Friday, February 26, 2010


My Uncle Tom is one of the most interesting people I know.  He is a retired science teacher and a geologist.  When I was little, he gave me several interesting rocks and minerals from his collection, which I still own.  I would take such good care of these things; I would vacuum out their little boxes, and make new labels for them all the time.  I don't know if it was because of my Uncle, or just something in my genetic make-up, but I love science.  In fact, when I decided to go back to school to be a teacher, I majored in Group Science, with an emphasis in Biology.  So I'm a Science teacher. 

Anyway, Uncle Tom sends me the most interesting e-mails and links so I'm posting one here because I found it fascinating.  The video I'm linking to is about a 5 minute video and it shows some of the interesting things that go on underwater in the sea.  The more I study science, the more I'm convinced that life on Earth didn't just happen.  I'm not interested in starting a philosophical discussion about this, just expressing my opinion. 

One of the many science classes I took in college was cellular Biology.  We learned in depth about the functions of each cell in your body and how they all function together to keep you alive.  Amazing!  If it wasn't such dry material, I'd suggest taking this class, just to learn about the amazing things your body does 24 hours a day, without you even knowing it!

Another class I had to take was Botany.  We were trudging around in the arboretum in early January, studying leaf buds on trees, and bark patterns and such.  Of course, it was the coldest January on record that year, but it was another interesting class because even things in nature take care of themselves.  The leaf buds that were visible in January, were the beginnings of new leaves that were waiting to open when the weather warmed.  It was fascinating to me that trees were already preparing for Spring, way back in November!  How did these leaf buds not freeze?  How did the trees know to do this?  Amazing! Just more proof to me that God exists. 

A few things make me happy today:  we had our taxes done and while I knew I was going to have to pay, its not nearly as much as I had figured.  ( I never thought I'd use the words "happy" and "taxes" in the same sentence.)

I'm playing in my first concert this Sunday. I haven't done that in oh, I don't know how long.  If you need something to do Sunday, come see the West Michigan Concert Winds at 4 pm.  You won't be sorry. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

aaaaaand.... back to reality

We woke up to a beautiful blanket of snow this morning!  Do I seem excited about it?  I'm not really.  I'm tired of the snow, but it sure makes everything look pretty and clean.  I don't know if my snowblower works but I do have a shovel so I'll be out soon trying to clear my drive way.  Or maybe I'll just drive over it repeatedly to pack the snow down and call it good.  That works too. 

One of my favorite things in life is to be inside with a cup of hot coffee while the world outside is covered in snow.  Living along the shore of Lake Michigan, lake effect snow affords me many of these days.  Just another reason I love where I live.   

Time to address the goals:
Goal #1:  I've been on the treadmill twice this week so far, doing mostly walking, but throwing in a burst of running every now and then.  My sister is doing a little running too so at least I'm in line with her.  We may not finish with lightning speed, but at least we'll finish together. 

Goal #2: I've paid 75% of the original balance of the first bill I'm concentrating on and should be able to pay that off in 2 weeks.  Yay!  Progress!  This of course, all depends on what my tax guy says today.  Last year we paid a lot, which I wasn't prepared for, so this year I'm at least mentally preparing for that.  I've been keeping money untouched in a couple of accounts so that I can pay my taxes and hopefully still pay that 1st bill off. 
Darn you Uncle Sam!!! I want to keep my money!

I've always enjoyed watching figure skating and remember many Saturday afternoons as a young kid spent watching it on TV.  For a hot second, I even planned on figure skating in the Olympics! (Didn't we all plan on doing something in the Olympics?)  Last night I stayed up late to watch the women's figure skating and was so impressed with Joannie Rochette. Her mom passed away just a few days ago and she was still able to skate with such grace and poise.  Obviously I wasn't in the audience, but it seemed that when she skated, the entire audience was pulling for her, and it wasn't about a competition between countries, but a collective show of support for this girl.  And that made me happy.  If you are lucky enough to still have your mom living, call her.  She'll love it.  And tell her you love her.  : )

Monday, February 22, 2010

Something to look forward to...

Its snowing again today.  What should I expect?  It is February in west Michigan after all.  But I've had enough and if I knew who to complain to about this, I'd do it.  Sigh.  So I'm posting pictures of my garden last summer to give me (and perhaps you) something to look forward to.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cake Wrecks

Wow!  3 posts in one day! 

Check out these cakes:

I found these on one of my favorite websites:  Cake Wrecks
Yes, I've mentioned it before but these cakes are cracking me up! Look at that top one.  Its supposed to be a baby but it reminds me of ET, or the baby dinosaur in that old Disney show.  (not the mama, not the mama!) Either way, if my baby looked like that, I'd be seriously creeped out!

And the second picture just makes me laugh.  Look at Frankenstein and his bride.  Aren't they cute?  And then the cake itself is stitched like Frankenstein. 

Go over to Cake Wrecks and check out the Star Wars cakes from February 15th.  Go on.  They're hilarious. 

Comfort food

I found a recipe once for a rice dessert.  Technically, its called Yummy Sweet Rice, but at our house, we call it "That Rice Stuff".  If my son had one last meal, he would request this I'm sure.  Or at least it would be a part of the meal because these days, he has a hollow leg.  Anyway, I'm posting the recipe.  Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures but use your imagination. Imagine rice in a baking pan with some other ingredients and you'll be set.  Hahahahaha!!!!

2 cups uncooked Minute Rice
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 350.  Prepare the rice as directed on the package.  Meanwhile, mix the egg and sugar in a large bowl until blended.  Add the milk and vanilla and mix it well.  Then stir in the rice and pour into an ungreased 1 1/2 quart dish. 
Top with the following:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar

Dot it with 2 Tablespoons of margarine cut into pieces and Bake for 20-25 minutes. 

Around our house, this counts as a breakfast food - its got protein so it keeps you full for a while.  Or at least it does in theory. And it doesn't take long to make; I got up a little bit earlier than usual and made it for breakfast today.  Anyway, this fits into several food categories:  breakfast, dessert, snack, comfort food...  whatever.  


I have a new favorite show:  Undercover Boss. I watched the first episode last weekend and was pleasantly surprised.  The CEO of Waste Management decided to go undercover and spend a week working with people he employs, trying out their jobs.  Disguised, of course.  I had anticipated that we would be hearing people bad-mouthing their boss, or seeing questionable business practices but instead, saw employees who genuinely loved their jobs and who had interesting personal stories.  The boss spent the day cleaning porta-potties with a man who made his job seem like an adventure.  The employee never once complained about the disgusting nature of the job, but made it almost seem fun.  And then there was a woman working in an office, doing the work of 4 people but only getting paid for one.  She was so friendly and efficient, that she made it seem like it was easy to simultaneously do 4 jobs.  She even invited the Boss back to her home for dinner - and she didn't even know who he was!  He learned that this woman had had 4 different types of cancer by the time she was 21, and that she was living with her father, her sister and brother-in-law, in addition to her husband and child for financial reasons. 

At the end of the show, the boss revealed himself to the people he had worked with throughout the week.  He offered to help each of these people in some way; for one employee, his offer of help was to simply change the way they make people clock in and out for lunch. 

The thing that was most inspiring about this show was that the Boss learned that its important to see what each person in his company is doing.  He talked about how productivity is so important to him, and that he makes many decisions based on productivity issues, but failed to think about how these decisions might affect his employees.  (One female garbage truck driver has to use a coffee can as a latrine because productivity decreases if she stops to use the bathroom).

This made me wish that my bosses, the ones in an office somewhere in The Big City, would spend a day with some of their employees.  Maybe they would see that having us fill out yet another form isn't helping our customers, and its not making us more efficient.  I hope I don't sound bitter, because I am very grateful to have a job, and I do love my job.  Sometimes, it seems that decisions that come from the top of the company make sense to the bottom line, but really affect morale of the employees which in turn makes customer satisfaction suffer.  Maybe...sometimes...the employee knows best.  Hmmmm. 

I love the Olympics.  Summer - Winter, it doesn't matter.  I'm glued to the tv and I'm cheering along with the crowds.  Most of these sports are things I'd never watch any other time, but for these two weeks, they are my first choice.  I find myself using language I don't even understand:  half calf, double McTwist, triple salchow, etc.  And most of the time, I get choked up when, during the medals ceremony, I get to hear our own National Anthem.  Cheesy, I know. But it makes me happy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bathroom Ideas

Its time to start thinking about what I want in my new bathroom.  I don't even know where to look other than the internet.  I have a general idea of what I want, and I know my choices for cabinets and such will be dictated by my budget and what's available, but I still have to decide on basic color and style themes.  Help!

I like the color of the walls, but its a little too minimalistic for my taste.  Plus I need more counter space for my hair appliances and such.

What the heck are those things on the wall?  Toilets?  No thanks.

I like this one.  Its very similar to the layout already.  I have one of those huge 2 sink things and its nice to have the space to set soap and lotion on.  I also like the color of the cabinet.  I'd like a little more color on the walls though.

I REALLY like this cabinet.  Especially the drawer pulls/handles.  Of course, the tub is not an option.  I like the way they've separated the mirrors, too.

I like the storage next to the sink.  I kind of like the sink too.  There's no drawers or anything but I don't think I need that anyway.  Hmmm. 

I like everything about this. 

Beadboard panelling!  I've thought I might like this on the lower 1/2 of the walls.  Reminds me of a farmhouse. 

Eureka!  Except the pedestal sink doesn't give me enough counter space.  I do love it though! I'm sensing a pattern in wall colors here. 

I like this too.  Even the wall color. 

Well, that's enough for now. Any suggestions? Comment please.  :)

I've Been Doing it All Wrong!

Who knew?  I've been cooking bacon for 20+ years and I've been doing it all wrong.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Yada yada yada

So I think I'm officially done with the Eat from the Pantry Challenge.  I didn't do too badly, and actually have reached the point where I need stuff again.  And while its good to use up stuff we already own, it did lead to some strange meals.  Sunday, we ended up eating (at one meal) egg rolls, chili, and roasted Italian vegetables. And because we had no clean drinking glasses, we drank milk out of wine glasses.  My kids were amused.  We were also out of clean bowls so the chili was served in little ramekins.  These little guys are one of my favorite kitchen items and I find a million uses for them:  they're good for portion control when eating M&M's, ice cream, and cookie dough (not that I'd ever eat raw cookie dough, *cough, cough* ).  They're also just the right size for salsa.  I've used them to make individual apple crisps and brownies.  They're just generally handy to have around. 

I went grocery shopping tonight because the weather forecasters are predicting a bad storm tomorrow.  My plan was to spend about $200 for 2 weeks worth of food.  I took a little time yesterday and planned a menu for the week and knew what I needed to carry that out, which was very little actually.  I didn't have much time to plan my list, or to check to see if I had corresponding coupons. (And I am a little obsessive about my coupons!)
My beloved coupon organizer

So anyway, I stuck to my list for the most part, and was surprised to find that I had spent almost $250.  And then I felt guilty.  Why?  Because somewhere, on someone's blog, I read that their grocery budget was $400 a month.  So why should I feel guilty that I can't live up to their budget?  Good question. I have no idea how many people $400 is supposed to feed, nor the ages of the people it is supposed to feed.  And when I think about it,  $250 is just about what I've been spending on food every two weeks for the past 7 years.  So why am I surprised?  Who the heck  knows.  

I haven't commented on my progress lately so:
Goal #1:  Wait, what were my goals again?  Just kidding.  As far as running goes, I haven't done a bit of that.  I have been exercising, doing The Firm so I'm not a complete couch potato.  I do need to start running soon though if I'm going to run in May.  Gotta buy new shoes!

Goal #2:  I've paid $2000 to my first balance this month.  Which leaves very little left to pay and makes me feel a little better about things.  Still a ways to go, but.... Then its on to the next bill!  Thank God I have a job that allows me to work extra!!!

I'm a big SNL fan and a few weeks ago, Michael Buble was on.  This skit made me laugh out loud.  (You may have to get past Michelle Obama talking about Haiti, but its worth it.)  Ever since I was little, I've stayed up most Saturday nights just to watch the show.  Some seasons are definitely better than others, but I usually find something funny in each show.  I must say though, that there is still nothing funnier than the "We Need More Cowbell" skit!

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to Make Bread

And now, by popular demand, my bread.  What?  You didn't ask how to make bread?  Tough.  You're going to learn.  Grandma would be proud of you...

Step 1

Clear your kitchen counter, tie your hair back and assemble your ingredients. And don't forget to wash your hands! Here's what you need:
  • A large bowl (two if you don't feel like washing and drying in between steps)
  • 3 cups flour - important note here:  bread flour is best. It has more protein than regular flour and results in more gluten strands being formed during the kneading process.  This is a good thing.  Really.  Trust me.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T. instant yeast -another important note here:  those little silvery packets of instant dry yeast aren't all that great.  The best yeast is instant yeast.  You can buy it at Sam's club.  You have to refrigerate it after its open but it should last a long time.
  • 2 cups warm water (about 105 degrees)
  • 1 cup warm milk (same temp as the water)

In the mixing bowl, combine the flour, the sugar and the yeast with a whisk.  Add the liquids to the flour and mix well.  You should have no lumps in the mixture, but usually I have some.  Its ok.  Its not rocket science.  

Now, you see that stuff around the upper top of the bowl?  Get a spatula and scrape it off so it goes into the dough.  Otherwise it dries and cracks and looks really gross.  Then cover this bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel.  Set this bowl in a warm place to rise until spongy - about 30 to 60 minutes.  I don't have a warm place in my house so I set the oven at 170 degrees and set the bowl on top of the stove.  It works great.
This is what it looks like after an hour.  Spongy goodness!

Step 2:
To the sponge mixture add:
1 tablespoon salt (yes I know.  Tablespoon. )
2 tablespoons melted butter
3-4 cups bread flour

Sprinkle the salt over the surface of the sponge, stir in and then add the melted butter.  Stir in the first 2 cups of flour, then add the third and possibly, the fourth if you can stir it.  This mixture will be wet.  Set aside about a cup of the bread flour and then place the dough on top of your already floured countertop.  Lightly dust the dough with more flour, using your fingers to distribute.  If you try to sprinkle from the cup, you just end up adding more flour than you want.  Now comes the fun part.  Begin kneading. 

And now, brief interruption to explain how to knead. 

Take some of the flour in the measuring cup, and sprinkle it over the top of the dough.  With the heels of your hands, push away from you, using the strength in your shoulders.  Hey, have you ever done CPR?  Or even taken the class?  Its like that.  Push from your shoulders.  After you've pushed, turn the dough a half turn and pull it back toward you.  Keep adding flour and kneading until the dough is no longer wet, and its smooth and elastic.  You should knead for at least 5 minutes.  The kneading is what forms the gluten strands that make the bread light and fluffy.  Its a great stress relief too. 


Place this dough ball into a greased bowl (Pam works great here) and roll the dough around in the bowl to grease all sides.  Spray the Pam on top of this ball too and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel.  At this point, you can place this in the fridge until you're ready to shape the dough and bake it.  It keeps up to 3 days.  Isn't that awesome????!!!

Step 2 is also the point where you can add stuff to your bread, like pesto, or raisins or other fun stuff, but we'll leave that for a future post.  Unless of course I have my own cooking show by then.  Then I just won't have time.  Hahaha!

 If you're ready to move on now class, we'll continue.  Take this covered bowl and put it back in your warm place (hey, I know what you're thinking and shame on you.) Back on the stove to rise for about an hour.  Again, this isn't rocket science and if you get sidetracked doing laundry or something more enjoyable, its ok.  If it sits for an hour and a half or so, it'll be fine. 

Step 3:
Pour the dough out of the bowl back onto your floured countertop.  You didn't clean it already did you?  I should've told you. Leave the counter all floury.  Save the clean up until the end.  Punch this down with your fist.  Again, more stress relief.  Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces; I make a peace sign with my counter scraper/cutter.  (This thing is one of my favorite kitchen tools of all time)

You really should let this rest for about 5 minutes as this lets the gluten relax and its easier to roll out the dough.  I never do.  Hmm.  Anyway, take one piece of dough at a time and shape roughly into a rectangle.  Roll out with a rolling pin - taking care not to make it wider than your bread tin.  (Or, you can do as I do and fudge it a little.  Not that big of a deal, really.)  Roll up tightly starting with the narrow end farthest away from you.  Once you have it all rolled up, place it into a greased bread tin. 

 This recipe makes 3 loaves so you'll need 3 tins.  Should've told you that earlier too I guess.   Anyhoo, put these tins  in your warm place  back on top of the stove and cover with a clean towel.  They'll need to rise again for another hour, or until the dough has formed a nice rounded shape over the pan.

              Aren't they gorgeous? 

Now bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the pans onto a cooling rack.  Let these cool before wrapping them up.
(But first, slice off a piece while its still warm and slather it with butter - its the best thing in the world!)

While this sounds complicated and time-consuming, it really isn't.  The hands on time is less than 30 minutes.  Like Tom Petty said, "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."  Its the rising that takes the most time so its good to bake bread while you're home doing housework anyway.  At least this way, there's a reward at the end.  Now, get your apron on and go to it.