Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Shortnin Bread

When I was ten or eleven years old, I desperately wanted a piano. In a house of six kids, wants weren't needs, and so they rarely came to be. Somehow my mother managed to come up with enough money to buy me an old, very worn upright. Nobody else in the family wanted to play, it took up an entire wall in the living room, weighed a ton, and there was no way my family had any money to spare. But she bought it for me all the same. It seems to me she told me once she used our family's entire tax return that year.

Mrs. Wiggins (don't you love that name?) lived a block up the street, and taught piano lessons in her home. We couldn't afford to pay for piano lessons, but somehow she and my mother came up with the arrangement that I'd clean her home once a week in exchange for a half hour lesson. Back then I was a bit embarrassed that, while my other girlfriends were having their paid for lesson, I was scrubbing and dusting all around them. Now I realize Mrs. Wiggins let me earn my lessons only out of the goodness of her heart.

I took lessons from her for a year or so. So many years later I still remember F-A-C-E and "Every Good Boy Does Fine"; my mother never, ever, ever had to make me practice. It was always something I dearly loved.

We finally reached the end of the school year, when recitals were held. I can still remember, 50+ years later, that I played 'Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortnin Bread' and oh, how I could play it. Fingers racing up and down the keyboard, I was practically a virtuoso..... :-)  The day of the recital arrived, and my entire family showed up to support me, filling an entire wooden pew at the little Baptist church where the recital was held. It came to be my turn, and up I headed, to sit at the bench and play my piece.

Somehow, in the jumble of nerves, and in what felt like an out-of-body experience, I lost my place. I  had absolutely no idea where to pick up so I just made up the rest of the song. Played and played and played until I thought I'd gone long enough, then I stopped.

God bless Mrs. Wiggins who never batted an eye, and led the group to applaud for me.

We moved out of state the next school year. My dog and Barbie and that enormously heavy upright piano did not make the cut when my father was deciding what to load in the back of a u-haul and move us across the country. We never managed to buy another piano, and my dream fell to the wayside.   

About fifteen years ago, after my nest had emptied out, I decided to take lessons again. This teacher also taught out of her home, and I progressed a bit more. But I quit. We moved. Time went by, and still I had such a longing to really learn to play. So I put it on my bucket list, 'play Christmas carols badly'.

So here I am, how many years later, and still wanting to learn to play. I tell myself, If I REALLY learn to play at 62, how well could I play after a few years of lessons, and how much could I progress over the next twenty years, and how much enjoyment could I get out of playing?  I decided to just do it. I asked neighbors for recommendations for a teacher, and more than one led me to a retired music teacher who teaches out of her home. I phoned her, and yes, she accepts adult students. Even students who have quit more than once.

Yesterday was my first lesson, and I expected to be intimidated, nervous, unsure of myself, but I was just so happy to be there that I was none of those. This was not her first rodeo, and she started me out, sure and strong. She is delightful and warm and encouraging and I expect we are going to get along just fine. Today I sat down at Katie, the keyboard Santa brought me, and an hour flew by before I knew it. Katie has so many buttons and gadgets and an accomplished pianist could make her do amazing things. Right now I'm just thankful she fits in the little space in our office, and that she has a port in the back for headphones so Cub Sweetheart doesn't have to listen to me plunking away at beginner stuff.

I read a quote somewhere (don't remember the source) that the best time to plant an oak tree is fifty years ago, and the next best time to plant an oak tree is today. That quote has spurred me on so many times, and especially as I am in this fall season of life.

I wonder, some of you out there, what dream have you given up on, set aside, put down? Maybe you feel, in the back of your mind, that it'll just never happen. You've waited too long, or you're a little too old, or there isn't money in the budget, or or or or

I so hope - even if, like me, you've quit more than once - you'll have the courage to dream again, put it - whatever 'it' is - back on the list. I know my mom, who made that huge sacrifice over 50 years ago, would be pleased to know I didn't completely give up on this dream of mine. Maybe someone out there is cheering you on too, hoping you'll have the courage to try again, or for the first time, whatever is calling to your heart.

P.S. I haven't told my new teacher that I have a bit of PTSD over the thought of a recital. Maybe, with time, I can even find the courage to give that another whirl. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Perfect Super Bowl recipe, to try now

Katarina (nicknamed Katie)

I had fully intended to tell you all about the keyboard Santa brought me for Christmas. She's so lovely! I named her Katerina, but as I plan to put her on my calendar at least 5 times a week, I've nicknamed her Katie. My dear piano, 2000 miles north of me, named Penelope, will be surprised when I return, after my time here in Texas with Katie and my soon to begin lessons. I plan to make Penelope's keys sing!

But that wasn't the point of this post. Stromboli was. Is.

When I was in Idaho I got the itch to take cooking classes. There is the most lovely cooking store, called Culinary Stone. Much like a Williams Sonoma, but more homey than that. It still has all the wonderful tools and such to be purchased, but there's also a deli where you can order lunch, or take home wonderful items to prepare in your own home; there's a wall of wine, fabulous cheeses, and the perfect little italian bakery tucked right next door. The free wifi, baked goods and coffee make it the perfect place to hide for a morning, or meet a friend for a little visit.

My first class at the Culinary Stone was french cooking. A chef whose name I've forgotten, but with the most beautiful accent, showed us how to make a chicken dish, au gratin potatoes and some fabulous pudding dessert. I was smitten, and quickly signed up for more classes.

The most recent was with an italian chef named Jonathan. He's a local, so warm and down to earth. Taking one of his classes makes you want to run home and fill your kitchen with messes and smells and such. I've now taken three of his classes and have learned so much that I can't wait to sign up for more when we head north in June or so.

Before the class I couldn't remember the difference between a stromboli and a calzone, and would never have ordered either in a restaurant, let alone attempt to make one. Jonathan showed us there was nothing to it. I'd taken the class with a girlfriend and we met at our home, with our husbands, and we made another stromboli that turned out great. It was the perfect meal to go with Monday night football. After successfully recreating the meal I decided to make it a regular part of our menu planning here in Texas and Idaho.

To start, you'll need a batch of pizza dough. You can use the refrigerated kind, or whip up one of your own. If you have a stand mixer or a bread machine it's very easy to do. The dough can be made ahead of time and held on the counter in a covered, greased dish until you're ready for it.

Here's the recipe I used for dough:

1/2 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tblsp olive or vegetable oil

Measure all ingredients, and add to bowl of mixer or pan of bread machine. Use the dough setting on your bread machine or the dough hook on your stand mixer, following directions for your appliance.

Once the dough is ready, cover your counter with a sheet of parchment paper about a foot long.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll the dough out onto the parchment paper into a rectangular shape. Spread the dough with 1/3 of a jar of pizza sauce, leaving about 2 inches from the edge. Top the sauce with a handful of fresh spinach leaves, then top with pepperoni, ham, or meat of your choice. (Or leave off for a vegetarian dish). Add chopped veggies as you prefer. I usually throw on chopped onions, green peppers, black olives and mushrooms. Use your imagination here, or go as your family's taste prefers. Add 1 cup of shredded cheese of your choice.

I don't worry a lot about being terribly symmetrical...

Roll up the dough like a cinnamon roll, pinch the edges all around to seal and fold where the seam is. Lay the stromboli seam side down on a pizza dish or large cookie sheet. Brush the entire stromboli with an egg, using a basting brush. Cut several small slats across the top, being careful not to cut too deeply into the stromboli. Top with 1/4 cup of cheese and sprinkle with fresh or dried parsley. 

Ready to pop in the oven
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven or until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes, while you heat up the remainder of the pizza sauce.
I love watching things bake in the oven - pure magic!

Finished product! 
This stromboli will serve 4 - 6 adults easily, especially if accompanied with a side salad.

I'll definitely be making this again for Super Bowl, and am planning to try a batch using gluten free flour mix (available at Costco).


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hopelessly Devoted to.....

2017 was full of blessings, and wonderful moments. It was also hard.

I'm beginning to understand why older people stay in their homes longer than they should - moving is tough on so many levels and we were crazy enough to do so twice this past year.

I also said goodbye to my mom early in the year. As time goes by I often feel like a bystander, watching me process it all. She was lost in the world of Alzheimer's and I wouldn't have wanted to add a single day to that, but what I'm feeling now is the finality of her being gone.

Something my mom and I shared, for so many years, was our love of making resolutions. Call them goals, plans, whatever - we both loved to end the year making big plans for the upcoming one. So resolution making is another thing I won't ever again share with her. (Please tell me we don't need to make resolutions in Heaven!).

At the end of 2016 I had such big plans for the year ahead, and did not accomplish a single one. It wasn't the year for that. Rather, it was more of a 'just keep breathing' kind of year. Not one to be easily discouraged, in my mother's absence, I'm carrying on in a style that would surely have her cheering me on.

I've also chosen a word of the year for the past five or so years, and 2018's is DEVOTE.  For 2018 I hope and plan to devote myself to:

1.  Focusing on my health - strength, flexibility, weight, eating, sleep schedule, and keeping up with routine health care visits. All of these were dismally neglected in 2017.

2.  Set up routines - caring for our home, keeping up with finances and desk work, studying, personal care, regular daily exercise, time away for me, time with family and friends just for fun, and whittling away at projects. Set up these routines, and get them on the calendar.

3.  Soulfood - which entails reading, piano, sewing, knitting, cooking, studying, learning: the goal / resolution is to read 30 or so books in 2018, find someone to give me piano lessons here (already set up in Idaho), and to study several subjects (general science, literature and world politics).

After being the executor for my Mom's health, and her affairs after she died, and having several other people in my life who suffered the lose of someone, I'm sensing a need to refill my own soul, rather than just give out. I'm looking at where I can invest my heart and my time, and where I need to pull back. Life has a natural flow of seasons, and as our family grows and we try to manage the reality of living in two places, 2000 miles apart, if I continue to try to give and give and give, I find myself empty, with nothing to offer to those closest to me, and weary from the trying to do so.

So three goals or resolutions that involve a whole heck of a lot more. I don't think my Mom is up there nodding her head at me, but I do think, if I could call her up and chat, and I shared these with her, she'd heartily approve. Except for the housework and cooking. Never one with a goal of being a domestic goddess, she'd tell me to not fuss over those and concentrate - devote myself to - what really matters.

If you're a resolution maker like me, here's the list of the top ones for 2018. It looks like I chose #1, #2, #9, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #23, and #38.

#17 - not so much. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Trip on the Polar Express

Conductor Papa with Jae Beth and Daniel

Much like most traditions, when we started holding a trip on the Polar Express we had no idea it would stick. This tradition is one that we only do while we're in Texas, with our two Littles, Jae Beth and Daniel. Christmas is always wonderful with any and / or all of our grandkids, but there's an extra dose of special when we spend time with Jae Beth, our Christmas baby.

This year's Polar Express began in a local Mexican restaurant, where Papa slipped away and changed clothes. Everyone wants to do that in a local Mexican restaurant, right? The first year we did this the kids were young enough they were actually a bit afraid of him. The next year they thought it was a lot of fun. This year, when a man walked up to our table and started tell them he was on a schedule, handed them a ticket and started punching it, they were both delightfully surprised. Their parents had taken them to the restaurant in pjs, so they'd be ready to go.

Such a fun night, driving through downtown Dallas, seeing all the big store windows lit up, then into beautiful neighborhoods covered in lights, in a minivan rocking out Pandora's Children's Traditional Christmas music. We finished our tour at THIS HOUSE, so fun!

Merry Christmas everyone. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I'll be your huckleberry....

A view of our deck, in process. 

I began this post in mid-fall, and never came back to it. Rather than update, revise, etc., it seemed easier to just start where we are. Today.

We're back in Texas, 2000 miles south of our new place in Idaho. This is how we left our 'new' home in Idaho. That's a panoramic view (the deck is actually rectangular), but it gives a fun view of things. We're trusting when we go back for the summer things will be finished up, and the deck will be ready to enjoy. 2/3 covered, 1/3 not so we can grow tomatoes the deer won't steal, and stairs that lead down to the hot tub and the fire pit. Oh, but I think it's going to be great fun!

We left chilly Idaho, flew back to Texas, with Lily in tow, and landed in Dallas in 60 degrees. Which made it easier to leave cold and snowy Idaho behind for awhile. Now we're in the thick of things, getting ready for Christmas and the annual Polar Express. (Papa has lost his hat in the move, so we'll check Party City out tomorrow. That and some eyeliner for a moustache should have him good to go.) The dining room table is covered with packages needing wrapped. The Christmas letter is still in my head, but since I haven't missed writing one for over 20 years it'll likely happen in the next day or so. I have yet to bake a single thing, but if I get time for that I'll start with a batch of Russian Tea Cakes (or Sandies) and go from there. They are such Christmas perfection I may feel like that's all we need.

2017 was quite the year. Full of wonderfulness for sure, but also saying goodbye to my Mom, and my sister's husband passing away after two years of battling lung cancer. We moved twice. Nobody should move twice in one year. If I only set one New Year's Resolution it will be to not move in 2018.

I've pondered lately my lack of writing this year, very unlike me. Writing in itself is an outpouring of the heart, sharing of the soul. I'm not sure if my lack of words to screen was from losing my mom or just being weary from coming and going so much. Either way I'm hoping to come back here more often in the New Year, which is just around the corner.

No promises but that's the plan. xoxoxo

Monday, October 9, 2017

Little House on a Hill

I posted a few weeks ago that we are moving. Again. When we had no plans whatsoever to move this summer/fall, but here we are.

Moving day is just about upon us. Our current home looks like a bomb went off, and we heard yesterday the buyers would like to do a walk through today. Oh my. Hope they either can remember what it looked like a month ago when they bought it, or that they have vision enough to imagine what it's going to look like when all our junk important stuff we can't live without is out of here.

So here's what happened: we were out for a drive after church, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Not looking for a specific house but just looking at areas of our Idaho town we'd never seen before. We came upon a little house sitting down from the road, with a FSBO sign in front of it, so we walked down to check it out.

Looking through the front door, it was clear the house was vacant, and all we could see through was lots of old light oak trim that needed painting, and this view through the living room windows:

We walked around the house a bit and saw this:

and this:

Cub Sweetheart isn't a big fan of sitting in hot tubs, and even less of a fan of taking care of them, but I LOVE them! I tried to tell him I was sorry it was there, but just couldn't pull it off.

A few days later we got to go inside the house and saw this:

Living room looks out over a half acre of trees and woods, and has a beautiful view. 

Downstairs has a room that will be perfect for our Littles to play video games, ping pong, eat pizza, and generally make noise and mess. Perfect!

There's a little nook to the right of the stairs for a dollhouse and a table and chairs for our Little girls to play. 

Master bedroom has a beautiful view to wake up to

I love how the house is nestled down, off the main road, just tucked away. 

View from ground level of back yard

Sweet little kitchen, just waiting for me to cook and bake. 
So far we've had all the trim painted bright white, cleared out a gazillion shrubs so we can put in a fence for Miss Lily, and we've got people lined up to add a deck off the living room in about a month or so.

We also added just a few touches to brighten things up a bit:

A sweet little bench outside for seasonal decor, made by Tom the Bench Guy...

We've never gone so bold with a front door, but after a month of considering it, it still felt right. Huckleberry, our bear sentinel, told me he likes it a lot. 

I bought a new chair from T J Maax for our bedroom. She's waiting in our current garage for me. 

Lots of wildlife on a daily basis, herds of 7-10 deer, flocks of turkeys and quail. I'm okay if they all stay.

So that's what we're up to - moving, again. Even though we had no intention of doing so. A bit crazy around here right now, but I'm thinking in just a week or so it'll simmer down. I'll be back then with more photos. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Summer Slipped into Fall

Summer is officially over.  It was the most wonderful season, possibly because we didn't really do a thing.  Rather, I started each morning on our covered patio, sipping coffee and reading a devotional, journaling a bit, and before I knew it the day was over and we were out there sipping a glass of wine as the sun went down.

I didn't get wet a single time this summer, other than showers and baths. No swimming in lakes, only a few ice cream cones, one sort of camping trip that derailed because of technical problems. I didn't blog, didn't write, didn't sew, didn't do anything crafty.

I guess we were more human beings than human doings, which was quite lovely. We spent a lot of time with family, read books, watched movies on Netflix, ate super simple meals that were planned at the last minute.

Possibly the most exciting thing we did all summer was join Costco.

And seriously, the membership fee is totally worth it for the guacamole, the $8.00 bottles of premixed margaritas and the big bags of tortilla chips. In my humble opinion they don't really need to carry much of anything else, although they do. You can go in for guacamole and come out subscribing to Direct TV, or having purchased a refrigerator or new sofa or cashmere sweater. And of course you can go in starving and come out not needing to cook dinner. I'm thinking brilliance would be to take your husband along, late in the afternoon, and come home to skip dinner.

So fall has arrived in the inland northwest. Yellow buses drive by our house every morning, and there are very few kids wandering the neighborhood during the day. The trees are dropping little reddish yellow leaves. I pick up a few every morning on my walk with Lily, stuff them in the pocket of my red, rainproof jacket, to take home and press, then mail to our grandkids 2000 miles south.

It's finally, finally, finally started raining, those rains that fall soft, and so gentle that you have to poke your head out the door to be sure wet stuff is actually coming down. That's the best kind - it soaks into the water-starved ground, and sets a fog of clouds in front of the mountains at the end of our street.

We've lately had chili, potato soup, minestrone, lasagna and pumpkin bread. That after a summer of tacos, cobb salad, slices of watermelon, shish kabobs and burgers on the grill. Somehow when the temperature drops everything in me wants to throw something in the crockpot. Cub Sweetheart is, as always, just happy to be fed. I love that about him.

I've pulled out a half knit sock to finish, and a quilt top I pieced ten years ago. Finally took it to the quilt store and asked the woman at the counter to please choose a backing for me that has a lot of forgiveness for a pitiful hand quilter. Done is always better than perfect, so done it'll be over the next few months of football season.

We drove to Yellowstone a week ago, saw the most gorgeous animals - a herd of elk, an eagle soaring overhead, the tiniest little deer mouse, a beautiful dark brown moose munching on a tree, and buffalo as big as our jeep. When one walked right up to our window I shot a photo, then rolled up the window, a bit afraid he'd decide to ram us. Driving home we came over a pass in Montana and it started snowing like crazy, big beautiful globs of white falling down all around us.

Back in Texas, where we have other family, they are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey; I have a first cousin, who happens to be a police officer, whose home has four feet of water in it. If you haven't given to any causes for the Hurricane Harvey relief, find one. My cousin's (the police officer's) GoFundMe is HERE. All those small donations will add up and make a difference in someone's life, even if it's just a sense of encouragement. Hurricane season doesn't end until at least October. It's certainly looking like this could be a rough season.

Times like this, I don't know about anyone else, but I take comfort in knowing things are not out of control, as they may appear. Rather, there is a big God running the show, and He's not surprised at all of this. He has a plan that is way bigger than my little brain can comprehend. I'm going to trust, and try to make a difference for someone else who is being directly affected by the storms swirling all around them.

I thought, more than once over the summer, that I'd come here and post but something inside me knew I needed downtime. My mother's been gone now almost eight months - hard to believe it's been that long already. She left each of us four kids a little bit of money, and I took some of it and bought myself something that I think would please her very much. More about that later.

Oh, we also sold our townhouse a few weeks ago, and bought another little house with a mountain view. More about that later too. Obviously I need to some catching up! Happy Fall everybody. Bake something with pumpkin in it, and give half of it away to a neighbor.