Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite Time of Year

Christmas has been my favorite time of year for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, and even when I was a teenager, I'm pretty sure it had more to do with the break from school and gifts under the tree. As I've matured, though, it's become more about the overall feelings of love and joy that surround the season. Growing up, my Mom was all about Christmas, decorating the tree (an artificial one after the live one that I understand we had my first Christmas (I was all of 2 months old) killed her vacuum cleaner as she tried to get the needles up), getting out her assortment of Santas, angels, candles, and sundry other decorations that festooned any available flat surface in our house. Our tree was always beautiful, in that it held a lifetime of memories of travel, family members gone, and an assortment of favorite things that changed from year to year. I still have an ornament in my collection that was on my late uncle's first Christmas tree in 1934. There are a few others from Mom's childhood as well, and many that were inherited when my grandmother passed.

One year, oh, about 2 or 3 years before she died, she was hospitalized at Thanksgiving. I don't remember the specifics, but it was something related to her diabetes. The day after Thanksgivng, or maybe Saturday after, my oldest 2 nephews & I were sent on a mission to replace her turning Christmas tree stand. She loved that little stand, and after about 10 years, it had finally given out, and she was DETERMINED that she would have a turning tree again, so she sent us to the only store she knew that had them. We paid a small fortune (something like $200) for that stand, but it made her happy to know that when she got home, the lights would be up on the house and the tree would be turning in the front window. When I took my nephews home, the oldest said "DAD!, she spent $200 on that tree stand! $200!" He asked me if I was crazy, and I just looked at him and asked him if HE wanted to be the one to go to the hospital and tell Mom that she couldn't have her turning tree stand. Yeah, he got real quiet then.

The first year Mom was gone, I was still living in her house, and I totally Christmased it out. Her house lights were up, the bushes were lit. All of her knickknacks were out, her tree was in the front window, turning merrily, covered with lights that appeared to twinkle as it turned, and full of ornaments. In the family room, I had MY tree. A real, formerly live tree, also covered in lights and ornaments. It didn't turn merrily, and actually, I think sat a wee bit lopsided in its stand, but it sure smelled good and made the family room quite festive. I wrapped every picture on the walls in wrapping paper to look like gifts, and lit my assortment of Christmas candles: Kandy Kisses (peppermint vanilla), Log Cabin (woodsy), clove, Home Sweet Home (cinnamon & I have no idea what else, just that it smells like Christmas cooking), Woodland trails (also woodsy). Yep, my house smelled like Christmas baking, candy canes, a fire in the fireplace, and a fresh cut tree, and it was FABULOUS! Over the years, I've pared down the ornament collection, because, well, there were entirely too many… I personally owned, at the time of her death the over 50 that I received annually growing up (from Mom, my grandmother, and a cousin), plus I continued to get one from her and one from my grandmother each year until their deaths, so that adds another 20, roughly, plus years of ornament exchanges, and the ones that I'd received as gifts from various other people and ones that I'd bought over the years as an adult, I probably had easily 200. Add in the ones my brother got growing up, that adds another 50 something, and then adding my grandmother's to Mom's, I would bet I had easily nearly a thousand ornaments , hence my ability to completely decorate 2 trees that were 6-7 feet tall, and still have ornaments left over!

This year, again, I'm not in my own place, my tree and ornaments are buried in my storage unit, and so I my decorations are limited to my little reindeer herd on the front porch. That's ok, I'm hoping to be able to get out to west TX and spend Christmas weekend with my bestie, and enjoy her tree, and the magic of Christmas with our little almost 5 year old terror darling. Back in 2006 when he was born, we told his big brother who was then 16, that we were happy to be having Santa back. Said 16 year old has been humoring his mothers since he was probably 11 or 12. I hope that we can keep the magic alive for the little one longer than we did for his brother. I have no idea why the big one gave up the magic so early, but he did. He will have his own little one by next Christmas, so perhaps his brother's magic will last longer with a nephew nearer his age. It's going to be another one of those non-traditional years for me, and it's ok. I'll still get to see my family, both blood & chosen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Friday

FAIR WARNING, this WILL be a RANT, not a sweet little positive & upbeat post.
Now, I am the first to admit that I LOVE Christmas. The trees, the music, the festive holiday headwear, the festive holiday socks. You name it, I love it. I try to start shopping, or at least planning my shopping early. It annoys me to no end that along about the 4th of July, I begin seeing ornaments and decorations in stores. I'm not talking about the local Hallmark store that starts teasing about the upcoming ornament release. I'm not talking about the local craft store that starts having crafty stuff, because, frankly, if some things aren't started that early, they won't get made in time. I'm totally cool with that. I'm talking about going into the Garden Ridge and finding that while it's still 127 degrees outside, 25% of the store, right as you go through the door, has already been filled with this year's themed ornaments, inflatables, and various other Christmas stuff. The number of stores (aside from the aforementioned Hallmark & craft stores) that have at least 2 aisles dedicated to Christmas starts growing exponentially sometime in August, and it just doesn't stop. We're lucky if we get to Halloween before we start being bombarded by Christmas music. (again, don't get me wrong, I LOVE Christmas music. My IPod gets re-synced right before Thanksgiving to add my Christmas tunes, which amount to almost a gig and a half of the almost 19 gig which comprises my iTunes library). While I do have Christmas music on my iPod now, I won't even start using that playlist until at least sometime Thursday, and as we are headed down to TRF for the weekend, I suspect that we'll probably make more use of the "Faire" playlist than the Christmas one, at least on the drive down Thursday evening.
All of that being said, the week before Thanksgiving, and the weekend after drive me bananas! Yesterday I made my FINAL Thanksgiving week run to WalMart. Of course it was a madhouse, and fortunately, I only needed about 8 items, none of which are probably priority items for most folks, so I had no trouble finding them in plentiful supply, and my short list, coupled with my mostly empty basket afforded me the ability to go through the 20 items or less line. Thankfully, most of the folks who comprised that madhouse were NOT as prepared as I, thus they had overflowing baskets and were most definitely NOT candidates for the express lane. I understand that most people will discover, on Thursday morning or afternoon that they've forgotten SOMETHING that is necessary… butter, brown & serve rolls, napkins, toilet paper, something that they need to get through the day. I am totally cool with GROCERY stores being open PART of the day on Thanksgiving. I am NOT cool with the whole "shop WalMart ALL DAY on Thanksgiving". Seriously people? If you dislike your family so much that you want to be away from them on Thanksgiving, stay home & read a book, check into a hotel for the night, but what makes you think that your compulsive need to be at WalMart trumps the employees of WalMart's need to spend time with their family, on what could be their last day away from the store for the 32 days until Christmas? I don't work retail, and I haven't in more years than I care to consider, but I remember my mom doing it when I was a pre-teen. Back then, the Blue Laws were still in effect, so the stores she worked in (at the mall) weren't open on Sundays, but she worked every day except Sundays. I've had friends work retail, even if it was as a part-time 2nd job during the holidays, and from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, there were no days off. If OT was a concern, they just worked shorter hours every day, a 5-6 hour shift, instead of 8. Oh YAY, I don't have to be on my feet for 8 hours today, just 6, how awesome, and only 30 more days just like it to go… The very idea that we HAVE to start shopping in the middle of the night, when sane and rational people are at home asleep, in order to get one of the 5 televisions that will be offered at a deeply discounted price is preposterous to me.
  • Number One: WalMart, Sears, and Kmart ALL have had layaway available for several weeks now. You could have put 10% down, paid some each week, and by mid-December you'd have your fancy tv without having to fight 25 other people to get it, then guard it with your life as you spent more time wandering through the store for other "deals" that you'll have to fight for as well.
  • Number Two: If the only way you can have that behemoth tv is to fight 25 other people to get it for the discounted price, you probably should ask yourself if you can afford it in the long run. Remember when we didn't buy what we couldn't pay cash for? Yeah, that's how I've lived, aside from my car payment for many many years. Sure I have a handful of "toys", but I've saved up to buy each and every one of them. Are they the latest and greatest? Perhaps not, but they do meet my needs, and provide me with a little joy when I use them. The one who dies with the most toys IS STILL DEAD & DIDN'T GET TO TAKE THE TOYS WITH THEM.
  • Number Three: Remember the days of the Blue Laws (as I understand it, many states still have them)? In Texas the only ones I know of still on the books are related to Liquor/alcohol and car dealerships. Back then, we could buy food on Sundays at the store, but if we needed plates or cups for those groceries to be served on, we were SOL. Back then, we managed to get our shopping done between Monday & Saturday at CLOSING time. I remember when places other than the drugstore, convenience store, or grocery first started being open on Sundays, they were open from Noon or 1 o'clock until 5, then it became 6. Hell, I remember when the grocery stores, WalMart, and gas stations/convenience stores CLOSED, what a novel idea, having actual BUSINESS HOURS, rather than just being open all the damned time. We managed to have whatever we needed bought during the prescribed hours, and if we didn't get it then, well, we did without until the store opened again.
Obviously this is something that riles me up. It's not my intent to piss anyone off, and if you really want to do the Black Friday thing, more power to you, but I'm not going to be sympathetic if you kvetch about crowds. You won't find me at those sales, and you sure as HELL won't find me at WalMart on Thanksgiving (or Christmas, when that comes next month) Day, (unless I have to stop by to cash my paycheck, which would be done WELL before noon) because I know that my right and desire to spend time with the family I'll spend my holiday with is no more important than the same right and desire of those WalMart employees who have to work, simply to satisfy the out of control corporate greed which feeds the frenzy of the American consumer's desire to get the greatest deal.

My Black Friday will be spent at the Texas Renaissance Festival, with some of my very favorite people and fairemily. I think it sucks that so many of them have to forego a traditional Thanksgiving feast at home to be in rustic conditions and make ready for another workday. Rather than feeding the greed of Corporate America (I've got free tickets), I can do some of my Christmas shopping in support of the independent crafter/small business. 
Places to check out:
Estelril Enterprises - a fabulous selection of lotions, gels, soaps, salves, incenses and bath salts, all made from ancient Native American and/or Celtic family recipes, using natural ingredients.  
Fairely Well Maid - beautiful crochet, sewn, and tatted items
McCord Works - amazing crochet jewelry
Willow Creek Crochet - beautiful arm warmers available in a variety of sizes
Loime Studios - skirts made from upcycled fabric, various kinds of artwork
ClipClocks -  Beautiful brooches and pins that have a hidden secret... they hold a clock!
Monkey Skull Craft Works - turned wood art: pens, candlesticks, bottlestoppers; and paracord survival bracelets
The Candle Cafe - amazingly well-scented candles, and truly the ONLY place I purchase candles for many years now

Monday, November 14, 2011

Italian Crusted Chicken Tenders

I'm working on eating more balanced, healthier meals, and tonite I fixed my favorite breading for chicken to go along with some Quinoa and steamed green beans.
(Serves about 4)
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 5/8 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8-10 skinless, boneless chicken breast tenders
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  2. In a bowl, blend the olive oil and garlic. In a separate bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, basil, and pepper. Dip each chicken breast in the oil mixture, then in the bread crumb mixture. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in the prepared baking dish, and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture.
  3. Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.
Quinoa is a whole grain that's cooked in the same manner as rice, 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, and cook it covered until the water is absorbed. I do about 1/2C of grain and 1 C water, which easily gives me two meals out of it, and I don't get tired of it before it's all eaten so it goes bad and gets wasted. I season my water with a bit of garlic powder, and then when the cooking's done, I stir in about a tablespoon of butter, herbs of Italy, and then top with fresh rosemary. 

My green beans have about 1/2 tsp of butter, fresh ground black pepper, and some herbs of Italy.

My portions were about 4 oz chicken, about a cup of quinoa, and a cup of green beans.


Friday, November 11, 2011

One of a Million

On Veteran's Day, much like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and other patriotic holidays, I'm reminded of how lucky I am. I'm an Army brat, a child of the Vietnam era. I was several months old before I met my father, because he was doing his tour in 1967 when I was born, and as I understand it, returned in early 1968 to the States. I know what it's like to be an officer's kid, living on base, and moving regularly. I don't however, know what it's like to have a parent in a war zone.
As I've gotten older, I've come to see my father for who/what he is, an unhappy & negative person. I accepted long ago that he is who he is, and he's not going to change. He's never been a "dad", who was involved with us, except for a few months after he and my mom separated. Some of that may be a generational thing. Some of it may be the fact that his own father was in the military and gone much of his childhood. I don't know, and ultimately it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. When I was very small, I'm told, I didn't like to play games with him because I knew he didn't play fair. His approval means nothing to me, and I long ago stopped trying to get it. I approve of me, and that's what's important. He's missed out on a lot over the years, and it's his loss, because I'm an awesome person, but he'll never get to know that since I refuse to draw him, along with his negativity and drama into my world. I told him long ago that I forgave him for the pain that his actions and attitudes have caused, and I have. I wish him peace and happiness in his remaining years, but in order for me to maintain MY peace and happiness, his will NEVER include me. I see him occasionally, and we've got a sort of peace at those times, as it's much more important to me that whichever nephew or niece is celebrating knows that I love them more than I want to avoid him, but I think he's finally given up and is respecting my request that he not contact me at all.
While I used to wish I had one of those dads who is at all of the games, recitals, or whatever the celebration might be, I know that I am much more blessed than many of my generation, because my father came home from Vietnam, and I had the opportunity to know him, and to form an opinion of him based on personal experience, rather than just stories and photographs.
On this day when we honor those who have served, and those who currently serve, I hope you'll take a moment, as you are thanking them, to thank; offer a prayer, good thoughts, or a hug to their family members, who are left behind for months at a time, never knowing when they'll speak or see their loved one again. Military children are often single parented much of their lives. They deserve an extra hug, any day of the week, because they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice, with no choice in the matter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Favorite Vanilla Scones

I was given a basic scone recipe by a British friend, who told me it's Delia Smith's recipe, however the searches I've done show Delia adds an egg, which is not included in the recipe I was given. At any rate, I've made a couple of modifications that suit me, and thought I'd share it here. 

8oz (225g) Self-Raising Flour
1 1/2 oz (40g) Butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 tablespoons Sugar
4 fl oz (150ml) Milk
1 fl oz (37ml) Vanilla extract
A little extra flour
Pre-heat oven to 425 F
Sift flour into a bowl and rub the butter into it rapidly using your fingertips. After the butter is thoroughly mixed into the flour stir in the sugar, then take a knife and use it to mix in the milk and vanilla a little at a time. Now flour your hands and knead the mixture to a soft dough, adding a little extra milk if it feels at all dry.
Turn the dough out onto a floured pastry board or counter top and roll it out to a thickness of not less than 3/4 inch (2cm) using a lightly floured rolling pin. Take a 1 1/2 or 2 inch pastry cutter and place it on the dough. Tap it sharply so that it goes straight through the dough. Do not twist! Knead the dough together and repeat until you have used as much of the dough as you can.
Place the scones on a greased baking sheet, or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can dust each one with a little extra flour or brush a little milk or egg onto the top of each one. Bake near the top of the oven for 12-15 minutes. When cooked the scones will have turned a crisp golden brown. Cool on a rack and eat them slightly warm. Eat as fresh as possible.
Scones do freeze well, but still eat them within a month.
Since my oven is a counter top version toaster/convection/rotisserie oven, and I like my breads BARELY cooked through, I bake for about 8-10 minutes, and take them out just as they start to turn golden.
Margarine can be used in place of butter
Soy milk works just as well as dairy milk, and the vanilla version is what prompted me to add vanilla to my recipe
If you eliminate the vanilla, and don't add some other flavored extract, add an ounce of milk to get the sufficient liquid

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November, Again

In a few days, I will have been here in Weatherford for 2 years. When I first moved out here, it drove me crazy, being so far from much of my support system, my church, and the mid-cities area that I'd lived in for most of my life. I have to say that while I do not want to live in a small town, particularly, the "country city" that has become my home suits me fine now. I certainly don't miss the traffic and congestion of the metromess!

There have been good times and bad times, and I've learned a lot over the last 2 years, about what matters and what is really not that important in the grand scheme of things. Over the next few weeks, there's yet another purge of stuff going to happen. I have a crapload of things that I have not used in the 2 years that I really don't need to continue to hold onto. A good portion of what's in storage can probably go, but I need to not get into that until I'm back out into my own place. Everything that I brought into the house with me I brought because I expected I either would use it, or sell it long before now. To that end, this weekend I am going to pack up everything I'll need for my Thanksgiving trip to TRF, and then start emptying my closet to decide what to keep and actually USE, what needs to be packed up until spring (summer clothes, and probably most of my garb), and what needs to be either trashed or sold either on Craigslist or Ebay.

As much as I was wary of moving 1. Out of the city, 2. Into a house with not just 1 roommate, but 3 adults and a teenager, and 3. Into a house FULL, literally, of animals, it's been a good 2 years. I think it allowed me to forge a stronger bond with one of my dearest friends. It taught me a little more patience. It gave me a little more insight into long-term stress, which, frankly, I could have lived without.

As I go into my 3rd year in what I once considered "the sticks", I'm grateful that I'm here. It's given me the opportunity to grow, emotionally and spiritually, away from so much of the hustle and bustle of a bigger city, and allowed me to develop new relationships, strengthen others, and realize when it's time to readjust my thinking about some of them, that while they aren't quite what I thought they were, they still matter, for one reason or another, and it's ok for me to put them in a different part of my world.


For now, I'm off to bed with my kitties, tomorrow will come early.