Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is going to be December 1st.  The last few weeks of November seemed to fly by, but was actually mostly good.

I’ll start with the best news first.  We finally got rain!!!  I’ve never been so happy to see rain.  We had a tiny bit of rain in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning.  Then we had a little rain Monday night.
We’ve had lots of rain today, and it has been wonderful.

The smoke got really bad last week.  Because of the way the wind was blowing we were actually getting smoke from two different fires.  There was a haze of smoke inside at work last week, and at home it smelled like a bonfire.  I was convinced we would be evacuating.  Once again, Nick was the voice of reason, and was right, no evacuation for us.

I ended up going to the doctor to get medications for smoke-related breathing issues.  I’ve had a terrible cough that just won’t go away.  It turns out that it’s due to inflammation caused from the smoke and all of the coughing.  I’m two days into the medicine, and already feel so much better.  Being able to breathe is a wonderful thing!

Our cat, Joey, has asthma, and our vet has had us increase all of his medications, and even added in a few more.  Hopefully now that we’ve had some rain, and the smoke seems to finally be clearing, we’ll be able to taper him back down to his normal dose.

We celebrated my parents’ 42nd anniversary with them the weekend before Thanksgiving.  We brought a cake, and Nick made calzones, which were incredibly delicious.  It was a little weird, because we had to check on the status of three different fires burning near us before we felt comfortable leaving to go that far from home.  Fortunately everything was fine, and we had a good time with my parents.

Thanksgiving went really well.  I got the food to the hospice house on time.  I was really worried about running behind.  I told them I’d have it there between 12:30 and 1:00, and made it about 12:50, so I’m counting that as a win.  Bonus win, I had very minimal spilling on the drive there; just a little green bean juice spilled in the trunk.  Considering the amount of food I took there, I’m counting that as success.  I’m fairly proud of myself for packing it up efficiently.  I saved shipping boxes for a while, so I’d have boxes to put the pans in.  I put everything in disposable pans so there would be no worrying about getting dishes back, and labeled everything to make it easier in dealing with leftovers.  We even remembered to buy paper plates, etc. to take.

I ended up bringing turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes (made to stand alone, so they wouldn’t necessarily need gravy, and could be a vegetarian option, per Victoria’s suggestion), sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, green beans, rolls, jellied cranberry sauce, whole berry cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, a cherry crunch, and a chocolate cake.  I ended up scaling the menu back a little bit, just to make sure I got everything there on time, but I think there was still plenty of food.

The staff was so nice, and kept thanking me over and over again.  They made me cry (in a good way, just by being so nice).  I told them they had just been so kind when GrandMommy was there, and that we really appreciated them.  I cannot imagine doing their job.  They kept saying they’re happy to do it, especially when people appreciate it.  I didn’t stick around very long.  I didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s grief, or get in the way of people trying to work, or eat so they could get back to work.  And I wanted to get out of there before I turned into a total crying mess.  I called Nick’s mom on the way home, and cried to her instead, Like, I said, it was mostly a good cry, though.

Once I got home from hospice, I started cooking smaller batches of Thanksgiving food for us for when Nick got home from work.  I started the desserts on Wednesday afternoon.  I have pictures of the desserts, but somehow managed not to take a single picture of the food before I left with it on Thursday.  We figured out that out of about a 30 hour period I cooked or baked for all but about eight hours of it.  It was fun, but I totally crashed on Friday.

On Friday, the most ambitious thing I did was a little online Black Friday shopping.  I’ll admit, I never even got out of my pajamas.  We ate leftovers, watched a few movies, and did a little online shopping.  It was nice to have such a low-key day.

We put the tree up on Saturday, and had a friend, Cathey, over for some apple cake.  She had gone out of town for Thanksgiving, and we started talking about how everyone had spent Thanksgiving.  We told her about taking food to hospice, and she loved the idea.  Her first husband was sick off an on for years before he died, and she has ended up taking care of a lot of different people over the years.  She has spent pretty much every major holiday in a hospital or similar place at some point.  She said one Christmas when her husband was in the hospital someone had brought in some Christmas goodies, and it just made such a difference to her that someone did that.  So she came up with the idea for us to take Christmas goodies to the hospice house.  We won’t be able to go on Christmas, but we’re planning to go a few days before and leave some Christmas foods.  Cathey makes a lot of the traditional candies and fudge, so will do that.  I haven’t figured out what I’m going to make yet.  I’m open to suggestions.

The tree looks good, and so far Frankie is the only cat really messing with it much.  One of the presents is in a fairly large box, and he’s using the box to stand on to access some of the higher branches (where we put the ornaments we really don’t want the cats messing with), so I think that box is going to end up being moved away from the tree.

We’ve finished most of our Christmas shopping.  I think we have about four more things to buy, and then we’ll be completely finished.  I’ve also finished shopping for Nick’s birthday (he’s a Christmas Eve baby), and am just waiting for a few more online orders to come in.  I’m hoping to finish up all, or at least most, of the wrapping this weekend.  I enjoy wrapping presents, but it seems to take me forever.

I can’t go into details because most of the people I shop for read my blog at least occasionally, but I’m really excited about a few of the presents.  I also know what some people we’ll be celebrating with have gotten for each other, and I think everyone is really going to love their gifts.

So what about you?  How was your Thanksgiving?  How are your Christmas preparations going?  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you aren’t dealing with smoke!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Practically Fool-Proof Turkey

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, I thought I’d share my turkey recipe.  I’ve had a few misadventures when it comes to cooking turkeys, but this recipe is practically fool-proof.  It’s also incredibly delicious!

Thanksgiving perfection! 
It’s a little different from what you might expect, but I promise it’s delicious.  It’s cooked cavity side up, which I believe is technically “upside down”.  If you can get the past the fact that it looks a little different, it’s totally worth it to cook it this way.  It makes for an incredibly moist turkey.

There’s no basting with this recipe, which I think helps to make it fool-proof.  It’s also much more convenient.  Once you get it in the oven, it’s pretty much good to go.  I like being able to concentrate on other things once the turkey is in the oven.  And not constantly opening the oven door.  

I’ve noticed that it always seems to take much longer for the turkey to cook than what the guides on the wrappers say.  The turkey in this recipe was a 16.5 pound turkey.  Per the wrapper, it should have cooked in about 4.5 hours.  It took six.  I don’t think my oven is that far off when it comes to temperature.  Since cooking time varies so much by weight, I usually add about an hour and a half to two hours on to what the wrapper says when I’m planning what time to put it in the oven.  I check on it at the end of the longest suggested time (if the wrapper says 4 - 4.5 hours, I check it as 4.5 hours), but it has always needed the extra time.

Don’t forget to give it plenty of time to thaw if you’re using a frozen turkey.  I bought a 22 pound turkey for the big day this year, so it’s going in the fridge on Sunday to begin thawing.  The last thing you want is a partially frozen turkey in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning.

The measurements for this recipe are for a 16.5 pound turkey.  You’ll probably need some more vegetables if you’re cooking a larger turkey. Whenever I find that I’ve chopped more vegetables than I can stuff in the turkey, I just put the extras in the bottom of the roasting pan.  It just adds more flavor.  I like this combination of vegetables because I think the celery adds a lot of moisture, and the onions and carrots pack a lot of flavor.  And you can’t go wrong with butter.

The wine adds some nice flavor, and the water and wine together help keep the turkey moist.  It also makes for some amazingly delicious pan drippings.

You can use the vegetables in your dressing.  Rice is a Thanksgiving staple for us, and the vegetables are delicious in that as well.  I usually just add a few spoonfuls of the vegetables to the pot when I’m cooking the rice.  Because you’ll have a lot of pan drippings you can use them in rice (just replace part of the water with them), gravy, and dressing.  It’s all delicious!

3 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 stick of butter, kept cold until you’re ready to use it
1 Tbsp dried parsley, plus a little more for sprinkling
Salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup white wine
2 cups water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Remember to adjust your oven wracks first if you need to.  (It’s a lot easier when they’re cold!)

Open turkey package, and remove neck, giblets, and any plastic holding the legs together (leave the pop-up timer, though).  Place turkey, cavity side up, in a large roasting pan.  

Combine all of the vegetables in a bowl.  Chop 2/3 of the stick of butter into small cubes, and add to the vegetables.  Add 1 Tbsp parsley, and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Stuff the vegetables inside the turkey.  You want to really pack it full.  It’s okay if they’re spilling out. If you have any left, just put them in the bottom of the pan.

This is how it should look just before you cover it.
Chop the remaining 1/3 stick of butter into squares and place them on the outside of the turkey.  I usually tuck them under the wings and legs.

Lightly sprinkle the turkey with salt, pepper, and parsley.
Pour the wine and water into the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan with foil.  You want the edges of the pan to be tightly wrapped, but allow room at the top.  Kind of tent the foil, so it’s not actually touching the turkey at the top.

Bake for 4.5 - 6 hours.  Like I said, my oven always takes a lot longer than the wrapper says.  Check on it at the end of the wrapper’s recommended time.  It’s done when the pop-up timer is out and/or when you can make a cut where the leg meets the body and the juices run clear.  If in doubt, cook it a little longer.  That’s the beauty of this recipe.  The turkey isn’t going to dry out.

Try to talk someone else into carving the turkey, and enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiday Spirit

Betty, at A Bench With A View, posted something that really made me think about the holidays, and how different people feel about them.  She was asking for ways to find the joy in Christmas because December is not a good time of year for her.

I love the holidays.  I didn’t grow up celebrating any holidays.  I didn’t have my first Christmas tree until 2008.  I think part of why I get so excited about the holidays is because it’s all still kind of new to me.

This year has been a little different.  2016 has just been a really bad year.  We’ve lost two grandparents and three pets.  There have been a few other things with family and work.  I haven't been as enthusiastic about the holidays this year.  Fortunately, my sister is really excited about the holidays this year.  She started planning early, and her enthusiasm has rubbed off on me.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to the new year like I never have before.  New Year normally isn’t a holiday I get really excited about, but this year I can’t wait.

It made me think about how the holidays can be hard for so many different reasons.  It also made me think about ways to add joy to the holidays.  Here are 25 ways to add a little more joy to your holidays:

1. Start early.  Unless you’re one of those people who thrive on the last minute rush, you’ll probably feel a lot better, and be less stressed, getting started early.

2. Have realistic expectations.  You’re human, and there are only 24 hours in every day.  You probably won’t be able to do everything.  Pick and choose what’s important to you, and what will bring you the most joy.

3.  Listen to “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”.  I dare you to listen to it and not smile.  I love this song, and it makes me happy every time I hear it.

4.  Consider changing your traditions.  The first year without a loved one can be really hard.  This year was our first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, which was hard.  We used to always go to a Greek luncheon, and then usually shopping.  Nick’s mom would come, and we’d all go eat a gigantic lunch and then browse stores, usually thrift stores.  This year no one wanted the emotional baggage that came with that, so we changed things up.  We all went out to breakfast at IHOP, then spent the day at the zoo, and then had barbeque for dinner.  It didn’t change the fact that it was the first Mother’s Day without GrandMommy, but doing something different did make the day a little easier.

5.  Acknowledge grief.  If you’re dreading getting the Christmas ornaments out because you know you’re going to find the special one a loved one you’ve lost gave you, and you can’t deal with it right now, ask a trusted friend to unpack your ornaments for you and put it away safely until you’re ready to see it.  Chances are there is someone who said something along the lines of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”.  Take them up on it.  There’s no harm in admitting that something is just too hard right now, and that you need help.

6.  Do something nice for a stranger.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Let someone go ahead of you in line.  Pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru.

7.  Donate something to your local animal shelter.  They always need things like food, toys, blankets, cat litter, and cleaning supplies.  If you’ve lost a furry family member, make the donation in their honor.

8.  Watch an old fashioned, feel-good Christmas movie.  For me, it’s Miracle on 34th Street.  Pick the one that makes you happy and watch it.

9.  Don’t try to make your house look like something out of a magazine.  Unless that’s what really makes you happy, then by all means go for it. Decide which part of decorating matters to you, and just go with that.  For us, it’s the Christmas tree, and a wreath on both doors.  That’s it.  Maybe the giant inflatable Santa in the yard makes you happy, and the tree is more trouble than it’s worth.  You know yourself, your home, and your limitations.  Decorate for you and those you love, not to present an image or meet some ideal.

10.  Read a great book that’s somehow related to the season. For me, it’s Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  It has some sad parts, but it’s mostly a happy story about an unlikely group of people who find themselves together at Christmas.  It’s a celebration of friendship and finding happiness in unlikely places.

11.  Ask for help.  If you’re always the person who organizes everything, or cooks an elaborate holiday meal, and it’s too much this year, ask for help.  Someone else may be dying to cook the big dinner, but doesn’t want to step on your toes.  Or maybe everyone would be happier with something simpler.  You won’t know unless you ask.

12.  Take someone shopping with you.  The first year Nick and I were married his grandfather, GrandDaddy, had shoulder surgery in the fall and wasn’t able to drive for a while, so he couldn’t go Christmas shopping for GrandMommy on his own.  I hadn’t lived here long, and didn’t know my way around very well, so he and I planned a shopping trip together.  I drove, he navigated, we shopped for Nick and GrandMommy, and then went and had dinner.  It was great!  So much more fun than shopping alone.

13.  Trade jobs with someone.  Maybe you hate shopping, but love wrapping presents.  See if you can get a friend to pick up gifts for you if you will wrap theirs for them.  Think about what parts of the holidays you do enjoy/are good at, and see what you can come up with to trade with someone.

14.  Take care of yourself.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of trying to get everything done and trying to make everything perfect.  Remember to take care of yourself.  Get enough sleep.  Say no when you need to.

15.  Consider not sending Christmas cards.  I’m sort of obsessed with Julia Child, and when I read her biography a few years ago it talked about how she didn’t send Christmas cards.  She sent Valentine’s cards instead, basically because she couldn’t get everything together in time to send out cards at Christmas, so Valentine’s cards became her thing.  I love that she knew her limitations (yes, even Julia Child had limitations!) and worked with them.  We stopped sending Christmas cards a few years ago, and I haven’t missed it.  Now our thing is taking baked goods to people.

16.  Take some Christmas treats/goodies to a nursing home/hospice house/children’s home.  Call ahead to find out what the rules are as far as what you can bring and when you can bring it.  Places like that are usually thrilled when someone offers to do something for them.  And it feels good to do something for someone else.

17.  Don’t obsess over something that’s not going to matter later on.  This one can be really hard for me.  I have a tendency to fixate on random things sometimes, and moderation and I aren’t always friends.  Christmas of 2009 my obsession was dipped pretzels.  That sounds relatively harmless, I know, but not when taken to the extreme that I managed to.  I only did the mini pretzels (I got the idea that they were cuter), and I dipped them all by hand in pretty much anything you could melt (chocolate chips, vanilla candy, butterscotch chips, peanut butter cups, etc).  Then I moved on to coating the dipped pretzels with sprinkles, mini candies, crushed candy, etc.  And of course packing them up in cute little bags. I was truly obsessed.  Every day on the way home from work I would stop and buy bags and bags of pretzels, things to melt and dip them in, and things to coat them with.  There were trays of pretzels with various coatings stacked all over the kitchen.  Nick was working mostly nights during the pretzel obsession, and I would stay up until 1:00 in the morning dipping and coating pretzels.  I gave everyone pretzels that year.  I think people liked them at first, then got tired of them.  It sounds so silly now, but at the time I was truly obsessed with the pretzel dipping and coating.  Think about what you’re doing.  If it sounds like it’s going to become a cautionary pretzel tale in a few years, consider taking a step back.

18.  Take some sort of Christmas treat to your local 911 Center.  The folks at the 911 Center are probably the most underappreciated people in the emergency services, probably because most people don’t see them.  Consider taking them something like cookies or candy, and letting them know you appreciate them.

19.  Watch a funny Christmas movie.  For me, it’s Fred Claus.  Vince Vaughn is hilarious, but there are still some sweet, feel-good scenes.

20.  Make a donation in honor of a loved one.  Not having someone at the holidays, and not being able to give them a gift can be incredibly painful.  Consider making a donation in their honor, possibly to a cause they supported, or to an organization dedicated to curing a disease they suffered from.

21.  Drop off some books and/or magazines in a hospital waiting room.

22.  Donate blood.  Typically donations go down around the holidays and during the bad weather, but the need is always there.  You’re potentially giving someone else the gift of life (or a loved one’s life) for the holidays.  Talk about a great gift!

23.  Include someone else in your holiday celebrations.  Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who doesn’t seem to have much company, or a friend who isn’t able to go home for the holidays this year.  Invite them to join you for some holiday festivities.

24.  Take a small Christmas gift to your neighbors.  It doesn’t have to be anything big; maybe some cookies or flowers.

25.  Give a small Christmas gift or treat to someone who doesn’t expect anything from you.  Maybe it’s the nice cashier at the grocery store or the librarian who always recommends great books; someone who has no reason to expect something from you.  Again, it doesn’t have to be anything big, but it will probably make their day.

So what about you?  Do you get excited about the holidays?  What do you do to get in the holiday spirit and make it a joyful time of year?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Smoky Weekend

Normally you can see mountains from here.
It kind of feels like most of western North Carolina and large parts of the upstate of South Carolina are burning.  The forest fires aren’t under control and are still spreading.  We’re in a major drought, and it has been really windy; so basically perfect conditions for the fires to spread.

We have a 50 percent chance of rain today, and that’s it for rain for us in the forecast.  A few people locally have said they’ve had a sprinkling of rain, but no one is reporting much rain.  It hasn’t rained at our house yet.  It’s early though, so hopefully the rain will come later in the day.

The closest fires to us are about 25 to 30 minutes away, and there’s a lot of smoke all over.  A small part of the county we live in is under a mandatory evacuation order.  I’ll admit I’ve been in a state of near panic all weekend.  Nick assures me that the fires are unlikely to reach us.  He says we’re basically in a valley below the mountains that are burning.  We’re getting a lot of smoke, but shouldn’t get fire.  He says that fires don’t burn as efficiently going downhill, and that they’re much easier to control and put out if they’re moving downhill.

It looks foggy outside, but the weather folks assure us it’s smoke, not fog. It even looked foggy in the middle of the afternoon yesterday from the smoke.  Everything smells like smoke.  The smoke smell is definitely stronger outside, but even inside it smells like smoke.

The pictures are taken from our backyard, just to give you an idea of the smoke.  It has been like that since yesterday.  You can normally see mountains in the distance.

I haven’t heard anything about when the fires are expected to be under control.  It seems that a lot depends on whether or not we get rain, and what the wind does.

Here’s hoping for lots of rain today!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell was a book I thought I was going to love. It popped up on goodreads as a recommendation, and was compared to Sarah Addison Allen.

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes features  pie, wishes, and starting over in a small town.  It also takes place in North Carolina.  It seemed like it would have a lot going for it. The comparisons to Sarah Addison Allen had me really excited to read it.  I jumped on the waiting list at the library, and eagerly waited for my copy.

It was incredibly disappointing.

I’ve loved all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books except Lost Lake (that one wasn’t horrible, just definitely nowhere near as wonderful as her other books).  I think the comparison to her writing had me starting this book with higher expectations than I would have had otherwise.  Honestly, that probably colored my opinion some.  I think I was expecting something like Garden Spells (I highly recommend reading it now if you haven’t read it yet)  Even without the comparison I still think I would have been disappointed.

The names of the characters drove me a little crazy.  The older, wiser, magic pie baking female character is named Catch.  There’s never any explanation as to whether that’s a nickname, some old family name, or just weird for the sake of being weird.  The hunky love interest next door is named Ashe, which doesn’t seem to fit at all.  For some reason, the two names sound a lot alike in my head, and it kind of drove me insane.  The other name issue I had was that, with the exception of Catch and Ashe, pretty much everyone went by some abbreviation of their name most of the time; Ray for Rachel, Ev for Everley, Mae or Maeby for Mary Beth.  It just seemed overdone.  I know, that’s a relatively small issue, but it adds up over the course of an entire book.

The dialogue wasn’t great.  The conversations just seemed a little stilted.  Catch had an annoying habit of saying things like “Miss-I-Got-All-Dolled-Up-and-Now-Everyone-Else-Looks-Like-Crap,”. There was something like that from her constantly.  It got old, and seemed like a lazy way to get a bunch of dialogue out of the way at once.

I had hoped the pies would at least be interesting, but even the baking parts of the book were disappointing.  There wasn’t much detail about the pie making, and there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the pies.

Overall, it was an incredibly disappointing read.

So what about you?  Have you read The Secret Ingredient of Wishes?  What did you think of it?  Do you go into a book with high expectations if the author is compared to an author you really enjoy?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Three Legs, Ninety-Five Pounds, and Zero Limitations

You may remember if you’ve been around for a while that our dog, Duke, “only” has three legs (or as some like to say, is a tripaw).

You might think that a three-legged dog might have some difficulty getting around.  Or that at least you wouldn’t have to worry about a three-legged dog going over a fence.  You would be wrong, however.

You might also think that a ninety-five pound dog certainly wouldn’t be able to go under a fence.  Again, you’d be wrong.

On a side note (and if you’re looking for something to be right about) you might think that ninety-five pounds is more than Duke should weigh.  In that case, you would be absolutely right. We’re working on it.

Anyway, when we first moved into our house, and we adopted Duke, we didn’t have a fence.  We were finally able to get the backyard fenced in a couple of years ago.  (If you’re still keeping score, and you think that fences are expensive, you’d be right.)  We had a choice between the traditional (and slightly cheaper) four foot fence, or going with a five foot fence.
The first escape area, fixed

We opted for the five foot fence.  My parents’ yard had the traditional four foot fence, and we had all seen Duke stand up and drape his one front leg over the fence.  He never jumped my parents’ fence, but also never had any real incentive to.  Their backyard is easily four times the size of ours, and they don’t live close enough to restaurants for Duke to smell them.  We do.  We live just behind a main road.  On a windy day, it smells like Burger King is grilling in our backyard.  Duke adores food, so we thought he might jump a four foot fence in pursuit of fast food.

We never leave Duke in the backyard for very long, and we never leave him outside when we’re not at home.  He loves playing outside.  He rolls in the grass, chases (and sometimes catches) birds and rodents, steals the occasional vegetable from the garden, and generally seems to have a great time in the backyard.  There’s no real reason for him to want to leave.

During the summer he added digging to his repertoire of backyard activities.  He dug near the back porch, he dug near the raised beds, and a few weeks ago he started digging at the fence.  We weren’t thrilled about the digging, especially not the digging near the fence, but we really didn’t think he’d be able to dig a hole large enough to squeeze himself out of.  Especially not with one front leg!  We were wrong.

Duke’s first escape was a few weeks ago.  He dug, and used brute force to mangle the bottom of the fence enough to squeeze himself out of.  He just ran around to the front of the house, and met Nick on the front porch.

That night we went to Lowe’s and bought some wrought iron fencing (the kind that gets buried on the bottom).  Nick put that up over the hole, and zip-tied it to the fence to secure it.  We thought the problem was solved.  Surely a three-legged, ninety-five pound dog wouldn’t dig out of the fence twice.  We were wrong.  Again.

Duke’s second escape was scarier.  He ran off into some woods near our house.  We both walked the neighborhood looking for him.  When we came back to the house to get the car to go drive and look for him, he was just sitting in the carport waiting for us.

We found the new hole the next day.  It was in a different section of the fence, but he had done basically the same thing; dug a hole and mangled the bottom of the fence enough to squeeze himself out.  The second one had to have been a really tight squeeze, but he managed it somehow.

We fixed the second hole with the same wrought iron fencing and zip ties.  It seems to hold, but it’s not a viable solution for the entire fence.  We walked the fence and stacked bricks in any areas that looked like they might be conducive to Duke’s digging/mangling escape plan.  It’s a temporary fix at best, though.

The second escape area, fixed
We’re not letting Duke play in the backyard unsupervised until we come up with a better solution to keep him from digging out.  We haven’t decided for sure what we’re going to do.  We really thought a five foot chain length fence would be enough to keep a three-legged dog in.

We’ve thrown around the idea of some kind of electric fence on the bottom, but that’s likely to be cost prohibitive.  We’re considering planting roses along the fence line, but aren’t sure that would be enough of a deterrent.  We’re also throwing around the idea of putting concrete along the bottom of the fence, so he can’t dig out.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun project?

So what about you?  Do you have any brilliant ideas to keep a dog from digging out from under a fence?  Is there an obvious solution we’re just missing?  And, if you meet a three-legged dog, don’t pity them, as long as they seem happy and well cared for.  S/he probably gets around better than you think!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Lovers Day

Books!  And a Joey photobomb.
According to Holiday Insights, there are actually two different dates for Books Lovers Day.  I love books, so the idea of two separate Book Lovers Days makes me really happy, and it seems like a great day to talk about the amazing Friends of the Library Book Sale we went to recently.

The Friends of the Library have a few book sales throughout the year.  There’s a separate building (I guess they don’t want people trying to buy books off of the library shelves), and they have a great selection of books.  The sales usually run a few weeks or weekends in a row, and everything is more and more discounted as the sale goes on.  It’s well organized, and there’s a huge selection.  It’s kind of a book lover’s paradise.

This year they did something a little different.  The last Saturday in October was the Monster Book Sale, or as I like to call it, a dream come true.  It was $5.00 per adult.  Not $5.00 per bag, box, or X number of books. $5.00 for all of the books you wanted to take with you.  You walked in, paid your $5.00, got your hand stamped, and then had the privilege of taking all of the books you wanted.  If you filled a box, they wrote your name on it, stashed it behind a counter, and handed you another box.

Nick and I both love books, and we have a small house.  We have lots of books, pretty much everywhere.  But we decided that the Monster Sale was an opportunity not to be missed.  Unlimited books was more temptation than we could resist, and it supported the library.  We decided to go, and limit ourselves to one box each.

I think the one box limit lasted about 45 minutes.  Maybe.  We read completely different things; I’m pretty much all about fiction, cookbooks, and the occasional biography.  Nick is all about non-fiction.  He actually loves getting his hands on text books.  So we split up as soon as we were stamped and in the door.  Somehow, we usually mange to finish up at about the same time, and both come wandering out of our sections at about the same time, and run into each other.  I’m not sure how, but it works.

We both wandered out with our first box completely full, and we hadn’t even looked at everything, so we agreed to two boxes each.  We actually stuck to the two boxes each limit.  The boxes were packed full, and incredibly heavy, but we did leave with “only” four boxes between the two of us.

It was so much fun.  I put books I might not normally have bought in my boxes to try.  Everyone seemed to be recommending books, and there was a lot of “if you like this, you’ll love that” going on.  At one point I was part of a group of women all just putting books in each other’s boxes.  I can’t wait to try some of the newly recommended authors.

So what about you?  Are you a book lover?  Have you lost control buying books?  Have you read anything good lately?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thanksgiving Plans

Now that we’re well into the first week of November I think it’s socially acceptable to start talking about Thanksgiving plans.  I love Thanksgiving.  It is, by far, my absolute favorite holiday.  I love cooking for people, so I think a holiday that’s all about being thankful you have food to cook and people you love to cook it for is perfect.

Thanksgiving this year wasn’t looking good, though.  Nick works in a branch of the emergency services, and has to work on Thanksgiving. That’s not unusual.  I  think he’s had one Thanksgiving off in the nine years we’ve been together, so we’ve become pretty good at working around him having to work.  In years past, he has gotten a two hour lunch break, so we’ve had Thanksgiving then.  It worked.  I had everything ready, and people always showed up on time.  Other years we’ve had dinner a little later, when he gets off of work.  This year, though, he’s on-call starting the day after Thanksgiving.  The likelihood of him being called in to work early Friday morning is high.  A late celebration at our house just didn’t seem like a wise plan.  I was pretty upset by the idea of not being able to have some kind of Thanksgiving celebration at least close to Thanksgiving.

This has been a really, really bad year, and I’ve been kind of floundering lately.  Part of me wants to cry myself to sleep and hibernate until 2017 because it has to be a better year than this one has been.  Please.  Part of me also wants to try to do something to somehow try to improve the rest of 2016; maybe the last little bit of it can be a little better.  I just haven’t really been able to come up with a good plan, one that felt right, or that I could get really excited about.  That’s when we came up with our plans for Thanksgiving.

The hospice house that GrandMommy was in is very close to us.  They have a kitchen so family members can cook meals there, and they have a nice big dining room table so people can eat together.

Hospice is an incredible organization, and they’re very welcoming to people who want to do something to volunteer.  We thought about it, and decided to ask the hospice house here if I could cook them Thanksgiving dinner and bring it for whoever might want it.  Losing a loved one is never easy, but I can’t imagine how painful it must be to face that during the holidays.  From a practical standpoint, restaurant choices are somewhat limited on a holiday.

I called the hospice house the day we came up with the idea to ask if I could do it.  I wasn’t sure if they might want references or some kind of background check or something, so I wanted to allow plenty of time for that.  The lady who answered the phone was incredibly nice.  It took a few minutes to explain that, yes, I wanted to bring an entire Thanksgiving meal.  She told me that would be fine, wonderful in fact, but suggested that I talk to the volunteer coordinator just to make sure, and to make things official.

The volunteer coordinator wasn’t going to be in for a few days, so I left my contact information and waited to hear back from her.  Meanwhile, I panicked a little bit.  Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the hospice house seemed like the perfect plan.  I was very worried that there would be some issue, and I started making lists of people I could ask for references if I needed to plead my case.  Nick promised me he would find me someone to cook Thanksgiving dinner for if the hospice house said no for any reason.

I finally talked to the volunteer coordinator, Elaine, about a week later.  She and I ended up playing phone tag for a couple of days, but it was worth the wait.  She was incredibly nice!  She confirmed, again, that I did mean the whole meal, and we came up with a good time for me to bring it.  The plan is for me to call a few days ahead of time to get a rough idea of how many people might be there.  Elaine reminded me that some families may have other plans, and that some people don’t eat very much when they’re upset.  She also said that the staff will definitely appreciate it, and that surely some family members will too.

So now I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, and getting to pay it forward a little bit too.  Honestly, I’m hoping there aren’t very many people in hospice care on Thanksgiving.  I’m more than happy to cook for a crowd, but I hope it’s a happier Thanksgiving than that for most people.

Now, it’s time for the fun part of this post!  The food!  I’m trying to go ahead and plan the menu; partly so I can buy things ahead of time on sale, and partly because that’s just how I am with Thanksgiving.  We close at work at noon the Wednesday before, so my plan is to come home from work that day and start cooking and baking.

Obviously, the turkey is the main part of the meal.  Depending on what they tell me as far as the number of people, I may also cook a turkey breast along with the turkey.  Dressing is a must, as are mashed potatoes, and sweet potato casserole.  I’m a good southerner, so gravy (lots and lots of gravy) goes almost without saying.  And more gravy.  Definitely macaroni and cheese.  Cranberry sauce is another must.  Definitely some green bean casserole.  I can’t stand it, but the rest of the world seems to love it.  I always make rice (with pan drippings in place of some of the water, and a package of vegetable soup mix, it’s delicious!) with our Thanksgiving dinner, so I’ll do that too.  I also usually make some sort of greens with Thanksgiving dinner.  Partly because I really like them, and partly because I can feel better about gorging on Thanksgiving food because, hey, I’m eating leafy green vegetables too.  And of course dinner rolls, because you need something else to mop up the gravy with.

For desserts, pumpkin pie is a must.  Depending on the number of people they tell me, maybe more than one.  I’m also planning to make chocolate cupcakes.  Maybe a pound cake.

Now here’s the part where I ask for your ideas and suggestions:

Is there something else I should make?  I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving.  I’ve embraced it wholeheartedly, but sometimes I still feel like a novice.  I make the foods that Nick and I like, and that the people we’re celebrating with that particular year like.  Is there some traditional/must have Thanksgiving item that I’m missing?  What makes it special for you?  When it comes to greens, do you prefer collard greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens?  I like them all, but I know some people have strong preferences.  I’m open to menu suggestions and ideas.

Now here’s the part where it gets really complicated.  I cannot properly carve a turkey.  Not even close!  Any tips on that?  I’m hoping I can get a friend to stop by and do it for me.  I’m willing to bribe someone with a pie or something.  Any ideas on what a good bribe might be to get someone to come over and carve the turkey for me?

I’ve even considered taking it whole, but I’m afraid that might be inconvenient for the hospice house.  What are your thoughts on that?  Any compelling reasons why you think I should take it whole?

So what about you?  Do you love Thanksgiving?  What are your plans?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sandwich Day

It’s Sandwich Day.  You can read more about it here, but it’s basically a day to celebrate sandwiches, by eating your favorite sandwich, or trying a new one.

Here are a couple of my favorite sandwiches:

A Different Kind of BLT
This one is probably my favorite sandwich right now!  Slightly different flavors, amazingly delicious.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

So what about you?  Are sandwiches on the menu today?  What’s your favorite kind of sandwich?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Pumpkin Pie

It’s November 1st, so I can finally talk about pumpkin pie!  I love pretty much anything pumpkin, and I especially love pumpkin pie.  I happily eat it all year long, but I know most people consider pumpkin pie to be more of a Fall or holiday dessert.

I’ve never met a pumpkin pie I didn’t like, but my maternal grandmother, Granny, made the best pumpkin pie.  I have her handwritten recipe for it, and we included the recipe in our wedding cookbook.  It’s delicious, and for me, it’s total comfort food.

Try it.  I’m pretty sure you’ll love it!

Granny’s Pumpkin Pie:

3/4 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling the crust and pie
½ tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1 un-baked 9 inch deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sugar, salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl.

Beat eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in pumpkin.  Stir in sugar/spice mixture.  Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Spread the pie shell in a pie dish and generously sprinkle the pie shell with cinnamon.  This isn’t the time to be stingy with the cinnamon.  Pour the pie mixture into the pie shell, and generously sprinkle the top with cinnamon.

Bake 40 - 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool/set before slicing.  (Honestly, you might want to leave the house, or at least find something really good to occupy yourself with for this part.  It smells so good, it’s fairly torturous waiting to dig in!)


So what about you?  Are you a fan of pumpkin pie, or pumpkin things in general?