Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Good Tidings, Great Joy

If you've been following my Christmas decor/ornaments posts through the years, you just might remember that I have a collection of angel figurines and ornaments.

Or maybe not. Either way, we're going to talk a little bit about that today.

I think my collecting goes back to a time when I was young and we were visiting my Grandma and Grandpa Willis at Christmastime. While there, I noticed a trio of singing angels that they had on an end table or something. The angels were fairly simple, made out of strong cardboard and fine (as in thin) yarn, but to me they were all that was magnificent about Christmas. I don't remember if I asked or hinted, or if my grandmother just saw my fascination and indulged me, but when we went back to Cedar City at the end of that trip, one of those angels went with us.

It sat atop our Christmas tree that year, and has every year since. I keep threatening to take it to my own home, since grandma did give to me after all, but my parents love it, and to be honest, it might not feel like Christmas to me if I didn't know that "my" angel was on top of "their" tree.  So, there it stays.

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As I became more of an adult, I started collecting an angel or two on my own, and Heidi has followed what my grandmother started, by recklessly indulging me in my pursuit of beautiful Christmas angels.

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It's one of my favorite (albeit selfish) Christmas traditions, getting an angel from Heidi.

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As I've pondered my love of Christmas angels, I've wondered why they might hold special meaning for me. Perhaps it's because I warm to the roles that different angels played in the Christmas story, telling Mary of her impending role as mother of the Son of God, telling Joseph not to fear to wed Mary, telling the shepherds of the marvelous miracle of Christ's birth just a short distance away. I especially love the "multitude of the heavenly host" that joined that announcing angel, singing their joy, simultaneously adding solemnity and celebration to the best announcement that ever was or ever would be made. 

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In each of these situations, an angel was a bringer of marvelous, peace-filling, life-and-world-changing, good news. So, I suppose it only makes sense that I would enjoy a visual reminder (or two or ten) of those events and that news in my home.

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And if that reminder happens to be pretty as well, well, what's not to like about that?

Monday, November 09, 2015

Thanksgiving Rolls

If you're looking for a good roll recipe, might I suggest this one?

Mom's Rolls at Simply Better at Home
(Or as I think of them "The Best Rolls I've Ever Had"

Last year I decided that I would make these rolls for Thanksgiving.  I'd been eating them for years, courtesy of my friend Heidi, but had never tried to make them on my own. I was a little intimidated, knowing how good they could be, and also knowing how disappointed I'd be if my efforts turned out to be sub-par, but luckily for me, they turned out to be little morsels of deliciousness. Yumma, yumma!

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And now, in case Heidi should someday take down her blog, I'm going to copy her recipe here, for my own (and possibly your) roll-making convenience:

In a small bowl, combine and then brew until very frothy (usually about 5 minutes:)
1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

In a large bowl (like a kitchenaid bowl, perhaps)stir/dissolve:
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup hot water

Add and stir well:
2 t salt
3 eggs
yeast mixture

Mix in (it should still be somewhat sticky and a little lumpy):
5 cups flour

Raise for 1 hour

Punch down and on a floured surface roll out until about 1/3 inch thick rectangle. Brush softened butter on the dough. Cut into triangles and roll from the fat side to the point. Place rolls on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.

Raise for an additional hour.

Bake at 400 for 9-12 minutes.

Total project time: 2.5-3 hours

Thursday, October 22, 2015

a little help for cold season

Awhile back, in my net-surfing adventures, I found some directions for making vapor shower disks--like the ones that Vicks used to make. Knowing that cold season would be coming, I printed the directions out, and put them into my ticker file, resolving to make some up when one of us found ourselves in need of a congestion-buster.

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That day came this week, as my daughter found herself with one of those fall colds.

Following these directions that I found on beingfrugalbychoice, I took about twenty five minutes on a Tuesday night to mix up the ingredients. I let them sit overnight, and by bath-time on Wednesday (which turned into shower-time), I had a container full of fragrant shower disks. We popped one of them in the shower with my 7-year old, and within a few minutes, the bathroom was full of eucalyptus and lavendar vapors, and all our sinuses were much more clear than had been the case earlier.

Suffice it to say, we're fans.

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You'll need the following:

-2 or so cups baking soda
-enough water to turn that baking soda into a think paste--with a consistency that's kind of like putty
-15 drops each of essential oils--eucalyptus and lavendar (Sarah at frugal by choice also adds rosemary oil, but I didn't have any, so I left that out)
-A muffin tin (I filled up one of my 12-cups, and about half of another, but I didn't fill them full. If you fill the cups full, you won't need two tins like I did)
-Muffin liners

Place the baking soda into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the water until you have a thick paste/putty-like texture. Then add the essential oils.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin (filled with liners) and let sit out overnight, preferably for at least 12 hours.

I store them in a plastic container, as seen above.

*These disks are a little bit crumbly. Sarah has a set of directions to cover this, which involves baking the disks before adding the oils, and maybe I'll try that version when I use all of these. For now, I'm satisfied with the results I got here. Not bad for a little experiment.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

2015 Garden--a thrilling tale, to be sure

I feel like our 2015 garden was a real success.  I tried a few new things this year, and most of them worked out really well, though we did have a few unexpected snafus here and there.

We had an unseasonably warm winter this year, and while that made for some really balmy days, it also made it so that our cat didn't want to use the litter box nearly as much as she wanted to use the big dirt box (a/k/a the square foot garden box) outside. It was heaven from an emptying-the-litter-box point of view, but when I went out to find my square foot garden spot full of cat poop (sorry for the graphic mental image there), heaven isn't exactly the word that came to mind.

Not wanting to plant vegetables or things that we would actually eat in dirt that had been thus fertilized all winter, and having recently watched a documentary on the value of pollinators, I determined that we would transition our square foot garden into a pollinator garden. We planted flowers (they are supposed to be perennials, so I guess we'll see if they pop up again next year), and waited patiently for them to bloom.

By the end of July we were awash in flowers, and were seeing bees and butterflies as frequent visitors to our backyard. In short, our pollinator garden was a glorious success!

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As for tomatoes (which, along with fresh basil, is really the only reason I even have a garden), I think I finally got the right configuration--all of them along the side of the house where the sun is best and the dirt is deeper and the water is plentiful. I put the small tomatoes (Sweet 100s and SunGold) along the sides of the area, and put the full-size (Early Girls) in the middle. Next year I think I'll skip the Sweet 100s. In my opinion, nothing compares to SunGolds, so why bother with two varieties?

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I also ventured out to Home Depot (or was it Lowe's?) and following these instructions, I made a serious tomato cage as an experiment, assuming that if it worked out well, I would make more in future years.

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It did work out well, actually astoundingly so, but I won't be making more, because I found that I don't really have room for cages that are any bigger than what I've already got. But, I did go ahead and using stakes and zip-ties, shored up my remaining semi-inferior cages, and I found that this little adjustment helped with the stability of my plants.

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For herbs, we planted basil, cilantro, sage, rosemary, thyme and spearmint. Also, the chives from last year flourished in their same old area, and so I let them do their thing, using them throughout the summer in the place of green onions in many of my recipes.
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I finally got the hang of pinching my basil this year, and so rather than having tall weedy stalks with few leaves, I ended up with actual bush-like clumps of basil. It was marvelous. I made pesto, we had basil in our salads and pasta dishes, and between the basil and the fresh tomatoes, we practically lived on baguettes topped with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil, broiled in the oven for 2-3 minutes. Possibly my very favorite meal, and well-loved by our whole family.

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And now for a little snafu. See that plant on the right down there? That's Catnip, regrown from plants of last year. I mistakenly thought it was spearmint, and offered it to friends, neighbors, and co-workers for use in recipes and drinks. The opera contingent were particularly grateful, and it was only when one of them mentioned to me that this particular mint had a different flavor than any she'd had before that I got looking at the plants closely and found my error. No big deal, Catnip is a member of the mint family after all, but still, I doubt I would have gotten as many takers if I would have "sold" it under its real name. Ah well, live and learn.
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I love a little zucchini, but let's face it, with our minuscule garden space, we really don't have room for hugs squash leaves spreading out all over the place. So, this year, I tried growing a plant in a tomato cage. Success!
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 I do think that next year, I'll follow the example suggested here, and stake the tomato cage upside down. This should allow more room at the bottom, where the leaves are biggest. We'll see how it all works, I guess
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I planted strawberries along the fence, by our compost pile, where we rarely get a whole lot of sun. We didn't get a whole lot of strawberries, but my purpose was mainly to put in some ground cover, to dissuade the weeds from cropping up there, as they generally like to do.  I think I'll see how the plants do over the winter, and maybe add a few more next year, to see if I can't get a bona fide patch growing. The low sun conditions might be a problem though. We'll see.

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So, that's what happened with my garden this year. I leave you with this shot of my daughter's little corner of dirt--an area she fixed up to be a potato-bug habitat.  (They like to hang out under the rocks, and she likes to lift up the rocks and bother them.)
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All told, it was a good year for growing. Now on to 2016!!

lions from sea to shining sea (and across the sea as well)

After a loooong drought of lions lately, I have a full-on cloudburst for you today! Enjoy!!

Orem Utah--taken by Harmony Packer
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Avila, Spain--taken by Cherie Sparks
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d'Orsay Museum (in Paris, France), also by Cherie Sparks (oh look! There she is!)
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Avila Spain--another Cherie special
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A cemetery in Paris, France (again--thanks to Cherie)
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We've seen these lions before on the blog, but never with such an adorable model in the mix. Salt Lake City, temple grounds.
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presented by Heather Albee-Scott--though I forget where these two fine felines reside. My guess is Michigan, since that's where Heather resides.
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(this one is kind of grumpy, no?)
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And finally, three beautiful specimens courtesy of my niece Kaylee, and her trip to the Eastern area of the U.S. I'm not sure if these were taken in Washington D.C., or New York, or both.
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this one is so fascinating to me
Kaylee's mom came along and deigned to pose for this one.
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Whew! Hopefully I'll be a little more on top of this for the foreseeable future!

Monday, October 05, 2015

Graveyard Dessert

Last Halloween, my friend Candace invited us to her house for a pre-trick-or-treating meal, and asked me to make a "spooky" dessert for the festivities.

I thought a bit, wanting something that was spooky, but not gross, and remembered a pudding cake that I had tried many years ago called "dirt and sand", some kind of pudding combined with oreo and vanilla wafer crumbs, topped with plastic flowers. Thinking that something like that could easily be adapted to a spooky theme, and thinking that in this "Age of Pinterest", someone had surely already adapted it and put step-by-step instructions online, I did a little google searching, and found . . .

This post at teachingwithtlc.com !!

I modified the decor a little bit according to my whim, and took it to the party, where it was a massive hit.
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So friends, in keeping with the spreading the love vibe that I received from doing my own search, here is the recipe, complete with my own helpful hints for Halloween Graveyard Dirt Dessert:

Halloween Graveyard Dirt Dessert

1 pkg Oreos
8 oz cream cheese (lower fat is fine)
1 cup powdered sugar
3 1/2 cups milk
2 small chocolate instant pudding boxes
1 small container Cool Whip
3-5 gummy worms
3-5 Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies
Wilton Sparkle Gel in Black

Mix the cream cheese and powdered sugar together. In a separate bowl, blend pudding and milk together. Fold the Cool Whip into the pudding mixture, then blend in the cream cheese mixture.

Chop up the Oreos in a food processor or blender. Add half of the Oreo crumbs to the pudding mixture, and spread the mixture into your serving dish. Now you can either sprinkle the other half of the crumbs over the pudding mixture to make a layer of dirt, or you can mound it up in little graves. I chose to do half and half, making three graves on one side and a worm garden on the other. To make your headstones, write "RIP" or whatever you want in sparkel gel on your cookies, and stick them into your pudding graves.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, September 14, 2015

S'mores for Family Home Evening--a tutorial in the loosest sense

Every once in awhile, we have a more-successful-than-expected family home evening. Since it's not an every day occurrence, when it does happen, I like to take a minute and commemorate the moment, partially so I can remember, and reflect about what went right, and partially so I can have a little bit of a celebration. Life is always more enjoyable when there are celebrations to be had, that's my motto.

For this particular family home evening, we made our own outdoor marshmallow roasting pot. I had seen a picture of one on Pinterest earlier in the summer, and it looked like it was something that someone of my skills and interest could manage. Turns out, I was totally right.

Basically, we took a terra cotta pot (I purchased one for $3 at Wal-Mart), and lined it with a sheet of aluminum foil. Then I filled it to the top with charcoal briquettes (I used the match light variety), and lit them on fire.

While we waited for our briquettes to burn down to appropriate roasting temperature, our daughter gave us a lesson from our old family home evening standby, The Friend.

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Then we took our forks and got to roasting!

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When it was all over, we doused the pot with water from the hose, dumped all the innards into the dumpster, and put the pot away for future s'more making joys. Simple, cheap, and tasty--what's not to like about that?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Legacy

You may not find this all that interesting--I have it here more for a record of my own personal family history than for any other reason.

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Sometime around May of this year, I received an unexpected phone call. A man named Larry Decker called our home, introduced himself as a cousin of mine, and proceeded to inform me of a Decker family reunion that would be taking place in June in Salt Lake City. As he shared more and more of the details of the reunion, my interest (which at the beginning of the conversation had been quite tepid) heightened considerably. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and to make a longer story shorter, Father's Day weekend found me meeting my parents at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for the first of two Decker family gatherings.

We spent the first night eating a gourmet meal, and listening to several family members speak, including Rod Decker, who has been a KUTV newsperson and is also a cousin of mine, apparently. In addition, Elder Don R. Clarke, of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke to us, as well as his wife, Mary Anne Jackson Clarke. Sister Clarke is also a cousin. There were other speakers as well that evening, and although the program went a little long for my taste, I wasn't sorry that I attended. We spent the night at Aunt Florence and Uncle David's house (though they weren't there, they still allowed us free reign of their home, which I thought was really quite nice of them), and got up the next morning for the second and final day of the reunion, which was to be a morning of different speakers covering topics related to our ancestors, followed by a pot-luck barbeque in the back area of a Salt Lake area church.

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My first cousin Juliana (Davis) Wallace (as opposed to the rest of my cousins there, who were more along the lines of second and third cousins a few times removed) spoke at this meeting on the topic of my grandmother, Florence Decker Corry. She recently completed a biography on Florence, making her about as much of an expert on her life as anyone who wasn't personally acquainted with her could be. I enjoyed her talk very much, as well as many of the other talks. 

While we were there at the meeting, I looked around and realized that for the first time in many years, I could look around and see all of Florence's children at the same place at the same time. Something that rare required me to take a picture, and so before we all went our way after the luncheon, and with the help of my father and my Aunt Liz, I was able to persuade them all to pose for a picture, along with their first cousin, Nancy Black.

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Uncle Jeff wanted to line up by height. That's because with Uncle E.J. missing, Jeff is the tallest in the group. He was (obviously) voted down, though.

They were really good sports about it all, but as soon as I started taking a few shots, the funniest thing happened. Suddenly, it seemed as if everyone at the reunion (and there were well over a hundred of us) immediately felt the need to rush over and get a picture of the group for their own collection as well! All of a sudden, my dad and aunts and uncles (and first cousin once removed) were posing and smiling and smiling and posing for picture after picture.

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The longer the posing went on, the more hilarious the scene became. Uncle Jeff and Aunt Liz were exchanging teasing remarks to each other, Uncle Steve kept trying to bow out of the picture, the other aunts and uncles were carrying on with jokes and smart remarks, and my dad just laughed through the whole thing.

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As I watched those siblings have so much fun laughing and playing together, it felt happily familiar to me, and not just because I've been watching them carry on together my whole life. The more I saw them playing around, the more I saw how their enjoyment of each others company is now reflected in the relationships that I have with my siblings, and the relationships that most of my cousins have with their siblings as well.

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It was the best part of a really great few days.

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