Sunday, December 14, 2014

A White Christmas?

Good morning, Everyone.

I think I am beginning to get into the Spirit. Some of the shopping is done, not all. Just some. Some of the baking is done, too. I thought I would share my candy making adventure with you. It is something that we do once a year, and in some cases not even that. So I decided this year to make suckers for the children. I used to make them for my daughters and nephews at Christmas.

First I needed to find molds, which you would think would be a standard this time of year. I had a nice selection of candy molds from years past that I either loaned or threw away. I did find some molds at my favorite kitchen speciality store. The clerk had to go to the basement to retrieve them as they had been put away because no was buying them.

So I began. The recipe is simple enough: sugar, water, corn syrup. Stir until sugar dissolves, boil to 260 degrees, add coloring but don't stir. Boiling will incorporate color. Continue cooking to 300 degrees. Remove from heat. Once bubbling action quits, add flavoring. Easy.  As you can see, something went wrong. By the time I had added the food coloring, the syrup was golden instead of clear. By the time it reached 300, it was burned. So what did I do wrong? I had a list.
   *I am using a new cook top, so I am still learning how to adjust the burners.
   *My pan is not heavy enough to conduct the heat that candy requires
   *The candy thermometer is out of whack.

At any rate, I ended up a very burnt batch.

Lucky for me there are do-overs. I used the same thermometer a second time, this time keeping a very close eye on the cooking syrup, too. I also double checked my syrup consistency by using our grandmother's method: dropping a bit syrup into a glass of ice water to see if was at the hard ball stage. I did end up throwing away the thermometer and purchasing a new one, which truthfully I think isn't any better. I made a batch of Fantasy Fudge with marshmallow cream and it turned out grainy, which means that it didn't cook long enough to dissolve the sugar to make creamy smooth fudge. I cooked it to the right temp, but I sometimes wonder if our high altitude alters some results. And yet 234 degrees is 234 degrees at any altitude.

I do enjoy making candy. Divinity and peanut brittle when I am done with today's post.

Baking goes much better when you have such good helpers. This will be Boone's first official Christmas with us. He spent his first Christmas as a baby in a shelter. This year he will be as spoiled as the grandchildren. Judith at Lavender Cottage wanted to see Lily in a mosaic for Monday Mosaics. I am glad to oblige her. Be sure to visit to see the other wonderful mosaics.

We had another disaster;  this one outside. Earlier in the fall I had unplugged the pond pump and filter because even though the pond was frozen over, I could tell that there was a serious leak as the water level had dropped underneath the ice. With the Head Gardener away working corn harvest, the pump and filter stayed off and the pond stayed frozen. We had a rare hard freeze in September and it has never warmed up enough to melt the ice.

Yesterday the HG decided to start the pump and filter to freshen the water. Later he noticed that the ice had cracked as the water level had dropped more. We found the leak; it was a tough one to find, but shouldn't have been. The filter is made out of plastic trash can which froze in the extreme cold weather. The water leaked out underneath gravel mulch and into lawn, making it very hard  to discover earlier when the pond first began to lose water. The HG spent a while breaking up the ice to toss it out of the water.

The pump continues to pump water to oxygenate the water for the fish, which survived. I had noticed that one of the big koi had died. It was up at the edge of the ice out of the water. Dead. Or was it? I am not inclined to photograph dead fish, so there is no proof of what I am about to say, but once the dead fish body was re hydrated the fish was revived. We have heard that gold fish can be frozen in ice and once thawed will come back to life. Just saying' the koi has joined the group again. 

It isn't Christmas without poinsettia is it? For years I have purchased two. I always bought them here in town at an antique store because Gertie's were the best, biggest, brightest red, and best priced. Now I buy them at Bath Nursery (where the reindeer are). I opted for a more subtle color this year and purchased just one.  Later in the day our neighbor dropped by with a second poinsettia of the same color. What a special gift. Ironically his wife works at Bath and gives poinsettia to her neighbors. Thank you Carol and Chuck.

How can one not be in the mood for the holidays?

After my very expensive excursion through ARC thrift store last Saturday in Denver with Heather, I vowed to stay out of the store until after the new year. Ours in Greeley is getting pretty picked over, so it is easy to stay or away or even shop and not buy anything there.

I am not good at keeping promises that I make to myself, especially when a certain daughter forces me to join her. I was the check out, when Jen exclaimed: "Mom, look, those little houses, like the ones you make." So I left the check-out line to have a look.  I love this little putz houses so much that I tried to make my own, but I am just not that good. 99 cents each. I couldn't pass these up. My mom had a set, now so do I.

We are supposed to get snow today as a result to the Pineapple Express. So far my California friends are okay. Here it is very cold, windy, and cloudy. The mountains are under heavy storm warning, but here it is just cold so far. Still a nice day to bake and watch Payton Manning  do his job. The Broncos play San Diego in San Diego. 

Have a wonderful week. We have lots to do yet. 

Thanks so much for taking time stop by. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Let There Be Light

Inside the tree is lit, the village sparkles, and the mantle dazzles. You would think that I would be satisfied. But I am not, much to the Head Gardener's dismay. I love Christmas lights, so much that I watched the TV show that featured its outside lighting contest. One home owner boasted a million lights. Me? I just want a few lights outside not so much so that I enjoy them, but so that passers-by can.

You don't see this part of the Garden Spot much because it is a pretty drab part of the place out front right by the main road into town. The previous owner tried to dress up that part of the pasture when he planted these pine trees at the front of the property in a pretty much haphazard manner. They are not a pretty sight. They don't get enough water so they are scrawny; in addition, Pop the pony gets an itch and uses the poor trees as back scratchers so they are full of dead and broken branches. 

Perhaps a good pruning would help.

Instead, we will throw a few lights on four of the trees to make them look festive for the season.

The sun is setting. I am getting excited, so as the the Head Gardener heads the EZ-Go to the barn, I get a bouncy shot of the part of the garden that you never see, but everyone else does.

Add a few jewels to scrawny trees and they become glorious beauties after dark.
 I hope the neighbors like them.

The day began with cookie baking. Jen and Lily come over to help make a few cookies. We really didn't get a lot done because we wandered downtown through the antique shops. Then it was time for her go pick up the older girls from school.

Two year olds are such little dears. 

Tonight I am downloading my Christmas CDS to iTunes. I have them on an old iPod, but I never put them on this new computer (nearly 2 years old now). There is lots of Christmas music in the air at the stores and on the radio, but I have yet to hear "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World."  Look, I love Santa and Frosty, but I also love Jesus and I'd liked to hear those songs that praise Him and remind us what the season really is all about, so I am creating my own play list. I'll get it on the iPod then I can take my own music.

Tomorrow I am actually going go out to do some Christmas shopping. The Head Gardener will be going along to help make the tough decisions. It will be warm, the traffic will be awful, and we will have lunch together.

I am enjoying so much reading about everyone's Christmas traditions, seeing your gorgeous trees, your lovely homes all dressed up the for occasion. Isn't it fun to share such joy and happiness as we prepare for own celebrations? I love the stories, the memories, and the inspirations that you are all sharing.

I'll be back Sunday for Mosaic Monday. We still have lots to do, so we must pace ourselves and enjoy.

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such lovely, sweet comments. You made my day.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I'd Like to Live There

I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that it really is Christmas. Perhaps some snow would help. The weather has be mild, chilly but sunny. The garden looks  is dead and brown, as well it should be. Inside. Well, I am moving rather slowly toward the festiveness. I used to bake up a storm, decorate until there wasn't anyplace left to decorate. Shop until I dropped, with little energy left to wrap packages.

This year I just seem rather blaze` about the whole thing; however, I am working on decorating.  Would like to see what I have been doing?

I have a dear friend who changes her Christmas theme every year; she has 25 years of Christmas in her Christmas closet with each year carefully sorted theme by theme. She tweaks her themes each year by doing different color accents. She has the touch, the flare to decorate, and her home is always beautiful.

This year she won't be doing any of it. A month ago she tripped over the gas hose at the filling station, falling, and breaking 5 bones in her foot. She has spent the month at her daughter's house. A blessing in disguise really because they live nearly 3 hours away from each other and don't see each other all that often. So for her daughter to be her care-taker has been a very special time for them both. She is finally weight bearing, but will probably still have to some surgery to do some repair work. So she won't be decorating this year and she had such good plans.

Here, Christmas is traditional; it is about the memories, loving the old memories and making new ones and using the same decorations year after year after because I can relive all those years I as I put each piece in place.

Take a look to see what I mean:

I have decorated a pink tree for years. It is full of dolls and ballerinas, pink and gold balls, crystal snow flakes, golden glittered deer. The mosaic reflects the grandchildren, even though some of the ornaments do not reflect the pink theme: a pink ballerina for Lucy who dances, a goose for Elinore because she loves the geese that her other grandma buys in the spring; a sock monkey for Nathan, a snowman for Jacob, and a teddy bear for little Lily. 

You may notice that I don't have tree skirt to cover up the bottom of the tree. Good reason. Boone. He'd have it drug out and ripped to shreds before we could yell BOONE! The Santa has been under every tree since Heather's first Christmas, 40 years now. My mother made him for Heather's first Christmas in 1975. 

Sleeping in their storage box all year, the fairies, pretty dolls, and ballerinas always make me smile when I take the like off.

I collected these sweet angels a few years ago at Tuesday Morning. I think I finally bought all that the store had.

And sweet golden birds. The fancy one with the pink tail holds special memories. I purchased it from a little Christmas store in Stratford on Avon in 2006. The gold and bronze birds are Martha Stewart Home Depot, I think.

I adore this fairy ballerina tucked in the branches. She is a new this year: an ARC thrift store find.

Last year Hobby Lobby had the best Nutcracker ornaments. I only bought the Mouse King and Clara.

A pink tree filled with ballerinas would not be complete without the Nutcracker, now would it?

This dear fairy takes me back to Stratford on Avon. She is just so serene and peaceful. I was so lucky to get to England and these ornaments hold those precious memories.

Last year I used my Cricut to make this Christmas village out of paper. I love the putz houses, so that was the look that I was going for, but the poster board that I used didn't glitter very well.

None the less, I love the look in the dark.

I have added a it more, so later I'll take more photos for you.

Each year I find a new craft to make for little gifts. I showed you the little cars that I have been collecting to create little snowy vignettes in glass jars.This one I have given to Heather for her desk at work.  Let me tell you how I made them.

First, I scrounged around the house looking for all of the pretty glass containers I could find. I washed the with ammonia and dish soap to make them squeaky clean and sparkly in the light.  Hubby found this one for me when he was sorting through his aquarium stuff. It is an old Miracle Whip or peanut butter jar from back in the day before plastic. It does not have a lid, but it works.

A little owl ornament. I don't glue the trinkets down in the jar; instead, I used a goop that I use to anchor down things in the dollhouse. Non-oily. 

When I was a kid, my dad drove a 1946 Ford Panel truck like this one, so there is bit of a memory here. I use hot glue to attach the trees and other little figurines to the trucks. For my own jars that I plan to keep, I use the goop to hold them in place in the bottom of the jar. For those that I give away, I will hot glue the truck and trees to the jar. Then I sprinkle in the snow. This jar is lit with a string of lights powered by a nickel battery.

This year I kept the mantle simple. The Santa has been with us for years. I wanted him years ago and sweet hubby bought him from the high end florist where we were window shopping one evening. He paid too much for this birthday gift,  but that's what makes the memory so sweet today. The angel in the middle was a gift from my friend. She is fiber optic, so she literally glows at night. The last angel came from a crummy little hardware store out in Holyoke, CO years ago. We always visited our friends out there Thanksgiving weekend and Sherry would take me shopping. I found this angel who really looked like she had had better days, but I love her.

The lighted garland is new: Hobby Lobby. The bows are in year 3. I pack them carefully away.

I enjoy my decorations best late at night in the dark with the gas logs hot and glowing. It is very peaceful--a time when I can reflect on all of life's blessings.

One day next year I will do a blog on Thrift Shopping, but just let me say that this collection of houses was the find of the season. It is the Victorian Village Grandeur Noel 2002. In the box. Some minor breakage and a tree is missing. It was priced at $39.99. When I checked out, it rang up at 50% off. Oh my. Now that is thrift shopping at its best. (On ebay there is a set for  $189.00) I set it up here on the china hutch, but it just didn't work.

My Town Check out my post in 2012 to see the village piece by piece.

So this morning hubby added a shelf to the existing village that I wrote about last year. Oh. The last building on the shelf next to the merry-go-round is a Department 56 and so is the big ceramic tree on the shelf. I shopped an ACR in Denver yesterday with Heather only to discover an entire village. We bought 5 town buildings. I left 3 with her, kept one, and will give one to Jen. Department 56! 

It is a peaceful little village reflecting life at the turn of the 20th century, a place where I would like to live. I'll link to my post on it from 2012 year. ( I think it was one of my best written blogs) I thought I wrote a nostalgic post, but some odd reader (not one my regulars) took exception to my nostalgia and left a very mean spirited comment. I contemplated deleting it, but I left it. She does have a right to speak her mind. 

I love the fantasy of magic of Christmas, a time of year when there is joy in the air everywhere. In my home I want to remember my childhood memories and the 40 years of memories with my children and I want to keep making beautiful Christmas memories for my grandchildren.

Perhaps this week while the weather is still mild, I hope to get some decorating done outside. Lights on some of the trees, bows on the fence. Nothing fancy, just some Christmas spirit for the neighbors to enjoy.

Well, dear friends, now back to reality. Laundry and dishes. I am linking with Lavender Cottage so make sure that you stop by to see all of the other beautiful mosaics.

Have a great week. Thanks for taking time to visit. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Out With the Old, In With the Not So Old

The scent of Thanksgiving lingers in the air. I lit my pumpkin scented candle to freshen the house mostly because I cleaned the oven yesterday, filling the house with the odor of burnt-on drippings and splatters turning to ash.

Faded memories of our little Thanksgiving meal still linger, too, reduced to a pile of my special ingredients and a few secrets to make old, traditional family recipes new. Take for example an American Thanksgiving staple: pumpkin pie. My mom's big secret was using winter squash instead of pumpkin because that's what dad grew. No one knew the difference.

The Head Gardener's grandma made the best pumpkin pie, according to that side of the family, scoffing at the suggestion that we might try squash instead. After grandma Martha passed, I took up the challenge to bake the pies for the Thanksgiving feast.

They didn't get rave reviews. Instead: "Well, it is good, but not as good as grandma's. There's something missing." Funny because I used the same recipe, the one on the back of Libby's pumpkin can as grandma did. So I quit making pumpkin pie, opting for my own speciality, pecan pie from a recipe that my brother shared with me years ago. Now it is a tradition here.

I did make pumpkin pie for hubby Thursday, receiving the best compliment ever: "Now that is as good as my grandmother's," he raved.

 I have learned the hard way not to try to compete with the sacred recipes that our grandmothers used because we never can get them right. They had their secrets: a pinch of that, an extra dab that that, never use that.They used lard instead of butter for pie crust, and they made pie crust by using a fork to mix the ingredients instead of a Cuisinart.  My biggest modification to cut calories was the substation of sugar with Truvia baking blend--half sugar and half sugar substitute. I made a good pie.

 With the modernization of Christmas and the technical glitz and glamor, and the plastic decorations, those of us who have celebrated Christmas for decades, including the last century have the fondest memories of helping grandma decorate her fresh tree or the excitement of going to the mountains with the grandparents to hunt and cut the prefect tree. My grandparents had a cabin west of Denver tucked away in a little valley called Beaver Brook. Named Shangri La by my grandmother, the cabin property held special magic and offered the best, most perfect Christmas trees. We'd take dad's little gray Willie's jeep to forge through the deep snow inching our way into the valley. We always found the prefect tree. My birthday is December 20, so the tree went up on my birthday and come down New Year's.

I bought a new tree last week at Hobby Lobby and donated the old one to ARC. Out with the old, in with the new.

Jennifer invited me over last week to have a craft day with the girls, wanting to start a new tradition.  We made snow globes, used lots of glitter, and finally ran out of patience. Jen sent home this cute little snowman that she made for me and one for each of the girls. I put him in my jar that I use for refrigerator pickles. He tends to be a bit wobbly, but I wobble sometimes, too. He will be a part of my Christmas until I don't do Christmas anymore.

I really must learn to just stay out of the stores because I find stuff. The bargain of the week last week while the Head Gardener was off finishing up corn harvest was a crystal chandelier. The mosaic tells the story. Out with the old, ugly brassy thing that was original to the house and in with a not as old as I thought it was crystal chandelier.

Our old house had a gorgeous (some would call gaudy '70s) crystal chandelier that I cherished. As a young married couple, we would drive by that house saying to each other that we would never have a house that grand. We were poor as church mice living ironically in a church parsonage. Life does hold some surprises. Fifteen years later the house was on the market and we were able to buy it where we lived for 18 years. We sold the house to a lovely young couple with a new baby so that we could move here to the Garden Spot. The first thing the new owners did was to remove the beautiful crystal chandelier. I was heart broken, but I just had to realize that they owned the house and they could do whatever they wanted. Me too. Today hubby hung the chandelier that I found in one of our local antique stores. Not as old as I thought it was, it sparkles and glitters, giving the house much needed glitz.

Today's tips: Cleaning oven racks. With the interior of my oven nice and clean, I fumed over the badly crusted oven racks that should have been sparkling chrome. I googled how to clean them: soak them in hot water in the bathtub with dishwasher soap. I used Cascade. In an hour or so the racks were ready to be scrubbed, the caked-on grease and burned food feel off easily as I used a Scotch Brite to scrub.

To get the crystals sparkling, I used a bit of warm water with ammonia added, my go-to for washing glass.

Amongst my blogger friends the consensus of Black Friday seemed to be "I avoided it." Yeah. Me, too. I did go to town to run a few errands, but escaped the foray of crazed bargain hunters. This week I will work on decorating and hopefully get my gift sewing started. 

Thanks so much for taking time to visit. I hope you have a great week. You will find my chandelier mosaic over at Judith's Lavender Cottage along with other wonderful mosaics.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Day After

Good Morning, Friends. With Thanksgiving under our belts--I hope not literally--, we can now begin the Christmas frenzy. We had a very quiet Thanksgiving, just the Head Gardener, Boone and me. I roasted a chicken, made dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. I have to tell you the dressing so good. I cheated by using Pepperidge Farms seasoned dressing bread crumbs. Best dressing ever. I wanted plain dressing bread cubes, but couldn't find them; however, this dressing was so good.

The Head Gardener has left me again to finish up corn harvest. The crew will work today and tomorrow, then I will have back to myself again. Boone has gone to Doggie Day care for a sleep over. I promised him that he could play with other dogs.

Raise your hand if you are opting out of Black Friday. Yes, me, too. I will probably do most of my shopping on line this year. I am not a crowd person, so the pushing and shoving just do not appeal to me. I will also make some gifts, too. Like these fingerless mittens.

Instead of navigating the herds of shoppers, I will sit by the fireplace and crochet these fingerless mittens that I found on Pinterest. I made these in a couple of evenings for the girls. 

Wednesday was craft day at Jen's. After crafting and lunch, the girls wanted to play school. I wasn't a very good student, I guess. Nor do I think that Lucy has taken off her fingerless mittens. What a character. And yes, she was good teacher. (You can tell what sort of teachers and classroom setting the children are in if you do take time to play school with them because they tend to role play what they know. I was threatened with pink slips and the principals office a couple of times).

Earlier in the week, wanting to find a box of the HG's old toy tractors and trucks that I thought I would use to decorate for Christmas this year, I tore apart my storage closet downstairs. You know how that sort of project goes. You rediscover all of the junk that you have been storing for years and the boxes that were never unpacked from the last move. So I set out to sort through stuff into piles yesterday morning: donate, give away, save, trash. I had high hopes that the trash pile would be the biggest, and I think it was.

While I sorted, the HG worked on his marine aquarium. Boone was allowed downstairs now that he is fully house trained. It is a very big room that he turned into a playground until then he discovered the fish.

We wouldn't normally let him put his feet on the glass, but for the sake of a quick iPad photo, we let him look at the puffer. I don't think they will become friends.

I am headed to town today to run a couple of errands, but I promise not to enter any big box stores, factory outlets, department stores, or craft stores, but I won't promise not to hit the thrift store. 

What was your favorite Thanksgiving dish? And with this awful weather, what is your favorite indoor activity to pass the time? 

Have a wonderful weekend. Thanks for taking the time to visit. Love hearing from you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Convention Season

With the countdown to Thanksgiving Thursday, I would imagine that your households here in the US anyway are busy getting ready for the best dinner of the year. Here not so much. Hubby is still in corn harvest, which they hope to finish up tomorrow. Hopefully he will be home by tomorrow night. While the girls go to their in-laws for dinner, we will have a very quiet Thanksgiving. I did buy a turkey the other day because it was so cheap, so I may thaw it out and roast it.

I have grown tired of my fall decor that I have had out since September, but I am holding off on putting up the Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. I have to decide what to do about a tree since I donated mine last year. I am thinking of an un-pre-lite tree.  I do have some fun Christmas projects that I want to share with you, but I am going to wait. Let's savor the moments and rush not the season.

When I went out to feed yesterday morning, I heard the roar of the squawking Canada geese as they were coming for a landing to the east just outside of town where they were gathering by the thousands. From the Garden Spot, I could see them circling above the convention site, turning the sky black, the conventioneers filling the early morning sky. Later in the day I drove out to see them in the fields.

I used my 75-300 mm Canon lens and still didn't close enough. I didn't walk out into the field for fear of scaring them way, nor did I want to be a trespasser. So I parked the SUV on the side of the road to get these shots.

They arrive in small groups, a few families at a time busy chattering to each other, calling to those below announcing they arrival.

They set down right in the middle of the flock. Are they meeting up with friends from the North? Do they reunite with family? Do they make plans and business deals? Do they arrange marriages for their eligible children? Or do they just land, hoping to find a good dining spot?

The convention began at daybreak with the arrivals flying in from all parts all day.

Many of the fields have been plowed for the winter, while other fields still have corn stubble, making good feed for the thousands of Canada geese that congregate along the Front Range all winter long.

Often the snow geese follow along. While not rare in these parts, we do not always see the snow geese.

From our backyard, I often get photos of the abandoned grain elevator on the main highway; now you can see it from the other view, east of town.

How many geese? Thousands. They will not return to this field either.

At the end of the day as I drove home from an open house in Greeley. The geese blackened the sky again as they had ended their convention, flying over the highway headed west, craws and bellies full, all partied out, looking for the lakes where they would spend the night. Tomorrow another convention in another field.

A bit behind, I finally made my dish flowers. I like the way they turned out. I have more dishes to work with. I think these will make either nice table center pieces or plate flowers in the garden next spring; although, they are very heavy.

 I will give these away as gifts. I especially like the Anchor Hocking white egg plate laced in gold. The amber glass are Tiaraware saucers. Remember Tiara glass sold through home parties? I bought a few pieces then. The amber candle holder comes from Home Interiors and Gifts, another home party company that sold decorating accessories. (I sold Home Interiors for years before I went back to graduate school). Both companies had beautiful, quality products. Home Interiors went bankrupt and another company bought it out, so it is still in business with it's Homco line still in production. I don't know about Tiaraware. These independent direct sales companies that were family owned companies gave so many woman careers. I hate that these beautiful pieces end up at thrift stores, but still it is wonderful to seem them re-purposed. 

I will be sharing this mosaic with Judith at Lavender Cottage, so drop by to see all of the other beautiful and interesting mosaics.

Will anyone be participating in their local Turkey Trot before they eat dinner? Jen has asked me join her in the 5K Trot. What is that girl thinking? She is a runner; I am not. I'll see. 

Thanks for stopping by. Have a wonderful week.

Happy Thanksgiving.