Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Don't Panic!..."

Good morning, all! It's not quite 11:00 a.m. on the west coast and so far this morning I've made/processed the following:

~ 2 quarts of homemade turkey soup
~ 8 phyllo wrapped chicken breasts
~ 10 pounds of sesame chicken strips (can be used for stir-frys, salads, sandwiches)
~ 2 meatloaves


I've still yet to make:

~ 6 pounds of peanut chicken
~ 3 pounds of rojo steak strips (can use in soft tacos, burritos, fajitas)
~ 3 pounds of sirloin strips in a wine/teriyaki sauce (can be used in stir-frys or by iteself over rice)
~ 3 pounds of steak dionne

As you can tell, it's 'stock the freezer day'. I am inspired because I bought a new 'Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer!' book this past week. I have the first book, this is a new one -- with GREAT recipes! If you haven't read it/tried it, I highly recommend you do. When I've taken the time to make a few of these dishes and freeze them, I can't tell you how much easier it makes my life. While I enjoy cooking, I don't necessarily enjoy cooking a full on meal when I get home from work. These nice little 'head starts' really help me out and ease the meal-time burden.

Kevin and I used Dream Dinners exactly three times before we decided their prices were so outrageous, we simply could not justify the cost. Plus, so many of the things are just "marinate & freeze". That's okay, but it's not that great of a help at dinner time. That's something I can do on my own. After our three sessions, I decided to search out another alternative. I was thrilled when I found the first 'Don't Panic...' book. Debbie and I got together and did a big cooking session and it worked out well! I've done a few sessions on my own since then and am always amazed at how nice it is to just go to the freezer and pull out something delicious for dinner. Such a time saver! So, of course, when I heard there was a new book, I had to buy that to. I'm so glad I did! Even more wonderful recipes to test out. In addition to the regular beef, chicken, soup recipes, there are also lots of delicious brunch items, appetizers and desserts. I'm planning another session for Spring Break (week after next), and that session will include some brunch items and baked goods.

I feel so accomplished!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cinnamon Crunch Bagels & Pajama Day

What a perfectly wonderful Friday! Today is pajama day at school and while I don't feel comfortable wearing a pair of PJ's to work, I feel perfectly comfortable wearing a PJ top - because it looks just like a regular T-shirt - and a pair of slippers to work! Ahhhh comfort!

As if that weren't enough to make this Friday a wonderful way to ease into the weekend, my friend Nancy brought in cinnamon crunch bagels and honey walnut cream cheese from Panera. YUM!!

You just have to love a Friday like this!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Baseball Spoken Here

At the last minute yesterday, Kevin was offered 4 tickets and a parking pass for the final game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The game was at Dodger Stadium. He called and asked if I'd like to go. Sure!

I must admit, I would have been more engaged in the game if I'd been familiar with more of the players (the final was Korea vs. Japan), but we still had a good time. Talk about fans! Holy cow, Korea and Japan certainly take their baseball very seriously. The fans began cheering the moment the entered the stadium and didn't quit until it was over. It was fun to watch the crowd.

Thanks, Kevin, for inviting me to be your date! Thanks, too, to Veronica and her husband who gave us the tickets.

Geese in Flight

Sunday morning Kevin and I were sitting in the park when the most unusual thing happened; five geese flew directly overhead! It was amazing! Living in southern California, I've never had that experience before. Kevin said the same thing had happened at work a few days before and he'd been stunned, too.

We were sitting at the picnic tables talking when we heard a loud honking noise in the sky; we looked up and there they were. They were just beautiful! I've no idea where they came from or where they were headed, but I'm definitely glad we had the chance to see them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ken Burns

Have you seen this film? If not, you should.

Last night Kevin and I had the great fortune to see Ken Burns speak in Pasadena for the Distinguished Speaker series. All I can say is 'WOW'. If you ever have the opportunity to see Ken Burns either in person, or watch one of his many documentaries, do yourself a favor and make the effort. Why? Aside from being one of the most talented and gifted filmmakers of this, or any, generation, he's an awesome speaker as well. Not so much the way in which he speaks, but the passion he has for the subject matter on which he makes films - well, it's truly inspirational. As are his films. Here is a brief snippet of the speech we heard him deliver last night:

"I am in the business of history. It is the avocation I have chosen to practice my craft of filmmaking. Over the many years of practicing, I have come to the realization that history is a not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known, truth. It is an inscrutable and mysterious and malleable thing. Each generation rediscovers and re-examines that part of its past that gives its present, and most important, its future new meaning and new possibilities.

I am interested in that mysterious power of history, and I am interested in its many varied voices. Not just the voices of the old top-down version of our past, which would try to convince us that American history is only the story of Great Men. And not just those pessimistic voices that have recently entered our studies, voices which seem to suggest that our history is merely a catalogue of white crime. I am interested in listening to the voices of a true, honest, complicated past that is unafraid of controversy and tragedy, but equally drawn to those voices, those stories and moments, that suggest an abiding faith in the human spirit and particularly the unique role this remarkable and sometimes dysfunctional Republic seems to play in the positive progress of mankind. That, quite simply, has been my creed, my mantra, the lens through which I have tried to see our shared past, to understand its stories, for more than 30 years."

Again, WOW. Doesn't even just this little bit of his speech make you want to delve into our history with a passionate vengeance?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Great Sandwich Escapade of 2009

Normally, our sweet angel, Slippers, is quite well behaved. However, as with most children - furry or otherwise - there are certainly days when this is, to say the least, questionable. Over the years we've had a visit or two from what we've decided to call Slippers' 'Evil Twin, Skippy'.

A bit of background...
We found Slippers nearly 8 years ago at our local Humane Society and instantly fell in love with her. She was just about a year old and came to the shelter as a stray. They felt, and we concur, that she'd been somewhat abused and abandoned by a former owner. When she was brought in, she'd already been spayed and had clearly had a bit of training, but she was somewhat timid and growled at most men. Luckily, she was also playful, gentle and oh-so-sweet! We brought her home and, from the very first day, we knew we'd chosen the perfect dog. The first night she was with us, we went to mom and dad's for dinner. Deb, Bill and the boys were there, too, and the boys were so excited about the new 'puppy'! They wanted to help feed her so we put just a few pieces of kibble in each of their hands and they held it out for Slippers. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but to our delight she ever so gently licked the kibble from their small hands.

And so she is - the gentle 'giant'. She's a border collie mix; weight wise, probably a bit heavier on the mix since she's upwards of 90 pounds. Never are we more reminded of this than when we assemble on the couch in the evenings to watch television or read. Kevin on one end, me on the other, and Slipper stretched out in the middle between us. If, by chance, she feels that she needs a bit more room to stretch out, she'll 'hip check' one or the other of us until she's got enough of the couch to satisfy her. Typically, the hip-checkee will move from the couch altogether and head over to the loveseat. That suits her just fine.

Anyone who knows Slippers knows that she's certainly not shy when it comes to food. If you've got it, she wants it. It doesn't really matter what 'IT' is; with very few exceptions, she'll eat anything. That said, she's never actually 'taken' anything. She always waits for it to be offered, albeit not exactly patiently.

Fast forward to this past Saturday. I was sitting on the couch enjoying a sandwich for lunch. I was about halfway finished when there was a knock at the door. Slippers, ever in alert mode, raced to the door barking like mad. I could see it was our neighbor from across the street so I quieted her before opening the door, and off she went. (enter: Evil Twin, Skippy) I spoke with our neighbor for just a moment, but as I turned from closing the door, I found Slippers ... in all her glory ... enjoying the second half of my sandwich! She'd stolen it right off my plate!! Now, though she's a food hog, this is highly unusual behavior for Slippers. Countless times we've left food on the coffee table and she's never so much as sniffed it. I have no idea what got into her, but there she was, turkey hanging out of her mouth, chomping gleefully with nary a care in the world. ...until she heard the sound of my voice: "SLIPPERS!", I exclaimed. "Bad dog!!" She dropped what remained of her feast - a slice of cheese - and looked woefully at me. "Bad dog!!" I said again as I picked up the plate from the coffee table. But I left the cheese on the floor. And, curiously enough, so did she. Having been reprimanded, she wanted nothing to do with that cheese.

As difficult as it was, I ignored her for an hour. With the exception of catching her eye a time or two, at which point I repeated the 'bad dog' tidbit, I completely and utterly ignored this sensitive cannine who just lives for attention. That whole, l-o-n-g hour, she didn't so much as glance at that slice of cheese on the floor.

After a while, I sat back down on the couch and invited her up. She slowly put her front paws on the couch and gave a little jump. She snuggled close to me with sad, pouty eyes, and we chatted. I stroked her smooth black fur and spoke to her in hushed tones. I could feel her body relax ... she knew that, as mad at her as I'd been, I still loved her and she'd been forgiven.

A few minutes later, she jumped down from the couch and snapped up that cheese, toute suite!

Now I ask can you stay mad at a face like this?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice

The grapefruit tree that hangs over the fence from our neighbor's yard is heavy with grapefruit. Every year I forget just how wonderful these grapefruit are - delicious! They're enormous and surprisingly sweet on their own. I picked a small fraction of them today and made a pitcher of juice. What remains in the box are the ones I didn't use. There are at least that many more hanging over into our yard. Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice anyone?

Happy 12th Birthday P&D!!

Twelve years old. WOW! Where on earth did the time go?

Yesterday we celebrated Pat & Drew's birthday. It's hard to believe that twelve years ago yesterday, these two came into this world kicking and screaming. So excited were they to see what the world was about that they arrived two months early. Though early and quite small, they were scrappy survivors. They remained in NICU until nearly their scheduled arrival date, growing stronger and stronger every day.

Looking at them today, would you ever guess they were 3 pounds, 3 ounces and 3 pounds 7 ounces? No? Neither would the rest of us. Maybe the chocolate cake helped. Afterall, it's got eggs and dairy -- good for you stuff. Yeah, that's it ... it's health food! No? Well, you can't blame a girl for trying.

Love these 'blowing-out-the-candles' expressions:

What do you get 12 year old sports fans who just got their own rooms? Paraphernalia from their favorite teams of course!!
That's right - we've got the next Derek Jeter and next great hope for the Washington Huskies on our hands. And hey, who doesn't need cool clocks and trash cans for their room? Besides, it goes well with the blankets they got for Christmas:
("Aunt Ran, did you really make these?" Yes, yes I did!)

Happy 12th birthday, Pat and Drew! We love you!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Boggle and Hot Chocolate

Bored with the choices on television (how many times can one watch "How it's Made" before losing your curiosity?), Kevin and I settled in for a hair-raising evening of Boggle and hot chocolate. Okay, perhaps it was more like eyebrow-raising, but you get the idea. It was fun and, unlike most of the mind-numbing choices available on television, it made us think. The Boggle, not the hot chocolate.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It's that time...

While I dearly love daylight savings time during the spring, summer and early fall of the year, I hate waking up on the first work day after daylight savings time has begun! At o-dark-thirty, Kevin and I were out on our walk with the ever demanding Slippers when we turned and looked at each other and said "What on earth are we doing walking the neighborhood at 4:30 in the morning?!"

Ahhhhh yes, but it's now five thirty. There. I feel much better now.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Repurposed Containers

Yep, it's March and I'm busily planning what fun things I will be creating for Christmas gifts! One of the project I'll be working on this year is containers for homemade goodies. Or rather, I should say, I'll be repurposing containers that already exist.

This is a fun, easy little project that will take more creativity than skill and I can hardly wait to get started. However, first I need to collect containers. With that in mind, if any of you out there have empty Pringles containers, oatmeal containers or one pound coffee cans that you don't need or want, I'd love to have them! Who knows, you just might get them back filled with yummy treats!

Sunday Afternoon Picnic

With a refrigerator bursting at the seems with picnic goodies, Kevin and I thought today would be the perfect day for our Sunday picnic. In addition to the fruit and cheese selections, we also opened a jar of olive tapenade and a jar of Harry and David's onion and pepper relish (thanks, mom and dad!). If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it. To be honest, I wasn't sure about it when I first tasted it at an Easter celebration at mom and dad's last year. But trust me, once you try it, you'll find it difficult to stop eating it! We took a jar with us to one of our picnics at the Hollywood Bowl this last summer and there was not one drop left ... and there were only four of us sharing it!
Give it a try - I promise you won't regret it.

Life Simplified

This weekend I've been focusing mostly on homekeeping activities that, in the end, make the rest of my week run smoothly. Things such as menu planning, grocery shopping, laundry, mending, ironing and such.

I know that these things may sound boring to some, but for me, they are lifesavers. It's funny because each of these small tasks on their own are helpful, but when combined, they become a powerhouse that allow me greatly simplify my work-a-day life.

About three years ago or so, I discovered the secret of planning our menu for a two-week period. While initially something of a challenge, once it became a habit, I could see how invaluable this one simple homekeeping tool is in the long run. There are times when things come up and we don't follow the menu to a T, but having it there to follow most of the time saves so much time in the kitchen - and money in the grocery store - that I can't imagine not creating my two-week menu plan. The menus I commit to writing are dinner meals; breakfast and lunch are easy enough and don't require a menu. Breakfasts typically consist of either cold cereal, which we both love, or oatmeal cooked on the weekends and doled out to storage bags in individual servings, or leftovers from larger 'weekend breakfasts'. For instance, this morning I made French toast and there were lots of leftovers. I took the leftovers and sliced them into French toast sticks, divided them up and put them in baggies. In the morning, we need only pour a small amount of syrup into a plastic container and grab a bag of French toast sticks for breakfast on the go. Since I was on a roll, I went ahead and made up a pan of oatmeal and divided the portions into baggies. We also put the 'goodies' (brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans) in a snack sized bag so those are ready to go as well. In the morning, whether we're eating at home or at work, we need only grab one of each bag and breakfast is ready to go. Lunches consist of either sandwiches and fruit, leftovers from the night before, or a Lean Cuisine meal (purchased on sale of course!) paired with a green salad from the cafeteria (our cafeteria manager, bless her, always allows me to help myself - for free!).

Aren't these grocery shopping baskets adorable!? My friend Lee gave me one for Christmas. The pattern is a bit different from this one, but it's adorable, too, and I just love it! It's handy for so many things - not just grocery shopping. It's particularly useful when we venture out to the weekly Farmer's Market.

Grocery shopping is one of those tasks I thoroughly enjoy. I'm not nearly as fond of putting everything away once I get it home, but there you have it - the yin and yang of the grocery shopping experience. I'll admit, it does take me a bit to get prepared for grocery shopping; what with reviewing our menu, going through the store flyers, and pulling coupons -- who wouldn't spend a bit of time on this project? But it's well worth it. On an average grocery store outing, I've gotten everything on my list/menu (from time to time I may miss something, but that's more the exception and not the rule), and with use of the grocery store loyalty card and a great selection of coupons, I've saved anywhere from 47 - 65% on my total bill. That's the part I love the most - watching the $$ fly off the total! I admit it, I'm a coupon junkie.

Like most people, mending is not one of those things I do very often. I guess that's why I find it particularly satisfying when I actually do it! Having recently lost 20 pounds, there were a few things in my closet that required a bit of taking in. I'm the first one to tell you that I'm no professional when it comes to sewing matters, but I can certainly hold my own with small hand sewing projects. Such was the case this weekend. I managed to successfully alter a few blouses to my new (smaller - yay!) size, sufficiently enough so that they may be added to my daily wardrobe. I'm very pleased about this since both of these blouses were new as of the fall - and I loved the color and pattern of both of them!

Do you hate ironing? I used to, too. In fact, I pretty much avoided it at all costs. Until ... our old iron broke and we had to buy a new one. This one little episode taught me a very valuable lesson: you may need to spend a bit more on the proper equipment, but having the right tool for the job makes the job both faster and more enjoyable. Okay, so ironing still is not at the top of my 'Fun Things to Do' list, but it certainly isn't at the bottom of the 'Dirty Jobs' list either. In fact, I dare say that on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, I actually now find ironing quite an enjoyable task. While today isn't a rainy day - in fact, it's beautiful outside! - I know that spending 30 minutes ironing today will save me far more than that during a busy weekday morning when I haven't time to iron.

So there you have it - more or less a full weekend of homekeeping. Honestly, I'm such a home body that I love weekends like this! But, shhhhh! Let's keep that our little secret!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Awaiting Spring

I just love this mosaic! So many dreamy images. It was created by Heather Bullard.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Early Spring Cleaning

Yesterday I was in the mood to do a bit of spring cleaning. I know it's early, but I figured that I may as well get a head start while I was in the mood.

Mostly I concentrated on the garden room. It really wasn't in bad shape at all, just needed a bit of sprucing. A good dusting here, a little rearranging there, and a sort through all of the books. So many books! Honestly the books that are there are pared down from what they were; Kevin and I purged quite a few while we were on winter break. How do I amass SO many books? I've decided just to keep those books that I truly love, use and refer to often. The rest are heading in various directions: some to Deb for her classroom, a good chunk to our school library, and the rest to the Goodwill. I'm sure they'll all find wonderful homes and will be well loved and often read.

Here are a few photos of my favorite bookshelf and some of yesterday's accomplishments. I just love each one of the little shelves - one has gardening books, while another holds decorating books, and yet another stores books on the history of California and Los Angeles. Another shelf ... well, as you can see, it's for the birds!

Another one of my favorite things in the garden room is a beautiful water color. The subject is the gazebo at the Apple Farm where Kevin and I honeymooned. I had a photograph of it that I just loved and a friend of mine used the photo as a model and painted this for us. Isn't it beautiful?!

Next stop on the spring cleaning tour: the clothes closets!

RIP Dear Friend

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death”

Last Tuesday night we went to visit my friend Jann for the last time. We knew it would be the last time we'd see her - she was in the last few hours of her all too short, but well-lived life. When we arrived, there were a few other friends scattered about and her husband and two grown children. Jon spoke with us before we went in and said that she was unresponsive and we were just re-living good memories and letting her know it was okay to let go.

When Kevin and I went in, their son, Erich, was in with Jann and serenading her with his guitar. He stood up when we came in and we hugged. I held her hand for a while and Erich began reminiscing about the time I'd taken he and his friend to a concert years ago when they were just 16 years old. We laughed and he reassured his mom that I'd been a very good driver and had been very careful with her precious cargo.

We stayed for just a short time - about an hour or so - and then, when it was time to go, I leaned over and gave Jann a kiss on the forehead, told her how glad I was that we'd been friends and had been able to share some wonderful times together. I wished her a peaceful journey and told her we'd meet again some day on the other side, and I hoped we'd remember each other. We hugged Jon and Erich and Nora and then took our leave.

At 3:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, Jann lost her 3-year battle with ovarian cancer.