Friday, December 31, 2010

Foody Friday - Coffee Beef Stew

For Christmas my brother in law gave me The Flavor Bible off my Amazon wish list. It's not a cookbook but rather it gives ideas on different flavors to combine when cooking if you don't necessarily want to follow a recipe. It gives a main ingredient and then lists flavors that are compatible. Some of the compatible flavors are ones that you wouldn't think of like beef and coffee. I've been experimenting a lot lately with different flavor combinations with success and a few failures.

I decided to create some beef stew last week and I must say it turned out much better than I expected! I didn't measure anything but I thought I'd share with you what I did and guess at the amounts.

Coffee Beef Stew

In a large soup pot heat 2-3 T of olive oil very hot. Heat cubed beef, about 1 heaping cup, until cooked through. Remove from pot. Heat 2-3 T more of olive oil. Add 2-3 cups of diced vegetables. I used carrots, celery, onions and potatoes. Cook until browned. Return meat to the pot. Sprinkle 1/2 to 1 cup of flour, 1-2 t. salt, 1 t pepper, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. cloves. Stir until vegetables are completely covered, keep stirring for about a minute. Pour 1/2 c. coffee and beef broth to cover vegetables by about an inch. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cornstarch can be added if the stew isn't thick enough.

The stew with the cloves and cinnamon felt as though it left a slightly warm sensation after you were done with the meal. It was a nice feeling for a cold winter day.
It's been fun trying to create my own dishes without referring to a recipe. Well, except for the caramel pecan sauce I was trying to make that came out a giant clump of burnt sugar....sigh, you can't learn without a few failures right?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photo Thursday - Spooky December Moon

Last week when we were home for Christmas in Indiana I took this pic for my sister or Officer as she is better known. She's a police officer in Indianapolis and rarely gets to enjoy the beauty of a night sky due to all the light pollution of the city. If I ever get her out to Kansas to see the night sky she may never go back!

So here you go Officer. I thought this was kind of a spooky shot, more Halloweenish but I enjoy them all the same. I didn't have a tripod and I needed a second long exposure. I tried standing still while making myself into a tripod and leaning against the house. But they are a bit blurry but hey...a blurry shot is sometimes better than no shot at all, right? And hey, I bet Officer will enjoy this one anyway.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Card Cleanup

I bet you are thinking of cleaning up all those Christmas decorations aren't you? Maybe not yet doing but at least thinking that it needs to be done. Where are those elves when you need em'?

I bet you have a Christmas card wall like mine. What do you do with all those cards? Don't throw them away!! Every year when I start taking down the Christmas decorations I'll cut the front of all the cards off and put them in a ziploc bag. I'll put them in the box of decorations and then I'll use them for gift labels next year.

Or what about all those great photo cards? You can't really use those for gift tags. Besides I've really enjoyed seeing some of those families we know grow through the years.
About five years ago we started putting all those photo cards in a scrapbook. The scrapbook comes out every December and goes back in the box of Christmas decorations. Seeing the photos once a year I tend to appreciate all those friends and their families a bit more.

What about you? What Christmas cleanup tips do you have to share?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brandon the Dog

Last week when Mountain Man and I were back in Indiana for our Christmas we were able to spend time with my dog Brandon. Okay, Brandon is really my sister's dog. But he feels like mine.

When I was pregnant with my twins back in the summer of 2003, to make a long story short, DR was in Delaware and I ended up living with my sister and her husband for 4 months. In those 4 months I walked Brandon every day, sometimes twice a day. He was a wonderful companion when I was lonely and missing my husband. We watched tv together and napped together. We ate together and generally just hung out.

My sister and brother in law took in Brandon 7 years ago this Christmas from another family who couldn't care for him anymore. No one is quite sure how old Brandon is; the vet's best guess is somewhere between 14 and 19 years old. He's arthritic now and spends a lot of time laying down. Except during Christmas dinner, then he spent time under the table licking the carpet for crumbs and hoping the kids would ignore my sister's warnings and feed him from their plates anyway.

Brandon is always tolerant of our big loud family and doesn't seem to mind all the little kids hanging around.
Brandon isn't going to be around forever though. And even though I don't see him much, I always get a tug in my heart when I think of the Christmas when he won't be with us anymore. I love you Brandon, thanks for being my dog.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Marker Monday - The Textbook Purse

Literally...this is a textbook purse...made from an old Biology text my sister found in a used book store. My sister Ruby made this for our other sister Rose for Christmas. I'm jealous...I want one. I don't need another purse....wait, sure I do! I'm a woman. Don't we always need another purse?

Do you have any of those old big college textbooks laying around? Those would work great for this project.

And my sister found the best fabric for a microbiology text. It makes me think the inside is crawling with living little critters.

Here are the video directions my sister used. But I found two different sets of directions online that seem similar; here and this one with pictures.

I really want to make this purse! Now I'm on a quest to find the perfect book, fabric and handles.
Hmmm....should I go with an art text? Or a cookbook or....oh I know! Wouldn't it be great to find a big book of fairy tales or other great big kids book and use it as a toy tote for church? Time to raid the kids' bookshelves.
Are you as excited about this purse as I am? No? That's alright, I always knew I was a craft nerd.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Devotions - Christmas

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the sheperds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
Luke 2:16-20
Although Christmas is over today is a day to remember that God did not intend for Christmas to be a one day affair.
Two thousand years ago God sent Him as a baby to this world....

....and gave Him this job to do...... order that you and I may have salvation through grace!

On Christmas we celebrate a gift given to all of us that we surely don't deserve.
Dear God, Thank You for sending Your Son as a baby to us, to become one of us and to die for us. Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Merry Christmas all!! I hope you are able to spend your day with loved ones and enjoying a restful day. Do you have a white Christmas today?

For us, we are spending a brown dry Christmas in Kansas but I'd really prefer a bit of snow....just a bit. But since it doesn't snow (or rain or do much anything than blow wind) in Kansas I'm content to have my pics from Indiana last week.

I bet you won't believe it but I even enjoyed walking in all this slush in the parking lot. For years I complained about snow and slush and salt and dirt during the winters but when I don't have it at all it's amazing how a bit of slush made me happy.

The bare trees on the Kansas prairie are kind of ugly but add a bit snow to these Indiana trees and you have instant beauty.

Where ever you are and whatever you are looking out your window at this morning, be it new snow, old slush or brown grass may you have a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Foody Friday - Cornbread Veggie Layer Salad

I'm not much for layered salads, I usually avoid them at all costs. You know...the ones where there's a bunch of veggies drowned in dressing? Ugg, something about them repulses me! But I was at a luncheon a few weeks ago and someone had made this one and I fell in love. It's so easy and not smothered in salad dressing. Plus I think there's something about the cornbread that balances out all that dressing. Anyway, if it hadn't been impolite, I would have heaped my plate with this stuff! It was great!

First, make a loaf of cornbread using your favorite recipe and allow it to cool. I made mine in a skillet. Crumble a 1/3 of it into the bottom a deep dish. I didn't have anything pretty, just a 9x13 casserole dish. Drizzle with ranch dressing.

Add a layer of diced tomatoes, peppers and onions...more or less if you like.
Add a can of corn and a can of pinto beans. I love corn...canned, sweet, parched, on the cob, roasted....oh, sorry that....I got a bit off track. Back to the salad!!!

Now repeat those layers again; cornbread, dressing, tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn and beans.
To top it off crumble on the last of the cornbread, a bit more dressing and shredded cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Letter of Failure

I love Christmas cards.....I hate Christmas letters.

Okay, I get the idea...write a letter to let your friends and family know of all the year's happenings. Maybe some Christmas letters are welcome but not the ones my sister and I receive. We get those Christmas letters that boast about the in depth accomplishments of our friends' children, all of whom are of superior intellect and/or athletic ability. We get the Christmas letters the sing the praises of those working moms who hold their families lives and activities in perfect balance and harmony. Really, most of these letters give my sister and I migraines or they put us in a depression after we realize we must be terrible mothers because our kids aren't brilliant in 101 different areas.

My sister finally had enough! This year she and her husband poked fun at themselves and wrote their Christmas letter of failure, highlighting all the ways they and their children aren't living in perfect harmony! It's hilarious...especially if you know my three little nephews.

So, I'm sharing my sister Rose's Christmas letter of failure with you today.
Hoping this will give you a bit of a Christmas laugh during what may be a time of Christmas stress...enjoy!

P.S. - If you personally know my sister make sure you read the whole letter for the biggest parenting "failure" of all towards the end.

Greetings! We had another red letter year for the Bailey's. What? Is our car not good enough for you? Anyway, I will stop digressing from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." The year has come and gone in a blur of constant chaos and moments. Travis hasn't learned to say no and decided it would be a good idea to be president of ag teachers of Indiana, chief negotiator for the teacher's union, member of several committees and tasks force groups along with regular FFA duties and activities. Basically, he's married to the job.

Rose, anticipating this lack of slow down, decided to throw her hat at teaching ag and coaching FFA teams again, as well as piloting a new curriculum. She still doesn't realize teaching middle school will eventually lead to certifiable insanity.

Highlights of the year included a summer vacation to Sidney, OH. Never heard of it? Neither have we. Even the locals asked why we were there. The hotel had air conditioning and possibly some illegal narcotic activity. We went to the zoo and Dayton Air Force Museum to save the vacation from the certain doom of Sidney, it's icky playground by a waste treatment plant, and it's pathetic, solitary ice cream stand.

Graham celebrated his 1st birthday. He's the snottiest child in the history of mankind. When he learned to scoot, we could track his slime trail like a snail. Outside the leakage, he's a happy, healthy baby. We've been lucky to avoid the volcanic vomit and poop of previous babies.

Noah is a bundle of energy and always under one of his alter egos. We're running out of monsters and super heros. He has also perfected his happy meal radar and can smell golden arches from 100 mile radius. Noah is a clever boy. We recently learned he disposed his soiled underpants in the babysitter's yard to avoid punishment. She never discovered them and he maintained his status of "good kid".

Lucas, the time and energy vacuum, has reached 1st grade with minimal damage to all bystanders. Homework is tough, school is tough, and even recess can be a chore. He still enjoys school and is working to be a better student. We are learning to be parents of a child of autism, consulting books and assaulting professionals with questions. Lucas no longer licks people, at least not lately. And he only bit Joey once.

We are happy and healthy and our family has an addition. A cat and two gerbils, who rank above Noah and Graham in Lucas's eyes. We did go through two pet mice, who died, before going for the hardier gerbils.

We have had a good year. We are a year wiser and the boys are a year older. We are not that wise because despite our combined four college degrees and licenses to teach science, we have once again failed to in our understanding of human reproduction and are pregnant again.... SURPRISE!!

Merry Christmas from Travis, Rose, Lucas, Noah, and Graham.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I may never drive again...

My brother Mountain Man and I drove 948 miles to Indiana for our family Christmas on Friday/Saturday. Oh, we took the kids too. We just got home at 1 am this morning after another....948 miles. Of course my kids didn't appreciate the gravity of these facts when they woke me up at 6 this morning.

I think my legs are permanently bent at a 45 degree angle. I can't put my arms down! They seem to be stuck in the "clutching the wheel" pose. You should see how funny I look typing this by the way.

2000 miles in a car with three kids was quite the experience! But we're home safely. There were no vehicle/traffic/weather problems to speak of thank goodness.

I may never drive again...of course, I may never get out of bed again! If you never hear from me again it's a good chance I'm burrowed under 5 blankets snoring or in my kitchen eating something besides fast food.

Traveling is great but getting home is better. May you all stay safe on your holiday travels this year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buffalo Grass Pastel

Last night I finally had the chance to get back to doing some drawing. This one has been sitting on my easel since before Thanksgiving. I probably worked for a good hour on it and then felt I had to stop before I messed something up. Usually I can give it a couple hours and have an idea what I need to do next to a drawing but this one has me stumped.

It's an abstract take on some weeds I saw in a ditch a while ago with buffalo beneath them. As though the plants are growing from the bodies of the buffalo; circle of life type of thing.



What do you think?
I like the bottom (dark buffalo areas) and I like the top (blue sky and weed tops) but I'm not feeling the center (weed stems and horizon line) but I don't know what I need to do.
I thought maybe I need to develop the stems. Or maybe I need to work on the horizon line and background. Now I'm not sure if I want the buffalo to look as though they are below ground or above ground. I do know I like the rough sketchy style going on. I don't want anymore realism here, just abstraction.

Thoughts? Opinions? Any ideas would be most helpful.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Super Croc!

The little museum in our town, the Stauth Museum right across the street, just got a VERY BIG exhibit! SuperCroc!!!

SuperCroc, or Sarchosuchus (that's such a fun word to say) was discovered in 2000 in the Sahara Desert in Niger. Only about 50% of the original skeleton was found but by studying living crocodiles scientists were able to recreate the total skeleton.

Super Croc was 40 feet long, as long as a school bus! That's twice as long as the largest living crocodile on record. The skull itself was 6' long! Amazing!

Yahoo wouldn't even be an appetizer for this dude. In fact scientists believe that this prehistoric crocodile would wait submerged at the waters edge and catch dinosaurs coming to drink. Then eat em'! A crocodile that ate dinosaurs. Yip and Yap were amazed by that little tidbit of information...and so was I.

I love this photo of the scientists who made the discovery lying down in the desert behind the skull to recreate the length, or what they guessed, the croc would have been.

That is one mighty long, strong tail and just check out the size of those teeth.

Of course there is more to the exhibit than just the giant skeleton. There's models of what scientists believe SuperCroc's eggs and babies would have looked like. There are side by side comparisons of SuperCroc's bones to modern crocodile and alligator bones. There is a National Geographic video documenting some of the work scientists did on SuperCroc. There is audio of modern reptiles sounds and those of what scientists believe SuperCroc would have sounded like.
Though it's small, all around it is an absolutely amazing exhibit for such a small town of 900 people to have the chance to host. If you are in the area it would be well worth your time to detour to check it out. The exhibit will be up til March and I have a feeling the boys and I will be checking it out often...we've already been there 3 times!
Yep, we are pretty blessed to have such an amazing museum for our neighbor.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Devotions - The Sheperd Comforts

image borrowed online and poem borrowed from
Really Woolly Bedtime Prayers by Bonnie Rickner Jensen.

The Lord will hear your crying, and he will comfort you. Isaiah 30:19

The Sheperd Comforts

When your heart is sad,

Or maybe even mad.

When you're crying and feeling blue.

The Sheperd knows,

Just how it goes,

His heart has felt that way too.

So say a prayer,
He's always there -

To help and comfort you.

You'll soon feel great,

Just fine, first rate!

That's what God's love will do!

Dear God, Thank You for being my friend when I am sad. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bieber Fever

Purse Gurl has been back visiting us for the last couple weeks, what a pleasure it's been! We reminisce about family, cook together, and sit and talk, talk, talk. Everything about spending time with Purse Gurl has been great....except for one thing...and that one thing might get her kicked out of my house.

Justin Bieber.

See, I'm lucky enough to have young kids right now. I don't have to put up with Hannah Montana, or Keesha, or whoever else it is "cool" right now. I don't even know who's cool because my kids are too young to care.

Then in walks 20 yr. old Purse Gurl who listens to Justin Bieber. And lately, she and Yahoo's girl time has included watching Justin Bieber videos on YouTube.....over and over again. Yahoo was even singing along yesterday and dancing up a storm!

I can't hardly stand it! Bieber needs a haircut. He looks like he's 12. His songs make him out to be a mini Cassanova with all these girls swooning over him? I just don't get it. And I'm getting tired of hearing, "One Less Lonely Girl". Really? That qualifies as good music now? (Sheesh, I sound like my father!)

Give me Toby Keith that's someone to swoon over.

But I love Purse Gurl and so does Yahoo and they are enjoying their Beiber time together so I'll let it go.....for a little longer. I might have to buy some industrial strength earplugs.

Now I know how my dad must have felt when I had a thing for Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Wow, was that 20 years ago? Well at least I'm comforted that Bieber probably won't be popular forever!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Foody Friday - Homemade Mac n' Cheese

Purse Gurl has come back to me! Although she's been carefully avoiding my camera she did allow me to photograph the Baked Mac n' Cheese she made us last night. So yummy!

Boil about 2 or 3 cups of macaroni or other small pasta; we used penne rigate. While the pasta is boiling make up the cheese sauce.

Start with 1/2 cup of milk and mix in 2 T. of cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat 2 cups of milk over medium heat.

Slowly add 2 cups of shredded cheese (room temperature! That makes a difference I've learned.) Add more if you like it extra cheesy. Wouldn't this be great with a bunch of fancy white cheeses? Mmmmm....

Slowly whisk the cheese into the milk until it melts. Then whisk in the cornstarch/milk mixture.

Whisk and heat until desired consistency is reached. It should be thick but pourable. Adjust cheese or cornstarch as needed.

Pour over cooked pasta and stir well. Transfer to lightly sprayed baking dish and bake at 350 until golden brown on top.

Sorry, bad picture...but I had to snap it quick before my kids dived in.
* A fabulous twist on this is to sprinkle 1" pieces of bacon on top before you bake it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photo Thursday - Understanding Light

I've recently started following the blog One Thousand Words. Gretchen from Texas has started this blog to help photographers of all levels improve their understanding of their camera and to create a forum for questions about how to improve their photography. Gretchen, Texan Mama has even given us assignments.


Assignment #2 - Understanding Light - For this assignment she challenged us to start really thinking about light and how it changes throughout the day or how it changes from one location to another. Once I start thinking about light and it's effects then I can anticipate the settings I need to make to my camera.

f/11, 1/200 sec., ISO 200, flash, 2:30 pm

I've already posted on how the bright afternoon sun here in Kansas creates dark shadows under my men's hats. I've learned moving in and using a flash helps tremendously along with a fast shutter speed. I know many people say the middle of the day is a terrible time to shoot photos but it is quickly becoming one of my favorite times of day to break out my camera.

f 3.8, 1/25 sec., ISO 800, 6:40 pm.

f5, 1/80 sec., ISO 800, 6:30 pm.

The two previous shots, kids and chalk, were taken before Thanksgiving and were pretty tricky. It was almost dusk and I had to open my lens up and slow down my shutter to get these images. What I really like about the evening light is how cool it is, bluish. (I love the shirtless boy and barefoot girl wearing a winter coat!)

f 5.6, 1/100 sec., ISO 200, no flash, 8:00 am

f 5.3, 1/100 sec., ISO 400, no flash, 8:00 am.

I still feel really unsure shooting indoors. I always want to automatically flip on the flash. With the previous two morning indoor shots I kept the kids near the windows to allow the natural light to do the work. I was fairly happy with the results. I like the morning light because it is very warm while creating soft shadows.

But I was at a total loss for this one! The boys Christmas program was in a gym with the lights turned off! I did my best but in the end I had ISO 1600, flash and it was still dark and grainy.

Ah well, I have years of Christmas programs to practice on don't I?

If you are new to taking photos jump over to Gretchen's One Thousand Words. I've already gotten some great advice and lots of encouragement.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fort Larned Christmas

My first date with DR was at Conners PrairieLiving History Museum in Fishers, Indiana. We went through their Christmas walk reliving Christmas traditions in 1830's Indiana. It was cold and windy, which gave us a good excuse to hold hands!

Because we are suckers for reminiscing our first date, DR and I took the kids to Fort Larned, KS over the weekend. Fort Larned was a Union fort during the Civil War right on the Sante Fe Trail and on Saturday they were having their Christmas celebration.

We started off in the visitors center where their were some artifacts for us to check out and books to buy for some last minute Christmas gifts.

Then we headed off to the fort's hospital for a 1860's Christmas in the western frontier.

With no electricity the whole room was lit up with dozens of candles which created a beautiful soft glow throughout the whole room. However, I couldn't get my camera to get a good photo of what the room really looked like. I had to use the flash and I got brightly lit photos; not at all what the room was like.

The officers wives were dressed in their finest hoop skirts and they began the night by feeding us a traditional fort Christmas dinner! They had oyster stew and tomato soup, homemade breads, lemonade and warm eggnog, marble and spice cakes, gingerbreads, cookies, and pies, pies, PIES! Apple, custard, raisin, pumpkin and more....mmmmm!! Sorry, I was too busy eating to take pictures of the food.

After we had finished gorging ourselves on the fabulous food, all the visitors settled down on the benches, conveniently placed around a hot pot belly stove, for Christmas carols. We were led in singing of Christmas hymns by the quarter master, I believe.

After the singing the re-enactors explained some of the conditions those at the fort had to deal with while preparing their Christmas celebration. There weren't evergreens on the frontier so sage bushes, shrubs or even elk antlers were substituted for the Christmas tree. Eggs for baking were scarce also and a letter written by an officers wife, at the time, recounts how a shipment of eggs that had arrived were each wrapped individually in cotton batting to protect them during the trip.

Of course what Christmas, even on the prairie, would be complete without a visit from Santa. He asked Yap what he wanted for Christmas and Yap answered, "Remember? I sent you my letter already!"

And Santa, right on cue, "Oh yes! I read it a couple weeks ago. My elves are working on it right now."

Yap turned to me with shining eyes, "Mom! Did you hear that? Santa's elves are working on my Christmas list!!"

We joined in a game of drop the hankerchief. Everyone stands in a circle while one person coyly drops a hankerchief behind someones back then they take off running around the circle. The hankerchief is picked up by the person in the circle and they run around the circle in the opposite direction, both racing for the empty spot in the circle. Whoever loses has to drop the hankerchief on the next round. You wouldn't think this would be a contact sport but more than once I was sure someone would get knocked to the ground!
We only stayed half the evening considering how grumpy Yahoo was getting (it was way past bedtime) and we still had over an hour drive back home. There were many other activities planned that we just couldn't stay for. But we are already planning on coming back during the day when it's a bit warmer.

Have you ever visited a living history Christmas? Where?
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