Friday, December 31, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - New Year's

This week's Memory Lane Friday theme is, appropriately, "New Year's."

You know, I can't think of a time when I was out late, partying, on New Year's Eve. Actually, there may have been one time, but I think I'm going to leave that "Animal House" type of story for another time.  ;)

Instead, there were two mild, laid back New Year's Eve nights that I remember enjoying.

The first was New Year's Eve, 1999, on the eve of 2000. I was at my first duty assignment in the Air Force, stationed just north of Santa Barbara, CA.

I'd only been there about a month (since the very end of November), and I had yet to receive my household goods (the delivery of my furniture, boxes of clothing and other items, etc).

So I was in my apartment, with a futon (basically an air mattress on the floor), a set of plates, glasses, flatware, and cooking items borrowed from a place on base that stocks this type of stuff for just such a use. You could sign out this stuff for a certain period of time while waiting for your stuff to be delivered by moving truck.

Anyway, a friend of mine from Chicago had come out to spend Christmas and New Year's with me, flying out of L.A. back to Chicago on January 2, 2000.

I'd gotten a second futon for her use while she stayed with me. So we were basically "camping on the floor" in my apartment this whole time. My stuff had been scheduled to arrive a few days before Christmas, but had been rescheduled for the beginning of January, after my friend left.

Well, for New Year's Eve, the last night before 2K, we decided to "splurge" and we went to a hotel for the night, so we could sleep on actual beds.

We ended up getting some champagne for a toast at midnight. But we were so tired, we only stayed up until midnight Eastern time (remember, we were Pacific time, being in California), and went to bed at 9 PM local time!

I think it was our having our own bed for the night, instead of an air mattress on the floor, that made us so sleepy. But it was such a nice "treat," especially since I'd been sleeping on the floor for a month.

The next time was while I was still in the Air Force, this time in New Mexico, New Year's Eve, 2006.

Andrew and I had a 10-month-old at the time. We were both working full time (with my having to get up at 4:15 AM every weekday morning). We were tired parents, basically.

So when New Year's Eve rolled around, we had no plans to stay up til Midnight. Instead, we got Livie to bed at her usual time. Andrew and I had eaten lentil tacos for dinner after she had gone to bed. (Click here for the lentil taco recipe.)

And then we hung out in the living room watching TV; we had satellite TV, so we must've been watching a movie or hockey or something.We played Scrabble at the same time, my hoping this would be our new New Year's Eve tradition. (I think I won, by the way. Andrew said it's because I read a lot more than he does, so my vocabulary's better. At least that's what he said.)

Now, since we were tired parents of a child under 1-year-old, we were NOT going to make it til Midnight, like I mentioned. So at 10:00 PM, which was Midnight Eastern time, we opened a bottle of New Mexican sparkling wine and toasted the New Year, since the U.S. already had a time zone in 2007.

It was a really nice evening, just the two of us spending quality time together.

Somehow, ever since that night, we've intended on playing Scrabble on New Year's Eve, but somehow we've been pooped and haven't gotten around to starting a game. Maybe tonight . . .

Happy  New Year's, everyone!

Please check back next week when it's another "No Theme" week.

Memory Lane Friday is hosted by Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs. Please click on the button below to read her post for this week, as well as this week's other entries.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Liv goes to the Cath Lab

Yesterday, we had a full day of fun.

We'd planned on going to the Art Center, but they didn't open 'til 11:00 AM.

So what did we do before heading for our experience in education and beauty?

We headed to Mercy Hospital to visit Nonno at the Cath Lab.

See, Nonno is a cardiologist, and he had some cases in the Cath Lab yesterday, where he'd "roto-rooter" (his words) blocked heart arteries (to put it in lay-person terms). Other days, he may be in the office all day, but he loves being in the Cath Lab, and yesterday that's where he was.

Livie had never seen what he did for a living, so we decided to stop by so she could see what happened when Nonno goes "off to the races."

She was so excited to see him at work!

And he was surprised and happy to see us, showing Livie what he was looking at and if she could see the heart as it beat on the video.
Here they are in the video monitor room just outside the cath lab, where they're reviewing a film. He's trying to show her the heart as it beats. It's actually really cool. It's like an x-ray, but in movie form, so he and his assistants have to wear lead aprons to protect them from radiation. Nonno's lead apron and neck piece are camouflage and have his initials. 

Not only did she get to see this video, she went around with him and got treats from all the "hidden" stashes - the nurses all knew where the good stuff was, so Livie got taffy, Christmas cookies, red vines, and bubble gum.

Finally, she got to actually watch him do a procedure - we were in the video monitor room while he was in the actual cath lab. We got to see plenty of cool stuff - modern medicine at work!

It was impressive.

After we parted ways with Nonno, we headed out so we could go to the Art Center.

But first, Livie was hungry. Andrew asked what to do about lunch. I said we could go to the cafeteria downstairs, or the . . . McDonald's downstairs. The vote was unanimous. McDonald's, downstairs in the hospital.

Just as we got there, guess who came around the corner? Nonno. Livie was so excited to see him, not only at his work, but at the McDonald's AT his work!

He'd come down and said, "Oh, I knew I'd find you here!" He visited with us for a few minutes, but then had to go on his way.

Once we finished lunch, we found his office and found that he'd taken Livie's Elmo to work. Where was Elmo? At Nonno's desk.

Funny, huh? It inspired us to take this photo of Livie in Nonno's jacket:

Liv thought it was such a great adventure. When asked what was her favorite part, she said "Seeing the heart, and getting candy!"

Then it was time to leave. I debated on whether to leave Elmo in his office, or bring him with us, but we left him for Nonno (who forgot him, thus causing some tears when he got home sans the red one).

Then it was off to our next adventure.
Walking to the car . . . 

Exterior view . . . 

Later on at home, Livie's modeling her hair cover, face mask, and booties! She's ready to go!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Non-stop fun at the Macadamia Ranch

We got to the Macadamia Ranch around 2 PM on Christmas Day. When we got here, the house smelled absolutely delicious, because my mom had made tacos, beans and rice for Christmas dinner.

Of course, we'd left our home around 11:00AM, we were on the road at lunchtime. Around 12:30, Livie said she was hungry, so we stopped at a couple fast food restaurants on the road . . . all closed because it was Christmas Day.

So we stopped at a convenience store to get beverages and snacks. Liv was REALLY hungry, and so were Andrew and I, because we'd eaten breakfast around 8:30.

Needless to say, by the time we'd gotten to my parents' house (a.k.a The Macadamia Ranch), we were definitely ready to eat!!

Thank goodness my mom asked, "Are you all ready to eat now?" as soon as we walked into the door.


We were treated to that taco dinner right then and there. Mmmmm, it was so good!

Then, after cleaning the kitchen, we all headed to the living room, because my parents had a few presents for Livie, and Oma had a couple presents to open, too!

Livie had gotten a bath for her Bitty Baby, as well as a matching outfit for both her Bitty Baby and herself.

Oma got a beautiful blouse and sweater from my Uncle Ralph and Gloria.
She obviously hasn't opened her gifts yet; she wanted to watch Livie open hers, first. At least I caught a smile on her face!

All in all, it was a fun day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's a bit weird, and sad

I was wondering how it would be walking into the "Macadamia Ranch" after Caesar died.

When Andrew, Livie, and I were driving here on Saturday, I was debating whether to remind Livie, but ended up not saying anything.

As soon as we pulled into the driveway and parked, Livie said, "Where's Caesar?" I think she became accustomed to seeing him in the yard, walking to the edge of the driveway to "greet" us upon arrival.

I became a bit sad and teary-eyed as soon as she asked. I said, "Remember what I told you about Caesar?" I saw the light-bulb go on above her head, as I went on, "Remember he died because his body couldn't work anymore? So he went to Heaven to keep Sir Rafa and Uncle Hector company?"

She smiled and said, "Yes, I remember now. I just forgot for a minute. . . . He had a good life."

I almost burst into tears!

Anyway, it's been weird being here without Caesar.

My parents' house has this buzzer thing that alerts anyone at home when a car is driving either in or out of the driveway. Usually when he'd hear the buzzer, he'd sit in the hallway leading from the garage to the kitchen, as a sort of "welcome committee."

Well, of course, he wasn't there waiting. I knew he wouldn't be, but I looked for him, nevertheless.

Also, I will be walking from one room to another and although I know he's gone, I almost expect him in one of his usual spots - like in the far corner of the dining room, in the office in front of the windows where the bird feeder is (he liked watching the birds, squirrels, and deer that came by to eat). Or maybe in the kitchen waiting for a scrap to "accidentally" fall on the floor. Or even in what I always called "Caesar's room" where his water bowl was, and where he was fed twice a day. Or sometimes he'd sleep underneath the dining room table or in that little hallway leading from the garage.

Then last night, Andrew made microwave popcorn.

Typically, Caesar would do just about anything for some popcorn, even navigating the steps that were so hard on him and his back and hips in his old age - he couldn't climb them without help, but somehow he was able to get down, slowly and with pain.

So when Andrew made popcorn last night I felt a pang, because you-know-who wouldn't be clacking his nails on the wood floor, trailing Andrew and that bag of salty, buttery "gold" nuggets.

And then today, I found a sympathy card from Caesar's vet, the pre-printed part saying "We know how much a heart can ache for a lost friend. Please know that our thoughts are with you."

What got me teary was the personal note the vet wrote - "We all lost a friend yesterday. Memories of Caesar will be with us forever. - Dr. Foster."

We sure did lose a friend, a wonderful friend.

This is his actual paw print with "Caesar" imprinted above it. I guess they'd done this before his body was cremated. The ashes of each dog (both Caesar and his older sibling, Foxy), by the way, were put in a sealed bag, and then into its own sealed wooden box. There's a slot in the front of each box for a 4x6 photo of the pet. Anyway, I thought the paw print was a special touch (for some reason it wasn't done for Foxy).

Snow Day

We've got a snowy day here at Abuelita's and Nonno's house, the day after Christmas.

Here are a couple views from the front yard:

If you look closely at the bird feeder, you can see a bright red cardinal. 

And another view . . .

Oma and Livie are conversing inside. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

We've had a wonderful Christmas!

It snowed like crazy on the night of the 23rd, and for most of the day on Christmas Eve. So when we went to Mass, we had to take it slow. There was just SO MUCH snow, around 6-8 inches in some areas!

Anyway, it was fun, and magical as we headed to and from church in the falling snow.

When we got back, all I had to do was heat up the chicken posole I'd made earlier in the day (click here and scroll down for the recipe). It was so good! Livie gobbled it up, and Andrew had two bowls, filled all the way to the top.

Livie ended up watching a DVD for a bit while I cleaned up and got her bath ready. She was extra cooperative when it was bath time.

We also had fun tracking Santa via NORAD's Santa Tracker. That was a blast. I'm not sure who enjoyed it more, me or Livie!

Anyway, it was finally time for bed, and Livie was worried she wouldn't be able to fall asleep. She cooperated and got ready for bed, but she felt like she just had to tell me she was worried about falling asleep.

I told her to pretend to be asleep, and to imagine all the things Santa might bring, and that would help her to fall asleep. And guess what? She was asleep within minutes!

Which was good, because Andrew and I still needed to wrap a few gifts and get everything under the tree.

Oh, and by the way, the cookies and milk were delicious. They hit the spot. Thanks to "Santa" for letting his "helpers" eat the cookies! ;)

Livie's baking cookies! (This was a few days ago.)

Leaving cookies, milk, and oats for Santa and the Reindeer!
 (Yes, Santa is an Oklahoma Sooners fan!)

Santa left a note saying he appreciated Livie's great behavior, and that the cookies were yum-o!
Comet, on behalf of the reindeer team, thanked Livie for the oats!

This morning, a couple hours before Livie woke up, I turned on the Christmas tree lights, and the chile pepper lights I had on the railing.

Then I promptly fell back to sleep.

Around 7:45 AM, Livie came into our room and loudly announced, "Mommy!!" and then started going on and on about the presents under the tree and the new big girl bike Santa left!!

It was fun watching her open her gifts from "Santa" and family members.


The bike!!

Livie wants to say "Thanks" to "Santa" for all the gifts, like the bike and the Barbie Rapunzel and the Sleeping Beauty.

Also, thanks to Marissa and Jester (and Joe and Pia) for the beautiful sweater jumper.

And thanks to Auntie Sarah, Uncle Don, Sydney, and Richard for the great book, the dress-up dolls, and the princess cup!

Finally, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Now, off to get ready to go over the river and through the woods to Abuelita's house!

But first, some hot chocolate, like this:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - Holiday Traditions

This week's Memory Lane Friday topic is "Holiday Traditions." Once again, here's another "long" post from me.

When my siblings and I were young, we basically did the same thing each Christmas.

First, around Thanksgiving, my mom would get the big tree up and decorated. Also, my mom always had these great stockings for us. She'd gotten this brass towel hanger, and that's what she'd place near the fireplace with our stockings hanging from it.

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, it would be chaotic, but in a fun way! 

My mom and grandmother would usually be in the kitchen, preparing our Christmas Eve meal.

After the day's first Mass, we'd head home and have our big meal. All of us kids would rush through, hardly being able to contain ourselves because it was Christmas Eve.

We usually unwrapped presents after dinner - the presents from family and friends, anyway. But we had to wait until my mom and grandmother cleaned the kitchen first. They'd usually enlist me to help, as I was the oldest, but they found it was quicker if they just did it themselves.

Then we'd FINALLY open presents. My dad would throw the wrapping paper into the fireplace, making the fire jump up high. My mom disliked this practice because it would create so much soot in and around the fireplace and mantle. She always tried to get him to stop but her pleas went in one ear and out the other.

The next morning was when we kids would open up our presents from "Santa Claus." It was a blast! We'd spend most of the day in our pajamas, with our presents. By the way, I got "The Black Stallion" book one year, and spent most of the day reading.

Here's my mom's tree. And Liv's posing in front of it, obviously.

Thanksgiving weekend, 2010, Urbandale, IA

Anyway, Andrew, Livie and I spent Livie's first Christmas (2006) in Alamogordo, NM.  She was only 10-months old at the time.

Andrew and I wanted it to be special, so we decorated the house and the tree.

I'd also picked up some special "items" during one of our trips to Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, TX, while visiting my grandparents:

The plates are for Santa's cookies and reindeer treats, and the glass is for milk.

I figured it would be fun to start a tradition of using these plates and the glass so Liv could use them to leave the treats out on Christmas Eve.

For Livie's first Christmas, I'd made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies  for "Santa." I didn't have any carrots for the reindeer, so we used pears. And the glass? It was filled with egg nog (non-alcoholic).

I'm sure Liv didn't get what was going on this particular Christmas. But I wanted the photo op so I'd have a photo of the event for something in the future - and I'm glad I have it for this post.

She was curious about what all those goodies were, though. I think she just wanted to play with the stuff. 

After putting Livie down for the night, Andrew and I began putting all the presents under the tree. And, of course, as Santa's Helpers, we ate the cookies and drank the egg nog, with "Santa's" permission, of course.  ;)
The next morning, Livie was overwhelmed with presents and fun:
She'd gotten a musical drum and maracas from Santa, and a rocking horse (from Uncle Joe and Tia Pia), among other things.

She loved the rocking horse, by the way. My brother, Joe, thought it would be a good gift, as a nod to my equestrian days. I loved the thought he and Pia put into the gift!

Another tradition we've been doing is tracking Santa's travel on Christmas Eve. We go to NORAD's Santa Tracking website on Christmas Eve, so we know where he's been and where he's headed next. That way, when he gets close enough (usually St. Louis), Livie will know it's time to go to sleep. 

So much fun!

Please check back next week, when the theme is "New Year's."

Memory Lane Friday is hosted weekly by Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs. Please click on the "Memory Lane Fridays" button below to read her Memory Lane Friday post, as well other bloggers' entries:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's on the menu?

Tomorrow's Christmas Eve, obviously, and we're planning on having a nice, special home-cooked meal for dinner after Mass. I'll get to that recipe in a moment.

Tonight, however, I'm keeping the menu (and clean-up) really simple.

I went to the grocery store this morning to get the ingredients for tomorrow's Christmas Eve dinner. While I was there, I had an idea for tonight's dinner.

I figured we'd have homemade pizza tonight, since it would be easy to make, and easy to clean up. I got one of those pre-made pizza crusts (the Boboli kind), pizza sauce, a package of grated mozzarella cheese, spicy pepperoni, and sliced black olives (which Livie LOVES).

When it's time for dinner, I'll go ahead and pre-heat the oven with the pizza stone in there. Liv can help me top the pizza crust. Since she doesn't care for pepperoni, she'll do half with black olives (she and Andrew will eat that side), and the other half with pepperoni (which Andrew and I will eat).

I'll put it in the oven and take it out when it's time. It'll be tasty and clean up will be super easy. Basically, it'll be just the plates that go in the dishwasher.

Tomorrow, though, will be homemade chicken posole, which is a traditional Christmas meal in the Southwest in general, and New Mexico in particular. Oftentimes, posole is made with pork, but we're using chicken.

I'm using the following easy recipe using chicken, and it's from

Chicken Posole
Serves 4
Hands-on Time: 10m
Total Time: 30m

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 32-ounce container low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 dried ancho chili, thinly sliced, or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken meat
  • 1 15-ounce can hominy, rinsed
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
3. Add the broth, tomatoes, and chili and bring to a boil.
4. Stir in the chicken and hominy and simmer until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes.
5. Serve the posole with the lime wedges.
The posole can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Nutritional Information
Calories 271; Fat 10g; Sat Fat 2g; Cholesterol 66mg; Sodium 788mg; Protein 26g;
Carbohydrate 21g; Fiber 4g

Since this version calls for shredded rotisserie chicken, I bought two today and stripped the meat off. I realized I needed only one, but I ended up using half the meat from the second (and eating the rest for lunch). 

I wanted to save as much time tomorrow as possible, so that's why I got the meat ready today. It seems like stripping the meat off the chicken would be the most time consuming step in getting all the ingredients ready for the recipe, so might as well get that done when I've got plenty of time. Recipe prep tomorrow should be a cinch!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Fun Game of Christmas Tag!

Okay, so I've got a fun post today!

I've been tagged by Lisa at Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs to play Christmas tag! She's got a great blog filled with fun things like recipes, adventures she's been on, fun things she and her sons have done, great photos (you know, because a picture's worth a thousand words). AND she hosts Memory Lane Friday every week! When you get a chance, check out her blog. It's one of my favorites.

Anyway . . . she was tagged for this game of Christmas tag in blog-land, and now she's tagged me and a few other bloggers. So to keep the game going, I'm going to answer the questions she's posted. (To see her answers, by the way, check out her A Fierce Game of Christmas Tag post.)

1. When do you usually know and feel that it's finally the holidays?
For me, I think it usually starts around Halloween. See, because there's just something fun and festive about Halloween, with all the candy, the costumes, the trick-or-treaters. And now that Livie is trick-or-treating, it just feels like it's the kick-off for the holiday season.

Plus, just a couple weeks after Halloween, it's Veterans' Day, and my birthday. Then another couple weeks to Thanksgiving.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?
 A horse, of course. And a dog. Well, not really, because we're on a tight budget, so nothing much. Maybe a couple things from L.L. Bean, or a couple "date nights" with Andrew so we can go out to a restaurant or to a movie (True Grit, Little Fockers, to name a couple).

3. Do you go all out with decorations?
Not really.  The tree, the stockings, a little chile-ristra made up of chile-pepper shaped red lights which we hung in the kitchen and turn on when it gets dark.

4. What are you doing Christmas Eve?
The morning of the 24th, I'm making our Christmas Eve dinner - chicken posole. Then it'll go into the fridge while I clean up the kitchen.

Then in the afternoon, we're getting dressed up to go to the first Christmas Eve Mass at 4:00 PM.  Afterward, we'll head home to heat up dinner and have a nice time at home.

Oh, we're going to track Santa's progress at NORAD's Santa Tracker

Hopefully Livie will go to bed early and easily, in preparation for Santa's visit.

Andrew and I will then be Santa's helpers, and, well, you know the rest . . .

5. What are you doing Christmas Day?
Well, Livie will get up so she can see what Santa brought. We'll eat breakfast, then head out to my parents' house (about 130 miles away) to visit with them for a few days. My mom is apparently going to make tacos for Christmas dinner!

6. It's Christmas time. What are you reading?
I'm reading a book called Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler. It's not a "Christmas" book because it's action-adventure. But it was an early Christmas present from my father-in-law, so it's an appropriate read, right? ;)

7. Favorite movie to watch during the holidays?
I'd have to say Miracle on 34th Street, the 1994 version. This was the topic of last Friday's Memory Lane Friday. CLICK HERE to read that post. But I also like Bad Santa, but that's not one I can watch with Livie.

8. Favorite Christmas song?
Hmm, let's see . . . Harry Connick, Jr's version of We Three Kings which I can't help but dance along to. Also, his version of The Little Drummer Boy, Dean Martin's Silver Bells, Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby, and Chris Botti's O Little Town of Bethlehem.

9. Favorite holiday drink?
Umm, usually I have to have one serving of Anderson Erickson's egg nog (non-alcoholic) to make it feel like the holiday season. Oh, and if you're wondering, Anderson Erickson (AE) is a local dairy.

There are some beverages that I'd love to try, though. I'd love to try glögi, which is a mulled wine enjoyed in Finland, and the other Scandinavian countries, as well, but they spell it differently.

I've also seen some holiday drinks in a magazine that I'd love to try - a peppermint martini type of drink, and hot buttered rum, just because I'm curious about how that tastes. One of these days . . .

10.How is your Christmas shopping going?
Done. I dislike shopping at this time of year, so I try to either get it done early, or order online.

11.If you could spend Christmas Day anywhere else, where would you spend it?
It would absolutely be in one of two places - either in Chicago, or in the Southwest.

There's something about being in a big city like Chicago around the holidays that just seems like magic. I get a little homesick for Chicago this time of year. The lights, the hustle and bustle, the hockey. . . . Plus, Andrew and I got married in Chicago just 10 days before Christmas. So I have a special fondness for Chicago this time of year.

And the Southwest? Maybe it's because I always loved Christmas at my grandparents' home in El Paso. Being with my grandparents at this time of year always brought out that Christmas magic feeling for me. Also, I love luminarias, and being in the desert Southwest at Christmastime. And the posole, tamales, and margaritas!

And maybe it was because we spent Livie's first Christmas in Alamogordo, but our New Mexican Christmas was probably one of my very favorite Christmases of all time, that Christmas in 2006.

Also, Santa Fe is magic, with the farolitos (luminarias), and the Las Posadas procession. The procession goes something like this: someone plays Mary and another plays Joseph as they try to find lodging for the night. They have a huge crowd with them as they stop at each door in the Plaza. No one answers, but they have people playing "the Devil" saying there's no room here. And at the end of the procession, someone finally does have room. Then everyone goes in and has hot chocolate and cookies.

I've always wanted to experience that. Maybe one of these years, when Livie's a little older, we'll be able to spend one Christmas there. 

12. Any holiday traditions?
My family always opened presents on Christmas Eve - the presents from family members. Then on Christmas Day, we'd open our presents from Santa.

The holiday tradition I've started with Livie is tracking Santa online, thanks to NORAD's Santa Tracker (see the link above, at question #4). I think I like it more than she does!

I've also enjoyed making cookies with Livie, now that she's old enough to help. It's fun!

13. Favorite thing about the holidays?
It's festive. I get to eat tasty treats normally reserved for this time of year. Andrew and I get to celebrate our anniversary. We get to be "Santa's Helpers" for young Livie. We get to spend time with each other, and our families.

Okay, so there you have it!

Now I'm going to tag a few people and hope they don't mind playing along:
Jessica at Little Merry Sunshine
Niki at Faith, Family, Friends and Food!
VtArmyWife at A Year in the Life of a Military Family
Beth at Social Climbers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cookie recipe

Yesterday, I was acting as one of Santa's helpers. I made a big batch of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies to take to Livie's teachers at Pre-K.

It was nothing fancy - I just used the recipe on the lid of the Quaker® Oats container. But instead of using raisins, I substituted chocolate chips. Oh, and I didn't have light brown sugar, only dark brown sugar. So while the cookies came out looking over-baked, they tasted good, and were just right - only looking dark, because of the dark brown sugar.

Here's the recipe.

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (courtesy of the Quaker® Oats package):

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
  • 1 cup raisins*
*I substituted 1 cup chocolate chips.

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Beat together margarine and sugars until creamy. 
  3. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
  4. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. 
  5. Stir in oats and raisins*; mix well. 
  6. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.**
  7. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. 
  8. Cool one minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. 
Makes about 4 dozen.

*Again, I substituted chocolate chips.
**I lined the cookie sheet with parchment paper, which is in the section of your average grocery store where foil and plastic wrap are found. It's a great ungreased, non-stick kitchen tool.

For high altitude: increase flour to 1-3/4 cups.

Most of the cookies went to Livie's Pre-K teachers. But we ended up with about a dozen left over for ourselves.

We may make some more today. You know, for Santa! And Cookie Monster! 

Those are obviously pretend cookies! ;)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Few of my Favorite Things for This Time of Year

1. The smell of sweet treats baking in the oven
2. Eating sweet treats
3. Glistening snow - the way it looks like it's encrusted with bling:
Not the best photo (it was taken from behind a closed window in my family room) - if you click on it, I think the sparkles show up better. 

4. The way the snow crunches underneath my feet as I walk on it
5. Cool Cold weather, and bundling up in warm, cozy clothing (sweaters or sweatshirts, scarves, mittens, etc), and not having to complain about hot, humid, sticky, sweaty weather
6. Going outside in the cold, and being able to come back inside for some hot chocolate
7. Christmas decorations:

8. The Southwest at this time of year:
Postcard entitled "Farolitos at Twilight." Photo © 1996 Bill Bonebrake

9. New Mexican posole
10. Tamales
11. Candy canes, peppermint ice cream, and peppermint-flavored cocktails
12. The smell of wood-burning fireplaces (especially when they burn apple wood or some other good-smelling wood)

And yes, now I'm feeling saudade for the Southwest . . .

Friday, December 17, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - A Favorite Holiday Movie

This week's Memory Lane Friday theme is "A Favorite Holiday Movie."

Okay, so I don't remember having a specific holiday movie I absolutely had to see every year when I was younger. Sure, my brothers enjoyed A Christmas Story most years, and I'd watch it with them, once in a blue moon.

But as far as my favorite holiday movie goes? Hmmm. I would have to say my favorite one in recent years has become Miracle on 34th Street, the 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough as Santa, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Mara Wilson as Susan.

Now I've only seen bits and pieces of the 1947 one. Maybe I should put it on my Netflix queue. But the 1994 version? I've seen it all the way through, at least once, and then I'll occasionally catch bits of it now and then, when it's shown on TV.

The reason why this has become my favorite holiday movie? I really like the actress, Mara Wilson, and how she portrays the character, Susan.

And, in general, I really enjoy how the movie "proves" the existence of Santa. It just seems like magic, just the way Santa should be.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) movie poster

Please come back next week, when the Memory Lane Friday topic is "Holiday Traditions."

Memory Lane Friday is hosted by Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs. Please click on the box below to read her Memory Lane Friday post, as well as posts from other Memory Lane Friday participants.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The anniversary dinner was a success!

A few days ago, I posted about what I decided to make for our anniversary dinner - "Steak with Spinach Couscous." Check out my "A Dinner Idea" post from Sunday, to get the recipe.

Yesterday was our 2nd Eighth anniversary (click here to get the story on why it's the 2nd eighth, if you haven't read it yet) - so it was the day I was going to make the "Steak with Spinach Couscous" recipe.

Livie doesn't go to Pre-K on Tuesdays, so she went with me to Target so I could get an anniversary card for Andrew. Then we went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for dinner.

I also got some sparkling grape juice, so we could do a toast and say "Cin Cin" before we started eating. The sparkling juice had to go into the fridge right away so it would be nice and cold at dinner time. (Andrew doesn't drink wine and Livie is obviously too young, so I thought the sparkling grape juice was the best choice for a toast.)

When we got home I set the table and reviewed the recipe, so I could familiarize myself with it before it came time to actually start cooking.

 Here's what the place setting looked like:

Yes, Liv put some of her art projects on the table after I set it. What you see on the right, just to the right of my wine glass, is a cow. And I'm not Emily Post, so I'm sure I didn't put everything in its correct place. But I liked how it looked, and neither Andrew nor Livie would know the difference. (Oh, and I left my table cloth on, even though it didn't exactly go with the navy blue, simply because my table is glass, and I wanted to keep it somewhat protected from scratches.)

I had some chores to do first, since it was still early in the afternoon and way too early to start dinner.

Then it was time to read some books with Livie.

Finally, it was about time to start dinner. I'd bought one of those pre-made cherry pies for dessert (that's Andrew's favorite). Somehow I'd forgotten to get that started earlier, so I got that in the oven, first.

Then, it was on to the recipe. It all smelled so good while I was preparing it, with the garlic, the olive oil, pine nuts, steak . . . I couldn't wait to try it.

I timed it well, because Andrew got home in time to wash up just as I was preparing to serve the meal.

Here's how it turned out:

It turned out to be really tasty!

To top it all off, both Andrew and Livie gave the meal a thumbs-up. Andrew said he definitely wanted me to make it again in the future.

And Livie? While she said she didn't like couscous, she did try a big bite of it before asking if she could eat just the spinach instead. Then she'd pick out a piece of spinach, and wipe off the couscous onto my nice place mats. Ahh, well, what can I do? She's 4. At least she really liked the steak. She said it was yummy, and ate it up.

After Liv's bath, she got a small scoop of peppermint ice cream, while Andrew and I each ate pie. What a way to end the evening.

By the way, I had a photo of the mess I made in the kitchen, but I've decided I just don't want to expose that aspect of such a lovely, dinner. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy 2nd Eighth Anniversary!!

Andrew and I got married by a justice of the peace on Friday 21 Jun 2002, while we were still on active duty . . . that way we could get orders for a "join-spouse" assignment and be at the same base at the same time. Otherwise, I would've moved on to a new assignment while he remained at his for another 2-3 years. We'd have no guarantee that he'd ever be assigned at my new base any time in the future.

At our justice of the peace ceremony that hot, humid June morning in Fayetteville, NC, we had a few of the guys from Andrew's current unit come out to the courthouse to act as our witnesses. I wore "business" attire - a nice blouse, khaki pants, a black blazer, and black leather shoes. Andrew? He wore jeans and a t-shirt.

After a brief ceremony (it took only minutes), we were officially married; he and I were then off to spend the weekend in the Raleigh-Durham area. We'd window shopped at the nice outdoor shopping area, then went out for a big HUGE Italian dinner at the Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant in Durham. Afterward, we saw a movie, "Lilo and Stitch" (still one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, by the way).

The justice of the peace ceremony, by the way, made the "join-spouse" assignment (same base/same time) a reality after the appropriate personnel received the official marriage certificate. As soon as I got back to my base in Tucson - which means the very next day - the marriage certificate went its merry way to the aforementioned "appropriate personnel."

A few months later, we both got orders to move from our current assignments (mine in Tucson, his in Fayetteville) to our new ones in New England, together -same base, same time frame, but different units.

Later that year, about 3 months after we both settled into the Boston area for our new assignments, we did the "official" church wedding, on Saturday 14 Dec 2002 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. This time we had the guests, the cake, the party . . .

Speaking of cake:
Photo ©2002 - Brad Baskin
My mom and I had been planning the December shin-dig since February 2002, well before the aforementioned justice of the peace ceremony in June.

This time, though I was in the big, fancy, fru-fru dress and veil, and Andrew was finally dressed appropriately in his Mess Dress (the Air Force's formal, fancy tux-like uniform).

Anyway, when the following June 21st approached (the justice of the peace anniversary), I'd made a comment about celebrating our 1st Anniversary (the justice of the peace one). Andrew had already decided we'd just celebrate the church wedding in December. I said no, we'd celebrate both.

The mom of one of our neighbors said, "You'll celebrate both. You never make a woman choose between two anniversaries!"  Her daughter and son-in-law (our neighbors) had done the same thing as we did, and for similar reasons - a quiet, very low-key justice of the peace ceremony first (with just a couple witnesses), and then a few months later the big church wedding with the dress, the Mess Dress, the guests, the church, the cake, etc.

Anyway, here are a few of our many church wedding photos:
Photo ©2002 - Brad Baskin
Me and my 3 awesome bridesmaids! L to R: Dianne, Brenda, me, obviously, and Candi
Photo ©2002 - Brad Baskin

Andrew and his Best Man and the Groomsmen! L to R: Adam (the Best Man), P.J., Andrew, David, Keith
Photo ©2002 - Brad Baskin

During the ceremony, inside the Cathedral:
Photo ©2002 - Brad Baskin

So, there you have it. That's how, with the justice of the peace ceremony and the church wedding, Andrew and I have two anniversaries per year.

And since today's the church anniversary, it's the "2nd Eighth" Anniversary  (the "1st Eighth" Anniversary obviously having been in June).

Most importantly, here is where I'd like to say, "Happy '2nd Eighth' Anniversary, Andrew! Love and kisses!"

Here's a video that I think fits us (make sure your volume's on):

The song is by Ingrid Michaelson, and is called "The Way I Am." (The song/slideshow is off of YouTube.)

And here's the song Andrew and I used for our first dance at our wedding reception:

It's called "You Are My Home," sung by Vanessa Williams and Chayanne.

(This is a fitting video because we took ballroom dancing lessons for nearly 4 years while stationed in the Boston area. This song is from a ballroom dancing movie called "Dance with Me.")

Monday, December 13, 2010

This recipe sounds yummy on a frigid day!

So we're getting a super cold spell here in east central Iowa. Last night, the low was below zero (-8, I think?) with wind chills easily approaching -25 (yes, negative twenty five) with the gusting wind.

And today isn't much warmer, even with sunny skies - the high is supposed to be 6. We're at about 4 right now, with a wind chill around -10.

Because it's so chilly out today, I thought I'd try a chili recipe I found in Food Network Magazine. It's "Slow-Cooker Texas Chili."

First, it's a nice, warm meal (with a bit of spice, as well), and it's a slow-cooker recipe, so aside from the prep work, all I have to do is let the slow-cooker do the cooking all day. And it'll make the house smell delish.

Anyway, I received a year's subscription to Food Network Magazine from my mother- and father-in-law last year for Christmas. And I must say I've really enjoyed this gift. I get new recipe ideas every month, as well as food tips.

Usually Andrew, Livie, and I have enjoyed the recipes I've tried.

Once in a while, one of us (or all three of us) end up not caring too much for a particular recipe. Maybe it was the recipe; maybe it was user error (as in I didn't execute the recipe just right).

But for the most part, we've been happy with the results.

When I got the September 2010 issue and saw this recipe for "Slow-Cooker Texas Chili," I thought it looked tasty and I marked the page. Texas Chili is the kind without the beans, by the way.

And when I saw the weather forecast for this week, I remembered that I'd marked this recipe, and knew it would be a good one to try for the cold spell we'd be expecting.

So when I dropped Livie off at Pre-K, I came back to do the prep-work.

The recipe in the magazine said there'd be 30 minutes of "active" time plus the seven hours of inactive cooking time in the slow-cooker.

Well, it took me a little longer than 30 minutes before starting up the slow-cooker. It was more like 45. Maybe it was because it's the first time trying this recipe - it always takes me a little longer the first one or two times making a recipe. Or maybe I should've set out all my ingredients before beginning.

It smells awesome so far, because I had to prepare some of the aromatic ingredients (the onion, garlic, chili powder, chiles, etc.) in a skillet before putting it into the slow-cooker.

I sure hope it turns out! I tried getting the mildest chiles possible, so Livie enjoys it, too. If it were for just Andrew and me, it could be much spicier.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Slow-Cooker Texas Chili, courtesy of Food Network Magazine


  • 2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 4.5-ounce cans chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons green hot sauce
  • Sliced scallions, fresh cilantro and/or sour cream, for topping
  • Tortilla chips, for serving (optional)


  1. Toss the beef with 1 tablespoon each brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. 
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. 
  3. Cook the beef in batches until browned on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes (do not crowd the pan). 
  4. Transfer to a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion to the skillet and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. 
  6. Stir in the garlic, chiles, cumin and chili powder and cook 3 minutes. 
  7. Add 1 1/2 cups water and the tomatoes and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom, about 3 minutes. 
  8. Transfer to the slow cooker, cover and cook on low, 7 hours.
  9. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar and the hot sauce to the chili. 
Serve with scallions, cilantro and/or sour cream for topping, and chips, if desired. 

Nutritional Information Per serving: Calories 482; Fat 29 g (Saturated 11 g); Cholesterol 117 mg; Sodium 1,227 mg; Carbohydrate 11 g; Fiber 0 g; Protein 36 g

Oh, and when I stopped at the meat department of my grocery store, the guy at the counter didn't know what I was talking about when I asked for 2.5 pounds of chuck, in cubes. So I got 2.5 pounds of ground chuck. So we'll see how it turns out. 

And now I'm off to clean up the mess I made while preparing the ingredients before they went in the slow-cooker.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm disappointed

Yes, I'm disappointed.

I mentioned back in late September that I'd entered a photography contest (check out my "The suspense is already driving me nuts!" post for all the details).

The contest's online rules FAQ page stated that the winners' photos would be published in New Mexico Magazine's January 2011 issue, to be delivered to subscribers around December 10th, and on newsstands around December 15th.

Winners, by the way, would receive e-mails around December 10th, verifying mailing addresses for prize delivery (with prizes being sent out in late December).

So, for the past few days . . . okay, okay, since around December 1st, I've been checking my e-mail a few times a day, just waiting and hoping for one of those e-mails, verifying my mailing address. As the days crept closer and closer to December 10th, I found myself checking my e-mail more often throughout the day.

And each time, I failed to see any such e-mail.

But I kept telling myself that It's not December 10th yet. Maybe I'll get something on the 10th.

Then December 10th rolled around - still no e-mail. I knew what this meant - none of my photographs had been chosen.

However, I still held out hope that maybe, just maybe, one of my photos had been chosen, for Honorable Mention perhaps.

So I ran out to the mailbox in hopes of finding my January 2011 issue.

Nope. I had Christmas cards (for which I was thankful), some junk mail, and that was it. No magazine, yet.

It was only Friday, so I still held out hope that the magazine would arrive on Saturday. You know, because the magazine must be somewhere on some sort of Post Office transportation making its way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to my snow-covered Iowa mailbox. And, because I inferred that the December 10th delivery date was simply an approximation, as in "on or about" December 10th.

But that didn't explain why I hadn't yet gotten one of those "we need to verify your mailing address so we can send you your prize" e-mails . . . you know, since e-mail doesn't get stuck on a truck, or in weather-related traffic.

Throughout the day, I would occasionally check my e-mail, still hoping for that e-mail. But it never came.

At some point that afternoon, I stopped obsessing about it because there was nothing I could do about it.

Saturday morning finally rolled around, and what did I do, first thing? Yep, I checked my e-mail. Still no e-mail.

After Livie and I went out for a bit to get her hair cut and to run some errands, we came back for lunch, and I returned to the computer to . . . yep, check my e-mail again. Nothing.

Then I ran outside in the freezing rain to check the mailbox. The mail hadn't come yet, even though I'd seen the mail truck down the street.

At this point, I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was true - none of my photos had been chosen - and I stopped checking my e-mail every couple hours.

When yesterday's mail finally came, much later in the afternoon, there was still no magazine. 

I began to think back to last year's winners. It dawned on me that while my photos definitely had that, "Hey, that's cool" aspect about them, they didn't elicit a "Wow! That is absolutely spectacular!" response, like last year's winning photos had.

And you know what? I guess that means I need more practice. I mean, I haven't taken a photography class, or even a general art 101 class, for that matter, since I'd been a student at Culver Girls Academy. And it's been just as long since I'd been a part of a photography club, like I was at Culver.

So I guess that once I start grad school (for my M.A. in English), I could maybe enroll in a basic photography 101 class, partly for fun, and partly to refresh my memory. Because I know all those photography skills I learned in photography classes and photography club must be somewhere in my little gray cells, still. Right?

And, in case you're curious, here are the photos I entered.

I took this photo from my front yard one summer day.
Clouds rolling into Alamogordo, before the storm hits.

I took this photo from my back yard, right after moving into our new house in Alamogordo.
A summer storm hovers over the Sacramento Mountain Range, Alamogordo, NM.

This was taken from my back yard on a late December afternoon.
Winter has dusted the Sacramento Mountain Range, Alamogordo, NM.

Here's a famous Santa Fe view, taken when Andrew and I spent a day in Santa Fe.
St. Francis Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe, NM

Here's a view of White Sands National Monument. I took this photo on a windy, February afternoon.
Sand dune, White Sands National Monument, outside Alamogordo, NM

So I didn't win anything, not even an Honorable Mention prize. And for that, I'm disappointed. 

But you have to admit the photos are cool. Right? 

And now I can at least say that I entered a big photo contest with hundreds of entries.

(And since I still haven't gotten my January 2011 issue yet, (maybe Monday) I'm still curious about which photos did win.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Belated" Birthday Post

Okay, so my birthday was last month, and I'm just now posting a few photos, hence the "'Belated' Birthday Post."

We went to my parents' place to celebrate my birthday with them and most importantly, to include my Oma. My parents' place is about 130 miles west of where we live, by the way, so it's just over 2 hours away by car.

To start off my birthday, on our way out of town, we'd gone through a Starbucks drive-thru, where Andrew had gotten me a salted caramel hot chocolate. Yum-o! (Livie got a kids' hot chocolate, and shared a couple mini vanilla scones with me in the car.)

So . . . my mom had gotten a cake for me. She'd originally had me call the bakery to request what I wanted and she'd pay for it and pick it up on my birthday. Well, somehow, the order got changed around. While I didn't get the cake decorated in the shape of a couple stacked birthday presents like I'd requested, I still got a great looking cake. Livie loved all the pink and purple flowers, by the way. (Most importantly, it tasted good(!) - white cake with raspberry filling and buttercream frosting!)

 Here's the view from the side, so you can see the cute little dots.

Oma liked it, too. She couldn't believe I was turning 40! She remembers me as a tiny baby, being carried off a plane by my mom, when we returned from a US Army base in Germany. Oma was so excited to finally see me, she ran up the steps to get me, at which point, she says she never let me go.

Here's Oma as she inspects the cake, reminiscing back 4 decades when she became the "President of the Pink Bundle Fan Club."

Now, on to the dinner menu: homemade tacos, refried beans, Spanish rice, guacamole, and all the regular taco fixings (shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded Monterrey-Jack cheese).

It was a delicious dinner and totally hit the spot. I could eat that meal once a week. But since it's high in calories, and besides, I simply cannot seem to get the knack of making Oma's tacos, I only get to eat this meal if someone is kind enough to make it for me.

We ended up eating in the formal dining room - my parents, Andrew, Liv, Oma, Naná, and Monsignor B (who performed the wedding ceremony for Andrew and me).

It was a nice way to celebrate - with my family, as we ate tasty food.

I have to admit that a number of years ago, I promised myself that Andrew and I would spend my 40th birthday by having a long weekend to ourselves in Vegas. That plan ended up not being feasible. (Maybe that weekend will happen for our 10th wedding anniversary, but we'll see.)

But you know what? We had a fun time with the way my birthday turned out, and that is is what's important, right?

Oh, and I let Liv take a photo of me with my camera. 

Yes, it's blurry; she was right up in my face. With a little work and lots of practice, one day she'll be really good at photography! But the best part of her taking my picture is that it was a funny moment. AND . . . she actually likes taking pictures, almost as much as I do!
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