfect, even though they did not expect visitors. I am sure those visits are a highlight of their days as well.

It does my heart good to see that the holiday season is not just gifts under the tree, long lines at the layout counter at the local Walmart or card sent in the mail. Extending some cheer to people, even though you don't know them, does us all a little good.