Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Prep Mode

It's is full-on holiday prep mode at our house today.  The dining room table needs to be cleared, extraneous decorative knick knacks need to be put away to make room for Thanksgiving food.

It's go time for the holiday preparations.

The good news is that the tree is up and mostly decorated.  We'll be finishing it together this evening, complete with carols blasting and eggnog in our cups.  But today will be all about house prep and food staging for tomorrow's cook-a-thon.

Yesterday, I managed to get all the remaining holiday food bits and pieces, with the exception of our turkey which will be picked up fresh on Wednesday.  (Please don't snow so much that I can't get to the turkey...please,. please, please.)  I found some perfect turkey necks and thighs yesterday, to make a large amount of my usual Crockpot Turkey Stock.  Good stock really does make the difference for yummy stuffing and gravy.

Today, I'm planning to make a large ham in the crockpot, so we'll have that to eat on for the next couple of days, along with sweet potato casserole.  Whatever leftover we have by Thursday will get folded into the Thanksgiving table along with the rest.

Hopefully, I can get my Granny's Fresh Cranberry Salad recipe made today as well -- one less thing to make for Thursday and I'll be able to eat some every day for the rest of the week.  Yummy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Basics: Early Prep Is The Key

Every year at our house, I go into a bit of a frenzy trying to wrangle the entire house into shape, get Christmas decorations up and prep for the holiday food-palooza that is Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Some of that time tends to be eaten up with cookie planning for my usual baking-palooka.  But since we are trying to be healthier, the cookies are going by the wayside for the most part this year.  Which opens up a whole window of time for me to get other things done.

It also leaves a bit more mental thought process for Thanksgiving planning, and I'm finding that wonderful.  A couple of years ago, I posted a scheduling routine that I've been using for years to prep for Thanksgiving dinner.  Early preparation is the key to a sane and happy holiday -- trust me on this one.

Last year, I finally tried a fresh turkey instead of getting a frozen one that had to thaw for an eternity, and you know what?  It was awesome.  Especially only having to pick it up the day before Thanksgiving, so I had time and room in my fridge for a couple of days prior to prep everything else.  That completely rocked and I am doing it again this year as a result.

You can order a fresh turkey at the butcher counter at most nicer grocery stores.  I managed to get a free range, no hormones or antibiotics one last year and will be doing the same this year, and I won't have to pick it up until Wednesday afternoon.  Boo yah!

By then, I'll already have the cranberry salad made, the stuffing put together up to the baking time, the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes mostly ready to go, the cranberry salad chilling, and at least one loaf of bread already made.

The joy really is in advance planning with this.  I learned that lesson the hard way the year I had melanoma surgery, but it has served me so well ever since:  plan ahead and Thanksgiving morning is so much better for it.

Here are some tips on turkey prep and baking.  One thing that I tried last year and loved was a dry brine from Williams-Sonoma:  I put it on my turkey the night before, rinsed it off a bit the next morning, placed sliced compound butter under the skin of the breast really gently and then stuffed the cavity of the turkey with cut-up lemons and onions and herbs just like I always do.  I use a covered roaster and I swear last year's turkey was the best one I have ever tasted.

I'll be repeating that again this year.  Yummy.

Make-ahead recipes are also a life saver.  I do my stuffing ahead, so all I have to do is pop it in the over to bake along with the turkey.

An essential part of that stuffing?  Rich turkey stock:  I make mine in my crockpot a day ahead, and it is delicious and perfect for stuffing and gravy.  Make enough for both and you'll be hooked, too.

My Granny's cranberry salad recipe?  An absolute must.  No holiday meal is complete without it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Parenting Is Not For Sissies

School spelling bee today and, as usual, I may be more nervous than The Peanut is.  The words on the practice list this year are so ridiculously hard and obscure -- it is as though the spelling bee folks went out of their way to find difficult to pronounce gems to weed people out from the get go.

But each year her vocabulary grows as she learns new and more complex words, and I could not be prouder of her.

It's just awfully tough to see her standing up there on the stage, a bundle of nerves, hoping and fretting from the cheap seats while she digs deep into her brain for the next word.  And the next.  And the next.

Parenting is not for sissies.

(Above YouTube clip is from the magnificent Akeelah and the Bee. Love, love, love this movie.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank You, Veterans

A thank you, to all veterans past and present, who have served their nation with honor.  Enjoy this clip from the production team of Band of Brothers -- wonderful real life history, and it really brings home the human side of the sacrifice required of those who serve.

Well done.

If you haven't seen Band of Brothers and The Pacific, you really should watch them. Superb treatment of a moment in history when their sacrifices saved us all. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Frost Is On The Pumpkin

We woke up this morning to a nice, icy coating of frost on the windowpanes and the ivy and grass outside.  When I took Roxie out for her morning constitutional, the world was shimmering as the grass crunched beneath her paws, and all I could think about was trying to get her to hurry so I could run inside and grab my camera before the sun began to peak over the tops of the trees across the street.

Frost is a tough thing to photograph, especially a light frost like this one was, for it melts away swiftly and leaves no trace of its crystalline beauty behind beyond a little dampness in the wake of the sun's warmth.

Mercifully, for me anyway, the dog was quick this morning. 

Here are some more shots of bits and pieces.  Let's start first with the ivy:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Game Of Thrones Redux

Love this interview segment with George R. R. Martin. His giggle is infectious, and his love of his written material is apparent every time you engage him about it. Every single time.

I have met George a couple of times at Worldcons -- the science fiction and fantasy uber-conventions that are held every year in a different location around the globe.  Every conversation with him has been a delight, and filled with little nuggets about the craft of writing and the joy that he takes in putting his worlds together.

In 2002, I interviewed George for 3SF magazine.  He was just as wonderful on the phone as he is in person, and we both mutually agreed that Tyrion may be the best character he has ever done.

So fun to hear his giggle with Amy Poehler all over again.  Sometimes, you just hear something that takes you right back.  Enjoy!

(On that note, I really need to get to a science fiction and fantasy convention again.  Am missing that milieu like crazy after watching this!)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Change for the Chilly

First frost of the season on the car windshield, and a lot of gratitude for the seat warmers on the way over to school drop-off this morning.  Winter is coming, whether we are ready for it or not.

Mercifully, we managed to get some more birdseed and get the feeders filled up this weekend.  The cupboard has been fairly bare for the birdies, and one of the cardinal regulars has been voicing his displeasure outside the sun room windows all week. 

It isn't that I loathe winter.  I actually love it when the snow falls and blankets the town and we are forced to stay in our cozy house, with blankets and cocoa and games and good movies aplenty.  But last winter was long, so very long, and it seems like it just ended and we are already headed for another one.

Doesn't it?

This year is whipping by so quickly, it feels as though I've just blinked and gone from January to close to November in a flash.  Whatever the cause, I need to restock our snow day closet with some crafty goodness. 

Whether I am ready for it or not, the chill in the air and this morning's frosty glitter on the fallen leaves was a good reminder that the season is about to change for the chilly again.

(Photo via Moose Winans.  Love the detail in this shot!)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Falling Forward

It is that time of year when the leaves have turned past their peak color, and the trees are rapidly shedding their colorful cloaks in favor of the bare branches of winter.  There are still spots of brilliance on the hillsides around town, but they are becoming more sparse as the days wend their way forward to the ice and snow days to come.

This year, more than any other in recent memory, I am feeling adrift. 

Almost as though I were a leaf floating free from the tree, billowing back and forth and buffeted by the wind, not knowing where the ultimate landing spot will be.  All I know is that doing the same things, day in and day out, is dragging me down and wearing me out.  What I need is a new goal to meet and overcome, something that challenges me to do better, be better.

But what?

Whether this is an effect of coming out of the throes of cancer treatment or some larger metaphysical, internal debate, I do not know.  What I do know is that this sort of floating dissatisfaction often leads to a radical change from the inside out.

The question this time is in what form this one will take hold.

It isn't enough to do the same things, day in and day out.  At least it isn't enough any longer.  Based on this itching level of dissatisfaction and chafing at my day to day routines, I am feeling the need to stretch and grow.

What that means is anyone's guess at this point, but it does make for interesting internal times trying to figure it out, doesn't it?  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In My Life

Bette Midler, with Jake Shimabukuro on the ukelele, singing "In My Life."  Just beautiful.

UPDATE:  Ella gained her angel wings a little before noon today.  Much love to her whole family.

Little Ella, the four-year-old girl I mentioned in a prior post, is losing her fight.  Please continue to keep her family in your thoughts and prayers as they struggle to say goodbye.   Someone asked me via email how they can help, so here's the answer:  The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical and other expenses.

Let this be a reminder to hold your loved ones tight, for they are precious and fragile and our lives are fleeting.  Seize the day today, live with passion and purpose and all the courage you can muster, for you never know when your candle may be blown out.

These are lessons that I learned a while ago from Amy, but it is worth a reminder again of how important it is to live, every single day, with everything you have to give.

Let's start from where we left off:

1) Never go to bed without your spouse knowing how much you love them. Losing Amy was really hard, but knowing that her husband had no doubt in his mind about how solid their love was? Made it ever so slightly easier.

2) Who cares what size you wear, when everyone is really looking at how amazing your heart and mind are.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Good Thoughts and Prayers Needed

Yesterday, the granddaughter of a friend of ours -- someone with whom my husband has worked for close to 20 years -- was struck by a car on the way to her school bus stop, while walking with her mother and two younger siblings who were in a stroller.

It is tragic beyond description, and the little girl -- who is only 4 years of age -- had to be pulled out from underneath the car that struck her.  We are all in shock and just devastated for the family.

Please say a prayer or send some good thoughts their way.  The little girl is currently in the ICU and we are all pulling for a miracle.

(Photo via Xerones.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Falling For Fall

This weekend marked the true beginning of Fall at our house.  The living room fireplace has officially been lit for the first time this season, and hot tea and cozy blankets have become a staple.

It is officially warm soup and hot cider season at our house.

This past week, we trimmed back the rose bushes, paring back the overgrown canes of summer to keep them from snapping under the weight of ice and snow as winter quickly approaches.  The effect of this trim has been very fun for Sheldon the kitty:  he can now peer downward at the delicious morsels from the highest platform on his kitty perch in front of the sun room windows.  He is up there right now, chattering happily away at a fat dove on the feeder and a flock of fluffed out sparrows in the rose bushes below.

The light this time of year is so beautiful, golden and tilted so that the rays slant at just the right angle to illuminate everything with a hint of perfection.  We have had some rain, and the trees are looking full and ready to pop into a million brilliant hues all at once.

The leaves are calling to me to take a walk today in the open air, drinking in Fall's perfection, and saving up the color for the drab days of winter.  How can I resist?

(Photo via Nick Kenrick.)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fitting Another Piece In The Puzzle

The slog continues.  Trying to do too much with too little in personal energy reserve, I think.  Sleeping for more than 10 hours last night might be a clue.

How do you find a better balance, though, when life is rushing by you at such a high rate of speed?  It isn't easy.

Today will be spent coming up with a better plan: for the house, for getting school work finished, for getting other things done that are longer term projects, for making time for some family fun where we can...all of it is important, but how do we better get things done without running ourselves into the ground with exhaustion?  That's a question that needs to be answered and soon.

More routine, less wasted time may very well be the answer.  But it sounds a little too much like a regimented Martha Stewart lifestyle, and much less creative and carefree than I might like.  It is what it is, right?

Fitting all the pieces together into a coherent whole in this puzzle is a challenge.  But one I am going to master before this year is out.

(Photo via droetker0912.)