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2Spent a great weekend with my son and his two children. They are an energetic bunch I have to say. My son is very sports oriented as are his kids. Active in nearly every organized sport, my grandson was telling me he’d like to be a member of the Olympic skiing team once his body grows into his legs. The entire family participates on the slopes, availing themselves of a time share at Lake Tahoe often during snow season. Where he gets this from I can’t imagine. My perception of enjoying the snow is making a snow angel, then sit in a lovely warm ski lodge enjoying a hot toddy while looking at the view beyond the window.

Hailing from Nova Scotia most might assume me to be an avid skier. Not, not, not. As a child I loved the advent of winter. I was the first one to ask for a carrot to create a snowman, tear down an ice hill on my sled, or pile in line on the toboggan. However, none of the adults in my world skied so though living in the perfect storm climate wise, I was never exposed to it. Not being the most coordinated of human beings, probably this was the wisest course of action. Still I wish I’d pursued it more than once as a young adult. I water ski with the best of them, or did. I played a mean game of volleyball. I’m not bad at tennis, and have always loved to swim. There is a common thread perhaps to all these sports, they are usually participated in in a warm climate.

The last time I went to the mountains to play in the snow I believe I left two of my toes in an icy mound adjacent to the cabin. The toes themselves appear to be still attached to my feet but after finally thawing out have never quite felt the same.

Being small of frame perhaps is the culprit. I get cold quickly and thaw out slowly. Not a happy combination. While living in West Virginia snow was a familiar sight during the winter months, lots of it. Mother Nature was generous in that area with her icy wand and I left many an imprint of my behind on the ice there before relocating back to more tepid sunny California.

In 1993 my ex-husband and I sold our second car before a move from Muscle Shoals, Alabama to St. Albans, West Virginia. Relocating so often with his job back then, having two cars became a liability meaning always traveling separately. One car in the garage posed problems as well. If I needed a vehicle, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and drive my husband across the bridge to work. During summer months this was fine, but a bit chilly when the cold moved into the region. Snow clothes aren’t a fashion statement in frigid areas, rather a matter of survival. When the thermometer sinks well below zero before factoring in wind chill one doesn’t run about in flip flops and cargo shorts unless you were dropped on your head repeatedly as an infant. How Californians approach snow always strikes me as funny. A blizzard may be whipping through the mountain passes with treacherous road conditions and you’ll see some brave soul kneeling at the side of the road pulling chains on their wheels in shorts and a tee-shirt. I salute them. I would remain there until picked up by the coroner’s office for disposal.

Arriving in West Virginia that first year, we moved ourselves first before locating housing. Several weeks later with a rental secured we returned to Alabama to gather our household goods. I remember it well as it was Thanksgiving. The first snow had fallen. Pristine fields with mounded trees reflected in the intermittent glare of the headlights as we drove along winding country roads. Most houses were well lit. Lines of cars telltale signs families were gathering to celebrate the holiday. Not knowing a soul in the area we ate turkey and the works by ourselves, save a waitress and a couple of line cooks, at a Cracker Barrel restaurant along our route. At the time we had an old Ford pickup. The smaller furniture was in the back covered by a tarp, with the larger pieces coming by truck the following week. Bits and pieces poked out here and there like a coconut protruding out the sides of a macaroon. Up front Sushi, our Shih Tzu, slept on my lap and Kitty, our old gray cat, perched in the window keeping a wary eye on the dog. Light snow had begun to fall. Large flakes swirled around outside the window and cold seeped in through the seams of the old truck. Occasionally a bump caused things to shift in the back as well as relocating our spinal cords. Rutted roads accentuated the rough ride caused by the shocks going out on the old beater eliminating much of a chance for a smooth ride. A particularly large divit resulted in us flying through the air unseating the dog and causing our load to shift behind us. Looking back through the window the tarp had pulled up on one side flapping madly in the wind. Pulling over to the side of the road we assessed the damage. A chair belonging to our dining room table seemed to be the only item gone awol. Grabbing a flashlight from the glove compartment we surveyed the area. How beautiful it was standing in the dark with the snow dusting our coats and hair. Stars twinkled overhead and an owl hooted somewhere across the pasture. Currier and Ives couldn’t have painted a lovelier picture.

A cold wind cut through my coat like it was cotton so I urged the search to continue with my teeth beginning to clack together. Out in the field as if waiting for company to arrive our lovely chair sat upright in the snow. Had we added a snowman carrying a serving tray with a towel over his arm it would have made a great holiday card. Trudging through the deep drifts we unearthed it and dragged it back to the truck none the worse for wear. It’s funny now to think of it sitting there waiting for an occupant. I suppose had we left it there a passing rabbit or raccoon might have perched on the red plaid for a moment to check out the view.

As lovely as snow is to look at, I prefer not to live anymore in an area where it comes down copiously. Last year we had four days inside when we got a good winter storm but for the most part we live on the periphery of anything more serious than that. I like it that way.

We have a small local market which produces the best rotisserie chickens I’ve ever tasted. Moist and chubby, I often recycle the remaining chicken into soup. This one was a keeper.

Slow Cooker Cream of Chicken and Broccoli Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 carrots, sliced
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch of broccoli florets
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
10 fingerling potatoes, skin on, chunked
2 cups rosisserie chicken (garlic preferably)
10 cups rich chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup cream
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 Tbsp. flour
Cooked rice (I used rice pilaf)

Heat oil in large deep frying pan over med. heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, broccoli, and mushrooms to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 mins. until vegetables are tender.

IMG_7043

Spray bottom of 6 quart slow cooker. Place sliced potatoes in microwaveable dish. Cook on high for 3 mins. Add potatoes, chicken, and broth to pot. Add vegetables to slow cooker along with bay leaves and seasonings. Cook for 8 hrs. on low.

Whisk together cream, milk and flour. Whisk into soup. Cook for an additional 2 hours on low stirring once.

Serve over cooked rice.

Serves 6

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The house smells like cookies, and outside the rain is steadily falling. It isn’t often that I slow down enough lately to really appreciate the sensation of being totally present for a moment. Today looks to be the day. Shopping is on my mind. I haven’t done much yet. Don’t plan to do a lot. Minimalist, is the description for this year when it comes to spending in the stores I’m afraid. As I said in an earlier post Rick and I have given each other a new dishwasher for Christmas. As a matter of fact it’s humming away quietly in the kitchen as I write.

No sooner did the new dishwasher get pushed into the wall we noticed the house wasn’t as warm as usual. I did what one does in such a situation, I stood in front of the thermostat and ramped up the temperature. After an hour or so and some added insulation it didn’t feel a lot warmer. Oh-oh. I took it higher and told Rick. Dressed as if preparing to man a sled team across the Arctic, he went outside to explore. As I’ve mentioned, Rick is not overly burdened when it comes to fixing things around the house. Exploring the heating unit would most likely involve scratching his head, turning something on and off, and coming back up to ask if the number of the heating and A/C company could be found. I don’t mind this slight flaw. He has so many good points, he needs a flaw or two to balance himself out. Certainly I have a few to balance out on my end.

Once the gentlemen arrived on scene from the heating and air company he quickly assessed the situation determining this time we’d dodged the bullet. Further explaining, however, the unit has twenty-three years of service behind it and one of these days the problem will be of more major proportions likely resulting in the purchase of a new unit. That’s exciting news. I’ll add that to the list of expenses associated with the house we can’t afford to fix along with the new roof, another imminent disaster looming in the future. Believe it or not I tend to be an optimist. Not a full-fledged one, it’s true, but I do prefer to exist at least for the most part on the brighter side of the moon. Occasionally I stray onto the dark side, but I try to keep it to a minimum. It is a happier place to focus on what is in your cup rather than what is not. On the bright side we have a lovely little house in the tall trees, cozy with lots of windows to highlight the view. Particularly at this time of year, but all year really, I am appreciative for all I have rather than getting too bogged down in the spots where something might feel a bit lacking. Working at the food ministry with people truly down on their luck or simply weathering a bump in the road allows me a frequent glimpse into how close most of us are to being without the basic necessities to make our lives comfortable.

When my children were small we lost their dad rather suddenly to kidney disease. He was thirty-three. I was really a kid myself, being four years younger. Up until that point my husband ran the ship. Finding myself on my own was to say the least a bit bone jarring. As absurd as it sounds to me now, I didn’t even know how to manage a checking account or pay bills. Nothing was planned beyond the week we were in. At that age you see your lifetime spanning out far ahead of you, and think little about what to do should that not be written in the great plan. Thankfully, there was a small life insurance policy, but there were also mortgage payments, bills and debts to be considered. For three years things were quite tight for us but we managed. I had a good job that didn’t pull in a huge salary so we cinched our belts and learned to adapt. Although missing their dad, both kids remember those times as good times surprisingly. When money is short it tends to bind you together. Creativity comes into play when planning activities. I found new avenues for fun things to do. When it rained we built forts in the living room out of a card table and some blankets or went to a matinée with my handbag filled with chili dogs wrapped in foil and plastic bags packed with popcorn. Cheating perhaps, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’ve written about this before, but I think I will again. Our first Christmas on our own wasn’t on its way to be the merriest. There was little in the coffee can for all the frills that year such as a tree or much to put underneath it. As Christmas approached the kids were pushing for a date to go tree shopping. Up until the weekend before the big date I’d stalled them with one excuse or another. Friday after work I picked up the children at day care and stopped for a few things at the store. Coming in through the garage at the back of the house my daughter went to the front to gather the mail and pick up the newspaper.

I heard much excitement and my name being yelled from the other room. Walking towards the commotion I saw my two little ones standing at the door staring at a huge fresh tree blocking the view. The three of us stood there in the doorway wide-eyed none of us speaking. Finally, I gathered my wits and dragged the lovely tree inside only to find behind it several large bags filled with lights, ornaments and trim. An angel for the top had been included. A kind gesture. A card had been placed on top reading, “Merry Christmas to all, love, Santa” written in my father-in-laws highly recognizable, if barely legible script. Many of those ornaments still decorate my tree. One small act can make such a difference to another person and bring such joy to the person extending themselves.

To me these are the memories that mark Christmas as such an incredibly special time of year.

I am in possession of a huge bag of fresh lemons if you’re sensing a theme in my recent recipes. This was light and delish.

Lemony Shrimp and Sausage Fettuccine

3 Italian sausages, cooked and sliced into 1/2″ pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or mix of cherry, grape, heirloom)
juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

Cook sausages and slice.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.

Heat olive oil in saute pan over med.-high heat. Add shallots, garlic, pepper flakes, and green onions to pan. Saute for 3 mins.

Add shrimp and saute 3 mins. until pink ad firm (do not overcook). Transfer to a bowl.

Deglaze pan with wine, scraping up bits on bottom of pan. Add reserved pasta water. Stir in tomatoes and lemon juice. Cook until tomatoes are cooked through, about 1 min. Return sausage to pan and shrimp mixture. Simmer until tomatoes begin to wilt – 2 mins. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.

Serves 4.

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Grumpy Cat, a media phenomenon, is raking in the cat treats at an amazing pace. The cat’s irascible face is showing up on mugs, greeting cards, tee-shirts and she even stars in a video, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas ever. Really? I give Boo a toy mouse Grumpy-Catand she flicks it a time or two and I find it either under the couch or a bloated casualty floating in her water dish. Looking at Boo, the Queen of Cats, lying supine on the floor at the moment cleaning between her claws we aren’t looking for any big payoff any time in her immediate future. Boo, as beautiful as she may be in the feline sense, doesn’t show much talent for anything bringing in a big paycheck unless cats are currently getting paid to eat, drink, and recycle same. Boo, any more lazy, could technically be considered comatose. The most I could hope for would be footage of the cat sleeping in a variety of positions all around the house.

Lately stories are circulating about the increasing number of animals falling under the umbrella of “service animals”.  People, being people, have taken advantage of the title in some cases to be able to take their animals into places only allowing service animals or on planes, as an example, without paying.

Service animals are not limited to felines or canines. Parrots, ferrets, monkeys, and a variety of other species have been called into service to help people with physical or mental limitations. It was interesting to learn that not all dogs, for example, are cut out to wear the service dog emblem. A certain personality and disposition is required to make a good candidate.

Therapy dogs are used to help people manage stress. I could use one on some days. Apparently they have a calming effect on their owners making it easier to get through a hard day or a period of grieving. I have a dear friend who lives alone. Her small dog is truly a lifeline for her, providing companionship unconditionally, affection, and also lending a hand, or paw if you will, when one is needed. The small dog retrieves items on command and although never trained specifically to provide such support, seems to instinctively understand what is required of him. Rather amazing. Studies show people who have animals living with them or visiting them, such as hospital or nursing home patients, benefit emotionally and healthwise with their furry companions around.

Miniature horses are another surprising animal used for such service. I hope they don’t sleep with their owners. Horses, prone to flatulence and with rather stiff hooves would not be my choice for a bed partner. Often the small horses, natural guides, are used as such for the blind. If a member of a herd of horses goes blind, a herd member will take responsibility for the animal and guide him along with the others.

Pigs also can be taught to assist humans in need. Very intelligent animals, they learn quickly and have a great sense of smell. Having worked around pigs while working at the feed and grain in Arkansas, I can attest to the fact piggies are a bit fragrant themselves. I’m not sure how they would work inside a house, but perhaps if bathed often and some excellent room spray it might work. Pigs have even been taught to maneuver joysticks on video games. So bad am I at video games, I’m sure the pig would take me before I even got started. I found it interesting reading recently about the woman who took her pig on a plane to keep her calm. Someone should have brought a therapist for the pig apparently as it became overly excited on boarding and began squealing leaving a trail of pig poop all along the aisle. In the end (sorry), pig and pig’s person were asked to leave the plane and find another mode of transportation. Somehow sitting in coach with a pig in the adjacent seat paints a funny picture. Looking back I’ve done it a flight or two, but that’s another blog.

I’d like to find a Capuchin who favors housework. Now that would be the monkey to have around. We eat a lot of vegetables around our house so feeding a monkey wouldn’t be much of a problem. As to the meal worms, crickets, and grasshoppers, the monkey would be on its own there. We do offer Sundays and Thursdays off and excellent benefits if you know of any monkeys looking for a domestic service job. Interestingly, I thought, on reading further about the little simians the article said Capuchins need a variety in their diet. If bored with their food they won’t eat. Not so different then us humans. I often look at Boo, who seems quite content to eat Adult indoor cat kibble every day with a smattering of treats, and wonder she doesn’t go on strike. Over the years I’ve introduced new flavors and tastes to be her bowl only to be met with accusatory stares from the cat as though I was trying to poison her.

Sigh, felines. I’ll never understand them. Maybe that’s where difficult humans go to be reincarnated?

We had turkey for Thanksgiving. I made broth from the carcass and froze the rest. I saved enough bird to put together these quick and easy enchiladas which we lapped up.

Easy Turkey Enchiladas

2 cups shredded turkey
2 cups Mexican style cheese blend
1 onion, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 small can diced green chiles
1 2 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
1 19 oz. can red enchilada sauce
10 corn enchiladas (taco size)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 11″ pan.

Mix together turkey, 1 cup cheese, onion, green onions, chiles and 1/2 of the black olives. Season with salt and peper. Set aside.

Ladle some of the sauce in bottom of prepared dish and spread to cover.

Pour 1 cup of sauce in small frying pan. Heat over med. heat. Turn to low. Dip each tortilla in the warm sauce. Place 1/10 of the turkey mixture in the center of each tortilla and roll like a cigar. Place seam down side by side in dish. Pour remaining sauce over all. Top with remaining cup of cheese and sprinkle with remaining black olives.

Bake uncovered for 30 mins. Cover tightly with foil and bake 20 mins. longer or until cheese is melted. Allow to sit for 6 mins. before serving.

Serves 4-6

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HOT, HOT, HOT. No, I’m not sitting in some tropical lanai soaking up glorious afternoon rays. It feels as if I am from time to time, but only momentarily. Instead my internal thermometer has gone awry sending heat searing through my body on one hand then urging me to pull on a parka and heated gloves fifteen minutes later. Heeeeeeeeeeeelp! Apparently menopause has dropped upon me like a plague from the heavens, and I’m feelin’ the heat, brother, feelin’ the heat.

Remind me again how wonderful it is to be female. Site verse if you have to. Several other times in my life, both during hard labor, I had to be reminded of the glory of being a woman. This, it would appear, would be the appropriate time to hear it again.

Not only do I light up like a Christmas candle with no notice leading people to ask me if I’ve taken up bobbing for French fries, but I shed clothes and add them at such a furious pace it must appear as though several personalities are fighting for supremacy beneath my blond roof. In the space of five minutes my temperament might fluctuate from sunny to dark to silly and back again. Rick keeps asking where the real Susie went, and I have no definitive answers. If you see me, please send me home.

Certainly I have seen evidence of the effects of this phenomenon before. Women in the mall sweating in mid-January looking as if they’d recently competed in the Boston marathon suddenly stripping down to their skivvies behind the Tupperware kiosk. It isn’t pretty I’m here to say.

Asking my doctor if there was anything to do about it she replied in her usual helpful way, “time and patience, time and patience, dear girl”. Really? Dear girl? If girl was the correct adjective most likely we wouldn’t be engaging in this particular conversation. Fortunately for her there weren’t any sharp objects immediately within my reach.

There are pluses to aging, truly there are. Wisdom, hopefully, arrives in one form or another, and an acceptance of oneself with all the fine attributes and less desirable traits making up who you are as a person. The mirror is less kind perhaps, but all the wrinkles and irritating creeping lines come from years of living, smiling, lying in the warm sun, and bouts of sadness which encompass what makes up the average life. When you reach this point adult children, if such is the case, are generally on their own, or at least living independently. Missed are the days when their little hands held yours tightly but grandchildren perhaps are in the picture adding yet another dimension to your world. Time previously tied up with the day-to-day interactions usually present when children inhabit a household, is suddenly freed up to allow exploration into those things put off since first announced their impending arrival. It’s a double-edged sword, as many things in life are. Loss often shares company with gain and thus the balance of life continues.

My daughter is feeling the pain incumbent with children growing up and looking past their front door to the world beyond. There is no pill for it. They are going to go someday, and this is something you should celebrate. In the job description for parents pushing our offspring out of the nest is an integral part of the program. Encouraging them to fly alone with us encouraging them on their way is as it should be. I grew up in a household with my mother and maternal grandparents. At nine my mother remarried. Suddenly I was whisked out of my familiar life in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Placed in the back seat of a new Buick I was carted half way across the world (to my mind at least) to Southern California. Had they taken me to Jupiter, it couldn’t have been more alien then from where I came. Naturally my grandmother, who really served as my second mother, was devastated to see us go. My grandfather had passed on when I was six, so our absence would leave the large house unoccupied except for her. My mother says my grandmother never uttered a word of discouragement but she could see the sadness in her eyes as we packed and went on our way. All of us with children who grow up and consequently move out or away share that pain at one time or another.

Multigenerational family units exist in many cultures, perhaps more common in Asia or Mexico. New members are introduced, children added, and numbers culled due to death or divorce, but the core family remains intact. If it works for you, then it works I would think. There are times when I wonder if I’d enjoy this sort of arrangement. Other times after a loud family get together, I question whether I have the inner strength to survive such an experiment.

Each decade as it approaches opens a new chapter in my life, offering new opportunities to learn and grow. This one I am occupying at the moment can at times be challenging, but “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”. I’m sure this too will pass and the hot flashes will subside. Just another bump in the road.

These potatoes are the best. The little bit of lemon added to the crunch. Yum.

2Fabulous Greek Lemon and Garlic Potatoes

5 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a 9 x 13″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Place potatoes in dish.

Mix together all remaining ingredients except cheese and salt. Pour over potatoes. Toss to mix well.

Cover dish tightly with foil. Cook for 45 mins.

Remove foil and stir to rotate potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese. Place in oven for additional 30 mins. stirring once.

Season with salt as desired.

Serves 4

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A dear friend of the family, Doc, is a veteran of WWII. Navy, to be precise. Often he tells tales of riding in the landing craft onto beaches in the midst of active fire and the harrowing experiences shared with the other brave men he served with. My father was a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and my stepfather a highly decorated military pilot. Doc, a retired dentist, has little of his former affluent life left except perhaps the memories. Living on a fixed income he relies on Veterans Hospital for his medical care. It was distressing to him to hear the report recently of how many servicemen and women died while waiting to get appointment to be seen for whatever was ailing them. In light of what these people do to provide us with a safe living environment I would say rather than distressing, disgraceful might be a more appropriate adjective.

Truly I wonder what’s happening to our medical profession as a whole. If you ask most people they will tell you their doctors spend most of the visit staring at a computer screen keying in information and very little time actually interacting with the person sitting in front of them. I write about this often because it continues to dismay me and no matter which doctor I visit the same situation seems to prevail.

For over two months I’ve been dealing with an eye infection. At a dental visit earlier in the year my dentist noticed a half moon anomoly on my dental x-rays. She suggested I bring this up to my primary physician for further evaluation. Making an appointment for a sinus infection, I mentioned the anomaly. The doctor said she didn’t read dental films, so I would need to get the x-ray from the dental office, have the dentist read it and bring the x-ray and the dentist’s interpretation to her office. I did as instructed. Interestingly I had to pay $25 to borrow my x-ray. Didn’t I already pay for this up front? Never heard a thing from the doctor for nearly a month. Finally, I called and asked if she’d had a chance to look at it. After several weeks I heard back saying a CT scan of my sinuses had been ordered to see if anything significant shows up. Following  the scan I got a call from my doctor saying there was a cyst in my sinuses, but a benign cyst, and nothing to worry about. Okay. Curious, I looked this up on the computer only to find if blocking an area in the sinus cavity it can cause problems with both your eyes and your ears.

Just before my eyes began acting up I contracted another sinus infection. A round of heavy antibiotics was ordered. This seemed to address the sinus infection but my eyes were still bright red. Referred to the ophthalmologist he diagnosed pink eye. Swell. For two weeks I was prescribed topical antibiotics and prednisone. Prednisone is an amazing drug with less amazing side effects, but tired of looking like a lab rat I did as I was told. Again no improvement. Another two weeks of topical antibiotics led to ten days of oral antibiotics. Good Lord, I was a yeast playground at this point.

Yesterday I woke up to my usual red orbs and found a puffy swelling below my left eye and to the left of my nose. That’s not good. I called my doctor and was told to come in. Arriving in the examining room carrying her laptop the doctor looked at my red face and swollen eye and asked why I was there. Um, I think I’m pregnant? No. Okay, it might be my eyes.

Looking into both eyes she said, “they’re red”. Yes, thank you I determined that on my own and I don’t have any school loans to pay off. Showing her the swelling under my eye, she said that’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps it’s just me, but I prefer my face not to look as if I’d sewn a sock underneath the skin if you don’t mind. I’m picky that way. Hmmmm. I went through the history of the whole illness once again even though I would assume it was all there on the trusty computer. What is she doing playing video games on that thing? She suggested a CT scan. Really? I explained I’d just had one a month ago. Oh. She then asked if another doctor I’d seen in the same group had ordered it.  Again does not the computer have any information stored in it? “You ordered it”, I replied. “Oh.” Is it just me?

When I explained she’d told me the cyst wasn’t anything to worry about, she was surprised to find there was one. I am glad we weren’t prepping for surgery at this point. It was then suggested she refer me to an ear, nose and throat doctor. Good idea says I. Why didn’t I think of that? Does she have a computer so you two can speak? Try to pass on some information so I’m not going in cold.

In the end she told me to stop everything I was doing and wait to be scheduled for an appointment which should take about a month. Ah well, my eyes will go perfectly with my red Christmas dress. Sigh.

This soup was full of vegetables and worthy of a second helping.

SAVORY VEGETABLE SOUP

2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 cups chicken broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
6 heirloom fingerling potatoes, halved and sliced
1/2 cup whole green beans (cooked)
2 zucchini, halved and sliced thin
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 can tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 pkg. Sazon Goya seasoning
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Cooked rice (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Croutons

In large pot saute garlic, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and green beans for 8 mins. Add zucchini and continue cooking for 6 mins.

Add tomato sauce, bay leaves, basil, Italian seasoning, Sazon Goya, peas, salt and pepper to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook at a low simmer for 45 mins.

Remove bay leaves and discard. Serve over a bed of cooked rice if desired.

Top with grated cheese and croutons if desired.

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Well, here we are riding the crest of the the biggest holiday shopping period. Infused with the holiday spirit frenzied shoppers will be pushing and shoving their way through the weekends hoping to grab hold of purportedly some of the greatest bargains of the year. Merchants were practically giving away TV’s last weekend simply for entering their stores, and tablets could be picked up for a song (so to speak). For me, I sat in my warm dining room with my flannel pajama bottoms on. My feet tucked in fuzzy slippers, fingers poised over my keyboard, I accomplished a bit of holiday magic for mine and theirs on Cyber Monday.

Whatever happened to Christmas? Is it somewhere buried beneath all the gift receipts?? Choirs, carolers, picking out a tree at the tree lot, and hot chocolate with huge marshmallows floating about on top are images I have of the the holidays. Are these time-honored holiday traditions to be tossed out one day with the crumpled Christmas wrapping? I hope not.  I can’t even seem to locate a good old-fashioned Christmas movie to watch while baking my cookies. I’m looking for “It’s a Wonderful Life”, or “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original). Instead I’m left with passable but rather syrupy Hallmark offerings or a smattering of made for TV dysfunctional family movies. Another movie I never miss over the holidays is Christmas Vacation, which I finally located and taped. Even though I’ve seen Clark Griswold and ol’ Uncle Eddie over and over I still laugh every time. According to my television guide I have to pay to see many of these movies this year. Really? I’ve seen my cable bill. I’m sure I’ve already paid for the privilege many times over. Never does it cease to amaze me with a gazillion channels available to watch, when I sit down to actually view something I can’t find one thing of interest. Paid programming seems to dominate the airways late at night. With the flick of the remote you can find out about hair replacement, wrinkle cream, and how to manage your 401K.

Behind me my tree is happily blinking. Excited to be out of the box and assembled once again it shines gloriously for one month out of the year showing off for the other trees huddled in the rain outside my window. In my living room the card table is set up. Today I make felt mice to attach to the pile of candy canes sitting in the middle of it. Small gestures of appreciation for my friends at the food bank. Truly I have gotten more from them working there then I have ever been able to give back.

Ordering on-line has its pitfalls as well. Thieves are targeting front porch drop offs, waiting for the delivery truck to pull off then grabbing unattended packages. Some are actually following the trucks waiting for them to stop. The Grinch is alive and well and barreling down on Whoville once again this year I’m afraid. There’s another of my favorite Christmas movies, but I digress. One such thief even took his little daughter with him while stealing a package. There’s a holiday message for you, yes? The family that steals together ends up on Inside Edition together or something like that. What a legacy to pass on to your children. “Remember that Christmas when you and Daddy lifted that Kitchenaid Mixer from our neighbor’s house? Now that was a Christmas.” Perhaps a coffee cup appropriately depicting his “mug” shot would serve as a nostalgic reminder? Holiday cards are created from such moments. I’m sure the elves at Hallmark are on it as we speak. The Incarceration Christmas Series.

Shoplifting will be in high gear with the stores packed with holiday buyers. I watched a news piece the other day about pickpockets. A retired pickpocket showed in detail how easily he picked pockets when he was in the biz. How does that play out on your resume? Where do you go once you’ve retired from lifting wallets? Also, doesn’t this hone the skills for those amateurs not yet up to speed on their pocket picking skills? If they didn’t already know how to do it, surely now they’ve got the tools to move forward. You can always count on the media to provide those so inclined with the information to really create some misery out there in our world.

I watched pictures of people getting in fist fights over an electronic item. People camped out overnight in the cold to save $100 on a desired appliance. It would have to come with a winning lottery ticket to get me to entertain such an idea. There is nothing I need that badly.

Looking back I do remember one year when my children were still Santa followers. My daughter, Heather, had a favorite doll. Not sure if she’s still around but her name was Mrs. Beasley. She was fashioned after a doll on a TV show with Brian Keith called Family Affair. These days a show titled such as this would be a reality show, but back then it was a rather thsaccharine but surprisingly enjoyable TV series about a single dad and his two kids. Plot lines were similar to family series previewing before it, such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Basically, the kids get in trouble, dad catches them, they learn a lesson, everybody gets ice cream. At any rate, Mrs. Beasley was a popular toy spawned from that series. My daughter’s first Mrs. Beasley met an unfortunate end flying out an open window on the way to Yosemite. Although we pulled over to rescue her, the last we saw of her she was caught under a tire headed south. Sigh. Heather was inconsolable. Santa, who fixes such situations, was alerted. Mrs. Beasley was added to the growing list of toys required from Santa’s industrious toy shop personnel on the 25th.

As Christmas approached a babysitter was hired and my husband and I hit the stores. First on the list was the elusive Mrs. Beasley. Easy peasey. After three stores and no luck a slight pang of panic crept in. No Mrs. Beasley was to be had. A popular lady at the time it appeared. A local store ran an ad a few days later featuring  the bespectacled doll on the front page above a small print notice saying “supply limited – first come first serve”.  At 5 a.m. I found myself sitting in front of a store in a lawn chair shivering waiting for the doors to open. One other person sat with me in the dark, and I’m not sure she wasn’t homeless. We would have spoken but our jaws were frozen shut. Finally, after three hours in the cold I was the first customer to enter the store. Making a mad dash for the doll section, I grabbed one of three Mrs. Beasley’s on a display rack. Holding her as though I’d just crawled across the desert and she was a glass of iced cold tea I paid the asking price, and would have paid much more. Never was she as wholly loved as the original. Heather explained this to me this way. “If our beloved cat, Kitty (I know) passed away, even if we got a new cat who looked exactly the same it still wouldn’t be Kitty.” Ah, the simple wisdom of children. In the end she was still well-loved and retired with grace when Heather entered middle school. I guess we all have something we’re willing to go the extra mile for.

These bars are pretty on the table resembling bark. Easy to put together as well. I originally snagged the recipe from Something Extra, Raley’s giveaway, but didn’t like the caramel drizzle so this is my version of their recipe.

Chocolate Toffee Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 up Heath English Toffee bits
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. shortening
Caramel drizzle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 8″ square cake pan with foil. Coat with butter.

Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla extra. Add egg and mix well. Add flour and salt to butter mixture and stir slightly.
Stir in walnuts and toffee bits to form dough. Mix with hands if necessary.

Press dough into bottom of pan. Bake for 30 mins.

Make caramel drizzle below.

Remove bars from oven and allow to cool. Remove from pan and cut into 30 squares leaving room between each square.

Melt chocolate and 1/2 tsp. shortening in microwave for 1 min. 30 sec. on high.

Drizzle lines of chocolate across bars going one way and lines of caramel sauce going to other. Yum.

Makes 30 bars

Caramel drizzle

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 to 1 tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water

In a small saucepan, gently heat the cream, butter, and salt until the butter has melted and the salt has completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Add vanilla.

In larger saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over a med.-high, swirling the pot occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.

Continue to boil the sugar mixture until the bubbles begin to get smaller and it becomes amber-colored.
Reduce the heat to low, and pour in the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly to avoid lumps or crystals.
Immediately transfer the hot mixture to a heat-safe vessel and cool slightly.

Credit for this lovely sauce goes to http://bakingamoment.com/simply-perfect-salted-caramel-sauce/.

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CORB1847

Yesterday I was thinking of proposals. Perhaps it’s because an old friend of mine recently got married after years of being single. Her new husband proposed on one knee at a Renaissance Faire dressed as a noble lord. That’s kind of romantic. Married four times I’ve never had what I would deem a noteworthy proposal. Well, other than the one at a Halloween party years ago where my ex-boyfriend arrived unexpectedly dressed as a woman and proposed to me dressed as Minnie Mouse wearing mouse ears and whiskers. The occasion was made even more memorable by the fact we’d broken up six months prior and I’d attended the party with a man with whom I was enjoying a second date. A bit awkward. My date was dressed in full parachute gear. After the proposal he got quite drunk and we found him passed out in the back yard wrapped in his unfolded chute. Several cups of coffee later he commented he’d had some odd dates in his life but never had someone else proposed to his date while he was on it and she accepted. Ah well. I’m sure that story has been told more than once over the years since.

My first husband proposed after eleven days. This was an all time record for me. I was eighteen at the time and madly in love. Our parents did not embrace the idea as readily as we did, if at all. I was enrolled in college and on my way to fly the friendly skies, and he was studying to be an engineer. Neither of us had the sense we were born with. In the end my mother couldn’t argue with love, though I have to say she gave it her best effort. Carrots were waved in front of my face ranging from trips abroad to expensive vehicles. When that didn’t work I was threatened with boarding school or my Uncle Fred, who was always brought in when punishment was in the air. For as unhappy as my mother appeared with the situation, my stepfather was elated. He didn’t see it as losing a daughter but rather as gaining a game room. Immediately plans went into play for converting the extra bedroom into a recreation haven complete with all the man cave accoutrement. While my mother and I were picking out china patterns and choosing bridesmaids dresses, my stepfather was picking out pool lights and purchasing new cue racks. Happily a week before the wedding he relocated my canopy bed to its location in our newly rented two bedroom apartment. My last nights at home left me sleeping on a huge swimming pool raft with an inflatable palm tree sticking out of the center next to his newly delivered competition pool table.

Some guys are truly creative, pledging their undying love on huge billboards for all to see or renting space in the Time Square wraparound. Others use surprise attacks showing up unexpectedly on a television newscast or at the object of their affections workplace. I don’t hate that. Once a man I was dating sent me a gorilla on roller skates at work. Obviously obtaining an actual gorilla for 39the job might border on life threatening as well as infringing on numerous animal rights issues, so a very tall man showed up in a gorilla costume on skates instead. Carrying a huge bouquet of roses he arrived in my office with half the staff in tow. I was whisked up and carried over his shoulder around the office before being sung to, rather badly as I remember, and presented with my flowers. Fortunately I was young so the shock didn’t kill me, or the smell emanating from the fake fur composing his costume. Wheeww.

When you decide to take the plunge and ask the girl for her hand in a very public way to my mind you need to be really sure you have a willing participant. Nothing is more embarrassing than a prospective groom baring his soul at a huge media event, for example, only to find the target of his affections looking like a rodent cornered in the garage.

I’ve always thought men had it rough when it comes to approaching women. It seems from our side they would have the advantage. Men can walk up to a woman in a club and ask her to dance. A woman asking a man to dance might appear desperate or pushy. However, the down side of this is the woman asked to dance has the option to say no. This must be somewhat ego deflating I would imagine. Also, as is often the case, women tend to travel in packs. In order to cull one out of the herd you have to face the entire group in order to get a rope around her.

Back in the 80’s I remember a man passing me buy, stopping to introduce himself briefly, offering me a card, then moving on. The card read “This entitles you to one dance with me – please return if interested”. I must admit he got my attention. I don’t believe I ever took him up on it, but I did think it a unique approach. Women, for the most part, like to be wooed. A friend of mine’s husband walked past her one morning with a face full of cereal and said, “you know, I think we should get married”. Not the most romantic approach, however they’ve been married for twenty-three years to date and happily it would seem, so if it gets the girl to the altar whatever works.

Love is always an intricate weave rife with varying colorful patterns, some pretty and light, some dark and turbulent. Always love endures through war, hatred, famine and disease. Babies continue to populate the world, Hallmark thrives, and florists continue to push their roses out the door. Life is good.

I shared this back a few years ago and was asked to do it again. This was the first recipe for Thanksgiving ever passed down to me. It came from my father-in-law at the time who was a great fan of Mike Roy, a chef of his day. Really good. Happy Thanksgiving!

THE TURKEY

Select a fresh, plump turkey allowing about one pound for each serving. If you are using a frozen turkey, try to allow it to thaw about four days in the plastic container in the refrigerator. It will thaw overnight at room temperature. If you are stuck with a real emergency, run tap water over the turkey in the container. The neck is usually found in the body cavity and a package of giblets usually under the neck flap. Put these in a 3 quart sauce pan. The idea of this is that each time we season the dressing, we will add some of the seasoning to the giblets and neck from which we will make a stock for our gravy. With half of a lemon rub the inside of the bird thoroughly and sprinkle with salt, pepper and monosodium glutamate.

Now, we start THE DRESSING. We will allow about a cup of dressing for each pound of weight on the turkey. The recipe ingredients are for a fourteen pound bird and you may increase or decrease the following.

8 cups stale toasted bread cubes about half-inch square
3 cups corn bread, diced and crumbled (I use: 1 box Aunt Jam cornbread mix)
3/4 lb. butter
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire
2 tablespoons herbs (for those of you who are old-fashioned sage and savory lovers…. Have at it….For myself, I prefer mixture of thyme, sweet basil and rosemary).

2 cups fruit (I vary this, using the diced fruit such as apricots, prunes and apples one time and pineapple and mandarin orange sections another time). I ONLY USED APRICOTS….. use whatever you want, canned, fresh or dried.

1/4 cup brandy (COMBO OF REGULAR & APRICOT BRANDY)

1/2 cup or more of Dry Vermouth (this is the secret ingredient, but be careful not to overdo the amount of vermouth)

Using one-half pound butter, saute’ the onions, celery and garlic until they are soft and transparent, but not brown. Put three tablespoons of the vegetable mixture with the giblets….add the rest of the mixture to the bread crumbs. Add the balance of the ingredients, remembering to add a small amount of each to the gravy stock. When the wine has been added , the dressing should be tossed lightly. It should be reasonably dry and if your taste indicates a moist dressing, add water or stock. Stuff the bird loosely with the dressing fore and aft. Secure with skewers. Rub the skin of the bird with the remaining one-quarter pound of butter. Place the bird BREAST DOWN in a rack in a open pan in a 275* oven allowing twenty-two minutes to a pound. Double check by inserting a meat thermometer at the point where the thigh meets the body and bring this internal meat temperature up to about 180*. Allow enough time so that the turkey is done one-half hour before serving time. When the bird is taken from the oven, place it on its back on a warm platter and allow it to set up for about one-half hour for ease of carving, saving the juices for the gravy making. The giblets would be covered with water and slowly simmered for an hour and one-half. The stock should be strained. The giblets may be finely chopped and included with the gravy if so desired.

THE GRAVY

If there is any fat among the drippings, measure off about one-fourth of a cup and melt in a heavy pot. Add 1/8 cup flour and 1/8 cup cornstarch and cook into the fat. If there are any more crusty drippings in the bottom of the pan, add them at this time. Slowly stir in the stock, bring to a boil, adjust for salt and pepper, seasoning to taste. Add one tablespoon of tomato paste, 1/4 cup of red current jelly and again adjust seasonings. If a thicker gravy is desired, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/2 cup water together and add, stirring constantly until the proper degree of thickness if reached.

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