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Home for the Holidays

The holiday weekend is over. Now to get ready for Christmas.

I realized this was our 40th Thanksgiving together. Our first, we headed to PA so I could meet my future in-laws. After that, we regularly spent the day with one of our families.

Usually we went to PA. Then, for the past 12 years we headed to Annapolis to visit my mom and my brother’s family. All of that changed this year. With mom’s passing, and my brother in the midst of a move to eastern VA, we found ourselves without plans for the weekend.

It was weird but also quite peaceful. No last minute crises. No traffic woes. We spent the last five days doing what we wanted when we wanted.

It was heavy with local influences, in a series of meals. We spread it out. I did oyster stew one night with oysters from Boarman’s. We had our Maple Lawn turkey on Thanksgiving.

I made sides and seasonings that we like. My dressing used chorizo and fresh bread cubes made from my CSA ancient grain bread. My homemade cranberry sauce was tangy from the lemon and orange in it. I made creamed spinach instead of green beans.

My husband went up to Dandelion Bistro Wednesday night to pick out a dessert for Thursday. Smith Island cake. Not traditional at all. So, so good though.

Tonight we used more of that leftover turkey along with some of the stock I made from the turkey bones. Pappardelle’s orzo bought from Secolari at Mary’s Land Farm.

We have enough turkey left for sandwiches, and enough soup for another dinner.

As for other things we did, we had a wonderful meal to celebrate my husband’s birthday at Hudson Coastal. We went Saturday night during our latest deluge. The restaurant was busy but not overwhelmed, and the food was excellent.

Today I watched the traffic backups and was thankful our days of nail-biting drives are over. But, we miss our parents. We are thankful we had so many years to share holidays. We just need to adjust to new routines and make new memories.

Tomorrow? Baking for the Conservancy holiday sale, where we make a potluck lunch for volunteers and vendors. The sale is Saturday and is a highlight of the start of many activities leading up to Christmas.

A Very Merry

Holiday Season. Beginning and ending, and all those days between. By now, many friends and relatives have done the eating, drinking, giving, and receiving as they celebrate this weekend.

Here, I suppose I can say we are celebrating. All I wanted for Christmas was the decision, and planning, to tackle our biggest painting and updating project. Namely, my kitchen. The heart of our home. The place we spend the most time, and the room that made me want to buy this house a dozen years ago.

cookie central before

cookie central before


cookie central Friday

cookie central Friday

When I said that’s what I wanted for Christmas and my birthday, I didn’t mean it literally, but surprise, that’s how it is turning out. It seems that in order to have my favorite painter and carpenter doing our job, it was best to fit it between some major work that our general contractor has in 2017. And, of course, December and January are slow times in the construction and renovation business.

farewell, pot rack

farewell, pot rack

So, last Thursday it began. Stripping wallpaper borders. Tomorrow, and most of this week, dry wall repair, priming, and the earliest tasks. While waiting for the electrician to give me new (please non-humming) overhead lighting. Sometime later next week, ceiling painting, then final painting of all the walls.

the usual spot for the tree

the usual spot for the tree

This means that I am seriously not thinking straight. To tackle this during the holidays. That’s what I get, I suppose, for saying I don’t want presents anymore. I just want to finish all the laundry list of projects that still need to be done.

Crossing my fingers that the 30 year old stove continues to work, until I get myself ready to tackle that really large item on that list.

Everyone. Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, etc. I may not have decorated much this year, but I did get the poinsettias.

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Not Good At Math

A phrase that drives me crazy. Why do we announce (and particularly in front of children) that we aren’t good at something? Something necessary to thrive and excel in our lives. Most of the time, it isn’t even true. But I hear it constantly.

Usually during field trips when I introduce a math element to our hikes. Like when I talk about the chickens, and how many eggs they may lay in a week. If you have four chickens and they lay about six eggs a week, how many eggs do you gather in a week?

Basically, we are good at math. The common sense math we encounter daily. Here’s how.

Do you bake? Can you halve or double a recipe? Are you like me, finding only a 1/3 cup measure clean when you need a cup of an ingredient. Knowing three of them will make a cup.

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How about deciding how much paint to buy? What is the area of your room? Or, my latest project. The deck. Estimates of $40 a square foot to install. What will that cost? We divided the deck into squares, rectangles, triangles, and the one trapezoid to add up the area. Figured it out, and decided we could live with that estimate.

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Do you tip? Can you calculate that 18-20% number by looking at the bill?

Then, obviously, you are good at the math skills necessary to function. Yeah, you may have problems with trig or geometry, or like me, hit the wall at Theory of Numbers (I hated that course!).

I think we all need to be enablers when it comes to encouraging children to figure it out. Learn those analytical thinking skills.

Pull out a recipe. Measure and bake. Make a simple wood project, like a frame. Learn how to saw at a 45 degree angle.

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Just don’t tell the little ones that it’s OK to be functionally deficient. It’s not OK to be “Not Good at Math”.

Mother’s Day Weekend

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Interesting and exciting things to do with mom.

Want to do something new? Not just that breakfast in bed thing?

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Look enticing? A Mother’s Day tea and scones social with the bonus of garden tours. At the Howard County Conservancy this Saturday. Sign up is here.

Or, a Sunday visit to a working farm. With an opportunity to make a flower arrangement, and take a hayride, and also, bring a picnic for the family. At Sharp’s Farm.

I suggest making this simple salad for mom, and bringing it to a picnic wherever you can.

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This salad is simple. Arugula. Marcona almonds. Strawberries. Berry vinaigrette. Pepper. The vinaigrette is from Breezy Willow. Arugula and strawberries from my Friends and Farms baskets. Almonds, Costco.

For other options to visit, there is always Brighton Dam, for the azalea gardens.

Or, the Sheep and Wool Festival. The largest we have heard of. We have to brave the traffic and visit the festival on Sunday.

Don’t just settle for a boring breakfast or brunch. Get out there and support local businesses and give mom something different.

Hoppy Easter

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As the Easter Egg hunts, and egg rolling events accumulate this weekend, we have yet to establish if there really was an egg laying hare, aka “Oschter Haws” as the Germans called it. You have to admit, for those of us scientifically inclined, it is mind boggling to contemplate bunnies laying eggs.

I did dye eggs this year. Kept some older ones around, to be used for display purposes, so I cheated and used the Paas dyes.

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Brown eggs are always interesting to dye. And, the slightly speckled eggs come out very nice. I should have done the natural thing and made dyes from our red cabbage, or from the turmeric in my spice cabinet, but with all the painting and sanding and hammering this week, I was surviving in a corner of my kitchen.

They are done, more or less. Just some carpentry and plumbing to finish. I even got my grandmother’s china back into her cabinet in the dining room. Just in time to make the bone in ham from the CSA last week.

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Traditions for the holidays? Do you have them? Are they ecofriendly and healthy, or are some of them bad for you but you do them anyway. One of ours is the ceremonial Peeps. Has to be just one small box. The other one, Rhebs Candy.

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Who hasn’t been in that long line to pick up candy, up off Wilkens Avenue by St. Agnes Hospital. When we were young, my Dad brought the candy home from their stall in Lexington Market, which closed down in 2008. You can get the candies ordered online now and have them sent to you, but going into the store, smelling the chocolate, and picking out your own assortment was a real treat.

Well, I need to stop reminiscing and get a few things done for Easter. While putting the rooms back in order, hanging pictures and curtains, and finishing up from the six weeks spent making half the house look great.

Thankful for What We Have

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. A time spent with family and friends to celebrate. To be thankful for everything we have.

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For the ability to travel freely. For the ability to say what we wish. For the ability to get a good education. To have clean water. Relatively clean air. Food, water, shelter. We take it for granted, many of us.

Carneros at Thanksgiving

Carneros at Thanksgiving

We don’t always do enough for those who don’t have all of the above. Or, don’t have most of the above. I only do a small part. Those weeks last summer that I spent doing the food bank garden are only a drop in the bucket.

Want to help in a small way all winter long? I know a few ways to help, and I am making a note to remember to do those things before Christmas. Go to an outlet. Buy a large amount of socks, mittens, gloves and/or scarves. Find a local church or nonprofit who is collecting items to be given to those who need them to keep warm.

Head over to Costco with a plan. If you can afford $50 or $100, fine, but any amount helps. Buy those bulk packages of canned goods. Tuna. Beans. Two good candidates that help the Howard County Food Bank. Keep the Costco receipt and staple it to your donation acknowledgement. The food bank really needs useful foods. Not the cleaning out the pantry stuff, but things that people who only have a hot plate, and maybe a microwave, can use.

We learned when we put our garden together that certain foods are used the most. Many of the people who need the services don’t have the ability to make meals from scratch. They lack the pans, the baking sheets, the ovens, or other items that we take for granted.

Go through your closets and donate any sweaters, coats, sweatshirts, warm pants that you no longer wear. Winter is harsh around here. We have been downsizing our life, by eliminating all those extras just taking up space and never getting used.

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I missed making a post for “Giving Tuesday” a few days ago. But, we shouldn’t need a day for giving. We should think about how lucky we are, to be sitting in front of a computer, or writing on a tablet, while warm, with the turkey in the oven, and all our family around us.

And, while we are at it, tomorrow, we will be Opting Outside, even if it’s only to string a few hundred yards of power cable to the radio tower. Maybe we will get over to Old Westminster Winery to see the new tasting room. They are open with music on Friday and Saturday evenings. I think it’s a better way to spend Black Friday.

The Luxury of Time

Ned Tillman commented on yesterday’s post about taking time. “My wish for everyone is that they make the time to spend more of their life out in the woods, on the rivers or in a meadow.”

It is a great resolution, to spend more time outdoors, just enjoying nature. Not even “doing” things. Just walking or sitting.

For so many years, between commuting and traveling for work, we didn’t always take time to sit and do nothing. Or, to leisurely do things without feeling stressed. Like making cookies.

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I spent three days making this year’s cookies. Taking the time to do them right. Slowly. No rush. But I made them simpler, too. Using one basic recipe and making three cookies from it. Thanks to my trusty old Gourmet magazines. These are from 2003.

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I made basic butter cookies. Recipe is on Epicurious web site. I also made the almond spice cookies. And, one more. Basic cookie baked like a shortbread and then covered and baked again with a brownie topping.

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The ones above were the sugar cookies, made with the basic dough. They almost taste like my mom’s, but since hers used margarine and these use butter, the taste is a bit different, as is the texture.

I did other things in stages, as well. Like wrapping presents. And putting the lights outside. I just finished that task this morning. So what if we are last in the area at putting them up. I did get there eventually.

I know I am lucky to be retired. I know I can hit the stores tomorrow morning for those last two items I wanted to get. After everyone else goes to work. Not competing for parking or standing in lines with those who have the limited time on weekends and at night to get it all done.

Still, I realize that I used to get caught up in the frantic rush to get everything done. Wanting to be finished, and then being totally wiped out by the time the holiday came around. No more, I say. I intend to keep this resolution. To do less than I did before, and to make what I do meaningful. To spend more time with friends and relatives. To spend more time outdoors.

And less time trying to overachieve. A less ambitious garden. Easier meals. Less TV. I’ll see how I do when spring comes.