Monday, June 29, 2009

Art Appreciation 101

I started my new class tonight. It's fun to be a student again but oh, my aching butt! ;) It's a six week summer course, 4 hours per night two nights per week. The professor, who is a cutie patootie about, oh, 10 years younger than I am, dove right in. He started by reviewing the syllabus and moved on to a get to know your classmates ice breaker. There are several high school kids in there; I like high school kids- taught them for four years and it was the best job I've ever had, so interacting with them as a fellow student should be a kick. The professor was very clear that he wants classroom participation so there will be a lot of interaction, I have a feeling. We also have to visit two art galleries and write short papers on three of the pieces we see at each visit, which shouldn't be too time consuming. I was worried about the homework factor and writing papers; I enjoy that kind of work but I don't want to take the time away from the kids. They can go with me to the galleries, of course. He said I could use one of the museums from Europe, too, so that means only one gallery/museum over the course of the six weeks. (But I'll probably take The Eldest and go to two or more; we discovered we like that kind of thing.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fruit Cake Recipes From My Grandmother

Fruit Cakes

My grandmother loved to make fruit cakes for Christmas; there are several recipes in her recipe box. I think her favorite was from her son-in-law’s mother; it’s the one she made the most in recent years.

McC. Fruit Cake

This recipe is handwritten on a piece of paper from the kind of writing tablet my grandmother always used. On the outside it says “Imp. McC. Fruit Cake Recipe”. (Full name omitted for privacy.)

1 lb pineapple
½ lb mixed fruit
1 lb raisins (½ white, ½ dark)
1 lb cherries
1 lb dates
½ lb of each kind of nuts:
English walnuts
Brazil nuts
1 lb pecans
6 cups cake flour
6 tsp baking powder
1 lb butter
1 lb sugar (2 cups)
1 doz eggs
½ cup white corn syrup
1 cup of coconut milk or any kind of juice you want to use
2 cups coconut

Chop nuts and fruit and mix well. Dredge with 6 cups of flour. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, add syrup, coconut milk and pour this mixture over fruit & nuts. Add coconut.

Bake in 275° oven 3 ½ to 4 hours. Watch

Fruit Cake (McC, a 2nd version)

1 lb pineapple (candied)
½ lb mixed fruit
½ lb lemon peel
1 lb raisins
1 lb cherries
1 lb dates
½ lb of each kind of nuts, English walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts
1 lb pecans
6 cups cake flour
6 tsp baking powder
1 lb butter
1 lb sugar (2 cups)
1 dozen eggs
½ cup white corn syrup
1 cup coconut milk or fruit juice
2 cups coconut

Chop nuts and fruit, mix well. Dredge with cake flour and baking powder. Cream butter & sugar, add eggs one at a time, add syrup & coconut milk & pour over mixture. Add coconut.

Bake in 275° oven 3 ½ to 4 hours. WATCH

Fruit Cake

From Minnie Lee N. of NC, friends of Frances J.

This recipe is handwritten in someone else’s writing.

2 lb candied fruit cake mix
1 box white raisins
4 cups pecans (chopped)
1 lg (14 or 16 oz) bag of coconut
Small can crushed pineapple
½ cup wine
½ or 2/3 cup flour rolled in fruit

Mix all ingredients in very large pan. Be sure to mix in ½ cup or 2/3 cup dry flour before putting in batter. This keeps the fruit from settling to bottom of pan while cooking.

10 eggs
1 lb butter
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour (self rising)

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add flour a little at a time. Mix well; batter will be very thick.

Pour the batter with the fruit mix. I use my hands to mix really well.

Put into 3 conf (?) pans (4 x 8 x 2.5) lined with foil. Cook on 250° until they start rising. Then reduce to 200° and cook 4 to 5 hours.

When cakes have completely cooled I take them out of the foil they are cooked in. Wrap each cake in saran wrap then foil and put in plastic bags. (Bread bags will do.)

They will keep moist for months in refrigerator.

Fruit Cake (Norma)

1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
5 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 lb glazed pineapple
¾ lb glazed cherries
4 cups pecans
1 cup sugar
½ oz bottle vanilla flavoring
½ oz bottle lemon flavoring

Chop fruit and nuts in medium pieces. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add well beaten eggs. Add flour, baking powder, add flavorings. (*Part of flour should be put over nuts and dry fruit.) Add egg & sugar mixture. Bake 3 hours at 250° (grease and wax paper tube pan if not teflon).

Fruit Cake (G.)

1 lb butter
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 dozen eggs
1 large glass strawberry preserves
½ cup honey
½ cups pineapple juice
3 Tbsp almond extract
3 Tbsp sherry extract
2 lbs candied pineapple
2 lbs candied cherries
2 lbs mixed fruit
2 boxes white raisins
2 lbs English walnuts
2 lbs pecans

Cream butter & sugar. Add eggs & flour- alternating. Add preserves, honey & extracts. (Save some flour to pour over candied fruit and nuts.) Add fruit & nuts to mixture.

Bake 325° til straw comes out clean (1 hour at least)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More Recipes From My Grandmother

Here are a few more. You may notice a theme, here; my grandmother had a sweet tooth!

Brownies (Polly C.)

1 can Eagle brand
1 – 6 oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate morsels
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Mix and spread in small oblong pan. Bake at 375° for about 20 minutes.

Sky-High Biscuits from Collector’s House, Inc, “My Great Recipes”

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Baking Time: 12 to 15 minutes
Oven Temperature: 450° F

“Flaky and golden, these biscuits have pleased diners since pioneer days. They are quick and easy to make and so much better than those in a can. You can make and shape them ahead; bake and serve hot from the oven.”

For about 20 biscuits you will need:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 ½ tsps baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
¾ cup butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk

Tip: To lower fat content, use skim milk. To lower salt content, eliminate the salt.

1. In a bowl combine the flours, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar
2. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
3. Add egg and milk, stirring quickly and briefly. Knead lightly on floured board.
4. Roll or pat gently to 1-inch thickness. Cut into 1- to 2- inch biscuits. Place in a greased 10 inch iron skillet or a 9-inch square pan. For crusty biscuits, separate on a cookie sheet.
5. Bake at 450° F for 12 to 15 minutes.

Good served with: Crisp bacon and eggs in place of toast for breakfast. They are also tasty, split, spread with mustard and thinly sliced cold turkey and cheese.

Unlabeled Card

2/3 cup catsup
1/3 cup red currant jelly
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp hot sauce

Corn Flake Squares (Anne)

1 cup sugar
1 cup white corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
4 ½ cups corn flakes

1 can coconut

Mix sugar and corn syrup- boil one minute. After it reaches a rolling boil, add peanut butter and stir til mixed. Pour over corn flakes and coconut that have been mixed. Mix well and pour into greased pan. Cut into squares when cool.

Pumpkin Bars (Jane)

4 eggs
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup oil
1 – 16 oz can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
1 – 3/4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Mix and beat eggs, oil, pumpkin and 1 2/3 cups sugar til fluffy. Stir together, baking powder, flour, soda, salt. Add to pumpkin mix. Spread batter in ungreased pan. Bake 350° 25 to 30 minutes. Cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting (for Pumpkin Bars)

Cream cheese & butter, stir in vanilla, add powdered sugar slowly. Beat well & frost. Cut into “BARS”

Grandmother told me she remembers her mother, who died when my grandmother was 12 or 13, making tea cakes. She didn’t have her mother’s recipe but tried to get it from her sisters. There is a letter in her personal papers with a tea cake recipe from one of her older sisters, and I think it’s different from the two here. Her sister noted that she didn’t know the exact recipe their mom used, either, but thought the recipe she sent was close.

Tea Cakes

1 ¾ cup sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp vanilla

After combining- place on floured board & roll thin. Cut out with cookie cutters or glass (floured). Bake at 350° until brown. (8 – 10 minutes)

Tea Cakes

2 cups self rising flour
2/3 cup Crisco
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter & sugar, add well beaten eggs, vanilla, add flour a little at a time. If dough gets too thick for mixer, finish mixing with a wood spoon. Take 1/3 of dough at a time and knead it on floured surface. Cut teacakes with cookie cutter. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes.

Fudge Ribbon Cake from Sue D.

This recipe is typewritten. I believe Sue D. was a woman from her church. Grandmother wrote a note on the back- “Keep – good recipe”. She also made some notes on the recipe which I will try to incorporate as I transcribe.

Combine: (cream cheese mixture)
1 – 8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter (room temperature)
1 Tbsp corn starch
Beat until creamy smooth then add:
1 egg
2 Tbsps milk
½ tsp vanilla
Beat again.

Set aside greased and floured pan 13 x 9 x 2, or tube pan

Put in large mixing bowl: (chocolate batter)
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp soda
Sift together, add
one cup milk
½ cup Crisco or softened butter (room temperature)
Blend low speed 1 ½ minutes
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
4 envelopes of Nestle’s pre-melted unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
Beat until smooth, about 1 ½ minutes

Spoon half of the batter into pan and smooth
Spoon in cream cheese mixture and smooth
Add remaining ½ of chocolate batter over cream cheese mix and smooth

Bake 300° for 50 to 60 minutes


Bring to boil:
¼ cup milk
4 Tbsps butter

Remove from heat and add:
2 envelopes Nestle’s pre-melted baking chocolate (unsweetened)
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups of 10 x confectioner’s sugar*

* Sometimes more sugar is required for thickness

Mix until smooth and cover cake.

Will serve at least 20 people or more

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Kindle

DH bought a Kindle 2 electronic reader for me for Christmas so I would have it for my trip to Europe. A friend of mine recently asked me how I like it, which made me think "hmm, good topic for the blog". Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not had any contact with Amazon about this product. DH purchased it at full price and no one has asked me to write a review. (My blog isn't that popular.) ;)

Overall, it's a pretty cool gadget. It downloads books from Amazon within just a few minutes so if you decide you want a book on the spur of the moment it's almost instant gratification. It's easy to read and you can change the font size to suit your eyeballs. It holds a charge for a really long time so you can get through a whole novel without worrying about it dying on you. It stores a ton of books and will archive books you've finished so as not to use up your storage space, but the books are still available to you without having to buy them all over again. That's a huge advantage too- you can carry a library's worth of books in one tiny device.

Now for the negatives. It will NEVER replace actual books. It does have bugs and lost my place in the books I was reading at least twice. It's hard to get back to your place in a book once it loses your spot, too. It's hard to move around in the books, I mean you can't flip pages, after all, so the guide books I put on there were difficult to navigate. It's in black and white (or kind of greyish, actually) so any color pictures lose quite a bit. The intro and "how to use this book" section of one guide book I bought would not change font size and was illegible. I found a copy of the same book in a bookstore and was able to see what I was missing- it was some vital information! The device makes a faint clicking noise when you press the "turn the page" button, not good if you want to read in bed next to a light sleeper. Speaking of reading in bed, you have to have a book light to read if it's dark; there's no internal lighting. The "Whisper Net" which allows you to order books from Amazon doesn't work in Europe so if you're taking a Kindle over there load it up before you go! Also note that not every title Amazon offers is available for the Kindle; there were a lot of books I wanted to order for the trip but couldn't.

The Eldest got a Kindle for the trip too. She's loving the instant gratification thing; I think that's her favorite feature. We don't take her to the bookstore often enough (she could live at the bookstore) so the ability to buy books on her Kindle is a huge plus for her. On the negative side, they don't have any parental controls and they put YOUR "Amazon Recommends" selections on there. Which means the steamy novel I bought once? They still recommend that type of book for me... on her Kindle. (OK, maybe it was more than once...) It's not for young kids for sure, but I can see it being really great for someone who doesn't drive (like The Eldest) or someone house bound due to illness.

Speaking of her Kindle, she's on her second one. Shortly after she got the first one it was broken when The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, swung a jump rope around and the handle hit the screen. Amazon replaced it at a reduced cost. Which reminds me- DH actually ordered the first version of the Kindle but it was back ordered. When they became available again it was the Kindle 2 so we got that version for the price of the first one.

In summary, I'm glad I had it for the trip. Although there are some kinks it's a great device to take on plane trips where luggage space is limited. If you have space though, like on a car trip, take regular books. It's also good if you have to have your books right away; I'm hoping the new Janet Evanovich is offered on Kindle!

PS: I was talking to my mother in law about a book today and thought it would be nice to loan it to her, but then I remembered I read it on my Kindle. Can't loan it to her if it's on there, so if you like to share your books that's another negative.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back to School

I'm a college student once again. I have to take 2 classes every 5 years to renew my teaching certificate, and the time has rolled around. I'm knocking out one of the courses over the summer so I don't have to take one in the fall. (I'll complete the second course in January.) We have a family wedding to go to in the fall and then there's Girl Scouts, which is really busy at the start of the regular school year, so I want to keep the time free for those things. I had a heck of a time figuring out which class to take. I kept hitting roadblocks when I was trying to register; sheese. I didn't want any class that met every day or at any of the campuses further away. (The college has campuses all over the county.) I was looking for an on-line or blended course so I would be able to complete some of the work at home. I finally settled on a blended Wellness class, part on campus and part on-line, but it had a required meeting on campus way back in May. It looked like that was for summer A term but I wanted to sign up for summer B, so I needed to talk to a live body about that. (Turns out it was a moot point since the class was full.) Then there were several other classes that had a "special designation: writing course" listed and the on-line system wouldn't let me register for those, but the advisor told me she would be able to over-ride that for me, which meant having to register with the live body again. I went in today to try to get that done but the advisor was already gone for the day. Luckily the other folks in the office were able to help me out, and I wound up in Art Appreciation. DH teased me that I registered for a "jock class", but I don't care! I want easy! I'm also kind of excited about it since it will relate back to the museums I visited and all of the art I saw during my trip to Europe with The Eldest. Museum after museum after museum... Now I can make sense of it all, after the fact. ;) Only it's probably going to be frustrating to learn about things I missed. ~:-P

Monday, June 22, 2009


That links to websites I like section over there on the side? I actually visit some of those links from time to time. Today I hopped on over to the White House web site to see what's up and was very pleased to check out the legislation President Obama signed recently regarding the credit card industry. I had to poke around to find it but I knew it was on there somewhere because I heard it discussed on NPR this weekend. (Unfortunately I turned on the radio toward the end of the interview with a White House staffer about the new regulations and controls on the lending industry and missed a good portion of the story, including which show it was on.)

In the brief portion of the interview I caught, the staffer was very articulate and clear in explaining what the government is going to do and the consumer safeguards they are going to put in place. Things like loan terms have to be described in plain English. Changes can't be buried in 30 pages of fine print. You know, little things like that. What they will NOT do is take away personal responsibility; if you blow $2,000.00 at the mall then you should have to pay it back, to quote the example given. They talked about double billing cycles, how a banker was asked to explain it during a congressional hearing and he couldn't do it. The credit card and loan companies have been using all sorts of trickery for years and it's dragging us all down and it's about time the government put a stop to it.

You have to ask yourself, what do you think government is for? My answer is one of the primary jobs of any government should be to protect the little guy from the big guy and the bullies of the world, those who would cheat and steal and harm and take advantage wherever they can. That includes things like protecting us from terrorists and countries who would wage war against us, but it also includes things like regulating corporations who would try to defraud the public through any of a zillion different methods. Things like dumping pollution in our drinking water, selling toys with lead paint in them that we think are safe for our kids, and tricking us into signing up for credit cards at one rate then using sleight of hand to change the rate to something else. Legalized stealing is all that was, and thank goodness it's going to STOP!

Go, Obama!

PS: I tried to find the story on the NPR web site but no luck. :-P

Friday, June 19, 2009

Food Memories

I was talking to The Niece earlier tonight and telling her what her dad and I used to eat when we were kids. Some of our regularly occurring meals included grilled cheese sandwiches, made with a thick slice of tomato, and tomato soup, TV dinners when my parents went out, dried out chicken and yellow rice casseroles, and dried out roasts with no seasoning (I know there wasn't seasoning because it was my job to throw it in the oven) and a side of canned peas. Because my mom worked as a nurse I was responsible for cooking dinner as a teen but I didn't know what I was doing. My mom would call and give me directions over the phone, but not being a verbal learner that wasn't the best approach to teaching me to cook. ;) I did have one good meal, though; I made a decent meatloaf with Kraft Mac & Cheese for the side dish. My worst meal was probably that roast; shudder.

The Niece asked me what my favorite meal used to be- that's easy, anything my grandmother cooked. ;)

What do you remember eating as a kid? What were your first cooking experiences? What was your favorite thing to eat? Inquiring minds want to know! :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grandmother's Recipe Box: Brownies!

Double Fudge Brownies
1 ½ cup unsifted flour
2 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup water
One 12 oz package semi sweet chocolate morsels
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 325°. In small bowl combine flour, soda, and salt; set aside. In small saucepan butter, sugar, and water, bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate morsels and vanilla, stir until morsels melt and mixture is smooth. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan; cook 50 minutes.

Double Fudge Brownies (repeat card)

Preheat oven to 325°. In small saucepan combine 1 ½ cups sugar, 2/3 cup butter, ¼ cup water and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. Add one 12 oz package (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate morsels and 2 tsp vanilla. Stir until chocolate melts. Pour into large bowl. Beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. In small bowl combine 1 ½ cups unsifted flour, ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt. Gradually add chocolate mix to flour. Blend in one cup chopped nuts. Spread into greased 13” x 9” x 2” baking pan. Bake at 325° 50 minutes.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

1 ¾ cup flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
6 tbs cocoa
½ cup shortening
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Sift dry ingredients; add shortening, buttermilk, vanilla. Beat 2 minutes, add eggs.

Bake until done ? About 325°

Brownies (Polly C.)

1 can Eagle brand
1- 6 oz package semi sweet chocolate morsels
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Mix and spread in a small oblong pan. Bake at 375° for about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Granmother's Recipe Box

I have my grandmother's recipe box, which actually belongs to my aunt now. I have it since I've promised to transcribe the recipes... one of these days. Since it's been over a year now I figure it's about time I get the job done. I was thinking of typing the recipes up in Word then making copies for everyone, but then I thought, why not put them on the blog? Now family members can access them freely on the web. I'm not going to sit here and type them all in at once, but I will post a few at the time. She didn't have a lot of recipes in her box, sadly, since she cooked mainly from experience and memory. When I get the recipes from the box typed in I'll go to the recipe/memory book she made for me and post those recipes as well; after all, those are probably the ones everyone in my family wants anyway. I need to get the box done first, however so I can get it back to my aunt!

To start, she had a handwritten note about equivalents:
4 tbsp - 1/4 cup
5 and 1/3 tbsp - 1/3 cup
8 tbsp - 1/2 cup

The Recipes:
Monkey Bread, from Lori
3 cans biscuits
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1.5 sticks oleo

Cut each biscuit into 1/4s, roll each 1/4 into a ball and roll each ball separately in brown sugar/cinnamon mix. Drop balls into buttered bundt cake pan. Combine oleo with rest of sugar and cinnamon. Cook until all runs together. Pour over biscuits; cook one hour at 350.

Banana Bread
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
dash salt
1 cup ripe mashed banana
1/2 cup walnuts

Cream sugar and shortening
add eggs (beaten)
add dry ingredients alternately with milk
add bananas

cook 350 degrees 45 to 55 minutes

Apple Pan Dowdy
8 large apples peeled, cored, and cut into thick wedges
3/4 cup apple juice, cider or water
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp cornstarch

Crust: 2 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 tbsp butter or shortening, 2/3 cup milk

Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and line the bottom with the apple wedges.
Pour apple juice over apples, bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until apples are barely soft. Mix together brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, butter, and cornstarch, then pour over apple mixture and stir gently.

Make crust: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter or shortening with knives or a pastry blender until butter is cut into pea size bits. Stir in the milk, then spread batter over apple slices in the baking dish (if you want the result to be pretty, roll out dough and cut into rounds.) Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes until lightly brown. Serves: 10 to 12.


Oh, the evil food corporations have pulled one over on me, but thanks to The Middle Child we've discovered their foul plot. I've been preaching the evils of high fructose corn syrup for some time since it's icky processed yuck that may even contain mercury, in spite of the snarky ads from the HFCS industry, and avoiding products with it on the ingredient list like the plague. Seems Del Monte got one over on me, though. We just about live on stewed tomatoes. They go into three or four of our regular meals and have for...oh, about 100 years now. The Middle Child decided to read the ingredients list last night and discovered...are you ready... HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!!! I thought it was just tomatoes in there so I never thought to check THAT label! Seems they are a jump ahead of us, though; she also checked a newer can and it contains regular old sugar. Our chili, spaghetti, and beef-a-roni recipes are saved! But man, oh man, I resent that we've been unknowingly putting that yuck in our bodies for the past gazillion years. ~:-O

I'm tempted to boycott the Del Monte brand for contaminating us for so long, even if they've switched to sugar. I'm going to have to find a brand of stewed tomatoes at Whole Foods, I guess. No more boxes on the cheap from Costco, but our health is worth it. Grrrr.

Stupid corporations. It makes me so mad that they count on consumers having blindfolds on like I had about this particular product. One day they'll wake up and realize there's a large chunk of the population that doesn't want to eat processed crap that's not good for us!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Support Group Angst

We're homeschoolers and have been from the beginning. The Eldest, our almost 16 year old daughter, (10 days until her birthday) has never been to a traditional school. I am extremely happy with how she's turning out, too; she's a fantastic person and a joy to both DH and I. (And very well socialized, thank you very much.) When she was about four we got involved with a local support group, made some dear friends, and had a lot of fun, some of it even educational. ;) When the little ones came along we maintained our involvement with the support group for a while but, with the fibromyalgia, it got too hard to lug them both along on activities so we dropped out. During the intervening years our old support group fell apart, as these types of groups are wont to do, and they aren't there for us anymore.

Now that the kidlets are older I've felt a need to find a support group again. We are involved with a lot of activities with "regular" schoolers, Girl Scouts, soccer, and so forth, but I miss that connection with homeschoolers. I have doubts sometimes when all we see is kids going to traditional schools. The support groups help with that so I am actively seeking a new group. We found one group a few years ago and went to an event they held, a Halloween party, but it was so chaotic. The kids were absolutely wild and not a single adult said one word to us the whole time we were there. Every family was required to take a craft and contribute to the pot luck, which we did, but we were still ignored. Not the group for us, obviously. Now I've run across another local group that I'm hoping will work out. We've made initial contact with them via e-mail but haven't met any group members in person yet. I'm so worried all of their activities will be in the mornings, though; we're total night owls and we don't do mornings. ~:-P From their messages on the yahoo list they run they look like an active bunch so I'm also alternatively worried that they'll be TOO active and I won't be able to keep up with them due to the fibro, too.

Sigh. All I can do is jump in and see what happens! :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Emergency Preparedness

Did you notice the switch from analog to digital? Chances are you didn't, but you will if the power goes out and you are planning on using a battery operated TV. It won't work unless you have a battery powered converter box. How do you get a battery powered converter box, you say? Why, you click here for instructions!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

True Confessions

Time to 'fess up. I gained weight on the trip. :( I came back seven pounds over my "top out" (goal) weight, but actually I started out two pounds below so that's nine pounds, even in spite of the massive amounts of walking and biking we did. Oh, the horror!!! I'm currently kind of in a holding pattern with it. I got a little off then it bumped up again, and now I'm back down a little so I'm at five pounds over. Sigh.

It was worth every bite.

But now it's back to business. I definitely notice a big difference in how I feel, so somewhere along the continuum of that nine pounds I hit a tipping point. DH says I'm snoring again and I don't get cold as easily as when I weigh less, which is neither good nor bad unless you look at our electricity bill. I'm having more bad days with the fibromyalgia so my energy level is down and my aches and pains are up. My clothes aren't as comfortable. Maybe I'm being hyper-aware, but when I gained weight the first time I was in total denial of any negative effects along the way, so hopefully awareness will work to my advantage. ;)

On the plus side, I've continued my (almost) daily walks and I've added bike rides a few times a week. Sometimes I only bike, which is easier for me when I'm having a flare up of the fibro. Probably doesn't burn as many calories, but it's getting out there and sometimes it's more important to maintain the exercise habit than it is to burn the calories. I don't keep a food diary but that's because I know how much of each category of food (fats, carbs, dairy, protein, and produce) I'm going to eat at each meal and over the course of the day. I have breakfast (usually a cup of Kashi Go Lean Crunch, and I keep a one cup measure in the cereal container, a scoop of frozen blueberries, a few dried cranberries, and milk to fill the bowl), lunch with not more than two servings of carbs and 2.5 oz of protein plus some kind of produce, a snack which is usually a repeat of breakfast, and dinner which is usually a repeat of lunch. (Not the same food, just the same amounts of protein, carbs, etc.) (Although my snack is usually Kashi and fruit just like breakfast.) If I want an additional snack I usually eat fruit. I might munch on a few peanuts or nuts; I've started keeping a bowl of nuts in the shell on the kitchen counter. (You eat fewer if you have to crack them open; see "The Blue Zone" book review.) As for fat, we mostly cook with healthy fats like olive or canola oil in reasonable amounts. For dairy and protein I go for no or low fat, except for cheese which I use sparingly. We eat a vegan meal at least once a week, sometimes more, and I'm keeping an eye out for more vegan/vegetarian meals we can incorporate into our regular menus. We try to eat seafood a few times a week.

A couple of other things that really help me are keeping a journal about my weight where I've written about why I gained weight in the first place, my struggles with getting my eating under control, what I think went wrong when I let my eating get out of control, exercise challenges, and so forth. This post is similar to something I would write about, only when I was losing weight the first time around I wasn't blogging. I also WEIGH MYSELF EVERY DAY OF THE WORLD and record that weight in a little book I keep by the scale. I figured I gained the weight by burying my head in the sand and pretending I wasn't getting fat, so if I do nothing else but weigh in on a daily basis I'll stay aware of what I'm doing to my body and make healthier choices.

That's my diet plan in a nutshell! It worked to help me lose 45 pounds in 2007, so now I'm going to get focused and get back to it and lose the extra pounds I gained on my trip.

Friday, June 12, 2009


My grandmother died a year ago yesterday. I still feel the loss so deeply; the oddest things remind me of her. We've been getting a lot of rain lately and she used to call me if there were reports of thunderstorms on the news to make sure we were OK. I have so many of her things still to sort through piled up in my house. As the closest relative I was responsible for clearing her home and it's so sad to see 50 years of living in her house narrowed down to one pile in my dining room and one pile in my hallway. Of course a lot went to various relatives, but to have a lifetime boiled down to two piles just doesn't seem right somehow. I guess it's good there's not more really, I mean what would I do with it all, but it's still sad.

My grandmother was the most amazing woman. She lived through so much, starting with the Depression. Her family went through it with a minimum of hardship thanks to the ingenuity of her parents; they were farmers in Alabama. Her dad also ran a barbershop on the weekends, did some veterinary work, and built houses later in his life. They had 12 children together. She's told me so many stories of her childhood, some happy and some not so much. From her accounts her mom was stoic and could be cold at times, but she says she always knew how much her mother loved her. Her mom died when my grandmother was 13 then she lost a beloved older brother shortly afterward in a traffic accident. The older girls married and moved away so she was left with the weight of the household on her too young shoulders. She had to quit school to take care of the family, including two little ones. She told me once she shuddered to think what those kids must have looked like when she sent them off to school in the morning. Her dad turned to alcohol for several years after losing his wife so she lacked any support that she might have otherwise found in him. She left home once or twice and lived with relatives to get away from her home life, but she went back until she got married.

She married my grandfather and went through times when they really struggled to make ends meet. She worked in a cotton mill for a while and has told me how physically demanding that work was; it took a horrible toll on her. She also worked in a rocket factory briefly during WWII but she had to leave when the paint fumes made her nauseous since she was pregnant with my aunt. She was a real Rosie the Riveter, even if it was for a short time! She had a rough time of it with my aunt, too; she's told me several times how difficult that birth was for her. She thought she was going to die at one point from loss of blood but she pulled through. She had my mom first, then my aunt close behind, then several years went by and she had my youngest aunt. They made a move to another state when my youngest aunt was a toddler, I believe, and established a new life away from Alabama and the cotton mills. My grandfather became a plumber and their life revolved around their family and their church. They bought a house, always had a decent car, and got their girls educated on a blue collar salary. My grandmother worked on and off over the years, one time as a pharmacy technician and several times as a salesperson and cashier for local stores.

My grandmother was the family matriarch in so many ways. She was the glue that held us all together with her big family get togethers. I remember Christmas at her house when everyone would be there. My family, my aunts, cousins, even a few friends would join us. She cooked for days before these events, sometimes longer than that if you count the cookies and desserts she would freeze weeks ahead of time. (And she LOVED her freezer; we would shudder sometimes at what she would pull out of there as she got older since it could have been in there since the Dark Ages. The desserts were always good but there were some other things…) I asked her to write down all of her recipes for me one time in one of those fill in the blank books and she did; that book is one of my most treasured possessions. I’ve tried to replicate her feasts a few times but it’s too much work! It leaves me utterly exhausted; I don’t know how she did it, but she did, and thrived on it. She would let me bring a side dish a couple of times, but mainly she wanted to do everything herself so she could bask in her well deserved glory. ;)

She was a story teller, too. I spent so much time with her when I was younger listening to tales of her childhood, frequently with my head on her lap while she rubbed my hair. She was a comforting presence for my childhood, too. I loved spending time at her house. Some of my memories include sleeping over on Friday nights and waking up to the sounds and smells of her cooking her big Saturday morning breakfast, bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, the works, and coffee perking away in the percolator. I would luxuriate in bed listening to her moving around in the kitchen until time to get up. I remember watching Sesame Street at her house when she was babysitting me and my brother. I made a city once at her house, cutting it out of paper like paper dolls and making all the buildings stand up. I also read a lot since my youngest aunt kept all of her books on the bookcase in her room, Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys among others. When my grandfather arrived home he would park in his recliner and watch the news or read the newspaper until time for dinner, which was always so good since she was a fantastic cook. The drink of the house was tea. She made it with sugar when I was little but when they came out with the artificial sweeteners she would leave the sugar out and everyone would sweeten their own glass, a definite change for the negative in my mind. She never called it “sweet tea”, like you hear in the south, but that’s what it was by default.

I went on a trip with my grandparents when I was 12 to visit my aunt in college in Illinois at a school near Chicago. It was the longest trip I’d ever been on and I felt so lucky to be able to go, just me, not my brother. (Sorry kid.) We went by car and stopped to visit relatives in Alabama. We saw mountains as we drove through Tennessee. We went to the top of the Sears tower and saw the elevated trains. I went up to my aunt’s room when we visited her and felt so cool to be in a college dorm. I loved being with my grandparents no matter where we went.

She stopped traveling as she got older since she developed agoraphobia. She was able to get out around her neighborhood but wouldn’t go more than a few miles from her home. My grandfather passed away when they were in their mid sixties; she would go on to live another 20 years or so without him. He passed away after I met my husband but before we got married; I’m glad DH met him before he died. My grandmother carried on and did quite well, all things considered, for a long time. She was my rock when there were problems with other family members. She didn’t take sides, she just continued to love us all. Absolute unconditional love for everyone in her family. Oh, there was friction between her and her daughters on occasion, but the love was always there. She was always there. I don’t know how I’ve gotten through this past year without her; I miss her so much.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Review: Blue Zones

It's been a while since I've written up a book review but that's not because I'm not reading! My latest read is a non-fiction, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest" by Dan Buettner. I first heard the author on NPR then again when he was featured on Oprah, both times talking about his book and the ways we all can maximize our life span. I had it in my Amazon shopping cart for the longest time then finally ordered it for my Kindle. I plowed through it pretty quickly since it was fascinating!

When talking about this book, it helps to know what Blue Zones are. Longevity researchers coined the term while looking for areas where a larger percentage of people live to older ages than is statistically expected. One prominent researcher circled possible areas on a map with a blue marker, thus the term Blue Zone. (I thought it had to do with blue hair as a reference to older women who dye their hair blue, or something, but no.) ;) So they found four blue zones to focus on for the book, and the author went with teams of researchers to each place to find out why and how these folks lived so long, and for the most part with great vitality to the very end. He found many, many things they do naturally that we can incorporate into our lives to maximize our own good years.

It's the PERFECT book for the semi-health nut I'm turning into lately. It reinforces some of the good practices I've developed since losing weight and even has a few new things to try that you wouldn't automatically think of. I have The Eldest reading it for science and she went on a bike ride with us yesterday with no grumbling, so it's making an impact with her as well. An example of one easy change I've incorporated is putting a nut bowl out in the house. That's nuts in the shell, thank you, which makes portion control more natural. It's easy to over-do it when you can grab a handful and throw them in your mouth but this way you have to get them out of the shell first. The kids enjoy it although there's more sweeping up to do!

As a mom, it's so important to me to set a healthy example for my kids. I want them to live long, healthy, happy lives and taking care of their bodies is an important component to achieving those goals. I hope everyone will read this book and the entire world will go on a health kick! :)

PS: Maybe we can all aspire to be like this guy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Wedding!

The Middle Child is going to be in a wedding in the fall. She's so excited; we went to the bridal store so she could try on her dress tonight. She fell in love with it, especially because, in addition to being lovely, "it's really comfortable". ;) Her only complaint was "it's heavy", but that didn't seem to bother her too much. She's ultra picky about her clothes so I was kind of worried about it, but now I'm breathing a sigh of relief about that aspect of things anyway. I'm a little nervous about the delivery, though. They had to order the dress and it's not coming until a few weeks before the wedding, then it will have to be altered. If anything is wrong, like they send the wrong color or something, we're up a creek. The people at the bridal shop were freaking me out about it, too- they were telling tales of mis-ordered flower girl dresses past. When we were placing the actual order for her white dress with apple trim the guy was reading off the computer and said "that's white and banana, right?"

Oh, how I hope he was joking!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Middle Child

We had a lovely afternoon with The Middle Child and her Girl Scout troop yesterday. We went to a local attraction and toured that for about an hour then went to a nearby park for her end of the year ceremony. It's been raining non-stop for a month or so now but it held off for us, thank goodness, although we did hear the lightening detectors a few times; yipes! The girls were able to participate more in the ceremony this time; it wasn't all me standing in front of everyone gabbing. The less I do and the more they do the better! :) I made "hobo bags" out of bandannas and dowels, which we call s'more sticks in Girl Scouts, to hold the patches they earned throughout the year. They were cute as a button and the girls got a kick out of them. This was a family event so all three kids and DH were there. (The Niece is home with her parents for a few weeks.) The families were all supposed to take a dessert to share with everyone; we took a watermelon. DH cut it up on the spot and was amazed that the kids all went for the melon over the sweets, doughnuts, cookies, and brownies, that the other families brought. Oh, they went for the sweets too, but the watermelon was a definite hit.

Even in homeschooling families we still have our end of the school year events to participate in. We follow a lot of the same rhythms everyone else follows, it seems. The Youngest's soccer party, The Middle Child's Girl Scout ceremony, then next week The Eldest has her Girl Scout ceremony, which are all start of summer markers for us. We slow down a bit and the kids wind up in the pool more. It's nice; I look forward to the change in our routine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trip Calendar

I took a "vacation purse" with me on our trip. My regular purse wasn't roomy enough or secure enough to brave the pickpockets around the tourist traps, thus the need for a special one for the trip. (And we have the pickpockets here around our tourist traps, too, mind you, but I don't go to those places very often.) Anyway, I just cleaned it out and put my regular purse back together...sigh. One thing I pulled out was the calendar I took with me where I noted what we did each day. Here are my entries, with a little bit of elaboration:

Monday, May 4: Leave for London; wind up spending the night in Newark, NJ ~:-P

Tuesday, May 5: Spend the day flying; arrive LATE at night at London Heathrow; take a taxi (a really cool British taxi, mind you) to Pax Lodge with stop at The Sea Shell for fish and chips along the way; wound up with two dinners since the lovely girls at Pax Lodge set aside plates for both of us; (the fish and chips were really heavy since we don't normally eat fried food so we ate about half of each meal)

Wednesday, May 6: Participated in a WAGGGS flag ceremony after breakfast at Pax Lodge; Double Decker Bus hop on/hop off tour, stopping to see the Changing of the Guard; hang out at Trafalgar Square where we watched the Barcelona fans party and the street artists draw on the sidewalks; eat at the National Gallery and go through the museum; finish the bus tour (fell asleep due to jet lag; didn't mean to insult the tour guide!); picked up ham and cheese croissants for dinner from The Euphorium Bakery (We ate a few more times at the bakery, ahem.)

Thursday, May 7: The Eye, tea and shopping at Harrod's, La Cage Au Folles; picked up Chinese take out at the Wing Wah House for dinner

Friday, May 8: Tried to go to St. Paul's before lunch but it was closed to the public due to military services WHICH INVOLVED PRINCE CHARLES AND CAMILA, saw a parade when the military services let out; lunch at The Swan (not my fave); saw first part of Romeo & Juliet at The Globe; had to leave R&J to get to St. Paul's before closing, where we went ALL THE WAY to the top; shopping at the soccer store Lily White's

Saturday, May 9: walked to the post office in Hampstead and fell even more in love with the area; found a farmer's market and bought strawberries fresh from Kent; went to Westminster Abbey where we had a 3 hour wait due to a flower show; while in line we ate the strawberries which were the best I've EVER eaten; went to Camden Market where we ate Indian food for lunch and The Eldest bought stuff and she fell even more in love with the area; left for Paris on the Eurostar; checked into Le Meridien Montparnasse. (Thank you to my friend Lorena who works for the hotel parent company for getting us really good rates!!!)

Sunday, May 10: Took a bike tour of Paris and went up in the Eiffel Tower

Monday, May 11: We went to the Louvre but Abi got sick and we left early; called it a day and holed up in the hotel room where we ordered an extravagant room service dinner

Tuesday, May 12: went to the D'Orsey museum which we both LOVED; went to Notre Dame and went ALL THE WAY to the top; went to Shakespeare and Company book store where The Eldest fell in love all over again; ate at a cafe across the street from Notre Dame; went on a boat tour of the Seine

Wednesday, May 13: Marathon Day!! Went to The Orangerie where I was blown away by Monet's Water Lilies; had a FANTASTIC lunch at the Cafe Musee outside the Rodin Museum; toured the Rodin; went to see Napoleon's tomb at the Dome Church; managed to squeeze in a short nap at the hotel before heading BACK to the Louvre; ate really good paella at the food court in the shopping area next to the museum

Thursday, May 14: Versailles Bike Tour; took the bikes on the train to Versailles where we shopped at the market, then biked to the grounds for a short tour followed by a picnic lunch at the end of the Grand Canal; toured the palace which smelled of cat pee and had lots of gilding and portraits of dead French royalty; ate dinner at Bistrot du 7, which was recommended by the bike tour staff

Friday, May 15: walking tour of Montmartre, ending at Sacre Coeur; went ALL THE WAY up into Sacre Coeur; hung out on the steps where a musician was performing and The Eldest sang during open mic; walked around the tourist area near S.C.

Saturday, May 16: Giverny bike tour, which was similar in set up to Versailles. Rode the train to Vernon, a town near Giverny and picked up the bikes there; went to the market; picnicked on the banks of the Seine; rode to Giverny and toured Monet's gardens and house

Sunday, May 17: went to the Grand Palais to see the Warhol exhibit and a second exhibit about duality in art; (we liked the duality exhibit better than Warhol, especially the Arcimboldo paintings on loan from the Louvre) but it was so darned crowded!); Arc de Triomphe where we went, yep, ALL THE WAY to the top- help, the stairs!!; walked along the Champs Elysses; dinner at a cafe on the Rue Cler

Monday, May 18: HUNTED down La Maison du Chocolat; Pompidou Center; leave Paris on the 8:30 train

Tuesday, May 19: check into Hotel Gotico, eat, nap, freshen up and head out for the Barcelona bike tour

Wednesday, May 20: Walk up part of Las Ramblas to La Boqueria to buy a picnic lunch; took the bus to Gaudi's Parc Guell where we ate our lunch on the bench overlooking the dragon fountain

Thursday, May 21: To Figueres where we toured Fort Castell Sant Ferran, (very cool), the Salvador Dali Teatro-Museo, and The Toy Museum of Catalonia where we bought caganer figures; walked around Figueres before catching the train back to Barcelona

Friday, May 22: shopping; Picasso museum; took a hop on/hop off bus tour where we hopped off to eat lunch and then again to tour Gaudi's Casa Mila; finished the tour; had a snack at Cafe Zurich then walked the entire length of Las Ramblas ending at the Columbus Monument to view the revisionist history; stopped at the internet cafe; did a little shopping across the street from our hotel; saw a classical guitar performance in an amazing old church; ate at a tapas bar we discovered a few days prior

Saturday, May 23: Long taxi ride through Barcelona to the airport, where we finally headed home

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Son

Soccer season is over. It was kind of a bust; the last game was canceled due to standing water on the fields and they can't offer a make up day since the fields are undergoing renovation as of yesterday. I didn't want The Youngest and his team mates to be disappointed so I called the coach and offered to have everyone from the team come over to our house for an impromptu end of the season party. I had cupcakes, after all. I managed to call everyone (and actually reached a live person for most of the boys) and they came over. The coach picked up the team trophies and brought those. I set up a table and a bunch of chairs out under a tree next to the lake and all of the snacks (another parent brought goodies too) and we had a party! Coach handed out the trophies by calling all of the boys one by one and giving out high fives and we took loads of pictures. At that point the storm clouds and thunder threatened so everyone took that as a cue to leave. Only one boy fell in the lake so I consider it a huge success!

The Youngest is too cute for words with his trophy. It's his very first one and he is so proud of it. He cleaned and polished it thoroughly before placing it next to all of his dad's trophies in the computer room window. I could just burst with how much I love my kids.