Monday, January 18, 2021

Let's Chat

Good morning! 
So last time we chatted, we'd just finished a mid-December family chat and made gingerbread houses. That really was so fun. That was also the only weekend Jess had the kids in December, and the day school let out for the holiday break, the kids left and didn't come back until a few days after Christmas. Since they were where we had no idea who they came in contact with, nor did we know if anyone wore a mask, once the kids came back, we kept our distance for a few days. Our Christmas celebration was on New Year's Day, and by that time, the excitement of the holidays had waned. We still enjoyed watching them open their gifts, and had video chat on while they did that so their great-grandparents could watch as well. 
We enjoyed prime rib for supper, as is our tradition of the past several years. The kids mostly enjoyed the dinner rolls. I had ordered some frozen roll dough in my grocery pickup, but they were out of stock, so they substituted Sister Schubert frozen rolls and the family inhaled those. 

Decor, such as it was, came down a few days later. The kittens very much enjoyed the tree, which is why it was decorated with unbreakables only.
Decorations are piled in my bedroom, waiting to be sorted and packed away. Last year I culled all the seasonal decorations hard, yet I find I want to do it again, but I feel like I need to empty the closet where they're stored, then put back only what I'm keeping. That seems overwhelming, so everything just waits, piled up along the walls. I have a collection of vintage Santa mugs that I'm going to try to sell to a local-ish antique store. I'll keep a few, but find I'm embracing minimalism in my decor, so won't store items I'm not going to use. If the proprietor of the store doesn't want the collection, they'll go to donation, but either way, that's one large tote gone. 
A little over a year ago, my daughter taught herself to make the decorative epoxied cups that are popular now. She made several for gifts for her friends, and started one for me, then all of 2020 started happening and she packed away her supplies. This past fall I asked her to teach me, so she brought everything here and we got all excited and decided to make things for family gifts. That meant we set up our work station in the office, to keep the epoxy out of the main living area. I might be minimizing my house decor, but am embracing this new-to-me craft. We have cup supplies everywhere when we're working, and the spot set up in the office was just a mess. I've been trying to declutter and organize that room forever anyway, then add in this new obsession and all the supplies, and that room was suffocating. 
Over the weekend we stuffed many boxes and baskets from the office into the guest room, then rearranged the office, and now have room to work. This week will be busy with cups as we try to finish the ones that have been started and get them sent off/delivered to recipients. By making all of these gifts, we've been able to hone our skills and try various techniques. My skills have improved a lot since the first few cups I made. Our financial investment in supplies is offset by the fact that each cup uses minimal amounts of supplies, plus, I didn't have to shop for Christmas gifts. We've split the cost, and have declared a moratorium on spending now that we're well supplied. This craft truly embraces artistic expression, and there are so many techniques I want to try! I'll post photos after all of my cups have been given to the people for whom they are intended. This one was Greg's Christmas gift, featuring the title of one of his favorite songs, "Ridin' the Storm Out" by REO Speedwagon. 
Last week we celebrated the youngest grandchild's 6th birthday. One of the "grandma" things I do is provide their birthday supper and cake. I'm not a great cake decorator, but do enjoy it, and try to produce what they ask for. This year Layla picked a kitty cake. I purchased a plain chocolate cake, and spent about an
hour creating a cute kitten face on it using purchased fondant. I don't mind making the cakes from scratch usually, but just wasn't feeling up to the whole kitchen mess. The kids don't care if I make or buy the cakes. Undecorated cakes, while much more expensive than a mix, are not so expensive as to ruin our budget, so sometimes I do take that shortcut. 
Much of my mental energy these past couple of weeks has been taken up by the political strife happening in our country. I was watching the coverage of the certification of electoral votes as I puttered around the house. I knew about the process, but had never paid it much attention until this year. I popped into the office to grab another box to sort, and when I came back out to the living room, they were no longer covering the Senate proceedings, but the soon-to-be-riot outside instead. I watched in real time as the building was breached and vandalized. I was on the phone with Greg as they got inside the building and cried as I told him what was happening. We won't discuss politics here. I won't post my beliefs, nor will any political comments be allowed. I only mention it because this affects us all - we need to be kind and decent to each other. We don't all have to believe in the same politics to be kind. 
Supper tonight will be fried rice with chicken. The rice is a leftover container from take-out on Friday, and the cooked shredded chicken is from the freezer. We'll be eating from the house freezer this week - the baggies are overtaking the space and it's time to use them up! 
Okay, that's it for today. My honey has the day off work, which I didn't know until the alarm went off this morning, ahem. The day is dawning a little bit gray, but temps this week are forecast to be in the 40s. Perhaps the outside Christmas decorations can come down? I remember many years ago, Greg left the Christmas lights up until the day before Easter (in late April) when I insisted we would NOT have Christmas lights on the house any longer. They came down, but he was in a friendly stand-off with a neighbor to see who could leave them up the longest. Once ours came down, so did theirs. Lol. Men. They're just boys their entire lives, aren't they? ♥

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Chatting Family Style with Gingerbread

 We've had such a lovely long autumn season for the most part, but I think winter arrived yesterday. Our area got a few inches of snow through the day overnight. Greg had to work early this morning, so the grandkids got snow scooping duty.

Since late last spring we've done "family chat" virtually with several relatives. We started with once a week all through the summer, then when school started, we went to once a month. We started gathering using Facebook video, but now we use Zoom. Our activities for family chat vary with the season. We've cooked together, all making the same recipe at the same time, or each family making a different recipe to share with the group. We've played games, had a scavenger hunt, and done crafts. We're spread across the country in Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, and Florida. Today we had other family join us from Colorado, Arkansas, and Virginia. It was so wonderful to see all of these people!

Today was family chat day and the activity was to decorate gingerbread houses. Some of us had purchased kits, others built their own from graham crackers. I usually buy the kits after Christmas when the holiday goods are half price or less, then store them with the Christmas decorations. These kits are not always awesome, and this year was no exception. Last week I opened the boxes to check the condition of the contents, and found cracks in all, as well as some significant breakage in one. I'm glad I opened them early, so I knew I needed to make repairs in advance. I got out the hot glue gun this morning and got started. It wasn't pretty, but that broken house was solidly repaired. The next house I knew had a roof crack. It was tiny, so I anticipated just leaving it to be covered with icing. I carefully cut off the plastic wrap and viola! The entire house fell to pieces. My daughter was there when it happened and neither of us had any words. I fixed it as best I could, piecing it together like a puzzle. It looked pretty wonky, and I hoped whichever child got that one would have a good attitude about it. In hindsight I should have used a piece of cardboard under the worst part of the roof, but it all worked out okay in the end. 

Here's the set-up with everything glued together. There was a lot more candy on the kitchen counter behind the table. A LOT more.

I basically chatted with everyone while the kids and Jess worked on their houses, helping when I was asked. All I had to do was set up, then vacuum the rug under the table after. J

And here they are, all finished. They worked around the repaired parts and really enjoyed themselves. I think they did a fine job. 

It was a very fun afternoon - one I hope is a good memory for all the kids and their grown-ups. I'm already planning for next year. Not sure I'll use those kits again, though. Also, too, we're hoping to maybe have several of us actually together in the same room next time. That would be so wonderful! 

Now tomorrow I'm really going to finish decorating. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Lit Up

 The past couple of days I've been in a bit of a funk, so not much got done beyond dragging Christmas totes around and starting to sort through what I want to put out this year. Greg brought the tree in on Sunday, and I put it together yesterday. The kittens, of course, are very curious, and all over it. They were quite "helpful"...

Today I got the lights on, a process that takes me a few hours. I weave the lights up and down each side of each branch, so the tree is lit up inside and out. I learned this many years ago from my sister's sister-in-law who is a professional decorator, and have done it that way since. 

Late this afternoon Jess and Layla came over and I gave the girl the box of unbreakable ornaments to put on the tree. My plan is to keep the tree kitten-safe. That's where the decorating stands at the moment. Tomorrow I will get it finished so I can put away these totes and move on to more Christmas fun. We have a big afternoon on Saturday with our monthly "family chat" and we're all looking forward to it. 

It's been one of those days today when many things have gone askew. The last was when I was making supper. We had beef stew in the Instant Pot, and right before serving I was adding frozen peas. The bag was more open than I anticipated and several peas fell on the floor. I told Layla I pea'd the floor and she was horrified until she came in the kitchen. "No, Grammy, there are PEAS on the floor, you didn't PEE on the floor." 

And that's where I'll leave things for tonight. Tomorrow, we decorate. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Blender Soup

 We're big fans of the Instant Pot brand of small appliances. We own three IP electric pressure cookers - each a different size - and we use all three. When our blender died last spring, the IP blender had just been introduced, so Greg did some research and that's what we purchased. It's a powerful blender, but it also heats and purees soup. Greg's a fan of multi-use appliances, which I find annoying, but this time, it turns out to be okay. We've had the blender several months and I've used it for blending, even made Hollandaise sauce during the "egg-cellent eggs" class I taught via Zoom for the local community college, but hadn't tried the soup function. A quick look at a YouTube video, and I was ready to give it a try.

There was a zipper bag full of cooked black beans in the freezer that had been there awhile and needed to be used. I was thinking maybe a taco soup, but found a black bean soup recipe when I looked on my Pinterest board for ideas. Turns out it was the perfect recipe to try out the soup function on the blender. 

Low Calorie Black Bean Soup


1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained (I used frozen cooked beans)

2 cups chicken broth (substitute vegetable for vegetarians)

1 cup cherry tomatoes (I used about half a cup of canned tomato sauce)

1 bunch green onions (used chopped frozen green onions)

1/2 bunch cilantro (two cubes from the freezer)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 lime

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Drain and rinse 3/4 of the black beans.

2. Place rinsed beans in a blender along with cilantro, chicken broth, tomatoes, green onions, cumin, garlic salt, and lime juice. Pulse for a smooth texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Pour the soup into a large pot and add the rest of the beans into the mix. Heat up and serve.

4. Garnish with cilantro, a diced green onion, or get spicy with a jalapeƱo!

The soup was really hot when it was done - I could see it boiling in the glass pitcher as it cooked in the blender. It cooks for about 20 minutes, then for the last 2 minutes it starts to puree the soup. If you don't want it completely smooth, you can cancel the function and leave some texture. I let it puree, and it was smooth and silky. I realize it doesn't look so appetizing, and it would have been great with some fresh cilantro, but the taste was pretty good. I used the black beans from the freezer as well as some frozen cilantro and a jar of chicken stock from the refrigerator. This was a great dish to use up some "fragments". I made grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup, using cheddar and spicy Monterey Jack cheeses. Yum.

I'm going to make more soups to stock the freezer - tomato and broccoli cheddar come to mind first. The weather looks to be cooling down to more wintry temps than we've had, and that will be perfect soup weather. I like to freeze it in individual serving sizes perfect for lunches. Greg and I both eat supper leftovers for lunch, but sometimes there's only enough for one. I send those with Greg and just make myself something quick. Freezer soup is perfect. 

 I like tomato basil, broccoli cheddar, and the hot and sour soup from a local Chinese restaurant. Oh, and chili, creamy asparagus, homemade chicken soup, and lots more. What's your favorite soup?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Bedecked with boughs

 I missed posting yesterday, but by the time I realized, I'm not sure I'd have been able to type a coherent sentence. It was a busy day. The weather was gorgeous once again. Greg and I got the outside lights up finally. I wore a t-shirt, capris, and flip flops while we worked outside. So awesome!

Thought I'd show you a little of what I did with the greenery my neighbor and I gathered the other day. It's really simple, but adds that wintry holiday touch to the porch decor.

This is the left side of the front door. The wreath around the light is faux, but the poinsettias are velvety and so pretty. The sled was purchased at a garage sale a few years ago. I spent a bit more on it, but it's authentic. It's also broken. When I picked it up, Greg looked at it and told me, "That's not going to work for sledding." I think he thought I was getting it for the grandkids. I told him I didn't need it to, and he just shook his head and walked away. These days he's more into the junky, rusty, chippy vintage, but back then he just didn't understand. I do plan to decorate the sled, and it will probably stay there all winter. The greenery is in an enamel bucket. No idea where that came from - probably a garage sale. The doormat does have our last name and the year we married, but it's been outside for a year, and is not wearing well. I recently learned that they should be sprayed with a polyacrylic sealer, then the paint on them will last. It's not in front of the door because when we built that porch, someone who was helping us didn't leave any space under the door for a mat. They put the board right up to the bottom of the doorway, so I've always had to put our welcome mat to the side. By the time I found out, most of the porch was built, so there was no changing it. When we re-do the porch (hopefully next summer), everyone who helps will know to leave me space under that door. 

This is the right side of the door. The crock is from an auction a long, long time ago, and the lantern belonged to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather worked for the railroad and while I don't know for a fact that this lantern is from that job, it reminds me of Grandpa. 

Lastly, I wired together some swags. This is at the bottom of the steps and there's one on the other side as well. The ribbon I was able to get is slippery and just didn't tie well for bows, but I like the cheery bright red with the green. All the bows look like that, so while they're not show-pieces, they are consistent. I made another swag to put on the mailbox post, and will make one more to put on my daughter's front porch. I really like real greenery for decorations, but rarely ever purchase it. Getting to go help cut and gather this was such a blessing and I really appreciate that I got to do that.

I'm planning to get the inside decorations going today, but there's a lot to do around the house before that happens. I suppose I should go work on that, shouldn't I? 

We have sunshine and no wind today, so our temp of 43° is pretty nice. This next week is much of the same, and I'm not mad about that. I hope you're also enjoying a wonderful Sunday!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Afternoon on the Prairie

My neighbor across the alley used to live about a mile outside of our little village. She and her late husband planted several trees on that property, many of them evergreens. She called me on Wednesday afternoon and invited me to join her out there to pick pinecones and gather boughs for Christmas decorating. This tree was planted for her husband's 50th birthday several years ago. She said it was a mere 5 feet tall when they planted it.

The weather was gorgeous for December. High 50s and sunshine, no wind. A perfect late fall day. Since there was no wind, it was quiet in a way you only get in the country. My neighbor and I chatted a bit, but mostly worked together in silence. At one point I mentioned how much I enjoyed being out there, how the quiet was so lovely. She said it was so nice to not have to talk, that this time was an appreciated escape from the stress of having to worry about current events.

It was a lovely hour spent outside, and did my heart good. We filled the box of her pickup with clippings and pinecones, and I'm going to enjoy using them to bring a little bit of the country to my house in town. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Rustic Candelabra

 The decor style in my home leans toward farmhouse/rustic/casual/eclectic. I prefer a neutral color scheme - to me it's calming and soothing - and I can add a splash of color here and there if I want. Many of the home decor accounts I follow on Instagram are neutral farmhouse as well. This candle centerpiece was a popular addition to many Thanksgiving tablescapes posted last month, and I really liked it. This first photo is from Liz Marie Galvan's blog, and I suspect was the inspiration for this popular DIY. 

We happened to have a couple of 4x4 beams lying around back by the garage, so I asked Greg to cut me a section. They had some warp, but there was a decently long straight section. My dining room table is 72" long with the leaf in it, which we just leave in so the table is always ready for the grandkids to join us for a meal. The section he cut is 37". He used the air compressor to blow off dirt and potential bugs hiding in the crevices of the wood. I used a palm sander on all four sides to smooth out the rough spots and make sure there would be no splinters. 

We got out the Forstner bits and I tried to drill holes by hand, but I got two done and knew my wrists weren't up to the rest. We put that bit on a drill press and I got all my holes the same width and depth. 

I spaced the holes randomly, but first found the center of the 4x4 and moved from there in each direction. There are 18 holes. The random spacing bothered me after I was done, and I wished I had just gone in a straight line up the middle. 

It took a few days for the candles to arrive, and they were the most spendy part of this project. Once those went in the holes, I liked the randomness of the spacing much better. There are a few inches on each end of the beam, in case I wanted it shortened. For now, the length is good. 

Here it is filled with candles and on our Thanksgiving table. 

This was a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving when we celebrated virtually with family in a few other states. We did have a candlelight dinner that night, and there was plenty of light for us to still be seen on Zoom. And the heat. It didn't set off the smoke alarms, but I had to quick change out of long sleeves for a summer shirt - sitting at the table with all of those candles was too hot for long sleeves. 

I wish I had a photo of this all lit up, but I currently do not, and it's late, so I'm not going to clean off the table and set it up right now. That just means there'll be a part 2 to show you just how pretty it is tomorrow night. 

I realize this might be a bit too rustic for many, but it fits right in here. I like it much more than anticipated. 

As for the rest of the table, placemats are from walmart, as is the flatware. Plates are Mikasa French Countryside (from our wedding registry), napkins are Amazon. The napkin rings were purchased from a small shop online. Those crystal glasses were 99¢ each at Goodwill last winter. I got them out and washed them as I set the table. Then, while we were eating and chatting, I tried to pick up my glass, but the bottom fell off the stem and spilled my drink all over the tablecloth. We figure it had been broken previously and glued back together before being donated. Just a tip to check that glassware next time before purchase...

Okay, that's it for me tonight. It's posting late, but three days in a row. Woo hoo!