Saturday, December 28, 2013

It Is The Thought That Counts

Our son became a teenager this year.  People warned me, "Watch out when he turns thirteen, he's going to forget where he left his brain."  Three days into thirteen, he placed his cell phone, his almost-new iPod in is favorite skaters hat, left them on a desk at school and {POOF}, they were gone.  I had this sick feeling in my stomach that it was only the beginning of what our friends had warned us about.  Eleven and twelve were a constant challenge.  There were days that if I saw his eyes roll in his head one more time....... Somehow at thirteen, that ├╝ber-annoying habit faded away!

I have been a life-long tea drinker.  For some time now, I've dreamed of opening a tea room.  Whether that dream will ever come to fruition, I always am on the hunt for an old advertisements or tea tins, that someday will become part of the decor of my tea room.

My in-laws recently retired to Connecticut, in an area loaded with antique shops.  We found a favorite one, the type of place that has a little something for every antique collector, or the casual shopper who can't resist it's treasures.

Last Sunday, after visiting the in-laws, we stopped there on our way out of town.  It's called the Clinton Antique Center. After a few minutes of looking around, my husband informed me that our son would like me to go sit in the car.  It was accompanied by one of those looks that I should just do it, you know the kind, the one that has a cryptic little smile with it.  Okay!  I needed a minute to pay for a tea cup that I had been looking for. Then I was nestled in the car with my own little smile on my face, wondering what my boys were up to.

It wouldn't be long to wait and wonder.  Christmas morning revealed three lovely little surprises in the forms of two antique tea and one antique cocoa tins.

My sweet, funny, and yes, occasionally irritating 13-year-old, went in there with a mission.  He wanted to give me something that he knew I would love.  Something that I would look at and think of him.  Something to help my dream along a little bit further.  He put thought into these three gifts, but moreover, he put his heart into them.

Case in point that it really is the thought that counts.  What a lucky Mum I am!

My Christmas presents were the Monarch Tea, the Boston Tea and the Monarch Cocoa tins. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Death of Personal Pride

There is a curious phenomena that has me flummoxed.  I've noticed a trend on Facebook, for the last couple of years that I just don't understand. 

It's this trend of, "I want something, help me fund it."  I'm a photographer by profession and there is always something new and exciting that comes out, a new body, a new lens, a new lighting system.  More than once I have seen people post a Go Fund Me, or an "event" on Facebook, asking people for money to help purchase their latest want, be it a camera body or a cosplay outfit.  I don't get it.  These are wants, not needs.  These things are not life and death requirements. 

A few years back, two friends within a matter of days both suffered fires in their homes.  Fires that left them without a place to live, without furniture, without clothing.  Good people started Go Fund's for these friends and I was happy to help them.  Their basic necessities of life were gone, they needed help. 

When I broke both of my arms nearly four years ago, we were thankfully insured.  Insurance paid for most of my expenses, but at the same time there were still deductibles and co-pays to the hospital, to specialists, to physical therapists and the pharmacy.  Because of how complicated insurance reimbursement policies are, we waited out making the final payments to the hospital to see what was covered and what wasn't.  In all, close to $1,500 was not covered by insurance and had to be covered by me.  Being a stay-at-home mom means that we need to watch our budget, and so I got on the phone with the hospital and made a budget payment plan with them to pay for these expenses.  It was a lot easier to pay them $100 a month and they were happy to be able to get their money any way possible.  I never in my wildest dreams would have asked people to pay my medical expenses, I had too much personal pride.

Yet, people put themselves out there, asking for money for something that isn't necessary to their vital existence.  When I see these posts, I can't help but think, "Don't you have any personal pride?"  What happened to earning the money, saving the money, waiting until you can afford your want? 

It seems that personal pride is a dying virtue and that saddens me to no end.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Little League Baseball

This year marks the fifth year that our son has played little league baseball for the town.  Every season has been distinctly different on different levels, from coaching to getting to know the players to the families that sit out watching each and every play.

Last year, our son's team won the division championship.  His coach taught them the game.  He would not only instruct them how to do something, but explain WHY they were doing what they were doing.  By the 3rd or 4th game, all the parents knew who all the kids were and knew who each other were.  Games, no matter how good or bad they went, were fun for everyone.  The boys on the team would cheer each other on, they would call out plays to each other and were involved.  For us families, we would laugh and commiserate with each other.  When a kid would get hurt, and it happened, everyone was worried about everyone else's kid.  At the end of the season, when we were going to the championship round, the league scheduled practice time at one of the fields.  Instead, our coach opted to have a pool party & cookout at his home for the boys and their families.  He felt that would be more of a team building experience for everyone, and it was.  The boys who were already close, had a great time playing, joking and being kids with each other.  A few days later, they would be celebrating with shouts, excitement and yes, happy tears with one another.  We as parents all clutched each other in the final innings of the season, agonizing over plays, but all the while, remaining positive of the team and of individual players performances.

But as many professional sports coaches will say when a new season starts, "Last season is history.  Now it's about THIS season."

This year is decidedly not the same. It's a different division first of all.  The coach is a nice guy, but he doesn't seem to really be into his role as coach.  He tells the players what positions to play and what batting order they should be in, but there is not a lot of coaching going on.  He isn't really interested in getting to know the kids or what they can or like to do.  That's disappointing.  He doesn't get the kids excited to be playing baseball.  By the end of a game, they all walk out of the dugout with their heads hung and not saying much.

Moreover, the parents aren't all that interested in being cheerleaders for the whole team.  They will say something loud when their kid comes to bat or makes a play.  There is no camaraderie among families and players.  What there is, however, a lot of negativity. 

The other day I listened to a mother expounding on how these boys aren't trying hard enough.  She was loud and I know a couple of times players looked over at her, and the people she was talking at were embarrassed.  Sadly, none were so embarrassed to correct her or stop her diatribe, or even ask her to keep her voice down.  I thought about saying something, but decided to focus on being that parent who cheered the kids on, loudly.  Yeah, I'm that mom.  Yesterday, our son got to play his favorite position, catcher, for the first time this season.  He's a bit rusty, no doubt about it, but he was giving it his all because he was happy.  He didn't throw a cut-off ball quick enough in the mind of another parent.  She proceeded to start talking smack about my kid.  I would like to see her make that play as fast as she thinks it could be made.  I sat there with my fists clenched in my lap with my back to her and biting my tongue.  I knew if I turned around and said something, it wouldn't end well and I would be that parent on the evening news being banned from the little league fields for life.  Another mother whispered, in a fantastic stage whisper (and I'm sure with a gesture in my direction), that I was the catcher's mother.  I turned and gave the woman a huge smile.  The kind of smile that says, "I heard you.  And if you open your mouth again, I will cut you."  Needless to say she was not negative about my kid again, sadly she was about other plays and players.

I found this picture on the internet and truly believe that it should be posted on every little league field the town has.  Change Cardinals to Major League Baseball and the sign would be perfect.

It saddens me that people can't enjoy this for what it is, a game and do everything in their power to make it a positive experience for everyone.  I can't do anything about the coaching.  But I can be a positive force from the stands.  If more people acted that way, a loss wouldn't be such a devastating thing for these kids and everyone would have a better time for a couple of hours out of their day.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Sister-in-Law is a Bad Person

I got your attention, didn't I?  She's not a bad person, not by any stretch.  A bad influence? Yes, most definitely!

Back in May of this year, she started a blog Sue at Home, and the other day she wrote about the new Nate Berkus collection that was about to debut at Target.  You can read all about it here.  Back in the days when Nate used to appear on Oprah's show, I used to love watching him get excited about design ideas, room/house makeovers and the like.  His design philosophy is to choose things to decorate your home, things that you love.

So my bad influence, ummm....I mean my sister-in-law opened my eyes to something that I might have stumbled on, during a casual shopping trip to Target.  Today was debut day. I decided that the carrots & Q-tips that were on my shopping list, could be found at Target, where I would find the Nate Berkus Collection.  That was in a perfect world and clearly the Target just up the street from us is FAR from perfect.  I looked all around with little success.  Finally, I asked a sales associate, who radioed a supervisor who answered where I could find what I was looking for.  Off I went, only to be disappointed to find Nate's bath collection only.  Since I wasn't shopping for my bathrooms, I was very disappointed.  I kept looking around, found a huge selection of Clearance items, where I figured I might find Nate's goodies.  Nope.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Harrumph!

Sadly I went home with just my bundle of carrots and box of Q-Tips.  I figured that was it and I sent a text to my sister-in-law saying how my Target stunk.  Later in the afternoon, I popped 'round to my folks house.  My dad is a consultant for his old company and part of his job is to review new legal cases as they come in.  Last winter when he was laid up with his knee replacement, he hired me to be his assistant to print things off, save them to the computer and set up the files.  I've continued to help him since and decided that today was a good a day as any to get caught up on my work.  There's some downtime while waiting for many page documents to print.  And I got thinking about the Nate Berkus Collection again.  And in my brain, I'm plotting out the various Targets in the area.  Meanwhile I had heard from my sister-in-law, she too had little luck finding what she wanted.  We agreed, if she found the brass bowls that I wanted she would pick them up and if I found the brass lamp she wanted (and that I was trying to talk myself out of) I would pick it up for her.

Yes, I wanted my little brass bowls, as well as a nifty wooden round tray.  After I finished working for Dad, I set off, determined.  As I approached the second Target, I decided that I wouldn't get a cart.  I wouldn't need one.  Sure enough, I would need one. I found the Nate goodies and started calling my sister-in-law, "Do you still need the brass lamp?"  We went on for a bit.  And the more I looked at this lamp, the more I fell in love with it.  But I didn't need it.  But I loved it.  Nate says to surround yourself with things that you love.  Conveniently, there was an empty, abandoned cart right by where I was standing.  And they had the hammered brass bowls that I had spied on Sue's blog.  I didn't find the tray that I originally wanted, but I did find one that I thought would look snazzy in my bedroom.  I even bought one of the white sea urchin looking things that you see in the picture.

I'd place the brass bowls in the tray with the urchin.  Where, that was to be determined.

When I got home, carrying my goodies, my husband said, "What are those?  I thought we were purging things, not bringing in more stuff?"  He's right.  We are in a purge mode, but I also want to freshen up our home, which hasn't had a make-over, beyond a coat of paint in the living room last November.  But my husband didn't stop there, he likened my funky, quirky lamp to something that would have been found in the yard of Sanford & Son.  Oh no, he didn't!  Oh YES he did.  We debated rearranging the lamps in the living room.  He likes everything we have and where it is.

So now, my Sanford & Son lamp is in our bedroom on my bureau.  Next to it is the tray with it's goodies. And I love it, all thanks to my bad influence and Nate Berkus!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Beef & Guinness Pie

One of our favorite meals at my house is called Beef & Guinness Pie.  The key ingredients, beef & Guinness beer are never considered a bad thing around here.

I adapted this recipe from Margaret M. Johnson's The Irish Pub Cookbook.  It's a fabulous cookbook that not only has wonderful photographs of the food, but of locations around Ireland as well.

The key to this dish is letting the beef marinade for 24 hours before you cook.

Day One:
2 pounds stew beef, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 cans Guinness stout
1 clove garlic (or more, we love garlic here)
2 bay leaves

Combine all this in a bowl and give it a good stir.  Refrigerate until you are ready to cook the next day.

Day Two:
2 cans Guinness stout
1 cup beef stock or broth
2 large carrots, peeled & diced
1 large onion, sliced
1.5 cups frozen peas
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1 bouquet garni (a cheesecloth bag containing 3 sprigs fresh parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 8-10 peppercorns and 1 bay leaf)
Wondra Gravy Flour
Pillsbury All-Ready Pie Crust
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water

On cooking day, drain the marinade and put the beef into a stockpot.  Add the 2 cans of Guinness, and the beef broth.  Over medium heat, bring this mixture to a boil.  Skim any foam off the top.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 1-1.5 hours.  Add the carrots, onion, salt, pepper and bouquet garni and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the carrots are slightly tender.  Add the peas and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in the Wondra Gravy Flour, cooking & stirring until the liquid is thickened.

The book has you making a pastry crust, but I don't have time for that.  That's where the miracle product of a Pillsbury All-Ready Pie Crust comes in very handy.  Let it warm up in your kitchen for about 10-15 minutes before using it.

Meanwhile, you want to preheat your oven to 375°F.  Remove the bouquet garni from your stockpot and transfer the filling into a 10" deep dish pie plate, spooning some of the liquid into the pie dish.  Reserve the rest for later.  Cover the pie plate with the pastry, cutting a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape.  This is where I like to use my little decorative cutters.  I cut a few vents out of the pastry, and then attach the cut-outs to the pastry with a dab of your egg wash.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until it is a beautiful golden brown.  I always put a cookie sheet in the rack below the pie dish, because it sometimes wants to bubble over.  While this is baking, run the cooking liquid through a strainer, into a saucepan.  Put it on medium-high heat, adding a bit more gravy flour, bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.

I love to serve this over homemade Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, drizzling this with the gravy.

Hope you enjoy this as much as our family does!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Granola Gold

My husband's cousin, who lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has started a fantastic snack company called Granola Gold.  Her goal, when she started the company, was to make a healthy, fun snack that people could feel good about eating.  Her & my husband's maternal grandmother used to own a candy-making business.  Grandma used to tell all of her grandchildren, when baking or making something special, buy the best ingredients you can afford.

Diane showing off two of her blends, First Tracks and (my personal favorite) Sailor's Blend.  She has done well at local farmer's markets and Ace At The Curve, in Steamboat Springs.  And the local press has noticed as well "Steamboat Woman Practices Cereal Entrepreneurship"

The different blends appeal to all tastes, including a nut-free variety called Sunshine Express.  Diane plans more nut-free blends this winter.  Personally, I can't wait to see what she whips up next!

Now you're asking yourself, "How do I get some of this deliciousness?"  Easy, go to Granola Gold's website and place your order! You can also find out the latest news on their Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Home Organization 101: The Kitchen (Part 2)

The kitchen project that I started back in July is progressing well.  The kitchen cupboards have had a good chuck out of stale, out-of-date, and unwanted products.  Some months ago, I had moved my spice cupboard contents from a little cupboard to the right of our stove, to the upper pantry cupboard.  The then spice cupboard, has been converted to my tea cupboard.

However all those little spice bottles & tins have floated around for months.  They never seem to be easily accessible when I want them.  Or it never fails, what I want is pushed to the back.  As a vertically challenged person, I need a footstool to reach the higher shelves.  Now I have the spices & herbs culled into three trays:

My husband is still making fun of me for sorting them alphabetically, but when it comes time to pull out something, I can easily pull out one tray instead of half the cupboard! And if you don't have to pull everything out, it means you don't have to put everything away.  Anything that makes kitchen clean-up easier can't be bad at all!  As for the other items that are in this cupboard, they are only things we need or use.  I will exercise more restraint when at a kitchen shop or a grocery store.  Unless it is an ingredient for something I know I will be making, it will be staying put!

Years ago, I went to a Tupperware party at a friend's house.  At the time, they were offering a special on their Modular Mate storage system.  Wanting to help my friend, I purchased one.  It was a selection of sizes.  I've always liked using them, as they seal beautifully and keep the contents nice & fresh.  When this project came up, I invested in some more containers.  The Modular Mates combined with my Brother label maker are a wicked combination and instantly jazz up the cupboards. 

When we bought this house thirteen years ago, the kitchen was 1970's U-G-L-Y!  Not to mention it was not an efficiently laid out room.  Our kitchen was designed by us through Home Depot.  My cupboards below are wonderfully roomy....too roomy.  They became catch-alls for everything.  At times, and yes I am saying this out loud, I would open a cupboard door, shove something in, and close the door quickly before anything fell out.  Two cupboards in particular, one that housed plastic storage containers and the other contained baking dishes, were places of dread.  To try to find something was always a nightmare.  The cupboards are adequately tall, but don't offer enough flat storage space.  I had seen other people's cupboards where there was a roll out shelf and wanted something similar.  My husband was tasked with measuring cupboards and finding suitable options to make these cupboards more useful.  He came up with the following items (well, similar to these):

It's funny how something so simple, can make one so happy.  It's a pleasure to go into these cupboards now, either to put something away or pull something out.  Ever since he installed them, I randomly say to my husband, "Thank you for my kitchen cupboards!"  He's probably sick of hearing it, but it's just wonderful!!!!!  The contents were culled and a number of housewares were also donated to Big Brother Big Sister.
  I kept the plastic storage containers for leftovers that could be easily stacked inside one another.  Some things will be moved to the bar area of our basement.  The previous owner had intended it to be a recreation room and built a huge bar area.  My goal for the fall, beside throwing out most of the basement contents, is to turn that area into a functioning storage area for the things we need, but not every day.

These cupboards were so bad, that I couldn't bring myself to take Before pictures of them, but I am happy to share the After shots with you!

This is my lower pantry cabinet.  The slide out chrome drawers are one of the best inventions....EVER!  No more lost food.  No more having to empty the cabinet to get the one thing that ended up in the back.

My "Tupperware" cupboard.  It's not perfect, that top shelf still needs some love.  However, until I get my pantry / kitchenware area of my basement in better shape, a lot of things like serving dishes that we don't use that often must live here.

These are the baking dishes I use only a couple times a week.  But again, having this pull out rack makes life so much easier for finding something and putting it away--now if I could just train the 12-year-old who empties the dishwasher to actually put these items away.  I know, I know, baby steps!

This is the same cupboard.  There is a little narrow space that is good for the tall skinny things that I had jammed all into one cabinet, next to the stove.  It was always a tug of war with a cookie sheet or the griddle.  Now, notsomuch!

Kitchen Table - Before a/k/a The Dumping Ground
Kitchen Table - After - We ate there for the first time in ages! 

Tea Cupboard - Before

Tea Cupboard - After

The before and after shots really aren't all that different.  All that I got rid of was Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas, there were about 5 tins of the stuff.  People who know I love tea, tend to give me Earl Grey because I think they think it's a quintessential tea.  And it is.  Hard as I have tried, I just don't care for bergamot, the main flavor of Earl Grey and so out it went!  But tea is a topic for another day.

My kitchen still needs some work.  It's getting there though.  I have a few more cupboards and drawers to empty out, wipe clean and then replace the contents.  But nothing all that exciting that warrants a blog entry.

Hope my kitchen Home Organization 101 has been helpful to you!

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