Friday, January 26, 2018


I was all prepared for winter this year. My new, all-wheel drive Subaru with super duper snow tires. I had hired some young guys to shovel my snow. I was relaxed about January for the first time in a long time.  But winter sort of fizzled out in January. We've had only one really good snow storm with about 9 or 10 inches here.  Otherwise, just an inch or two here and there. My preparations have just not been put to the test. My real concern is not about my wasted efforts, but with a dry water year ahead. I'll have to curtail some of my usual planting in the spring and plan to conserve water.

On a bright note, I've been busy getting things done on my To Do list. That always pleases me.

I signed up for a beginning guitar class with my 15-year old grandson. Our first class was last night. I have two really lovely guitars and he will be using my Taylor while I play the Ibanez. His dad will get him an electric guitar if he sticks with it and learns well. Even though I have played for years, I am liking starting from the beginning again as I've forgotten so much and my technique is sloppy. It's only eight weeks in a community school evening class.  We are two of 20 students -- a big class!

I also  saw an announcement that some people in my town are starting up a community chorus. I have been wanting to find a chorus to sing with for some time. It is, unfortunately, on the same night as our guitar class, but the director said it will be ok if I come late. My voice is rusty and it will be such a pleasure to be reading music and singing again.

My eye exam this month revealed that the cataracts in my eyes have reached a "borderline" state where I could qualify for surgery, or I could wait another year or so. I have been wanting to do the surgery. Primarily, so I could get rid of contact lenses. My older sister and my youngest sister both had the surgery last year, which made me want to do it even more. So now I'm presented with that option. It will be costly because I want to get multi-focal lenses and those are not covered by insurance/Medicare. I have the money to do it, but it's still a big decision. Surprisingly, I'm thinking I'll just update my contact lenses one last time now and put off the surgery until it's more necessary. It's something I can decide to do at any time. Knowing that, I think I'll wait and choose a convenient time. It's good to have options.

So that's January. Yes, we have a few more days. This is such a long month. But being warmer and drier than normal, it hasn't had the downer impact on me January usually does. I'm looking forward to February with some added music in my routines.  If I'm not posting much, it will be because I'm keeping busy.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wait, I Need a December Post!

Here it is, December 31st, and I haven't posted a single thing this month. So with the month and year fast coming to a close, let me see if I can put together a little something to suffice.

What happened in December?  Well, we had Christmas (quite nice) and four birthdays (also nice). One of the birthdays was my 70th. I still can't get used to that number. I in no way feel 70 and think there must be some mistake with the math. It seemed that such a number deserved a little more special observance than I usually have (sometime let me explain to you about between-Christmas-and-New-Year's birthdays).  So, I got a very special cake and had them write happy birthday to me on it, invited the family over, and had a little party. It was small, but fun.

The week before Christmas I broke my cell phone and managed to replace that with a remarkably inexpensive option when I had planned to get the most expensive thing out there.

The day after my birthday, I nearly poisoned Frankie. I accidentally left out a box of chocolate-covered cookies on the table when I took the grandkids to spend some of their Christmas money. The box was about half full, and when we returned, it was empty. A fast trip to the vet, and the quick emptying of stomach contents saved our little boy. He was sad for a day and had to take a few meds for a couple of days, but he's back to his old sweet self, and I have learned an important lesson.

The lesson really is something serious I've been thinking about a lot.  I am easily distracted and sometimes forget to do something or complete something.  The lists I write help, but maybe I've become so dependent on lists, my memory doesn't serve as well. Whatever it is, I am making a big effort to be "in the moment" every moment. Whatever I'm doing, I try to think and remember other things at the same time. It's not truly multi-tasking, but more like interruptions to keep myself alert and not mono-focused. I even talk myself through things, out loud, to avoid mistakes.

This winter, I signed up to have some young guys shovel the snow from my walks and drive.  It has worked out quite well.  Except that they went out of town for two days at Christmas and it snowed here both days. I shoveled about an inch myself, and on Christmas day, two neighbors with snowblowers cleared about six inches or so for me. The sad thing is that it has been a very dry and warm winter so far. If we don't get more snow, we won't be watering our yards in the summer.

Let's see, before Frankie's chocolate poisoning, I'd had him in to the vet for some stomach issues, and he has been on a restricted ingredient diet ever since. He has not been very happy about it, but I've been able to find some things that he does like and we can soon start adding other foods to see what he tolerates.

December was a good month, but taken in all, 2017 was not a good year. I have allowed myself to get depressed over current events too much.  I will be setting some goals for 2018, and among those will be to separate my personal life and feelings from the disaster that is at the top of our government right now.

Tonight I will got to bed early, as I always do. But I will be awakened at midnight by the inevitable fireworks that will go on for at least half an hour. At that time, I'll get up and watch the displays and drink a private toast to a good 2018 for all of us.  2018 is the Year of the Dog, but I have decided to make it the year of me. It's time to take better care of myself physically and emotionally. I have some specific plans in that regard. And I plan to get back to more artistic endeavors as well.  Of course, I will still spend a lot of my time helping my kids with many things. But I will try to remember to give myself the time and effort needed for good health and happiness.

So, cheers to 2018, whatever it brings.  May we be equal to all the challenges and worthy of all the rewards.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving Wrap-up, the Last Turkey

I completely forgot to get a picture this year. I had 11 at the table and the food was traditional and delicious. It took a couple of weeks of planning and several shopping trips, and finally, two exhausting days of cooking to put it on. I debated not doing a turkey this year, and doing a couple of chickens instead along with the ever-popular salmon. But I fell back to doing the traditional thing. And it turned out well.

But the older and weaker I get, the more I hate wrestling that heavy bird to get it cleaned, seasoned, dressed, into the roaster, basted, cooked to temperature, out of the roaster, rested, onto a platter, carved, served, later meat removed from bones and stored for leftovers. Oh, and I forgot pouring off drippings and making gravy. And I hate my pious friends who boil the bones for a most fantastic broth and, thereupon, make fantastic soups. Well, hate is a strong word. Maybe I'm more jealous and disgusted because I'm so sick of handling that bird, the last thing I want is to extend its life and usefulness by boiling bones.

At the dinner table, I announced to the family that this was probably my last turkey. In fact, it might be my last Thanksgiving day dinner. All of my children have other dinner invites every year, and we go through a crazy exercise of trying to find a time when everyone can be together at the same time. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. And if they've already been to an earlier dinner, they're not so hungry for the big feast I produced.  So what to do?

I'm thinking of going completely against tradition. My idea is to make a couple of pots of homemade soup and homemade breads. Simple, delicious, and just the right amount of food for people who are trying to hit two or even three dinners that day. Everyone, including the grandchildren, liked the idea and it produced quite a lot of discussion. I may even do it later on the long weekend -- maybe Sunday evening.

It felt good to have my family be supportive of my wish to depart from traditional Thanksgiving things. I had already abandoned most Christmas decorating traditions for several years now: no tree or lights. But I adorn my house with poinsettias and sometimes my whimsical Christmas village, and wreaths on the door. I'm down to doing the things that give me pleasure and make the holiday a happier time for me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November - Some Firsts at the Birdfeeders

In October I had let the birdfeeders run out and was considering giving up the feeding due to occasional rodents and the difficulty of getting to the feeding station in the winter. I'm so glad I didn't.

I original;y set up this feeding station so I could watch the birds from my kitchen window. It's a tall pole with arms extending out for various feeders -- high enough the deer can't reach them. I serve mostly black oil sunflower seeds, but also millet, nyger, peanuts, and suet.

A couple of weeks ago as I watched the empty feeders, a surprising Red-Breasted Nuthatch showed up. It's not rare in Utah, but rare in my yard. I've probably seen just a couple in the trees since I've lived here. I ran to grab my camera, but missed him. I immediately replenished all the feeders. Did it return?  Yes! In fact, every day it comes back.  And now they are coming in twos and threes.

Now while this is going on, I've been following Utah bird threads online and have seen that other birders are seeing this charming bird for the first time at their backyard feeders, too.

And I'm also seeing lots of reports of Steller's Jays sightings. Again, this is not a rare bird in Utah, but usually stays in the mountains and doesn't visit backyard feeders. People are calling this an incursion year for the Steller's Jay.  I found myself wishing I'd see one at my feeder, too. When one day, there it was.  And now it is visiting every day.  In fact, I'm seeing two at a time here. And I'm seeing them all over the neighborhood in the pine trees. What a great bird it is!

Here are a couple of shots of the Steller's Jays, and one of our Woodhouse's Scrub Jay that we see year-round.

In addition to these birds, I have been seeing the regulars, California Quail, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Juncos, as well as Pine Siskins, which I haven't seen in a few years, and American Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches, which I usually don't see this time of year, but are common in spring and summer.

Well, as if things couldn't get any better, what should show up today but a pair of Evening Grosbeaks. Again this is not a rare bird in Utah, but it's a first in my yard. For years I've watched as people posted pictures of this lovely bird all up and down the Wasatch Front. I tried putting out jellies and oranges to attract them, to no avail. Suddenly, here they are eating black oil sunflower seeds.
So now, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a possible Rosy Finch, which seems to have also moved down from the mountains into backyards this year.  And, who knows, even an eastern Blue Jay. They are very rare here, but usually one or two is seen every year. But there have been an unusual number of sightings already this year.  So, why not in my own backyard?

You have to wonder what is bringing these birds to a lower winter elevation this year. Some are theorizing that a shortage of food sources this year is pushing them down. But I wonder if it might be a sign of a hard winter and deep snow ahead.

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Good October

At the end of September I was lamenting what a waste this year has been in so many ways. It was something of a wake-up call to look back on 12 months and realize the lack of progress. I managed to pull myself together and make some goals for October. And then I jumped on them. Without listing all the things I wanted to accomplish, I can predictably say a lot of them had to do with fall projects in the yard.

And how did I do?  I am amazed and pleased to say I've already completed nearly every one of the things I set out to do and a few more besides.  Here's one I'm rather proud of:

My cute wrought iron arbor was starting to have rotted legs due to being buried in dirt and mulch -- more every year. It looked like it was doomed. The legs at the fronts of the benches no longer supported the bench and you could not sit on them, although the four main support legs were fine. I thought I would try something to save the arbor rather than throw it away. My plan was to make cement "boots" for the bench legs. There was some trial and error involved but here's the succinct version of how it went. I placed cement patio blocks under each leg to keep them out of the dirt in the future. I used empty gallon size nursery pots cut to size to create forms for the cement. I used quick-setting cement and worked it into the forms and let it harden. This took a couple of weeks due to intermittent rain and running out of cement. At last I spray painted the entire arbor and the new feet with flat black paint. I was surprised and pleased my plan worked and looked pretty good as well.  Ta da!

The yard is all cleaned up now, the sprinklers winterized, some soil amendments added to flower beds, and houseplants have come indoors.  As seen in my previous post, I also shopped for and bought a car this month, and cleaned up my older car and sold it. And since I sold it to my son for my granddaughter to drive, I gave it some extra detailing and brand new snow tires.  I renewed my birding adventures along with my annual pass to Antelope Island.

This is not all I managed to do in October. But, it would be enough to feel so much better about things. Probably the most important effect of these successes is the improvement in my mood and outlook. I feel more like my old self again -- the person driven by goals and lists and planning.  I look forward to November and some new challenges.  I'm even looking ahead to 2018 and the things I want to change in my 70th year of life.  That's right, I'll be 70 in almost exactly two months. But I'm not finished yet.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Wheels

This has been a year of buying gifts for myself. It started with an iron that still worked except for the auto shutoff AND the Off button. I felt so unsure of my ability to remember to always unplug it, I just threw it out and bought a new slightly deluxe one.

Then the old coffee pot decided to not make the coffee so hot anymore. I didn't really splurge, but did get a nice new one.

Then it was my Google tablet, getting so slow and crashing since the newest Android update. I splurged on a new Google Pixel tablet. It's a treat to use -- like a mini laptop, but with long battery life and fast charging.

Then my laptop started seriously dying, getting slow, crashing, the keyboard had issues, and a plague of dead pixels was spreading across the screen. And sometimes you need a laptop -- well, I think you do. So once again, splurged and got a nice new one with lots of extras.

That's enough, I told myself. No more gifts for me. But I had been thinking about buying a car for a long time. And something triggered that idea and pushed me to start looking. I think it was my daughter who didn't feel my Nissan Altima was safe enough for winter driving. But I've had that car since 2006 and it has served me well. Honestly, with 114,000 miles, it still has a lot of life left in it.

But I went out shopping (I will spare you the extreme agony of dealing with car salesmen, but it was the WORST! THE WORST!), and I ended up buying a sweet little Subaru Forester. I had sort of planned on getting a new car with just basic features. But I came across this rather wonderful 2016 with low miles and immaculate inside and out, and with some added nice features like the heated seats and power moon roof. But the features that sold me were the "Eyesight" which can be set for auto-braking at certain following distances, and lane drift warning, blind spot warning, etc. I realized for the same money as a basic new car, I could get a two-year old Premier model with far more safety features and an extended manufacturer's warranty. I bought the car.  I had my regular repair shop check it out, and they said I got an excellent one with no concerns or issues whatsoever. Whew!

Ok, no more spending on me! Christmas is coming. Property taxes are soon due. And soon after that, tax season. I need to stop spending and start saving again.

But let me just say, I am rather enjoying my new toys.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Checking In

I haven't posted in a very long time. I think life has been somewhat difficult this summer and I really haven't felt like writing about my life. But, I'm here to simply check in today and to say things are really just fine with me.  I'm managing to keep up on caring for my home and yard, the grandkids, helping with mom. I'm failing to take very good care of myself.

I'm afraid I'm giving in to feeling old and slow. I have pain most of the time in one knee. And when the weather changes, sometimes every part of me seems to. ache. But still, I consider myself healthy and lucky to be so.

I am less brave these days at facing problems.  I procrastinate a lot, and I hate that. I have always been one to jump on things and get them done. It's not me to slack off as much as I have this summer.

I will offer one excuse.  It has been damn hot this summer and has kept me indoors too much. We had our hottest summer on record here with long stretches in the 100s. Then, suddenly, it turned cold!  Then hot, then cold and rainy.  Now at last, I will have seven days of mild temperatures and no rain.  No excuses now, I plan to find the old me somehow, and get some specific things done outside.

I will offer another excuse. I have been sad about the state of a lot of things: our country, climate issues and disasters, the loss of too many people in my life. I see what happens when you give in to the sads. It becomes a determining factor in whatever else you try to do. I stay home a lot, watch too much Netflix, feel negative about so many things. THIS I must change.  I believe it's called fake it till you make it. And seriously, while I know you can't just "snap out of it" on demand, I have to be more positive and more determined to break this pattern of negativity that's dragging me down.

So that's the update.  Here it is, the beginning of autumn -- such a beautiful, transitional time of year. I intend to make it a transitional time for myself as well.  Making no promises as to how often I will post. But if I have some beautiful pictures, I will definitely post them.

P.S. Here's a giant zinnia from my front flower bed. I planted a lot of these to fill in where the deer had damaged so many of my perennials last winter. The zinnias have done a spectacular job as shown by this giant bloom.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Backyard Chukars

A beautiful bird, the Chukar.  Not a native bird as I had thought, but an import years ago from the Eurasian continent.  It has established itself well in the scrub lands of the Great Basin in western U.S.  And also, in my backyard this year.  A pair of these birds, a larger sized member of the partridge family seem to have set up housekeeping somewhere nearby, and they like the little nature park that is my yard.  Delightful to have some new guests.  I once saw a single Chukar just across the street maybe 25 years ago.  But this pair is definitely hanging around.  I'm hoping for a little family later on.

End of April - Completely off the rails

 First of the year, male Lazuli Bunting.

Winter really got me down this year. I've been trying to figure out why I was so down; it was hard to cheer up. Perhaps lack of sun with a lot of smoggy days and more snow than usual. 

The extra snow this year actually makes me happy.  Add to that a very rainy April, and the water situation in our dry state is greatly improved.

And I managed to get some projects completed that were on my winter list.  And I helped my daughter (with the help of Alberto) finish converting the huge garden plot in her backyard to easy maintenance lawn and trees -- what she wanted.

I have not taken care of myself physically. It became easy not to go walking with the treacherous icy sidewalks. It became easy to stare at Netflix or anything at all on the TV and eat mindlessly.  I sadly put on pounds over winter.  Now I'm paying the price as not only do I need to get those pounds off again (and more), the extra weight makes everything I do more difficult and painful -- especially stairs.  I know this is a big part of why I have felt somewhat depressed.

But with April came some nice weather, too, and I have been cleaning up flower beds and planting a few perennials. My little project of "winter sowing" of seeds in milk cartons is coming along.  It makes me laugh, in fact.  The plants are tiny, but boy are they tough, having been through snow, rain, a few days of heat. But now I will open up the tops and let them enjoy some May sunshine next week as the weather improves. Sometime in May I will plant them in the flower beds. Okay, not everything in the winter has left me depressed.

And the lovely birds have finally returned. I have filled all the feeders with fresh millet, sunflower seed, nyger, peanuts, and suet.  Today I will add the hummingbird feeders. Already the first Lazuli Buntings have returned, lifting my spirits a great deal.

Yes, I'm very upset and depressed about the election. Things in our country, and by extension the world, are deteriorating fast.  A mean spirit is pervasive.  It's a time for the haters, the polluters, the greedy, the selfish, to thrive.  This overpowers my positive nature almost every day. It's beyond my control, I know, but it makes me inconsolably sad about the future for my children and grandchildren.   We have worked so hard and so long to improve protections for our environment.  It's like when I planted a beautiful flower bed, and then it was destroyed in a flash from water overrunning the storm drains up the hill.  Yes, that's how it feels.  All our hard work has been destroyed. I'm not resolved to this and will be an ongoing part of the resistance until this scourge is removed from office.

One thing I know I need to stop doing is thinking about how my house looks to a prospective buyer.  I've spent so much time, money, and effort fixing it up, I have forgotten my purpose: not just to have it ready to sell some day, but also to enjoy in its lovely state while I live here. It's my home and while I continue to improve it, I need to remember it is for ME now, and for the next owners sometime in the future.

 A friend of mine has a blog where she has been writing about a "year of beautiful". What a good idea.  What if I tried to even make every day a day of beautiful. If I can manage to have the beauty of day be its defining characteristic, perhaps I can better take in stride the difficulties, disappointments, and physical pain.  This is a thought I will take over to my personal journal and explore a bit more.

So here it is, nearly May.  I'm in a hole of my own digging. But I have energy in spite of pain. Today is Saturday, and I will make the most of it.  It's a beautiful sunny day and the birds are singing. It's already a day of beautiful.  And if I focus on a day of beautiful, I only have to do it one day at a time.

First of the year female Lazuli Bunting.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January - When will it end?

It has been a snowy winter. Very snowy. In most of the state, our mountains have well over 150 percent of normal snowpack, with some over 200 percent. This is very good for a high desert state like Utah. We depend on that snowpack for our summer water needs. This also bodes well for the Great Salt Lake that has been shrinking dramatically.  It's good for everyone, really, except 69 year old women who still shovel a very large driveway.

Today we will get the third of three consecutive storms occurring over a period of 4 days. The first gave us just a couple of inches of snow in the valley.  But yesterday, I had 15 inches.  Glad it was Saturday and glad I had help. A neighbor came with a snowblower when the snow had reached about 10 inches.  Then another neighbor helped with the rest after the snowing stopping.  It was hard and I am not really sure I could have done it alone.  It begins to worry me. How long am I going to be able to keep this up? This next storm is supposed to give us up to 10 inches overnight.  Flakes are just starting now.  I have to leave the house around 6 a.m. to tend grandchildren and get them off to school. I know I will be up by around 3 to evaluate the driveway and see if I need to shovel.

January is just the hardest month for me.  We have periods of inversions and pollution where you can't see the sky or mountains for the dirty air.  And when you can see the sky, it's always white. And the ground is white. Or dead brown. And the cold -- many days in the single digits or lower overnight.  The occasional thaws with temps rising into the 40s are such a relief, but they give false hope. Thankfully, though, they reduce the piles of snow around the yard.

I go by a calendar winter of December, January, February, rather than the meteorological dates. I consider the end of February the end of winter -- even though we can expect snow storms and cold weather continuing off and on into May. But the snow does melt and things actually start coming up from the cold ground.  And I start thinking about the garden.  The way I see it, we're just barely halfway through winter now.  So I need to buck up and do something worthwhile.

As usual, I have my winter list of projects to do.  This year's list included things you might not think needed doing: organizing some closets and drawers.  Actually, having decluttered and organized so recently, things were already pretty tidy.  But already, there are more things I need to discard. And I wanted to try a new way of storing things in drawers. I'd read about the Marie Kondo method of decluttering and organization, and was struck by the idea of vertical storage. Basically, storing things in drawers so that nothing is on top of anything else. The way this is done is by rolling clothing items instead of folding.  I thought this would work with things like t-shirts and tanks, sweaters, socks, undies, scarves, etc.  So, I spent a little time with my already tidy drawers.  Here's what I found: 1) It is amazing to see everything in the drawer at once. I realized I had forgotten about things on the bottom stack.  Now I can see everything in the drawer when I open it.  2) By rolling the items, I was able to fit more in the drawer.  Without showing anything too personal, here are a couple of results -- a drawer of scarves and one of t-shirts and tanks.

My next project will be something I've never tried before -- a method for winter seeding of annuals outdoors using milk cartons as mini greenhouses.  I'll just post a link to it here for the instructions: Winter Sowing 101.  I have all the materials ready to go, but I think I'll wait until into February to start my seeds.  I figure I have nothing to lose and it certainly gives me a tiny bit of gardening fun, if experimental.

I still have some other projects on my winter To Do list -- indoor things things to pass the time during this excessively white month of January.  My friend, Celia, and I have signed up for a mosaics class at the University of Utah that starts in February. I've been wanting to make mosaics on some of the stepping stones in the yard, and this should be fun.

So here's to trying to keep a good attitude and continuing to make forward progress despite the depressing weather.  Spring will surely come.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolutions 2017 - Follow the Plan

Home sweet home. With 17 inches of new snow on Christmas day, I'd rather look at the inside.
This has been a good year for achieving goals.  I have liked the plan I started last year and will simply continue on with it.  My "Kind Self Care" has resulted in better habits and more awareness and attention to my physical, mental, and emotional needs. I hope all my life I can continue this attention to self-care.

I've spent a great deal of time helping my children and caring for grandchildren.  Sometimes it has left me feeling physically exhausted, but always happy. My desire is to be an ongoing help in their lives.

My complex schedule of household and yard task has been very effective.  I don't worry when I sometimes miss a task because it comes around again. But overall, I'm really on top of things around here and in a constant state of improvement.

I look forward to spring and summer.  For the next few months I will try not to hate winter. It is the hardest time of year for me as snow removal becomes more difficult, and walking on ice and snow more dangerous. I cancelled plans for lunch with friends today simply because of the terrible pollution in the air and the icy, unplowed streets and parking lots. But this falls under the category of self-care.

I am typing this blog on my new Pixel tablet with keyboard -- a gift to myself this holiday season.  It's a transition in technology.  I rarely use my desktop PC. My laptop is getting old and slow. My smart phone and Android tablet have been my go-to tools for web surfing, social media, entertainment, etc. Now with the Pixel, I have the best features of the tablet and laptop together.  At some point this year I'll retire the PC and move the laptop into the office to host the printer and for tasks like photo editing. The Pixel is already my favorite connection to the world.

And Netflix. I rarely watch network TV anymore.  The election left me feeling inconsolably depressed, and I have greatly reduced my exposure to the news. Netflix gives me so many options: movies, documentaries, concerts, TV series.

So, I don't expect to shake things up this year. I will just keep following the plan and keep improving things to make life better for myself and those I love.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Just seven for dinner this year with three stopping by later for leftovers and pie.  No vegan guests, but two pesco-vegetarians, which means they eat fish and eggs.  So the menu was simple.  However, I still prepared some of my dishes using coconut milk and no butter just because I thought the dishes really tasted better prepared that way.  I had all day Wednesday free, so I was able to make a lot of the dinner ahead.  Here are some notes from this year's feast, in no particular order, just so I can look back next year and remember what worked for me.

Make ahead on Wednesday:  Stuffing, yams, pies, cranberry sauce, salad, and rolls (this year I bought the rolls and pies).  Chill the drinks.  Set the table. Select all the serving dishes and utensils and have them ready.  Thanksgiving day goes so smoothly with all this advanced prep.

Cranberry Sauce.  Simple -- just a cup of sugar, a cup of orange juice, and 12 oz pkg. of fresh cranberries. Cook and stir over medium heat 10 minutes or so to reduce liquid.  Can continue to simmer on low stirring frequently until liquid is reduced enough.  At the very last, I add my secret ingredient -- a half teaspoon of vanilla.  Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Sauce thickens when chilled. 

Stuffing.  Made my own bread cubes with two loaves of bread.  Toasted cubes under the broiler. Two loaves is perfect so everyone has some leftovers to take home.  Used all the usual seasonings along with sauteed veggies (I used butter for sauteing, but if I have vegan guests, I use dairy-free margarine).  Moistened bread with one can of coconut milk and two cans of vegetable broth.  Added a half cup of walnuts and one can of water chestnuts (drained and slightly chopped) and sauteed veggies. Covered and refrigerated until needed.  Baked at 370 for 30 minutes.  Yams and stuffing go in the oven together 40 minutes before dinner, so they come out of the oven 10 minutes before dinner. 

Yams.  The simplest thing to fix.  Boil whole, unpeeled yams in a large pot of water for an hour.  Drain and cool enough to handle. The skin peels of easily with a paring knife.  In a baking pan, spread some melted butter or spray with vegetable spray.  Slice yams into round medallion shapes about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Layer in the baking pan. After each layer, salt lightly, drizzle with melted butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Mashed Potatoes.  I made a really huge pot this year because we had no leftovers last year.  Probably nine pounds (most of a 10-pound bag). Peeled in the morning, cut into 3-inch pieces and placed in a large pot of cold water until ready to cook.  Started cooking 45 minutes before dinner.  Cook over high to boil and reduce heat to medium to continue boil for 35 minutes.  Mashed, adding only a can of coconut milk and very light salt, no butter.  This makes them vegan or vegetarian, but honestly, they are the most delicious mashed potatoes you'll ever eat.  I enlisted help mashing since things are chaotic in the kitchen the last 30 minutes.  Mash in the pot and cover with a lid to keep hot until serving.

Rolls.  This year I decided at the last minute to buy rolls from Winegar's instead of making my own.  It was a good choice as it saved me time and work, and Winegar's rolls are really good.   I bought three dozen so there were plenty for people to take home for turkey sandwiches.  I didn't even heat them up, but could certainly have put them in for 10 minutes after the yams and stuffing came out of the oven.

Turkey.  Just a 13-pounder.  It's big enough.  The family likes turkey, but any more than this would just be wasted.

Salmon.  I make this every year for the vegetarians, but honestly, every guest has some as my recipe is really good (and simple).  This year I cooked three pounds of salmon, so there was extra for taking home. Even though my recipe says to set the oven to 475, I set it to 370 as it has to go in while I'm also heating the yams and stuffing on the lower rack.  I put a half to 3/4 stick of butter and 4 tablespoons of chopped parsley in a shallow baking pan and put it on the top shelf in the oven long enough to melt the butter.  Placed the salmon on the baking pan, skin side up, and baked for about 6 minutes.  Removed from oven (at this point you can remove the skin, but I didn't), turn the fish over. Salt and pepper and return to the oven for 5 or  more minutes until done.  I do the salmon at the end of the baking time for the yams and stuffing and after the gravies are already made and simmering on the stove.

Green beans.  One large bag of prepared fresh green beans is enough. Blanched these in the morning (placed in boiling water for 10 minutes and then plunged into ice water to chill immediately) and then refrigerated until the salmon is in the oven.  While the salmon baked, I sauteed beans over a med-high heat in olive oil and fresh garlic (I press it, but you can chop) for 3 or 4 minutes.  Use tongs and turn these constantly to heat all of the beans through and not burn.  Turn the heat down or off, cover the pan to keep the beans hot until ready to serve.

Drinks.  I always offer a cabernet sauvignon, but this year I also had a Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc and it was very popular. A bottle of each was enough this year, but I would double that if I had 12 or more people. I had soft drinks (a dozen coke, a dozen diet coke), but no-one drank any although they did take some home.  I had 10 bottles of the zero-calorie orange sparkling drinks for the kids and a lot of those went home with the families, too.

Pies.  Heck, I just bought the Marie Callendar's frozen pies this year: apple and banana cream. Also the pumpkin, but it looked so small, I ended up buying a larger one at Smith's bakery.  Even with sending pie home with everyone, I ended up with that one Marie Callendar's pumpkin pie untouched.  Next time, I'll just bake two MC pies and buy the pumpkin fresh.

Gravies.  I did the usual mushroom red wine gravy for vegetarians and simple turkey gravy for everyone else. Had to send my son to get mushrooms at the last minute as the ones I had bought on Sunday and gone bad.  Lesson learned.  I made the gravies while the potatoes boiled after putting the yams and stuffing in the oven.  Even the mushroom gravy only takes 10 minutes to make, and I put both gravies on back burners and a low simmer, stirring occasionally.  Also, I added the wine to the mushroom gravy just a minute or two before serving for best flavor.  I had read that if you add the wine too soon, it can add a bitter taste to the gravy.

Salad.  Just my very popular make ahead broccoli-grape-pasta salad.

Hors D'oeuvres. None. I had pretzels and candies set out along with the wines and wine glasses on the server in the living room, so people had a drink and a little taste of chocolate before dinner.  Forget all the cheese and crackers or crab-stuffed goodies.  People want to fill up on the main event.

As far as buying food the Sunday before, it's fine for the turkey and most everything else.  But knowing what I know now, I would make a short shopping trip on Wednesday to purchase the mushrooms, a fresh pumpkin pie, and rolls.

Timing is crazy the last hour before serving in order to have everything done at the same time.  I do the turkey in a roaster so my oven is free for this crucial time.  With that in mind, here's how I manage the last hour before dinner when serving at 2 p.m.
  • As people arrive, invite them to select a drink.  Also enlist helpers for last minute serving.
  • 1:00  (Or any time sooner) Put butter, salt and pepper and lemon wedges on the buffet. Whisk together the thickening agent for gravies (flour and liquid) and set aside.  Can also saute the mushrooms etc. for the gravy earlier and set aside until needed.
  • 1:05  Preheat oven to 370. 
  • 1:10  Start the potatoes cooking on high.
  • 1:15  Put yams and stuffing in oven, bottom rack. Put the shallow pan for salmon on the top rack to melt the butter. Remove as soon as butter melts.
  • 1:20  Make mushroom gravy and put on back burner to simmer.
  • 1:30  Remove turkey from roaster. Lift out with the rack handles, place on a baking pan, and tent with foil and allow to rest for 30 minutes.  Pour off liquid for gravy.
  • 1:35  Make turkey gravy and put on back burner to simmer.
  • 1:40 Test potatoes.  If not done, cook for 5 more minutes.  If done, drain, mash in the pot and cover until ready to serve (you always get offers of help and this is a great one to assign to someone).
  • 1:45  Put salmon in the oven. 
  • 1:46  Start sauteing green beans on high.  After 3 or 4 minutes, cover, reduce or remove from heat.
  • 1:46  Set out salad, rolls and cranberry sauce for serving (I assigned this task to grandkids).
  • 1:47  Stir wine into gravy and continue to simmer very low. 
  •  1:50  Remove yams and stuffing from oven and set out for serving (assign someone to add serving spoons, forks spatulas, etc, as needed to the hot dishes).
  • 1:51  Remove salmon from oven, turn it over and return to oven for 6 to 8 more minutes.
  • 1:52  Move turkey to a serving platter and slice some white and dark meat.  A grandchild can decorate the platter with parsley now.
  • 1:59  Put into serving dishes the mashed potatoes, gravies and green beans.  Remove salmon from oven and place on a serving platter.  Cut into individual portions and drizzle with some of the butter from the pan.
  • 2:00  Dinner is served.

Whew!  You really have to keep moving and be organized to have all the food done and hot at the same time.  This works for me.

I serve buffet style as my table is really too narrow for all those serving dishes along with the place settings.  So when the hot food is ready, I invite people to bring a plate from the table and serve themselves from the buffet. I provide smaller plates for cold foods like salad and roll.  All of this is very efficiently handled using my kitchen island.

So that's it for another year.  Dinner was a success and the family stayed and stayed.  Every year I think I might not do the dinner.  But knowing how important the tradition is to my family, I keep it up. It's such a pleasure to see how people enjoy the day together and how they really enjoy the food.  Yes, I will probably do it again next year.  But now I've written down the little details, I won't have to think it all through again.  My plan is right here.

We had a freezing snowstorm the night before Thanksgiving, but just a couple of inches of snow.  Temps improved the next day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I survived the summer

What a great summer it was.  I looked after my two grandsons who live nearby all summer long.  Each week we did both routine activities and special adventures, had lessons in cooking, art, and science, practiced math and did reading every single day, and ended up having just a memorable time.

Of course, I had good intentions for keeping up on housework and yardwork, but it was really all I could do to just maintain some semblance of order in the house.  At the same time I spent some evenings and weekends helping my daughter with her new yard and home, and lending support to my friend who downsized from her big home to a condo.  I was busy.  But happy.

In August, my high school graduating class had its 50th reunion.  I had not intended to go, but after much encouragement from my closest friend (friends since we were 8 years old), and many classmates, I did attend after all.  It was two events over two evenings and in the end I was glad to have had the chance to see so many people I hadn't seen in years -- most since graduation.  Here's a very poor picture.  I guess we should all be grateful you can't see us very well.  Haha! You might be able to find me with my three best old friends.  See the four guys standing in front to the right side as you look at the picture? Look behind the fourth guy in and you will see on either side behind him Celia (in white), Sally (in navy), continuing looking left it's me (in tan), and next to me, darling red-headed Sherry. 

Once the grandkids went back to school, I became committed to getting all caught up on yard, house, projects, and even fall cleanup.  Yes, I resorted to my lists, and I have been following them faithfully.  Until this week, that is.  I woke up Monday morning with such a feeling of ennui.  My house was super clean from my flurry of activity for the past two weeks.  My yard was decent, but needing some more weeding.  I had even completed a number of items from my one-day project list and was following my daily self-care list faithfully.  It's almost as if I became TOO productive for awhile.  I wasn't taking any time for fun except to watch Netflix.  And I was so devoted to the lists and knocking items off, I began to have a hard time sleeping due to thinking about plans for tomorrow.  So I have slacked off for two days now and just enjoyed the cooler weather and the peace and serenity of my home and surroundings with my sweet little dog.

Of all my lists this year, I have been most devoted to my "Kind Self Care".  I have managed to lose some weight and hope to continue. I've achieved 20 percent of that goal so it's coming off slowly but surely.  I've ticked off the items on the list each day, looking after not only my physical health, but my appearance and my attitude.  My emphasis has been on being kind to myself.  No more guilt and berating for not adhering strictly 100 percent of the time.  There are no failures. But there are sometimes pauses in my efforts. 

So this is just a little pause.  I'll take up my goals again tomorrow and focus on outside things.  My list told me to clean house yesterday and today, but I refuse to pretend to clean a house that's already clean!  Sometimes I follow the plan and sometimes I ignore the list.

But all is well.  I survived the summer.  Things are moving along.  I'm still uninterested in blogging much, but will continue to check in here once in while.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Spring -- What I've Been Up To

I've not posted in quite awhile, but I've been busy. Alberto's crew was just here for the spring cleanup,and they did a really fabulous job.  The yard isn't terribly colorful at this moment.  The earlier spring blooms have faded and are ready for dead-heading.  The mid-summer blooms are just barely starting to show.  But even so, the yard is pretty and lush.

I took a bunch of photos today despite it being cloudy (and has now started raining).  I want to use this post as a pictorial reminder of the things I want to tweak in the fall and spring.  The thing most needed is moving plants to a better location.  I am adding notes with each photo to help me later.

As for me, I've been seriously focusing on self-care, or "kind" self-care, as I like to call it.  I read some of Anne Lamott's ideas on radical self-care, and at first I was taking that approach as well. But for me, the word "radical" felt too militant and forceful.  What I thought I needed was self-care with a lot of TLC.  I am seeing real results in my efforts.  I feel better, I look better, I am happier, and I have more energy to do the things I need to do.  I realize more than ever before, that I need to take care of myself first.  It doesn't mean I don't do what's needed to help my family and friends.  It only means that if I neglect myself in the process, I not only harm my own health and well-being, I'm not really able to give the time and effort needed to help those who depend on me.

Changes eventually become new habits.  And you're never too old to change.  When I want to change something specific, I set some short-term goals to focus on just that one thing while not neglecting my other newly-formed habits.  So change is gradual.  But at some point you surprise yourself with where you are overall.  I'll say I'm happy to be where I am but I'm not finished yet.  This year will continue to be the year of Kind Self-Care.

And now for the photos of the yard.  The photos start at the back patio and make a circuit of the entire yard with some commentary.
Starting at the patio looking to the backyard, I like how they cut the vines back to the retaining block wall. I still have patio cleanup to do myself.
The shade garden has plenty of plants but is slow growing this year. It was a cool wet May, but the new warmer weather will get things moving.  Only thing to do in the fall is remove remaining iris plants.

This shade garden needs more. Right now I have some pots of volunteer plants ready to pot somewhere else.  I added petunias, but I don't think I get enough sun for them to thrive.  So more shade-friendly plants are needed. Favorite new plant here is a bellflower.

This middle upper level is fine. I won't plant anything here. I have a project for those bricks in the foreground.

Oriental poppies were glorious here for a couple of weeks, but gone now. That iris in the front needs moved to the back. I had started some Mexican sunflowers at the back from seed, but Alberto's guys tore them out thinking they were weeds. I'll try again and see what I can get this year.  There is a cone flower here that needs to be moved.

Still need to get rid of that old grill.  I tried taking it apart, but the bolts are rusted tight.  We have extra trash pickups throughout the summer and I'll try again to get rid of this.

I lost one of these small trees in the winter which opened up the upper backyard a bit and made it sunnier.  I have water coverage on some of this ground, so I want to add some of my perennials here and maybe some large grasses.

A gopher tried to kill the ornamental pear third in this line. I've braced it with a rock and am trying to save it.  I'm diligently watching for new gopher mounds and applying smoke bombs to the burrows, which seems to work well.

A view looking down the steps where a little Frankie looks for gophers in the vines.

The upper corner garden is about as nice as it's ever been. I will have color all summer long here.  The ajuga along the front are transplants from elsewhere.  They took well, and I'll add more all along that edge.  I need to move the white salvia that's hidden behind the large coreopsis.  I have added a dozen small zinnias for summer color.  I'd like to find a perennial to replace those.  For now, I handwater the zinnias because they need more water than the perennials.

Gopher mound, grrr!  Right in the middle of my beautiful corner garden.  I applied a smoke bomb today.  Hope it works.

Love this pink salvia.  I think I'll repeat this along the long east side of the yard.

I fogot to get the guys to remove this yucca.  It has become yucky and needs to go.

The big view along this side looks pretty and there will soon be more color.  But there are a couple of problem areas to address.

Here, the artemisia needs move nearer the sidewalk in line with the new blue fescue.  The coreopsis needs to trade places with the hyssop behind it.  The columbine needs move away from the catmint.  The whole area needs more water.  I want to add a salvia and a couple of the sedum that I have in the corner garden.

This area is just sad. Definitely not getting enough water.  The geum needs moved away from the lavender.  I want to add a pink salvia and some more of the same sedum here to repeat that look along the sidewalk.  Need to solve the water problem.

The purple catmint is waning and the color will be replace by the Russian Sage soon and the orange hummingbird plant will add a punch of color.

Ice plant is dying out everywhere.  Some of the pink chintz thyme died here too.  I might just dig up the old ice plant here.

A very shady interior spot. I have a few things planted in here, but I don't think I should pursue plantings here.  Maybe just a nice little park bench to dress up the space.

Lots of competing ground covers here.  I've severely cut back the hummingbird plant as it encroaches on everything.  Also here are ajuga and thyme.  I will be moving a lot of this ajuga to the along the east side of the yard.

The Mexican primrose came back this year.  It's much pinker than this picture shows. This side of the house is so shady now and I've lost a couple of fire bushes here.  I have to think about what to do with this space.

This area right by the driveway is a problem.  Too much hummingbird plant here.  I've lost a number of plants I've added here, so I'm not sure what to do.  Giving it some more thought.

This funny little triangle has both a lot of shade and a lot of hot sun.  Some bee balm in here is struggling.  I have yarrow and new salvia and gaura plants.  Need to move that artemisia to a sunnier spot. Too much coreopsis here.  I should replace a few coreopsis with blanket flower for some variety.  Also, maybe add a pink and/or white salvia.  Decide what to do about the bee balm.

I discovered a stonecrop plant that volunteered where i had dug up an old one to move to a better area.  I think I'll move this to the front corner garden.

The blanket of pink chintz thyme looks brown now that the pink flowers have faded.  Sometimes I actually trim the dead blooms off to let the lovely green of the thyme plant to show through.  It's labor-intensive but worth it.

The wisteria has sent up wonderful vines climbing all over the arbor I put up last year.  I had the guys trim it up.  Next year, I should start getting blooms again.

I removed all the old phlox in the front garden. It was hopelessly full of grass.  Now I have lavender, Jupiter's beard, and blanket flower here along with the mugho pine shrub.  I'll keep this just as is for now and decide next year whether to change anything here.

The next few pictures are the hidden west area of the house.  Basically, just a route between back and front yards.  Also, some views of the fence and property line.  The house next door is for sale.  I hope I get some good neighbors who take an interest in their yard.

Front corner garden.  I like how this is coming.  Need to be sure water is getting everything. Move the purple salvia away from the white salvia.  Add the rock crop here and maybe some of the sedums that I have in the upper corner garden.

The rock wall is fine but weed prone.  I will try some Preen in here to keep the weeds at bay.  I notice the guys left a lot of morning glory in here.

Lower corner from another angle.

Before the coreopsis bloomed, I had glorious yellow iris in bloom here. This garden doesn't need a lot of change,  But is a little bare on the east side.

This is a new garden spot near the back yard. It was all Jupiter's beard, but I added iris, asters and coreopsis last fell.  All took off great. I have to work to keep the Jupiter's Beard at bay.  I'm thinking I might move some of my hybrid day lilies here that are sitting now in shady spots and not doing so well.

Some of the backyard pots.  I have an unbelievable 30 pots large and small to hand water this year.  I won't do that again!

And back where we started at the shady patio.