Category Archives: Lifestyle

Short commentary about everyday life

The Holidays Have Landed…

And so has holiday food. The weather turned cold, we got a little rain, so the Christmas spirit finally hit me. I even got out and did a little shopping.

I also did a little baking. I made one of my favorite cookies and loaded them up with white chocolate chips, dried cherries and fresh pecans. I thought that sounded festive. They turned out fine.   …..  The price of dried cherries and this year’s fresh pecans just about left me gasping, but then you’ve heard me whine about the price of food before. I calculate those cookies must have cost more than 50-cents apiece to make. And they aren’t very big cookies, either.  😦

 

After that, I took a recipe for one of Emeril’s cakes off the Food Channel website and made it. It’s called Chocolate Swirl Bundt Cake with Nutty Topping. It’s a fluffy marble cake accented with praline liqueur and fresh pecans pieces. I haven’t tried a piece of it yet, but the recipe sounded so good, I know it will be larruping. Emeril’s receipe called for walnuts and walnut liqueur, but I had fresh pecans on hand rather than walnuts, so I rushed to the liquor store and bought the praline liqueur  stuff. If you want the recipe, you can go here:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/search/delegate.do?fnSearchString=bundt+cakes&fnSearchType=site

 

If you make it with the walnut liqueur as he recommends, let me know how it turns out.

(On a side note, that praline liqueur is very good on ice cream.) 🙂

(On another side note, I read somewhere that chocolate is going to nearly double in price in 2012! That is pure evil!)

I will probably make more cookies. I always do. So how about you? What are you baking for the holidays?

****

When my daughter comes to visit, we always make things. This year she brought a recipe called Chocolate Eclair Icebox Dessert. Believe it or not, this is kind of low-cal. And it’s so light, delicious and easy, you don’t feel guilty if you have more than one piece. Guilt-free. That’s the ticket. So here’s the recipe.

CHOCOLATE ECLAIR ICEBOX DESSERT

22-1/2 sheets low-fat honey graham crackers (enough to make 2 or 3 layers in a 9×13 pan), 3 cups fat-free milk, 2 (3.4 oz.) packages vanilla or cheesecake instant pudding mix, 1 (8-oz.) pkg. reduced fat cream cheese at room temperature, 1 (8-oz.) tub frozen light cook whip, thawed

Arrange graham cracker sheets to cover the bottom of 13×9 pan coated with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups milk, pudding mix and cream cheese and beat at low speed 1 minute, or until thick. Fold in shipped topping. Spread half the pudding mixture over graham crackers and top with another layer of graham cracker sheets. Repeat with the remaining pudding mixture and another layer of graham crackers. (You can cut out the middle layer of graham crackers if you like.)

TOPPING

1/4 cup fat-free milk, 2 tbsp. margarine or butter, softened, 2 tbsp. honey, 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted, 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar (We doubled the topping.)

Combine 1/4 cup milk, softened butter, honey and melted chocolate in medium bowl. Beat well with mixer. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat well. Spread chocolate over graham crackers. Cover dessert and chill 4 hours. Make sure your cover doesn’t touch the chocolate topping. It’s okay to leave it uncovered if necessary.

There you go. Let me know how you like it.

 

 

 

 

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A Little R & R…..

I took this photo of Jaston Williams, Joe Sear...

Jaston Williams & Joe Sears

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but last Tuesday I didn’t post on the blog. My daughter was here for a ten-day visit and we were heavily engaged in having a good time. She comes only once a year, so I spend as much time as possible with her. She came to celebrate my birthday, which always falls on Thanksgiving weekend. Plane tickets were considerably cheaper at the first part of the month, so we celebrated early. LOL

For my present, besides her visit, she treated us to a play, “A Tuna Christmas,” starring Joe Sears and Jaston Williams.

I don’t know if any of you have ever seen these two guys in their two-man plays set in Tuna, Texas, or if you even know who they  are. But if you haven’t seen them, you have missed a true laugh-a-minute opportunity. This is brash Texan irreverence at its boldest and Texana at its corniest. And these two men do a brilliant job portraying more than a dozen humorous characters over the course of the play. Here’s a clip from You Tube. There are several more clips on You Tube if you want to watch.

The first Tuna play they presented was years ago, “Greater Tuna.” They followed up a few years later with “A Tuna Christmas.” They have since done “Tuna Does Vegas” and “Red, White and Blue Tuna.”  If you would like to read about these award-winning actors and the Tuna plays, they have a Web site. http://www.greatertunavisitorscenter.com/

It makes me sad to see these two actors aging and know these plays won’t always be around starring these two particular men. In fact, I believe some of the performances are already now done by other actors. I’ve never seen the plays with other actors. I feel privileged to have seen them performed by the original cast.

If you’re interested in some Texas laughs, Amazon sells DVDs of two of the plays. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dmovies-tv&field-keywords=A+Tuna+Christmas&x=10&y=18

Tuna, by the way, ism or was, a town in Texas. The Texas Historical Association says it was six miles south of Cotulla on the International and Great Northern line in west central La Salle County. Notice they say *was*, not *is*. But they also say it was shown on maps of LaSalle County as late as 1965. Whether it still exists, I don’t know. Many small Texas towns have dimply disappeared.

Besides going to the play, we shopped for beads, did beading and attended a bead show. My daughter is a bead artist and a stained glass artist. She’s done beautiful work in stained glass, which is a lot bigger hobby in Oregon than it is in Texas. We had fun creating while she was here. She does intricate bead work with a needle and seed beads, while I only string beads. I don’t have the eyesight or the patience to do what she does. The frustrating thing about beading is you get half-way through a project and discover you don’t have something you need. Then you have to search and search for that one thing that will make the creation perfect. And you might never find it, I’m discovering. A couple of years ago, I envisioned a necklace out of aquamarine and crystal beads. I found the crystal beads fairly easily, but didn’t find the aquamarine at a price I thought was reasonable. I’ve been searching for the perfect aquamarine beads ever since. PERFECT = RIGHT COLOR + RIGHT SIZE+ RIGHT PRICE. <sigh> Maybe next year. As you can see, I’m not quite ready to abandon the vision.

My daughter has gone home now, so I’m back to the daily grind. Writing, writing and writing. And working, working, working. Since I work in retail, life is a zoo right now. And Black Friday looms. But maybe I’ll find the time to string a bead or two. I did find some things at the bead show I couldn’t live without.

What about you, fellow readers? What hobbies are you dedicated to?

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Forced to Give Up Food…

Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Image via Wikipedia

Yes,  I think I’m going to have to give it up. Not because I need to lose weight (which I do), but because I simply can’t afford to buy it these days.

Have you looked at what’s going on in the grocery stores? I did a tour through a grocery store last night, which left me gasping. I spent $100 for what a few months ago cost me $50 or $60. It’s enough to make you want to dig up your backyard and start gardening like our grandparents did. And on the same scale.

When I was a little kid, my grandmothers and old aunts spent almost every waking moment putting in the garden, taking care of the garden, harvesting the garden, then canning and/or preserving what came out of it. One of the most boring tasks that used to be assigned to me and my girl cousins was snapping and shelling peas and peeling peaches. As a kid, grumbling and grousing, I did not realize that this was an eat-or-not eat situation.

Joe & Myra Belle Matthews, my great-grandparents as they looked when I was a really little kid,

Since there was no grocery store of any consequence within a hundred miles, much less a supermarket, the garden produced by the women of the family were all we had to eat besides what they baked. We had meat because we grew our own animals, but even that called for a certain amount of preserving. Those women did an admirable job, I have to say. We never lacked for food. After my great grandmother passed, among the things she left behind were jars and jars of canned food that had come out of her garden. Amazing.

What’s ridiculous is that even though I grew up in that environment, I can’t even make a tomato plant survive. Back in the summer, my husband and I bought a green pepper plant and two tomato plants in pots. We did see  some green peppers, but they were no larger than golf balls and they were just as hard. The tomatoes were nearly the same. And my husband religiously watered and cared for them. Of course the relentless triple-digit heat in Texas this past summer didn’t help.

What’s even more ridiculous is that my husband grew up in basically the same environment I did, but he can’t remember how to grow things either. So living off the land seems like a poor option for us right now.

Even if I wanted to buy fresh produce from somewhere now, because it’s supposed to be cheaper in season, and try to can it, I couldn’t without making a huge investment. I have no jars and lids, I have no kitchen utensils suitable for canning, no canner. And even if I did have a canner, I have an electric stove, which wouldn’t work with a canner.  <sigh> …. So I think I’m stuck with the grocery store and what’s for sale in it for whatever price.

So now I’m wondering if we’re approaching the day where in order to afford eating, we all will have to group together in co-ops of some kind. Are we going to have to become The Waltons? Maybe we should have pot luck clubs where we combine vittles. It’s cheaper to cook for a crowd than for just one or two.

We’re already to the place where many young people can’t afford to leave the nest and go out on their own. I can’t count the number of people I know personally who have grown children still living at home or who are raising their grandchildren for this or that reason.

When I think back on my life as a child, I realize that this togetherness is the way many of us used to live. So it isn’t brand-new. I can recall three and four generations of people all living in my great-grandfather’s house at one time (Fortunately, he had a big house.) and my grandmothers providing food for the whole lot of us.

Matthews Home, around 1900 - Notice no trees. This was West Texas.

I’m sad to say, I am not my great-grandmother or my grandmother. Left on my own to provide my own food from scratch, these days, I don’t think I could make it. I would be forced to give up food. I’m shaking my head in sadness at all that I’ve known and lost.

But here’s something that’s even more amazing. Do you know what my grandmothers and my old aunts did for leisure and entertainment? … THEY QUILTED!

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WILDFIRE!…AND PRIORITIES….

This morning, when I turned on TV news, the first thing I heard was that 100,000 acres and 1,000 homes have been burned in the Bastrop, Texas, area, which is not far from Austin. As I write this blog, more than 50 fires are blazing across various parts of Texas.

Central Texas Burns!

As any of you who live in Texas or have watched the news might know, Texas is suffering the worst drought in many, many years. And temperatures have been in the triple digits, without let-up, for more than two months. To put it succinctly, damn near everything in the great outdoors is cooked.

A few horrifying statistics. In the past year, more than 20,900 wild fires have burned 3.6 million acres of the Texas landscape. I’ve lost count of the total number of homes that have been lost to fire. And I’ve never had the count of the numbers of cattle, horses, and other animals that have been incinerated.

The fires in the Texas Panhandle just a year ago burned cattle alive in the pastures, not to mention the immolaton of huge fields of wheat. Besides being heartbreaking, it was an economic disaster for that part of the state.

Watch the video below of somewhere in Texas. It’s a tiny taste of the evil of wild fire.

I live in a rural area twelve miles from town. My home is located in a sub-division, but the sub-division itself is surrounded by pastureland and trees. ….. And right now, The grass is drier than un-buttered popcorn. It looks likes it would crunch under your feet if you walked out into it. The tree leaves have already turned brown and are starting to drop.

Nothing in the immediate vicinity is on fire at this moment, but you never know. All it takes is a careless smoker, a backfiring vehicle, some thoughtless fool defying the burn ban and getting rid of trash. Or an arsonist. Or just someone who’s insane. Or who knows what else?

Our backyard is only about 30 feet deep. That’s how close we are to a tinderbox.

So while watching this terrible news on TV this morning, I turned to my husband and said, “Given that we would have only minutes, not hours to escape, do you think we should make a list of things we should grab first if we have to run?”

To my total surprise, he said, “Maybe we should.”

The answer I expected from him was, “Nah, we’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it.”

The point is, if he’s that concerned, it’s time for me to be concerned, too. Since I’m away from the house a good part of the time at my real job, he would have to deal with it alone, so a list would be even more important.

In my head, I’m thinking, My God, where do I start?

So I said, “Well, I suppose my first priority would be to grab my computer and some of the stuff out of my office.”

Then I thought, “What stuff? How the hell do I prioritize 15 years of researching and writing and reading and trophies and prizes won and boxes of books? It’s all made of something a hungry fire loves–PAPER!

Then I started trying to think of what to take next that wouldn’t have to be packed and thought about and discussed, etc., etc. The proposition was so overwhelming, my feeble brain didn’t want to deal with it. I drew a blank.

He said, “We should think about some clothes to take,” which re-focused my attention. He was right, of course. In the event of a loss, someone like the Red Cross would feed us, because Texans and Americans are like that. But clothing us would be a different matter.

That’s the mode we’re in today. I’m off work from my real job, so I’m trying to figure out how to survive, if we had to, a situation that is 100% out of our control.

Thank God for our bravest.

My husband and I already know about wildfires. A couple of years ago, one swept through dry pastures very near our home. Our whole area had to be evacuated and I spent a good part of one evening in a country church up the road eating pizza brought in by the Red Cross for everyone’s supper.

That fire totally destroyed 26 mobile homes in a sub-division not far from us. We were very lucky in that our house was not touched. I will never forget the grief and reactions of the people who lived in or owned those mobile homes when the firefighters came in and told them of their losses.

When we choose to live in a rural area to enjoy some privacy and the natural surroundings and all that country living offers us, and to escape the hubbub of town life, we often find ourselves faced with tradeoffs. And fire protection is one of them.

So all of the above brings me to my point today. How about you? If you were in the path of a moving inferno, after your kids and pets, what would you grab first to save?

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Anna J

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A word about cowboys (not the football team)….

Okay, I have to do it. This is the obligatory post from me about cowboys. With our governor running for president, all of a sudden, the word “cowboy” has become a bigger part of the national dialogue in a derogatory way. Now before you panic and run, this isn’t a post about politics. Rather, its about cowboys.

To those of you who know me and who have read my books, do I need to say I love cowboys? I grew up among them. I write books about them. I’m married to one and I even consider myself to be one, though I don’t own a horse or a cow.

Everey man needs a pet.

Here’s the simple definition from the dictionary: “A hired man, especially in the western United States, who tends cattle and performs many of his duties on horseback.”

To give that some background in a nutshell, in the beginning, cowboys were “boys who took care of cows.” Because most of the original cowboys were young men, even kids. They and their families came to Texas after the South had been devastated by the Civil War. Most of them were farmers. They brought nothing but their Southern manners, a willingness to work hard and a hope to find a new life. Or maybe they just wanted to be able to eat.

In Texas they met vaqueros, Mexican men who were the original “cowboys.” The vaqueros were skilled with a rope and tools of the range and excelled in horsemanship. It didn’t take the newcomers long to learn from the vaqueros.

Millions of longhorn cattle descended from the livestock the Spaniards had abandoned centuries earlier roamed the Texas plains. At about the same time the newcomers arrived in Texas, the East discovered a love for beef. Thus the cattle business and the need for cowboys were born.

These days, there is more than one kind of cowboy. There are cowboys who know a lot about cows, but not much about horses. And vice-versa. There are big ranchers with thousands of cows and hundreds of horses. Small ranchers. with a few hundred cows and maybe a few horses. Horse ranches with no cows.

 

There are cowboys who are really farmers, but keep a few horses around for pleasure and a steer or two around for beef. There are city dwellers who dress up like cowboys and secretly long to be one. They might own a horse they ride once a month, that lives in a rented stable and is taken care of by someone else. Yet that person won’t hesitate to call himself a cowboy.

Some of the folks who compete in the various horse sports are called cowboys, but they might not know one end of a cow from the other. Then there are rodeo cowboys, a breed unto themselves.

These are just a few examples, but you can see the genre has evolved into a diverse group.

Bottom line, being a “cowboy” is an attitude. You don’t have to own a cow or a horse, or even know how to ride one, to live by the cowboy code. The Code of the West was best defined by an investment consultant named James Owen who suggested that all of us might to well to return to cowboy ethics. Following is what he wrote:

1. Live each day with courage.   2. Take pride in your work.   3. Always finish what you start.   4. Do what has to be done.   5. Be tough, but fair.   6. When you make a promise, keep it.   7. Ride for the brand.    8. Talk less and say more.   9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale.  10. Know where to draw the line.

Don’t you agree we could all benefit from this philosophy?

Anna

photos from istockphoto.com and You Tube

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Back to School, and Then Some…

It’s here again. Back to school. I work in retail in my real job, so daily I’m seeing the gamut of back-to-school shopping. I can’t keep from thinking how it used to be when parents prepared their kiddies to return to school for a new year. We set out with a notebook and a few pencils. If something else was needed, the teacher would send a note home saying, “Little Jeffery needs a workbook. Please send 50-cents.”

And when we moved up to high school, we had to have a pen as well as pencils. Do you remember those days when in the middle of an English paper, your fountain pen decided to deposit a big un-erasable blue or black blob in the middle of your paper? Or the nib split and the thing refused to write at all anymore? I realize I’m dating myself here. No one even knows what a fountain pen is nowadays. However, I did see a feature on TV about someone who collects fountain pens. Some of them are worth tens of thousands as collector’s items.

Going through some boxes of things to discard the other day, I ran across two papers I had written with a fountain pen in high school. They were character studies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth I wrote in an English class. I had written both papers with blue fountain pen ink and the teacher had written a comment that the writing was very good. Not the words, but writing in ink with no errors or cross-outs. She did mention the characterizations, too, but she appeared to be more impressed that I had struggled through that many pages without one of those big blue blobs. LOL

I’m trying to remember when schools started handing out lists to stores of things the kids were required to bring. It’s almost robotic. The parents enter the store, pluck a list from a kiosk designed especially for the lists for the different schools or classes, and go buy what’s on it. They don’t seem to question or argue about the need.

And what a list it is. I might be wrong, but I think the cheapest one kid can get off is around $50. I can visualize someone spending hundreds of dollars if they have more than one kid.

Good grief, school supplies could cost as much as an iPhone! ….. And that brings me to another question. Is there a teenager anywhere, or even a pre-teen, who doesn’t have an iPhone? Or something like it? And what’s up with two kids who are standing beside each other texting each other? Why can’t they simply look at each other and talk?

I don’t know at what point the world left me so far behind. But I do know this. I’m not sure the world is that much better off.

Anna

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Quick, give me air…

Last night when I got into my car at 11:07 p.m. after grocery shopping, the temperature was 97 degrees. I literally exhaled a gasp.

In North Central Texas, we’re over 25 days and counting of triple-digit temperatures. Everything outside is crispy and starting to turn brown. The whole outside looks like it could catch fire any minute. And as those of you who have been receiving my newsletter know, we had a range fire near our home a few years ago.

My husband is struggling to save the plants with targeted watering three times a day, but we aren’t even making an effort on the grass. With no end to the heat in sight, we fear it’s a battle we couldn’t win. Not even considering the waste of water, I can’t imagine what it would do to our water bill. What’s happening with the electric bill is bad enough.

I’m starting to feel like I live in Arizona. Or southern Nevada.  There, many homeowners don’t even have grass. They have gravel and stone in their yards instead. That’s starting to look pretty good to me.

But I digress. This post really isn’t about the weather. It’s about air conditioning, which all of us take for granted nowadays.

When I was growing up in West Texas, we had no “refrigerated air conditioning.” (That’s what we used to call it.)  …..  Daytime temperatures were blazing hot, but nighttime temps usually cooled down. Still, we had a swamp cooler mounted in one of the windows and sometimes it was effective and sometimes not. For those who aren’t familiar with swamp coolers, what it amounts to is a big metal box insulated with straw or some other product that water will pass through, surrounding a big fan. This works pretty well in dry climates, but would be miserable in humid climates, such as North Central Texas.

What I recall is it usually made so much noise we couldn’t hold a conversation in the same room and sometimes if the thing wasn’t working right, it threw drops of water out into the room, making everything wet.

The concept of a swamp cooler is centuries old, going all the way back to ancient Romans and Persians. Even that long ago, those who lived in desert climes figured out how to stay cool, even without electricity.

I visited Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley once. That building was cooled by water passing over a rock wall, which made the room almost cold. Again, no electricity. I even wrote about that concept, sort of, in SALVATION, TEXAS.

Air conditioning as we know it first began to transform movie theaters in the thirties. Frequently, attending a movie was the only opportunity some folks had for just cooling off on a hot summer day. And in transforming movie theaters, you could say cool air also transformed movies, period. Increased and regular movie attendance spurred the making of more movies. Eventually employers discovered workers were more productive if they were more comfortable.

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years. One of the many things I enjoyed there was life without air conditioning. There, it rarely got hot enough, long enough to suffer much. I got used to living without that blowing air, which was nice. My contacts didn’t dry out and my nose wasn’t stuffy.

How about you? Do you live with or without air conditioning?

Anna

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