Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inspection Day

We met our realtor and home inspector at the house late this morning to do the inspection.

And I am one tired little girl now!

But I am intimately acquainted with the home, all of its systems and the yard.  All my homework and phone calls paid off in getting us a very thorough and detailed professional inspector.  I really couldn't be more pleased with him and his work and how well he explained each step of the inspection and what was needed to correct problems.

Yes, I did say problems.

We knew there'd be a few issues because of the age of the house and the readily visible clues when we walked through last week.  And there was all of that cosmetic stuff we noticed.

And a little more...

Namely one big disappointment, some repairs that are big enough that we are going to kick the ball back into the seller's court to get them fixed prior to the sale and a good answer to the mystery hole in the back yard.

The disappointment was that the ancient heater is electric, not gas as we were led to believe before, so with no existing gas service to run a line from the gas cook top isn't going to be possible in the kitchen.  We're either going to have to go with the less expensive to install, but also less desirable to  cook on, electric cook top or get a propane tank.  Propane may be perfectly acceptable but it's something completely new to me and just the lack of familiarity makes me a little nervous.  I think Derek is ready to charge ahead with electric but I'd like to get them both priced out and see how it all works with the budget.

We found out that there are numerous small leaks in the water pipes, the drain for the master shower is clogged and there's no pressure regulator valve so the water pressure is too high in the whole house.  I know... awesome showers was my first thought, too.  But high water pressure in a house is kind of like high blood pressure in a human body.  Something is going to rupture if it's not brought down to a normal level.  These are not major repairs but I think it's fair to ask that the plumbing in a house be in proper working order when you buy it.

There's also a bit of a water issue where some grading around the foundation is done wrong and allowing a large amount of runoff (both from the hillside and the rain gutter downspouts) to pool right against the foundation outside the kitchen and then it's getting through into the crawl space and one corner of the laundry room.  The seller had already noted a bit of water inside and had planned on installing a sump pump to deal with it.  That was supposed to be done before today, but it's not.  If he takes care of the pump, we can handle the regrading easily.  And again I think it's fair to ask for this because he'd already indicated that the pump would be installed before now.

Finally, we have the biggest potential defect: The fireplace and chimney seem to have several issues uniquely their own.  The flashing where the roof meets the chimney needs to be redone, correctly this time.  And the concrete at the top is broken and needs to be replaced.  And the flue itself is beginning to disintegrate so a new liner needs to be installed and concrete pumped in between that and the old masonry.  And it needs a cap to keep water and critters out.  There's also a question of whether it's separating from the house... which is a repair that costs several thousand dollars.  At first the inspector was sure it was separating but later he backed off that a bit because the cracking on the inside wasn't consistent and it would extremely unlikely that the chimney would separate in both directions.  I think we determined it was much more likely that the cracking inside was because new mortar had been added and hadn't adhered completely to some of the rocks.  And outside, the gap was such a consistent width that he did say it could just be a difference in the thickness of the original siding and what it is up there now.  We are asking the seller to investigate further and make any needed repairs for the fireplace to be used safely.

The hole in the backyard that had received such exotic hypothesis of its purpose as a battle trench dug by Civil War soldiers or humungous koi pond was, at first today, called a sink hole.  That was a little disconcerting...

But then later it got a real explanation.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s this part of the country experienced a severe drought.  During that time many municipalities told residents that, in order to help keep the lawn green without further straining a very strained resource, they could use gray water to landscape.  Gray water is used household  water that does not contain human waste.  It comes from places like sinks and laundry facilities.  Really good investigation revealed a white PVC drainage pipe running from the washroom right to the pit.  At one point, someone was running their wash water out there.

Non-glamorous to the extreme and offering nothing for my imagination to play with but a good explanation.  And he even suggested a good solution for filling it in and making usable yard in that spot.

The plan right now is to wait and see the final report tomorrow and then go back to the seller proposing the fixes we want him to do.

Home buying is so much hurry up and wait...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Choosing a Home Inspector

Since things changed so fast that Derek and I ended up just walking into the nearest realty office and saying we need a realtor NOW rather than going through a thoughtful selection process I'll just say it... we got lucky.  We got very lucky!  That random shot netted us a realtor who listened to what we wanted, asked the right questions to get great showings right off the bat, and is very familiar with the exact area where we want to buy both to live there and for future investment properties.

So, now after having our offer on a house accepted, we need to get it inspected so that we have some reassurance that we are getting into what we think we're getting ourselves into.

Just like every profession... there are home inspectors who do a great job and some that slack off and leave you to find nasty surprises.  That happens because not all states require licensing so there is no standard baseline for their skills or knowledge.  It's very much worth your time to ask questions when you are choosing an inspector.  Think of it as a job interview where you are the hiring manager... because that's exactly what you are doing.  You're hiring someone to work for you.

Here are some examples of things you'll want to have answered:

You want to find someone who does inspections as a full-time job.  They should be doing at least 250 inspections a year.  And several years of on the job experience is very desirable.

A home inspector should have a solid working knowledge of every system in the home.  Many may have had formal training in one trade but they should have spent considerable time cross-training with other relevant trades.  For example, someone who trained as an electrician formally should be cross-trained on carpentry, plumbing and HVAC.  And the most knowledgeable will have started with a degree in engineering or architecture that provides a broad background understanding of construction or be trained to operate as a general contractor.

Both the reputation of the inspector, personally, and the company, generally, are important.  Gather information about both.

E&O stands for errors and omissions.  It's to your advantage that the inspector is covered by both of these types of insurance policies.  Ask for a copy of the policies and check for coverage limits, exclusions and limitations.

A thorough inspection should take approximately 2 hours.  It's hard work and tiring so it is to your advantage to schedule either the first or second time slot in the inspector's daily schedule.

The cost varies widely depending on your market and who you choose to work with.  In my area most are advertising a price between $200 and $400.  A well-established, full-time professional inspector is going to be at the high end of that spectrum but when you think of it as an investment in protecting what may be the largest purchase of your life, it's a small price to pay and very worthwhile.  This is not something you want to nickel and dime or select someone based on price alone.

A proper inspection should include a signed report that describes what was inspected and the condition of each inspected item with comments specific to your home.  It can be hand-written and mostly a checklist which is typically delivered to you on site at the conclusion of the inspection.  It can also be computer generated and could take a few days to complete and mail to you.  The house I purchased a few years ago (in another state) was emailed to me the next day and included a checklist, written descriptions of each system and photographs with problem areas highlighted.

There are many local, state, and national organizations that an inspector can join, many of which will provide continuing education and a chance to discuss best practices with other inspectors and construction industry professionals.  Franchises can also be purchased and a home office can provide educational tools and other support.  However, membership in any organization does not guarantee a quality inspector.   In the end, the individual inspector's experience and knowledge determine the quality of the inspection.

When selecting an inspector it's good to ask friends, family and business associates for referrals.  Your realtor may also have some suggestions, however, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest if the realtor or his/her brokerage has any association with, or receives payments from, the inspector or his/her firm.  Our realtor could only provide a list of local inspectors because of the ethics policy at his brokerage and that's what I expected of him as a professional.  Because all I have to work with is his list and the phone book, I will be asking for references.

We will also be present at the inspection.  I think you should be there if it is humanly possible because it is a great chance to see the inner workings of your home and ask questions about things like upcoming repairs, remaining life span of heating and AC equipment, renovations you might be thinking about doing, access points to plumbing and electrical and many other things.  I want to poke my head into every nook and cranny and understand what I'm looking for and if something that appears bad is really ok (and why!) or, conversely, if something that looks fine is going to be problem.

At the last house I had an inspection (in May) and, while he pointed out many things I'd missed looking around, he missed a couple things.  A couple of big things that ended up being very expensive surprises down the road.  Things like the heater not only being exceptionally old and inefficient but that it was missing the electrical connection to the thermostat upstairs so there was no simple way for me to turn it on.  Discovering that was far removed from a happy moment that first cold morning in November...  I was there, but not asking nearly enough questions or looking at everything right along side him.  I learned my lesson!

Information for this post was gleaned from my past experience, the experiences of several friends, a few websites found by the magic of Google and, mostly, from the excellent advice at

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Sunday Drive

Today I skipped out on Church.  Instead, Derek and I decided to go for a Sunday drive and spend some time looking around our future neighborhood and downtown Dallas.  Pictures will have to come at a later time... I was too busy gawking at every daffodil filled yard, leafing tree, horse in a pasture, historical marker and random thrift store (seriously, there were 6 within 2 miles of the house!) to get any taken today.

Obviously, I am in complete love and awe of the rural-ness and small town lifestyle I saw!

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The main intersection just a few hundred feet from where our little lane begins is where the Old Cartersville Highway merges onto E. Paulding Drive as it crosses the Dallas Acworth Highway.  You can kind of see where the yellow highlighted roads converge in the very bottom right corner of the map.  We drove 2-3 miles in each direction just to get a feel for the area and into the vibrant and historical downtown business district.  And it was much like the prototypical Sunday afternoon drive you might imagine your grandparents enjoying.

What I saw spoke of simpler times when life was lived at a slower pace.  Even the gas station where we stopped seemed to be a throwback.  There was a sign on the counter indicating that the attendant had stepped away for a few minutes.  They were so trusting that customers would honestly pay that the store was left open.

I really think I'm going to enjoy living here!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Battle of Pickett's Mill

With my interest in history, I was excited to learn that the home we're buying if all the inspections go well this coming week is only about 2 miles from the Pickett's Mill Civil War battle site.  And even more excited when I found out they do re-enactments here.  What a great way to learn more about American history and the local culture!

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The Battle of Pickett's Mill, a Confederate victory, happened in May 1864 and delayed Federal troops advancing on Atlanta for a week.  Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman attempted an attack on the right flank of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's army hoping to hit what he thought was an exposed right flank.  Instead he found the Confederates well prepared and his own supporting troops didn't show up for the battle.

Author Ambrose Bierce fought for the Union at Pickett's Mill as a topographical engineer. Bierce's condemning short story The Crime at Pickett's Mill is about this battle and was written to commemorate its 25th anniversary.  It's a story I'd never read before and while I was reading it now, I realized that, until very recently, I wouldn't have even understood it.  A few weeks ago a friend of ours (and fellow amateur historian) was home on leave from the Marines and attempting to explain to me some of the mechanics of weaponry and battle tactics from that time period.

Matt told me how the guns were not so dependable or accurate and, partly because you had to hand load a single bullet, it was slow and took a lot of effort to reload between each shot.  To compensate for these challenges, soldiers were taught to advance in long side-by-side columns.  The man in front would lay on the ground to shoot while the man directly behind him would go down on one knee and the third would take aim from a standing position.  Then they'd all fire at the same time.  This allowed for three shots at the enemy forces instead of just 1.  As soon as their shot was off, they'd immediately fall to the back of the column to reload and the next 3 men in line would take those positions.  By firing more shots at the same time, they had better odds of hitting their target.  This was especially advantageous if troops could be shooting from different directions so the trajectories overlapped but did not pose a threat as incoming friendly fire.

Obviously my understanding is still pretty rudimentary.  But, hopefully, as I explore my surroundings more and more it will get better.

Everything I can find says this reenactment happens in early November each year so I'm adding it to my list of things to go and see.  I'm learning a new appreciation for an important part of our country's history and all the stories and personal sacrifice that seemingly never made it to our history books.

Our realtor told us Pickett's Mill was one of the most well known battles of the Civil War.  Why did I not know anything about it?  Seriously, I don't remember ever even hearing the name before yesterday. Sometimes these kind of things make me kind of frown on the schooling of my childhood and feel like it failed me...  But, when I stop and think about it isn't the goal of education to instill a sense of curiosity and give you the skills to fulfill it?  That, I learned very well.  So well, in fact, that a lot of people call me hyper-observant.

Enough so, that under the brush and last fall's leaves in the backyard at the house, I noticed a couple of spots that looked like they'd been dug out just past the tree line and asked what they were.  The realtor didn't have a definitive answer, and I didn't really expect him to, but he lives in the area and told us they could, conceivably, be trenches dug in 1864 by soldiers advancing on the battle site.  He said that there were  confirmed period trenches in some of the yards nearby and that someone he knew had talked about people knocking on his door for permission to go poke around the trenches in their yard to look for Civil War artifacts.  I don't know how to verify if that's what we saw or not but it is intriguing to think about what we might find when we start cleaning up the yard.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Speed of Life

You know how Grandma always said to sleep on it and things would look different in the morning?  I think she may have been on to something...  Life moves fast!!

3 days ago, the folks renting/buying my house in Salt Lake City asked if we could change the closing date from end of May to mid March.  It was a welcome surprise!  But it sure did put us into a frenzy of suddenly changed priorities...

After a very short search, Derek and I put a cash offer in on a little fixer upper house in Dallas, GA today.  And it was accepted within an hour's time.  So, as long as the inspections go well, we'll be moving into this home about a month from today.

As I said, it's a fixer but what it needs is cosmetic changes and updates to make a 1970's style house comfortable and functional for life in this century.  These are all things we are capable of doing and looking forward to being able to customize everything, inside and out, to suit our tastes.

Here's how the back of the house looks.  We'll be adding a deck out of those sliders.  There's no good vision of the yard formed quite yet, but with just over 1/2 acre to work with there's plenty of space to add a couple of fruit trees and some garden space for me and to designate an area just for the dogs using an underground electronic fencing system.  Derek also wants to frame in the carport and add an extra bay to the side for a real garage.

This view may be one of my favorite things about this particular house...

If you stand by the sliding glass door and look out over the backyard, you look right into these woods. A little strategic planting of bushes and shrubs and the 2 visible neighboring houses will just disappear...

Perfect mix of city convenience and country living!

Moving inside, the kitchen is the site most in need of attention.  Of course, it's always the kitchen!  Here's how it exists today:

We asked for the renovations the seller was doing prior to sale to STOP so that we could get the appliances we want without the guilt of ripping out brand new ones.  For now, we'll be keeping the cabinets and just refreshing them with a coat of paint and some new knobs and drawer pulls.  I'd also like to put in a mosaic tile backsplash along the wall behind the sink (and the one you can't see in this picture).  And painting the walls is definitely needful.  I'm thinking something bright and fresh like a light shade of lime green...  but I guess Derek should get some input into that plan when we go to get paint swatches so that's not a final decision.


But I'm pretty good at getting my way.

Down a few steps there's a small bedroom that we're planning on dedicating as my space.  I get to create the office/hobby/craft room of my dreams.  I wish you could see the smile on my face as I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation!

There's also a pretty generous laundry room and a nicely-sized living/family room with a deep stone fireplace.  This is a fantastic room for our giant TV and big brown sectional sofa and there's still plenty of room to store games and movies.  Derek has visions of a man cave and I don't really have any objections.

Except to the bright red walls and black trim he wants as homage to the UGA Bulldogs.

He's a devoted University of Georgia football fan.

Really... UGA football is a big deal.



Maybe I can sell him on the idea of leaving the fireplace wall and the one leading up to the laundry room a neutral color and hanging framed posters there because those walls are mostly visible from the rest of the house?  I can try anyway...

If, instead, you go up a few steps there are 2 decent-sized bedrooms with a 4-piece hall bath and a master with en-suite.   Updating the bathrooms will be another high priority as these are original to when the house was built.  It's all functional and in pretty good condition just very dated.  The hall bath is tan - toilet, tub, sink and shower tiles are all the same shade of tan.  And the master is decked out in that avocado green that's iconic to the 70's.

Wonder if there's a market to sell these vintage fixtures if we remove them carefully?

Even pennies count right now.  We can swing the purchase price.  Just barely.  But it doesn't leave much for the things you always need moving in to a new place.

Like utility hook ups.  And dishes.  And silverware.  And bath towels.

And... that whole endless list of stuff.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pioneering Thoughts

She isn't the picture that first comes to mind when I see the word "pioneer." I mean there's no covered wagon and oxen team like the pioneers I grew up hearing about and in a culture that reverences what they did in American history.  But, nonetheless, I've blown the past couple of hours exploring The Pioneer Woman blog.

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Yep.  I just planted my plump backside on the couch, warmth seeking doggie snug to each side, and read a few weeks' worth of Ree Drummond's Confessions.   My only breaks were to get a snack and go to the bathroom.

Hey!  Munchies and potty time happen.

After a friend suggested I study what she's done, almost use her an unofficial and unknowing mentor and after humbugging about it for a little bit, I googled her name and found the site.

I wanted to dislike her.


I know you thought I was a good person and that makes me sound terribly bad.   I hope my next confession proves there's a better explanation...

I'm jealous.

She already has everything I want to accomplish with my blog.  A huge base of followers, a good income doing exactly what she loves most, books, even a TV show.  Okay, the TV show isn't really part of my fantasy.  Nor do I want to live on a working cattle ranch like she does.  Actually both of those sound kind of intimidating.  But the rest?  Yep.  That's what I want.

So... I shall stalk her website.

I will learn every lesson she unwitting offers to teach me.

I'll use her to perfect both my vision and technique.

Even if it takes me a long long time...

I will succeed!

Far Away Times

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Watching Into The Universe With Steven Hawking this afternoon and they are talking about the possibility of time travel.  He uses the example of everything in the dimensions we are familiar with being made up of fibers with gaps and crevices in them.  Look at a piece of fabric and notice the spaces between the threads that make it up...  Magnify the smoothest surface you can find, a pool ball for example, and you'll see that even its surface has tiny cracks and crevices.  Mr. Hawking asks if time has the same characteristic.  And if it does, can those open spaces be pathways to other times and places?

In those simplistic terms I can grasp the idea.  But, of course, there's so much more to it... and he rules out the chance of going back into history because of the paradoxes that would create.  He does, however, say that travel into the future is possible.  And it has to do with being able to move at a velocity very near the speed of light because the laws of nature will not allow that to be exceeded so time slows down.  For example, if you were on a train circling the earth 11 times per second (I think that was the example, anyway) you would be on it for a week but when it stopped and you got off the rest of earth would  have aged 100 years.  It's an interesting theory and if you look up the show he explains it much better, and in a lot more detail, than I did.

If you had the chance would you get on that train and head into the future?  To what time would you most like to go?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Culture and Doctrine

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With no intended disrespect to anyone's beliefs or religious background, I'm asking this question:


Over the past couple of months I've watched as some women within the Mormon Church have staged campaigns for women's rights or visibility... or something.  A few are passionate about their cause of wearing pants to Sunday services citing the need to change cultural norms to better fit today's lifestyle.  Others have been adamant that women's spirits are being crushed because historically only men have offered prayers at our semi-annual General Conference.  People who've commented about these 'slights' in online forums have said it's the beginning of a movement to ordain women to the priesthood.  I don't really know if that's the goal or just someone offering a doomsday explanation.  But if it were to happen, it would be a fundamental change in the Church's basic doctrinal tenets.

Here are the only comments I will ever have to say about the place of either pants or pray-ers in religion:

I was taught that on Sunday you wear your best clothes to Church as a way to show your respect and best efforts to the Lord.  No one, to my knowledge, has ever said that your best clothes had to be a dress although for most of us it is.  No where in Church doctrine is it codified that Mormon women must wear a dress to Church services just as there is no place it is codified that any clothing must be of a specific style or fabric or price tag.

A prayer is said to both open and close any Church meeting.  To the best of my knowledge the person who is asked to offer a prayer is drawn from the general congregation to offer supplications to God on behalf of everyone, male and female, who is there.  There is no prohibition of a woman saying a public prayer.  I have.  Many times.  Whenever another person has prayed, I've never even thought to pay attention to who was saying the words because I was focused on what was being said.  Isn't the point of that reverent moment to get your mind in a place where you are receptive to the counsel about to be given by that day's speaker(s)?

Honestly, I do not understand why either of these 'issues' are issues at all... unless it is to cause strife amongst the women of the Church and draw our attention toward bickering over petty details instead of being united and engaged with the Lord's work.  And I really dislike the message it sends to the rest of the world that Mormon women are oppressed and unhappy and fighting to equal (or best) our men.  Some have argued that they bring it up for debate hoping that changing the culture within the Church will invite more people to participate.  Would you want to jump in to this kind of silly argument?

I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the only Church to struggle with these kinds of cultural debates.  It is, however, the one I know the most about.  And I am aware that some Churches have modified their stand on issues like women and priesthood, same sex marriage, contraception, meeting formats, music, language and other things.  In some ways I see their reasoning... they are reaching out to be inclusive of ideas that weren't theirs historically.  Much of what I've read in the day or two since Pope Benedict announced he was resigning the Papacy leads me to believe that many are hoping that the Catholic church will change doctrines under a new Pope to include more modern attitudes and behaviors.

But... is it right to let culture reshape doctrine?

Consider the 13th chapter of Hebrews and the message that God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  And pay special attention to the verses just following that statement:  "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.  For it is good that the heart be established with grace..."

It would seem that culture needs to conform to doctrine.  Members of the LDS Church are often told that we need to be in the world but not of it.  That means, to not only don't worry about being different than anyone else, but to enjoy and appreciate that we are noticeably different.  Different is good, too!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

For the Love of Chocolate

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Yes, I know Valentine's Day isn't until tomorrow.  But I'm still going to tell you about my plans because my sweetie already knows and because of his work schedule we won't be celebrating until Friday night anyway.  So I figure this will spread the celebration of a made-up so we can spend money we don't really have Hallmark holiday out for 3 days instead of the requisite 1.  I sound more like a Puritan than a hopeless romantic don't I?

But I assure you, romance ranks high on my list of things necessary for a good life!  I just think we ought to show our love for each other every day so that the spectacle of this single mid-February day designated for gawdy displays of gushy sentiment and red and pink hearts and chocolate and half-dead flowers is something we do for fun and not as a spending spree obligation to make our loved ones feel loved.

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So to further both romance and a spread of chocolate delight we are celebrating Friday with a late night chocolate fondue.  For dipping we'll have strawberries, pound cake, marshmallows, brownie bites, bits of eggless cookie dough (so you can safely eat it raw - not than an egg has ever stopped ME!), Oreos and maybe another item or two if something impresses me when I'm perusing the grocery store isles tomorrow.

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And I'm going to slightly modify a fondue recipe from FOLK Magazine to become this:

Chocolate Fondue

1 quart heavy whipping cream
16 oz of your favorite chocolate (milk, dark, chips, bar, baking, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbl cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, maybe a bit more if needed to sweeten/thicken

In my electric fondue pot (or you can do it stovetop with a double boiler) I'll heat the cream on medium high just to boiling then add the chocolate and stir until it's all melted.  Next add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Turn the pot to its very lowest setting and let the dipping, smiling and happy times begin.

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I love that we do things like this, not just to mark holidays and special occasions, but just because it's fun to celebrate a random Tuesday now and then!

Life can get so busy with all its little details that it becomes easy to push romance to the background.  I don't want to ever allow that to happen so I'm seeking out the silly and thoughtful little gestures in each and every day not just Valentine's.

But if you really want to send me some heart shaped chocolates... I won't say no!

Here's how our belated Valentine's chocolate fondue spread turned out.  Finally decided on brownie bites, pound cake bites, Oreo Mega Stuff Cookies, Strawberries, Bananas, Krispy Kreme Donut Holes, and a mix of heart shaped pink and white marshmallows with heart sprinkles and graham cracker crumbs for after-dip toppers.

Chocolate induced coma complete!

Dreaming of My Future Kitchen

Hi!  I'm Kathy... and I watch way too many cooking shows.  For some people it's soap operas, some can't get enough reality tv but me, I watch HGTV and Food Network.  And then I plan way too many projects to do and dishes to cook.

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Tonight I'm watching a re-run of the Chopped Grand Championship interspersed with commercials for a new show called Worst Cooks In America.  Interesting to ponder on the differing dynamics of the best and the worst that a kitchen can offer.  Myself, I fall somewhere in between.  I can hold my own in a home kitchen.  Which is not to say that I don't have the occasional epic failure...  But I don't have any professional training.  Sometimes I really wish that I did.  I'd love, for example, the chance to get some mad knife skills and be able to do that almost magical technique to chop chop chop my vegetables.  You know the one where you curl your fingers under and guide the knife with your middle knuckles of one hand and chop very quickly by almost rocking the knife over the food with the other.

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While I'd love to master these classical skills, I also love things that offer shortcuts and the ability to extend quality fresh ingredients.  For example, one of my favorite tools is a FoodSaver.  I use it to package single chicken breasts, sometimes in a marinade, for the freezer or to break down a bulk, and therefore more economical, package of hamburger into single meal proportions.  This is the model from their website that looks and works most like mine.  You can purchase them directly there or from a retail store of your choice.  Now and then one of the frugal shopping/couponing guru websites will showcase a special offer where you can save a substantial amount of money on both the machine and on the plastic packaging material.

Another thing I insist on for my kitchen (and has become a home improvement project in past kitchens) is a  gas range.  If I had to use an electric cooktop or one of those horrid sealed surface units, I'd quit cooking!  Happily Derek agreed to this condition for our upcoming house hunting adventure...

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Just like garden ripened tomatoes are the only ones truly worth eating...  Great ingredients are the key to making the most of these tools and skills and I'm willing to go to great lengths for some of them!

I grew up in Southeast Idaho, right in the heart of potato country.  And no other potato compares to an Idaho Russett!  My personal preference is the Burbank variety, but Norkotah seems to be an easier variety to find.  And oddly, I'm finding better potatoes here in Georgia than I ever did in Utah which is a neighboring state or what my friends out West report they find in their local supermarkets.  They've lamented several times that what they find is scrawny and scabby and just plain sad while I have my choice of big, smooth-skinned, Grade A bakers.

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Another kitchen staple I special order is clover honey from my hometown in Idaho.  I've bought other clover honey and I give it a lukewarm okay to sweeten tea or for cooking but it's just not the same.  For my taste buds to be truly happy when spreading it on toast I have to have creamed honey from Cox's Honey Farms.  (For some fascinating more general information about honey, click here!)

Once we get settled in, I want to explore purchasing foodstuffs from both Bountiful Baskets and Zaycon Foods.  I've heard wonderful reviews about the quality of their products and the prices are attractive.

What are some special things you use in your kitchen?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Yes, I'm feeding my man's sweet tooth again...

Awhile back I found a really involved recipe for a chocolate molten cake.  After the idea marinated in the back of my mind for a week or two I decided to make it for dessert.  Then found we didn't have the ingredients on hand.  Some really expensive ingredients like Grand Marnier, which, honestly is something I don't have any great interest on keeping on hand or supplying to the other members of my household.  That's how the search for a simpler recipe came about.  And I found one.  Actually I found the same recipe in about a dozen different locations looking at pins on Pinterest and so, not knowing where it really originated to give credit, I'm going to just add another place to find it.

Many people who've posted this recipe on cooking sites or blogs have called it Chocolate Cobbler.  Cobbler, to me, is a fruity dessert and this is definitely not fruity so I'm calling it Chocolate Pudding Cake to describe its rich deep chocolate pudding under a crusty chocolate cake layer.

Without further introduction...

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Wish we had some ice cream...
Combine until well blended in medium bowl:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 Tbl cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar

Melt 1/3 cup butter and add to dry ingredients with 1/2 cup milk and 1 tsp vanilla.  Mix until all liquid is absorbed and a thick batter/dough forms.  Press into a buttered 8-inch square (or equivalent sized) pan.

Combine until evenly mixed in a small bowl:
4 Tbl cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

Sprinkle evenly over chocolate batter/dough.  Carefully pour 1 1/2 cups hot water over the top and bake at 350F for 50 minutes or until cake is set in the center.  Let cool slightly before serving.  Delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some fresh whipped cream.

Chocolate Pudding Cake right from the oven.
It needs to cool for 20 min or so before serving.

Special Note:  I did find one recipe that is identical to this EXCEPT they did not add cocoa powder to the cake batter/dough which gave a golden cake over the rich dark chocolate pudding.  It was beautiful!  I think adding some pecan pieces to this would make it over the top yummy.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Life With Aaron

In the words of my friend and his mother, Angela Henderson...

Aaron today.
On January 19, 1990 we brought a beautiful baby boy into the world and named him Aaron.  He arrived 4 1/2 weeks earlier than we planned and weighed in at just 5 lbs 2 oz.  He was a tiny 18 inches long.  What he lacked in size at birth, he has more than made up for as an adult!!

It wasn't until Aaron was about 8 months old that we knew something was wrong.  He wouldn't grasp or play with a toy or rattle.  He didn't roll over, sit up on his own, crawl or scoot like most babies do.  Often, he'd sit in his swing or carrier or crib and just stare off into space.  He didn't look into our eyes and even when we were speaking to him, he rarely acknowledged us.  But he was a very good baby!  He slept through the night - 6 full hours - by the time he was 2 1/2 months old.  He rarely fussed or cried.  He was content to just sit and stare at the wall.  I guess that sums his babyhood up - he always seemed content.  We were often told how lucky we were to have such a "good baby."

Even his pediatrician didn't notice until I mentioned my concerns to him.  Finally he recommended we visit a child development center and at 10 months old Aaron began attending a developmental pre-school and was diagnosed as moderately mentally handicapped.  Soon we were overwhelmed with his therapy.  There were several different occupational therapies, physical therapies and speech therapies.

A little past age 2, Aaron finally took his first steps and got his first tooth.  We were grinding up food from family dinners to resemble baby food because he lacked teeth... actually, Aaron is now 23 and still has some of his baby teeth!

But Aaron still had no words back then and he became more and more frustrated.  I can remember many times sitting on the floor with him with my arms wrapped around his little chest until he was done throwing his tantrum.  If I didn't hold him this way, he'd bang his head on the floor or bite himself.  When he started to learn sign language life got a little easier for us.  The tantrums got farther and farther apart because he was finally able to communicate with us.

At age 5 he started Kindergarten and what happened next caught us all by surprise!  Aaron had an aid that was just his and went through his entire day at school with him.  She was out of this world wonderful and she loved and cared for Aaron like he was her own.  Not long into the school year, Aaron began to say words and by the end of the year he was talking.  When I say talking, I don't mean like you and I talk... he has a very monotone voice, no emotion, no fluctuation.  And he would repeat and repeat and repeat everything over and over.  But he was finally talking...  And I fully credit his aid for this gift!!

When 1st Grade started up in the fall, Aaron was reading. We had read to him all the time.  ALL.THE.TIME.  To this day I can still recite Dr. Suess' ABCs!  Aaron loves books and music and they helped calm him down then and they still do today.  We could hardly believe how quickly he was learning and while I knew he'd never be "normal" I wanted him to reach his full potential.  We pushed, encouraged and helped him in every way we could.  There's nothing my son can't do - we've never set limitations for him.  He is so very smart!!

By 4th Grade, Aaron was an A-B student on a modified curriculum.  He studied hard and earned those grades by himself.  He could spell almost any word you'd give him; he knew all the states and their capitals, every Cardinal baseball player's number and which driver went with what car in NASCAR.  That is when we realized our child is not mentally retarded.  So I kept pushing the teacher, the school, and the counselors to do more testing.  In 5th grade, Aaron was finally given the proper diagnosis of autism.  I thought, "Of course!!  How could I have not seen it?"  The flapping hands, fascination with things that spin, ignoring us, not responding to his name 80% of the time, the echolalia and the need for a very rigid schedule are all classic symptoms.

Aaron participates in Special Olympics
and L.O.V.E.S. every moment!!
Now we had the opportunity to really help him excel.  We developed, along with the school, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) with goals and benchmarks.  One of the biggest struggles was getting him to respond and react to his peers in an acceptable manner.  Thankfully they loved him, helped him and accepted him just as he was.  He attended St. Bernard Catholic School and graduated 8th grade as an Honors Student.  Then came the scariest moment of MY life... mainstreaming him into a regular High School.  I was so scared for what might happen, but again he had some wonderful helpers and was accepted.  Of course you'll always find a few jerks, but for the most part he had 200+ friends who always had his back.  Thinking about that time now always makes me smile BIG!

Aaron excelled in everything he tried and he loved learning and being at school.  Things weren't easy and we still had lots of therapy, meetings and conferences with case workers but he was a successful student.  In 2009 he graduated from South Spencer High School (Indiana state law allows a child with a disability to stay in public school through their 22nd birthday year) with his class and the friends he'd grown up with.  I remember sitting in the bleachers and when they called his name the entire gym of 1,000 people or more burst into thunderous applause.  I had tears running down my face realizing just how many lives Aaron had touched.

Aaron continued his education at the High School that fall and that's when things started to fall apart...  his support system was gone:  His friends had graduated and were gone on to college and jobs.  I'd worked at the school since 2000 so I'd always been there with him and then, 2 months into the school year, my job was terminated.  I also had knee replacement surgery that had me out of commission for about 6 weeks so I wasn't there for him in the same way at home either.  He got a new teacher when the one he'd worked with for the last 4 years left the school.  And his brother left for college further disrupting his day-to-day routines.  And with all these changes, Aaron started to change.  He reverted back to staring into space and not paying attention to anything or anyone.  He stopped listening to music, stopped playing his games and he carries on a constant conversation with himself.  There is no eye contact, he won't answer when you call his name or ask him a question.  I've cried and cried.  We worked so hard to get him where he was.  What is going on now?

Aaron and his brothers he loves and who love him!
We've seen a barrage of doctors who've run all kinds of tests ranging from blood work to hearing tests to an EEG to check for seizures.  Nothing!  Every test is negative.  There doesn't appear to be  anything medically wrong.  Hardest of all to bear, he wants absolutely nothing to do with me.  Every time he walks into a room and ignores my existence, it feels like my heart is being ripped out and stomped on.  I am utterly and completely at a loss for what to do to help him... to bring our sweet Aaron back to us.  We are currently on the waiting list for the Christian Sarkin Autism Center in Indianapolis and back to square one.

I love Aaron so very much!  And I so want to find the key that will unlock his mind...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013 Blog Plan

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Yesterday, I introduced a Facebook tied to this blog to my friends.  Most them knew I wrote a blog and read it at least sometimes.  Some of them knew that I have a dream of figuring out how to blog full-time.  A few of them knew about the fits, false starts and failures in launching that kind of enterprise.  There's been a lot of fits, false starts and epic fails... many of which come from my lack of technical expertise with things like SEO, migrating onto a different/more useful platform, deciding just how to beef up the content enough for a 'real' website and navigating the maze of how to generate an income stream from all this work.


I'm trying but I really don't know quite what I'm doing.  It's not intuitive to me and I haven't managed to stumble into it... yet.  Through it all, I keep tinkering and plugging along and even when I think I've hit a point where I have nothing to say... something gets me all worked up and words come.  That renews my hope that someday I'll get this all figured out and working right if even it I have to drag myself through it kicking and screaming.

Toward that end, I thought that today I'd let you in on what's going on with my life and, therefore, blog plans for the rest of 2013.

Right now I'm looking for a day job.  Still.  I didn't really expect to still be in this awkward in-between position 3-months out but here I am.  Many days it's terribly discouraging... sometimes so much so that it tests my faith that I'm doing the right thing.  But I'm trying to hard to be open to doing something completely new and reinventing the 2nd half of my career.  If my application/preliminary interview turns out to be anything tomorrow maybe I'll have some good news to share.

I'm also kind of 'city-steader' interrupted because I don't have a home of my own right now.  I don't even have a closet I can duck into for some private alone time.  Seriously, the only place that's entirely mine exists between my ears.  And with a not so great filter, I say pretty much whatever is on my mind so it's not really all that private in there either.  Sometimes I feel like I'm about to lose my mind.  I want my own place with my own stuff where I can do my own thing in my own way and on my own time and I want it so desperately my teeth literally ache.  But this arrangement is necessary for a few months.

Towards solving this... I'm loosely scheduled to close on the sale of my house in Salt Lake City on the last business day of May.  And that means, job situation willing, that my fiance and I will be closing on the purchase of a home here in Georgia during the first few days of June.  We want to stay in the Cobb/Paulding/Cherokee County vicinity and are willing to look at just about anything with 3+ bedrooms and 2+ baths including townhouses, single family homes, multi-family homes, new construction, historic homes and fixer uppers.  Derek is less than thrilled with the fixer upper idea and I'm less than thrilled about the shared walls of a townhouse but we're both willing to consider the possibility if the right thing comes along at the right price.  As we start seriously searching, instead of just dreaming over online listings, I'll document the process right from choosing a realtor.

The timing of this move also means that I won't be growing a garden again this year since the most plant knowledgeable person I've met here so far told me that I needed to plant tomatoes in mid-March (what!?!) before the hot part of summer starts.  I'm still toying with the idea of planting one or two in large flowerpots and just moving them from this patio to my new patio when we do move.  Also thinking that might be a good way to grow some herbs.  Then again, maybe this will turn out to be more of a learning year because of new gardening conditions and therefore a different schedule and different plants.

Once we get housing sorted out I'll have some painting and decorating to do, too.  I'm not opposed at all to re-purposing old things so, over Derek's complaints, I have plans to explore thrift stores and some antique/vintage/gift shops I've found that have great prices in their online posts.

Mixed into all this, I have a new locale to explore.  Within less than 5 miles, I've noticed two historic markers I keep meaning to pull over and read.  Maybe Saturday when we have a sunny day again?

I like to do all sorts of crafts from time to time and most often do original projects.  I'm really looking forward to having a little spot that I can dedicate to this and have my own little office.

And, of course, I love to cook.  Trying new recipes is always fun for me!  Derek has a big sweet tooth so most weeks I try out a new chocolate and/or peanut butter dessert.  But I'm also learning to make gumbo from scratch and, hopefully soon, his mom will teach me how to make her very delicious version of red beans and rice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Peanut Butter & Crispy Rice Treats

In my new family these have made an impression!  A BIG impression!!

They are, by far, the favorite and most requested dessert treat.  At least once a week I'm asked to make some 'rice crispies.'  Thank goodness they are easy, quick and take only a few ingredients!

And it's an old recipe... one I've made now and then since I was in High School and learned it in Home Ec class.  I was told not too long back that's not even an offered class any more.  Sometimes changing times are a sad thing but time does move on.

If you search the internet, you'll find a few variations of this recipe.  Some use less cereal to get them softer but I chose to use more peanut butter in mine.  To make my version of Chocolate Frosted Peanut Butter & Crispy Rice Treats just follow these few simple steps:

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, bring just to a boiling point and stir until completely mixed together:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

In the mean time, measure out 6 cups crispy rice cereal into a large bowl.  And lightly oil or spray a 9 x 13 or slightly smaller pan.  I go with the slightly smaller pan because I want the finished treats to be thicker and chewier.

When the sugar/syrup/peanut butter mixture is hot and well incorporated, pour over the cereal in the bowl and stir so that it's all covered.  Turn into the oiled pan and press lightly to get a relatively smooth top.  Melt 1 - 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips in the microwave and spread over the top.  Cool until chocolate is set and then cut into squares. Store airtight.

One quick note about the chocolate... you can pick your personal favorite and use either dark or milk.  You can also mix them about half and half or with butterscotch or peanut butter chips.  I guess you could also use white chocolate... it sounds good but I've not tried it.  And since I'm the only white chocolate fan in the house now chances are I'll leave this to be one of life's great unsolved mysteries.

Happy munching!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Easier Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Awhile back, I wrote about making some fantastic pumpkin chocolate chip muffins from scratch.

Looking at those pictures sure made me miss my old kitchen... and 'big-ass' Tupperware bowl and all that familiar stuff.  But that's all in the past and now I'm just biding my time waiting for things to fall into place so I can create a new and even better future!  Hard to be sad for long when there's so much good on the horizon!!

So, while I won't discard the old recipe, I tried something new and made a batch of muffins that taste quite similar but are even easier.  I'd venture a guess that they are also equals on the not-so-healthy food scale but so very delicious that it's worth it for the occasional treat!

Tonight's version uses 2 yellow cake mixes (I had Duncan Hines - 1 Classic Yellow Cake and 1 Golden Butter Cake in the pantry), 1 large can of pumpkin puree, 4 Tbl cinnamon (can also use pumpkin pie spice if you'd like) and about a bag and half of chocolate chips (I had some semi-sweet and some milk chocolate and used both).  That's it!  Mix it all together at the same time in a big bowl, spoon into muffin cups and bake at 375F.  I think it was right about 27 minutes for baking time.

Mmmm... the whole house smells divine!  And we have treats!!


Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Be a Good Human

Hidden away in a dark and often snarky corner toward the back of my brain, I keep a list.  Actually  I keep several of them there.  I’m going to tell you about one of them today… the one about human behaviors that just need to be ripped from the planet to make all of human-kind better.  My list comes from many places.  Some I’ve smirked about reading on Facebook and other blogs as people there complained about something unstellar someone had done in their presence.  Many I’ve witnessed myself.  Most, if you stop and think about it (which apparently a vast number of fellow inhabitants of the planet don’t) should be obvious rules for being a good human.
  • Don’t spit your gum (or tobacco chew or a loogie) where everyone walks.  Why should be self-explanatory to anyone who has 2 brain cells that still rub together. 
  • If you find something that doesn’t belong to you, turn it in.  It isn’t a gift.  The owner is probably looking for it.  Do unto others... and all that.
  • When you are walking along in a big crowd, don’t fart just because no one else will know it’s you.
  • Pajamas are not appropriate even for a Walmart run.  Go out in public looking and acting your best and give others a reason to be impressed with what you’ve made of yourself.
  •  Be slow to judge.  My best might be radically different than your best due to circumstances I can’t control.  A little understanding will do more than all the condemnation that can be mutually dished out.
  • When your dog takes a crap, clean it up ASAP.  Stepping in someone else’s dog’s pile of doodoo is far from a happy moment and even farther from anything that might even slightly resemble a flattering thought about the dog's owner.
  • When you knock stuff off store shelves bend yourself over, pick it up and put it back where it belongs.  Most 2-year-olds have mastered this life skill.  Surely you haven't forgotten how?
  • When a grown person smiles at your baby, it doesn’t mean they are a pedophile.  People like babies and, generally, people are nice.  Maybe you can show that you’re nice, too, and assume the positive?
  • Take an occasional sniff at your pits.  If you can smell them, you can bet your last dollar so can everyone else!  And a bath is what's called for... dabbing some perfume on it only makes it smell worse.
  • People go to dance clubs to dance, not be felt up by strangers. Keep your hands where you know they are welcome and don’t assume every girl (or guy) there wants you to rub her (or his) backside. 
  • If you receive a gift, say thank you.  No words inspire future kindnesses better.  Seriously... magic words!
  • People who are old, injured or ill need the seat so move your able body and give it up to them.  It's not just respectful; sometimes it's a matter of matter of health and safety.
  • Just because it feels anonymous, don’t think you’ll get away with being a jerk on the internet.  Electronic Karma is a bitch, too!
  • It's really appreciated when your kids publicly show that you've taught them good manners.  When they run wild, bang into our legs, break toys, throw tantrums and call you vile names in the checkout line, it's a terribly shocking and uncomfortable situation for the rest of us even if you can bring yourself to overlook it.
  • On the flip side, don't you ever hit or curse at or otherwise abuse your child.  If I see it, odds are my good manners will slip as my fist meets your face in an attempt to lay you out like a rotting carcass on the streets of some battle-torn third-world city.
  • When a person you've disagreed with proves themselves to be ok and not the satanic spawn of your over-active imagination, swallow your pride and tell them.  Your day, and theirs, will be better!
  • Littering is not cool!  Don't toss your cigarette butts and other random trash on the sidewalk or into nearby bushes for someone else to come behind you and clean up.
  • And this shouldn't need to be said, but... don't be a P-I-G at the table.  Bodily noises need to be kept to yourself!  Burps, lips smacks, chewing like a loosely dentured goat, picking at your teeth and checking out what you just blew from your nose aren't habits that leave a favorable memory of your presence at dinner.  So don't.  Just don't.
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I used to think we all knew that good manners are about more than just using the right fork at dinner.  It's about being sensitive to how the people around you feel and savvy about how those feelings affect their perception of you.

Good manners can take us places that neither money nor education can.  And lacking them can deny us that advantage!

Sometimes I wonder what's happened to this little gem of truth in our society.  Some days it seems that the most simple and basic manners are the exception not the rule any more.  Why have we forgotten how to be a good human?

Maybe you agree with my list and maybe you don't.  Maybe you find my sarcastic edge today humorous or maybe you think I'm a mannerless jerk for saying what's on my mind in this way.  Maybe you even have rules you'd like to add to the list?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What would America be like?

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In the last Presidential election my candidate lost even though, in my opinion, he's by far the better man.  I judge him better both for the job of President and as a human being that I'd care to know based on the actions I observed in both he and his more successful opponent.  And now, months past the election, some of those actions are in the news again.

Attached to this picture (which I think was from participating in another charitable act during the political campaign which, sadly, his opponent saw as cause for character assassination) was this blurb drawn from a story on

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"Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign quietly donated nearly $90,000 to the Red Cross in late November, according to a report filed Thursday night with the Federal Election Commission.

The donation came on Nov. 30 – about one month after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, stretching thin the organization’s resources, and weeks after the GOP candidate lost to President Barack Obama.

Neither Romney nor his campaign publicized the donation…"

I really admire that it was done quietly and only came to public attention because of a report he was required to file with the FEC.  Kindness and compassion are best given both generously and quietly for it's the things that no one else knows about that show a man's true character.   To do charitable things for attention shows a lack of integrity.  America needs more men, and women, who have integrity and are kind and generous with their time, material goods and influence. We need them in government, industry and especially in more homes teaching their children how to live life with the same qualities.

Yes, I'm part of the America that is extremely disgruntled with where our current President seems to be leading us but that isn't what this blog post is about.  This is about envisioning a world where holding a political office is a civic duty not a career choice... where welfare is really a hand up to a better life not making mooching a lifestyle... where family, friends and neighbors actually know and speak to and take care of each other... where parents step up their game and are decent examples for their children to emulate... where charity comes from the heart and not by taxation... where the good you can do with your time, talent and money is more important than your time, talent and money.

What would America be like if true statesmen held political office?  If elected officials saw themselves as common men not an elite class entitled to better than the rest of us?  If representing the best interests of the people who elected them was more important than raising funds for the next campaign?  What if all government transactions were transparent and not shrouded in secrecy and suspected deceit?  What if we didn't have all sorts of lobbyists and special interest groups pressing their agenda over the constituents' needs?

What would America be like if corporations cared as much about their employees as they do their executive and large stockholder's financial statements?  What if the loyalty they demand of the people who work there went both ways and the company was loyal to its people?  What if executives saw themselves as common men and not an elite class entitled to better than the rest of us?

What would America be like if every home had a father who was caring and kind and decent?  Where parents kept their promises to love and honor each other and be faithful and stuck together through good times and bad?  What if kids saw their parents work through difficult situations together and have both mom and dad stand solid in supporting those decisions?  What if families did charitable activities together?  What if parents took back the responsibility of teaching morals and values and respect for self and others instead of pawning it off on schools and peers?

What would America be like if everyone, child and grown up alike, were influenced by positive peer pressure?  Where we pushed each other to be better human beings...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Even More Cranberry Jelly

This is a continuation from yesterday's post:  What Can You Do With Leftover Cranberry Jelly?

  • 'Lil Smokeys in a cranberry BBQ sauce with green onions.  Equal parts cranberry jelly and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce in a crockpot with the 'Lil Smokeys.  Chop the green onions for a garnish when it's hot.  Fun to spear with frilly toothpicks as a party food!
  • Flavor tea... would be good either hot or cold.  With some cinnamon perhaps?
  • Cut thin slices and lay on parchment over a cookie sheet in low oven until leathery.  Trade to draped upside down on the bottom of a muffin tin so they form shallow bowls.  Then use a small amount of jelly and some cocoa powder in coconut milk to make mousse which is piped inside the bowl for serving.  Decorate with a mint leaf and a single dried cranberry.
  • Cut into 1-inch cubes and dry in the oven on parchment paper to make fruit snacks.
  • Thin with simple syrup, karo or honey and use to baste fruit on the BBQ grill.  Fresh pineapple, peaches, and apples all grill well.
  • Thin just to a pudding-like consistency and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
  • Or thin to a pudding-like consistency and very gently fold into fresh raspberries for a pie.  Or... over a giant sugar cookie spread with lightly sweetened cream cheese.
  • Mix in dried cranberries and any spices that sound good to you, stuff inside a cored apple then wrap the apple in pie crust and bake.  To serve, ladle hot vanilla pudding (the kind you cook) into the bottom of a shallow bowl.  Drizzle with just a bit of thinned out jelly and then place the baked apple in the center.
  • Make your favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and press into the bottom of a 9x13 pan, reserving a small amount for the topping.  Spread a thick layer of cranberry jelly over the top, then sprinkle generously with white chocolate chips and broken up bits of the reserved cookie dough.  Bake.  Cool until well set and then cut into bars.
  • Mix with Catalina French salad dressing and dry onion soup mix in a large ziplock bag.  Add 4 chicken breasts and freeze at least overnight.  On cooking day, thaw completely (marinating time) and then place in a baking pan and place in the oven at 350F for 60-90 minutes or until the chicken is done.
  • Chop 1 large stalk of celery, 1 medium apple, and 1 medium onion. Saute in 1 Tbsp of butter until tender. Add to 3 cups of bread cubes and 1 tsp of savory leaves.  In another dish, combine 1/2 cup of whole berry cranberry sauce with 2 Tbsp of brown sugar, 1 Tbsp of frozen orange juice concentrate and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Heat in a small pan until sugar is dissolved. Add to bread mixture and mix well. Bake in a greased casserole dish at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes uncovered.  Serve with pork roast or pork chops.  Or use to stuff pork chops.
Ok, I've run out of ideas.  Actually I googled the last 2 to bulk out this post...

All along I was thinking the cranberry jelly was something quite smooth, but as I said it's not a product I regularly buy so when some of the pictures on the google search showed whole berries I had a moment of uncertainty.  So I'm adding this disclaimer:  If it does contain whole berries, you might need to blend it before making some of these dishes.