Saturday, December 27, 2008

A room reclaimed

I mentioned in my last post that Ken and I started converting one of the upstairs rooms into an office. The cleaning-out part is done, and there are a few things that will go into storage, a few that will go to Goodwill, and a few that we'll put in a garage sale this spring.

I know this looks like a boring old empty room, but it's amazing how liberating it is to clear out the unused, old junk and replace it with new, improved junk! Ha! I'm really did feel good to reclaim this room and know that we can put it to good use. (The reason it wasn't being used is a story for another day.) It was dismaying to see the disarray (also a story for another day), but it really didn't take that long to weed through and clean it out. We look forward to getting the desk moved upstairs and making the room a part of our living space rather than a closed-off room that is never used.

As the end of the year approaches, cleaning out this room made me think of how akin it is to cleaning out our mind's clutter. Do you have a room in your mind that you have closed off, rarely venturing in to explore what is there, leaving the contents to grow dusty and the corners to grow cobwebs? It can't be healthy...who knows what might be growing and lurking in there? Just as cleaning this room resulted in some startling finds (some pleasant, some not-so-pleasant, some that made us shake our heads in dismay), cleaning that room in our minds can also have startling results, some pleasant, some not-so-pleasant.

But it's something that really has to be done, otherwise we're left with a head filled with unpleasant memories and moldering detritus. It serves no purpose other than to drag us down and rob us of our current happiness. I hope everyone can face whatever nastiness is in that closed-off room and clean it out for the new year. It might seem to be a daunting task, with way too many things running around in there, but it really does feel good to get it done.

With our empty room, we now have a clean slate, a room we can make our own. It really is liberating, and I think you'll have the same feeling when you reclaim your room.

Nutwood Critter Day

We're approaching 60 degrees here at Nutwood, and it's been raining off and on all day. Much of the snow has melted, leaving the driveway and roads a slushy mess. If it freezes up again tonight, the roads will be terrible tomorrow. I'm glad we don't need to go anywhere!

I put a roast in the crock pot earlier. I've had this recipe for a while, and decided to finally try it: Coffee-Sauced Rump Roast. It sure smells good, but I'll let you know how it tastes. I got my workout in today (after being a slacker for the past couple of days) and we've been working on changing over one of the upstairs rooms into an office. Ken did most of the work, but I helped carry stuff. He's looking forward to having his desk upstairs, and I think we'll have room for the rocking chair my Mom gave me. It's a great chair for reading. It felt kind of good to start tackling that project, and I have another bookcase to hold the book overflow! Maybe we should just convert all the walls into built-in bookcases and be done with it.

This morning I saw a band of 20 or so wild turkeys crossing the back yard. It was great to see them, because they've been pretty scarce lately. We saw one lone turkey the other day, and I hope he found his turkey brethren.

The squirrels have been enjoying the seed I'm putting out. My intention is to feed the ground-feeding birds, but I can't keep the squirrels away. I can't help it, they're really cute--I love their little ears!--and I'd rather have them eating the cheaper seed I throw out on the ground than get into the suet and sunflower seed feeders!

The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorite birds. They're cute little guys, and they always seem very cheery to me. I suppose it's because of their's almost as if they're wearing a jaunty chapeau. "Oui oui, Madame, I like zees seed vairrrry much. Eet has a certain...I don't know now to describe ne sais quoi."

A couple of days ago, I glanced out the kitchen window and one of our hawks was sitting on the deck railing! I've seen a little sharp-shinned hawk come up here, but I've never seen one of the bigger hawks get that close to the house. When I tried to take a picture of him, he flew up into a tree and sat there for a solid hour. Another one (his/her mate?) was in another tree, so it was cool to see a pair of them. I'm not 100% certain, but I believe this is a red-shouldered hawk. None of the other hawks really fit his coloring and size (about 18-20 inches, so he's fairly imposing) or the time frame of the time of year that they would be here. Sorry it's not a real sharp picture, but I had to use the max zoom to get a close enough shot. He's a handsome fellow, isn't he?

In the fine tradition of my coming up with fanciful, creative, and imaginative names for our critters (Groundy the groundhog, Batty the bat, etc.), I named him Hawky. Ken said, "Hey, you're a hawky mom!"

Hahaha! Get it?


It really IS Critter Day, and the critters are cooperating! Right after I posted this entry, four deer showed up in the back yard.

Birthday wishes

It's the birthday of the incomparable Jamie! She totally cracks me up, and she's also got a soft spot when it comes to animals. It also turns out we're practically neighbors, and I look forward to meeting her one of these days. Stop on by Jamie's site and give her some birthday hugs. Don't squeeze too tight, though, because she's about ready to pop! Love ya, Jamie!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Henry Fondue

We actually ventured out today and did a little shopping. I was hoping it wouldn't be too crazy, and it was tolerable. One of our stops was Kohl's (I wanted to get some clip-on earrings, because I have some kind of allergic reaction to post earrings now, and I really miss wearing earrings!), and that was probably the busiest place. We didn't linger, and I found a couple of pairs that I liked, so I was happy.

We don't go out on New Year's Eve anymore--I've pretty much had my fill of that--and decided we'd do fondue this year. I can't remember if we did fondue on NYE last year, or if it was some other time, but it was really tasty and we've both got a hankering for it. However, we've got only two fondue pots, one for melting chocolate and one for keeping cheese fondue warm. Neither are designed for cooking in oil, and we both wanted to do some beef cubes. So today at Target, we found a Rival electric fondue pot (that's a picture of our model up above), and I can hardly wait to use it! (Man, do I ever love kitchen gadgets!) I found a recipe for cheese fondue using Havarti cheese (yummm), but I might stick with the usual Swiss. I do love Havarti cheese, though. Might as well try something new! I'll get all the "fixins" next week for our fabulous fondue party for two. It'll be a kicky blast. Hard to go wrong with melted cheese!

So far I'm planning on getting broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and bread (I already have beef in the freezer) for the cheese fondue, and strawberries, pineapple, bananas, and pears for the chocolate. Does anyone have any other favorites? One of these days, maybe we'll do a seafood fondue with shrimp, etc., but not this time. Jeez, I'm making myself hungry.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's no spork, but I'll take it!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful day! We've got a little time here between opening our gifts and when we need to leave for my folks' house, so I thought I'd pop on for a moment.

Was everyone happy with their presents? I know I was. We decided not to do anything big for each other, and just got things that we can both enjoy through the year--DVD's (I got the complete set of "From Dusk Till Dawn"!), books, etc. I got a rockin' cool black "Saw" (the movie) tank top in my stocking, and a new bird book (National Geographic) that will be a fine supplement to those I already have. I love my new mini-blender, too, and it will be great for making smoothies. (Yes, I love getting kitchen appliances.) Oh, and we did Christmas ornaments last night: I got a Lucy ornament, a Colts one, and a Studebaker one. Sweet! And I got a golfer S'mores one for Ken, and guess who is now accompanying Mr. Spock on his journey on our tree? That's right, James Tiberius Kirk. They're facing each other. "Christmas...the final frontier."

Oddly enough, one of my favorite gifts came in my stocking. It's a grapefruit knife and two grapefruit spoons. I've been on a grapefruit kick lately, and I can't tell you how often I've wished for a grapefruit spoon--usually while I was cleaning my glasses off after the grapefruit fought back. It may seem like a simple thing, but I think it shows great thoughtfulness on Ken's part.
Am I easy to please, or what? No bling for me...give me cutlery.

I made these Cheesecake Bars yesterday. Tasty! I'll give my modifications afterwards.

Cheesecake Bars

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make pastry: Cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the flour and nuts and stir until mixture becomes crumbly. Set aside 1/4 cup to use as a topping.

Press pastry mixture into 8-inch square, lightly greased pan and bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool on rack.

To make filling: Beat together the white sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Stir in the egg, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla and mix well. Spread filling mixture over baked crust. Sprinkle reserved pastry mixture on as a topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool on wire rack and refrigerate.

What I did different: I used pecans instead of walnuts, and in a stroke of genius, I added a couple of tablespoons of Amaretto to the filling mix. It gave it a great almond flavor. Hard to go wrong with Amaretto!

Off to my folks in a bit. Have a great night!

Can't Wrap This

Sheria sent me and Ken an e-card. Actually, she sent us two, one very sweet, and the other one...well, here it is. I totally cracked up. (And guilty pleasure admission...I still really like the original song.)

Cookie Time!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It gets me every time

I haven't been listening to Christmas music this year. I'm not sure why...maybe it's because things snuck up on me this year, or I've been a little too caught up in politics. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I think it might be true! But I found my favorite modern Christmas song on YouTube, and I'll put it up here. I kind of have to laugh at myself when it comes to this song, because I'm like Pavlov's dogs, except I cry instead of drool. As soon as the first strains start, I'm welling up, and by the end of the song, I've got a sodden Kleenex clutched in my hand. I honestly don't know what it is about this song, but it really does get me every time. Take it away, Harry.

When My Heart Finds Christmas

In my eyes are valentines
And Easter eggs and New Year's wine
But when my heart finds Christmas
My eyes will shine like new

All the days are kind to me
But fall too far behind to see
But when my heart finds Christmas
I hope it finds you, too

Let the angels sing around us
Christmas time is here
Let our children's love surround us
Laughing and filled with cheer

My heart told me once before
To find my dream and search no more
And when my heart finds Christmas
I hope it finds you, too

I wish you all a great Christmas, and nothing but good things in the coming year. You all bring a lot of joy into my little corner of the world, and I thank you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I thought I'd burned my bottoms!

I made the coffee cookies tonight and they're pretty good! Nothing unusual about them, just a basic cookie that has a subtle hint of coffee flavor. (I almost wish it had more. You could probably adjust a little, but you wouldn't want them to get too runny.) It has a little crispness to the outside, but is soft and cake-like inside. A time wasn't given in my Amish cookbook (Thank you, Alaina, for the sundial suggestion--ha ha! But I made them at night, so I would have been screwed!), so I started with 10 minutes. The bottoms were almost looking too brown, but the tops still looked a little moist, so I gave them a couple more minutes, and that seemed to be just right.

This is not a sweet cookie, so if you like things sweeter, don't bother with these. I'm going to give the recipe as I found it in my Amish cookbook, then I'll tell you my modifications. Oh, and I didn't take a picture of the cookies, because they're just plain brown ones (like a plain brown wrapper!). But I know I looked just like this picture when I was baking! Sweet bonnet, eh?

Coffee Cookies

3 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups lard
1 1/2 cups coffee, a little strong
1 1/2 teaspoons soda
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
vanilla and lemon
4 eggs
6 cups flour

Mix coffee and flour alternately. Bake at 350 degrees.

Okay, first off, I halved this recipe right off the bat. I ended up with 4 dozen cookies, so use your math skillz and cut everything in half unless you want coffee cookies out the wazoo!

It says "lard." Not too many people still use lard for cooking (although it makes a dandy pie crust...but even my Mom doesn't use it anymore), so I used the butter Crisco stuff.

The coffee I used was more than "a little strong." Ken likes very strong coffee...his Mom and stepdad call it...what is it? Jet fuel? Something like that. But as I mentioned, I would kind of like an even stronger coffee flavor in these. I wonder if you could throw some instant coffee granules in there, a tablespoon or so?

I used a teaspoon of vanilla, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. I bet a teaspoon or so of lemon zest would work even better--a little more intense than juice.

Do the usual, cream the sugar and wet ingredients (except for the coffee) then add the dry, alternating with the coffee. Oh, and I also added about a cup of chopped pecans. I think Linda suggested that, and it was a good addition. Drop by teaspoons onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.
I baked 'em for 12 minutes, and removed them to a wire rack to cool.

There was another coffee cookie recipe besides this one--basically the same recipe--that called for a light frosting made with powdered sugar. If you like things sweeter, do the frosting, but I like just the plain cookies.

"Stand By Me"

Our friend RaQuel sent me this. I thought it was so cool, and wanted to share it with you all. Indy, it's musicians from around the world singing and playing the classic "Stand By Me." It made me cry! (But in a good way.)

Seeing double

I stuck with my no motivation mood, and after a big bowl of soup, settled down on the couch with Sheeba to watch Monday Night Football. Well, I watched, Sheeba slept. It finally struck me that Sheeba had the right idea, so I slept, too. Next thing I knew, the game was over (da Bears won--that was for you, Honey!), and the remote was clutched in my hand. It's going on 5 AM, and I am WIDE AWAKE! I chatted with Shane on Facebook for a while, and that was fun. I didn't know Facebook had chat! Ha ha!

While watching CNN (after Letterman and Ferguson were over), I saw a commercial that pissed me right the hell off. Have you seen the Diddy commercials for Ciroc vodka? It looks like there's a new one, new enough that it's not on YouTube yet. A couple of things first:

Beth<--not a big Diddy fan. Puff Daddy? P Diddy? Whatever.

Beth<--likes vodka, especially in Bloody Marys, or with a splash of orange juice. I don't drink it often, but when I drink hard liquor, vodka is my first choice. Tequila is pretty tasty, too! And a lot more dangerous. But that's a story for another day.

Anyhoo, apparently Ciroc is being marketed as a high end vodka. I have no idea how much it costs, but one of the commercials channels the Rat Pack, so I'd guess they're going after the young, hip Vegas crowd. (I love the Rat Pack, and're no Rat Pack.) This new commercial is interesting, though, in a creepy kind of way. It takes place in the daytime, and two lovely young women are in a really nice house or apartment, calling for a cab. Diddy comes out in his tux from the night before, his tie untied, and says no no no, sends them on their way with a kiss, and sends them home in his car (not sure if it was a Rolls or not).

The implication here is that after a fun night at the clubs, Diddy took these two women home. While there is a large gap there from taking them home to shoving them into his car the following morning, I think we can all get the gist of the whole thing. I'm sure there will be plenty who see that commercial and say oh yeah, THAT'S what I'm talkin' about! Diddy rocks! If that's what happens when I drink Ciroc, I'm gettin' me a bottle o' that!

I have to wonder what the reaction would be if it were a woman sending two men home the next morning? I suspect it would be something like...oh, I don't know..."WHORE."

This sort of double standard has always pissed me off, and it always will. The very same behavior that is lauded and applauded when perpetrated by men is seen as nothing less than whorish and slutty when it comes to women. It's time to hold men to the same standards as they hold us to, ladies. You don't want a player, trust me. If you're hearing through the grapevine that the guy is a whoredog, run the other way. When I lived in Indy, I was warned about this guy I dated for a while, and I didn't listen to those warnings...I eventually found out what a slut he was and how much he lied to me, and I'm telling you, the thought of him now absolutely makes my skin crawl . Since when is it attractive to date a guy who screws any female that is somewhere between legal age and using a walker? Yuck.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Utterly DEmotivated

I have almost no gumption for anything whatsoever today. I'm not sick, I'm not in a bad mood, I'm not sleepy...I just don't feel like doing much of anything! I'm not feeling fired up about anything either, so I guess you all can breathe a sigh of relief today. [wink] This is mellow Beth. Very mellow Beth.

Ken and I stayed up late and slept late today, since he's working nights, and it's a drag not to have him around in the evening. We both got our workouts in today, so I guess I'm not completely demotivated, only partially. I'm doing a load of laundry, too, so wow, I'm on fire!

I had a vague urge to bake, but it wasn't strong enough to spur me into action. I might still make something tonight, though. I found a recipe for coffee cookies. I don't drink hot coffee, but I love iced coffee and mocha flavors, so how good do coffee cookies sound? I wish I had some already made, then maybe I'd be all hopped up on caffeine and feel more motivated! Ha!

I was looking online for interesting cookie recipes this afternoon. I was surprised at how many I saw that use cake mix as a base, rather than starting from scratch. I can't remember the last time I bought a box of cake mix, but I have flour, sugar, and all that stuff. I can always count on one of my Amish cookbooks to have plenty of from-scratch recipes, and that's where I found the coffee cookie recipe. In fact, sometimes they are so from-scratch that a novice in the kitchen would have a hard time. In the coffee cookie recipe, it lists all the ingredients and their amounts, except it just says "vanilla and lemon" with no amounts, and the instructions are nothing more than this: "Mix coffee and flour alternately. Bake 350 degrees." I guess I'll have to guess as to how long to leave them in the oven! (Why am I having a sudden vision of billowing black smoke?)

I think I'll read some more and go from there. I hope everyone is staying warm!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"The Yellow Wallpaper"

I just mentioned this story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in my previous entry, and had to find it and read it again.

If you've never read the story, try to find it in a collection, because it is one of the freakiest and creepiest stories you'll ever read. And I do mean creepy (if you read or have read the story, you'll know what I'm talking about). I first read it when I was in high school, in an anthology of short stories...if I recall, it was an old book, and I wish I still had it. The pages were rather yellow, which was fitting.

The woman in the story is suffering from a "nervous condition," and she and her physician husband lease a country estate for a period of time, in an effort to give her a little rest and ease her stress. She and her husband stay in the large upstairs bedroom:

It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that looks all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls...

I never saw a worse paper in my life...

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long...

There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.

WOW, I'd forgotten how awesome this story is, and how much I loved it. Who knew that a writer could make wallpaper so freakin' creepy?!

Quiet, cold, and blustery

It's been a quiet day at Nutwood, as well as in Spottersville. All the little elves are busy with their little elfin duties!

No elves here--we're just hunkering down trying to keep our asses from freezing off! Criminy, it's cold out there! I was happy to stay inside all day, but Ken braved the frigid temperatures to go get a haircut, and he was nice enough to stop at the store and pick up a few things. The tuna steaks are marinating (I'm doing blackened tuna again--we both liked it quite a bit), and I'll be roasting some asparagus, too. Mmmm!

Our friend Kimberley called and we discussed Vegas plans. They are happy about the Boneyard tour (where Vegas signs retire), cool with the Brazilian steakhouse (I think Kim said they've actually eaten there before, unless she was talking about Brazilian steakhouses in general), and they're really looking forward to a fun break after much craziness with their teaching duties. There is also much craziness in Vegas, but it's a fun kind of crazy, and I think we're all looking forward to some of that!

I'm in a quiet, reading kind of mood, and I finally finished the latest Stephen King collection of short stories, Just After Sunset. I had put it aside to read a couple of other things, and since it was a collection of stories, it was easy to go back to it. My favorite in the collection was "The Things They Left Behind," about those who perished in the Twin Towers...and those who survived. I thought it was a very poignant piece, and it is obvious that 9/11 had a profound effect on King, as it did the rest of us. If you like King, these are fun and sometimes thought-provoking stories. Nothing that really spooked me, but I'm kind of hard to spook anymore, especially through a story or a book. Probably the spookiest story in this collection was "N.," which was my second favorite. It had a definite Lovecraft feel to it, exploring how thin the veil between different worlds can be. It also used the letter as its base, i.e., letters written, notes taken in a psychiatrist's office, newspaper stories--I've always loved that form for a story or novel. It seems that it's a little more mysterious, letting the reader in bit by bit on the story, as well as an intimate glimpse of the writer's (the writer in the story, that is) state of mind.

King also included an afterword in which he talks about the stories and his thoughts, and I always enjoy that. He mentioned OCD several times, and while I forget which story included this reference, he also mentioned the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was thrilled to see that, because it remains one of my favorites stories of all time. Is anyone else familiar with it? Lori? I have a copy of it downstairs, and I might have to read that again.

My next book is one from our book club, Loving by the English novelist Henry Green. I'm very behind--this was October's book! (I've already read November's, though.) I also have December's book, but I think that's going to be more of a January book for me! I keep thinking I'll get caught up at some point, but it hasn't happened yet!