Monday, January 31, 2011

Favorite Foods - Muffin Tin Muffin

Today's  Muffin Tin Monday theme is favorite foods.  And I couldn't quite bring myself to fill tins with M+Ms, cupcakes, ice cream and brownies.  Because wouldn't that be every preschooler's choice? 

Instead, I focused on working favorites into a balance.
We used our Celebrate plate to make things special, along with our new present muffin liners.
Pierce had a fruit cup, shrimp (I've long blogged about how much the kid loves shrimp) plus olives (of course!), sauteed mushrooms (believe it or not - he adores mushrooms) and macaroni and cheese.  He ate everything but the mac+cheese, which is hit or miss with the kid.  So overall, I got mostly favorites in there.

You can join Muffin Tin Monday too!
Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What I Learned at the Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference, A Brief Review

I didn't get to attend Blissdom with all the cool bloggers.  Obviously.  Because if I had, you'd have heard all about it so much you'd be telling me to shut it by now.  On a brighter note, my mom was sweet enough to pay for my ticket to a local writer's conference, the first one I've ever attended (and hopefully not the last).  It was located at Hollins University, which is where I went for my graduate degree.

Conferences, when organized and full of energizing personalities, can be so rejuvenating. I loved being surrounded by others who thrive on writing, even if I'm too shy to really chat it up with them. I attended sessions on topics like "Editing Your Own Photographs", "Structuring Your (Non-fiction) Storytelling", and "Lead Writing". I got many tips for revising, fighting through writer's block, and making bad stories interesting.  In general I found the presenters to be engaging and informative.  One session stood out in my mind as a favorite, above all the others.  Come on now, you can guess the topic, can't you?

If you guessed a topic focused on blogging, you'd be correct.  I attended a session titled "How Much Shall We Share on Our Blogs?" by Anne Clelland (click HERE to check out her site).  It wasn't just that the session centered on blogs that drew me in.  I was captivated because Anne was a dynamic storyteller who wasn't afraid to let her personality shine through.  She was the type of speaker who drew you in so that 45 minutes later you felt as if you knew her.  Even though you hadn't exchanged a word.

Anne hit upon my personal writing weakness during her talk.  Which is sharing.  Letting people in, showing emotions.  I struggle so much with allowing people to see my vulnerabilities.  My imperfections.  My struggles.  Yet those are the things that make me human and real, and that will help me grow as a writer.  When I write a blog that lets my readers inside, I always question if I really want to hit the publish button.  After all, it's much safer to post a recipe.  A couple of times I've written a post and wimped out.  I haven't posted it.  But a few times I have opened that door and let you in.  And after listening to Anne, I'm going to try to challenge myself more often by letting readers get glimpses into that deeper layer.  Not every day, mind you, because I like posting on a variety of subjects.  But as Anne said, "What's the worst that could happen?".  Not to be all doomsday, but I could think of quite a few things (serial killers could show up at my door, my parents could disown me, I could get my first hateful commenter).  But I'm going to work on it.  Because I want to grow as a writer.  And I want you - my readers - to feel like sometimes, I truly hit a level with my writing that you feel is meaningful and engaging.  So stay tuned!

In the meantime, here is a picture of me with my Mom at the conference:

And if you don't want to wait, here are a few post links where I feel like I let my readers inside my head, just for a brief little spell:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sweet Boukie - Our Fabulous Siamese

We have four cats, the eldest of which is a fourteen year old siamese named Boukie.  We acquired Boukie the summer after I graduated from Baylor, when I was working for Dr. Barkley's veterinary practice while searching for a full-time job in my career field.

Boukie, short for Sambuca (what can I say, it was back in the college days, which involved some occasional imbibing), has always been a talker.  That's a typical siamese trait.  They are verbal.  Some think that siamese cats are sneaky or standoffish.  Not Boukie.  He's one of the first to greet strangers at the door, and is never to proud to curl up on an unknown lap.  He will knead your leg and attempt to suck your ear if you let him (I never do, ewww!)

Boukie's most redeeming factor has been his excellence with children.  He has a tolerance like no other feline.  The twins snuggle him, they climb on him, and they're by far clumsy in nature.  Yet Boukie never growls, hisses, or scratches at them.  In fact, frequently I hear his loud, rumbling purr as he tends to his boys patiently, his wide blue eyes gleaming.

Boukie is the cat who is always there for companionship.  Had a bad day?  Boukie will be all too happy to warm your lap and your heart.  He never turns down a snuggle session.
Why just look at him.
How can you not want to scoop him up for some love?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Soggy Appalachian Trail - Memory Lane Friday

Today is Memory Lane Friday.  This is a weekly blog carnival where you may blog about your memories and link up.  This week there is no theme.  Please join in, the more the merrier!

Prior to having our three boys Paul and I section hiked pieces of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Virginia.  One summer we did this there was a horrible drought, and Paul ended up carrying massive amounts of water.  Another summer, there had been 40 straight days of rain that spring.  My running shoes actually started rotting that spring because they were wet every day.  These pictures are from that summer.

We would hike over the weekend, as both of us had full time jobs.  First thing Saturday morning we'd park one vehicle at one trail point and the other some 20 miles away.  On this hike, my parents were kind enough to drop us off at the start point so that we wouldn't have to take two cars.  We would hike approximately 10 miles a day, and sleep for the night in our lightweight tent or a shelter. 

When my parents dropped us off, we found mud.  MUD!
We borrowed some plastic bags my parents had in their car to navigate the muddy start.

Paul found an AT hitch hiker's sign on the ground.
These little ladders are common throughout the Virginia portions of the AT, as the trail crosses many farmers' lands, who don't want to risk their cows getting out.
When we took our golden retriever, Monty, hiking with us, getting him over these ladders was a challenge - he weighed 90 pounds!
Wonder how many AT hikers have been chased down by a cow craving trail mix? 

Safely out of the mud and on the other side.
Note the rain fly on my pack - there was more rain predicted for that weekend, but we actually got off pretty easy.  We had a fun hike. 
I sure do miss it!  When the boys are a little older, I imagine we'll be at it again - but with shorter distances.

Want to participate in Memory Lane Friday?
Just add your website to the link up and don't forget to go check out the other participating blogs.
See you next week...the theme is A Hiding Place.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Appalachian Blizzard Memories - The Red Dress Club Prompt

This week's Red Dress Club prompt is:  "You are trapped (alone or with others) in a single location during the fury and/or aftermath of a blizzard of historic proportions."

I'm breaking the rules and not responding to this prompt from my own perspective, merely because it seemed to fit quite well into another piece I've been writing in the middle of the night, when I can't sleep.  Forgive me?

Critique is welcomed, thanks.

Sarah's thoughts wander back to last winter, before Granny Rose lay dead beside her on the lice-ridden old mattress; before Sarah sat trying to figure out how to secretly bury her grandmother at the tender age of thirteen. 

They knew that winter would be furious, before it even descended on the mountains.  They'd gone digging for ramps in the early fall, and Granny Rose pointed out that all the wild onions had more layers than usual.  That was the first sign.  Then, on the long walk home, Granny Rose paused to rest heavily on her wooden cane, shrugging her right shoulder to ease the pain of bursitis, and pointed toward the beaver lodges, "Ya see, Sarah?  Ya see all them logs?  Look how t' North has more sticks than t' South.  Gonna be a real bad winter." 

Well, if anyone knew, it was Granny Rose.  Folks near and far knew about her legendary seersaying abilities.  It wasn't even six weeks later when over a foot of snow was dumped on their tiny cabin.  They'd hunkered down for days, the skies so gray that light couldn't penetrate the home, even during the day.  Sarah wasn't able to get out to dig up the cabbages and potatoes that lay buried and waiting by the side of the cabin.  Fortunately, they'd spent the majority of the previous summer stockpiling a bounty of foods.  Strings of leather breeches beans hung from the low rafters.  There was plenty of dried pumpkin, too, even though they didn't have any hog fat for seasoning.  It had to be boiled in the big iron pot over the fire much of the day to be palatable, but they ate it anyhow, with hickory nuts on the side, their heavy shells yet another ominous reminder of the winter to come.

Even with the fire going all day and all night, even with every quilt laid thickly on the bed, the chill penetrated to the bone.  As the wind howled outside, it's long fingers rumbling across the wood shingled roof, Sarah longed to escape.  Her eyes too strained in the darkness to crack the Bible, she spent the long solemn hours dreaming of the spring, when she'd be able to gather herbs and wildflowers and berries in her basket all day, frolicking through the woods completely carefree.  Granny Rose believed that children should be seen and not heard, so Sarah kept her thoughts and longings to herself during the long stretching days, the only sound the pellets of snow hitting the roof, the creaking and groaning of the logs as they stood firm against the winds.  By the fourth day there was more than two feet of snow outside, a blizzard of such that even Granny Rose swore she'd never seen anything like it.  Sarah thought she was going to lose her mind.  Idle time was not her forte - she much preferred to keep her hands busy.  She couldn't even count the number of times she'd heard, "An idle mind is t' Devil's workin' shop" from Granny Rose, who had made certain a devotion to hard work was deeply ingrained in Sarah's Appalachian blood. 

Granny Rose!  Jolted back to the present, Sarah's head drops into her hands, and she presses her cool fingers against swollen eyelids.  What is she going to do?  She would do anything - anything - just to return to those somber snow-bound days of last winter's first blizzard.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When You're Counting Calories and Need Something Sweet - Chocolate Meringues!

Meringues are easy to make, once you have an understanding of what it takes to beat those egg whites into fluffation.  They're great because they are about 10 calories a piece, and you can make different flavors.  This particular recipe is for chocolate meringues.

2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small mixer bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until foamy.  Now seriously - for these to turn out right you have to use HIGH speed!  Add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are glossy and stand in stiff peaks:

Beat in cocoa and vanilla (to make vanilla meringues, just omit these two ingredients): 

I use an old cake decorator from the 50s that my Granny Anne gave me.  But you could use a piping bag or you could even just drop onto a cookie sheet with a spoon. 

Place on waxed cookie sheets.  Bake in preheated 225* oven until firm, about 1 hour.  Turn off oven but don't open it!!  Let cookies stand in oven with door closed until cool, dry, and crisp, at least 1 hour.  Makes 4-5 dozen meringues. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Forecasters Predict Unusual Heat Wave for Today in Roanoke

That's right folks. 
Are you ready for this?
Because today temps will soar to a record 387*F for the high.
That's after a low of 29*.
Note Tuesday's forecasted temps:
The normal high this time of year is around 45*, and the record is a mere 74*.  Better head to the store to get your sunscreen before the masses get the same ideas.  Walmart could be extra crazy today!  If you need me, I'll be outside frying eggs and bacon on the sidewalk. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Big and Tall, Short and Small, It's Muffin Tin Monday

It's Muffin Tin Monday, and the theme is Big and Tall, Short and Small. 
We added an additional theme this week.
It's called the I-Don't-Want-to-Wait-A-Year-To-Use-the-Awesome-MTM-Stuff-I-Got-On-Christmas-Clearance Theme.
Indeed, I found cute snowmen and gingerbread picks on clearance at Kroger for 50 cents.  And I found present shaped muffin tin liners at A.C. Moore for $3.99.
Pierce had two BIG and TALL turkey/cheese/bacon/mustard/pickle sandwich stacks.  He loves this combination and never leaves behind as much as a crumb.  And I'm happy to have found a sandwich he loves so much that is quick to make.
Peas and peaches are SHORT and SMALL.
Pierce ate all of these too.  
Guess he was hungry!

Check out other fun Muffin Tin Monday creations:
 Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why My 17 Month Old is in Time Out

The twins are 17 months old now, and they alternate between being the best of friends and driving one another crazy.  Either way, they are typically always side by side. 

Reid is much bigger than Cort.  By almost 5 pounds.  And he uses his size to an advantage.
He gets in moods where he just torments Cort.  He's fast and he goes after whatever Cort has, including his cherished paci.

Worst, though, Reid goes after his snacks.  See, Reid can eat REALLY fast.  I have no doubt that if all else fails career-wise, he can be one of those professional hot dog eating contest winners.  For real, this child can eat and he can eat quickly. 

So I'll put a plate of animal crackers on the floor, and Cort will examine them, take a small nibble off, and rotate them in his hands.
During the time it takes Cort to test the waters with his animal cookie, Reid will have eaten the other twenty.  And then it happens.  Reid notices that while there are no more animal crackers on the floor, Cort has two in his hands.
Cort, not naive, will start trying to run away.
Only Reid is faster and bigger.
Reid comes up from behind, arms wide open, and tackles Cort to the floor.
Cort, completely smushed to the ground, loses possession of both animal crackers as Reid quickly wrenches them from his hands and stuffs them in his mouth, all while Cort is penned down and sceaming.

And so.
Reid has started getting little tiny time outs on the couch.  Yeah, I know you're not supposed to start time out until the age of two.  Nevertheless, I place Reid on the couch and tell him no and that he needs to be nice to Cort.

Somehow, time outs and lectures don't seem to make a dent in Reid.
In fact, I suspect he finds them amusing.
Because this is how he looks in time out:
I may need to reconsider my approach.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Montenegro Method - Fitness DVD Review

I'm officially injured.  And it comes at a time of year that is good in the sense that I don't have any races planned, but bad in the sense that I need my running to keep my mind happy during the winter days.  At any rate, I'm taking a few days off as my IT band is becoming chronic, and I'm trying to find an appropriate treatment provider to work on it.  In the meantime, I'm cross training to attempt to maintain some fitness.  Weights, yoga and fitness dvds are my standbys right now.  I want to share my new favorite workout with you.

I won the Marta Montenegro Method 3 DVD set from Brooklyn Fit Chick, check out her blog HERE.  I am particularly fond of the Strength and Endurance dvds, each of which contains three workouts.  The workouts are about 20-25 minutes long, which makes them easy to fit in during a busy day.  They are tough!  The first time I did the first of the Strength workouts, my glutes were so sore I was feeling it for four days!  You will need a light pair of free weights for this workout (I've been using five pound weights).  The first Strength workout focuses on arms, the second on legs, and the third on core.  I would compare the Strength dvd to Jillian Michael's Shred, only more challenging.  Also, I have to admit that I like Marta's calm, matter of fact persona better than Michael's in-your-face attitude.  The Endurance dvd workouts are also extremely challenging - they will get your heart rate up within seconds of getting started.  I particularly like that they involve plyometrics (movements of jumping expulsion) which help build speed in runners. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Injury - How I Ended Up with a Skull Fracture - Memory Lane Friday

Memory Lane Friday is a weekly blog carnival where you can blog about your memories and link up.  Everyone is welcome!  This week's topic is "An Injury".

When I was attending college in Texas, I rescued a severely abused 3 year old quarterhorse.  Originally named Cowboy, I gave him a fresh start with the name of Phoenix, and together he and I began a lengthy rehabilition.  In the early days, I would just softly put my hand on his neck and he'd be so terrified that his entire body would shake in fear.  It took some time before he could be ridden.

After I graduated from college and accepted my first job in Houston, Phoenix came along.  I found a boarding facility called Oak Hollow.  Phoenix had never been boarded before, and he hated the long stall confinements in lieu of his beloved open pastures.  He gave it his best, though; he has always had a big heart that way.

One day the equine dentist came to file Phoenix's teeth.  Horse teeth continue to grow and at times can have uneven wear, causing them pain when a bit is inserted in the mouth, or when they try to chew food.  The electric filing of Phoenix's teeth went smoothly, thanks to a heavy dosage of drugs.  I decided that while he was doped up I would take advantage by clipping the hair on his ears, something he wouldn't normally allow me to do because he'd been beaten so badly about the head in his youth, and he hated having his head touched in any way. 

Here is a picture of Phoenix in the cross ties at Oak Hollow.
The white spot on his shoulder was actually a tear in the picture that I scanned in - sorry about that.
So I had Phoenix in the cross ties but he was still acting up.  Tossing his head, trying to step back.  The equine dentist saw what was happening and came up with more drugs.  She said, "No biggie, I'll just hit him again so you can clip him".  So Phoenix got a second shot of dope and I unhooked the cross ties in hopes that he might handle better by lead rope. 

What happened next is a mystery.  I have no further memory of that day.  This was all occuring around 9 am, and the next thing I remember was around 5 pm, waking up in the hospital ICU, itching all over due to a reaction to Phenergan.  Paul had just walked in the room.

No one saw the incident happen, but I was struck on the back of the head with a very hard force.  So hard, that my brain bounced to the other side of my skull, causing two skull fractures.  I fell to the ground unconscious, and at one point had a seizure.  They rushed me to a local hospital, who did a CAT scan and then feared that I would need brain surgery.  I was transported to Hermann Hospital in Houston, where they would be capable of handling my needs.  All day, I had been asking and begging for Paul, but I wasn't cognisant enough to realize it was tax season and he was at work that Saturday.  This was in the day before cell phones, so they just kept leaving messages on our home answering machine.

What I believe happened?  In analyzing where I was standing in relation to Phoenix and where the point of contact of the skull trauma occured, I think that Phoenix 'set back' - pulled as hard as he could away from me- and knocked me off balance, causing me to fall straight back and hit a concrete step that was behind me.  We will never know, though.

When I was allowed home, I had follow up appointments.  I couldn't hear, so I had to see an ENT.  Turns out my ears had filled with blood from the trauma.  Fortunately, this corrected itself.  I couldn't initially do any math.  Not even a simple adding 8+3 in my head.  This also righted itself (although I certainly don't have very good math skills, lol).  I was able to return to work about a week later, still tender in the head and shaky, but it was good to try to put my mind back to use. 

I was lucky.  The only long term effect is some mild seizure activity in my brain, that can still be picked up by EEG.  If I don't get enough sleep, it aggravates the issue, so I try to be proactive in the sleep department.  And yeah, I stay away from Japanamation, just in case ;-).  My neurologist thinks that with luck, this activity won't ever turn into a true seizure again.

As for Phoenix, well, he and I learned to trust one another again.  He forgave me for trying to clip him, when I knew he really hated it.  And I forgave him for the accidental causing of a very serious injury. 
These days, Phoenix is a mature 19 years old.  He is affectionate and a true pleasure to ride, sensitive to the slightest cues from my legs and seat.  I made a promise, all those years ago, that he would always be safe in my care. 

Want to participate in Memory Lane Friday?
Simple enter your website in the linky below, then go visit other websites if you have a chance.
Next week is a no theme week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barbara Gets Her Nails Done

"I just don't fit in with those girls.  I try to be so nice.  I'm always telling them about great clothing sales and inviting them out for cosmos and they blow me off.  It's like some secret inner circle that I can't penetrate," Barbara said, while eyeing the rows of nail polish colors on the wall.
"They don't know the real Barbara.  Those girls, they come around," said Mimi, patting her hand reassuringly before tearing off some cotton and pouring on the liquid polish stripper.
"But Mimi.  Last week, I made my special coconut lemon cake.  The one with the extra fluffy icing.  Now mind you I wasn't making it for myself, being that I'm doing South Beach again, but I was making it for them.  No one can resist my cake.  I set it up in the flight lounge during our long layover, and the only person who touched it were Mr. Dan and his copilot.  They hate me so much they won't even eat my food," Barbara wanted to swipe at her eyes, but as her one hand was being held by Mimi and the other was soaking, she let the stray tear drop quietly down her face.
Mimi tsked and said, "Those girls, they need a good swat.  Their mothers didn't raise them right.  They shouldn't treat you like that."
"Oh, Mimi, it gets worse!  Wednesday night we were in Chicago.  The other girls were talking about going out to some brewery.  Right in front of me.  So I said, 'Oh, that's sounds like fun, I'd like to go too' and Vicki was all, 'Actually, Barbara, maybe you should focus on getting your nails done.  They're looking a little chipped' and I just looked at my nails in horror and realized she was right, while the other girls started laughing.  That's when I called to make the appointment with you.  Still, though, I just get the sense that maybe she didn't want me to come, and wasn't just pointing out that my nails look bad.  Although we all know it's important for flight attendants to look good, so it's hard for me to tell exactly what Vicki meant," she shook her head slightly, replaying the disappointing scene in her mind. 
"You just let Mimi take care of you.  You don't need other girls.  No, they just trouble.  You still want Tickle Me Pink?"
"Actually, I'd like to try that new, brighter pink, Enchantress this time," Barbara replied, watching as Mimi began shaking the bottle.  She sighed, "You know, my whole life I've always been on the outskirts.  Looking in, watching all the other girls.  I've never even had a best friend.  Not even when I was little!  I try so hard too.  And not that my Mom was much of a friend, what with her drinking and all, but I even wish she was still around to talk to some days.  Last month Cosmo had all these suggestions for meeting friends, and I already totally do most of them.  I belong to a gym, I do pilates classes, I get my hair done, my nails.  I even tried going to a couple of those Young Socialite meetings.  So I get out there.  I should be meeting friends.  Making connections.  Instead, I'm just more aware of my failings and wondering what's wrong with me that I can't connect with others."
Mimi shook her head as she started applying a clear coat on top of Enchantress and said, "Maybe you should try those new Zumba classes.  Just like on Today Show.  Dance, get fit, meet girls.  Fix all problems."
Barbara's eyes lit up with hope, "Oh Mimi, do you really think so?"
"Of course.  Mimi know all.  Here, you sit under dryer.  Think happy thoughts," Mimi said, and she patted Barbara's hand reassuringly once more before standing. 

This post is linked up with The Red Dress Club, using their evil prompt to write a piece using all dialogue.  Being that dialogue is a weakness for me, I figured I'd torment myself participate. 

Also, if this piece is a prelude to another piece I did on Barbara, which you can read HERE

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Italian Bean Soup - Quick to Make, Healthy, and So Delish on Wintry Evenings

I threw together this soup the other night and it was so quick and easy that I wanted to share it with you.  Perfect to warm you on a cold evening, and full of healthy ingredients!

Italian Bean Soup

1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can drained kidney beans
1 can drained cannelini beans
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms
2 cups water
2 chicken (or vegetarian) boullion cubes
1/2 cup orzo
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 finely chopped garlic clove

Place all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan.

Yield:  around 6 1/2 cups, so if you have a large family or want leftovers, you'll need to double the recipe.

We served our with hunks of garlic Artisan bread, and a side of roasted broccoli.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I've Been Doing Shots and it's Not Whiskey

Did you know that I used to be vegan?  For three years.  I started eating nonvegan foods at the end of 2004, but I still appreciate many vegan dishes and treats.

When I saw Wheatgrass on clearance with the salads at Kroger this week, I couldn't resist picking some up.  It's been ages since I've done a wheatgrass shot.
Wheatgrass is proclaimed as a superfood; many believe it is instrumental in fighting disease, particularly cancer.
All I know is that after you take a shot of it, you feel a delicious energy.

So I dusted off our juicer.  Which hasn't been put to use in a very long time.  In fact, I wasn't sure I remembered how to use it. 

The wheat grass got a hair cut.
Ideally, wheatgrass wouldn't have so much yellow in it.  I supposed that's why it was marked down.  Must've been raised in a greenhouse - it is January after all. 
I didn't have enough for a full shot, so I added in 1 carrot and 1 kiwi and juiced those too.
The result: 

It's certainly an acquired taste. 
Kind of reminds me of horse breath.
And mowed summer lawns.
Let the energy begin! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Yoo hoo! Muffin Tin Monday Here!

Today's Muffin Tin Monday had no theme.  Pierce had sliced kiwi, water, green peas, one of my homemade spiced persimmon muffins (see how to make them HERE), vegetarian paella and....wait....there's nothing there!  That's because I wanted you to see the inside of our tin, which is full of cute little snowmen.  My Mom got this for us last summer.  After taking the picture, I filled it with cubes of cheese.  Happy Muffin Tin Monday, folks!
Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Childhood Landmark

So many of my favorite childhood memories reside in the heart of this big red barn, Cedar Ridge Horse Center, located in Woodbridge, Virginia.
My mom would drop me off first thing summer mornings, and I'd spent the entire day there.
There were other girls my age, of course, and we'd exercise and groom various horses, pick stalls, feed, water the arenas (to keep the dust down) and just eat, breathe, and live horses.

A boarding facility that housed 50 horses, there was always action to be had.  I rode daily, but I also participated in lessons once a week, and occasionally a group clinic.  If we weren't riding or working, my friends and I would pretend to be horses - ascending over the jumps in the arena by foot.  Or we'd sled down the manure pile (which towered overhead in the rear of the barn) on a little red sled.  If someone with a driver's license was around, we'd pile into a car to head down the road to Taco Bell, the newest fast food chain on the block.  Sometimes we'd grab Peach Nehis at 7-11 to have later in the afternoon.  And if all food options failed, there were always the snack machines in the lounge.

Here I am riding Sprite, a school horse that I leased the summer prior to getting my own horse.

And here is my horse, Chico, in the private paddocks to the side of Cedar Ridge.

Of course, there have been rumors throughout the years that Cedar Ridge would be closed down.  Prince William County blossomed around it, and being a suburb of D.C. housing is in high demand.  I stopped in Cedar Ridge briefly when I was in the area about 8 years ago.  Many of the stalls then were empty.

And so, I guess it wasn't really surprising when my old barn friends began posting on Facebook that Cedar Ridge was being torn down.  What surprised me, though, was that seeing the current pictures hurt so badly (I was thankful to be given permission to share them with my readers).

Here is a view of the barn aisle, which I swept from end to end by broom many a summer morning, pausing along the way to greet my favorite horses by name.
Back in the day, steel bars graced the stalls, blankets hung on doors, and handsome horse heads peered out from every door.

And here is the indoor riding arena.
Raped of it's wooden walls, jumps, and soft footing.  An arena I spent many, many hours in.  If I wasn't riding myself, I was often to the side watching others.
It is with great sadness that I say adieu to this landmark of my childhood.  When I think of Cedar Ridge, I think "Yes, as a matter of fact, I WAS raised in a barn". 
And although it may be silly to miss a cinderblock and metal building, Cedar Ridge will be missed by many - who may be grown now but who still remember, fondly.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Making Your Own Tortillas - Easier Than You Think!

Way back in May 2003 Backpacker Magazine had an issue that included a recipe section on tortillas.  We've been making them ever since.  It is one great recipe.  And so simple.

You need:
3 cups white flour
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Combine the flour, salt, and oil in a large bowl and mix until crumbs form.  Add water and mix until you can form the dough into a ball.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it until it is smooth.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 15 minutes.  Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each into a ball.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball into an 8 inch circle.
Now with this batch, I experimented with using 1/2 whole wheat flour.
I found this made the dough less stretchy.
Normally when we put the dough on our tortilla maker, we just smush and it turns into nice even tortillas. 
But with the whole wheat flour we ended up with smaller tortillas.
They still tasted good though. 
Incidentally, you don't need a tortillas maker to cook these.  We've made them in a skillet many times.  Just roll out and cook for 45 seconds on each side in a nonstick skillet.
Makes 12 8 inch tortillas.
So many uses, but here's what we did with ours this time around: 

Friday, January 14, 2011

It Happened in Class - Memory Lane Friday

Memory Lane Friday is a weekly blog carnival where you can blog about your memories and link up.  It's a great way to preserve your memories for your family, and everyone is welcome.  This week's theme is "It Happened in Class".  

I always loved science (well, maybe not Chemistry) and so I had no reservations about signing up to take Biology II in high school.  Biology I had been a breeze, perhaps mostly because Ms. M was such an easy teacher.  Her tests weren't exceedingly difficult, her manner was laid-back, and the experiments were more of an excuse to goof off than focus on hypotheses and analyze outcomes.  Plus, I found dissecting giant worms and foot-long sharks intriguing and a much better use of my time than something like geometry. 

And so, for the second time, I found myself stationed for the year at one of those black stone topped lab tables, in the room suspiciously smelling of formaldehyde, and old heaters where football players jammed spitballs through the cracks.  Speaking of football players, they gravitated towards Ms. M's classes like moths to a light - and not necessarily because they were interested in science.  Ms. M had an addiction, you see.  Nicotene.  So while she snuck off for her smoke breaks, the football players slid down the hall a few rooms to the home economics class, where the teacher let them kick back and fed them brownies.  Come exam time, I saw a lot of cheating going on, but I never said anything about it. 

On one ill-fated day Ms. M. had gone down for her smoke and things in class were getting rowdy.  We were supposed to be completing a worksheet on mitosis and meiosis, a topic which overwhelmed several of the students, hence the extra assignment.  I had finished my worksheet, and was instead writing a note to my friend Kristi using my left hand (just to see if I could do it; I'm actually right handed) when the escalation of male voices began to rise.  My eyes involuntarily flicked over to the table in question.  Senior guys were huddled at the edge of the lab table, but I couldn't tell exactly what they were up to.  Being only a junior at the time, I didn't know the guys too well anyhow, as they weren't in my other classes.  I was trying to perfect the letter "L" by left-hand when the hoots and hollers reached new escalations, and guys started popping up from the huddle like popcorn on a fire.  Sparks and smoke started spitting up in a hiss from the center of the lab desk as alarmed students started grabbing belongings and rushing towards the door.  It didn't take long for an exodus of the class, even though the smoke had stopped.

In the hall, most of us sat in wait.  One student had gone to get assistance.  Others stuck heads around the door frame, eager for any further excitement within the classroom.  The source of the madness?  One of the senior guys, K, had stuck a paper clip in the lab outlet.  The paperclip had fused to the outlet in melted metal.  The classroom itself was shut down for a couple of days until workmen could come in and safely remove the outlet, replacing it with a new one. 

Perhaps the funniest part of this memory was Ms. M's reaction when the class returned to its rightful place.  She brought in a single desk, and pushed it up against the front wall right next to the chalkboard.  And then?  Well, she made K sit in that desk, with his back to the rest of the class, for the remainder of the school year.  This brought a good deal of snickering from his buddies, but I suppose he earned his spot with his stunt.

Want to participate in Memory Lane Friday?  Blog about your memory and come link up.  Be sure to visit other blogs too.  And you can grab the code for the Memory Lane Friday button off my sidebar.

Next week's topic is "An Injury".

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chia Goodness - The Red Dress Club

Chia looked out over the fields of organic cane sugar with her dark almond eyes and sighed.  Although it was only early September she could tell that winter was on the way, and from the feel of the nip in the air, the texture of chill on her whiskers in the early morning hours, she knew that it was going to be a rough one.  As the sun slowly rose over the eastern fields, Chia paused to let the rays warm her fur, rolling down across her back and over her bushy tail.  Finally, she pushed herself up off her paws, having lingered too much, as she had much work ahead of her.

Prior to setting off, she peaked her head in the cubby hole of her tree, gazing fondly on her son Buckwheat.  He was nibbling on a few hulled hemp seeds, his tiny paws tossing the husks to the side.  His sister, Cinnamon, had perished a few weeks prior, when a great owl had swooped and caught her just as she scurried up the tree in the dusk.  Since then, Chia had been leary of allowing Buckwheat out in the early dawn or late evening hours, so she forced him to stay put when she ran errands before daylight was at full capacity.  Chia chirped her goodbye and scampered down the tree, before sadness had a chance to grip her heart completely, like it had two weeks ago when they almost starved from her melancholy.

As she reached the foot of the tree, Chia scented the air.  The faint whiff of apples, slightly dehydrated, rode on the winds this morning.  The land was in dire need of rain.  Chia took off across the dusty fields, headed towards her first stop each morning, the children's swingset.  It was just to the side of The Big House, the one where the people that owned the fields lived.  White, wooden, and looming, it wasn't unpleasant to look at, but Chia knew it held numerous dangers within its walls and borders. 

Tentatively, she scanned the house before she approached the swingset.  It was early, and all was fairly quiet except for the reassuring song of the birds.  Chia loped over to the swingset and sniffed.  She smelled sweetness, right there, to her left.  Her eyes scanned quickly, and she had no trouble spotting the source.  Raisins!  A whole treasure trove of raisins right there on the ground.  Why, there must be at least twenty there!  Quickly, Chia began stuffing her cheek pouches full.  They were made to expand and flex, so even as small as she was she had no trouble stuffing the raisins in.  She might have paused to eat a few, savoring the sweetness, but she wanted to get back to Buckwheat as soon as possible before he could get into mischief.  He was always in the back of her mind, and she knew how much he would love these raisins.  They could eat a few this morning, and then store the rest for the winter.  She had a lot of food foraging to do to get ready. 

Once Chia was sure she had all the raisins, she began the journey back to her tree, moving at an easy pace.  Stretching her legs felt good, and the sun was a little higher now, causing mists to waft over the fields.  Chia hurried her pace, eager now to indulge in the raisins.  As she ran, she silently thanked the Great Celtic Goddess Sea Salt for the bounty.  Her tree grew and morphed, and she closed in on the distance.  Already, chirps were coming involuntarily from her throat, alerting Buckwheat of her return, of her finds. 

Nothing.  Empty silence loomed, and her heart beat faster.  Not even the birds were singing.  Where was Buckwheat?  Why wasn't he answering?

This story was inspired by the prompt at The Red Dress Club.  The assignment:
For this week's prompt, grab something out of your pantry and write a short piece - using all the words in the ingredients. It can be fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose.

Ingredients:  Chia, buckwheat, hulled hemp seeds, dehydrated apples, almonds, raisins, organic cane sugar, cinnamon, Celtic Sea Salt.

Incidentally, Chia Goodness is awesome.  It comes in different flavors - even chocolate. If you haven't tried it, you should.  I have a tablespoon stirred into my oatmeal each morning.  Chia seeds are a super food!

The link will be up on The Red Dress Club Friday, so if you want to try to write on this prompt and join in, go check them out:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kid's Guide to Protecting the Planet - and What We're Doing About It

 This week Pierce and I read one of our favorite earth books, Dinosaurs to the Rescue, A Guide to Protecting Our Planet by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown.  This book has fantastic examples for kids to get involved in actively preserving the planet, and how can you not be drawn in by those charming dinosaurs?  It has colorful pictures and plenty of easy tips.

Pierce loves to learn about energy.  He has long been fascinated with air conditioners, generators, batteries and the like.  He does not get this from me.  My brain doesn't have an 'engineering' compartment.  When we read the part about asking your parents to use energy saving light bulbs, we did a little investigating.

Here is the light/fan in Pierce's room.
Guess what?
Turns out those are energy saving bulbs already! 

Then we read about reusing items for new purposes.
Pierce really wants to make the milk carton bird feeder, and I have pledged to save our next carton for this very purpose. 
In the meantime, we went around the house to see what ways we were already helping the planet by reusing what we have.

First, we found Mom's little compost bin on the kitchen counter. 
When this is full, it gets emptied into the big ecomposter outside.
Next summer we will use our compost in another failed prosperous gardening attempt.

We found that the handles on the kitchen cabinets are made from carved mountain laurel, which grows on our land (disclaimer - we did not build the cabinets, but had an Amish carpenter construct them for us). 

We found that the deep freezer in the basement still had land harvested spoils from last summer and fall.  Frozen basil, mountain wine berries, chopped apples, and persimmons were among the goodies to be found.

Mustn't forget that daily we reuse our Fuzzibunz cloth diapers.  Probably our most significant effort in reducing our carbon footprint.
And our diaper pail?
A reused cat litter tub!   

My personal favorite item of reuse?
The horse shoe wreath Paul made me from old horse shoes, which hangs beside our dining room table. 
Pierce and I also found some ways in the book to protect the planet where we're falling short. 
Things like recycling (we don't have any trash pick up where we live, so this requires a good deal of extra effort on our part) and minimizing paper towels (or particularly Clorox wipes - I went through an entire canister last week when the twins had the stomach flu.  And I confess that I'm not really sorry about this one!).  Pierce and I will have to brainstorm on ways to do better in the future.

What ways are you helping the planet?
I bet you're doing more than you think, if you go look around!

I'm linking this post with JDaniel4sMom's Read, Explore, Learn:

Shibley Smiles