Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sweet Potato (Yam) & Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes Recipe

Meatloaf is on the menu for dinner. Though ours is always made with ground turkey and a variety of vegetables, it is delicious.

And nothing goes better with meatloaf than mashed potatoes.

As usual, I fail to follow recipes. Instead, I adjust ingredients to reflect our tastes and what is available in the pantry. My most recent adventure in making mashed potatoes resulted in what appeared to be a dessert of orange and vanilla background, but were in fact, creamy, tasty, and much savored. I love when that happens.

Yam & Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes


4 red skinned potatoes (not the baby ones), washed, skin on

1 large garnet yam (red flesh), washed and peeled

4 garlic cloves

1 box reduced fat cream cheese

non-fat milk


fresh ground black pepper


1. Chop potatoes into same-size chunks. Add peeled garlic cloves. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer covered until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 15-20 minutes.

2. Drain potatoes and garlic.

3. Add 2-3 T. butter and cream cheese. Mash potatoes, adding milk as you go, until you reach desired consistency.

4. Season with black pepper.

5. Serve piping hot! These taste wonderful with many different kinds of meat.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Old Things, New Uses

Mabel has discovered a new use for the sink sprayer. It is now called a head rest.

We see normal everyday items being used in the traditional fashion. But what if we got creative? How many ways can we use that same old thing? Sort of like reuse and repurpose, but with a twist (the sink sprayer will still always be a sink sprayer).

Let's see what we can find.

Check out this wrapping paper plastic tub with wheels. Voila! It is now a water exploration tub.

Looks like a shopping bag and a basket, right? Wrong. Those are kitty beds.

What used to be old book pages, some ribbon, glue, tape, and pretty paper is transformed into pretty rosettes.

See how much fun it is to acknowledge our resourcefulness? Maybe a few more...

The old mini wine barrel has become a light and log filled beacon of welcome.

Nesting dolls become a game in graduating sizes.

An old picture frame, old paneling, and some paint transforms into a chalkboard.

This is fun! We are just being resourceful. I think I will keep looking.

What old things can your find new uses for?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Ever Cranberry, Cream Cheese, & Turkey Leftovers Sandwich

Many, many years ago I was introduced to a turkey, cranberry, cream cheese croissant at the European Café in Yakima. Sadly, once I discovered this fantastic restaurant and exquisite sandwich, they closed their doors.

Many years ago, we adopted our own version for Thanksgiving night leftover turkey. True, the main dish at the big meal was delicious. But the leftovers smashed with cream cheese and cranberry sauce on a croissant was what we anticipated. That, and Christmas morning turkey quiche.

This year, welcome to the new version of our favorite sandwich. Healthier? Definitely. But that was really not the motivation. We just did not have croissants. We love the new and improved model. And no worrying about rushing to get the big croissants from Costco.

Already thinking about when I am going to cook the next turkey breast. For leftovers, of course.

Turkey, Cream Cheese, & Cranberry Sauce Sandwich


~white meat cooked turkey breast

~cranberry sauce (we prefer the jelly type)

~cream cheese (reduced fat is fine)

~really good multi-grain and seed bread

1. Toast the bread.

2. Spread a thick layer of cream cheese on one slice of toast.

3. Add a layer of thinly sliced cranberry sauce.

4. Shred turkey and add as much as you like.

5. Cut in half. Devour.

Plot for the next meal.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Fantastic Kitty Cat Microwave Fudge

You read me correctly. Follow directions exactly.

Fantastic Kitty Cat Microwave Fudge


2 gray kitties, @ 8 months old
3 c. sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 10-oz. pkg. dark chocolate chips, plus about 2 more oz. to make a total of 12 oz.
1 7-oz. container marshmallow crème
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Make sure kitties are not in kitchen.

2. Melt butter in microwave in a microwave proof bowl. Depending on the wattage of your microwave, adjust time to melt. Mine takes about 45 seconds.

3. Add evaporated milk and sugar. Stir very well with whisk. Scrape sides with spatula.

4. Check for kitties. All clear? Continue.

5. Cover with wax paper. Cook in microwave in 2 minute increments. Take out and whisk completely between each time chunk. Cook for a total of about 5 minutes. Once the mixture starts to boil, then watch very carefully. I usually switch to 30 second intervals so I can stir it down.

6. Remove and place on countertop. Add chocolate chips, marshmallow crème, and vanilla. Stir well until melted and mixed.

7. Pour into butter 9x12 baking dish. Lick the spatula and whisk.

8. Place fudge in cold oven to cool. This prevents kitties from getting in the pan.

9. Warning: Remove fudge from oven before using oven. Place fudge on top of fridge while oven is in use. Most important step: Do not forget fudge on top of fridge.

10. Cut fudge into 1-inch squares. Stop. Notice paw prints in fudge. Many paw prints.

11. Check for kitty hair. Looks good? Whew.

12. Remove pieces with paw prints. Feed to your family. They won't care.

13. Place other pieces on decorative platter.

14. Store covered in fridge until eaten.

15. Tell no one.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to All - And To All, A Good Night

From our family to yours,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with love and peace!

And behold, an angel of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising god and saying:

"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

Luke 2:9-14

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Focusing on Holy in the Midst of Secularism - Attend a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

The Polar Express is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Adapted from a picture book, available in both French and English in this home, The Polar Express shares the tale of a young boy who does not believe. Making new friends as he travels to the North Pole to have his faith in Santa restored, the main character undergoes multiple situations that force him to confront his beliefs. He is often heard saying, "Are you sure?", which echoes his search for truth.

Near the end of The Polar Express, this young man finally confirms his belief and meets the Big Guy. He is chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas. He whispers in Santa's ear, and Santa stands tall, holds up a bell that fell from a reindeer harness, and shouts, "The first gift of Christmas."

For a moment there, I was in my own world, watching a favorite Christmas movie. I both expected and waited for the story about the Birth of the Savior. Many centuries ago, Baby Jesus was the first Gift at Christmas. That's what I was waiting for Santa to proclaim.

So, instead of rewriting my own version of The Polar Express to hear the Christmas news, I will attend our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. I think this is one of my favorite church services of the entire year.

The Christmas songs, the candles, the story of Jesus, a new Baby, unexpected accommodations, animals, shepherds, angels, Christmas greetings . . . The thanksgiving, the worship, the prayers, the celebration . . .

I hope you have a candlelight service near you. Take the time to attend. Experience the first Christmas Gift. It will be worth every second.

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Will Their Be Pine Trees in Heaven?

Ahhhh. I am that serious.

I surely hope there will be pine trees in Heaven.
I love that scent so much, I think it is my absolute favorite. Even above chocolate and coffee and lavender.

We just added our final Christmas tree to our menagerie of decorated sticks. After a brief tree hunting episode that did not include heading into the mountains due to several restrictions, we ended up at Lowe's. I say their name because they gave us a great deal! I mean a really great deal.

Let's say the tree (Norfolk pine, folks, Norfolk pine) was originally priced at $34.99. And they welcomed us into the store with "We are willing to make you a deal!" and big smiles.

And they did.

We got over 50% off of a quality nearly 6-foot pine specimen; fresh, well-stuck-in-place needles, and an absolutely gorgeous tree. AND it had a disposable bag and tree food attached. AND they cut the trunk for us. AND they used one of those cool tree-wrapping-with-net machines. I was in awe.

And now? This final tree is standing proudly and fragrantly in our bedroom. Why not? We can enjoy the scents of being in the woods all night long. (And all of the other locations for a full size tree have been occupied this year due to my stunning win of a 9-foot fully decorated tree - see previous blog entries).

I love the fragrance of fresh pine trees. Ask Kevin. Last night I just stood there with my nose attached to the tree, declaring lifelong love and devotion. To a tree.

When I walk into a pine forest, or my bedroom, and gulp huge breaths of that piney scented air, my body and soul just relax. Stress unwinds from my body, my muscles ooze, and I enter a state of peace.

Here. I want you to experience my evergreen fragrance. Scratch and sniff the photo. That's our bedroom tree.

Did you do it?

How I wish we could do that on our computers. Well, thinking of other not so great scents, maybe not.

Back to my original question: Will there be pine trees in Heaven?

I hope so.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Learning French

Me: Do you want to learn to count to 10 in French?
Hayden: Yes, teach me!

Me: Un.
Hayden: Un.
Me: Deux.
Hayden: Deux.
Me: Trois.
Hayden: Trois.
Me: Quatre.
Hayden: Quatre.
Me: Cinq.
Hayden: Cinq.
Me: Six.
Hayden: Six.
Me: Sept.
Hayden: Sept.
Me: Huit.
Hayden: Huit.
Me: Neuf.
Hayden: Neuf.
Me: Dix.
Hayden: Dix.

Me: There, you counted to 10 in French.
Hayden: You are really a teacher aren't you, Nana?
Me: Yes, I am.
Hayden: Yay! Nana's teaching me to count in Spanish!

Gingerbread Joy - Sugaring Up the Grandkids

Meet gingerbread joy. Also now known as sugar joy. I mean sugar high.

Nana likes to have traditions with her grands. A few years back, I started decorating gingerbread houses each Christmas with the grands.

Gingerbread Tips:

~ Hot glue houses together. Who eats them anyway? And they won't fall down or make you wait for hours and hours until they set.

~ Cover a piece of cardboard with foil. Tape it on. Glue each house on an individual board. Much, much easier.

~ This year I got smart. Divide candies into bowls. One bowl per kid. Saves fights, hassles, and who gets to eat what. I mean who gets what to add to their house.

~ Give each a damp wash cloth before you begin. Perfect for wiping off sticky fingers and faces.

~ Ask an adult to help if you have under two's. This was Donavyn's first gingerbread decorating. And, oh, boy, he found the icing and candy!

~ Let gingerbread houses dry before sending home. I put them in the oven so the kitties would not help themselves.

~ And of course, it goes without saying, take lots of pictures. Lots.

We are proud of our houses. And under the influence of sugar samples.

Donavyn and his house. Mostly, he wanted to wipe off the icing and eat it.

Hayden and his house. He kept raising his hand for help or more icing. Can you tell he is in kindergarten? Guess what they are working on.

Khloe pretty much did her house all by herself. Other than icing. The changes in the kids from year to year are amazing.

Nothing like sugaring up the kiddos. And then sending them home with mommy and daddy.

I bet the parents love it as much as the grands do. wink wink

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Corn/Rice/Wheat Square Cereal Snack Mix - The Spicy Version from Moi

Did you get the code? I could use the four-letter-word that spells the brand name of this breakfast cereal, but there are many manufacturers that make the same thing. So why worry about a specific label? Just use the square cereal with the grid work pattern in the grain of your choice. Add that to my version of the spicy snack mix. Prepare to eat too much.

Square Cereal Spicy Snack Mix


1 stick of butter
3 T. worcestershire sauce
1 T. parsley
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. seasoning salt
1 cup peanuts (shelled)
1 cup pretzels
8 cups your choice square cereal with the grid work (wheat, corn, rice)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt the butter. Add all spices and stir well.

3. Put nuts, pretzels, and cereal in a large metal bowl. Mix with hands. Pour half of butter mix on cereal. Mix well (but gently). Add remainder of butter mix and stir well.

4. Pour snack mix on jelly roll pan.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes. Check every 5 minutes. Stir at 10 minutes.

6. Let cool. Store in airtight container. I have no idea how long it lasts. My husband eats it all in about 3 days.

Put a little spice in your holiday! Enjoy.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Homemade Stockings - A Family Tradition

Ages ago, or at least twenty-nine years, I made matching stockings for my new husband and myself.

Using fabric with Christmas prints, I sewed strips together to make a striped quilted fabric. The striped pieces were sewn to a backing to provide stability. After cutting out the stocking shapes, they were sewn together. I added festive trim and a loop for hanging. To finish the stockings, I embroidered our names.

Upon the arrival of each of our children, showing my love of elaborate Christmas times with family, I made more stockings. But their stockings were huge. Actually, each baby could fit into his and her stocking with ease. For a short time.

The tradition continues. With the birth of each grandbaby, yet another handmade stocking is created. The only signs that show the different decades of origin are the changing of the prints on the fabric. And possibly the variety of trims.

It's always been that way with me. Making things with my hands is one of my passions. I love homemade. Gifts from the heart and the home.

How about you? Do you love homemade or store bought? What gifts do you like to make or give?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Card Joy: Old Book = Cute Display

Need a new Christmas card display idea? Turn an old hardback book into an unusual way to show off your cards.

I saw something similar to this on Pinterest, my favorite location for gathering ideas. The fun thing about finding great ideas is that you personalize and adjust them to fit your likes and location. Perfect.

First you find a neat old book at a thrift store. Doesn't matter what it is about. You won't be reading it.

And then you fold pages. And fold pages. And fold some more. This takes the most time of any of the steps. I think I worked on and off for 3 or 4 days before I was finally done.

And then you let your grandson help choose a winter print scrap paper for covering the inside pages. This is vital if the inside pages are ugly or boring. Or maybe you just love snowmen like we have on ours. I glued it down with Modge Podge. Worked perfectly. Oh - I tore off an end page to measure the scrap paper. Again, easy and perfect fit.

All done. Display those cards any which way. I added fresh greens, a German smoker Nativity, and a candle.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Piano

Donavyn, the youngest of my babies (until June), explores the piano. He is going to be musical, this handsome boy!

The piano has been in our family for quite a long time.

My children banged and played on it. Neighborhood kids were drawn to the much-loved instrument like flies to a picnic. My preschoolers, at church and at school-school, spent many happy hours pounding the sort of ivory keys. Every child that has entered a room where the piano rests has been magnetically pulled to the piano and has immediately started playing.

Now that the prized instrument sits in my living room, my grands go like moths to a flame. Pound, jingle, bang, and play. They sing. They experiment. They observe. They make up songs. There is no resistance in children to experiencing this piano. Much to the noise tolerance levels of adults in attendance.

But it is my piano. And my babies. And my living room.

Play, babies, play. Get that rhythm going. Listen to those songs and tap that beat. Make up silly words, or no words at all. Sing. Clap. Bang. Pound.

Create. Imagine. Explore.

Do you have any toys of this intrinsic and sentimental value?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Carolers - Victorian Dolls Meet Khloe aka Decorating When You Are Three

The Evolution of Design

Meet Khloe, interior decorator. At three, both her decorating style and choice of wardrobe show future promise in the world of fashion and design. In our first photo, Khloe demonstrates her ability to focus on the facets of design. She steps back to view the overall picture before beginning her work.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Caroler. They are the subject of study by designer Khloe. How to look upbeat and current? How to take a fashion stand?

Notice the touch of class added by our design protégé. A classic tiara, in teal sequins, adorns the top of Mrs. Caroler's head. In a nod to worldwide celebrations, Khloe has added a string of matching Mardi-Gras beads. Perfect touch.

At first, our top class designer, sporting her own look of princess train and crown, thought to keep with appearances and wear the crown.

But upon further consideration, Khloe, ever wise in her decisions, placed the piece de resistance upon Mrs. Caroler's head. The result? Much joy and satisfaction is evident on Khloe's youthful face.

Star watch, people, star watch.

Keep an eye on this young designer. The future will tell how her strong and confident clothing and design choices will influence leaders at even the top houses.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Past - Taylor's Miniature Shop

Back in the day, when my babies were in grade school, before I was in grade school (as a teacher) I had hobbies. I know. Hard to believe.

But I had actual hobbies. One hobby that challenged me and gave great pleasure was doing miniatures. Making tiny worlds (hmmm, that is a form of play for children - making small worlds - and a type of writing for fantasy and science fiction - world building; may be on to something here) is fascinating. Trying to make toys and little bits of this and that look like real life dwellings and places is a wonderful pastime. All to scale of course. I was even in a miniature club. We met each month, made miniature items, and had fun networking as we shared ideas and resources.

Welcome to Taylor's shop. (I need to make it perfectly clear that Taylor would NEVER allow his tools to lay all over the floor and look this disorganized. But in the miniature world, how will you know there are cool tools and stuff if they are not out on display? We do what we have to do in our playtime.) I worked on this shop the same way I worked on a dollhouse for his sister. With much diligence and attention to detail. No doll stuff here though. No siree Bob.

Lots of fun features adorn Taylor's shop. Take the back wallpaper. Over time, the quality has faded. But it was originally a newspaper article that featured his kindergarten teacher and her treks across Manastash Ridge. I shrank it on a copy machine and glued it to the wall. The wood side walls are tiny stained coffee stir sticks. Or look at the collie. We had Jessie Collie Quantrell, a collie dog, when our children were growing up. Taylor's coffee mug has his name. A lawn mower sits in the attic (he was very attached to lawn mowers when he was growing up. He still lives and breathes engines. Just semi truck engines.) Some things are just for fun, but some are just for my boy.

Here we have been storing the shop for years. Now our grown-up boy can take it home. To his own shop.

Note: I do have actual hobbies now, just not so much in the miniature world. I dabble on occasion to create a seasonal themed display or some tiny gift. I even have a miniature house waiting for me, still sealed in the box. Hayden is dying to help me put it together. So when he is older, and maybe Khloe and Donavyn, too, they can help Nana play with miniatures.

The eyes have a harder time seeing minute items, but the spirit is willing. Let's play!

Monday, December 15, 2014

12 Days of Christmas - A Stocking Game

Years ago, my college roommate and long time friend suggested that we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by giving each other a tiny gift on each of the 12 days of Christmas before Christmas break.

It was the birth of a perfect Christmas holiday tradition. That tradition is still in effect in my family, particularly with my husband and I. The 12 Days of Christmas, in our home, has evolved over time, but basically remains the same.

Beginning yesterday, my honey and I put one wrapped gift (figuratively) in our stockings. We will do this each day until Christmas Day. Yesterday was 12 days from Christmas. Shoppers? Beware. Only 10 more shopping days!

Back to the story. By Christmas morning, we will have 12 stocking gifts. Figuratively because, instead of daily opening each gift as my roommate and I once did, we hold all gifts in a hidden spot until Christmas morn. And we don't open them until after we have our traditional turkey quiche with spicy salsa and freshly brewed coffee.

As an added twist, this year we set the price limit of $5 for each item. It must be at or below the stated cost. This not only lowers our Christmas budget, it adds a challenge to our traditional Christmas stocking game.

Homemade is fine. Sale and clearance is fine. Free is even better. As long as the cost is below a fiver, the challenge has been met.

Let me tell you, it has been a challenge. Not much is to be had for less than five bucks. If you are in the know, please help me out so I can be in the know. And get those 12 Days of Christmas covered.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Lord, Love a Duck, Or Better Yet, Two Kitties

Where there's a chair, there's a cat.

Have you heard that saying? Lord, love a duck.

I've heard it from English speakers (as in England) and from context clues, it means something akin to, "Lord, please give me patience to deal with this insane situation/person/animal/disaster."

My office assistant.

The Urban Dictionary says "1. an exclamation uttered when nothing else will fit...often used when stunned or dismayed." (

I think it is most appropriate to use this phrase when considering the gray kitties. The disastrous yet adorable ones that live in my home. We are beginning to label them with if they can do it, they will do it. And it usually means naughtiness of some sort.

A few excellent examples of how my personal response time is improving due to hourly disaster-avoiding-impulses with the kitties:

1. I was painting pink swirls on paper for a craft project I needed to send in with a manuscript. RAN to get my camera, thinking surely not...But surely yes. Came back in literally less than 10 seconds and Mabel was standing IN the pink paint. For reals.

2. I walked through the kitchen to find the counters and tops of things covered with little muddy kitty prints. Because I always let them walk all over the counters.

Mabel, haunting the sink in the you-can't-see-me mode.

3. Kitty #1, Mabel, is insanely interested in dripping water. Hence, she is found always hiding in or near the sink to watch the drips go down the drain. Or in between the shower curtain and outside curtain when I pull back both after a shower. And then she spends inordinate amounts of time watching each drip run down the tub.

Fishing, anyone?

4. It used to be only kitty #1 brought in wriggling worms. Nope. After the last rain, kitty #2, Monet, also brought us a prize. Double the fun and squiggles. And let's not forget the rat. Concerned for winter birds that love our back yard.

5. Mabel has a food fixation, much worse than sister. She joined a baby shower by leaping on the table and helping herself to the sliced ham.

6. We have the cleanest kitchen on the planet. (Except for kitty footprints.) We clean up and put away food before we even sit down to a meal. Otherwise, trouble #1 (especially) and trouble #2 (not so much) will be on the counter having their own second and third dinners.

See? The kitchen clean-up crew. Who needs a doggy vacuum when you have 2 kitties?

7. The beautiful trees are slowly being undecorated. One in the living room and one in the TV room leaves ample running space for thundering hooves. I mean paws. For kitties that weigh about 6-7 pounds each, they sound amazingly like elephants.

Bag kitties

So, Lord, please love these kitties.

In their defense, they are exceptionally cute and inquisitive. More often than not, they snuggle in our beds through the night. Monet especially is my lovey lap girl. Mabel would rather we keep a hands off approach unless she is feeling up to some attention. And when they wrestle, the fur flies. Tufts and piles of gray.

Kitties. They make a house a (lived in, clawed, toy-scattered, enjoyable, cozy) home.

My snuggly girls, the gray kitties