Friday, December 31, 2010

The clock is ticking toward a new year, and I am filled with gratitude for what's gone before and what's ahead.

I'm grateful for:
* A new year. A chance to do better, since (hopefully) I know better. (To paraphrase Maya Angelou...)

* A very large amount of love in my life.

* The safety and health of nearest and dearest.

* A few days of extra time with my Mom and Dad at the coast. Always a blessing.

* A husband who sets a good example for me in so many ways.

* A son who checks in with me while he's on another continent, bless his soul. Love the texts and calls!

* A Creator who knows me so well.

* A safe trip over some icy roads to meet a friend (Jen) for lunch today. And fondue! And Bavarian cream! Yum. I am indeed grateful for Jen and her health and the love and support that's gotten her through this challenging year.

* Lovely memories of a peaceful Christmas with family. Thanks for hosting, Shelby, Kim and sweet nieces! (P.S. I have been regretting not raiding the cheese shelf in the fridge on my way out of town. Dang. And I could have blamed it on the parents, too, really! Such a missed opportunity.)

* For the example I see every day, in so many ways, of folks who have been challenged by life and circumstances, and their ability to rise to the occasion and meet those challenges, daily. I am inspired.

My favorite song for this time of year, sung by members of the Scottish Parliament; appropriate given Robert Burns is somewhat credited for these lyrics. (Hang on to the end to get a special glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II, and a wondrous hat, indeed!)

And for you romantics out there, a little reminder of what the song really means!

Happy New Year! May 2011 be filled with many blessings for you and yours.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking forward to the new year!

Oh, you know how I like the new year! Like a blank notebook just a-waitin' to be written in, I love seeing the new year approach, with all the possibilities and unknowns.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."   -T.S. Eliot

In finally having a few minutes to browse around the interwebs post-Christmas, everyone has resolutions and reflections on the brain. Knotty Yarn has posted her Uberlist for 2011, as well as a list of things she WON'T do in 2011. I especially like the way she has things broken out into various sections, though it's a bit too micro-level for me, this year. I'm working on the "one word" or "one phrase" concept as blogged about so inspirationally by Gretchen at The Happiness Project in early December. I saw a lot of bloggers talk about that concept last year and while I didn't commit and publish a word or theme, it definitely stayed with me throughout the year as I mulled over what word seemed to be rising to the surface for me in 2010. Reverb 10 also works with the one-word idea, and throughout the month of December they have posted a one-word prompt each day to get readers reflecting on 2010 and setting goals for 2011.

So, still working on the one-word... but in the meantime, maybe a little reflection will help me with that word/theme/phrase? Jen posted earlier this week about review and reflection, using an idea from Dumb Little Man. I thought it sounded like a great idea to latch on to! (And as you'll see, somewhere while writing this, the word became clear. Read on...)

1. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with 2010?
I have wavered between an 8 and a 9, in looking back over the year. So maybe 8.5? I hate putting a number to it, but maybe that's something for me to work on in the coming year? (Or not.)

2. Why did you score that way?
It was a very challenging year in some ways (business comes to mind immediately, probably does for most everyone this year, I imagine; also, having dear ones facing big hurdles in their lives). But it was also a very fulfilling year in the critical areas of life. My relationships with my two men are flourishing and happy. Health and overall wellness are good for the nearest and dearest, and there's no lack of love or blessings in our lives. I have felt the benefit of prayer and spiritual support in exponential ways this year, and that's probably made the biggest difference in my life.

Taking points off a "perfect 10," I have felt personally less accomplished this year, mostly because of a lack of focus in myself...

3. What are your biggest accomplishments this year?
Yeah, not feeling any real gold stars this year. As I mentioned above, I really need to get some focus. (Take a few of the options off the table. Make lists. Get things done and move on.) But in looking back, I would say that keeping my equilibrium at times of stress has been a bit of an accomplishment. I'm proud that I was able to find ways to look past anger and frustration and really get to the heart of what matters and keep on keeping on.

4. What are the biggest lessons you learned this year?
My biggest lesson, which I will probably learn and relearn again and again in my life is to trust God with all of life. Not just the big stuff, not just the little stuff. All of it. Admit I'm hopeless at "controlling" any of it, and just do my level human best and let the rest fall at His feet. I can't tell you the comfort that has brought me at times. At other times (3 a.m., generally), I am most horrible at remembering that, and I stir and twitch and can really get worked up into a lather.

"There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness."   -Carl Jung

My other top lesson (another one that needs to get stuck on repeat), is to pause. That was the word/theme that struck me throughout the year as MY 2010 word. Pause. Take a beat. Think before I speak. Pause. Reflect, don't react. Pause.

5. What are your biggest goals that you want to achieve next year?
Focus. I think that's my 2011 word. Focus. Narrow it down. Find my center. Focus.

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed,but I am bound to live up to what light I have."   -Abraham Lincoln

6. What new habits do you want to cultivate?
A little discipline will go a long ways toward achieving some focus. I need to set a schedule to my day, whether I'm working or not working or volunteering or what have you. Set the schedule, live with the routines, let the structure guide me a bit more. I love routines, and getting things done, and I know that a couple of months of concerted effort will really have me feeling a bit more in line.

I also need to say no a little more consistently to the many requests on my time and energies. Not just to say "no," but to create the kind of home life that the three of us want to live together. To be less fragmented and scattered. Focus. See, it's the word. I can feel it.

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."   -Henry David Thoreau

7. What are your immediate next steps to achieve them?
I know me and I know what works. It's largely a matter of returning to some of the basics that have done me well in the past. Lists will play a big role in that. Daily, weekly and monthly lists. Can't wait to dive in.

"Human Felicity is produced not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day."   -Benjamin Franklin

I will keep you posted on the focus. Definitely!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ten Word Tuesday

Airports bring out my roaming instincts, the biggest planes especially.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

Oh holy night, this week is easy in the grateful department! The fridge is full, the tree is sparkly, the presents are plentiful under the tree...

But mostly I am thankful for the folks; I'm surrounded by my most loved ones, in a peaceful quiet corner of the world. The only thing that would make this evening better would be SNOW! I'm thinking that's not happening... but a girl can dream of her Christmas miracle, can't she?

This week I'm thankful for:

* Studded snow tires.

* A safe road trip over somewhat dicey roads with my men.

* Happy doggies. The peaceful three at home and the bouncy one in her new and loving abode.

* Umbrellas. If you're going to leave the snow and come to the rainforests, it's good to have the proper protective gear!

* Safeway employees who hand out chocolate when the lines are way long. Chaos, baby, chaos.

* Hot showers. Whether I need one to wake up or one to get sleepy, hot showers seem to do the trick. Thankfully.

* Having absolutely nothing critical on the agenda until Monday. Wow.

* Sweet niece giggles.

* Interesting conversational games played around the dinner table. It's always a good time learning about the family!

* Christmas greetings from friends and family near and far. Lovely reminders of the human connections that enrich our lives.

* For reminders of Christmas Eve seven years ago, when a sweet and thoughtful gentleman stopped by my catering kitchen to see how I was doing, wondering how my first single mom Christmas was going to go. What a guy. Seven years later I am so very happy and thankful for that man, every day since.

* For reminders of what this season really does commemorate. Significant stuff, that star over Bethlehem business.

I found a bunch of Christmas videos that could bring a tear to your eye (at least, they did to mine); you know, the Hallmark ads, the Folgers ads... but then I settled on this clip. Funny!

Blessings to you on this marvelous weekend. May you feel joy and love tomorrow and always! xo

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday 13: Thirteen Christmas songs to share

Quite Christmasy around here, finally! This week I'm sharing music, Christmas-style! Here are some of my favorite Christmas songs/videos. (I have hundreds of holiday songs on my iPod, so I have a LOT of favorites.)

A few of these are new (Paul Simon, just this year!), a number of them have been on my favorites list for a few years... I'm not sharing very many "classics" (which I also love), but I figured you'd already know THOSE.

Happy listening!

1. Sarah McLachlan: Wintersong

2. Paul Simon: Getting Ready for Christmas Day

3. YoYo Ma and Alison Krauss: The Wexford Carol

4. Alison Krauss: Only You Can Bring Me Cheer

5. The Florin Street Band: My Favourite Time of Year

6. Boney M: Mary's Boy (a little retro action!)

7. Straight No Chaser: 12 Days of Christmas

8. Weepies: All That I Want

9. Butterfly Boucher and Friends: Cinnamon and Chocolate

10. Rascal Flatts: I'll Be Home For Christmas

11. Coldplay: Christmas Lights

12. Glee Cast: Merry Christmas Darling

13. NOTA: All I Want For Christmas Is You

I can't help but include one of my favorite little Christmas moments, from Charlie Brown's Christmas: Linus' speech about the true meaning of Christmas. Priceless.

Wishing you joy and peace, goodwill toward men, now and throughout 2011.

For more Thursday 13s, go here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ten Words Tuesday

Holiday, we'll come to you this year. Good-bye construction zone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Butternut squash risotto IN A CROCKPOT!

Like any good carb-lover, I adore risotto. Especially risotto done right. You know, all the stirring, the broth exactly the right warmth to add into the rice. The toasting of the rice first, then the wine or sherry, and all the steps so laborious and time consuming.


It doesn't have to be that way. Maybe I'm a little slow to the risotto revolution, but when I needed to make risotto last week and my stove was still out of commission, I thought, why not figure out a way in the crockpot? And sure enough, the interwebs cooperated with a plethora of recipes.

I settled on the one below, and it went off without a hitch. Wanting to kick it up a notch, of course, I added butternut squash and then made a bunch of little risotto cakes (see further below) for the work event last week. This is definitely going to be my go-to risotto method in the future, many apologies to all you purists out there.

Crockpot risotto
1 1/4 cup uncooked Arborio rice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
3 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 t dried onion flakes
5 cloves chopped garlic
1 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
2/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese (to add at the very end)

Toss the uncooked Arborio rice with the olive oil in your crockpot stoneware, add the seasonings and garlic. Pour in the broth and white wine; stir to mix flavors.

Cover and cook on high for 2 hours, or until the rice is tender. (Mine took longer, but I was doubling... well, tripling the recipe...) (P.S. I couldn't resist stirring it once or twice. I know, old habits... but it didn't seem to hurt it...)

Stir in the shredded cheese and leave uncovered for about 15 minutes to let a bit of the moisture escape

The final product will be very creamy and have a porridge-like consistency.

To make butternut squash version:
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

Roast butternut squash cubes until the cubes are quite soft. Put roasted squash in a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher until roughly mashed. Add the risotto and stir until well mixed.

To make risotto cakes:
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup parmesan cheese shreds

Prehead oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.

Make sure the risotto is completely cold. (You can make the risotto ahead by a couple of days if needed.) Test the consistency. If the mixture is too soft, even after cooling, it will make rather flat cakes (trust me, I know). If soft, add some plain bread crumbs to the mixture to thicken it up.

Mix bread crumbs and parmesan cheese shreds together in a food processor until well blended. Put in a medium bowl and set aside.

Make balls from the risotto (about a large teaspoon full) and roll them in the crumb/cheese mixture; place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly with your hand. Continue with the rest of the mixture or until you have made enough risotto cakes. Because the cakes shouldn't spread too much, I usually can fit 24 on a large baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

So, how about that week? Crazy in many ways. Busy, wild, stressful, happy, chaotic; you name it, I've probably had that emotion pass through me. But so so glad to be at the end of it, with my men, relaxing and contemplating the week or so ahead of us, filled with family and relaxation and lots and lots of love. Definitely doing a happy dance tonight!

I am most grateful for the wonderful news this week that dear friend Jen has received the "COMPLETE REMISSION" seal of approval from her cancer doc. How fabulous is that?! Jen, I am so over-the-moon for you, and so very tickled for Victor and the kids too. I think that's just about the bestest Christmas present. Ever. Can't wait to truly celebrate with you in person.

This week I am, as ever, grateful for my husband, who tends to know what I need when I need it, and who is longsuffering in ways you can't imagine. Trust me.

I was so happy to pick up my dance-a-jig son from school today! I am so grateful for the way he fills the house with his smiles and hugs.

I had a long-awaited lunch with some favorite ladies today and we shared and laughed and chortled over some amazing food. I enjoyed my second holiday cookie party this week with a room full of lovely ladies who shared cookie stories and other stories and generally toasted in the holidays quite merrily. I am grateful for friends, for our support of each other through good times and not-so-good times, for the laughter and the history and the affection.

I catered the company Christmas party yesterday and it was fun to do, as always. But I am so grateful for the help I get from a few lovely ladies who assist with getting the food out, keeping it stocked and generally help with taste testing as well! I couldn't do it without them, truly.

I am grateful for the sunny days. We had a couple gloriously sunny days this week and between the sun and my ovens going overtime, the house was warm warm warm. Even though the windows show their dire need of cleaning, I am grateful for the sun shining through them.

I've been a little bit slow to get into the holiday spirit this year, go figure. Between the house "stuff," and the life "stuff," there have been a lot of distractions from merriment. But I'm finally getting there... and I saw this really great photo array that helped get me on my way toward ho-ho-ho. Check it out.  (Doesn't that Santa just make you want to be in Hawaii? It certainly does make me long for that place...) I'm grateful for the holidays. For the chance to pause and reflect on what's really important, and to celebrate the people in our lives.

I hope your weekend is joyful and restful and full of all the things you wish for!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday 13: Daybook musings...

Better late than never, right? That's how I'm rolling, today...

1. I am thinking… I'm finally starting to feel a bit of holiday cheer. It's been a little slow in coming this year...

2. I am thankful for… so many things, every day. Today I'm especially grateful for my husband's thoughtfulness and my new wood floors. They so pretty.

3. From the kitchen… I just finished the work Christmas party, so the kitchen has been humming... lots of recipe posts to come!

4. I am wearing… yep. Fuzzy robe and slippers. Came home and got comfy.

5. I am creating… final lists of everything to do before Christmas. There are gift lists and food lists and what to tell our house/dog sitter lists and oh, so many lists!

6. I am going… to pick Seth up early from school tomorrow, hip hip hooray. It's "activity day" tomorrow (ie "stand around the gym and look at the opposite sex") for the last hour of school, and he's not interested. Whew.

7. I am reading… nada. Nothing. Zilch. Been too busy cookin'.

8. I am hoping… that all our holiday plans go off without a hitch and that we have some glorious family time together.

9. I am hearing… the furnace. It's cold out there, again.

10. Around the house… progress is being made on various fronts toward normalcy. It is also quieter on the dog front. Peace.

11. One of my favorite things…
is sleep. And I'm doing well in that department, thank you very much little helper.

12. A few plans for the rest of the week…
given that there's one day left to the week, not a lot of time, but yes, quite a few plans! There's my Esther study with some lovely women friends tomorrow, then a much-anticipated lunch with three dear friends for our monthly-ish lunch date, then picking up the boy and maybe a few groceries somewhere in there, and home for the weekend! Peace. Rest. Sigh.

13. A picture to share…
and this will come as no surprise, if you know me. This appeared at just the right moment on Monday afternoon:

To play along with Thursday 13, go here.

To play along with the daybook folks, go here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For the holidays or ANY day: Chocolate sandwich cookies

The first time I had a homemade chocolate sandwich cookie was in 2003 at Tom Colicchio's fast-casual place in New York, 'wichcraft. The lunch was really great but the cookie absolutely stood out--it was chocolate with a peanut butter filling--heavenly!--and I have been meaning to attempt something in the chocolate sandwich cookie realm ever since. 

I looked up a number of sandwich cookie recipes online and wavered between this style (more of a drop cookie) or a roll of dough that would be sliced. In hoping that the drop cookie would be softer (my experience with sliced roll cookies is that they tend to be a bit on the crisp/tough side), I went for it. And the payoff was delightful!

Chocolate sandwich cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 whole large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
3 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, melted, and cooled
2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped, melted, and cooled

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl until combined.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 4 minutes with a handheld. Add whole eggs, yolks, and chocolate, beating until combined. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until combined well.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Drop 1/2 teaspoons of batter 1 inch apart on 2 ungreased baking sheets. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed up, 7 to 8 minutes total, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Cool baking sheets and make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled sheets.

I "dropped" the dough the first sheet of cookies and they didn't look like thin sandwich cookies; I knew I would need to take a more active hand in their shape! So I filled a gallon ziploc (homemade piping bag, don't you know?) and snipped off the corner and piped rounds onto the baking sheet, then smoothed them with my finger. This worked really well. I would highly recommend this approach, rather than just dropping dough onto the pan.

Also, the recipe above (epicurious again, of course!) calls for a chocolate filling, as well. I wasn't in the mood for double chocolate, and whenever there's Nutella in the house, it is the go-to filling of choice. Naturally.

So to fill:

Spread 1/2 teaspoon filling on flat side of 1 cookie, then place flat side of a second cookie over filling to form a sandwich. Fill remaining cookies in same manner.

These cookies tasted pretty good right out of the oven, without filling. They tasted even better the next day, with Nutella firmly in place. They seemed to continue to improve for a number of days, but I did not get a chance to verify past three or four days, as they were long gone by then!

Next up: to experiment with a peanut butter filling, and a peppermint filling too... looking forward to sharing the results.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cranberry pecan streusel muffins

Birthday season has continued (does it ever end? I think not!) and recently I was in need of a sweet treat to take along to a friend's birthday celebration. It was a morning coffee-come-and-go type of affair, so I pondered outside the cupcake realm a bit, and also wanted to get into the holiday swing of things with some cranberries... what better than a cranberry muffin with streusel on top?

Found this little gem at epicurious, and whipped them up in a flash! Yummy and quick, I did make a couple of adjustments based on what I had on hand, as well as personal taste. Definitely a make-again muffin, and worth experimenting in a loaf style as well.

Cranberry pecan streusel muffins
Makes 12 muffins
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up
1/4 cup (1 ounce) pecans or walnuts, finely chopped (I used a combination of those nuts and included pistachios as well... love that hint of green!)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped (same nut combo as above)
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 large egg at room temperature
1 cup plain or orange yogurt, top liquid poured off
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted, or canola oil
2 tablespoons wheat germ (I substituted oat bran... just not wild about wheat germ flavor)
1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, if using (I did)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Coat the muffin cups with nonstick vegetable spray (then wipe the top of the pan with a paper towel) or coat with solid shortening. Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, toss together all streusel topping ingredients and pinch everything together with your fingertips to make crumbs. Set aside.

Measure the sugar. In another bowl, toss together the cranberries and nuts with the grated orange zest, extract, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg(s), yogurt or milk, melted butter or oil, the remaining sugar, and the wheat germ oat bran. Place a sifter over the bowl and measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into it. Stir/sift the dry ingredients onto the wet, add the cranberry-nut mixture, and stir everything together just to blend; don't over-beat.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them nearly full. Sprinkle generously with the streusel crumbs. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and well risen and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly on a wire rack, and serve warm.

I made a double batch, so there was ample for the birthday girl and friends, and plenty for home as well. In fact, I froze a few and have taken them out and defrosted as needed... still quite tasty. I would say the only downside to defrosting is the streusel gets a little gooey. But, hey, a little sweet gooeyness every now and again? Not so bad...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

This week has been a rough one in many ways, from lost passports to messed up wood floors (now fixed) and dog fights... But, in the spectrum of things, let's be honest, we're all safe, sound and healthy. So suck it up, Sher. Or, as I like to say, "Man up." Gratitude is gratitude, even in the funky times.

My guy. He's home from a few days of conference/on the road, and that is sublime.

My little guy. Always a joy, even when we have "Two Dwarf" mornings (Sleepy and Grumpy sometimes... but every once in awhile Stompy and Weepy--two lesser known dwarves--come around...).

Jack. Big dog Jack got his eye hurt last week, but he's doing so much better now and he's just a trooper about those eye drops. I actually think he enjoys our little wrestling matches to get them in!

My family. Near and far, they buoy me. Yes, buoy. (And little niece giggles on the phone are the BEST.)

My faith. I am reminded, very often, that the whole point of a working and active faith is letting go and letting God, trite as that sounds. But, boy, does it work.

People who serve others with cheer. From the smiling and joking acceptance agent at the Post Office who helped with the passport renewals (I am never going back to the courthouse again for that, I tell you!) to the friendly DMV lady, to the lovely woman manning the front desk at the health department (got a new birth certificate for the young lad as the old one looks a little worse for wear...), a pitiful runaround afternoon was made so much better. As I said to myself over and over that afternoon, "It's the people, people!" It really is.

The ability to make decisions. I like being decisive. It's bitten me in the butt a few times, I'll grant you that, the quick reflex to a decision. But, more often than not, I am good with the outcome and happy to not have dithered.

My friends. Blessed, blessed, blessed. Whether we're talking about work or play or kids or haircare products, I have got the BEST friends. Ever.

Seth's teachers. I've said this before, I'll say it again: they care, they motivate, they inspire and they push. I'm grateful for them all.

Good weekend to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday 13: Thirteen of my favorite shots from our recent getaway

1. This was our sunrise view. Every. Morning. This is a really calm morning...
the waves really crashed on in, some mornings... this was also a lovely bay to snorkel...

2. We saw so many rainbows... I counted them for awhile, but gave up after 10 or so...
double rainbows are just beautiful, especially when they run full arcs.

3. Up the road to Waimea Canyon, it rained and misted and then just as we got out of our car at the lookout point, the clouds parted and there was a rainbow bridge between two clouds. Amazing.

4. These are the waterfalls that were featured in the intro to Fantasy Island, so they say...
I couldn't help but channel a little Tattoo... "Da plane, boss, da plane!"

5. The north shore of the island... big beaches up there!

6. Also on the north shore, a lot of homes on stilts... I tried to envision a storm with water surges sending water under my house... wow.

7. Plumeria. My favorite flower, probably EVER. So beautiful and fragrant.

8. Lots of road time around the island...

9. Feral chickens. Who knew?

10. One-lane bridges... really great in theory. Some tourists, though (not us!),
cause the locals to shake their heads...

11. This little idyllic nook, tucked away on the north shore on the grounds of the St. Regis, where we stopped for lunch. Made me want to stay. And stay. And nap.

12. Sunset... so peaceful.

13. View of Mt. Rainier on the way into Seattle... almost home.
We've been home only a week, and yet vacation seems almost a lifetime ago. ...The cold and gray could have something to do with that! But we have some lovely memories to take us through the winter now...

For more Thursday 13s, go here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ten Words Tuesday

Stomach sick, searching for missing passports. Found lost keys, though.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Birthdays! (Or, catching up on late posts...)

October is always a busy birthday month around here. Seth kicks it off on the 1st, and there's a bit of a lull until my mom (24th) and myself (29th). I have a number of girlfriend birthdays before and after my birthday as well, so the cake and cards and prezzies abound.

Happily, Ma and Pa were here for my birthday weekend, and so we celebrated three days in a row (my father's birthday is just a couple of weeks into November, so of course we had to party for him, too). For my birthday, friends had given me cupcakes and a pumpkin pie, so I felt no need to bake something else. For my dad I made a pecan pie (his favorite), and for my mom I landed finally on Smitten Kitchen's spiced applesauce cake from a friendly recommendation (thanks, Ginger!), and it was better than I could have hoped. Yummy and moist and not too sweet.

These beauties were so good they disappeared over the course of the weekend, at all times of day and night. If we ate them before noon, they were "muffins," if we ate them after noon, they were appropriately called "cupcakes." Somehow, they were healthier in the morning... go figure.

Applesauce spice cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup walnuts (optional), toasted, cooled, and chopped

For frosting
5 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using; I did not). The batter will look a little curdly and uneven but don’t worry, it will all bake up perfectly in the end.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

For the frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated. Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.

I also received a cute new cake pan for my birthday, one that looks like a little three-tiered cake, all in one. Very fun. I frosted one for Ma and stuck a little candle on top, all special like. We even sang, lucky lady. Ha. 

A little mini-cake  for Ma!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday night grateful moment: A family effort

Picture this: three tired humans "picnicking" with haystacks in the master bedroom, ready for the weekend. (I know, I know; two of these humans have been vacationing and really have no excuse--other than a long travel day yesterday--to be tired. Amazing how travel wipes the rested right out of you...)

But, in the spirit of being back together, we reflected on our gratitude... together:

From Seth: 
*Color. (Is this my kid or what?)
*Words. "The sounds of our life." -Seth
*Snowflakes. (And then he started singing "My Favorite Things," thinking I would write all of them down as original to him... nice try.)
*Our house... very grateful for a roof over our heads.
*Random funny moments that happen in the classroom. (Seth and a friend... in class, where the origins of Thanksgiving are being taught... he teacher asks "So, what do you know about the first Thanksgiving?" and the friend shouts, "SQUANTO!!" at the top of his lungs. The whole classroom sat in stunned silence for a moment before bursting into laughter.)
*Really good friends who will always be there for you.
*Glass and mercury.

From husband:
*Vacation... a change of pace.
*For something meaningful to come back to... a life with variety.
*Family, near and far.
*The holidays.
*Our pets.
*Sunday football games.
*Great inlaws. (Elders AND youngers.)
*Wondeful wife and son.

From me:
*Holiday marshmallows.
*The plumeria lei I brought back from Hawaii; it smells SO amazing.
*A warm house.
*Texting with friends. (Who knew I'd get into that? Not me, that's for sure.)
*My guys, who are such good sports with me. (They're my "grateful hostages" can read that a couple of ways, I'll give you that.)
*Snow. (More, please.)
*Memories of sunshine, even as we're surrounded by gray...
*Macadamia Hershey kisses. (Fabulous new find! The little strip that comes out the top? It says "Aloha" over and over again. So cute.)
*Good test results on recent blood work. Other than the need for a little more Vitamin D, all's well.
*Progress. I do love me some forward movement. I've even been accused of appreciating ANY movement, but I would offer that forward is my favorite.

And because this is a family effort, the video this week should reflect that too, right? Here's a little something that Seth showed me this afternoon that made me laugh:

Hope your weekend is as restful as I'm hoping mine is!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday 13: Daybook musings...

1. I am thinking… that this vacation has been exactly the right length. I'm ready to be home now, and yet it still feels like husband and I had enough relaxing time together. We drove to the end of every major road on the island and stopped at beaches along the way, saw the "Fantasy Island" falls, snorkeled, ate local fare and gelato too, walked, napped, watched movies and generally enjoyed each other's company. A pretty great five-year honey-versary, if I do say so!

2. I am thankful for… the opportunity to take this break from reality. It's not lost on me that our time away has been an incredibly special gift.

3. From the kitchen… I have cooked (assembled, more like) a few meals here in the condo, and just this morning we had steak and eggs (how rare, how decadent! We were actually cleaning up leftovers...). I have been going over my holiday recipes while on vacation too, and am revved up to get home and hop to some baking! Cookie parties, here I come!

4. I am wearing… a summer nightie that will go right back on the summer shelf when we get home, and out will come the fuzzy robe and slippers.

5. I am creating… all kinds of holiday menus in my head. Not doing Thanksgiving "traditionally," I have lots of space in my brain (and tummy) for oodles of sweet and savory holiday yummies. Yes, oodles. That's a word. Look it up.

6. I am going… to say a prayer tonight for so many people who are going through rough times right now. For loss, for sickness, for sadness and loneliness; for all the many human afflictions for which there is no human cure, I will pray for peace and comfort and strength, for us all.

7. I am reading… a million different sample downloads with my Kindle app. Love that app.

8. I am hoping… for smooth sailing all the way home, no plane delays and clear roads too. Winter travel is not without its challenges.

9. I am hearing… Top Chef All Stars on the TV. I have had a big fat grin on my face the whole hour, seeing some of my very faves (and even some of my less-favorite cheftestants) back and cooking. The show pulled out a great first challenge and I have *so* enjoyed seeing these rock stars work their butts off again.

10. Around the house… I can hear waves outside, and already miss them...

11. One of my favorite things… is plumeria. I was reminded how much I love that flower again this week. Beautiful and so fragrant...

12. A few plans for the rest of the week… get home, get some groceries, check out the progress on the "house stuff," make sure the dogs are all OK, get my boy from school Friday (asap!) and spend time together over the weekend. Lots of hugs. Major hugs.

13. A picture to share… and this will come as no surprise:

To play along with Thursday 13, go here.

To play along with the daybook folks, go here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten-word Tuesday

Irrational fish fears while snorkeling, why? Therapy needed, obviously. Breathe.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday night grateful moment

This is a special week in so many ways. It seems like a very long time ago that we were surrounded by snow and ice, and yet we've only been in paradise a few short days... I've been looking around for my "pause time" button, but so far, no luck. Happily, time does seem to pass in a leisurely way...

I'm grateful for the sunshine, and for this amazing setting where the waves crash all the time.

I'm grateful for this occasion to celebrate (five years of marriage!) and this wonderful man to celebrate with.

I'm grateful to still be connected to Seth via his highly entertaining texts and IMs. I swear, if I hadn't known better, I would have thought I was texting with Scooby Doo today... Ha!

I'm grateful for house-sitters and dog-watchers and all those making sure our place is a-ok while we're away.

I'm grateful that someone else cooked Thanksgiving dinner and all I had to do was show up hungry. That picture is only a part of the dessert buffet, which was beautiful and bountiful and of course I was too full to really tear into it by the time I got around to it... next time I'm starting with dessert!

I'm grateful for sunrises that aren't too early so I can sleep in a little and still see them, and for some lovely sunsets too.

I'm grateful for tree-ripened papaya and fresh pineapple spears, and passion-orange and guava juice that come in really big containers.

I'm grateful for catching up on sleep. And for guilt-free naps.

I'm grateful for friends and family and knowing folks are safe in their holiday travels. I'm especially grateful that the power's back on for family on Bainbridge Island.

I'm grateful that we have more days of this ahead! There are still botanical gardens to walk and waves to snorkel and tropical gelato to eat...

I'm grateful we got here in the first place. It was quite a wild ride through snow and ice to the airport (angels on our bumpers, truly) and then the delays and postponements... and, I'm also extremely grateful to have slid right through the TSA web of groping and pat-downs! No big deal getting through security on the way here, hoping for the same on the way back.

I'm grateful that as we go home, even though I'm sure it will be snowy and icy and feel freakishly cold, we'll also be going into that magical holiday season that I love so well... and as much as I heart the tropics, I just can't really think Christmas while looking out across the beach... must be that Canadian upbringing...

Wherever you are tonight, I hope there's a little piece of paradise there for you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Five years, and it feels so good (sing with me, people!)

It's our 5th anniversary today and we are going to spend it together, enjoying some sunshine, good food, conversation and remembering what we were doing five years ago today.

I like this quote even though it's not all lovey-dovey and LOVE IS GRAND. To me, it speaks to one of the most fulfilling aspects of marriage, that of individual growth within the constraints (I couldn't think of a better word, but I fear *some* might read that as a negative connotation. It's not.) of a committed relationship.

Thank you for these five wonderful years, husband! Looking forward to the next 50, for sure!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Here's an alphabet meme that's been rambling around the interwebnets; I think I initially saw it on Sunshine's blog... I thought I'd use it as a while-we're-on-the-road filler. How kind of me, no?

A – Age: 42
B – Bed size: King, beautiful King
C – Chore you hate: There really isn't any chore I HATE as long as I have my yellow rubber gloves. I can do almost anything with those puppies on!
D – Dog’s name: Jack, Darby, Chief and Ruby; yes, we are card-carrying members of the too-many-dogs club.
E – Essential start your day item: Coffee and pills (seriously)
F – Favorite color: Green, almost every shade, but you already knew that, didn't you?
G – Gold or Silver: Silver, usually, but I've been much more kind to the gold lately
H – Height: 5' 8.5"
I – Instruments you play: A pathetically small amount of piano, even less of flute; every once in awhile I think I want to take them both up again, but then I think, When exactly would I do that?
J – Job title: A little of this, a little of that; Jack of all trades, master of none...
K – Kid(s): Seth, 14. I shake my head every day at how blessed I am in the kid department.
L – Living arrangements: Beautiful home currently in transition due to a smallish leak in a pipe under the kitchen sink. Countdown to normal commences in 10, 9, 8, 7...
M – Mom’s name: Shirley Ann
N – Nicknames: Sher (Shelby can comment on any other names, I've blocked tham out.)
O – Overnight hospital stay other than birth: One, a total thyroidectomy about seven years ago
P – Pet peeve(s): Negativity and complaining, whining's pretty high up on the peeve list too...
Q – Quote from a movie: "You have bewitched me, body and soul." -Mr. Darcy. Swoon. Yes, I'm a Jane Austen freak.
R – Right or left handed: Right
S – Siblings: One brother, 18 months older
T – Time you wake up: My alarm is set for 5:40 (basketball mornings) or 6 a.m. (all other mornings)
U – Underwear? Yes, please. I'm a little too old for any other answer, really.
V – Vegetable you dislike: Beets. I have tried, I really have.
W – Ways you run late: I can spend a bit of time looking for keys. It's another pet peeve of mine, not being able to find keys or cell phones, etc.
X – X-rays you’ve had: Teeth
Y – Yummy food you make: I love food. I love yummy food. See recipe list.
Z – Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

Please play along, in the comments or on your own blog. Thanks!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Peaceful, quiet and cozy. I do so love an early Friday evening...

This week my heart is full of thankfulness...

For my husband, who puts up with my accident-prone ways and loves me still. He even smiles when I tell him my latest tale of woe. And it's not a snarky smile, it's an "I'm glad you're alright" smile. Maybe a little bit of "Really, again? How is this possible?" Ha. He's a good, good man.

For my son, who is truly the best son a mother could ask for. (I'm not biased or anything!)

For a wonderful dad on his special day. Happy Birthday, Pa! Enjoy that yummy cake! (That's my dad and Seth in the picture above. Grandpa diggin' some first grandchild time about 13.5 years ago...)

For the snow as it sneaks down the mountains toward us... I am ready! Boots are out, scarves and mittens too.

For friends. For birthdays to celebrate, for new friends and old friends and friends in need and friends with love to spare. I have the spectrum and it's beautiful; I'm more blessed than I deserve, that's for sure.

For the strength of the human spirit, which I see exemplified in so many beautiful ways, every day. For my friends who are fighting illness, working hard to save a marriage (or picking up the pieces from an unfixable mess of a marriage) or supporting a parent who has a grave diagnosis, I know the burdens are many. But spirit remains, and even when that flags, friends and loved ones help build it back up. Never hesitate to ask for help from those nearby; loved ones are just waiting to be of help. Truly. I know this. I've been on both sides of this equation, and all you need to do is ask, hard as that may seem.

For laughter and humor. Reading Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk right now--a timely gift from a dear friend for my birthday--and it's laugh-out-loud funny. True David Sedaris in voice, but with a completely new and fresh angle. Two thumbs up from me.

For AAA. Needed them just this afternoon and they came through. Love it.

For work people who clean up after themselves. This is not to be underestimated in an already topsy-turvey house.

For black grapes. Now that the figs are gone, I've moved on... I think between Seth and I we've eaten about 10 pounds of grapes this week. They have been heavenly!

For better sleep. Again, not to be underestimated.

For Christmas music. The holiday music bug hit me this week, hard. It was helped along by a gift of Pink Martini from sweet C in Cali, and some digging around iTunes for a few other treasures... my Christmas mix is well on it's way... I'm doing my best not to get fully immersed until after Thanksgiving, but...

In my quote wanderings this week I found something that resonated:

My friends, if we tend to the things that are important in life,
if we are right with those we love and behave
in line with our faith, our lives will not be cursed
with the aching throb of unfulfilled business.
Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight.
We will never wallow in the agony of "I could have, I should have."
We can sleep in a storm.
 Have A Little Faith, Mitch Albom

May your weekend be beautiful and filled with all the things you need it to be filled with and none of the things that you don't!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday 13: 13 photos of color in the autumn

There was some beautiful light this weekend (outdoors). As we approached dusk, you could see those long shadows headed across the valley and I couldn't help but grab my camera and head out, leaving much more pressing things behind in the house.

But the waning patches of color called out to me, and I wasn't disappointed by the still-blooming areas around the yard.

Hope there's still some color where you are!

For more Thursday 13s, go here.
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