Monday, December 22, 2014

Signs of the Times

I haven't posted much at all this year.  Not because I have nothing to say but more because I have a lot to say, but haven't felt that this was the place to say it.   I've been wrestling with a couple of decisions.  I believe that I have made one, but  I'm not ready to advertise it yet.  I'm still working on the other.

Life has been busy, but I've been making a real effort to let go of the unessentials.  I head for school every morning about 6:30 am.  I decided early in the school year that I would not work beyond 4 pm, and in fact, most days I have been able to leave a bit earlier.  That decision, plus the fact that I live 10 minutes closer to school have given my a much nice block of de-stressing time.  

 I've also --finally--- after 20+ years of teaching, figured out a few ways to cut down on the amount of grading.  I am not grading EVERYTHING the kids do, I'm doing more "process" grades, and I'm using some on-line assessment tools.  One awesome tool I've been using this year for the first time is Google docs.  Our students were finally given gmail accounts so they can set up a Google drive account.  They are doing much of their writing on line, which makes it so easy for me to help them with revision and editing.  We've done 2 writing projects on-line so far.  Now that we've figured out how teacher/student can share docs, I am going to try some peer-sharing.  Could be interesting! It does help that I have the smallest class I've ever had.  My partner and I share 28 students.  That's the number of students I had in ONE class my first 3 years of teaching!  

A wonderful gift this year is that our school calendar gives us TWO FULL WEEKS of break.  Our last day of school was Friday.  We don't go back until Jan. 5th.  I have never had this amount of time at Christmas.  Usually we go until the 23rd, and I spend the 24th covered in flour as I try to get my baking done.  I feel like I'm in good shape.  I have the Cranberry Almond Biscotti made, a fruit cake made (I started that process 3 weeks ago), and the dough made for shortbread which I plan to bake today.  I will also make some ginger crinkles today.  That leaves the poundcake to make on Wed. My shopping is done, and all but 3 presents are wrapped.  I have to head to the dollar store sometime today or tomorrow to finish off 2 stockings.  I've never been this far ahead.


I am enjoying our new house too.  It's much easier to keep ourselves organized, and I am actually staying ahead of the clutter (mostly).  It's wonderful having a room dedicated as an office too.  I can have piles of paper and on-going bookkeeping projects around, and not all over the kitchen table.  And if I need to, all I need to is close the door.

 It's also been fun figuring out how to decorate the house.  I no longer have a mantel  or a big buffet for displays, so I've had to get a bit creative with where I put a few things.  And I haven't located a couple of decorations (like my angel collection and my husband's antique Santa light) yet.

I hope that pretty soon I can start "talking" about my decisions.  Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and that 2015 is full of happiness.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Latest Knitting!

I've been working most of the year on mystery projects.  I joined Laura Nelkins "M Club" this year, and received yarns and patterns for 4 projects.  The catch was that I had no idea what I was knitting until we were done (or almost done!).  I have completed 2 of the 4 projects successfully.  I knit a 3rd project but apparently twisted it when I joined it, so it's in the "need to fix" pile of projects.  I have one more to go, but I think I'm going to take a break, and start a sweater instead.

Here are the 2 projects that I've finished:

The first was Magpie

This was a lot of fun to knit, and it can be worn as a scarf, a shawlette, or even a shrug if you fold it in half and add snaps to the narrow ends for sleeves.  I love working with beads and the construction of this project was fascinating!

The second successful project is blocking as I type.  It's Magnify - a lovely shawl knit from a yarn called MerGoat Lace, a blend of merino wool and cashmere.

Lots of beads on this one.  I learned to use a beading needle with this project which makes placing beads a lot simpler.

I've also knit Magnify, a lovely pale green cowl, but that's the project I have to fix.  I still need to do Magmatic which is a gorgeous scarf.  I will be learning how to steek (a knitting skill where you actually CUT your knitting!)  and making a twisted fringe.

I reluctantly decided that I couldn't join the 2015 M Club. Finances are tight, and I have about 10 other projects in my knitting queue to finish first.  And I started to get a little stressed because I don't have a lot of knitting time, and despite the fact that there only self-imposed deadlines, I didn't like not being finished with one project before the next one started!

So that's what's been on my needles all year!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The "Perks" of Teaching??

Don't get me wrong.  I'm a teacher, and I do really enjoy my job.  Most of the time.  This year it's been more difficult to get up into an enthusiastic state of mind.  We have an insane schedule which is working against kids, teachers, and learning.  Add on top of that some new responsibilities added to an already too-full plate, and morale isn't very high.

And then there are the myriad small frustrations that are just part and parcel of a teacher's life.  These are a few that I experienced just this week.

  • A dysfunctional copy machine.  I tried to run off 30 double-sided copies of an assignment.  It should have taken all of 5 minutes, if that.  Instead it took 30 minutes.  Of course that was morning I purposely came in half an hour early so I could get some project-grading done.  Needless to say I spent that half hour photocopying instead of grading.
  • A website crucial to my reading class was down for unscheduled maintenance.  Had there been prior notice?  Of course not.  On to Plan B.  
  •  I needed to reschedule the lab visit for the reading class who couldn't get to the website,  and can't get time in the computer lab until the end of next week.  That totally bollixes my unit.
  • A piece of technology I was asked to purchase out of my very limited supply budget can't be installed because another piece of technology hasn't been updated.  I could have used the $99 to purchase other items I wanted for the kids.
  • Students who are totally unprepared for class ---- no pencils, no paper, no homework.  It's not that they can't bring these things, it's that they "forget."  (I've checked to be sure it's not financial!)  And because our supply budgets are so limited, I don't have a surplus of paper and pencils to give away.  In our school, paper and pencils are part of the school supplies we ask parents to buy for their kids.
  • Meetings that take up all my planning time.  This past week, I didn't have one free planning period available to actually plan.  Thus I tried to compensate by arriving at school between 6:15-6:30 am, and leaving between 4:15-4:45.  My "contracted" hours are 7:15-2:45.  Not that any teacher worth his or her salt works just contracted hours! There's no way you can be competent if you don't work beyond them.
I'm not trying to be a kvetch.  I'm just trying to share a bit of what actually goes on besides trying to guide student learning and manage their (sometimes ridiculous!) behavior.  I know EVERY job has its particular frustrations. And I certainly wouldn't put up with them unless I genuinely liked my job.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Small Things Make Me Happy

Maybe it's my age (60!!).  But small things are just tickling my fancy nowadays.

Here's one of them:

I installed the iron/ironing board hangar all by myself!  I even used wall anchors.  And it only took me 15 minutes!  (Yes, I have an "antique" ironing board. It's longer than the ones you find in stores today, and it's wider too.  Plus it's heavy.  I've had it 37 years, and it was old when I got it.  I think it belonged to my mother-in-law's sister.  The rubber cushion on the foot was missing when I inherited it.)  At least now it won't fall over when I brush past it!

Here's another very similar thing that makes me happy.  And I also installed the broom rack myself.  This took me an hour and half though!

Now I'm thinking of tackling some robe hooks for the bathroom!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Back to School

We started back to school (teachers only) last Monday, and on Thursday, the kids joined us.  There are many changes this year -- new principal, a new position (Dean of Students), many new teachers, and an incredibly frustrating, unfriendly schedule.  Our 6th graders got brand new lockers which replaced lockers that were close to 50 years old.  And I got new-to-me desks.  Or rather, instead of the top-opening desks I inherited 20 years ago (and they were old then!), I got flat-topped desk-sized tables for my room.  So there's been a lot of excitement and a lot of angst this year.

The schedule is probably the most angst-producing factor in our back-to-school anxiety.  We are following a 6 day schedule rotation, and not one day is the same!  And each of the 3 grade levels in the building has a different rotation of subjects.

So in 6th grade our schedule goes:

Day 1 - Homeroom, 40 min Content 1 , Unified Art (U.A.) A, RTI, 60 min. Content 2, Lunch, 60 min. Content 3, 60 min. Content 4, UA C.

Day 2 - Homeroom, Content 2 class, UA-B, RTI, Content 3, Lunch, Content 4, Content 1, UA C.

Day 3 - Homeroom,  Content 3, UA-A, RTI, Content 4, Lunch, Content 1, Content 2, UA-C

Day 4 - Homeroom, Content 4, UA-B, RTI, Content 1, Lunch, Content 2, Content 3, UA-C

Day 5 - Homeroom, Content 1, Content 2, Content 3, Lunch, 88 min UA-C, Content 4, Academic Study

Day 6 - UA-A, UA-B, Content 1, Content 2, Lunch, Content 3, Content 4, Academic Study

It's nuts!  The schedule is driven by budget-concerns. Since our high school and middle school share a campus, the school board thought it made sense to share Unified Arts teachers between the high school and middle school.  That meant that the middle school has to follow the high school schedule.  It doesn't make any academic sense.  The 8th grade schedule is such that they have a Content block that's broken up with a UA -- so it's 20 minutes of class, UA, and then the 40 remaining min. of the Content class.  The poor science teachers are having a fit.

Despite the ridiculous schedule, there ARE good things.  Our new admins. are bending over backwards to boost our morale and support us.  They gave us breakfast on the 2nd day of school (at their personal expense -- no district $ can be used for feeding staff), and at the end of the 1st day of school with kids, they called a brief staff meeting --- to give us all ice cream sandwiches!  If you want to find either of them, don't look in their offices because they are in the halls and in the classrooms.

We have a very small 6th grade class this year --  under 100.  This is the first time in the 20 years I've taught here that we've had fewer than 110 students. Our town hit a really bad patch during the last few years, and many people lost their homes.  It's had an impact on the school population.  We were fortunate to keep all of our 6th grade teachers this year,mostly because next year we will be back up almost 120. Meanwhile I will enjoy sharing 30 students with my teaching partner!  And since this probably going to be my last year, I plan to enjoy the small class size!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Busy, RESTFUL Summer

Here it is, the last week of summer break.  Teachers go back next Monday and I am trying to squeeze out every last drop of rest and relaxation.  I'm not even thinking about (much) all the things I planned to do this summer and didn't get to.  It's been crazy, at least the beginning of the summer, but weirdly it's been one of the most relaxed summers I've enjoyed.

We spent most of June and about 2/3 of July on the move.  Once school got out at the end of June, moving tasks went into high gear. We managed to take the belongings that have amassed over 37 years of marriage and 30 years in one house, and pare them down to something more manageable.  We still have a little bit left in the barn/garage, but everything else has been moved, donated, sold, or thrown out.  We had some renovation work done at the old house, and we've rented it to some wonderful people.  At our new house, we've started the task of settling in. . . finding places for the necessaries and the precious items we've saved.  We still need to hang art work, do some more landscaping, add some shelving and organize the boxes and bins of things that now reside in our basement.

But amid all these tasks, I've really relaxed. We took some day trips, a mini-trip, and I've slept about 6.5 hrs each night, sipped on my morning coffee in a leisurely manner, eaten my breakfast on the deck watching the sun peek over the trees, birdwatched, read, knit, watched all my DVR'd shows.  I've thoroughly enjoyed my time.  I can't say that I'm ready to go back to the pressure cooker of school, but I am more ready than I've been in other years.  Maybe it's because I'm pretty sure that this will be my last year.

The old house - (Can't find the lovely spring picture of the house that is lost in an obscure folder), 5 bedrooms, 3400 sq ft.

The new house -  about 1/2 the square footage - 2 bedrooms, one floor-living, 3 miles closer to town!

A day on Lake Sunapee:

A day on Block Island, RI

Sunset in Galilee  (Rhode Island!)

From the deck of my new house - I've spent a lot of time here this summer!

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Way It Should Be

I can't remember the last time I felt really relaxed and content.   For the past week or so, I haven't really done very much.  I've spent a lot of time sitting on my deck, reading, knitting, or bird-watching.  I have done the usual household chores, I've done what I've needed to do with the business bookkeeping,  and I've run errands. I've even done some school things, but I've mostly just allowed myself to do nothing.  Just about all my reading has been of the brain candy and fluff variety.  I've read a couple of very engrossing books, and may even have discovered a new author.  I've also caught up on all the shows that I've DVR'd.  I finally watched all the episodes of "Mad Men's" past season, and I'm now going through the most recent "Game of Thrones" season.  I've also watched a lot of "Pioneer Woman" cooking shows!  Masterpiece Theater's "Endeavor" and "Last Tango in Halifax" have rounded out my TV viewing.  In just a few short weeks, school will start again, and the nonstop frenetic schedule will begin again.  But for now, I'm really basking in The Way It Should Be."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Endless Summer --- NOT!

Summer is whizzing by.  We have finally moved/donated/sold/disposed of everything IN the old house.  Just have some stuff in the garage to deal with, and that's my husband's job!  Here at the new house I have been very slowly putting things to rights. My basement contains bins and boxes of things that need to be put away somewhere, or at least need to be reorganized.  Our plan to be very organized and methodical in packing and moving started off well, but then our time table speeded up.  We decided to rent the house to a colleague and her family who unexpectedly had to move out of her home by June 30.  They had to bring their belongings over to our house before we'd had a chance to get all of ours out.  So things became a bit chaotic.  One of the tasks that needs to be done is to at least figure out what's in each box!  

It's been interesting to figure out where to put things too.  My silver drawer isn't really large enough (thanks to a builder's error) so it's been tricky to organize.  I could use one more drawer that I don't have.  And I can't find things.  I go to get the tape dispenser which normally sat on a corner shelf under the wall phone, and then I realize we don't have a wall phone, nor do we have a shelf.  Then I spend 10 minutes trying to figure out where the roll of tape might be.  Most of the time it's in a box down in the basement!  You should have seen us trying to locate the first aid box just so we could get a bandaid for a paper cut!

I am finally relaxing too.  Not really sleeping any later or longer, but not having to get showered and dressed immediately makes for a much more leisurely morning.  I am finding myself actually sitting on my deck just enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, and the bird song --- not watching TV or listening to music or even reading --- just sitting and being.
I could get used to this - the feeling of having all the time in the world.  When I have to do something I am not begrudging the time because I know there's plenty of it.  Once school begins there is no free time, and I never feel that I can just sit and do nothing.  There's always lesson planning, grading, housework, meals, laundry, errands, bookkeeping, etc.  Right now, the lesson planning and grading are off the grid.  Well at least the grading.  I am planning, but it's general planning and outlining -- reflecting on what went well last year, what needs to change, and looking at my incoming students to see where we need to start.  It's all "big picture" planning rather than all the nitty gritty details that take the most effort.

I've mentioned this before.  Summer reminds me of weekends, only longer.  The tail end of June is Friday evening.  Home from work, a few hours to relax, have fun, and think about the rest of the weekend.  July is Saturday.  Time to get to the business of summer - get the dentist/dr appts out of the way, clean up a bit, get some pesky errands out of the way, and then have fun the rest of the day.  August comes around and it's Sunday.  You have to go to work tomorrow.  You still try to squeeze out every ounce of relaxation, but you do have to start paying attention to work - did you get everything done that needed to be done before Monday.  So right now I am in the middle of my Saturday, enjoying myself!   Right now Saturday is my favorite day of the week.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Five on the Fifth

Five things I love about my new house:

1.  Birdwatching.  While I've always loved feeding the birds and have enjoyed watching them, my new backyard has a completely different array of birds.  I've been able to sit on my deck with a pair of binoculars and my trusty bird ID book (and even my iPad), and I've had fun identifying birds that are new to me.  We had a two different phoebe nests under the smaller deck, and it was fun watching them swoop in and out with food for the nestlings.  One afternoon, we had a pair of scarlet tanagers and I've had some Eastern kingbirds, yellow-shafted flickers, red-bellied sapsuckers, the ubiquitous robins, and this afternoon I was entertained by a catbird perched on a pine tree mewing its heart out.  And this morning I was startled to see a hawk perched on the spider plant just outside the bedroom slider.  I'm not sure who was more startled, the bird or me, but he flew off when I sat up to get a closer look!

2.  My pantry.  I have a walk-in pantry with loads of shelves.  I can see at a glance what I have or what I need to replenish.  I've lusted after one for years and this is perfect.  It even has 2 large wire sliding baskets.  I keep potatoes and onions in one, and I'm using one to store bagged items like chips or crackers.

3.  My great room.  We had our first party last night - a 4th of July cookout that due to Arthur's heavy rain turned into a cook-in!  There were 8 of us, and it was a pleasure to all be in one space.  I could prepare what I needed to prepare and still be part of conversation.  In the old house, the gathering area was at one end of the house and the kitchen was at the other end, and we'd end up splitting into 2 groups. Last night we all were together and what a joy that was!

4.  My deck.  We can have the grill on the deck just outside the kitchen.  No more traipsing out the front door, and 'round back to the gas grill.  I can keep an eye on the grill and prep whatever else I need to prep in the kitchen.

5.  My attached garage.  It's 2 steps, literally, from my car to the mudroom door.  No more sprinting across the driveway to the barn where our cars were kept in the winter, or dodging raindrops to get into the cars parked in the driveway.  It's a breeze to bring in the groceries too.

6.  My walk in shower . . . . I'll have to save that for another time since I only was going to list 5 things.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer So Far

School finally ended last Friday, and we've had glorious June weather -- sunny, warm days, cool nights.  The heat is starting to build now, as well as the humidity which I hate.  But now that we're in the new house, if it gets really uncomfortable, I can turn on the AC -- a luxury I've never had before.

Since school got out, there's been no rest for the weary however.  We need to get our old house emptied this week so that we can get it cleaned and get some renovations accomplished.  We've rented it to a friend and her family who unexpectedly needed a place to live, so we're trying to get everything out by July 1st for them.  That means we've spent 5-6 hours daily going through each room and either packing/moving, tossing, or putting into yardsale/giveaway.  We have 2 huge rooms filled with the yardsale/giveaway and the yardsale is scheduled for Sat.  I still have a couple of bookshelves and odd boxes to sort through, and then I can start organizing the yard sale stuff.  That will be a whole different kettle of fish.  We've lived in the old house for 30 years and have stored not just our clutter and collectibles, but also things for friends, neighbors, and even a tenant!  We rented a huge dumpster too, to make the tossing easier.  That's about 1/2 full.  I can't believe the amount of stuff we've accumulated.  And the number of photos!  They are uncountable!

I'm also trying to set up the new house, and am trying really hard to not let stuff accumulate here.  If I can't find a place AND use for something, it's going.  And that's led to some tough decisions.  But I'm being ruthless, even going so far as to toss two "works of art" I've treasured since I was 6 or 7.  Both are ceramic pieces -- an unfired bust of someone I christened George Washington, about 3 inches high, and my green glazed horse that looks like a flattened hippo with an elephant trunk, about 3 inches long.  They are history!  If I had had my camera charged I would have photographed them, but the charger seems to be among the missing.  Oh well.  I have the memories.

I think I'm doing my sons a favor because we will be making it easier for them when it's time for them to break up our household.  It's crazy what I brought back from my parents' home when we took care of their house.  Now I'm wondering why I wanted the broken sugar bowl that doesn't even have all the pieces left to glue it back together!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Catching Up

We've moved (at last!) into the new house.    I LOVE it!  It feels like I'm living in a vacation home.  I am particularly in love with my deck.

One of the benefits of the main deck (we have 2!!) is that it's right off the great room/kitchen area. We have the grill right there

so it's so much more convenient to grill dinner.  At the old house, the grill was out behind the garage -- or in the back 40 as we called it.  I can keep an eye on the grill and what's going on in the kitchen.

We also have a dedicated office instead of a corner in the kitchen, and that is going to make a world of difference in keeping clutter out of the public living spaces.

I love the ease of one-floor living.  It feels like we walk more . . . .but that is a good thing!  I also love the fact that I've cut 10 minutes a day from my commute, which adds up to almost an hour extra at home per week!

There ARE a few things I'm not happy about.  At the moment, the TV setup is not ideal --- cords hanging out all over the wall which I hope to have solved as soon as I can get an electrician in.  And we are not satisfied with the lighting in the kitchen area yet.  Also, our new refrigerator seems to have a constant leak that the repairman is baffled by.  That leak is causing the floor around the refrigerator to buckle  However, the appliance company (a small independently-owned local company) is on it, and has promised to fix both the refrigerator AND the floor.

We also have a lot more visible wildlife:

A fox --

Lots of turkeys, deer, and an abundance of birds. As I've been sitting on the deck, I've seen scarlet tanagers, Eastern kingbirds, hummingbirds, several hawks, lots of the usual chickadees, titmice, robins, blue jays, swallows, etc. and a few birds I'm still trying to identify.  We're actually using a pair of binoculars that my husband got a few years ago to identify the unknowns.

In my work life, I came very close to making the decision to retire this spring.  I actually arrived at the human resources office one hour before the deadline with my signed contract in one hand and my signed retirement letter in the other.  I ended up deciding that ONE MORE year would make the most financial sense.  I was a bit annoyed with my husband who wouldn't give me his opinion as to what I should do. "Whatever you want is fine with me," is all I'd get out of him.  When I got home from work and told him I'd signed on for one more year, his comment was a somewhat disappointed "Oh, I thought you were going to retire. How come you didn't?"  I hope that I have that one more year in me!

Finally, we had a big wedding in the family!  Our younger son was married in California on May 31st!  I took only 4 days off from school (wish I'd taken longer!).  It was an absolutely gorgeous wedding, and we are more than happy with his choice of life companion. They've been together for about 7 years, so it was a long time coming.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


It's been a busy month or more!  Since I last had time, energy, and computer access besides an iPad, we've moved!  More or less, anyway.

The house that we've been building for a year and a half was finally ready for us, and over our April vacation, we began to move furniture to the new house.  We moved the bedroom furniture first because I'd bought a brand new mattress and I had it delivered to the new house.  We slept on the 20 year old mattress on the floor for about 10 days in an empty bedroom while we waited for the phone company and the satellite TV people to come work their magic.  Meanwhile, every day I'd fill assorted bins and boxes with our belongings, move them to the new house, unpack them, and then return for another load.  We made the official move here exactly 2 weeks ago.  However, we're still lugging boxes daily.  It's hard to empty a house where you've lived for 30 years!   Yesterday we brought the last of the furniture that we're keeping to the new house, and we took a huge load to the dump.  We had 2 couches that had been absolutely shredded by our cats that I was thrilled to bid adieu!  I've emptied all but one kitchen cabinet, and I have to empty a hutch in the dining room.  We have a coat closet yet to deal with, and a floor to ceiling built in book shelf to empty.  We have an old, permanently out-of-tune piano to rid ourselves of.  We have a double bed, 2 dressers, and a couple of assorted chairs up for either adoption, sale, or donation.  And then there are a multitude of collections --- assorted Nippon, assorted stacked teapots, some pewter, copper, and ceramic Guernsey milk jugs, and tons more books.  Our plan is to gather all these items and furniture into a couple of rooms downstairs and hold a gigantic moving sale sometime in the next month.  We had been shooting for Memorial Day weekend, but we'll be getting ready to head west to the big event of the year --- Younger Son's wedding!

One of the perks of the way we're handling the moving process is that we're unpacking as the boxes and bins arrive here at the new house.  That way things are put away immediately.  We have run into a few problems ---- such as I have a set of glasses that I definitely want to keep but they don't fit into any of the cabinets I'd planned to put them in.  I have a small collection of glass blown by a local artist but I don't have mantel space or shelf space -- yet.  We hope to add some floating shelves for display items.  Our biggest problem though is our bodies!   Neither my husband nor I are prime physical specimans, and each of us is dealing with some version of issues like uncooperative backs, knees, or hips.  Plus, it's just plain physically exhausting, not to mention mentally exhausting with all the decisions that have to be made.

Another glitch is that some of the furniture I am deeply attached to doesn't appear to "work" in our new living space.  I'm not sure that the coffee table I love will be able to be used, and I have a small side table that just doesn't seem to have found its place yet.  And a much-loved antique chair is too big for the space I'd earmarked for it.  All of these things will work out, but it's added stress.

People have asked if I've found it hard to leave our beloved home of 30 years.  So far, I'm finding it much easier than you might expect.  I think that's because we've looked forward so long to moving into the new home, we've had some time to grieve the change.  And it helped that we've been focusing on all the benefits of a new, energy-efficient, easy-to-care space and all the downsides of living in a 100+ year old ark.  I will miss our gorgeous shrubs, perennials, and fruit trees.  One of the joys of an old house are the well-established stands of rhododendron, azaleas, lilacs, and forsythia, the ground cover of vinca in all the garden beds, the magnificent magnolia and crabapple tree in the front yard, the hundreds of bulbs I've planted, and the daylily beds all over the yard.  We have pear trees that delighted us, the deer, the bear, and the wasps. All of these things can be planted here, but it takes years for these to reach their glory.

I am loving our decks here at the new house.  We have 2 -- one off the main living area and a smaller one off our bedroom.  Both face the south and because they are 2nd story decks we have lots of open sky.  They are not screened which I'm a little concerned about -- how buggy will they be once the mosquitos arrive?  So far, however, we've always had a breeze and although we are in the midst of blackfly season, and we have 10 acres of woods and wetlands behind us, we haven't been bothered.  I've seen turkeys and deer from my deck so far, as I've sat there with my coffee early in the morning.  My husband got a wildlife camera for his birthday, so I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more visitors once we get that set up!

I haven't had time to get many pics yet ---once I do, I'll get them posted.

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Improvised Recipe

Otherwise known as "What do with boneless, skinless chicken thighs and tortellini when your husband announces he doesn't want the chicken, spinach, and tortellini soup you'd planned to make for dinner.

My Ingredients:

1.5 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs
9 oz pkg of rainbow cheese tortellini
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1/2 jar of sundried tomatoes diced
about 3 tbs of shredded fresh basil (that I froze last summer)
3 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 medium onion diced
1/2 cup chicken stock
pesto (optional)
2-3 tbs olive oil

Here's what I did:

Cut chicken into small bite-sized pieces and browned in some olive oil.  Meanwhile, I minced and diced the onion, and brought a pot of water to boil. When the chicken was browned I added the chicken stock, garlic and onion.  I let it simmer for a bit while the tortellini cooked, and then added the artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and basil.  I drained the tortellini and added it the skillet and then swirled in a few tablespoons of pesto.    It took about 30 minutes in all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Love Me Those 3-Day Weekends!

I took a personal day from school today so that my husband and I could head south to CT for a mini family reunion.  My Michigan sister and her family came east so that they could visit the financial aid office of a well-known college, and so that my niece could spend a day attending classes.  We have cousins on the CT coast, which is also our home town,  so my husband and decided to join in on the fun.  We drove down late Saturday afternoon.  My sister and I stayed at the same hotel, so we could visit when we weren't with the cousins and their families.

We had a wonderful time catching up with each other.  Our CT cousins are more like our big brother and big sister.  I spend the first 9 years of my life hanging out with them all the time since we all lived just a mile or two away from each other.  And all through this time we've stayed close.  In fact my husband and I have traveled abroad several times with my older cousin and his wife.  So it was a lot fun for the 4 of us to hang out with each other and with each other's spouses and families.

It was also wonderful to be in a place where we didn't see any ice or snow!  We still have glaciers in our yard, retreating ones, to be sure, but glacial piles of snow nonetheless.  We walked on the beach Sunday morning, enjoying the sunshine and temperatures in the 50s°.

We had a lovely homemade clam chowder for Sunday dinner, and then had dinner at a great diner Sunday night.  This morning we reluctantly headed home, but did so in a leisurely fashion.

I think I've taken only one other personal day for pleasure during my entire teaching career.  We are allowed up to 3 days of undisclosed personal leave.  I haven't taken them because I feel way too guilty taking a day off for fun!  But, as my husband keeps reminding me, you are allowed to do so, so why do you feel guilty?  Just the Puritan in me, I guess.  Plus it IS such a lot of work to write sub plans!  I will taking 4 days in a row in May for our son's wedding . . . I am dreading trying to figure out those plans!!

But, wow, I love 3 day weekends.  I am feeling so relaxed that I am actually almost looking forward to work tomorrow!  Just not the 4:45 am alarm clock!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

All Quiet on the Blog. . .But Not in my Life

Wrestling with decisions and stressing over others' decisions have been occupying my time lately.  Two out of three have been resolved, and the third one may be.  In addition, there are the usual life challenges of just getting up earlier than your body really wants to, teaching antsy adolescents and hoping we're all having fun while we're learning something, coming up with something relatively healthy and tasty for dinner most nights, and then heading to bed, hoping to get enough sleep to wake up in time to do it all over again the next day.  In between of course, we're still dealing with way-below normal temperatures, snow, and a winter that just won't quit.

One decision involved the business and lots of money - Yes, we will spend that money.  Another decision actually belonged to Younger Son, - yes, he will change jobs,  and third involves a huge job decision for me.  That's the one that's still a bit iffy.  I think I know what I've decided, but I'm living with it for a couple of weeks before it's irrevocable.

On top of all this has been a huge amount of turmoil around our school budget.  Neither our proposed teachers' contract nor our regular school budget passed.  That means in addition to not receiving a very minor pay raise, we will actually bring home less money (again!  third time in 3 contracts) because of a 7% increase in our portion of our health insurance.)  Plus there are teacher cuts looming. One of the teachers who is losing her full time position is an absolutely gifted music teacher.  She has infused our middle school music program with enthusiasm and energy, doubling the size of the band AND chorus, and starting a music festival and jazz band ---all in the 2 short years she's been here.  But due to our RIF policy, she's been bumped by the high school music teacher who's also a great teacher.  His position is actually the one that was cut due to low class enrollment (which is due to the block schedule which prevents many students from being able to take music classes, but that's another story.)  So because he's been here for 20+ years he will be splitting his time between both schools, leaving her with only a half time job.  It's an absolute shame, but it IS the way the system works.  And while we're devastated that "our" teacher is affected so negatively, the RIF policy IS fair.  It takes qualifications, evaluations, and seniority into consideration.  There have been two rather contentious school board meetings which have kept us out till way past our bedtimes as the community tries to process all of this. At the last meeting on Monday night, teachers scored a victory of sorts.  Apparently, despite the failed budget, all of the administrators were slated to receive 3-5% raises.  One school board member saw the injustice of having admins get more while teachers and students were getting a less, and raised the issue.  Our association president also questioned this, and lo and behold!  The board agreed and eliminated the raises for all the administrators.  It was a drop in the bucket compared to what students are loosing, but it was a victory that made us feel a bit vindicated.

So  . . Meal planning.  I haven't been keeping up with that.

Tuesday night was a pork stirfry.  I sliced some boneless pork into very thin strips, and let them bathe in some soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated garlic, grated ginger, and peanut oil for about 20 minutes.   I sliced some carrots and onions thinly, and diced some celery.  I opened a can of whole water chestnuts and sliced those too.  I stir fried the meat in some peanut oil, and when it was almost cooked through, I threw in some unsalted roasted peanuts, toasting them slightly.  I removed the meat and peanuts to a bowl, and drizzled some Szechuan sauce over it.  Keeping it warm, I stirfried the veggies.  When the were done, I added in some leftover mixed veggies from the night before as well as some leftover grilled mushrooms. I then combined everything and after tasting, tossed in some red pepper flakes and a tad more Szechuan.  We like our stirfries on the spicy side.  I served this over rice.

Last night was what I'm calling Chicken and Artichoke Noodle Bake.  I cut up 2 small chicken breasts into small pieces and I sliced a can of whole, drained artichoke hearts into quarters.  I tossed these together in a greased baking dish and poured a jar of Prego Alfredo sauce over them.  Since it looked too soupy, I also added a can of mushroom soup.   I added a good sprinkle of black pepper and about a teaspoon of thyme.   Meanwhile I cooked some egg noodles.  When they were done, I drained them and added them to the mixture in the baking dish.  I baked the concoction in the oven at 350° for about 50 minutes.  Oh, I did pull it out at about 45 minutes and sprinkled the top with grated parmesan.  The top noodles got crusty which is what my husband likes.  Me, I could live without the crusty bits, but I made him very happy.  It wasn't particularly healthy, but it did taste good!!

So, tomorrow we are finally supposed to get some spring-like temperatures.  I would dearly love to be able to put my heavy coat, scarves, and gloves away.  And next week it's APRIL!!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Car Wash for the Soul

Yesterday afternoon when I left work, the sun was shining, the thermometer hit a whopping 39°F, and my once-white Honda CR-V was covered in a coat of gray and brown. I also needed gas.  As I punched in my credit card info at the gas pump, I was asked if I wanted to buy a car wash.  And so I purchased the $10 "The Works" option.  After filling my tank, I pulled around behind the gas station and was confronted by the sight of 7 other drivers lined up at the car wash entrance.  Since my husband usually does the car-washing duties, I didn't know if I could use the car wash code on my receipt another day or if I had to use it right then, so I made the decision to wait it out.  And wait it out I did.  First, I thought about getting out of my car to dig out my iPad which was nestled in the bottom of school bag on the back seat, but I decided I was too lazy to do that.   And it was too much trouble to do the gymnastics necessary for one of small stature and large girth to grab the bag from behind the driver's seat.  So instead I turned on the radio and listened to "All Things Considered" for a bit.  But I was tired of listening to reports from the Ukraine, so I turned it off. Then I started calculating how long each car wash took... average car wash 4.5 minutes!

 It wasn't until I was next in line that it crossed my mind that I could have been using that time (almost 30 minutes) to do some prayer and reflection.   I punched in my car wash code, and thought about the line from Psalm 51 that I've been using as a prayer focus,  "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me."     As the door to the car wash opened, and the powerful jets of water bombarded the undercarriage of my car, I thought about the power of a real-soul cleansing.  The car rocked a bit from the power of the spray, and as I went further into the car wash, torrents of soap and water completely engulfed the car.  Layers of salt, sand, mud, and road dirt streamed off the car.  A blast of laser-driven air dried my car. leaving it dry, sparkling, and spotless.

A real soul-cleansing is not going to be calm and peaceful.  It will rock me, and knock me about.  It will hurt as the layers of sin and hurt are peeled away.    It won't be over in 4.5 minutes either.

"Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

I went to our Ash Wednesday service tonight. And I am glad I did.  I have just started going back to church after a year of self-imposed exile.  I won't go into the reasons as to why I stopped going to my church's services, but in mid January I knew it was time to go back.  It wasn't the easiest thing to do . . . just as church-going can get into a habit - going because it's what you do, NOT going can also become a habit.  I had grown accustomed to my lazy Sunday mornings or my "date" with my husband as we did the weekly grocery shopping.  I will miss that.  But it was time to go back, for many reasons.

The big reasons why I stopped attending have been resolved; however, there are still some other issues I need to work on.  But now I can work on them through my church.

Tonight as we sat in silent prayer, the only prayer that I could pray was "I'm here, God, I'm here."  So that will be my Lenten prayer, my Lenten practice.   To sit in silence, to acknowledge that I am ready to be present again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Catching Up

It's been a bit since I posted.

The big freeze continues. It's hard to believe that it's March and we're still experiencing single digit temps on a daily basis.  The weather people say we're running about 20° below average for March.  

We took advantage of our February school vacation and flew the coop.  We headed down to Miami for the week to soak up some temps in the mid 80s°.  We also had a chance to visit my aunt and three of my cousins.  The last time I saw my aunt was 2 days before my father died, in 2002. She and her son had flown north to say goodbye to her brother.  She is the last sibling alive, and she's in her 80's.  My cousins are all around my age, and I hadn't seen two of them since 1977!  We had a lovely visit and enjoyed some down-home Cuban cooking!

We enjoyed our exploration of Miami and points south.  One day we drove down to Key West, and another day we explored part of Everglades National Park.  I loved the birds! And it was fun spotting alligators.

Now we're back in the deep freeze, and back to school.

I tried a new recipe tonight that I found on Pinterest.  It's called Tuscan Chicken Skillet and it was delicious!

photo from Pinterest

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pot Roast Tonight

I love making a pot roast.  I use a pressure cooker to make it, so it usually only takes about an hour and a half, give or take.  It's one of our favorite comfort meals.  And after this string of bitterly cold days and snow, it is perfect to warm up with.  My mom used to make it all the time.  Sometimes she scorched it, and the story goes that I used to ask my mom if she'd burned the pot roast yet!  I occasionally scorch it too, but it still tastes great!

We had our first snow day on Feb. 5, and then had 2 in a row on Feb. 13 and 14.  Another snow storm is on its way tomorrow.  We got about 9 inches in the first storm, and then about a foot in the last.  Tomorrow we're slated to get anywhere from 4-8 inches.

Here's the pot roast recipe --- or what passes for one.

3-4 lb pot roast (--- can be anything from a bottom round or "brisket".  Our market labels                           cuts as oven roasts or pot roasts.)

1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1-2 onions chopped (depends on the size - one large or 2 small)
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
about 3 cups beef broth
about 1/2 cup water
potatoes  (3-4) cut into quarters
carrots  (5-6 - halved)

Put meat in pressure cooker.  I have a rack in mine so I don't need to add any fat, but if you don't have a rack, melt a bit of butter or put in a little oil so it doesn't stick.
Add onions, soup mix, garlic, about 2 cups broth, and water.

Bring pressure cooker up to rapid steam, and then reduce heat to medium.  Steam for about 45 min.  Release steam, open, and add carrots and potatoes and more broth/water if needed.  Bring back to full pressure and cook for another 20 -30 min.

Remove from heat, remove meat and veggies.  If you want, you can use pan juices to make a gravy.

Sometimes, I don't put potatoes in the pressure cooker.  I cook them separately and mash them, and definitely make gravy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Our First Snow Day!

It's hard to believe that we haven't had any snow days yet this year.  It's been very cold, and we have had snow, but the storms have been small, and their timing hasn't affected school travel. Today however, it started snowing about 5 am, and 11 hours later, it still is.  We have about a foot so far.  This was almost a perfect snow day because the district called it off last night.  No need to wake up early and wonder/wait for the decision.

Today I read, I knit, and I worked on the company billing.  I did laundry too, and this afternoon I baked.  I'm trying a new recipe called Soft and Chewy Gingerbread Bars.
The recipe is from a Pinterest link.  They smell so yummy!  I love gingerbread so I'm looking forward to trying these.

Dinner tonight will be shaved beef sandwiches ---  Saute shaved beef in the skillet with some onions, peppers, and mushrooms.  Just before serving, melt some cheese on top.  Serve on a bun.  I'm not crazy about these, but my husband has been craving them.  I'm doing some baked sweet potato slices too ----- slice a couple of sweet potatoes very thinly.  Drizzle with olive oil, and dust with some salt and pepper.  Bake in a 450° oven for about 15 minutes, or until tender.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weekly Wrap Up

It was a super busy week!  Monday was a tough day at school -- I was not on my game, and neither were the kids.  A good day to forget.  Tuesday was okay at school, but I had fun afterwards.  I took a demo cooking class on Moroccan cooking at a local restaurant.  The class cost $50 and ran ostensibly from 6-8:30.  In reality, I left at 9:45!   It was a lot of fun, though it was more demonstration than actual cooking.  As one of the other participants said, "This is more like an interesting, educational dinner party than a class!"  There were 10 of us and we helped prepare the menu, and then we ate.  We had a really delicious soup made from tomatoes and orange juice; we were all surprised at how good this was.  This was followed by a beet and orange salad with fig dressing.  The main course (which we'd helped prepare) was a lamb tangine with couscous, and we ended with sweet mint tea and the best rice pudding I've had in years.

Harira (Soup)

2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes  
2-3 cups of orange juice
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of saffron (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Strain and heat.  If it's too thin, you can add some pureed chick peas.  Garnish with fresh basil.

Wednesday I was a bit on the sleepy side when I headed to school since I"d been up so late on Tuesday.

And then Wed. night we had play tickets to see "Hair!" at a local theater.  This was a national tour company presentation.  We went with some friends and had a great dinner out, and then watched the production.  I have to admit that despite my baby boomer status, I had not seen this play --I'd only heard about it.  It wasn't what I'd expected.  It was a much darker play.  It was well done, but once again, it was a very late night.  I didn't get to bed until 11 pm!

Thursday and Friday were luckily back to normal routine days.  It's fun to do something out of the rut, but my body pays for it.

As far as this week's meals -- other than the 2 meals out, nothing particularly special.
Last Sunday I roasted a small eye of the round which we had with garlic mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy.  I do make a very low fat gravy which makes this a bit healthier.

Low fat Gravy

1 can beef broth
Pan drippings (fat strained off)
1/2 cup +/- of red wine
about 1 tbs of cornstarch

Combine all ingredients.  Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil.  If it's not thick enough, add more cornstarch and continue cooking. If it's too thick, add more broth or wine.

Monday night I pan-broiled center cut pork chops seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and Italian herb mix.  I also made some farro, seasoned only with salt.    My husband's not crazy about "alternate" grains, but I liked it.  I actually ate the leftover farro for breakfast the next morning:
   Breakfast Farro

  Cooked farro  (I had about 2/3 cup)
  handful of dried cranberries
 handful of chopped walnuts
2 Tbs half and half
1 tsp maple syrup

Combine all ingredients and heat in microwave, about 90 seconds.

Tuesday and Wed. were dinner out.  On Thursday I used the left overs from Sunday to make shepherd's pie:  Cut up the beef into small cubes, mix with leftover gravy, added 1/2 chopped onion, and 1/2 bag of frozen mixed veggies.  Covered with the potatoes, sprinkled the top with smoked Spanish paprika, and heated in oven for about 40 minutes.
Friday night I just made pasta:  Penne pasta with spaghetti sauce and a couple of chicken sausages which I'd cut up into small pieces.

Yesterday was soup day -- I made a version of cabbage  refrigerator soup.   Started with stew beef, which I browned, then added a chopped onion, some carrots, some turnips, some sunchokes, 2 large cans of diced tomatoes, 1/2 head of cabbage, about 6 cups of beef broth, and sugar and vinegar to taste.  This simmered most of the day, and we dipped into it as the stomach growled.

Today??? Well I have no idea.  My husband is off grocery shopping so we will eat what he brings home!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Comfort Food

A chilly day + snow + lazy attitude = GLOP!

This is a throw-together recipe with endless variations.  My mother used to make her version.  One night when I was about 11 or 12, I asked her what we were having. She answered, "Oh, just some hamburger glop I'm throwing together."  So it's been called Glop ever since.  It's EASY.  It's QUICK.  It's yummy!


1 lb hamburg
1 small onion, chopped
1-2 cloves minced garlic (or lots of garlic powder!)
basil or oregano or both to taste  (I often use about a tbs of fresh basil)
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cooked rice

Brown hamburg in a skillet with chopped onion and garlic.  Drain fat. (I dump it into a colander and let the fat drain, and then plop the meat back into the pan.) Add herbs, chopped pepper, and tomatoes. Cook a few minutes until peppers are slightly soft.  Add rice and mix.  Continue cooking until rice is thoroughly heated.
Serves about 4, with a salad.

This recipe has endless variations.  I've used big cans of tomatoes as well as small cans, depending on the amount of meat I started with.  I've added a can of corn to it at times.   I sometimes make a "Mexican" version --- instead of sweet peppers, I'll use some chilis and add some chili powder.   I've made a Cuban version -picadillo- same basic glop without the rice but with the addition of some halved olives and about 1/2 cup of raisins.  I've usually served that version with rice and black beans on the side.

This picture is what's left over tonight.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brr .... Again!

It's been a cold winter - and we're back in the freezer.  Yesterday we actually managed to reach low double digits: 12°  Today it will be colder.  We've had to keep the kids in at recess because it's too cold to go out.  And for some reason, middle schoolers think it's really dorky to wear winter coats, hats, and mittens/gloves!  We still have the real "cool" kids (literally and figuratively) who wear shorts in January.  The temp this morning - right now is -4°.

Meals this week have included left overs of the meat loaf from Sunday, panbroiled steaks, and last night . . . a Pinterest recipe that was exactly as advertised.  Super easy and super delicious!    Definitely NOT healthy!

There isn't really a printed recipe -- just a photo with a caption.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt 1/2 to 3/4 stick of butter in an oven safe pan. (I do this in the oven as it's preheating.)
Layer 1 lb deveined shrimp over the butter.  (I pulled the tails off first.)
Sprinkle the shrimp with 1 packet of Italian dressing mix.
Bake for 15 min. at 350°F.

I served this with rotini.  I just cooked the pasta and tossed it into the pan with the cooked shrimp.  I also dusted it with some grated parmesan.

My husband said this was a keeper!

Wow! Steak and shrimp back to back!  My husband does the shopping and buys either what's on sale or what's been marked down. Into the freezer it goes.  A bag of frozen shrimp is a staple in our larder.  Tonight it's chicken, but I haven't decided how I'm cooking yet!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tick, Tick, Tick . . .

My lovely 3 day weekend is just about 2/3 over and I just haven't been able to sit and get much knitting done.  Lots of chores have been accomplished, but where is my ME time going??

Yesterday we had a bunch of errands to run, three loads of laundry, and a bunch of phone calls to make.  Today was supposed to be sleep late, go to church, and spend the day relaxing.   Instead I'm awake at 6 am, up at 6:30 am, finishing the grocery list so DH can go to the store, and taking over an hour to book a rental car for our trip to Florida.  It takes so long to compare rates and coupons and rental agencies --- AAA, NEA, AARP, and then all the hotel membership/partner cards.  And then throw in  Needless to say, AAA has the best rates, at least for this trip.

Speaking of good deals, if you haven't joined, you are missing out on a chance to get real cash back from purchases you're planning to make anyway.  It's NOT a scam.  I've been a member now for almost two years, and have gotten rebate checks totaling just under $200.  All you do is go to, search for the store you're planning to shop on line at,  and click on the cash back coupon.  Ebates creates a ticket and sends you to the store's website.  You shop as usual, and once your order is placed, your ebates account is credited.  The site has a multitude of retailers:  LL Bean, Lands End, Sears, JC Penny, Nordstroms, QVC, Amazon (but not the books division), Williams-Sonoma, Stonewall Kitchen, Catherines/Lane Bryant, just about any place I like to shop.  Even car rental agencies!  If you're interested, click here.  In the interest of full disclosure, if anyone joins by using this link, I get $5 added to my check, and maybe more if that person spends a lot of money.  But I'm mostly posting this because it IS a good way to get a little something.

So, by the time I got the car booked, and dealt with 2 unexpected phone calls, and the snow, I didn't get to church.  Instead, I spent a couple hours on the business bookkeeping.  I always think it will only take me about 1/2 hour but it always takes longer.  Mostly because a certain somebody doesn't cross his T's or dot his I's and I have to piece things together that shouldn't have to be pieced together.   Like if you make a deposit, staple the deposit receipt to the customer's check stub so that I can easily identify which customer to credit when I enter the check.  And maybe if you'd put the credit card receipts in the credit card receipt file and the cash receipts in the petty cash box, I could match statements more quickly?   Just a few little things like that.

My husband did the grocery shopping while I was busy doing this, and just as he arrived home, I got a phone call from an association member with a problem.  (I'm the grievance chair of our local teacher's association.)  I had to spend about 1/2 hour helping her figure out what she needs to do, to get a potential issue solved.  So at least I didn't have to put the groceries away.

I did get about 40 minutes of "knitting" accomplished.  I put that in quotations, because I was actually stringing  260 beads on my yarn.  I'm participating in a mystery knitalong - Laura Nelkins Magpie.  I'm just starting Clue #2.  Eventually I'll get a picture or 2 posted.   It's fascinating --- I joined the M Club which means I will get a total of 4 kits for 4 mystery KALs.  Not a cheap thing, but it was my gift to myself this past fall.  This is the first of the projects.  It's a fun knit -- not too hard, and I'm also learning a few new skills -like using a provisional cast on. 

Added a pic of clue one at the halfway point.

Today we are eating meatloaf.  I don't really follow a recipe, but here's what I did.

1 lb ground beef
3/4 cup regular oats
1 medium-large diced onion
2 celery stalks diced
2 cloves garlic sliced
2 eggs
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp Tsardust (spice blend from
1/2 tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix lightly with your hands.  Put into a baking dish that's been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Bake at 350° F for about 1 1/4 hr or until the interior temp of the meat is 165°F.  I sometimes add some tomato paste to the meat mix but I didn't have any today--- a couple of tablespoons.

I served this with mashed potatoes and green beans.

I also made rice pudding - again, a no recipe followed - just what my mom taught me.  I made it today because we had  rice,a lot of milk and eggs that needed using up!

Mom's Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked rice (or less, or more!)

4 eggs
3 1/2 to 4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on milk and your sweet preference
1/2 cup raisins (or more - or none!)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional!)
1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon
nutmeg (optional)

Beat the eggs, and then add the milk.  Add the sugar and vanilla. Mix well.  Sprinkle the rice with the cinnamon.  Mix with the milk and eggs.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Bake at 350° F for about 1 1/2 hrs stirring a couple of times to keep the rice from settling.  (I usually stir it about 25 minutes into cooking time, and then again about 40 min into process.)
Serve warm or cold.

You can be very flexible with the ingredients.   Don't want it too sweet? Add less sugar.  Raisins aren't necessary, and the cranberries are a "modern" addition.  Mom taught me to use 1:1 ratio of eggs to milk, though you can adjust a bit.  If you want a more custardy use one more egg than cup of milk.  Also if you use less rice, you'll have more custard.

So now, my kitchen needs some major attention, but there's always tomorrow.  I am going to spend the rest of the evening knitting!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Snowy-ish Saturday

The longer-than-usual January thaw is now giving way to more seasonable weather.  The temps are dropping and it's been spitting snow most of the day.  There's about an inch of wet snow on the ground after about 6 hrs of precipitation.  It's chilly and dreary outside.

I decided to make soup today, based on this recipe for Creamy Slow Cooker Tortellini Soup:

I tweaked it just because  . . . .
  • Instead of water and vegetable broth, I used 6 cups of chicken stock. 
  • I skipped the white sauce mix since I didn't have any and instead dissolved a couple of tablespoons of corn starch in the liquid.
  • I added about 1/2 cup of white wine.
  • I added 1 can of cream of chicken soup because I wanted a more chicken-y flavor and I didn't have any chicken in the freezer.
  • I added an extra dash of cayenne
  • I added a cheese rind as it simmered.
  • I used a package of fresh cheese tortellini instead of dried.

Verdict?   It's yummy!  And although at first my husband kind of turned up his nose when I announced that was the main meal, I noticed he ate 3 bowls! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

One of Those Days

Where nothing goes particularly wrong, but nothing goes particularly right. . .

1.  Kids were very unfocused today, very chatty, not a lot of work accomplished.

2.  Miserably rainy and chilly meant an indoor recess -- not particularly helpful.

3.  Everyone is feeling discouraged about work loads.

4.  I was able to get home early today as did my husband which lead to

5.  An early dinner -- simple, if not exactly high on the list of healthy

6.  A plan to spend the evening knitting . . . which happened, kind of.

7.  Took almost 2 hours to remove a provisional cast-on and put live stitches on stitch holders.  Apparently I didn't crochet through the correct loop so made a task that should have been easy, quite difficult.

8.  Numerous interruptions didn't help ---- 5 phone calls, a DVR problem, and a cat throwing up.

9.  It's still raining too!  Lots of mud and pooled water on top of frozen ground.

10.  I may be catching the head cold my husband is enduring.

Dinner tonight:

Pan-fried cube steaks (sprayed the skillet with Pam with a teeny pat of butter, really!!)
Homemade fried potatoes  (Pam spray, followed by good olive oil)
Steamed broccoli (the nod to healthy eating!)

Monday Night's Dinner

No picture, again!  Can't remember to take a photo.

Tonight was a  crockpot meal called Honey Sesame Chicken.  This recipe is another Pinterest find.

Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time4 hours
Total Time4 hours, 10 minutes
Yield6 servings
Simply throw everything in the crockpot and you're set for a family-friendly meal - it doesn't get easier than that!
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced for garnish
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish
  • In a large bowl, combine onion, garlic, honey, soy sauce, ketchup, vegetable oil and red pepper.
  • Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, to taste. Place chicken thighs into a slow cooker. Add honey mixture and gently toss to combine. Cover and cook on low heat for 3 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Remove chicken thighs from the slow cooker and shred the chicken before returning to the pot with the juices. Cover and keep warm for an additional 30 minutes.
  • Serve immediately, garnished with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.
Adapted from The Comfort of Cooking
  My only tweaks:

I didn't have any ketchup so I used tomato paste.  Because I know ketchup has vinegar in it, I added a couple of splashes of rice vinegar -- maybe about a tablespoon.   I also upped the amount of red pepper flakes.  I also cooked it on high for about 2 hours since I didn't get home as early as I'd expected.

We really liked this, although there was a lot more sauce than I expected.  Not that that's a problem. I served it over rice, accompanied by peas.  This made enough for generous portions for us, plus at least 2 lunches.