Monday, December 30, 2013

Scents of the South...

When I was a young thing, my mother would send me out to steal magnolia blossoms from our neighbors' trees because she loved having them as centerpieces on the table.  I was the neighborhood thief.

That was a time and a world in which I probably could have simply asked for the blossoms.  There were enough trees on our blocks and the ones around us that no one homeowner would have a noticeable reduction of blossoms.  I know this because I spread my pilfering far and wide.  Mother told me to get them for her.  I did.

I never asked.
I never learned to ask.

What I learned is that when you harvest magnolia blossoms for a center piece, you have to be very careful not to bruise the leaves in the harvesting.  Otherwise, you will end up with an ugly brown mess rather than a strikingly beautiful bit of creation, a living piece of porcelain.  The contrast between the ivory white of the blossom and the black emerald of the leaves is stunning, is the beauty of creation that leaves me breathless and struck dumb at the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Creator of the Universe.  And the fragrance?  There's nothing comparable.

I miss magnolia trees.
I do not miss being a thief.

When the woman I have known since I was fifteen came to visit in October, she wore gardenia body spray.  Each morning that Wynne got ready, I was embarrassingly effusive with my adulation over the aroma wafting from her person.  Utterly effusive.  Utterly embarrassing.

I do not know why.

I do not know why the smell of gardenia affects me so deeply, so profoundly.  I do not even know what I am feeling when the fragrance fills my nostrils.  Something.  Something deep.  Something profound.  Something overwhelming that leaves me wanting to fill the entire house with gardenias, to make every breath I take rife with that scent.

I do not know why.
I wish I did.
I wish I could remember.

When my friend left, she gave me the bottle of her body spray.  My embarrassing effusive adulation made her laugh and smile and, as a counselor, made her happy for me.  Something is there.  Maybe something I will learn about the whys and wherefores of me.  I have not actually used the spray on my person.  Instead, I have sprayed it on my pajamas and on my GREEN sweater.  I have sprayed it where the smell will linger.  Even on Amos.  [He needs another lavender bath].

I suppose I should not have been surprised when I opened a Christmas package from her to find a large bottle of the gardenia body spray and a bottle of gardenia lotion.

The other day, when we were talking, the murderous dreams came up.  The murderous dreams and being dead inside.  I try not to talk about those things with her because she is a counselor and I am trying so hard to pick up a friendship that was 22 years in the making and yet four years absent.  We are strangers and yet we are not.  Anyway, it came up because those two things haunt me and terrify me, spiritually more so than anything else.

My friend said two things of note during the call:  1) that I still have too many emotions and thoughts to process and understand, especially because I do not really know how to identify or navigate most of them emotions and 2) that the part of my brain that would keep me from murdering, from rationalizing the right and wrong of such an act, is not active when I am dreaming.

In short, she told me that she expected me to still be struggling nightly with emotions and thoughts and that if I were not, she would be concerned.  The same was true about the dreams. It is much better to be a murderer in dreams ... especially for someone whose mind is working out the havoc of such deep wounds.

I wonder why I crave so deeply to breathe air redolent with gardenia.
I wonder if I will know by the time the gifted body spray bottle is empty.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On a mission...

For years, I have longed to make stew.  I have never been (and given the disaster at my Thanksgiving with the stuffing) and never will be a slow cooker person.  Slow cookers equal disasters and inedible food.  Period.  End of Myrtle's slow cooker story.

I think, to me, someone who can cook is someone who can make bread and someone who can make stew.  Those are my standards.  Long ago, I was the one who made all the bread for our family.  I readily admit, though, that my attempts at yeast recipes in the last decade or so were consummate failures.  But I have never attempted a stew.  In my mind, stew is connected to being able to make a gravy.  Having learned the béchamel sauce and succeeded at my first gravy, I now feel confident about things akin to a roux.

Of course, the only reason I can accomplish such a thing is that I am an owner of an original Ekco nylon cooking fork.  In fact, given how old mine is, I recently tracked down a spare since I am trying to become more of a cook.  

The cooking forks are so perfect it boggles my mind they are not still available.  The curve of them fits the edges of sauce pans, but the flat bottom allows for the perfect contact for the gravy/sauce/roux making process.  They are stiff and yet flexible.  If you ever come across one in a garage sale, snatch it up immediately!

I also now own a cast iron pot.

Back when I was off to the mission field, I divided up all my belonging amongst families at my church for storage.  I find it sort of interesting that three of the four items I never got back had to do with cooking:  my grandmother's metal Sunbeam stand mixer, toaster oven, and enameled cast iron dutch oven.  [The other item was my very small album collection, including my Beatle's albums.]

That cast iron pot was so incredibly heavy, but I now understand its value.  I have had in my Amazon shopping cart for over a year now.  The other day, the price dipped $110, so I cashed in points and bought it ... especially since it was actually the set that came with a bottle of cleaner and a matching cast iron trivet.

Guilt ensued regarding the choice to use points on another piece of cookware.

I did just use points for a replacement HVAC HEPA filter, refrigerator water filter, and refrigerator air filter.  Those came on Tuesday, so I spent my Christmas doing a bit of home maintenance.  I also set about on a mission to solve the problems of the toilet paper holder in the half bath (it kept coming apart) and the back door original dead bolt lock (it had become too stiff for me to use).

For the former problem, I discovered that there was an allen wrench screw that had come loose, allowing the holder part to separate from the base part.  I am the sort of person who has a collection of allen wrenches from every single home improvement purchase she has ever made.  Knowing I just had to still have the Moen wrench, I went searching through my collection for one that fit the holder.  Mission accomplished.  Repair completed.

For the back door, I very carefully took apart the vintage deadbolt and doused the parts with WD 40. Then I installed the lock back into the door.  Mission accomplished.  Repair completed.

My other mission was to figure out a way to better use the space in my freezer.  Primarily this is because I discovered that the two places where I would want a chest freezer both have GFIC outlets.  If you are hankering for a chest freezer and read copious amounts of information regarding chest freezers, you will learn that you cannot plug a chest freezer into a GFIC outlet.  So, were I to pursue the acquisition of a chest freezer (I have floated the idea of doing some work for barter), I would also have to pursue the installation of a regular grounded outlet in my location of choice.

The last time I worked with someone on organizing, I talked about how vertical space is usually the place where expansion can occur.  That is where I concentrated my efforts.  I also rearranged all my ice packs into two shelves, instead of three.  It makes more work accessing them, rotating the melted ones to one side as I work my way through the rows, but it gave me an extra shelf.  With all that stock I made, space really is key, now that it looks like I will have someone living in the basement for a short while and cannot stick things in that freezer.

The top shelf is where I had the most vertical space to gain, since it was formerly an icepack shelf.  I used one of the few dish rags that I kept in all my donation runs to line the horizontal rows of stock I stacked up at the back of the shelf.  In front, I put my lentils and lone black eyed pea mason jar.  [I am wanting to make more of those.]  I was able to stack eleven stock bottles and one bottle of cream (I decided to start freezing half my containers as a way to keep the cream fresher) in the back of the shelf.

My bread shelf is a mess.  Partly, this is because I currently have some seasonal bagels.  Thomas made some pumpkin bagels that are unbelievably tasty.  I bought one bag ... and then went back for two more.  I need to figure out a better way to organize that shelf, but one I work my way through the bags, I won't have as much. However, if I do learn to make rolls or something, I need a bread space plan.

The other main change had to do with my sweets shelf.  It is on the lighted shelf, so has less space.  But I had been using the same container my grandmother used for her frozen baked goods.  It is a vintage decorative tin made by Hostess for a fruit cake.

I really liked using it the way she did, the way I have much of my life, but I really needed a better option.

After thinking about the best way to gain space here, I went searching for flat containers I could stack. I wanted glass ones and ones with snap lids like my others.  I found these at Wal-Mart and bought them out of my household budget.  What I like best (having measured many in several stores), is that these containers are nearly the exact length for the space I had and were able to fit three vertically, rather than two.  Since I have enjoyed my tasty baking culinary victories, but eat through them slowly, I need the containers.  In case you are interested, one has Double Chocolate Dr Pepper Cake, one has Peanut Butter Nutella Cheesecake Bars, and one has pumpkin cookies.  When I was packing them, I finished off the last of my Piro Lemon Squares so things fit better.  Sometimes organization requires personal sacrifice.

The best thing about the new containers is that I have a row of space next to them.  Currently, it has the three mason jars of stew I made tonight.  At the back, beneath the light, is where I keep the frozen chicken cordon bleus I buy for an easy protein snack.  They bake in 30 minutes and are really rather moist.

The fruit (strawberries for my smoothies) and vegetables (Trader Joe's corn) shelf could also use a better system.  However, it currently is where I stashed one of the bags of pumpkin bagels.  One really cannot achieve organization greatness all at once.  Progress is key.

I also learned that I could freeze refried black beans.  So, from now on, I am going to freeze half (there's a container in there now), instead of eating them all up at once (burritos and chalupas).  That really is the point of all of this.  I want to be able to better vary what I eat but also to eat a bit more homemade food ... apart from grilled chicken and salads.

The meat drawer I packed and repacked a half dozen times before I figured out how to maximize what's in there.  Amos stood and stared at me the whole time.  I think I confused him with all my mutterings.

Right now, the freezer is full.  I would like to figure out a way to work in some black eyed peas mason jars.  I would like to do this, because right now the freezer represents trying to have food for the month (as I usually shop just once a month), but have that food to be primarily homemade food.  I would like to have three options in the mason jars. Right now, I have two.  Well, I have two mostly.  There is that one last jar from my first batch of Myrtle's Medley Black Eyed Peas.

Back to the guilty points purchase.

One of the reasons I wanted a cast iron dutch oven are all the recipes I have found for bread that require one.  The other reason was the desire for having a dish that can go from stove to oven, including higher temperatures.  I have vacillated between regular cast iron and enameled cast iron for months on end.  Enameled is ever so not economical, but is far, far easier to maintain.

I tried searching for a used, but seasoned regular cast iron dutch oven, but I kept striking out.  I thought maybe I could keep something seasoned if it was one that was very, very, very seasoned.  But I really did prefer the thought of having an easier to clean/keep dutch oven.

When I saw the huge dip in price, I leapt upon the sale.  It is GREEN, of course.  And it arrived today.

Knowing that the pot was arriving, I bought stew making ingredients when I went out for my eye glasses appointment.  And today, despite not being able to drag myself out of bed until nearly six this evening, I texted and emailed a few folk in the hope of getting some tips.  I knew most are still ensconced in family activities, but I hoped for at least some well wishes or prayers.

This was truly my most nervous of recipe hunting.  I had found this article on the common errors folk make with stew a while ago and wanted to avoid those pitfalls.  But I decided that instead of hunting and trying to sift through and judge a class of recipes I know nothing about I would start with one I saw on the Pioneer Woman's website.  My gut choice was confirmed when I saw she had one that used beer.  I have strong thoughts about the possibilities of cooking with beer, even though the loathe the stuff personally.

I actually shopped before finding a recipe and so had the fresh herbs.  But I have become slightly free about making changes to recipes and planned to add them in anyway.  I also changed up a few of the spices and switched to brown sugar.  My Beef Stew with Beer recipe turned out rather fantastic, in my opinion.  However, the process was fraught with fear and trepidation and a rather large amount of anxiety.

This is my cooking beer ... the beer I chose when I set out to buy a six pack.  Knowing nothing about beer, I was looking for something that might have a bit of flavor ... something not Coors or Michelob or Budwiser.  I am very open to input for the next time I need to purchase beer for cooking.  Just looking at the bottle makes me all giddy about black eyed peas.  It worked well with the stew.  Another beer goal I have is a chile con queso with beer.  Mmmmmmmm.......  I've never made a queso either, though.

This is the package of fresh herbs I bought.  Frankly, I would not market those as "poultry" herbs.  But what do I know about cooking??  I know little about fresh herbs.  I used to have this rather magnificent rosemary bush, so I stripped those leaves and minced them.  I had to actually Google images of sage and thyme to see which was which.  In the end, I removed the stems from both (stripping the thyme leaves as I did with the rosemary).  Then I used my beloved Henckels santoku knife to mince and mix them.

When I braised the beef (I don't think I did a good job with that), lots of stuff seemed plastered to the bottom of the pan.  Panic set it and I worried about that throughout my stew making.  When I was browning the minced onions and garlic, I rubbed on the plastered brown bits to try and loosen them.  And whenever I stirred the pan, I did the same.  I am rather happy to report that by the time I was done, the bottom was completely "clean" of all things plastered.  Cleanup was a breeze!

The great panic came at the 90 minute mark and there was nothing "stewish" about my liquid.  It was far, far, far more "soupish" in nature.  I tried to calm myself with the knowledge that I was about to dump in potatoes, the starch of which should thicken my stew.  However, when the 30 minutes of vegetable cooking passed, I was still "soupish."  HELP!

Why is it that my cooking never really matches the photos of the recipes I am following????

So, I deliberately embarked on one of those seven errors of stew making:  thicken the stew.  First, I pulled out about a cup of the vegetables (a bit more potatoes than carrot), puréed them, and them stirred them back into my stew.  Then, I made a roux.  [Yes, pride sort of swept over me once it was finished, knowing that I am now officially a roux maker.]   Once done, I stirred the roux back into the pot and finished cooking my stew.

Oh, my!  

I have spent my whole life spitting things out of stew that I do not like to eat, primarily celery and/or mushrooms and most certainly chunks of onions.  I have also spent my whole life wanting more beef in my stew.  Now, I have a stew that is tailored to what I like.  I have a thick, hearty, meaty, savory, sweet stew that has the potatoes I like and the size of carrot bites I like and went really, really, really well with the crusty bread I used to sop up all my tastiness. Plus, there was nothing to pick or spit out!!

A serving for the morrow and six more in the freezer.   Yep!  I am a stewmaker!!   Mission accomplished.

Amos is very, very happy about my stewmaker status.  He got to pre-clean my bowl, the spoon rest, the ladle, and the funnel.  Amos is most definitely a fan of stew.  We really are a great pair.

He's been busy of late.

Lounging on the kitchen rug...

Snuggling with his new baby...

Keeping my lap warm.

And pre-cleaning my dishes, of course.  Actually, I have been so very exhausted, he's spent most of his time curled up against me in bed.  Such a good gift Amos is and has been to me!

Maybe tonight we'll both dream of large bowls of tasty stew....

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, December 27, 2013

I really did need new glasses...

My life is the kind of life in which hearing that I have had a significant change in my vision after just 18 months and need new glasses is good news.  I was truly worried that my vision problems were all neurological, rather than just part neurological.

Now, when I am weary and cannot see to read or to watch television, that is neurological. But, hopefully, not being able to see the sink or the ground beneath my feet will be solved once my new glasses arrive.   In fact, the eye doctor asked why I had not come in sooner, given the change in my prescription.  I was a bit chagrinned at that moment, thinking that seeing clearly comes so very low on my financial totem pole.

For the past three weeks or so, now, my right eye has been twitching, or rather the muscle just below my right eye has been twitching.  Twitching makes seeing even harder.  The eye doctor said that, while there could be other reasons, the strain of trying to see all the time could very well be why the twitching started.  The fact that the twitching makes it hard to fall asleep—if twitching is taking place at that moment—just feeds into the cycle of fatigue that makes seeing difficult.

I very much would like to know when my sink and floors are dirty ... without sticking my nose up close to them.  At least, I very much would like to know when they are dirty if a visitor is to come.  And, while I had to buy the same frames again (they are single use), I will have a spare pair of glasses that will work well enough for those times when I put my glasses down and cannot see to find them again.  I plan to keep my current glasses in the servant's closet atop the staging area.  Remember that for me, will you?

I feel asleep in the chairs whilst waiting for my appointment.  Embarrassing.

Weariness in body, mind, spirit, soul.

For two days, I have been trying to get the 2014 pre-authorization forms faxed to my doctor's office for the three prescriptions needing pre-authorization.  I called at the beginning of November and explained that I would need a refill on one of them the first Sunday in January, which meant I had just two business days in the calendar year to get this done. I was told to call back two days before my appointment with my doctor and the forms would be faxed.

They cannot be mailed to me.
They cannot be faxed to me.
They cannot be emailed to me.
They can only be faxed to my doctor's office.
They cannot be faxed to my doctor without a staff member verifying the fax number.
All fax numbers have to be personally verified each and every time a fax is sent.
Even if a fax is sent the day before, the next day the fax number has to be reverified.
Verification is done by the prescription department talking to someone in the doctor's office.
Once verification has been documented, the forms are forwarded to the fax department.
Faxing takes two business days.

So, the bottom line is, the faxes have not been sent.  The bottom line is that when I called back at the beginning of November and explained that I was trying to work out the logistics in advance and needed to know all the steps that were necessary to get the forms to my doctor.  I asked the same question many ways, writing down the answers and asking if there was anything else that I needed to know.

I really needed to know that the prescription plan department had to actually talk to someone in my doctor's office.  Timely response is not her staff's best skill.  Plus, getting the pre-authorization the first time around was so time-consuming and so stressful that my doctor's nurse said they would not be able to do so again.

At the time, I felt threatened.
At the time, I felt defeated.
At the time, an overwhelming anxiety about getting the 2014 pre-authorizions was born.

Two days of calling, of asking for them to call, of leaving voice mails, of asking for forms, of explaining about the time difficulty and how much I need to be able to pick up Erythromycin.  Of course, the bottom line is that I can always pick up my prescriptions at the cash price and then request reimbursement.  Those requests also need verification.

Would it not make sense, given that every subscriber with prescriptions requiring pre-authorization needs new pre-authorizations at the first of the New Year, to have some system in place to streamline that process?

I am weary of battling.
I am weary of making plans to avoid the chaos of anxiety only to end up being anxious over failed plans.
I am weary of battling everything.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wiggin' out...

As my brain has become more and more compromised, I have become more and more squeamish.  Sometimes, it embarrasses me.  Sometimes, I can ignore it.  Tonight, I had to battle it more than I ever have before.

I had a turkey carcass on my stove.  Ewwww!!!!!!

When I was a missionary in Africa, the only poultry you could get was a whole chicken.  From a farmer.  A recently deceased chicken.  Being slightly squeamish then, I paid my guy extra to pluck it, take out the innards, and stick it in a plastic bag so my chickens would look as close to that which you might find in a grocery store in America.

I would boil the chicken until all the meat fell off and then use the meat in 15 Bean Soup.  Of course, I could never get ahold of all 15 beans, but it was still 15 Bean Soup.  More like a stew.  Goulash, maybe?  In any case, I trashed the bones.  However, once the Liberians discovered that I was throwing them away, they asked me for them.  Liberians eat chicken bones.  Ewwwwwww!!!!  Oh, the gales of laughter my heebie jeebies brought to my Liberian neighbors!

Each chicken cooking, word would spread that bones would soon be available.  I would very carefully clean out the plastic bag my "Americanized" chicken came in and then fill it back up with the bones and skin.  When it comes to dark meat, I was really overly generous about leaving it on the bone.  I am not a dark meat kind of girl.  Hordes of children would hover just in the palm trees, vying to be the first to grab the bag.  When I was ready, I would snake my arm through a crack in the door and set the bag on the stoop.  Before the door was close, one of the children would have darted forward and snatched the prize.

I knew they wanted the bones and they knew I wanted them to have to bones, but pretending that I was not giving them away was better for all.  It is hard to explain, but it was sort of a saving face kind of move.  Inside, I would smile, listening to the chatter about how foolish I was to be throwing away good food.

Fast forward two and a half decades, and when it came time to pick the turkey at our Thanksgiving, I offered to do it for Marie.  After all, my time as a missionary made me an excellent picker.

The pain of sitting in a chair long enough to do so was a bit more than I bargained for, however. I moaned and groaned my way through the second half of the job.  Merciful as she is, Marie offered to take over for me.  But I was already a mess and wanted to push through.  I ended up with two gallon-sized Ziplock bags of skin, bones, and bits of meat.  I will admit that part of my battle that day was when I started to actually think about what I was doing.  My squeamishness started to rise about three quarters of the way through.  Of course, I did not mention my silly feelings to Marie. I  just kept on picking.

Well, Marie forgot the bones.  So, I put them in the freezer.  Weather and travel plans meant that Marie didn't get a chance to fetch them.  Thus, I found myself the heir to the bags of bones.  [A tiny bit of wheedling might have been involved.]

With all this recipe hunting, I have found many that called for homemade broth/stock.  Seeing that ingredient over and over again, I started to think about trying to make my own.  I had heard that you can do so with a rotisserie chicken and thought I might go that route.  Marie mentioned that she saved vegetable scraps for her broth, so I saved the celery left over from our Thanksgiving and I cut off and saved the bottoms of my asparagus and the stalks of my broccoli (I am a florets kind of girl), thinking I might try to make stock/broth.  I welcomed my inheritance.

I found this blog entry about stock verses broth that was interesting to me.  However, at the end of it, I simply was not sure I really understood the difference once I finished with it.  Even so, I decided tonight was the night to make my attempt.

How convenient is it that my cookware set came with a stock pot?? 

I followed the recipe mostly, but added in my leftover scraps, extra rosemary (since there was bits on our turkey), and minced garlic instead of the clove (I'm saving my last two garlic bulbs for roasting).  I couldn't find a whole carrot at Target when I fetched my prescription today, so I bought the baby carrots and tried to guestimate how many make up a carrot.  Looking at this, I wonder:  How is making stock/broth any different from making chicken (turkey) soup??  I also was certain my old Liberian neighbors would have been cackling for hours over all the stuff in here I would be throwing out just to get flavored water.

Even knowing that there was a possibility I might end up with good stock/broth, I still spent three hours wiggin' out that there was a turkey carcass on my stove.  My squeamishness grew exponentially each time I went to the stove to stir the stock/broth.  I cannot decide if it was worse before the carcass completely fell apart or after.  SHUDDER.  I will admit that I nearly vomited several times scooping out the bones and vegetables before straining the stock, but I thought that the advice to clear out the big stuff before starting to strain was wise.  I actually had to leave the kitchen for a while once I saw the wishbone.  Ewwwwwwww!

In the end, I have a nice collection of bottles of stock/broth, don't you think?  Each bottle is one and a half cups, with enough room (hopefully) to expand as it freezes.

I will say that this reinforces my desire to get a small chest freezer for the back porch (or garage).  Three of my freezer shelves are filled with ice packs for the back of my head.  That does not leave lots of space for food.  And it leaves virtually no room for things like left overs and stock/broth.  But, as I cook more, I really like the idea of being able to save left overs rather than to just plow through what I cooked for several days until it is gone.  Space really is why I had not made my lentils in so long.  Space and remembering, of course.

The thing that makes me laugh is that in all my bookmarking of recipes, I have not singled out the ones requiring stock/broth.  SIGH.  Amos did suggest that I could just pour it over his food each day instead of stressing myself out trying to find those recipes again.

My treat today (other than not failing at stock/broth making) was a present from my realtor.  Well, several presents.  Amos has a new baby, Purple Bone Baby.  Canine happiness abounds in my abode. I was given a bottle of wine, some fire starters, some fuzzy GREEN socks, and some very, very, very, very healthy whole grain round loaf bread.

I sort of laughed at the wine because I had a gift card and decided to spend it in a very unpractical way:  I bought six bottles of Barefoot Moscato that I got at a really great discount, piling sale price upon quantity discount upon a coupon discount ...$4.85 a bottle.  After looking about for a space to put the wine, I thought about the extra space I had after spending the other night cleaning all the silverware and silver serving pieces and sorting out the things I wanted to pass on/donate, keeping just the things I might need.  There was space all along the front of the lowest shelf, so I moved the stacks of silver serving pieces in front of each other and made my own wine cache.  The key, now, is to make the wine last, instead of reveling in the great sufficiency of the moment.  The gift wine, in case you are wondering, is a Gewurtztraminer, my favorite wine to have with food.

As to the bread, well I am not a very, very, very, very, very healthy whole grain round loaf bread kind of girl.  I am a butter kind of girl.  In fact, at the moment, I am a roasted garlic butter kind of girl.  I cut a thick slab, slathered on my garlic butter, warmed the slab in the microwave, and sat before my fire.

Amos ate my crust for me.

I got to thinking ... I believe that making someone a container of roasted garlic butter might be a nice gift.  Texting my realtor about consuming my slab of bread and about my butter thoughts, she volunteered to be first on my gift list.  Wasn't that kind of her?!?

Have I mentioned lately how much Amos loves snoozing atop a quilt heated by an electric blanket beneath it??

The best part of the day?  When she was here dropping off the gifts, my realtor had asked what I was doing for Christmas.  I immediately responded, "Nothing."  A little later on, she observed, "You don't want to be with my family."  Beautiful words.  Thinking I might think she was rude, thinking that I did not understand her, she immediately qualified, "You don't want to be with anyone's family, be an outsider, watching, as a family celebrates together."  I did not need the qualification. I understood what she meant and my heart sang.

She's right.
That's just too painful for me right now.
I am not strong enough.

I loved that Marie and Paul had a Thanksgiving with me.  If they, or perhaps my realtor and her husband, told me that they would like to have a Christmas with me, I would be thrilled.  I am not sure how I would afford another feast, but I would get out all that freshly polished silver, crystal, and china again and start planning a menu.  Having a Christmas other than December 25th is not as odd as having our Thanksgiving December 14th, because Lutherans actually celebrate all 12 days of Christmas.  My realtor is now Catholic, but I think they do that, too.  I would like such a thing, but I am not expecting it.  The gift was simply that she understood how hard Christmas is for me ... especially now.

Actually, I had two best parts of the day.  My friend Celia texted me an audio file of her reading a book with her young son.  It was as if she asked me to sit down and read with them.  I felt so much less alone.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lentil loveliness...

I was up all night thinking.  I was thinking about what Mary wrote me about faith, about what my pastor said about John the Baptist and Jesus, about the Lord's Supper, and about spiritual struggles. Then, as I finally went to bed, I fell down the stairs.  Actually, I fell walking up the stairs and ended up falling back down them.

I hurt.

I finally managed to sleep.  And I didn't murder anyone in the twelve hours I spend not in my conscious mind.  I did steal.  Food.  I systematically stole food.  I think that that is because after the splurge of having a Thanksgiving, I really need to forego grocery shopping until the beginning of March, save for dairy products.  And, really, I would like to have more vegetables.

Thinking on how to extend the items currently in my cabinet, I remembered that when rooting around for the cream of tarter I was sure that I had (but did not) I found a bag of lentils that I had forgotten that I had purchased.  I love me some lentils.

So, I thought that I would make up the lentils, even though I had my final leftover Basil Burger (from Thursday) for lunch, because I like to finish them off by "stewing" them in the freezer.  Plus, I thought they would be a good way to extend my portion of the leftover turkey.  Marie has wanted the recipe, so I measured stuff this time ... and came up with a name:  Myrtle's All-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Lentils.  In the recipe, I wrote chicken because that is what I usually use.  But what is pictured is the turkey.  However, the chicken falls apart and when I get around to taking more accurate pictures (next time I make them ... if I remember), I doubt that anyone would notice the difference.

I am, though, really proud of how I thought to do the spices.  If you are a real Indian cook, things take eons to make, partly because you roast the spices you are going to use.  If you are not a real Indian cook but would like to make a better mixture for your lentils, you might do what I did.

I do not like onions, but I know cooking with them is a good thing.  So, I took an onion and puréed it.  Yep, I made onion mush.  Then, I took a large pot, tossed in a stick of butter, dumped in the mush, put two large dollops of minced garlic and one large dollop of minced ginger and cooked it all until it started to turn brown.  Then, I added the spices and continued to simmer out most of the remaining moisture so that I ended up with something like a spice paste mixture.  [Yes, I forgot to take a picture of this part.]

This is what the pot looked liked once I added all the rest of the ingredients (the lentils and meat are sitting at the bottom).  Doesn't it look lovely??  I certainly think so.  And, frankly, I thought it was a brilliant way to really mix up the spices.  Usually, I sprinkle them over the top after all the ingredients are in the pot.  However, doing it that way means some of the spices stick to the sides of the pot and the liquid and spices remain separate for a long while.  So, I feel like I discovered a perfect way to prepare my beloved lentils.

Here they are cooked.  Mmmm .... tasty!  But ...

... they really are not finished until they have stewed in the freezer for a while.  There is even an added awesomeness between the last jar and the first.  Oh, how I would like to gobble all of these up right now!

I consoled my stomach with some asparagus sautéed in olive oil and Kulp Spices' organic garlic seasoning salt and one of the four whole wheat dinner rolls I managed to wheedle out of Marie on our Thanksgiving as we were packing up the left overs.  I should have flat out stole the whole bag. After all, she can always make more, right?  This is the recipe that she used.

Before I fell asleep early this morning, as I was trying to absorb the hurt of the fall I took, I lay in bed and wrote Mary that with the twelve days of utter giddiness over the idea that Paul and Marie would like to have a Thanksgiving with me, I completely forgot that it is Advent.  This saddens me, because Advent is something the evangelical church doesn't have and is certainly something never celebrated in our family so it is not anything that is tainted by twisted theology, drunkenness, fighting, and abuse.  I would like a do-over for the start of Advent, but I also am not sure that I am ... present ... enough for Advent.

I wrote Mary that I am afraid I am dead inside.  Not just that I feel dead inside, but that I am actually dead inside.  She wrote back that Jesus came for the dead.  After tending to Amos' needs, I fell back asleep clutching my phone to my chest, pushing the center button each time the screen started to fade so I could see those words again and again and again.  There were no bad dreams in that bit of sleep between wakes.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Did you know...

I failed at resting.  I was too agitated, even though I was exhausted.  So, I did my laundry last night/early this morning.  Much to my surprise, I discovered that Paul and Marie had fetched another set of sheets and remade their bed for me!  The dirty sheets were piled up waiting for a wash.  Mercy!  Mercy!  Mercy!

I stripped my charge's bed and put on the new sheets.  I gathered up all the toweling and sheets and my laundry.  And I set out to conquer the world.  Well, the ironing pile that was already significant is still there and now overflowing.

I had five loads, but I washed seven.  By this I mean I spent quite a bit of time on the quilt that my charge had used.  There were some food stains on it and two large stains that I just could fathom what they were.  Two nearly perfect, large, yellowish circles.  I pre-treated it out the wahzoo and then decided to go for broke. I washed it with bleach and OxiClean.  Only, well, I forgot to change the washing machine from cold water to hot.  The stains were better, but not gone.  So, I threw caution to the wind and repeated the process with hot water this time, adding in the older old quilt I had that is actually from when I was in a car wreck when I was five years old.  Someone threw it over me at the scene and I've had it ever since.  I am rather pleased to report that using bleach and OxiClean and Resolve twice did not diminish the colors of the old fabric.  To me, the quilt is brighter now.  It is also stain free and ready for another visit.  The other smaller quilt is also much cleaner, but it still has ink stains on it from when I was a tad careless in college.

The rest of the wash was par for the course for Myrtle's approach to laundry.  I wash everything in cold except for my whites, which I wash in hot water and bleach. And my whites are always my final load.  [I know, I practically horrify most folk I know with my use of bleach.]  I do not sort by colors at all, but rather group things that are "air dry" and things that are "dryer dry" so that I only run the dryer when it is full and it has time to finish before being needed again.  Thus, I alternate air dry loads with dryer loads.  [Boy, do I miss the ability to flash dry laundry out on the line in the back yard.  Sweltering heat does make rather short work of laundry.]

Because I now have to sort the laundry sitting on the floor since standing that long is hard for me, Amos has taken to lounging amongst and atop the piles of laundry as I work, which makes the job a tad harder.  He seems to have concerns about what goes in which pile, but I am not sure what those concerns might be.  I toss an article of clothing on one pile, and he will leap over to that pile and settle atop it, sniffing about and tucking fabric beneath his body.  Then another article of clothing will draw his concern, so Amos will shift piles.

After the sorting is done, I fill the washer, set the timer on my iPhone, and wait unit the alarm rings to go back down and switch loads.  This way, I have become rather efficient at plowing through the laundry.  Since one my of pastors was coming today, despite the late hour and my exhaustion, I decided to bake two batches of pumpkin cookies so that he could take one home and drop the other one off at church for the other pastor and his family.  Given my high rate of cookie failure, I stuck to mixes.  So, I am not sure this was a "first fruit" for a pastor other than I would have very much preferred to eat all of the pumpkin cookies myself, rather than the three I sampled (one from each sheet) ... I would have rather kept every single pumpkin cookie for myself.

Then, because I am certifiable, I vacuumed the first floor.  Remember, this has not been done since the Great Clean of October, when Marie's sister was here to visit.  Or has it?  If it has, surely it has only been done only once since October, for there were four canisters of dirt lurking about the main floor.  Because I have some sense of sanity, I did not steam mop the kitchen floor.

Finally, I cleaned the ashes from the fireplace and laid a fire so that when my pastor came he would not freeze to death in my house.  [I was counting on the fact that pastors tend to have lots of layers on keeping him warm.]

Only then did I crawl into bed.

I set the alarm. Really I did.  But I did not actually turn it on.  So, I am slightly thankful for the nightmare that awoke me a short while before my pastor was supposed to arrive.  I was dead to the world for hours on end ... not even Amos' hunger awoke me.  After my pastor left, I made a call and then fell asleep.  All evening passed without much awareness.  Awaking, I noted that it is snowing again.  Do you think I would actually be fined if I do not clear my sidewalks yet again???

I am really, really, really exhausted still.
But my laundry is done.
And my ears are full of the Living Word.

Did you know that John the Baptist not only prepared the way for Jesus' life, but also His death?  Of course you did.  You know these things.  I didn't, though.  What a wild, wonderful, and heartening thought.  John the Baptist showed that faith was a life that still included suffering and doubts and death, even with the coming of the Promised One.

Really, I just stink at trying to re-tell what my pastor spoke to me and so it cannot possibly be as good as when the Living Word was falling into my ears.  But he was talking about how Jesus was not exactly the way folk envisioned the Son of God would be ... even to John the Baptist, who was the messenger sent ahead to prepare the way for Jesus.

John the Baptist prepared the way for understanding the power of hearing the Living Word.
John the Baptist prepared the way for understanding the power of baptism.
John the Baptist prepared the way for understanding that in our doubts we are to look to Jesus.
John the Baptist prepared the way for understanding that a life of faith can still include suffering and death.

Jesus is the Living Word, powerful and effective.
Jesus is our baptism, saving us and giving us faith.
Jesus is the answer to our doubts, giving us His very body and blood.
Jesus is our suffering and our death, so that we might have eternal life through the gift of His obedience, His justification, His righteousness, His faith.

Okay, so that is just all muddled and not as beautiful as I heard it, but I had never really though about how from his mother's womb to his beheading, John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Jesus to us and for us, then and now.  To me, he was just the person who prepared the way for baptism.

I had not thought about John's sending of his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the Expected One or shall we look for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3) as a question of doubt.  I had not really thought about John also being one of those who wondered because the Messiah, the King of Israel, looked so very different, so very un-great, so very un-mighty, so very un-king like.

My pastor also noted that Jesus answer was not merely a "yes."  He could have said, "I am."  or "I am He."  Those would certainly be fitting.  Instead, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.'" (Matthew 11:4-5)

Jesus pointed back to the promises of the Old Testament and He pointed to what He has done, what He was doing, for man, for us.

Did you know that the great and faithful John the Baptist wondered, doubted, and sought reassurance?  Did you know that he, too, needed to hear the Word of God?

I am not alone in my struggles, in my doubts and fears and wonderings.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Not the way to meet...

I thought that having slept more than 15 hours, I could manage to clear the sidewalks.  They are supposed to be cleared once the snowfall has finished and the more folk walk on the snow, the harder it is to clear them.

I was wrong.

I fainted. Three times.  The last I awoke to strange man leaning over me.  Needless to say my response was not all that friendly.  Apparently he moved in with a friend across the street, one house over.  He told me that I should have my husband shovel the snow.

I wanted to tell him that I had no husband, no one to do that, but all I could do was weep.  I am so very, very, very exhausted.

Marie and I started planning our Thanksgiving before I was asked to babysit.  I tend to push and push and push, overdoing things, until I cannot do anything for days or weeks on end.  I suppose I should have said no to babysitting, having already made plans for something that would be hard (but oh, so very enjoyable) for me to do.  But how do you not help someone you want to help?

We already had the turkey, so I couldn't see putting off our Thanksgiving.  So, I tried to do both.  I am not a person who can do both anymore.  I'm the person who actually needs to rest up for a day of feasting.

Amos surprised me.  He came charging through the storm door to launch himself on my person at the sight of the man leaning over me.  Or so the man said. I cannot imagine he let Amos out.  My fluffy white baby was mostly giving me kisses, and occasionally barking at the man.  He did not snip or anything.  In fact, it was more like Amos came out for me to protect him.  I didn't know that he could push open the storm door.

We are back in the GREEN chair, napping mostly.  I am trying to ignore the laundry of having guests in the house (both my charge and Marie and Paul spending the night).  My own things need washing, too.  I believe a "victory" at this point would be to just let those linens and towels and such wait until I am no longer feeling like I ran back to back to back marathons.

I like snow.  No, really, I truly revel in it.  But I need my snow to come when I have no other needs for my energy.  Yes, we are looking at three more days of snow.  SIGH.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our Thanksgiving Update No. 4...

Marie and I are the perfect turkey partners!

We stuffed the body cavity with chunks of celery and wedges of lemon ... for moisture.  We then shoved lemon slices between the skin and the breast meat.  We roasted a bulb of garlic, whipped it into butter, and then smeared it all over the Turkey.  We then pinned more lemon slices all over the outside and sprinkled fresh rosemary for a finishing touch.  [By "we," I mostly mean that Myrtle came up with the plan and Marie executed it, save for Myrtle crafting the roasted garlic butter.]  The result was an incredibly moist and tasty turkey.

The utter fail of the day was my stuffing.  Seriously, it was inedible and went into the garbage can.  I nearly vomited looking at the texture.  Think about the movie The Blob for a moment.  Marie and Paul forgave my failure.

As for the rest, we had really, really tasty food.

Marie and I decided to abandon the broccoli cheddar patties so that we might repeat the Parmesan Roasted Broccoli.  When I was roasting garlic, I did four bulbs.  We used one on the turkey, one on the first appetizer, one in our mashed red potatoes, and Marie is taking one home.  Life as I know it has ended.  I now firmly and fully believe that mashed red potatoes should always have roasted garlic.  The potatoes were stunning.  Marie's whole wheat rolls were tasty, especially since they were a bit on the yeasty side.

The tiny dish at the back is my newest most favorite of sweet potato recipes.  Modified, of course.  We made Sautéed Sweet Potatoes with Whiskey.  SIGH.  I need a bottle of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Whiskey immediately so that I can cook my remaining sweet potatoes.  I will admit that it was a bit on the spicy side, but I have already adjusted my recipe reminder to reflect less cayenne pepper.

I am rather pleased to announce that my gravy was actually good.  I fretted and stewed and melted down in the process, but Paul came to my rescue and took over the stirring so that I could juggle a few things going on in the kitchen and pull myself back together.  His patient and committed stirring rescued my rough beginning.  But when you look for the gravy on the table, please ... please ... ignore the pyrex gravy boat.  How I could have inherited so much silver, china, and crystal and not have a gravy boat is beyond me.  The stork must have mixed up houses because gravy is a required dish!

We drank two bottles of Barefoot moscato wine whilst cooking and a third bottle that was a black cherry honey wine Marie and I found a few months ago.  Marie did not care for it, but Paul and I did.  He said it was more like a wine spritzer than wine.  I don't drink spritzers, but I enjoyed it.  The moscato still wins the battle though. And having had six varieties, I am still sold on the Barefoot.  I am so very thankful for Marie for finding the perfect wine for me.

I am also exceedingly happy to announce that my Double Chocolate Dr Pepper Cake was just fine. I do not know what those darks spots were, but the cake was just as overwhelmingly wonderful as the first time around.  Of course, we had to take a signifiant break from eating to actually finish off our meal.  Personally, I shouldn't need food for at least two or three days!

My "favorite" was definitely the new sweet potato dish. I mean, I am so very happy that I learned to properly roast garlic and really do believe that no other type of garlic should ever be used with mashed potatoes.  And I am a turkey and gravy glutton.  But that dish was just so tasty, even though, for me it had slightly too much cayenne pepper.

Marie's favorite were the tartlets.  I had made the "sun" dried tomatoes last Spring, cooking Roma tomatoes in the oven for hours on end.  Then, not knowing what to do with them, I stuck them in the freezer.  We had some left over olive oil and minced garlic from yesterday, so I got the bright idea of blending my sun-dried tomatoes with the olive oil to make a pesto.  I also had the idea to sear the artichoke hearts.  Other than that, I was merely a confirmer of possible flavor combinations.  Marie played musical chairs with all our ingredients until she came up with the end result.  I ate them all rather happily.  But that pesto was rather incredible when paired with feta and the seared artichokes.  I do love that she thought to put apple in with the raw milk cheddar cheese and the prosciutto.

I should note that Amos was beside himself because I would not let the 24-carrot gold rimmed Royal Doulton china to be set on the floor for pre-cleaning.  He did not go unloved in the culinary department, but it was mighty slim pickings for him.  He also was rather agitated because we spent the entire waking day apart (translate that, no snuggle time in the GREEN chair).  At one point, he sought comfort in Marie's arms just to have some lovin'.  What he does not know is that after I had picked the turkey carcass clean, divided the meat, and bagged up the bones so Marie could make homemade stock, I scooped up the fallen meat bits and congealed fat and put it into a ziploc bag so that I could "flavor" Amos' food for a few days.  I shall be a most loved puppy momma on the morrow.

Even though I washes six sinks worth of dishes throughout the day, there were still mountains of washing left once we had finished eating.  Paul and Marie took care of all of them.  So, so merciful!

Finally, I want to note that I am utterly thankful for the erythromycin.  Without it, I could not have eaten my way through this wonderful day.   While I will be resting for weeks on end, between the strain of child sitting, realizing I have neglected my car, and 10 solid hours of cooking, I shall also be savoring what an absolute joy it was to cook with Marie.  We laugh and danced about the kitchen. Me made messes.  We shoved food in our faces.  I teased her about how she sneaks bites of everything under the guise of quality control.  And she teased me rather wickedly over many of my character flaws and health issues.  It was so very normal.

Paul was awesome.  When he walked into the door, I announced very firmly that his role today was to simply eat anything he was served.  I was a tad nervous about my plan to appetizer our way through the cooking.  Not only was he faithful to chow down on command, he hunkered down in the basement until my gravy melt down and was able to finish his classwork assignment on the Psalter.  After we finally managed to stuff rather shockingly small pieces of the cake into our stomachs, Paul talked Psalter and doctrine with me for a while.  BLISS.

Despite the fact that the snow never stopped falling, it was a bloody fantastic day!

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Our Thanksgiving Update No. 3...

Energies are flagging a bit, I would say, yet there is much cooking and eating and eating and cooking to go.

For the turkey, we combined two recipes, focusing on roasted garlic butter, lemon, and rosemary.  Marie became really skilled at shoving extra slices of the lemon between the skin and the meat.

Not having cooking twine, we used barbecue skewers.  This is what the turkey looks like cooking!

Our next appetizer was Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus!

Needless to say, this appetizer did not last long at all.  So, we had to move on to the next one:

Yes, we made crescent roll tartlets!  The fillings are as follows:

  • broccoli, smoked gouda cheese with bacon
  • homemade sun dried tomato pesto, seared artichoke, and feta
  • applewood smoked bacon, sweet potato, parmesan, and thyme
  • raw milk cheddar cheese, prosciutto, and Granny Smith apple
  • goat cheese with raspberry balsamic glaze

Needless to say, we are already enjoying the food ... and our second bottle of wine.

I am rather worried about the stuffing, though.  It is exploding out of the crockpot.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy!

    Our Thanksgiving Update No. 2...

    Marie and Paul arrived!

    I was worried that Paul would want to protect his bride from the Great Blizzard of 2013.  Thankfully, they are risk takers.  So, I shoveled place for their CRV when it arrived.

    I took a break in cooking to make my charge's lunch.  Buttered noodles was just not healthy enough for me.  That meant I had to add vegetables and chicken again. I thought it turned out fairly tasty.

    I then set the table, whilst waiting for Marie and Paul to arrive.  Thankfully, when getting out the silver, I discovered that I have a carving knife and fork!

    And, having finished my shoveling for this storm, I gussied myself up for Thanksgiving.

    Of course, our first order of business was to have the first appetizer.  Broiled sourdough bread topped with roasted garlic and brie.

    Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

    Our Thanksgiving Update No. 1...

    It's snowing.  Heavily.  I shoveled the sidewalks, but they are already covered again.  I am fearful Paul and Marie will not make it here.

    The Double Chocolate Dr Pepper Cake is finished, but I am a bit worried that I might possibly of burned it.  I very much want to try a chunk of it, but am trying to leave it unbroken.  See those dark spots in the icing?  In both the cake and the icing, there were dark spots.  It was like the cocoa never mixed ... or something burned.

    The stuffing is in the borrowed crock pot.  I thought I would wait to post the recipe since I only post what I know works for me.  I changed it a bit.  None of us are celery fans, so I cooked the celery in the onions and butter, but then fished the large chunks out.  I also added minced garlic, because I couldn't fathom why garlic was not in the recipe.  Not having poultry spice, I added some all spice and added extra of everything else.  I also threw in some rosemary for good measure.  At least the bread (Panera's sourdough loaf) was good.  Did I cube it too large??  SIGH.

    Both the turkey and the mashed potatoes will have roasted garlic, as well as one of our appetizers.  So four bulbs are roasting in the oven at the moment.  I very much hope they turn out better than my first attempt here last summer.  I am pinning those hopes on the fact that I had a recipe to follow this time.

    I also made scrambled eggs with bacon and cheddar cheese, along with peanut butter toast for my charge.  So, I have washed three sinks full of dishes already and I am already exhausted.  I am thinking the first casualty of the day should be my desire to wear real clothes, rather than my hoodie and men's lounge pants.  But who is a slob on Thanksgiving???

    See the pineapple?  I keep forgetting to mention that that is one of our appetizers/appetizer's ingredients.  I am not sure which yet.  Plus, you can see the inroads on the butter.  One box is already in the recycling bin, one half opened, one waiting.

    Butter ... it does a Thanksgiving good!

    Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    One more day...

    Huh?  Well?  What?

    I am so tired that I fell asleep (at home) whilst my charge was at tutoring and again sitting at a light when I was driving to pick him up.  I supposed I had not awoken enough before setting out.  I also might possibly have missed an episode of Babylon 5 tonight.

    After dropping off my charge at school (having turned the wrong way at this intersection half-way to his school yet again), I dashed over to Goodyear to drop off the Highlander.  Dashing was actually my driving method because Marie was meeting me and agreed to go to Panera for bacon, egg, and cheese bagels.  Nobody make those things like Panera.  Fresh.  Hot.  Crack the egg in front of you.  SIGH.

    We lingered a bit before coming back to my house, because in addition to trying the Baked Apple Chicken, Marie agreed to try a new broccoli recipe I found.  First, though, she did some office supplies shopping.  [Yes, she took a bunch of binders and top loading sheet protectors amongst her haul.]  That really is why I have held on to those items. I want to continue to find folk who can use them, rather than toss them.  Especially since I have the space.

    When I learned that broccoli is Marie's favorite vegetable—sadly not skinny asparagus—I thought I would try to find more broccoli recipes.  I found two, one of which should go well with the Red Lentil Dahl.  But today, I thought Parmesan Roasted Broccoli would go well with the chicken dish.  It did.  Because we are most accommodating with each other, Marie's portion of the broccoli had long stalks left on it and my were devoid of the slightest presence of stalk. Frankly, I think I would liked broccoli this way as much as I do roasted with Kulp Spices' organic seasoning salt.  [I forgot to take a picture because I was too busy inhaling my plate of broccoli.]

    Marie took me back to Goodyear, where I learned that once work was commenced, the men discovered I need less than they thought.  [I am not the only one who has a hard time reading the maintenance recommendations.]  It has something to do with how my differential is and some other things I did not understand.  What I did understand is that they were honest and charged me almost $140 less than the estimate.

    Dashing back to my charge's school, I was gobsmacked and giddy over how much easier it was to drive my Highlander.  I knew it was probably out of alignment (very much so), but I did not know that maintenance on the power steering could make such a profound difference.  I will say that, being the worry wort, I am a tad concerned with how quickly the car heated up and how effective the heater is.  The temperature gauge rose steadily to just a tick past mid-way and stayed their. I thought I remembered it always hanging out between 1/4 and mid-way.  What I do know is that it used to take forever for my car to warm up.  So, either I was desperately in need of all that flushing and filling and stripping and scraping and what not (the otherwise than the alignment) or something was not put back together right.

    When I pulled into the garage after dropping my charge off at tutoring, I did see some ... steam ... coming from the grill (not the hood).  And the car smells a bit like gas.  However, the fuel injection system was overhauled or something and I figured what I saw was something spilled burning off.  I did not see steam when I went out again, so I am trying to set aside dire thoughts of sudden breakage.

    The reduced maintenance was not the only good fortune today.  Sandra needed me to pick up a package that was to be delivered at her house, but it was not there by the time I came home.  Being so utterly drained, I dreaded venturing out again later.  Then, I heard Amos doing his UPS truck bark.  I asked the driver if her street was on his route and if he had been to it yet.  I told him her address and the origin of the package.  Since it was still on the truck, he brought it to me!  He's the one from the South who fusses over Amos (even though the fluffy white beast has a near apoplectic fit defending the porch from him), talks to me about missing the South, and takes a Ginger Ale from time to time.  I like that he trusted me to take her package and saved me having to go out again.

    Dinner was a success, more so for the buttered Trader Joe's corn than the chalupas.  I prepared mild ones for my charge, using only refried black beans that I seasoned, grilled chicken, sour cream, and white cheddar cheese.  He ate two chalupas and two servings of corn.

    To try and stay awake, I gave my wiggle-wart of a puppy dog a nail trim and a hair cut.  My charge giggled something fierce at seeing Amos race to the top of the couch and tuck all his paws beneath him at the sight of the nail clippers.  He is a smart wiggle-wart.

    My charged asked for another fire, which I was happy to supply.  I think part of that was pride because I like how much adulation I receive from him for being able to light the fire, walk to the kitchen for ice packs, and walk back to a fully engulfed stack of logs.  I am a fire genius to my charge!

    Marie texted that her experiment at homemade whole wheat dinner rolls were a wild success.  I texted back that the sourdough loaf I bought at Panera for the stuffing was mighty tasty.  I know this because I had to test one (or two or three or four) of the bread cubes as I was filling the bowl.  They are growing staler moment by moment.  Surely that is a good omen, right?

    If I can keep myself awake, I thought I would try to make the Double Chocolate Dr Pepper Cake tonight instead of leaving it until tomorrow.  I still have nerves over making the stuffing, the garlic mashed red potatoes, and the gravy.  My friend Mary does feasts a lot (or has many under her belt), during which she prepares far more food in a greater and more complicated variety.  I wish I could channel some of her culinary brain cells on the morrow.

    I was rather relieved when I asked my charge if he wanted me to wake him tomorrow or let him wake me when he was hungry.  He chose the former, but picked a time that is an hour later than his last Saturday visit.  Ten o'clock!  I get to sleep until 10:00 AM!!  Well, I will feed Amos around 5 as I usually do when I take medication, but I will get to sleep a bit more than I expected.

    He would have no problem with me going back to sleep after I make him breakfast, but I wonder if I should just stay up and then crash once my guests are all gone tomorrow.  Of course, it is snowing at the moment and I fervently hope that the expected accumulation for tomorrow is not to great to ford with a CRV.

    I still have to find a recipe for the sweep potato appetizer.  I would like to sauté them, I think.  I did find one recipe I liked, but it requires whisky.  While my spice selection has greatly improved, my hard alcohol selection is still woefully small ... as in only liquors.  I've a sweet tooth on all culinary fronts.

    I do hope it actually is only one more day.  With the snow, my charge's mother might not make her connection through Chicago.  Child-sitting is exhausting!  I need copious amounts of sleep, less cooking. less dishes, less cajoling to keep to the schedule, and far, far, far less question answering.  I did have a total victory with the bath tonight.  He agreed that perhaps his armpits needed extra work this time and to apply the shampoo more thoroughly.  He came down all sweet and minty smelling, having brushed his teeth as well.  The ultimate victory, though, was that he did not leave a single light on upstairs this whole day!

    I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Plumb exhausted...

    So, it is all my fault I am plumb exhausted.  I'm the one who insisted on all this cooking and real foods stuff.

    The grilled chicken tacos with bacon were a great big hit.  Three times over.  Two thumbs up!  Of course, somehow I managed to forget about the Kulp Spices' Smoked Grilled Herbs.  Becky must think I am an oaf.  I used them again.  Oh, my.

    Now, I have read how we are not supposed to wash meat because then germs splatter, but I think sinks are meant to get dirty because part of cleaning up means cleaning the sink.  I rinse and pat dry my chicken.  There. I have confessed. I am a chicken breast washer.

    After they were dry, I smeared olive oil all over them and then rubbed in the spice stuff.  I let them sit for about 20 minutes, the latter part of which I let the grill heat up.  Now, my grill make perfect chicken if you grill it 5 minutes a side.  However, grilling in freezing temperatures has been a bit of an adventure.  I actually grilled the breasts 11 minutes a side, first 7 minutes each, then 2, then 2 ... flipping at each interval.  The grill cooled down considerably each time I opened it.  So, perhaps part of the extended time was the flipping.  However, the chicken was perfect.  Of course, I let them rest 5 minutes before cutting into them.  That was some of the best cooking advice I ever received.

    This time, I warmed up the tortillas with cheese, crumbled bacon, and sour cream.  Then I added the grilled chicken and lettuce.  Tasty.  Oh, so very tasty.

    My charge has ADHD, so when his medication wears off, he gets hungry.  He loves fried rice.  So, I made him some.  Does it look good to you?

    I cooked the rice yesterday.  I then sautéed the chopped-up slivered carrots and broccoli in olive oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and teriyaki grilling sauce.  After mixing up the Kinkoman's packet of flavoring, I added it and the rice and cooked it for a while.  Finally, I shoved everything to one side and scrambled two eggs.  Yes, I forgot the water chestnuts.  SIGH.  Still, I will have another opportunity to perfect my fried rice before my charge leaves.  I really wish I could figure out what the spices are in the packet so that the whole thing could be from scratch.  [For the record, SunBird is far, far tastier as far as fried rice packets go.]

    Amos very much enjoyed pre-cleaning the chicken resting plate and the fried rice bowl.  He was miffed that I did not share any of my tacos with him.

    Tomorrow night, I will be using the rest of the grilled chicken on the chalupas.

    Did I mention that I am exhausted?  I cannot fathom getting through tomorrow's dinner, since there will not be sleeping-from-drop-off-to-pick-up as there was today.  Instead, there will be getting-the-car-taken-care-of and cooking'-with-Marie.  Also, I'm sure there will be some cooking-a-Thanksgiving-meal angst along the way.  Of course, there will be the getting-up-at-an-ungodly-hour part, too.

    You know, this morning.  There I was, struggling to stay awake as my charge ate his breakfast, cajoling him to finish so that we would not be late and he finally asks, "Miss Myrtle, is that plastic tape on your nose?" My BreatheRight strip was so disturbing he was having trouble eating because he couldn't figure out what it was or why it was there.

    I drove him to school in my pajamas.  My toes were miserably cold.  When I got back in bed, I thought to check the weather.  It was -4 degrees!

    I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

    Stop the presses...

    Stop the presses!!  I made Basil Burgers without burning the outside of them!!  Oh, Marie would be so very proud!  They were not burned/blackened and did not fall apart!!!!

    I am babysitting/child-sitting again, four days this time.  Perish the thought!

    The last time his mother made things really easy for me by bringing all heat-up meals for her son.  This time, I wanted him to eat more healthily whilst under my care, instead of the easy way out.  So, she brought me ingredients.  Tonight I made the basil burgers and Oven Baked Home Fries.  My charge was rather less enthusiastic about my cooking, but he ate a whole (bun-less) burger and two heaping helpings of the fries, all the while making appreciative comments on the fries!  Yep, the cockles of my heart are warm.

    The day was inordinately long and difficult at parts, but much good happened.

    Even though it took a total 16 phone calls, I was able to schedule having the front yard marked for digging.  You see, every time I dialed 811, I was directed to the Illinois utilities digging notification.    I kept being told that I must be near Illinois—must be bouncing off a cell tower in Illinois—to be directed there.  I kept saying that I was in Fort Wayne, hours away from the Illinois border.  I called 311, which is information here and kept being told to dial 811.  Finally, I would be switched to a message that had a number, an 800 number, for the Indiana utilities digging notification.    Because I cannot hold things in my mind, I had to re-dial 10 times in order to try and capture the 800 number I was supposed to call.

    Then, I started the process of requesting to have my yard marked and discovered that I had to know my township.  I said that I thought it was Fort Wayne.  But the operator said there was no Fort Wayne township and nothing near "Fort Wayne" in the list of townships for Allen County.  She told me to dial 311 for that information.

    Yes, I started weeping in frustration.

    When I dialed 311, I told that operator that I was frustrated and upset, but not with her and asked her to be patient with me.  I told her about my brain not working so well.  She was kind and asked what I needed.  I told her about my problem getting through to the Indiana utilities digging notification center when I dialed 811 and then all the calls and that I now needed to know my township.  Well, I sobbed that last bit.

    I will admit that I was a bit perturbed when the 311 operator told me that she could connect me directly to the Indiana center (why didn't the very first 311 operator just connect me???), but I focused on how, prior to connecting me, the operator ran down the entire list of questions so that I would be ready for the center operator.  She also, as we were speaking, sent out an email reminding staff that folk who dial 811 from cell phones can be misdirected and to offer the 800 number to those who called for their yards to be marked.  Once I was connected, I finally got an appointment and a confirmation number.

    My township?  Wayne.  Yep, that is nowhere near "Fort Wayne."  SIGH.

    In between my charge's mother dropping off all his things and all those ingredients and fetching him from school, Marie picked me up to go to Fresh Market to round off the purchases for our Thanksgiving on Saturday.  Yes!  They were visiting folk on Thanksgiving and ended up at Ruby Tuesdays or Applebee's or something like that.  We were both lamenting about a lack of turkey and gravy and Marie offered to have a Thanksgiving with me!!  With me!!!!

    Of course, neither of us have cooked for a Thanksgiving.  Marie is tackling the turkey, though I chose the recipe (a roasted garlic and butter sort of approach, with lemon and rosemary thrown in for good measure).  I'm to do the stuffing, though I have yet to settle on a recipe.  I did be so rash as to ask Sandra to borrow her slow cooker since I want to use my best friend's husband's recipe.  But me and slow cookers ...  we parted ways for good reason.  Marie is doing the rolls.  Being an avowed non-lover of green bean casserole, I suggested we try broccoli patties (cheese and panko bread crumbs) instead.  We also have asparagus for some portion of the meal.  I want to do garlic mashed red potatoes.  Marie wanted a pecan pie, but her grandmother, who is the best maker of pecan pies alive, will being making her one at Christmas, so I believe we are going to have Double Chocolate Dr Pepper Cake.

    Part of what we got today were things for my idea of sustenance.  You know, we shall be cooking together for hours and hours and so we need a wide variety of appetizers ... and at least a couple of bottles of wine.  We bought brie, smoked gouda with bacon, goats milk cheese, prosciutto, and sweet potatoes.  I want to do some sort of sautéed sweet potato, some sort of miniature tartlet, some sort of cheese and crackers, and perhaps something with the asparagus, too.  While we are not yet sure of those appetizers, we are sure we need to be eating our way through the attempt at our very first Thanksgiving.

    Me!  A Thanksgiving with others!  A feast with others and a chance to drag out the china, silver, and crystal of my ancestors.

    At Fresh Market, Marie pushed me in a wheel chair shopping cart, because she knew I had a much longer day still to navigate.  She also rode with me to pick up my charge and drop him off at catechesis before going back home so she could unload the groceries.  After catechesis is Jiu Jitsu, which meant a harrowing driving to the great unknown.  My charge was kind enough to enter the address into my Magellan, since I had forgotten to bring it and we had to dart back home after catechesis to fetch my beloved Maggie in order to actually make it to the Great Unknown.

    Whilst he was being all active, I went over to Goodyear and had the inspection on my rather neglected Highlander.  The end result of that assessment was better than I feared, but still a heart-stopping $649.  Well, it will be that on Friday when the work is done.  Essentially, all the things that need to be flushed and filled and drained and filled and stripped and such are being done, all the things that come at miles 60,000, 65,000, and 70,000, plus an alignment.  Much to my surprise, the belts and hoses are still rather good.  The manager sent me an email reminder of the appointment, but he put into his calendar a reminder for me to change my oil twice a year and to have the tires rotated once a year.  Then he entered the same into my calendar for me.  When I have the tires done, I can have another inspection done, bringing in the booklet to see what is needed once (if) I reach 75,000.  The rotation and inspections will be free.  The kindest part was that all the explaining and paperwork was done whilst I was in the waiting area so there was less standing for me and, again, they pulled my car up right to the front door.  Despite the missed inspection the first time, I think I found that car place where you won't be sold farmland in southern Louisiana ... or Alaska, for that matter.

    Then it was dart back to Jiu Jitsu to claim my charge and find our way back home.  Back home ... where I launched into basil burgers and oven baked home fries.  And, of course, Babylon 5.  While I started cooking, I got my charge to bathe and get into his pajamas by pointing out that doing so would maximize his Babylon 5 viewing time.  I was rather glad to plop into the GREEN chair whilst we got in our sci-fi fix.  Of course, I was eating my own heaping pile of oven baked home fries.

    Tomorrow is the first of two days I must arise before 7:00, in order to:  awake, cajole to dress, feed, and ferry my charge off to school.  Hopefully, at about 8:10, I shall be back in bed to sleep a long, long while.  I shall be resting up for the making of chicken and bacon tacos and a few more Babylon 5 episodes, after ferrying my charge to tutoring and dashing over to the post office to mail that drawing my niece made.  How do parents get up early every day, five days out of seven getting their children ready for school???

    On Friday, the second day of impossibly early rising, the ferrying to school shall be followed by dashing over to Goodyear and nervously hope that all the maintenance and repair is accomplished by the time school is over.  Marie is going to help me pass the time with the eating of tasty things and the playing of Rumikub.  She is also taking me to a regular store for cream of tarter, because I cannot find the jar that I thought I still had, and apple juice and balsamic vinegar, both of which I keep forgetting to buy.  [What is cream of tarter?]  Then, back home, more cooking (chalupas), more Babylon 5, and trying to not fret about failing in my cooking part of our Thanksgiving.

    Ever so much to do, eh?  I shall probably sleep the week round once everyone leaves on Saturday night.  Maybe even two weeks.

    I should note that my already warmed cockles heated up further when my charge observed, whilst watching Babylon 5, that the Narn are similar to the Klingon, both being warrior races.  And he observed that Lennier was changing, sort of how like Spok learned to bend and soften a bit.  He also made a rather pithy comment about the appearance of Babylon 4 and the time flux, but I cannot remember what he said.  Just think, after this, I get to introduce him to Stargate SG1, Farscape, and Andromeda.  Battlestar Galactica will have to wait until he is older.  I suppose someone else will have to do that introduction.  SNIF.  SNIF.

    I briefly entertained the notion of putting off getting new glasses with all this car maintenance (5 years worth all crammed into one calendar week).  However, in the span of a very short while, three folk pointed out just how much I need glasses.  Of course, it could be my brain, but there is a marked difference when I am fatigued and things are all blurry or doubled and just not being able to see things clearly.  So, one of the things I squeezed in today was also to set up my appointment.  I was a tad worried the eye doctor who was versed in neurological and autoimmune diseases' impact on vision might not still be at the vision center.  [Such a find he was!]  But, never fear, I am all scheduled with him, 3 days earlier than planned, at 3:30 on the 27th.

    One last bit of goodness was that I remembered that my charge's mother said he has a blanket he likes to use at home, even sleeping atop his bedding curled up beneath it.  So, I dug through the quilts in the chest at the end of my bed and found one that he could use.  He spent the evening wrapped up in it and asked, very sweetly, if he could take it up to his bedroom.  [Yes, more cockles warming.]

    Not failing at child-sitting last time is not going to be a one-off ... if I have anything to say about it.

    Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.