Category Archives: life as a domestic goddess

And the last box has been opened…

On December 1st, we embarked on a new activity at our house, the Advent Calendar.

It’s been a fun 3+ weeks with lots of crafting and doing and going and seeing. Overall, the calendar/wreath has been well received. The kids really looked forward to opening the box each day. Some days they were a bit disappointed by the the contents of the box and other days they were thrilled. I do have it on good authority, though, that this should become a regular tradition!

By far, the activity they enjoyed the most was yesterday’s “scavenger hunt“. On Tuesday evening, after the children were snug in their beds, I removed the calendar/wreath from it’s place of honor and hid it. In it’s place was a clue that led to another clue and so on. They found clues in stockings, in the oven, in the freezer, on a bed, etc, etc until it led them to my car where the calendar/wreath was safe and sound in the back seat.

When the box was opened it contained one last clue that let them to early Christmas presents! The calendar/wreath really kept me on my toes and I’m savoring the memories it has made. I’m already thinking about next year’s activities and hunt!

One Christmas tradition, however, has been pushed aside and given “well, maybe next year” status – the sending of the yearly Christmas cards. Last year, I kept putting it off until I decided to skip it all together. This year, the cost of cards and postage was prohibitive yet I didn’t want to go another year without sending a Christmas greeting to friends and family.

Being the “environmentally friendly” family that we strive to be, we* decided to save paper and do something a bit different this year. You can view our virtual Christmas card on Whrrl! We hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

*And by “we”, I mean, “I”!

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Signature Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are a year ’round favorite but at Christmastime, I fancy them up a bit.

It took a few years to get this recipe just right. We first tried it by crushing up candy canes but found them to be too hard to eat. Nothing like biting into a cookie and hoping you don’t break a tooth! Plus, the peppermint flavor we were hoping for wasn’t there. Next we tried crushing King Leo soft peppermints. We hit on the right candy texture but again, the peppermint flavor was lacking. Finally, it dawned on us to add peppermint extract to the cookie dough. Ta-da! Now that’s what we were aiming for!

Of all the cookies I make at Christmas, these are my favorite. I like the comfort of the chocolate chip cookie accompanied by the festiveness of the peppermint.

This is my standard chocolate chip cookie recipe that was given to me by my friend, Katie with the peppermint additions noted.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp pure peppermint extract (substitute pure vanilla extract to make regular chocolate chip cookies)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup crushed King Leo soft peppermints (omit if making regular chocolate chip cookies)

Directions

  • Cream together the butter, Crisco and sugars. In a separate bowl, beat the egg & extract together. Add egg mixture to butter/sugar mixture and cream together.
  • Mix in the salt and baking soda. Then mix in the flour. Stir in chocolate chips and crushed peppermints.
  • Bake @ 350 for 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Hope is Powerful

Over the summer I had a rather embarrassing, smelly clothing problem. The underarm area of most of my shirts and bras had collected a build-up of deodorant that was harboring body order. I tried everything to get the smell out. I scrubbed and soaked and scrubbed and soaked. In the mean time, I had to go and buy a couple new shirts and bras. It was, in my opinion, an unneeded expense on an already strained budget. And if I couldn’t get the smell out, I would have to get more. I was devastated and really stressed out.

Then as I searched the internet one more time for yet another way to eradicate the odors, I read something in a blurb somewhere that suggested using powdered dishwasher detergent. I pulled out my dishwasher detergent and set to work, scrubbing and soaking.

And it worked.

I had hope.

It seems really silly to be hopeful about such a thing but I learned something about the power of hope. I had been so worried and upset and forlorn about the possibility of not being able to remedy my stinky situation. When I finally found something that would work, the relief, the joy, the hope I felt was utterly indescribable. My entire outlook changed.

Hope, no matter what it’s about or where it comes from, is like dawn breaking through the darkness and making your whole world light and functional again.

Hope is powerful.

Hope heals.

It’s ironic that my simple story of hope revolves around laundry. The folks at Tide have a program called Loads of Hope. The Tide Loads of Hope trucks travel all over the country loaded with washers and dryers and laundry soap. They go to areas affected by natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, weather torn areas where electricity hasn’t been restored; and they let people do laundry.

It’s so simple yet so profound. When you’re having to deal with what nature has handed you, the last thing you want to worry about is how to get  your laundry done and yet there is, stinking up your already stinky situation. Sometimes, people just have the clothes they were wearing left and we all know how long each of can go in one set of clothes before we can’t even stand to smell ourselves!

Life feels much more hopeful when you can put on clean, non smelly clothes. I’m glad Tide knows that.

This week, my friends Megan, Deb and Mishelle are heading down to New Orleans to assist the Tide Loads of Hope people as they set up, once again, in an area that is still recovering from natural disaster. You can join in by posting your story about hope and linking it on the Loads of Hope blog carnival hosted by Blog Nosh and by following the stories on Twitter (follow @TideLoadsofHope and the #loadsofhope hashtag, they will be live updating tomorrow, 12/13 and Monday, 12/14). You can also click on the banner below to find other ways to help out.

{I wanted to end this post with Zane Williams‘s song “Hope is a Flame” but I can’t find a way to post it here. Oh, well.}

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Holding Onto Autumn

November is a bit of a place holder between October’s Halloween and December’s Christmas. While November does hold the much anticipated and planned for Thanksgiving, the retailers (except possibly for the grocery stores) seemingly skip over it. And each year it seems that Christmas starts to edge out even Halloween bit by bit.

Over at Blissfully Domestic, we’re trying to savor this autumnal season just a bit longer before our hearts, minds and wallets turn towards Christmas. We’re hosting our first annual Fall Tour of Homes. If you’ve written a post about preparing your home for autumn or Thanksgiving or if you have a photo of a favorite wreath, tablescape, flower arrangement, or even your kid’s school craft projects; come on over and submit your link or photo. One lucky, fall loving person will get a nice prize (that could help out with that other upcoming holiday!)

I start decorating in September for autumn. A few weeks later, I add my Halloween items. After Halloween, those come down and the Thanksgiving items are set out. My favorite Thanksgiving decoration is my Pilgrim Family salt & pepper shakers from Publix. I’m especially fond of them because it’s a husband & wife and two kids, a girl & boy, just like us.

autumn deco collage

Also, I’m still in “mental snapshots” mode. Even though the fall colors have peaked, and many of the trees have lost most, if not all of their leaves; there is still a lot of gorgeous scenery to behold. I took these pictures last week at a friend’s house. They have the most gorgeous Maple tree in their front yard.

big tree

contrast

underneath

looking up

I took this picture while lying down underneath the tree and looking up into it. It is, to date, my most favorite picture I’ve taken.

 

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Butternut Squash Soup

PhotobucketMy second foray into the world of winter squashes was making Butternut Squash Soup. I’ve never had Butternut Squash Soup before but after the yumminess of the lasagna, I was eager to try another recipe. I searched around the Internet until I came across this recipe on FoodNetwork.com by Alton Brown (love me some Alton Brown!) It looked really simple and very tasty! And sure enough, it was!

Ingredients I used:

  • 1 large, seeded butternut squash cut into 2-inch chunks (be sure to set aside the seeds)
  • Melted butter, for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon (I used black pepper)
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger (2 -3 teaspoons would have been better!)
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the squash, cut it in half, seed it (save the seeds!) and then cut it into approximately 2-inch chunks. Brush melted butter on the chunks, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes until fork tender and slightly browned.

Add the squash to a large pot with the stock and the ginger. Bring to a simmer and puree using a stick blender. (I don’t have a stick/immersion blender, so I had to transfer my squash mixture to a regular blender for this step. It was worth the extra effort and clean-up because you get a really smooth and creamy consistency by blending it.)

Stir in the heavy cream and return to a low simmer. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

While the soup is in it’s final simmer, rinse the saved seeds (you saved the seeds, right??), toss them with some olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast on 350 until slightly browned. After pouring the soup into bowls, sprinkle some seeds on top. The combination of the sweet soup and the salty seeds is…wait for it…tonguegasmic!

butternutsquashsoup

I served this soup with a Harvest Salad (lettuce from our CSA, apples [they were honeycrisps from Trader Joes, yum!], craisins, walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and a white vinaigrette dressing.)

I really liked the soup. DB said is was good, JBelle liked it, GMan said he liked it at first, then changed his mind (typical).

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Faith in Humanity

With all the horrors that surround us on a daily basis, the ones that leave us shaking our heads, shaking our fists, shaking in our boots, it’s nice to find out that kindness, compassion, generosity and chivalry still exist amid the ugliness.

Sometimes it’s the most simple of gestures that reminds us of this. Someone holding open a door for you when your hands are full or even when they’re not full. And someone coming to your aid when stranded with a flat tire definitely reminds you that!

This morning, as I drove GMan to school, one of my tires blew. And what could have been a stressful, nerve-wracking experience, turned out to be the most pleasant flat tire experiences I’ve ever had. There are a lot of factors that contributed to that, the nice weather, the fact that it occurred in an out of the way place where I wouldn’t impeded traffic or be in any sort of danger, and Bobby.

Bobby was the State of Tennessee employee who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He came upon me just as I had pulled over and was looking at the damage. He directed me to a more level area in the parking lot, he got his jack and he proceeded to change my tire. I could have, possibly, done it myself had I needed to. And if I had been unable, I could have called my father-in-law or brother-in-law. (DB was, at that point, out of town.) And if I had managed it or if I had had to wait for someone, GMan would have been late to school and I would have been rather flustered.

But none of those things happened because of Bobby. We chatted, he talked to GMan, he got the “donut” put on and sent us on our merry way. GMan was only about 10 minutes late to school and even though I’m sitting in a Midas shop waiting for a couple of new tires instead of at home doing laundry and other household chores (like I had planned), I am grateful for this experience.

Grateful to have something to smile about. Grateful to be reminded that we can still have faith in humanity even when the world around us seemingly wants us to believe otherwise.

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Braised Bok Choy with Peanuts

bokchoyleavesThe CSA adventures continue. Another completely new vegetable to me has been bok choy. I’ve heard of bok choy. I may have consumed bok choy at some point though I can’t be certain. I know I’ve never cooked with it before which means I didn’t really know what to do with it.

I sent up the Twitter signal (something along the lines of “what the heck do I do with this thing?”) and all the replies that came back were “stir fry”. OK, sounded simple enough.

Next step was Google. I searched bok choy recipes and perused several before settling on a combination of two recipes:

Braised Bok Choy & Baby Bok Choy with Cashews

But before I could cook it, I needed to know how to prepare it. I went back to Google and found this video tutorial on YouTube:

Now that shows you want to do with the white, crunchy part but what about the green leafy part? Basically you just chop that part, as well, into bite sized pieces. And when cooking it, add the white part to the pan first because it takes longer to cook. You’ll just want the greens to wilt a bit.

Here’s what used & how I cooked it:

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 3/4 pound to 1 pound bok choy or baby bok choy, washed and trimmed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ~ 1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts

Directions

  1. Heat the canola oil and olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add grated ginger and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until ginger perfumes the oil.
  2. Add the white bok choy pieces to the skillet. Stir fry for a 2-3 minutes until they become tender but not mushy, then add the greens. Allow them to wilt and turn bright green.
  3. Remove bok choy to a serving plate.
  4. Add broth, garlic, soy sauce and brown sugar to the pan. Cook another 2 minutes or so to allow flavors to meld.
  5. Pour over bok choy. Toss with peanuts. Serve immediately.

bokchoystirfry

This was really delicious! I was quite pleased with how it turned out and I’m looking forward to making it again. DB gave it a hearty endorsement (he practically licked the plate) and the kids…looked at me like I had two heads. But that was about what I expected so no surprise there.

I pan fried some slices of polenta and poured some of the sauce from the stir fry over that as well. It was a filling, satisfying meal.

If you look at the recipe links you’ll see they call for sesame oil, which I didn’t have on hand, so I substituted the olive oil. One of them calls for oyster sauce (?). Didn’t have that either, so I omitted it. And I didn’t have cashews but I did have peanuts so that’s what I used there. Apparently, you can do that kind of thing with bok choy.

My friend Brittney sent me this link about bok choy: Five Way to Eat Bok Choy – a good tool for figuring out what to do bok choy!

Updated – Take a look at what Tracy did with this recipe. Yum!

Photobucket and fearless-fridays

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Hello November

With a bit relief and wave of nostalgia, I relinquish October.

At the beginning of the October, I stood in front of our refrigerator filling out the dry erase calendar we use to keep track of our schedules. When I finished filling in all the known activities, all but a handful of days had something written on them. It made me want to cry. I don’t like being that busy. But, thanks to “Mother Nature”, a lot those obligations were washed away in a series of cancellations and postponements.

All in all, it was good month.

October collagebig boy bed

Yep, that’s 31 pictures for 31 days of October. (You can see the pictures in more detail on my Flickr.) Intentionally taking at least one photo each day for the past sixty-one days has been an odd sort of blessing. There have been days when I had no inspiration and just snapped a quick picture of…something. And there have been days when I was overloaded with picture material and took over a hundred shots. Yet through it all, I’ve captured  moments and memories, and I’ve collected objects of beauty and inspiration, and I’ve sharpened my skills, and I’ve enjoyed something. Truly enjoyed.

Which gives me hope.

Thank you to all of you who have kept me in your thoughts and prayers. Not much has changed since the Lacking post. As with all of life, some days are better than others. Some moments are better than others. Thank you especially for the encouragement to keep writing. I am going to attempt to write more.

Here I stand on the precipice of a new month. More pictures to take, more to be hopeful about.

Hello, November.

blowing out candle

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Elegance

There’s not much that’s very elegant about my life. And really? That’s just fine. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. Pizza and beer are a great date night in my book. My floors are unswept and there are always dirty dishes in my sink. As much as I like candles, they rarely get lit around here and our mouths and hands are wiped with paper napkins, not cloth (much to the chagrin of my inner treehugger.) Also, I rock out to the Dixie Chicks when I do get around to cleaning.

But every now and then I like to refine things a little and experience a bit of elegance in my life. I’ll light those candles, chose wine over beer, put on a skirt and heels. And elegance can definitely be found in housecleaning when you’re listening to Joshua Bell.

Joshua Bell At Home CoverWhen I received Bell’s new album, At Home With Friends, I was blown away by it. I think my Facebook status the first day I listened to it was something like, “Joshua Bell’s new album is intoxicating. I just want to melt into the floor and listen to it forever.” A few days later, I put it in the CD player while I cleaned the kitchen and all of sudden I felt elegant and intelligent and enlightened all while up to my elbows in hot water and suds.

I’ve always enjoyed collaboration albums and At Home With Friends does not disappoint. My favorite? “Come Again” with Sting. I will listen to that one over and over again when I’m alone in the car. Oh, which reminds me of another bonus point this album gets. I listen to it when I’m alone in the car. You see, once my children exit the car and all their noise leaves with them, I’m usually loathe to turn on the radio or put in a CD. I like the quiet because I get so little of it while they are awake. So to have found music I willingly turn on during my precious “quiet time” is a very high compliment!

The star power on this album is definitely breathtaking; in addition to Sting there’s Josh Groban, Kristin Chenoweth, Regina Spektor (the previously unrecorded, fan favorite, “Left Hand Song” is on this album!), Marvin Hamlisch, Frankie Moreno and many more. The amount of talent on this album is absolutely mind boggling.

The other really big bonus for this album is that DB also likes it! He and I both love music but our tastes don’t often overlap. (A previous overlap, courtesy of One2One, was Diane Birch. It surprised but delighted me that he liked that album, too!) Knowing that when I turn on At Home With Friends to listen to while doing housework or unwinding, he won’t cringe (like he does when I choose Norah Jones) makes listening to this music that much sweeter.

If you’d like to add a bit of refinement and elegance into your life, I definitely recommend this album. I, in fact, am hoping to add more of Bell’s work to my repertoire of housecleaning music!

At Home With Friends is available for purchase online and in stores.

Disclosure: This album was provided to me, free of charge, by One2One Network

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Lacking

I’m going to cut to chase and to come right out with it; it’s depression.

That’s why I’m not writing.

For some, depression opens the floodgates of writing. For me it dams up everything and tortures my brain instead. I already have a fairly significant filter while writing when I’m not dealing with this affliction, so when it hits…the wall is nearly impenetrable.

The most insidious of the effects is the blow to my confidence. There are huge letters written on that wall: NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY!!!!

That is the honest truth of it. And the lack of confidence affects everything in my life. My parenting skills. My marriage skills. My job skills. My friendship skills.

Everything is lacking.

See, I don’t want to be unhappy here in this space of mine. I don’t want to bring anybody down anymore that I already feel that I do in my day to day life. Therefore, I can’t write. I can’t tell you what rattles around in my brain even if you really do want to hear about it. It’s frightening to think of putting it out there.

I am not who I want to be right now.

———————————————————————————————————————–

I owe One2One Network a couple of reviews for albums that they sent me. I’m fairly certain that I’m late in these reviews and for that I apologize. The next two posts will be review posts and after that….we’ll see.

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