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Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

The new year is nearly upon us --- again.
New Year's Eve is a holiday that we celebrate in our household -- more than usual.  Its our anniversary!!  Yes, you heard that right.  We got married on New Year's Eve.  We figured it was a fun date, we'd never forget it, and we'd always have something special to do on that date.  We were right!
This year we have the privilege of spending it in Seoul Korea with my husband's daughter (she lives here --- and yes, you read that part right too --- I'm sitting on the floor in Seoul, posting on my blog.  Crazy eh??)  So this year, the celebration is a little bit different.  We spent the day touring a palace (in the freezing cold) and having our first taste of BiBimBap (wonderful!) and tonight we're snuggled up enjoying Korean home cooking and the grandson's attempt to fly his new remote control helicopter.
Usually we spend the early part of the evening with friends --- hors d'oeuvres are the standard.  Then we all head out to a black tie gala with our ballroom dance group.  Its an elegant and fun evening --- and quite the way to celebrate both the New Year and our anniversary.
Our standard contribution to the hors d'oeuvre menu is beef and pepper dip.
I know some of you (Shaw's shoppers!!) have a ton of free sour cream and cream cheese you're dying to use up --- here's the way to go.

Beef and Pepper Dip 

1 package cream cheese
1 container sour cream
1 jar of dried beef (in the tuna aisle, please)
1 bell pepper (pick your favorite color)

Take the dried beef out of the jar and snip it into tiny little strips using kitchen shears.
Cut the bell pepper into thin strips.  Cut each strip into half or thirds to make dipping easier.
Mix the sour cream and cream cheese together in a small casserole or small crockpot (the easier method)
Mix in the beef and the pepper.
Heat until bubbly
Sprinkle the top with paprika (until it looks terrific)
Serve with Triscuits or some other substantial cracker.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Outside

The amount of work that goes into decorating outside the house is enormous  --- and never do I appreciate my sweet, willing husband more than when we're knee deep in snow, hanging lights and greens and he is still whistling Christmas tunes.  He is one amazing man.  
All of this work was done AFTER we had driven up to the mountains in Vermont to pick out the perfect Christmas trees for OUR house --- and trees for my mom and my sister's houses too.  
What a great guy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas in the Kitchen and Dining Room

I'll just admit it:  I have way too much Christmas and holiday stuff in the form of dishes, glassware, and the like.  But don't go signing me up for Holiday Dishware Anonymous --- I love it.  I change out all of the dishes, the candles, the glasses.  For the two months of Christmas at our house the whole atmosphere is festive from Breakfast to Bedtime Snack ----
Dishware is cheap --- and its fun, festive and fancy.  No one ever needs to know what you did or didn't pay for holiday dishes and glasses.  They always look more impressive than they are.
Now the Coattails Way means searching out classy, chic dishes and glasses --- cute is fine -- CUTESY is not.  I don't do teddybears, geese or silly things.... I do DO whimsical, wistful, and wonderful!!
My dishes are an old CVS find --- during the 90% off clearance after Christmas one year (and that was before I learned to CVS like a pro)  Most of my glassware is either freebies from Arby's (or somewhere like that) or from Dollar Tree.  The rest are gifts and clearance finds ---- they still look wonderful and make the holiday merry and bright
See what you think

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Christmas Mantle

Christmas gets a little nutty around here.  We go all out with the decorating.  Two trees enter the house (confuses the heck out of the dog).  The fireplace mantle gets a full makeover.  Dishes get switched out in the kitchen, the dining room gets new linens, candles etc --- even the bathroom gets holiday towels and and a holiday candle.
But first  -- our mantle.  I've been collecting things for many years --- they all get switched around and used in some different way every year.  This is the mantle this year.  
I created a forest of little trees along the line of the mantle.  One end is anchored by my adorable Snowman and an old Norwegian horse that I love.
The center of the mantle is two giant pinecone ornaments that I found a few years ago.  I love these things. They're dramatic and wonderful and showy and Christmassy --- and I love them in the center of the mantle.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Faux Jewelry

I’m gearing up for the holiday party whirlwind (it starts next week for us).  I love getting dressed up and feeling glamorous --- its very much part of the “on the coattails” thing.  But I’m not spending a fortune doing it.  Part of what takes a simple classy outfit (like my tuxedo) up the notch to positively glamorous is the jewelry.  Nearly all of my jewelry is costume stuff from high-end stores like Claires, Target, and the Icing (yeah – high end!!)  So I got some advice from a friend of ours who runs a jewelry store (the real kind – the kind I can’t afford) on choosing costume stuff that doesn’t scream “cheap”. 
·       Watch the stones.  Cheap costume jewelry often has brightly colored stones that simply could never occur in nature.  Go for the flatter, duller stones when you’re looking at colored “gems”.
·       Buy something big enough to be impressive, but small enough that no one looks at it and “knows” that you could NEVER possibly afford a real stone that size.  My faux diamond earrings do this terrifically for me.  Where I work, a lot of the women have much, much larger (gaudy, almost) diamond studs in their ears.  Mine are large enough to look great.  But if I had studs as large as some of the ones I see, everyone would instantly know they were fake. 
·       Watch the setting.  You want to see prongs around the “gem”.  A lot of cheap jewelry is glued together and that’s it.  Good jewelry is held into the setting using prongs to hold the stone. No prongs announces FAKE, FAKE, FAKE from 10 feet away.  (or however close you can see the missing prongs)
·       Shiny fake gold looks fake.  Brushed fake gold and matte fake gold can often pull it off.  Watch the super shiny stuff.
·       Take super good care of it.  The fake stuff scratches like crazy which is a dead giveaway that its cheap.  Watch that it doesn’t wear away over time and show the base that’s underneath the coating of fake gold.  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: The End

Last week --- If you’re working alongside me, hopefully you’re experiencing a deeper awareness of why we celebrate this holiday  (no, its not about the turkey!!) 
As I move this close to Thanksgiving, its time for me to explain about a quirky holiday tradition in our household.  Each Thanksgiivng, I select a couple of people for whom I am especially grateful this year.  It can be for any reason --- just people who have made that quiet difference for me – and who deserve to know that – and to feel my appreciation.  I spend some quiet time – with a pen and some nice stationary --- and write them a letter explaining why I am so grateful for them in my life right now.  I generally mail them right before Thanksgiving. 
So the first item on my to-do list this week is to write my Thanksgiving letters.  My first one is going to our dog school teacher – without her, our dog would still be a complete and total wild child – she and we would be much less happy together.  Without Leea and her work with us, this  might not have been a successful rescue of a beautiful animal.  Whether Ginger knows it or not, she owes Leea her life --- she’s one happy dog because of the work that Leea does. 
My second Thanksgiving letter this year is going to a colleague at work.  She is the person who checks on me when things are stressy.  She leaves me little notes to cheer me up.  She always has something positive to say – even after an awful meeting.  She just makes life at work better.  And she’s not even aware of how much she does this – and how huge a difference it makes for everyone (not just me).  So she gets a letter this year. 
The rest of my list for the week looks like this:
·       Finish up the shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.
·       Pick up a bouquet from Double Decker Farm --- I so love their vegetables and flowers – there won’t be all that much left – the season is really over – but Deb does such a terrific job with bouquet wrangling that it will be beautiful – and certainly more elegant and lovely than anything from the supermarket or florist. 
·       Pick up a bag of ice --- I want cold drinks for Thanksgiving!!
·       Set up the timeline for cooking --- if I don’t plan this out like a military operation, we’ll be eating Thanksgiving dinner in six courses – based on what’s done when.  Not fun.  I take the time to back everything up from T-Time to know when to start what.
·       Set out all of the necessary pots and pans with sticky notes about what gets cooked in each one.  There’s nothing more frustrating than going to cook the potatoes and realizing that you already used the only pot they’ll fit in --- Plan ahead and label everything.
·       Set out and label all of the serving dishes --- Need I repeat?  It also makes it so someone else can actually be helpful in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day – not just in the kitchen and in the way.
·       Tuesday, I’ll do the baking – all the pies and quick breads.  The bread can wait until Thursday itself since it bakes in the bread machine and doesn’t tie up my oven.
·       Wednesday night, I’ll set the table.  Its nice to get up in the morning and be greeted by a lovely table all ready for Thanksgiving.  We’ll eat breakfast at the kitchen counter….. that’s why I got those stools anyway, isn’t it??

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

 I’m moving into week three of the Thanksgiving countdown – and I’m more in the spirit of  Thankfulness than ever.  I’m feeling like the holiday will run smoothly this year (that might be wishful thinking – but the planning and preparation are at least good mental energy).  I’m continuing this week to focus myself on being aware of my blessings.  I remember a hymn from my childhood – count your blessings, see what God has done.  That’s the biggest part of the plan this week. 
·       Wash the tablecloth and the cloth napkins we use for Thanksgiving (they definitely haven’t been used since last year ) Make sure there are no stains or tears that will make me not want to use them. 
·       Beg my husband to sharpen the carving knife for the turkey.  I cannot stand that every man in my family seems to believe that five minutes before Thanksgiving dinner is the perfect time for this chore.  I remember watching my grandfather do this every year.  It was so predictable that it became a family joke.  My husband is in serious danger of carrying on the family tradition on this one.  And this is one tradition I could do without.
·       Clean out the fridge.  As I keep shopping, I’ll need the room—Its no fun to try to clean out the sticky gunk with one hand while balancing the fresh groceries with the other hand. I want to get the jump on this one before the fridge starts filling up too much.
·       Check the stores again – new week – new sale.  See what from my grocery list is on sale or free this week.
·       Burn a CD of gratitude music.  Yes, I’m really serious.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for years.  There are so many wonderful pieces of music that remind us to be thankful.  I want to gather a collection of some of my favorites and burn them to a CD as music for Thanksgiving dinner.  If you have ideas for me --- leave me a comment – I’m open to ideas.
·       Gather up my plastic leftover containers and match the lids to the containers.  My stash of plasticware is a mess.  Actually, it is well beyond a mess and has moved into complete chaos.  If I wait until I’m packing leftovers for the gang, I will never be able find lids to go with containers and I will end up frustrated and tense.  I prefer to feel grateful and appreciative --- matched lids and containers will move me in that direction (and will push my dear husband right over the edge into singing praises of thanksgiving – this is a bugaboo of his)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

 So – I survived last week’s start at getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Its amazing how just starting the process increases my sense of gratitude and awareness of just how much I am blessed.  So – as I continue my getting ready this week – I want to be very mindful and intentional about my preparation.  I want to focus on being thankful as a mental preparation while I’m going about the physical preparations.
·       Run the platters and special fall dishes through the dishwasher (some of them haven’t been out since last Thanksgiving – yuck)
·       Do a real serious cleaning of the house --- that way the next two weeks can be just minor cleaning to maintain that….
·       Call the salon and make an appointment for next week – I need a haircut before the holiday and if I don’t do it now, I’ll be cooking my turkey with a ratty hairband because my hair will be completely unworkable. 
·       Check out the stores for things on my grocery list that might be on sale this week. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Its time for my countdown to Thanksgiving!!  I love this holiday.  I love the fall and the decorating that goes with it.  I love the colored leaves, the pumpkins, and the nuts.  I love the spices and smells that go with Thanksgiivng.  I love the togetherness of family and friends.  And most of all, I love the awareness of gratitude that Thanksgiving gifts to us. 
So – its time to begin planning and getting ready.  Here’s my plan for this week:
·       Pick up some decorative pumpkins for the table (just little ones)
·       Grab one or two more potted mums – not sure where they’ll end up yet – but they always look terrific at Thanksgiving.
·       Count up who is coming --- and invite anyone I can think of who might not have a place to spend Thanksgiivng (I’m a believer that “the more the merrier” was meant for Thanksgiving.  I also believe that one of the ways in which we demonstrate our gratitude for our good fortune is sharing that with others – especially those who don’t have family and friends nearby with whom to celebrate)
·       Write down the menu and an accompanying shopping list.  A lot of the list will be on sale in the  next couple of weeks – and much of it will be free with coupons and rebates – I need to know what I need to take advantage of that. 
·       Check the spice cabinet – there’s nothing worse than going to make apple pie and discovering that you’re short on cinnamon.  I want to know NOW while I can still do something about it.
·       Make a list of what needs to be thoroughly cleaned or repaired around our house in order to be company ready --- this way we still have four weeks to get it done!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Corn Fritters

Corn Fritters:  I can’t tell you how much I love corn fritters.  When I was a kid, my mother was an absolute pro at stretching the food budget and making food that felt luxurious and special without breaking the bank.  I didn’t realize until I was an adult with a food budget of my own to manage, just how creative she was with cheap food.  Corn fritters fit that bill. They’re just good, satisfying food. They’re yummy. They’re festive.  They feel luxurious and special. And best of all, they’re good cheap food.  I found a recipe (from an old edition of All You) that brought back memories ---

Corn Fritters:

5 cups of oil (I will NOT be using that much)
2 1/3 cups of pancake mix (the kind where you just add water)
½ cup cornmeal
1 package of frozen corn
1 small red onion, chopped

Pour 2 inches of oil into a cast iron fry pan.  Heat until water droplets snap back and sing (my great grandmother’s directions for knowing when oil is hot enough). 

In a large bowl, mix the pancake mix, and cornmeal.  Stir in 1 1/3 cups of water to make a batter.  Stir in the corn and the onion. 

Scoop 2-3 Tbs of batter into the hot oil and cook until golden brown and crispy (3-4 minutes each)  Cook in small batches to avoid greasy fritters. 
Drain on paper towels and serve.  Yum. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Flu

So – as long as I’m fighting off colds this season, I thought I’d get a jump on sinus infections as well.  I hate getting sinus infections – and I seem to get one every year.  They’re painful, debilitating and annoying.  Anything I can do to help prevent them  --- I’ll try it.   Here’s what I’ve learned lately that I think might help:

·       Using massage – But surprise!!  You need to massage your hands and feet for this trick to work.  This sounds iffy to me – but like I said – I’ll try anything to avoid another sinus infection --- Apparently there is some kind of connection between the hands and feet and the nerve pathways to the sinuses.  Supposedly massaging your hands and feet for 5 minutes a day will alter the blood flow and nerve pathways to your sinuses – leading to less congestion and less pain.  We’ll see.
·       Scrubbing windowsills and under the kitchen sink with bleach.  This is where most of our homes have hidden mold growning.  We breathe in the mold spores and they get all stuck in the mucus in our sinuses and breed until an infection develops.  Kill the mold and reduce the opportunity for something to irritate your sinuses and launch an infection.
·       Walking!!    People who walk every day have less congestion and swelling in their sinuses. 
·       Eating horseradish or wasabi or other spicy foods.  You know the sensation of tingling in your nose when you get a good dab of wasabi??? That’s the feeling you want if you’re seriously fighting sinus infections.  It makes your nose run – which drains out all of the irritants that can launch the next infection. 
·       Take a morning shower.  Remember how your grandmother used to set up the steam kettle when someone had a cough or cold??  She was smart.  It worked. Steam opens up your sinuses and makes them drain.  Standing in the steamy shower for 10 minutes can open and drain your sinuses.  After 8 hours (you are getting enough sleep aren’t you??) of lying on your back – your sinuses are grateful for the steamy cleansing.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold Season

I hate cold season (know anyone who likes it?? I’d like to meet them).  So I’m always on the look out for ideas for keeping healthy in the wintertime.  I ran these past my doctor and got the okay --- Here’s the plan
1.    Gargle with plain old water every day.  Yep --- he said it works.  Apparently it flushes out viruses before they attach themselves to the lining of your throat and work their way down into your respiratory system.   He suggested getting in the habit of doing a quick gargle a couple of times a day --- before lunch – mid afternoon etc. The only trick is:  don’t swallow the water when you’re done with your gargle.  You want to get rid of whatever the gargle flushes out!!
2.    Spray your nose with saline spray.  This keeps the membranes in your nose moist and less susceptible to invading bacteria and viruses. They also have been shown to reduce congestion --- which can go a long way toward preventing my other winter-time nemesis:  sinus infections.  I’m a huge fan of SaltAire --- because I love the little pump on the side of the bottle.  But I’ll confess, I make my own refill – and re-use the bottle for a little while (not too long, I don’t want to grow bacteria in there and undo all my hard work)
3.    Have fruit for breakfast.  I’ll admit, I’d never even thought of this one.  But it makes some sense to me:  In the summer (when I almost NEVER have colds or respiratory problems) I eat a ton of fruit.  When fall and winter arrive, I naturally eat less fruit.  I just never made the connection.  Apparently fruit helps your body produce its own natural anti-viral compound. 
4.    Drink tea and wine --- yep, the doctor really okayed this one too.  Tea has been shown in all kinds of studies to increase the body’s production of proteins that are used in fighting attacks on lung cells and mucus membranes.  And wine (the red kind) has flavonoids that fight the virus responsible for most colds --- the rhinovirus.  Now we’re not talking about finishing off the bottle yourself – but a cup of tea in the afternoon and a glass of wine with dinner sounds like a very civilized way to battle cold season to me.