30 December 2011

Feline Friday: The Great Escape

Lily can open most any door, but her specialty is pocket doors. Check out her expert technique!

28 December 2011

So many cookies, so little resistance...

Two posts about cookies this week can only mean one thing: I have cookies on the brain. I'm really not sure what possessed me to make so many cookies this year. I've given away a LOT, yet they seem to be multiplying in my freezer. I'm hoping the onslaught of college kids home for break will help alleviate this problem.

I'll admit that it is nice to have cookies to pull out when people stop over. This is an unusual occurrence around here as I almost never make dessert of any kind. Why? I have NO RESISTANCE whatsoever.

In the midst of my baking frenzy last week, I happened upon a plastic pastry mat at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. My mom had one of these sheets for rolling out dough and I've been on the lookout for something similar for the past few years. I tried it out on the gingerbread men and it worked great. 

It's probably a good thing that I was wrapping up my baking at that point because my new mat could have easily inspired me to make even more cookies. I guess "spend more time at the gym" will now be at the top of my resolutions list for 2012!

26 December 2011

Date Pecan Cookies

I'm not sure what came over me this Christmas, but I actually felt like baking. I made several kinds of cookies -- a fact which I've now come to regret since I'm having trouble staying away from them! 

I especially like Date Pecan Cookies, which are not specifically a Christmas cookie but work well with other kinds of holiday treats. I recently found two bags of dates in the freezer and, although they keep forever when frozen, I needed to use them up because I know my dad will bring me more when he returns from wintering in Arizona!  So I made a batch of these cookies and sent most of them home with him. Trust me: They are very hard to resist!

The worst part about working with dates is dealing with their extreme stickiness. You'll need to remove the pits and chop them with a sharp knife while they're still frozen.

 Date Pecan Cookies


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pitted dates
  • 1 cup chopped pecans


  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves; gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Combine the water and dates; stir into the dough along with the chopped pecans. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

This is what the batter looks like. I LOVE my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I'm not sure how I could function in the kitchen without it! It's perfect for recipes like this.

And here are a few of the cookies cooling on a rack. Oh, look -- it appears that a couple of them are missing! These cookies have a tendency to disappear!

23 December 2011

Feline Friday: Tinsel, Our Christmas Kitty

This Christmas, we will be celebrating 10 years with Tinsel, so I thought it would be fitting to re-post the story my daughter wrote many years ago about how Tinsel came to live at our house. We're awfully glad that Santa chose us to give Tinsel her forever home!

 The Cat Who Came for Christmas

As I tickled my cat Tinsel with a long brown feather, I thought about the way she had come to be a part of our family. It all started back in the fourth grade...
      I was eight years old, and my pet fish had just recently died. I had decided that I wanted a new pet, but this time I wanted something soft and furry.
      Christmas was nearing, and I was getting ready to write my annual wish list for Santa. I didn’t really know what I wanted for Christmas, but I sat down to type my letter to the jolly old fellow.
      Then it hit me. I didn’t want books, toys, games, or any other sort of usual Christmas gift. No, I wanted a special companion. So throwing caution to the winds, I told Santa that I wanted a “real live kitty” for Christmas. (Clearly I had wanted to be certain I got a real cat, not a stuffed animal.) I clicked the button to send my letter, and my letter was gone. Gone to the North Pole, where Santa and his elves were in complete control of the situation. Now all I had to do was wait for Christmas.
      As the days passed, I went back to my normal routine, never giving much thought to my letter. Finally Christmas Eve arrived. I went to bed, feeling nervous, but all the same, very excited.
      I awoke early on Christmas Day. As soon as I remembered it was Christmas, I leapt out of bed and dashed into the hall. Immediately I peered over the balcony into our foyer. Amidst the massive green branches I saw a large gray box. After sprinting into my room again to get my glasses, I craned my neck over the railing once more. Could that gift be what I thought it was?
      I raced down the stairs and over to the tree. Underneath it sat the unidentifiable box, complete with a red bow. The box gave a slight “Meow!”, and I looked into what was really an animal carrier. Inside, staring back at me was my own kitty! My wish had come true after all!
      Then my mom spoke, “Why don’t you take her out and meet your new friend?” I turned to see my parents standing with the video camera, filming my reaction to Santa’s gift.
      I opened the squealing door to the carrier and pulled out my own kitty. She was brown with black stripes, small, and ever so sweet. Cuddling her, I said, “She’s perfect.” I decided right then and there to name her Tinsel, because she was a “Christmas kitty”.
      I now think of that Christmas as my best one yet, because I received my first furry friend. Now, as I watch her play, I am reminded of that wonderful morning.

22 December 2011

Village Under Construction

Many, many years ago, my mom started buying me houses from the Department 56 Dickens Village. I often received one or two houses for my birthday and for Christmas each year, so my collection grew very large over time (read: I've had a lot of birthdays). As the years passed, I added trees, people, and other accessories. I now have over 35 houses with no more room to expand!

As you might imagine, putting up the village takes many hours. It is such a big job that I sometimes try to talk myself into putting up only a few pieces. But as soon as I start working on it, I can't bring myself to stop until every single house is lit and every village person is perfectly placed. I guess Christmas can't come to our house until the village is up!

This year I was later than ever getting started. Luckily, I had some help from Lily! She did a quick inventory to be sure all the houses were accounted for. Yep! Weer gud to go, mommie!

Suddenly, snow began to fall! It always snows in the Dickens Village, you know.

It's probably no surprise that I am very picky about how my completed village looks. Luckily, I have a great place to display it on the shelves around our fireplace. A few years ago, Spouse drilled a hole in the back of each shelf so that the electrical cords can easily reach the outlets below.

After taking the houses out of their boxes, I first decide where  each one will be placed. I use empty boxes to create a second level. Once the rough structure is in place, I position the houses, attach the cords, and plug them into a large power strip. Things look really messy at this point.

This photo shows a portion of the village with the houses and buildings in place.

Sheesh, dis is hard work, Mommie!

Next, I tear pieces of quilt batting "snow" and begin placing it over the boxes and cords, lifting up the houses as I go and using bits of batting to and add hills. Tearing (rather than cutting) the batting creates softer, more natural-looking snow. Once the snow is in place, the village begins to look more finished.

Next, we inspect all of the trees and place them strategically around the houses and buildings. Trees help cover gaps and add texture and interest to the display.

Then I add the people and small accessories to complete the scenes.

Finally, we add a few houses and accessories to the mantel. Tinsel was a big help with this part of the set-up!

Like the rest of the village, this part of the display looks much better once the snow, trees, and people are in place.

Here is another area of the village after the set-up process is complete.

A close-up shows a small ensemble playing outside of the puppet theatre.

Setting up the village is hard work, but it's well worth the effort! As you can see, it's a big part of Christmas at our house!

21 December 2011

Wordless (actually SPEECHLESS) Wednesday

I'm scared to death of frogs, so imagine my horror at running across this creepy display at Hobby Lobby. Just because they're wearing wide-brimmed hats doesn't make me feel any better about them.

19 December 2011

Winter Break: Off to a Great Start!

Our daughter arrived home on Thursday of last week, having been away at college since August. This is by far the longest time that she's ever been gone. We were very excited to welcome her home!

In the few short days she's been here, we've been pretty busy. First, she finished decorating the Christmas trees:

Next, we celebrated my grandma's 100th birthday with a big open house for friends and family. At 100, she still lives alone and is very sharp! She keeps us all in line. :)

Yesterday, Bailey baked an apple-raspberry pie! (Isn't it the MOM'S job to have wonderful baked goods ready for the child when she arrives home from college? Not in this house!)

She got reacquainted with Tinsel (who doesn't want to be held by anyone, regardless of how long she's been gone)...

...and Lily, who doesn't mind being hauled around in the least.

And she put together a gingerbread house kit meant for children but perfect for brain-weary college students.

We've watched movies and listened to performances of her college ensembles. We've cooked dinner at home and frequented our local Starbucks. We've happily tripped over her shoes and battled for who gets to sit next to her on the couch.

In short, we just love having her here and plan to enjoy every single minute until we have to send her back!

16 December 2011

Feline Friday: A littel bit of nottie!

Lily has apparently forgotten that Christmas is just around the corner, because she did something NAUGHTY: She dug the napkins out of the napkin basket and chewed the edges!

When she was a little kitten, she did this rather frequently, but it's been a very long time since she has destroyed paper napkins.

Luckily, I caught her before she got through the entire stack!

But Santa! I wuz onlie a littel bit of nottie! Pleeze mai I still haf mi Crissmas stockeen?

Okay, Lily, Santa will consider the fact that you were good MOST of the time this year!

13 December 2011

Our Visit to IU - Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Indiana University to visit our daughter. Most of our visit was described in my previous post, but there are a few additional photos from our trip that I'd like to share.

As it happened, our visit coincided with IU's 53rd annual production of The Nutcracker. As soon as I knew we were making the trip, I bought tickets. I love The Nutcracker and couldn't wait to see this production!

A larger-than-life nutcracker stood watch in the lobby of the Musical Arts Center...

...opposite a huge Christmas tree, reminiscent of the tree which magically "grows" during Clara's dream.

As a young girl, our daughter had small parts in a local production of The Nutcracker for three years, and for many more years we attended different area Nutcracker performances each Christmas season. I feel like I know The Nutcracker pretty well and always enjoy comparing the set, staging, and dancing from one production to another.

Of course, the dancing in this production was perfect, as the show was produced by IU's ballet school. All of the main parts were performed by ballet majors, and the children were students in IU's pre-collegiate classes. But one of the best parts about the production was the live orchestra, made up of IU students -- including a few of Bailey's friends. I had never seen a Nutcracker production with a live orchestra and (because we were sitting high enough where we could see into the pit) found it hard to watch both the orchestra and the beautiful dancing at the same time!

The weather was warm, so we took a walk around the square after the performance. The town of Bloomington does a very nice job of decorating for the holidays.

Look at these trees! The lights extend all the way to the end of each branch. The trees are amazingly beautiful!

It was a wonderful weekend, made even better by the fact that Bailey will be home very soon for Christmas!

09 December 2011

Feline Friday: YOGURTZ!

I shall waite vary quietlie on my mommie's messie desk. I haf my eye on hurr YOGURTZ! Mi favoritte!

My feets are lined up just purrfectlie, so maybe she'll gif me a sample!

I am getting tired of waiting, mommie!

Here I am FINALLIE getting a taiste! My mommie is haffing sum trubbles wif her camera. Sorrie I luk kinda blurrie!

But luk here! I do not know how she caught that string of YOGURTZ going right up into my mouf! NOM NOM NOM

YOGURTZ is a very tastie treat! And nutrishus, too! Get ur own cuz i'm not shareen!

Luv, Lily

07 December 2011

Our Visit to IU - Part 1

We had an absolutely wonderful visit to IU this past weekend. The main reason we went was to see Bailey's performance with the World Percussion Ensemble. But as it happened, it was also the weekend for IU's production of The Nutcracker. Being a huge Nutcracker fan, I was really excited to see a performance produced by a renowned ballet school! This is the first of two posts about our weekend adventures.

Incidentally, this trip was the first time out with my new Droid Razr, which I'm obviously still getting used to -- judging by the quality of these photos! Now that I have a real smart phone, it was fun being able to post photos to Facebook throughout the weekend to share with friends and family. Yes, I have just crawled out from under a rock. Yay for modern conveniences!

After we arrived in Bloomington, we took in an early dinner at Nick's while Bailey was busy hauling gear to the performance venue for the percussion concert that evening. Nick's is a legendary spot for pizza.

And for good reason: The pizza is outstanding. I even had mushrooms on my side, which is a real treat for me!

And then we headed off to the concert. Shortly after we got there, we found her! As you can tell, we were pretty happy to see her! Spouse even looks like he is wearing a party hat.

The World Percussion Ensemble is an award-winning group which features the highly rhythmic call and response music of Afro-Cuban cultures. Spouse had heard the group perform at PASIC (the Percussive Arts Society International Convention) and was excited to see them again. I had never heard anything like this group and loved every minute of it! (Click on the collage to enlarge.)

After the concert, I grabbed a couple of photos of Bailey and Neil, this one on my "real" camera since I was still learning to operate my Droid camera...

After the performance, we ran up the street to Red Mango, their favorite "weigh and pay" (hey, I just made that up!) yogurt place. It was really great! It's very similar to the new Orange Leaf yogurt shops we have around here. And even though we were paying, these two insisted on sharing a cup! They must be very cost-conscious!

Afterwards, we went back to the concert venue and caught the IU Latin Jazz Band. What a great group! People were dancing in the aisles! Not me, of course...

On Saturday morning, we had a little time to poke around in the shops on the town square while our college student slept in. We ventured into a little "mall" which connected several old buildings. It was different than anything we'd seen before and quite a good use of urban space. It was festively decorated for Christmas and full of children and families enjoying holiday crafts and music. It was a good reminder that yes, there are real people who live in Bloomington -- not just college students! 

 Bloomington is a lovely little college town, but of course they do have a bit of crime, as suggested by the sign on this tampon machine in the mall bathroom. Are thieves now robbing tampon machines? And do the good folks at the mall actually remove the money twice a day? Exactly how much money would be in this machine, anyway? So many unanswered questions...

After lunch at a Greek place on the square and a quick Target run, we got to hang out with Bailey for a bit while Jay worked on winterizing her window. (Seems that she didn't really like having ice on the INSIDE of the glass last winter.) During this time, I tried out my camera phone so often and with such bad results that I began to get the "enough" look. We really were having fun! Really!

I even got to help decorate her door! These are the little things that you come to appreciate when you don't see your daughter very often. :)

Later that evening, we grabbed subs at Which Wich, WHICH was kind of fun and pretty good. And I had one more opportunity to take a photo with my phone, which somehow wasn't getting any easier. Luckily my subjects put up with my steep learning curve!

Of course, the best part of the weekend was getting to see our daughter and her friends. We cherish the times -- few and far between these days -- when we get to be with her! We are so excited that she'll soon be home for Christmas!