Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

It was time to do the annual roll and cut-out of sugar cookies this holiday season. I was dreading it as I had tried a new recipe last week and when I went to roll out the dough I might as well have been trying to roll out and cut butter. The dough was way too soft.

I decided to go with the tried and true Better Homes and Gardens recipe and it proved difficult to work with on the re-roll out. I ended up tossing a bit of the dough as it was not cold enough anymore to be worked with. I think my house might have been a tad bit too warm yesterday.

But I ended up getting just over 2 dozen cookies baked.  The girls, Leah and Sarah, and I went to work decorating them right away and because I didn't have as many cookies as usual the decorating went quickly.  Lasted long enough for the three of us to have some fun and chuckle over our decoration of the cookies, but not so long that no one wanted to finish the last cookie. 

Above is a sample of the cookies we made.  They won't last long although we must save one or two for Santa since they are his favorites!

Happy Holidays to all my dear readers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Little Stitchery Magic

Made this little lace bookmark for Leah's 2nd grade teacher for Christmas this year. 

This makes my second actually finished piece of cross stitch.  The other was a bread cloth that I use regularly.

Along with this little piece I purchased a canvas tote bag with a cute saying about teachers and her name personalized on it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Today was snowy and really frigid with temps in the teens.  Was a perfect day to make White Chicken Chili and warm us from the inside.  A serving of cornbread completes the meal.


In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ground chicken, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Stir the flour into the chicken mixture. Add the beans and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Simmer for 55–60 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half and the chili has thickened. Add the red pepper flakes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doggie Treats

Today was scheduled to be a dreary sleety, snow-filled day, so I decided this morning to make dog treats. I elected to go with the Pumpkin Wows because the dogs had liked them so much before and I had leftover pumpkin to use up in the freezer.  This recipe is for a bread machine dough.  If no bread machine, mix by hand and let rise for 1 hour. 


3/4 c chicken broth                      1/2 c cornmeal
1 c canned pumpkin                     3 tbsp oats, uncooked
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil                    2-1/2 tbsp brewer's yeast
1-1/2 tbsp maple syrup                1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt                                  1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c whole wheat flour                1/3 c raisins
1/4 c wheat bran                          1 pkg instant or rapid yeast (2-1/4 tsp)

Place all ingredients in bread machine and set on dough cycle.  Check consistency in 5 to 15 minutes; dough should be a firm, round ball.  Add flour/liquid if necessary.

When cycle is over, roll out dough on a lightly dusted with flour area of countertop.  Dough should be rolled to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out treats with cookie cutter.  Re-roll dough until all is used.  Place treats on a nonstick cookie sheet (I use parchment paper). 

Bake in preheated 350° oven for 45 to 55 minutes.  Turn oven off and leave treats in oven for 2-4 hours before storing in airtight container.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Chocolatiest Birthday Cake Ever

Yesterday was my mother and sister's annual joint birthday party. As sister and daughter I volunteered to bake the cake. My aunt recommended Triple Layer Brownie Cake. Oh my! This is a supremely rich and decadent dessert. (You can't really call it just a cake.) Ice cream accompaniment is mandatory because it's just too rich and sweet without some ice cream to tone it down. Yes there is something sweeter than ice cream!

Triple Layer Brownie Cake

1-1/2 cups butter (NO SUBSTITUTES)
6 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt

2 packages ( 8ounces each) semisweet baking chocolate (16 oz total)

3 cups whipping cream
2 milk chocolate candy bars (1.55 ounces each), grated

In a microwave or double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
Stir in sugar.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir in vanilla, flour and salt; mix well.
Pour into three greased and floured ( I also use wax paper on the bottom as just greasing and flouring doesn't prevent all sticking) 9-in round cake pans.
Bake at 350 for 20 to 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack to cool completely. Don't be alarmed when the cake (brownie) falls apart a bit. Just stick it back together. The frosting hides all imperfections.

For frosting, melt chocolate in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Gradually stir in cream until well blended. Heat to a gentle boil; boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until mixture reaches pudding-like consistency, stirring a few times. Beat until soft peaks form. Immediately spread between layers and over top and sides of cake.

Sprinkle with grated chocolate.

Store in refrigerator.

Yield 16-20 servings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween and Other Things

Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
make me a child again
just for to-night!
~Elizabeth Akers Allen

First, let's get this out of the way.....she is NOT Cinderella. She couldn't remember what she was, but got most agitated if someone referred to her as Cinderella. In actuality, her costume was called "Snow Contessa". She didn't know what a contessa was but she was thrilled to be one.

It was a rather cold Halloween this year, but at least there was no rain. It seems we have a rainy Halloween every few years and we were due. Now, of course, it got up to the mid-70's the next day, but we were bundled in our winter coats for trick-or-treating.

Patrick got a new car on Halloween Day. It's a gorgeous 2010 Nissan GT-R. At least it's the kind of "sporty car" that I like. . . something with a little muscle and some conveniences.

Unfortunately, he awoke on Sunday to buyer's remorse. That lasted about a day. When he came home from work on Monday there was no sign of the remorse of the previous day.

I have been running in relax-mode the past week; just enjoying not having to do anything by a deadline. But, my mind has been at work despite the activity hiatus and I've started making me a list for the coming month of things to do around the house. It has been much neglected in the past several months. I've turned my eye back to my living room, which I had painted last fall. Time to get back to putting finishing touches on the decorations and knick-knacks. To that end I've ordered a couple of items to add to the room this past week: a stained glass wall sconce, a set of 3 rich-colored bottles, and a new painting of roses in a vase.

Next up on the list is some deep-cleaning projects. I'd like to get these done before the holidays. Things like closet clean-outs and the like. I've also still got fall bulbs to plant and the temps are suppose to be in the mid-60's most of this week. I've got no excuse as I have Thursday and Friday wide-open on my calendar. JUST DO IT!

I'd also like to get some baking in. Cookies and some apple turnovers have been on my mind as we shift to cooler weather. Also, it's about time to start baking dog cookies again too.

My aunt Ann held a little get-together last Friday in honor of my cousin Chris' visit home in about 4 years. It was a super party and very heartwarming to attend. Lots of good food, good company and laughs were had. Ann snapped this impromptu shot of the girls and Chris.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health Care Reform Fables

Well I've about had all I can take of the TV ads, "news" programs, and radio shows that do a tremendous disservice to the American public about what the proposed health care reforms are going to do to the health care system in America. Where is the FCC when it comes to truth in advertising? Shouldn't those rules also apply to political ads?

Ah, yes, the government cannot do anything to protect unwitting Americans from being duped by fallacious political ads. They don't count because of Freedom of Speech.

I have no fight to pick with anyone about free speech. My whole belief system centers on the right of people to choose what they want to believe in and their right to express it. What I do take issue with is the idea of presenting false statements as fact to intentionally misinform. Not only does it cross an ethical line, but when the subject at hand is something as critical as health care for all then political parties, politicians, and lobbyists have gone too far. They should be held liable for these mis-characterizations they put out or at a minimum explain why they draw the conclusions that they do.

Check out this commentary from MSNBC News' Rachel Maddow back in May before the debate was anywhere near the heated battle it is today:

Bravo I say to groups like AARP that put out television ads that call out the lobbyists and state that they are trying to "block progress on health care reform".

More of us should do our part to unveil the fallacies of these political ads. We should educate why they are inaccurate....point to facts. We should root out the source of funding for these care industry lobbyists and ultra-conservatives determined to undermine the President at any cost. Organizing for Change, the grassroots organization, recently ran a competition for private Americans to do a 30-second ad spot for health care reform. Here's my favorite of the 20 finalists:

Think about it......REALLY think about it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Self Pity and Optimism

Well it's 5:38am and I've been up for almost an hour. Patrick was up at 4:30am for a 6:23am flight to San Diego this morning. It's been a week of chaos. Well, actually more than a week but who's counting.

I spent about 3 hours at the hospital ER yesterday afternoon with Matt. He's been sick for almost 2 weeks and been to the doctor twice. Both times she said he had a cold. I was certain he had H1N1; fever, cough, aches, fatigue, but I was wrong. He has mono. I was concerned about him getting pneumonia because his coughing and breathing were getting worse. They did a chest x-ray though and it looked good.

Sarah was sick mid-week and I took her on Thursday to the doctor. He narrowed her illness down to flu or strep and did a rapid strep test. No strep. He started her on Tamiflu and now 5 days later she's feeling pretty good; albeit she still has a persistent cough.

Yesterday, of course, Leah started running a fever and Patrick woke up with a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. ::sigh::

Patrick's stirring around (okay he doesn't quite "stir" as much as "crash" around in the early morning hours) woke me up this morning at 4:45am. Well or not, he's got a business trip that needs to be taken and so he's off. I had a fitful night of sleep with a noticeable cough waking me every hour or so. Is it my turn to get sick now that Patrick is out of town? That would be my luck.

The gods thought it fitting to land in my email box today this great article from iMom. I think I needed that after the last month. It got me thinking about how I often (well, maybe a few times a year) get to thinking I'm taken for granted. The analogy to a great cathedral builder of Middle Age Europe is a great one. I think I'll take that story and a ferret it away in my memory for those days when self-pity takes over. Great words to remember: "with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees".

Patrick and I went to my sister and brother-in-law's annual Halloween costume party on Saturday night. With flu season in full swing already the turnout was lighter than usual, but we had a great time. At Patrick's urging, I switched from being Cleopatra this year to a maenad with Patrick serving as my minion. It was a take on our favorite television series: True Blood.

The Woodland Elementary Book Fair wrapped up last week. That concludes my PTO projects for the foreseeable future. Next up on my PTO plate is to get the archive binder ready to hand over to the new Secretary for this year. Mostly that involves copying some document files onto a CD and then I'm done. It will be a good transition to the next board meeting in early November. After that, my next PTO project will be to push the board to support a committee continuity idea I have.

The week ahead is a full schedule of appointments, Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. All I need to do is stay healthy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Time Sure Flies

Wow.....where did the year go? Spring sprang and summer flew by as we waited...and waited...and waited...and waited for it to warm up. (It never did.) Rain has been plentiful this year and the weeds took over my backyard with a vengeance. I think the last day we swam in our pool was in early July right after the 4th. I never really made it out in to the yard much after early summer and admired my blooms this year from afar. But pay the price I did. I sauntered out one evening, as the days started to cool down even further, and discovered multitudes of green "soldiers" standing tall and alert in the form of tall prairie grasses and weeds. Some stood taller than I.

Quickly the months ticked by and back-to-school days were upon us. As a member of our PTO Executive Board, my school year got started early with preparation in late July for Registration at our elementary school, Woodland Elementary. The current PTO President, Scott, is in his last year as President and asked if I might be interested in running next year. Well I tried to resist....really I did, but my manic half urged me to delve a little further into what this might entail. Before I knew it I was in a full-blown manic episode and running wild with enthusiasm about volunteering in every way I could imagine at Leah's school.

While I've certainly gone overboard (as I so often do) a few good things have definitely come out of it. For starters, I created a new PTO website that I just launched last week. I won't win any cyber awards, but it sure does the trick and gives the PTO a good place to communicate with Parents and staff at Woodland.

While my official role on the PTO is as Vice President, I've filled in pretty much full-time as the Secretary and in that role I created a binder.....a quasi archive if you will. I'm collecting everything related to the PTO....meeting minutes, financial reports, committee procedures/steps/forms and volunteer lists. My hope is that it provides some continuity year to year and serves as a good foundation as the PTO moves forward. Our school was opened just last year and so it just seemed right to set the parent-teacher organization up with a framework within which it could operate efficiently. If nothing else, I'll at least have documented the first two years of the organization.

I also jumped wholeheartedly into the committees which are the heart and soul of our group. The committees are where things happen. Everything from the student name & address directory to the school carnival and fund raisers are done by committee volunteers. I knew I was going to volunteer to head up two committees this year ever since I got involved with PTO last school year. The Directory and the Book Fair were things I worked on last year to a degree and wanted to do more this year. However, because committee chairpersons were hard to find this year I ended up agreeing to take on the Book Club and Welcoming committee as well.

And that is where I find myself this month....head swimming in plans for a Book Fair that opens on October 21st, a Directory that has a targeted publish date of October 1st, and a Welcoming committee and Book Club that never got off the ground last school year. "Busy" just doesn't say it, what I have been is "buried". I say that with a smile and a strong sense of satisfaction. I've done pretty darn well.

The Directory will be ready for publication on 9/29....tomorrow. The Welcoming process and packets are ready to reproduce minus a form from the Yearbook committee. The Book Fair has a two-page time line of activities and volunteer and storyteller schedules more than halfway filled in. Book Fair volunteers have been briefed and assignments taken. We're ready to rock! Only the Book Club is somewhat stagnant and that's because the school principal is re-thinking what she wants our school's Book Club to be.

Two weeks ago a calendar reminder popped up one morning reminding me of my oldest daughter, Sarah's birthday on October 2nd. I left the reminder there each day for about a week and then sat down to compose the annual email invite to my extended family for the birthday party. After addressing the recipients on the message I came to the "Subject" field and typed in: Sarah's Sweet Sixteen. Oh dear. An idea began to brew in that hyped up, overactive brain of mine. Might I be able to pull together a somewhat passable Sweet Sixteen bash? Surely, I could.

A mere 12 days before my intended party night, October 3rd, I set about making plans. Being a Sweet Sixteen party, no ordinary birthday party would do. Wouldn't a rented space with a DJ and some of my daughter's closest 30 (or heck maybe even 50) friends be a grand way to commemorate my daughter's 16th year? First step, find a location that was available on 11 days notice. Things didn't go so well in that department and I wasted a good five days finding out that no one had space available except the local Holiday Inn and it was by far more expensive than my other locale choices. With one week left, I talked to Patrick, my husband, and got a thumbs up to go ahead with the higher expense.

Multi-tasker that I am, I didn't entirely waste those five days. I did lots of research on food and DJs and with 7 days left booked the DJ even though I hadn't been able to reserve the ballroom at the Holiday Inn before the weekend and the event manager only works Monday through Friday. Bright and early today (Monday) I booked the room and spent an hour and a half with the event manager planning our big night. A bit of research on Google over the weekend gave me three good leads for a cake source. By mid-morning today, I had a beautiful 2-tier hot pink and black Sweet Sixteen cake ordered. The girls and I squeezed in a Saturday shopping trip for some fall clothes and party decorations.

So I sit here tonight quite smug. Not only have I managed to stay on top of all the school activities, keep up with doing all the bookkeeping for my online gardening coop group, AND plan a Sweet Sixteen bash like none seen so far in my extended family, but I've also managed in the last month to:

1) deal with a dog that needed surgery (three vet visits and $500 poorer),
2) fret and worry and visit a mother that was hospitalized with a blood clot that went from her calf to her navel,
3) hold down the fort single-handedly while the hubby was away in China for 7 days,
4) see my daughter off to her first Homecoming dance,

My daughter, Sarah (left), her best friend, River (right)

5) been to or taken family or dogs to 11 appointments,
6) attended 12 meetings,
7) helped sort out over 300 pieces of clothing of "spirit wear" at Woodland
8) volunteered and walked at the Woodland Walk-a-thon
9) taken my family to Olathe's annual Old Settlers fall festival/carnival

and last, but hardly the least. . . .

10) stayed sane the entire time

......well mostly.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Anxious for Spring

Boy was I ever wrong back in late February when I said I thought it was "going to be an early one". Spring is slowly dragging onto the scene here. We've had the typical ups and downs in temperatures. 60's and 70's one day and then plummeting into the 30's and freeze/frost warnings. Despite the slow advance of the vernal season, the spring bulbs are starting to put on their show. Many things are shorter than advertised, which I think is due to the fluctuating temps. Here is a stunted tulip 'Synaeda Amor' that is about 4-5" tall versus the 16" promised.

Other things that began blooming when it was warmer, like this forsythia, are gorgeous in bloom. The rhododendrons have about finished blooming and the azaleas are starting to get leaves. Hyacinths are another spot of color in the landscape right now. Here are some 'Sky Jacket' hyacinths that I planted a fairly good number of last Fall. These are shorter than expected as well, but have been blooming for over a week now.

I've been going through a period of "doldrums" brought on mostly, I think, by the slow-coming of Spring. Yet I've done little seed-starting this winter as I've been quite unmotivated. Gosh knows I bought lots of seed to start. I'll have to consider starting them in the summer for fall planting. While seed keeps well I found some seed doesn't have a high germination rate after the first year and is more freshness-sensitive than most seed.

Last, but not least, are the daffodils. They are brightening up the front walk in this photo. These are older plantings as they were here when we moved in 4 years ago. The daffodils I planted last fall are coming up and a few are even putting up buds now, but none have bloomed yet.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Not just yet!" proclaims Old Man Winter

Well the man of the hour, Old Man Winter, has declared loudly that winter is not yet over and my hopeful thoughts a couple of days ago are premature. We woke to the forecasted winter storm this morning and have gotten about 4 inches as of this writing. The snow seems to have subsided and a quick scan of the local radar shows only a few remnants could potentially gift us with more of the fluffy, white stuff.

I took time yesterday to start winter sowing seeds. I know it's later than I'd like to have started them , but we've apparently got enough winter left for a good freeze so I think I made it under the wire. I sowed about 10 jugs of seeds, most of which require stratification to germinate, although I threw a few annuals out there to see how they fare.

I also started a flat of seeds of various perennials. Hollyhocks (biennials), balloon flower, and catmint. I'll work over the next week to sow the rest of my indoor started seeds. I've got a large number of annual seed I bought this past winter in a coop and so my shelves should be full within the week. I've got some work to do in cleaning up my grow room in the basement, as it's been rather negleted over the last 10 months or so. More to follow in the coming days and weeks on gardening. . . I don't care what the Old Man says, Spring IS coming.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Hopeful Days of Winter

The weather is warming up a bit each week; or so it seems. I know we've definitely had some jacketless-days. I did a tour of the yard this past week and life springs forth. I guess that's why they call it Spring. The garlic I planted last fall is coming up. I have a few of each of the four varieties I planted. Snowdrops are blooming now and the daffodils and tulips along the front walk are poking their noses through the mulch. It won't be long now. Did Puxatawney Phil see his shadow this year? I think it's going to be an early one.

Time to start thinking through the veggie garden this year. I need to get Patrick to finish building my three other raised beds. I have the landscape company working on a design to put pea gravel walkways between the four veggie beds. Potatoes and onions need to go in in mid March so I'll start looking for seed potatoes. Onion sets are already ordered from Dixondale Farms and due to ship March 23rd.

I'll start setting up the basement for seed-starting in the next week or two. Tomato, Peppers, and some herbs are needing to get started now so they can be planted out in May and be a good-size. I haven't started any perennial seed this year and failed to do winter-sowing as well. Best laid plans as they say. I just haven't had the itch yet this year but wonder if I might be able to put out some winter-sown seeds still in late February. Guess it's worth a try and wouldn't do any harm but put me out a few seeds.

I also need to get back to working on my gardening journal that I started at It's really a much better tool than I have on DavesGarden, but it's daunting entering all the plant info to get me caught up to present day. Most winters I spend entering data on all the previous growing season's happenings. I make nearly daily notes in a spiral notepad all year long and then transcribe it during the bleek days of winter. I haven't done a lick of 2008's entries as I had been spending winter working on the MyFolia journal. I got away from it in mid-December (the holiday season I guess) and haven't made it back to finishing it up.

Thoughts of pool season keep coming to me each day as I look out over the backyard. I can't wait for June and July. Hope springs eternal.

Here's a shot of Leah's birthday cake we had this past Sunday. We did February birthdays late this year (closer to Ally's birthday) as we were traveling the weekend of Leah's actual day.