20 January 2015

Favorites in 2014

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This is a time for reflection and gratitude for the opportunities that presented themselves during this year.  I decided to select favorites (one) of the things I love (excluding family members!) for 2014.

Book

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barb Demick

This book was an amazing book, unforgettable.  The book covers the personal stories of six Koreans who ultimately defect to South Korea in the 1990s.  The book tells their stories without blame but with plenty of guilt as some of the North Koreans leave behind families.  There are many moments, one especially painful, when one sees a dish of rice and meat in the backyard of a Chinese home, and has the sudden, awful realization that the food was meant for the dog.  She hadn't seen that quanity of rice and meat in years and realizes at that moment that Chinese dogs eat better than North Koreans.  The book was filled with moments where you realize the moms are having to make decisions of which child eats and which doesn't... times when I had to put the book down, gather myself, and begin to reread again after a moment.  Many discussion topics, relevant world issues.

Recipe

Lacy Eggs.  See the post here.  This post had a lot of family discussion tied around it and the eggs quickly became my personal favorite and a favorite of Ashley's over the holidays.  I found out through discussions with friends that many of them love the browned, crisped edges but felt it wasn't gourmet enough...  lesson learned.  If you like it that way, it is gourmet!

Photograph


Taken in Alaska during my retirement celebration trip, I love this photo for so many reasons: I caught the calving action of the glacier, the glowing blue in the chunks of ice and the black lines of the glacier, showing the pressure on the ice and the amount of earth caught up in the ice.

Movie

The hardest of the categories to choose...especially as I think of my favorites throughout the year.  Chef, Imitation Game, One Hundred Foot Journey, Divergent, Grand Budapest Hotel, Unbroken, Gone Girl and Theory of Everything.  All such amazing movies of the ones I DID see!  Of these, the winner (for me) is Unbroken.  I am not particularly an Angelina Jolie fan, however, her directorial debut in this film shows her to be a keen eye for detail, for going far enough and then just a bit further, and a stickler for accuracy.  She recognized that the story needed to be told, but didn't have to embellish it for Hollywood.  Then the story itself, unbelievable stamina during such a horrible time.  If you haven't seen it, it is worth your time and money.  It makes you understand what what given up for us to have our American freedoms in a sit-up-and-take-notice way.  Well done, Angelina.

Dining Out Experience

Our family loves our eating out escapades and truly, we have been blessed with some wonderful opportunities.  This year, I give Tony's the nod for having the best food experience for 2014.  I have posted on Tony's before, here, so I won't go into great detail but if you want to know more, click on the link. What made Tony's stand out from Stone Soup Cottage, another one of my top experiences ever, was the service.  The ultimate attention from all the different servers, the owners, managers, etc., was so decadent that I am still talking about it seven months later!

This wraps up my favorites for 2014.  I'd love to know your favorites as well, getting to know new experiences, movies, books, etc., is the best part of blogging!

08 January 2015

Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole

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Christmas morning breakfast casserole was yummy!  This was an easy-to-assemble casserole that I made before we opened gifts and was ready when we were done!  I didn't have to remember to make it the night before, yep,  I've forgotten to make the make ahead recipe before, and all the ingredients were easy to find at my favorite Aldi's store.



1 lb mild sausage
1 medium yellow onion chopped
7 eggs
1/2 c milk
20 oz bag diced hash brown potatoes
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a 9 by 13 pan with Pam.  Cook sausage and onions together.  This smells so awesome in the morning!  In a separate bowl, combine eggs and milk until well beaten, then add potatoes and 1 c of cheese.  No one minds if you put in extra cheese!  Add sausage and onions to the mixture and then pour into the prepared dish.  Top with the remaining cheese.  Bake for 35 minutes, until set and a knife pulls out clean.

We served this with homemade biscuits and fresh fruit. 

07 January 2015

Shortbread, yum!

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Yesterday was National Shortbread Day.  Shortbread is one of my favorite cookies.  Aw, heck, I haven't met a cookie I didn't like.  Of all the cookies, shortbread does head the list!

Last night I whipped up my favorite shortbread recipe and tucked a slice into my husband's lunch box for a sweet surprise.  This is a simple, delicious shortbread.



Simple Shortbread

1 stick of butter, softened
1 c flour
1/2 c powdered sugar
splash of vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 (if you use a convection oven) or 325 if not!  Sift flour and sugar together.  Place butter into a mixing bowl and beat until smooth.  Add vanilla, beat again and add dry ingredients a bit at a time until dough forms a ball.  Put dough on parchment paper and roll out until thin, about 1/3".  You can also pat it into a pie pan, like my Grandma Holt used to do.  She'd score it into triangles and bake, then remove and cool, then break along the lines.  If you don't use the pie pan method, do like I do, after you roll it out, use a pizza cutter to score the dough into 2" square cookies.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the bottom is brown but the top is still light brown.  Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, then break along lines.

If desired, you can sprinkle with sugar, or ice with a glaze, but I prefer mine just plain.  Simple goodness!

06 January 2015

Rethinking my Office

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I have had a home office for almost all my homeowner years...an office where the computer was stashed and so was most of our books, but I have never had a working home office, until last year when I retired from school.  I have been working in my home office for six months and I really disliked the space.  The furniture was lined up against the walls and a futon was placed in the room to make a second guest room.  After a year of living here, I realized I didn't need the futon and my husband and son-in-law moved it downstairs to the basement to our storm area.  That definitely helped the office's over all look, but still it needed work.

Our home was slated to be on our neighborhood Christmas homes tour.  The office was not ready!  In a panic I started researching bookshelves and I found some I loved, but it was the Monday before the tour, could I get them on time?

I placed the call to the shop and they assured me that they would go out the next day and be delivered by Wednesday.  You can probably guess what happened, Wednesday came and went, no shelves.  I called the shop, the shelves were in town, they'd be delivered the next day.  When I told my husband about it, he had serious doubts about whether he could get them set in place in time. I contacted one of his buddies to see if he could do it, but he was busy, too.  I cancelled the order.

Thursday while I was at work, I got a notification on my phone that my order had been delivered.  What??  Good grief, now I was going to have to try to get them returned before the open house as I didn't have a place to store them.  I called my husband who simply said, don't worry about it.  So I didn't.

Thursday night he stayed up to the wee hours of the morning and installed the shelving. 

I woke up as he was coming to bed, around 4 a.m.  I asked him what he had been doing and he said, installing your shelves! I ran upstairs to see them and they were awesome!  He had also carted up several boxes of books from the basement.  I had the books on the shelves and the mess cleaned up by the end of the day on Thursday, just in time for the housecleaner to come on Friday!  Whew!

Thursday night we faced the desk toward the door of the room and and instantly felt how "right" it was.  Feng shui, I believe that is called!  The tree was moved to the window and the room felt ready for the tour.





While my daughter was in town for the holidays, inbetween movies, road trips to the city, and mani/pedis/massages, we went downstairs to weed through boxes that hadn't yet been opened since the move in October 2013.  A couple of boxes have made their way to the office, and now I am looking at how I can incorporate those items into the office.

And now that the Christmas decor is gone...




The tweaking continues... I am looking for a rug, and a larger picture for behind my desk.  I plan to move the printer to the corner table so it isn't the first thing you see when you come into the office.  Truman loves his bed by my feet.  I'd like to figure out a different way to plug in my computers.  I love the overhead lighting by my desk but I am open to any ideas for improving the over all look and function of the office.  I do not pretend to be even a novice at decorating, but it is something I really enjoy!







02 January 2015

Gathering my Thoughts about 2014

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As I gather my thoughts about the year 2014, I keep trying to come up with a word that describes my feelings about it.  I don't have the sense of wonder or joy about the year, in fact, I feel rather numb to the whole thing...

I retired this year from public education, something I truly loved doing yet the last three years of it were rough.  Rough from the public grinding down on the hard work I saw teachers doing day in and out.  I was so ready to leave yet, I wasn't ready, either.  I was so grateful to learn about the position with the University of Missouri, that allows me to be in the schools daily but not dealing with the public persona of education.  I still see many teachers working hard day in and out, but I feel a disconnect between my work and the public's opinion of public education.

I enjoyed a lovely vacation to Alaska to celebrate the retirement.  I got to piggyback on our daughter's presentation at a conference.  I was awed by the vast sky and land, the beautiful glaciers and wildlife.  However, instead of feeling like I accomplished something on my bucket list, I felt like need to come back.  Alaska is calling me back.  I think I still need to do a cruise to see the really beautiful glaciers and to experience the true size of the state.  

We have been in our new home for a year now!  During this year we were on our neighborhood's garden tour and the Christmas homes tour.  People were lovely about the house and garden.  A couple came to us during the Christmas tour and said such sweet things, kept coming back to me and asking me where did I get this and that, and later I found out they considered us their favorite home and I found out that they lived in Lafayette Square!  One of the most beautiful areas in Saint Louis!  I was so humbled by their genuine interest of our home.  Yet... (see the pattern?) none of my family or my husband's family saw our house, and my daughter and her husband aren't really into the Christmas decorating like I am.  I feel like I do it for me and make everyone else "do" it.  My poor son-in-law is always put to work on his Thanksgiving break hauling up the boxes of decorations.  Is it time to simplify?  

I am going to end this bleak essay by reflecting on some things that went right:  we had a bumper crop of tomatoes (my favorite veggie) and our 37th anniversary dinner was spectacular!  I am not saying that these were the only events of 2014 that I loved, because they weren't.  I am finding a pattern here that I need to address within my own self and it is probably obvious to others what it is, even if it's not obvious to me, yet.  Have no fear, I am up to the task!

In 2009 I focused on the word Happiness for the year.  I think it might be time to re-examine this concept, but I think I want to focus on JOY.  Finding my true joy and helping others find theirs.