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1
The next few months are going to get busy for me. There are some milestone birthday parties coming up, family is visiting, and we are visiting family. Summers seem to be the time to plan all the fun events leaving Christmas and Thanksgiving to keep winter moving along briskly when we’re stuck inside.

This past week we’ve been dealing with getting our deck refinished. As usual things didn’t choose to move along without a wrinkle at our house. I suppose I might get bored if a project went off without a hitch, and what would I write about?

The job itself was to be done in two increments. Truth is we really debated about doing it at all because in order to refinish the wood a power wash had to be done and pre-treatment laid down. With water such a precious commodity in our state at the moment, it was up for debate for a while. However, if we didn’t do something our deck was likely to deteriorate beyond the point of no return during the winter the months so the decision was made to go ahead. Damn the torpedoes, and all. This house has a deck on each floor. Along with resurfacing the decks themselves, the paint has worn off the railings. We added this to the job description.

When we first looked at the house all of this seemed to be pristine. That was two years ago. My assumption, since it’s headed down the slope so quickly, is the previous owners did a band-aid paint job to help the house’s outward appearance prior to putting it on the market. I get it. I don’t particularly applaud it, but on some level I understand the theory.

The two men who power washed the wood were very helpful. The procedure ate up most of a day with two of them working concurrently, and racked up a nice piece of change on their behalf when the bill came in. Because our son was going to do the actual staining, before leaving the owner of the business brought us up to speed on how to correctly apply the stain once purchased. It was a long explanation. There was against the grain this, and back wash that, and seamless over here. I just nodded my head like a bobble head doll hoping he’d come to an end before I got a headache. Now, if you combined Rick and my knowledge of such things, multiplied the combined information by 10,000 you would still only gain enough facts to confidently pick out a decent paint brush. Reviewing the extensive notes left me I gathered we needed water based paint, brushes, a roller, sponge brushes, paint trays, drop cloths, and good luck. Some of these we were able to pick up at the local Dollar Store, which was a bonus. They were out of luck, unfortunately, but asked us to check back on Tuesday when their trucks come in it might come in then. After measuring the square footage it was determined we needed two gallons of stain at about $47.00 a gallon. At the paint store the employee behind the counter confirmed this amount of stain should do the trick nicely. I handed him my notes with our color choice as indicated and he went off to mix the stain. Life was good.

Saturday the painting began upstairs. We decided to leave the walkway directly outside the door for last as the stain has to cure for three hours. If it was applied at night there would be no issues coming in and out while it dried. Easy peasey. The color we chose was a silver tone, semi transparent. This, at least was the color on the paper I handed the store employee. The color we came home with was a semi-solid platinum gray which was like comparing orange to red, close but no cigar. Please take notes, there will be a test on this later. Nonetheless, the color sort of grew on us as it dried, and we came to like it. That being said all but one long walkway outside the door got done and two-thirds of the lower deck when we ran out of paint. Everybody but me was decorated with it, perhaps that’s where the extra half can went, so I was elected to go back to the paint store and get an extra gallon. Okie.

Back again at the counter in the paint store I requested the additional can of stain. I explained the original color had been off but we were staying with it so please make sure this one matched the other two. Off he went to mix the paint returning shortly with no can. “Sorry”, he said”, we’re out of the base for that paint. It is special order so will be in next week.” Hello? This was not news I wanted to pass on to Rick who was already well over this project and not going to happy that we were going to look like a zebra upstairs and down. Not only that but you only have a certain grace period after the pre-treatment is done to get the sealant on. Sigh. I was good until he said perhaps I should have gotten three gallons to begin with. Now, they were the ones who said two would be more than enough if you remember, and if secondly if they didn’t have the base now, they probably didn’t have the base three hours ago when I bought the first two cans.

So our flower pots remain in the driveway waiting for the deer to stop by for lunch and our deck remains half in and half out. Hopefully by next week it will be gorgeous and all frustration tossed away with the gooey tarp.

These are flavorful and yummy. Be sure to wrap them well around the skewers.

Middle Eastern Kibbeh Kebabs

1/2 lb. ground beef
3/4 lb. ground lamb
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, grated and dried
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Olive oil for basting

Bamboo skewers soaked in water for 1/2 hour
Pita bread

Grate onions. Place in collander for 2 hrs. to drain liquid. Squeeze and put in large mixing bowl. Add meats.

Mix ground meats well with spices. Place in refrigerator for 1 hr. Soak bamboo skewers for 1/2 hr.

Wrap small amounts of meat in flat log shaped configurations around center of skewers, molding to fit tightly.

Preheat grill for medium heat being sure to oil grates.

Brush kebabs with olive oil. Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally until cooked to desired taste (about 6 mins.).

Serve with pita bread and sour cream sauce

Sour Cream Sauce

1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce (more or less depending on taste)
2 Tbsp. hot salsa chunky
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together and allow to sit in refrigerator 1/2 hr. before serving

final

Insurance is an interesting commodity. A business where you purchase something you’re not supposed to use. In particular, car insurance irritates the life out of me. You might go along for years with no accidents or dings on your record, then someone slams into you. Once the damage is reported and repaired you are rewarded by an increase in your monthly premium or could lose your insurance entirely. The same is true of homeowner’s insurance. It’s nice to know you have it but you really don’t want to put a claim in unless you want to pay more for the privilege of doing so. What a convoluted business practice. Yes?

Another thing that I find a bit confusing are time shares. You pay to own something technically you own but can only use for two weeks out of the year. Hmmmm. These are things on ponder on lazy days like today when the only thing moving are the white puffy clouds passing by the window.

I enjoy these marketing strategies. Perhaps I’ll open a car lot. You pick out a car you like. In turn, I will sell to you with the stipulation you can only drive it two weeks out of any given year. The rest of the time the other “shareholders” will be using it. Naturally, I will receive a nice commission for setting you up with such a juicy deal.

While on the griping dais, I’m incredibly tired of getting all these robo calls. Kudos for the woman who actually sued and was awarded $1,500 per call for each annoying interruption in her life. Taking all the right steps initially she first asked not to be called again, then reported them, even filed suit, and yet the calls continued to roll in. Ours come in at the same time every day, usually as we take our seats for dinner. Blocking doesn’t work because they switch numbers and the game is on again. There should be better regulation, and hopefully will be, now that someone has slammed her foot down and said “NO MORE”. One voice really does make a difference. My mother gets a ridiculous volume of these calls asking for money. She called the other day to tell me a man she could barely understand called to tell her she’d won two and a half million dollars. That is good news. Now my deck can get done and I can sit on the beach sucking on straws. Fortunately, she’s savvy enough to know these are not real. They prey on the elderly or vulnerable people among us like sharks in a heavy swimming area. Actually the sharks are doing what’s expected of sharks, it’s the people I find disgusting.

To add to the mix of my busy week my computer seems to be feeling the tension as well. Several times I’ve had to reinstall programs to get them to kick back into action. Apparently I’m in good company as I heard both the stock exchange and United Airlines suffered computer incidents resulting in complete shutdown of their functionality and angry customers asking what the hell happened. It is scary to realize how dependent we are on our computer systems to keep us moving forward. Our Achilles heel, if you will, in a way. Such a vulnerable spot for people intent on causing mischief or worse.

Another interesting piece of news surfaced this morning. An airline seat manufacturer has actually come up with a way to cram more passengers in coach, or steerage as I’ve come to affectionately think of it. Amazing. Already you’re practically perched in your neighbor’s lap! The new suggestion verges on disturbing. The drawing shows a seat facing forward with a seat directly next to it facing backward. This would mean sitting facing a stranger possibly for five hours or much longer. How uncomfortable. Why not just stack us like plastic lawn chairs on the patio? It’s not like we needs our hands free to eat.  Also it’s come to light the airlines are in collusion with one another to keep the price for a seat on the rise. For all the extra cost to fly there is no money left over apparently to pay anyone to guard our luggage. They’ve laid off luggage “guards” to save money so they can add to that huge profit margin they keep racking up. Crooks are now waiting at the baggage kiosks to help themselves to whatever unchaperoned bags happen to rotate by. Suggestions from the airlines regarding this are that passengers not stop to use the restroom on the way to their way to the baggage area. This also may not be a viable plan. Somewhere I read they’re thinking of downsizing the restrooms on planes as well. Should this be the case since you cannot turn around in the ones in use presently, using the downsized restrooms may well only be an option for anyone under eighty pounds. I swear I’m taking the train from now on.

I’ve got the vacation blues. Really want to head out to a warm beach and a couple of days of floating in the ocean followed by margaritas at a busy beach bistro. Instead, we’re having our deck refinished. Sigh. It’s good, but not nearly as good as feeling the sand squishing through my toes, not nearly as good. Making the deck decision really wasn’t ours, nature had taken its toll and either we refurbished our deck or walked of our front door into thin air. As we basically live on the second story of our house the thought of either repelling to the driveway or installing a zip line didn’t seem doable.

So, having relieved myself of my frustrations I know feel light and refreshed while you probably are wondering why you read this darn blog.

I do a lot of spinach variations but this is my favorite. My family loves the fried cake on the side. I use this fried cake idea for dessert with berries and ice cream or any fresh fruit and whipped cream. Yum, and yum.

Fruit and Spinach Salad with Fried Cake

Fruit and Spinach Salad

l 5 oz. pkg. baby spinach
10 ripe strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
1 6 oz. pkg. fresh raspberries
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin

Honey Dressing

5 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. beef boullion granules
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with salad.

Fried Cake

6 pieces golden loaf cake (purchased or homemade)
2 Tbsp. butter

In large skillet melt butter over med.-high heat. Add cake to pan and brown on both sides.

1

Curiosity, one of my favorite traits. A person imbued with curiosity is not satisfied with seeing the hills beyond their fence but has an active enough mind to wander to the top of the hills to see what lies beyond their line of vision. If not for man’s innate curiosity about the world around him, we would still be eating raw meat by the light of the moon rather than landing on it in a spacecraft.

Curious people are courageous, I believe. They are two brothers standing in a barn in rural Indiana constructing wings on a flying machine. Curious people mixed flour and sugar in a bowl with eggs and other ingredients and came up with cake, or experimented with fermenting potatoes, corn or barley and created the main ingredient in martini, vodka. Good going, BTW, well worth the effort there. Whoever thought adding the olive was onto something as well.

These days information is as easy as the flick of a wrist. Searching, unlike in previous decades, takes little effort to achieve your goal. Perhaps the effort it takes, is what makes it worth finding?

Curious people allow us the luxury of getting from point A to point B in the comfort of a vehicle. Without their ingenuity we would still be riding on the back of a horse. Without someone’s foresight on testing the waters to see if horse was up for it, would we still using our feet for our sole (if you will) method of transportation?

For me curiosity keeps me interested in my world. Trying new things, or even trying new methods of doing old things. I read somewhere we should change up our routine regularly. Take a different route to work, part your hair on a different side, don’t put your makeup on in exactly the same order every day. Simple things, that it appears shake up our world’s a little bit. On the subject of makeup to digress for a moment, what is up with eyebrows on women lately? They are beginning to look a bit like porcelain dolls. I notice it in the stores, on TV, in magazines. It looks to me, though I’m no expert, that the actual brows are shaved and either a permanent or temporary replacement drawn on. I’m all for experimenting but this smacks of those people who actually have surgery to change their features into Barbie and makes me feel a little wiggy when looking at it. I’m just sayin.

Next week I’m auditing a couple of art classes. I haven’t been flexing my artistic muscle lately and I miss it. Graphics are still coming off of my computer but I mean hands on, pencil in my hand, drawing. This, I have been neglecting. Certainly I am not the second coming of Michelangelo by any means. I can recreate an object to the point where you would be able to look at it and identify “apple”. Hopefully, I have not drawn an orange when you do so, but I believe I have ascended to at least this point after all these years. Faces always have eluded me. Capturing the expressions and nuances of the human form is more difficult to me than say, a sleeping kitty or a bowl of fruit.

Since I was small I’ve been happiest when armed with a pen and paper, whether I chose to create an image with words or artistically. Perhaps it’s growing up an only child on the arm of the Atlantic in Nova Scotia. With a lot of time on my hands during the cold winters, and no siblings to steal any of it, I had to do something to keep the hours moving at a tolerable rate. As a teen I kept a diary, chronicling my seemingly endless attraction to the opposite sex as well as the songs I liked, dreams I had, the events of my day, and my parents, who I perceived at the time as one step above the amoeba. I wonder if diaries still exist in the marketplace? I would imagine they do. Blogs, basically, are virtual diaries I would guess.

Today I am working on tote bag designs. With the push to reusable bags in the stores, totes are a desirable items and I have some ideas I think are new and fresh. Several times I have taken on running small businesses of a crafty nature. Once I sold greeting cards, tee shirts, aprons, and the like at craft shows. I had a portable stand, basically a small shop with hinges that I dragged from one art and wine show to another in the Bay Area over a three year period. What an interesting time that was, if one where I got little sleep. During the day I worked as an administrative assistant and late into the night I labeled printed items and labored over my sewing machine. People at the shows were an ecclectic mix ranging from jewelry designers to oil painters. I had my aura read, ate many corn dogs, and met some colorful temporary friends and made some lifelong ones. Another time I took up face painting at fairs. This was fun. The children, in particular, were so delighted with their transformations into colorful butterflies or abstract zebras. As with many things it ran it’s course and I took with me some interesting experiences and some new insights. Never was I going to get that place on the shore with my earnings, but the joy I got from participating was well worth the effort.

So, I am off to dust off my sewing machine. I shall leave you with this recipe for sticky and delicious pulled pork. I love the yogurt slaw with crunchy bits of almond. Yum.

Crockpot Chipotle Pulled Pork

1 2 1/2 lb. pork shoulder
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 chiptole pepper in adobo sauce, chopped fine
2 cups catsup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
8 small hamburger buns or large dinner rolls

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Place sliced onion on bottom. Place pork shoulder on top of onion. Mix all remaining ingredients but hamburger buns in large bowl and mix well. Pour over top. Cook on low for 9 hrs., stirring once. Remove meat from sauce and shred with forks. Return to pot and continue cooking on low for 1 hr.

Place buns cut side down on dry skillet. Heat on high until browned. Place serving of pulled pork on bottom bun and top with slaw.

Yogurt Slaw

1/2 head cabbage, chopped
3 green onions, chopped (white and some green)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped

Place in mixing bowl. Mix in dressing and refrigerate for 1 hr. before serving.

Dressing

2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together all ingredients. Add additional salt and pepper if needed.

1Rick and I watched “Woodstock” over the weekend. Live footage of the three days that rocked the world. What a time that was. Rick was there, even more amazing. For me, a bit younger and on the west coast, I only felt the good vibrations vicariously, but it definitely was the place to be that magic summer in 1969. Makeshift stages erected in a pasture gave way to some of the most incredible music, in my opinion, ever.

To say I remain connected to the music of that era would be diminishing my feelings about it. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix all long gone, but their legacy, their music rings in the ears of all of us privileged enough to share that time with them.

Young people in 1969 were rather wild and free. Men’s hair hung down past their shoulders, facial hair was pretty much the norm, and beautiful women in tie dyed dresses wore flowers in their hair. Drugs certainly were a piece of the puzzle, but despite the communal buzz these were people committed and passionate about the world around them for the most part. Boys were returning from Viet Nam men. Many emotionally or physically scarred, if lucky enough to return at all. A time to protest and a time to love, two most unlikely bed partners.

Music shifts and changes through the decades as rapidly as the inhabitants of those decades do. You realize time is passing when you find the only songs you know the words to are only played on PBS and the people singing them now look more like your grandparents once did then freedom fighters. No matter how snowy the roof however, there’s still fire in the stove. I caught James Taylor on the tube the other night and sat down, dish towel in hand, and listened for a half an hour until he left the stage. I’ve seen him in concert, as well as Carly Simon when they were together. Seems like a long time ago, probably because it was. Funny how songs popular so many years past can dredge up memories created during that time. Old loves, crazy nights, weddings, and friends perhaps gone now or lost along the way.

I don’t know how to categorize music now exactly. It’s sort of a mixed bag. Beyonce is a force to be reckoned with. Rick thinks Shakira sparkles, but I have a feeling that’s not because of her high notes. I lean towards Pharrell Williams and Ed Sheeran.

Over the years I’ve switched teams often, going from Country to Hard Rock overnight. While married to my ex, a dyed in the wool Texan, country was the flavor of the week. Both of us shared a love of Credence Clearwater, Hank Williams Jr. and Stevie Ray Vaughn, as well as the contemporary artists showing up in the Nashville scene at the time such as Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. While living in Alabama I believe I played “Thunder Road” so often I actually wore out the CD.

Tastes in music are so personal. For some opera moves them to tears, for others classical sets the mood. There are times when I lean towards classical music. Debussy’s Clair de lune, for example, reminds me of sitting on a sand dune overlooking the ocean immediately upon hearing the notes. Each of interprets what we hear differently as well, I believe. For some people classical pieces might seem disturbing or dark at times, for other highly emotional and stimulating.

These days my radio is tuned to a local station featuring songs from the Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and others of their generation.

Another oldie but goodie for me is Steven Tyler. The man keeps recreating himself. Always he was colorful, but now I understand he’s even throwing his cowboy hat (I’m sure it has feathers and a scarf) in the ring and going country. Who knew?

The deck people are coming to redo our deck in a couple of hours and so I’ll end on that note, if you will. This salad is so fresh and pretty. Gather up whatever you have in your crisper and toss it in. Yum. I love edamame. Healthy and delicious, sometimes I’ll have a bowl of the wee beans for a snack.

Fresh From the Garden Salad with Edamame

2 large yellow tomatoes
2 large red tomatoes
1 English cucumber, sliced thin
2 large radishes, sliced thin
1/2 cup edamame
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

Cook endamame and allow to cool. Assemble all ingredients and toss with chilled dressing.

Basil Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hr. at least before tossing with salad.

final
It occurs to me the generation moving up the ladder may be losing some of the crafty skills generations proceeding them were noted for. Sewing, cooking, handicrafts, are being replaced by electronics. Even beloved books are read on Kindle and other Ebook tablets.  Recently, I visited a museum in our area. Museums, I would suppose, aren’t for everybody. For me, they’re a peek back in time. I could spend hours wandering through the halls looking in the cases and breathing the dusty air. Perhaps this is why I’m so fond of libraries. Racks of well-loved books leaning against one another helter skelter. There’s something comforting about it.

When my kids were small if cooking on a weekend and they were around, they loved to tie on an over sized apron and get their fingers in the dough or toss a few ingredients to the pot. These days both are excellent cooks and really enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Around Christmas at our house it was traditional to roll out sugar cookies with everyone decorating their own plateful. There were no guidelines, mind you. Orange bells with purple sprinkles, so be it! Sometimes, like with trimming the tree, we adults want the end result to look as if we had decorated it ourselves. For little ones, whose imaginations stray far beyond the confines of perfect, this might seem restrictive. Tradition is the glue that welds the family unit together. Small bits of history passed down from one generation to the next keeps the ties strong as one group fades into the past and the one following comes into view. Not to be bound by tradition, as all traditions are neither functional nor are they good, but taking those worth moving forward and holding them dear.

Fourth of July was always barbecue and fireworks for us, not much different from most families I wouldn’t think. Potato salad sprinkled with paprika, deviled eggs, glistening chunks of ice cold watermelon and whatever meat we’d chosen to throw on the grill. Tending to marry sports enthusiasts, many such holidays for me were spent sweating in the stands enjoying a baseball game with fireworks flying overhead once the sun had gone down. Perched high in the stands it almost felt as though you were in the middle of the bursting clusters rather than a casual observer.

This year there are worries about the frightening things bubbling up around the world spilling over onto U.S. shores Perhaps making a show of patriotism and solidarity even more important than in years past. Definitely our world is changing and we are struggling to keep up with it all.

This fourth was, not surprisingly for July, hot. Thankfully, not as hot as the beginning of the week. Walking out to the mailbox Wednesday morning the temperature on our outside thermometer neared 80 at not yet eight o’clock. PG&E will be sending us a thank you note by the end of the summer. Hopefully, our air conditioning unit will continue humming along. On inspection earlier in the season, we were told it was old but reliable and probably has quite a few good years left. Kind of like us.

With a house if it isn’t one thing, surely it will be another. We no sooner paid for the new water heater when we found the deck needed to be resurfaced. There goes our lovely vacation by the sea, or at least it will be postponed. Ah well, this would be the downside of owning rather than renting, but I like being able to do what I want to in the comfort of my own home.

Over a lifetime I have owned five homes. It is difficult to hold ownership up to renting, because both have decided advantages. Yesterday we were watching a program on TV where a man was dealing with a broker in New York City working to locate a rental unit for him. The brokerage fee for such services totaling nearly $3,000.00. I guess housing is so dear in the city proper you nearly have to hire someone to find a suitable place to live. In the end, this man ended up with a small apartment, nothing special at all really, for nearly the same monthly outlay he paid the broker to get it for him. Better have a good job I guess if you’re to live in New York. Where do all the starving actors live you always hear about? Perhaps they band together under one roof?

Renting definitely has it pluses. If a water main breaks rather than getting out your checkbook, you dial your landlord’s number and he gets his out. Conversely, if you are renting a studio apartment and come across the cutest “little” St. Bernard puppy at a local pet shop, you’re definitely going have to contact your landlord before giving your fuzzy new friend a name.

My second house was a small starter home in Southern California. By the time we signed the loan papers there were two small children in tow. The house, as I remember, was one large box really. Going from room to room, eventually you ended up on the room you started in. I liked it though. Easy to clean, and cute and cozy in a mini-me sort of way. The kitchen window overlooked a large sunny yard highlighted by a huge old oak tree towards the back. Many a kids party or barbecue was hosted back there. By the time summer came around we had put in a large above ground pool for the kids use and ours. Like the in-ground counterparts, above ground pools require chemicals and some man hours to keep them clean. Children don’t differentiate between concrete and plastic when it comes to relieving themselves while swimming, nor do some adults. Once in a friend’s pool they put a chemical in the water that turned blue when urine was present. It was quite illuminating. I’m just sayin.

I had a neighbor in the small house from Mexico originally. Although she was twice my age and in spite of some language hurdles, we became fast friends. She taught me how to make tortillas from scratch and salsa. On the Fourth the fireworks show at their house equaled any you’d find at a public venue. Invited to share in the bounty, we brought a dish, pulled up our lawn chairs, and spent time with their lively family on the holiday. Four years later when the “sold” sign was again posted in the front yard, I think I regretted leaving her behind more than our little house.

Wherever you live once you settle in it is home. For me I’m thankful for the roof over my head and the air conditioning humming under the garage. Hope you had a great Fourth, and a safe one.

These crispy and delicious Brussels sprouts showed up on our table next to the rack of lamb. I’m always searching for new ways to disguise the little buggers so Rick will enjoy them. This one did the trick!

Crispy Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cooked
1/8 cup cold butter, cubed
2 tsps. garlic powder
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to broil.

Cover the Brussels sprouts with water in large saucepan. Sprinkle the top of the water with garlic salt. Bring to boil over high heat. Cover, and reduce heat to high simmer. Continue cooking for about 20 mins. or until vegetables are tender. Drain. Add butter to saucepan and toss to mix.

Place sprouts in pie plate. Sprinkle with garlic powder then Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is melted and vegetables are slightly charred. Add salt and pepper to taste.

1

Yesterday Rick and I spent about an hour on our backs on the deck each trying to install a new part on our barbecue. Often I have written in this blog about customer service and I’m about to do it again. We purchased this behemoth gas barbecue with a well-known brand name attached to the hood when we moved in this house. In June we celebrated our second year here. In barbecue years, I don’t believe this is old. Hardly used the first summer, it hasn’t been overly burdened. Kind of like a car owned by a little old lady who only drives the vehicle back and forth to church on Sundays. Though we do barbecue frequently during the summer months, the machine has not been abused. As it takes the other three seasons off, I don’t see why it refuses to perform during the one season it is expected to.

Rick has been on the phone so often with the technical support gentleman that they’re discussing china patterns. Lemons in all types of products are a reality and this one definitely is a “Friday car”. When we first purchased it we paid the $60 to have it delivered. The closest store selling such things is a half an hour from us and unless Rick strapped it to his back and schlepped it up the hill, delivery was the way to go. Once installed and the truck back down the hill we discovered there was an issue with the lighting mechanism. Great. After repeated calls to the store we were told they would exchange the barbecue for another one but we would have to bring it to the store. Ummmmm? If we couldn’t bring it to the store to exchange it for another, yup you win the stuffed bear, for $60.00 they would gladly pick it up. Good news, for another $60 they’d then bring the new one back up the hill. Well, where do I sign?

Finally it was decided they would ship us the defective part and when received walk us through installing it. I believe if this is the case we should charge them for our labor, and we’re don’t come cheap. The part was due to arrive in two weeks but never showed up. Rick once again was on the phone with his new friend in the customer service department. After some research they determined the part had never been shipped. Why am I not shocked? I’m just askin.

The new part showed up several weeks down the road. After some finessing we managed to get it installed and for at least a month the barbecue performed as promised until once again the same part malfunctioned. This time Rick called the store directly. The manager in charge of the outdoor equipment indicated she would come up personally and inspect the barbecue. She arrived as promised and after looking it over said the wrong part had been ordered and ordered the correct part while here. For another month we could not use the grill while waiting for the right part. Are you with me so far?

The part arrived and for the remainder of that first summer we seemed to have achieved lift-off. Last year when we fired up the grill ignition was again a problem. Unbelievable. Rick was getting so good at working on the grill I thought of hiring him out and making some side money. We labored through the summer with adequate on and off grilling and covering the beast for the winter hoped for the best this year.

Wellllll, guess what? First the heating was off. The grill gets too hot so has to be constantly regulated to make sure it doesn’t either cremate whatever is cooking or not cook it at all. To add to the mix the side burner needed a replacement part because when turned on created a flame probably picked up on satellite and burned a hole in the bottom of my good saucepan. The newest replacement part for that unit arrived this week and that is what we were trying to install yesterday. Somehow the new screws do not fit where the old ones used to. Screw being the optimum word here.

Ahhhhhhhh. Once again Rick found himself on the phone. The gentlemen on the other end assured him how much they appreciated our being a member of their brand’s family. During the conversation it was discovered they had not only given us once again the wrong part, but we had the wrong propane tank. The tank we have been using for two years (suggested by the store we bought it from) apparently, should be smaller. Okay. BTW as to being part of their family, we already have a family and enough on our plates with the group we have without adding more settings at the table.

My solution is a simple one. I say we use the bigger tank, turn it on full, and blow the thing up. With the current fire danger this probably would not be prudent, but I am warming up to the idea (no pun intended). Sigh. Sooooooooo, a new tank has been ordered. I don’t hold out hope for seeing it any time soon, but Rick may well be leaving me for the customer service man.

I had a bowl of plums that needed to be eaten so I tried them in this alternative to traditional pineapple upside down cake. Yummy. Thought it would be pretty on the table for the holiday.

Plum Upside Down Cake

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
8 ripe plums (not mushy) cut in half and seeded
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup hot water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Spray 9″ square cake pan with cooking spray. Place butter in pan and put in preheated oven until melted. Sprinkle brown sugar over top.

Prepare plums and turn cut side down on bottom of pan in four rows of four.

Beat egg until lemony colored and fluffy. Slowly add sugar to eggs.

In separate bowl whisk together dry ingredients. Add to egg/sugar mixture in two increments, mixing well after each addition. Put lemon juice and vanilla in hot water. Beat into mix.

Carefully pour over plums. Bake for 40 mins. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place plate over pan and turn over.

final final
Seems the world is brimming over with anger these days. People are frustrated and lashing out in so many different directions. It’s hard to maintain a happy outlook with all that is being thrown in our direction. Ever noticed how contagious a bad mood can be? Even if you’ve been vaccinated it spreads like a sneeze in an allergy ward. People suffering from a bad mood are easily identifiable. Symptoms include a perpetually down turned mouth, protruding lower lip, varying degrees of Turrettes Syndrome-like behavior, loss of functional sense of humor, and generally wanker-like behavior. I’m just sayin. We all suffer from bad moods now and again, some of us more often then others. I’m not naming names here. You’ll recognize yourself if you’re out there.

Most of the time I’m a fairly happy human. Just in my general makeup I think. Over the years, when the situation has dictated it, I’ve been depressed or suffered through some sad moments, but for the most part I’m up and raring to go every morning I’m lucky enough to find myself here. This I consider a blessing, and one I am very thankful to have been given.

Getting mad here and there is a good vent. I’m not saying one should run about looking perpetually as though you just got a double shot of Demerol, but attitude really is important on managing life. Realistically sometimes life hands us loaded bombs of misery which no amount of smiling silliness is going to erase, but for the most part happy upbeat people are generally more pleasant to share an afternoon with. In my humble opinion again, as always.

Another thing I don’t have a lot of patience for is arguing. Fighting to me is energy draining, solves little, and generally leaves you with a less than satisfactory conclusion. If you think you are right and your opponent thinks they are right, most likely after expending all the energy to debate the issue the outcome will be you think you are right, and your opponent thinks they are right. Hmmmmm. What’s wrong with this picture? Debating a subject is a totally different chicken. Debating, actually, can be stimulating. Invoking you as a participant to address other points of view and be open to other ideologies or philosophies not your own. Airing differing opinions on a subject and looking at both sides can be fun. When it goes beyond healthy debate and blooms into full time aggression, however, I say it’s time to put a cork in or or take one out and get over it. Agree to disagree, or put it away. I had a counselor once who said, “ask yourself how important it is in the scheme of things in your life, to win the argument”. Are you listening to the person on the other side of the disagreement or waiting impatiently for them to finish a thought so you can interject what you want to say? She suggested you rate the importance on a scale between 1-10. If you’re at 10 take a walk, do some push ups, mow the lawn, and come back to it when you’re at a five or below. I liked that idea.

The counselor I referred to above was teaching at a communications seminar I attended in the late 70’s funded by my job. Ahhhhh, the age of enlightenment the 70’s. We were mixed into classes with strangers and taught skills to communicate our feelings in a more productive way both in our business and personal relationships. Some worked, some not so much. During the seminar they put us in pairs. After choosing a partner they asked us simply to say to one another, “yes” and “no”, with each participant taking one side. In the beginning we were to say the words calmly. For example, I would say “yes”, in a calm voice and my partner would answer with “no” in a like voice. As we moved forward each time we exchanged the words we were to accelerate the level of our voices getting louder with each time around. By the time we were yelling I found my pulse racing and that I was actually angry. A really interesting study on how you present what you are saying and at what level.

Odd really how alike we are all in basic makeup, yet how drastically different one personality is from the next. Although they say we all have a “twin”, I’ve never found mine. Overlooking that possibility we are left with the fact each of us are totally unique as beings. Taking all that into consideration it is amazing any relationship, not to mention marriage survives after the first hello. When asked what I believe is the magic combination for a lasting union I always answer compromise, love, and friendship. When the initial blush settles down to day to day living, friendship becomes really important, for me at least.

So, I shall continue on my way content to be more of a lover than a fighter and associating myself with those who feel the same.

This pie would make a pretty addition to a July Fourth table but like magic it will disappear quickly.

Berry Berry Pie

1 baked and cooled pie crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pie crust in pie pan and top with two layers of tin foil. Fill tin foil with loose dried beans. Bake on lower rack of oven for 25 mins. Remove foil and continue to bake about 5 mins. until bottom of shell is brown. Cool on wire rack.

Filling 1

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese softened
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In small bowl beat ingredients until light and fluffy. Spread onto bottom of cooled pie shell. Keep refrigerated until you add filling 2.

Filling 2

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1 3 oz. pkg. strawberry gelatin
1 Tbsp. butter
2 lbs. hulled strawberries, whole
1 cup blueberries

Mix sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, and water together in small saucepan. Bring to boil over med. heat stirring constantly until boiling. Continue stirring for 2 mins. until liquid is clear and slightly thickened. Add gelatin and mix until dissolved. Add butter. Pour over berries and toss to mix. Spoon into shell. Cool at least 4 hrs. before serving.

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