Monday, November 30, 2015


 Baked Ziti

Thanksgiving has come and gone. We are still enjoying some of the leftovers—ziti, tacos, cranberry apple crunch, salad and banana pudding. Plus, we are feasting on the memories. It's like having "seconds" as we talk about all that happened here last week.

Baby Girl has become a comedian, telling "knock knock" jokes as only a 19-month-old can. She can plainly say, "Knock, knock" and wait for someone to ask "Who's there?" And she responds with some word that only she knows and then throws her head back and laughs hard. That's how she sees her sister telling knock-knock jokes. I'm not sure whose jokes are funnier.

Big Sister has a science project due this week. Part of it involved making a leaf press. While she was here, Daddy-O taught her how to use a radial arm saw to cut the boards and then she drilled holes for the screws. And she finished it (she wanted it to be beautiful) by using a wood burner to make a design on the top. She had never heard of a wood burner. Lucky for her, that was a popular craft when I was growing up. She declared wood burning, "Cool!" Her leaf press is a work of art.

This is what happened when Little Sister "occupied" herself.

Little Sister was her usual happy self, as she sang and danced her way through the week. She was my constant helper. On the last day I still had to hem a chorus dress for Big Sister. Black dress. Black thread. Hard to see. And my helper was right at my side. I called for her mommy to come to the sewing room. Little Sister asked why I was calling Mommy. I told her that I wanted Mommy to come occupy her so I could work. She protested immediately and loudly. "Don't occupy me! Don't occupy me! I don't want to be occupied!" I don't think she really knew what "occupy" meant. But she knew that she wanted no part of it.

Personally, I am still giving thanks. Thanks for family being here together for an entire week. Thanks that they made it safely back home. And thanks for good memories and good food. The actual turkey dinner was not held at my house, so I didn't have to cook the turkey and make dressing and gravy. But my kitchen stayed very busy anyway. One day I ran the dishwasher three times. Yes, three times in one day. And it was full every time.

My overflowing dish, ready for the oven.

Because this visit was for six nights, I had to cook things besides the Thanksgiving side dishes. The night before Thanksgiving, I made this baked ziti. The recipe has been here on the blog before as "Rotini Noodles with Beef." This time I rewrote the recipe according to how I did it last week. You might find yourself making your own changes!

 My supper of leftover baked ziti & cranberry apple crunch.
Don't judge my combination. I was proud there was a little salad left.

This time I used ground turkey (regular kind, not the extra lean white pack.) This recipe is truly good with either beef or turkey. I have found that where I shop, ground turkey comes in 1-pound packages. And a package of ground beef usually is more like 1.3 lbs. I just use whatever is in the package. Make this when you need to feed a crowd. This gets a two-thumbs-up rating from Big Sister, Little Sister and Baby Girl.


1 (16-oz) box ziti, cooked as directed on box
1 (24-oz) jar spaghetti sauce
1 (14-oz) can seasoned diced tomatoes (I used tomatoes w/green pepper-onion-celery)
1 (8-oz) container sour cream
1 (15-oz) container cottage cheese
1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey (a little more is okay)
lots of shredded Mozzarella cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Brown ground beef or turkey, season with salt and pepper, and drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and tomatoes and let simmer while you do the other prep.
Mix together sour cream and cottage cheese.
Cook ziti until al dente.  (Basically, put this together the way you would do lasagna.)

Put a small amount of meat sauce in a 9x13-inch dish, then a layer of ziti, half the cottage cheese mixture, a handful of Mozzarella, and half of the remaining meat sauce. Repeat steps above, adding lots of mozzarella on top.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (Spray your foil with PAM so the cheese doesn't stick.) Take out of oven, remove cover and bake for 15 minutes more.

If you have a lasagna pan (which is slightly deeper than a standard 9x13 pan) you could use it here. Every time I've made this, it is full TO THE TOP!

After this was baked, I realized there was no way we would eat all of it. We still had the big turkey dinner the next day. So I cut a large portion of ziti and put it into a 1-quart Pyrex dish and popped it into the freezer. Daddy-O will be glad I did when I'm away for a couple of nights during the coming weeks. He can have an easy hot meal. I'm thinking he will thaw it in the refrigerator, then heat it in the microwave.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Being Thankful

For a long time, I kept a gratitude journal. Every night before I went to bed, I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Just a simple list of five things. Of course, I'm always thankful for God's love, family, friends, food and shelter, good health, etc. Writing those in my journal was easy.

But after a few days, I had written the obvious things. It got harder to find things to write down. It was my goal not repeat items on my list. How on earth could I find five different things every day for months and months? Then I started looking at my day differently. I began seeing the small things—things that were part of my daily existence, things that didn't always register in my brain.

I learned I was very thankful for the colors in the morning sky. For the smell of bacon frying. For warm socks. I was more than grateful for a refrigerator. And books. And the sound of leaves crunching under my feet. 

Pretty soon I was going through my day with more awareness, loving the hunt for something to add to my list. I would make a mental note of the "thankful things" all day long—a cup of hot tea, clean towels, silence—and I looked forward to those few minutes at bedtime when I could write them in my book. The smell of lemons and limes. A wild turkey walking across the road. Swinging.

On hard days, I would go back and look over my lists. New windshield wipers. Sharp scissors. Candlelight. There were pages and pages of my "five things." Southern voices. A thank you note in the mail. The person who picks up our trash every week. What a reminder of my many blessings. Crisp apples. Light that comes on with the flip of a switch. Purple yarn.

When you've lived long enough to reach the grandmother stage, you know that there are some days when it is not easy to be thankful. That is part of life. On those days, it is more important than ever to to find those "five things." Five small things. And to give thanks. Always give thanks.


I am taking a Thanksgiving blog break. Family arrives tonight and my focus will be on keeping everyone fed, reading bedtimes stories, listening to grandchildren and keeping things out of Baby Girl's reach. I'll be back in about a week.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick

Pattern:  Sunny Baby Blanket
Yarn:  Berroco Comfort, Turquoise
Needles:  size 8

The two knits I've finished this week are both for new babies named Jack. What are the odds? Baby gifts comprise a sizable amount of my knitting. Sometimes the babies are new additions to our family. Sometimes the parents are dear friends. And sometimes I don't know the recipient at all. I've done many baby hats for Jessica's co-workers and for son-in-law's work mates and Mommy's friends. I have the cutest collection of baby photos from those office babies wearing hats I've knitted. So much fun!

The first baby Jack came a little early and was born on my birthday last week! (Remember? I gave his mom two-thirds of this blanket at her baby shower a few weeks ago.) His mother was at my house so much during her growing up years. She's like part of the family, so sharing a birthday with her baby Jack means a lot to me.

Pattern:  Kid's Fruit Hat by Ann Norling
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, Silver
Needles:  size 6

The second baby Jack is one of the babies I don't know. But when the text came, "Will you make another hat? And put it in the mail for us?" I picked up the needles and cast on a little hat and just after lunch the following day, that hat was on its way to Florida.

I love making these baby things. But please, family and more babies until after Christmas!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deep South November

Thanksgiving is next week. And there is green grass in the pastures.

The azaleas are still in bloom.

There are a few daisies left in our front yard.

The roses have put on a few buds in the last several days.

The leaves have turned brown, but the cherry blossoms are hanging on.

Summer just doesn't want to give up. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Make Mine Meatballs


I couldn't do it—I couldn't post a new recipe here before I had fully tested it. Or, at least one of my daughters had made it. Or, I had eaten the finished product. Last night I pulled a few meatballs from the freezer and made supper. I browned the frozen meatballs in the skillet. They stuck a little. Poured a partial jar of spaghetti sauce over it to finish cooking. Didn't watch that close enough and nearly burned it all. Moved it all to a non-stick skillet and added in some canned diced tomatoes w/garlic, basil, oregano and let this simmer, covered, until the meatballs were done. I checked them with a thermometer. Next time I'll start with a non-stick skillet.

I am going out on a limb here. I have made these meatballs and they are in the freezer. But I have not cooked them yet. I am trusting the many reviewers who have said they are very good. I am really trying to get a jump on my cooking—especially things that my non-red-meat-eating daughter can have. We will have the family here for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas. And I want to play with grandchildren then, not spend all my time in the kitchen.


This recipe came from Martha Stewart. If you check the recipe here, there are links to several ways to use these meatballs. One recipe calls for the meatballs to be cooked from the frozen state in a skillet. Another one cooks them under the broiler and doesn't mention being frozen. One reviewer said that they held together better after they had been frozen. I'm sure I will be using this recipe as a freezer recipe.

My own changes and hints? I doubled the recipe. If I was going to squish my hands in raw ground turkey, I might as well make enough at one time.  I used a little less pepper than the original recipe because the suggested amount just looked like a lot to me. Make that suit your family. I used green onions instead of scallions. That's what my store sells.

I think my meatballs might be a little bigger than they should be. I actually measured out the first one and tried to make the rest of them match. But I didn't get quite the yield that the recipe states. My double batch gave me 56 meatballs. (According to Martha's recipe, I should have had 70.)  Should you decide to triple this recipe like some of the reviewers did, you'll need a HUGE mixing bowl. The doubled recipe filled my biggest bowl.

From the lesson-learned-the-hard-way department (years ago—not this time,) use a pot holder to remove the baking sheets from your freezer. A frozen pan hurts your fingers almost as much as an oven burn.

This is a good recipe. But you need to remember that these meatballs are made with turkey and not ground beef. The texture is a little different. But I will make these again.

    adapted from Martha Stewart

3 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread
1/4 cup whole milk
1-1/2 lbs. ground turkey (lean, dark meat)
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 small garlic cloves, minced (I used 2 tsp. from a jar)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 large egg
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Place bread in food processor; pulse until fine crumbs form. In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with milk; set aside at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine turkey, green onions, garlic, parsley, egg, salt (1-1/2 tsp) and pepper (1/4 tsp) and breadcrumb mixture. Mix gently with a fork.

With your hands, form into meatballs (1 meatball = 2 level tablespoons). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet with sides. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.

To freeze: place meatballs on baking sheet in freezer for 1 hour. Move meatballs to a ziplock freezer bag. Lable and date. Store frozen up to 3 months.

Makes about 30 meatballs.

I forget how old I am most of the time. But when I pulled out the food processor for this recipe, I saw that it didn't have a polarized plug—that's the kind with one prong wider than the other. You know, it only goes into the outlet in one direction. Bet some of you have never seen an appliance without one of those.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Soup In Seconds--900 Seconds To Be Exact

Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

You are going to need this recipe between now and Christmas. And then you'll need it after Christmas when you've used up all of your cooking mojo. Wish I had thought this recipe up, but I'll take credit for ripping a page out of Southern Living magazine—the page with this recipe.

When you can make two boo-boos in a super simple recipe and decide it's STILL very good, it's got to be a recipe worth keeping. I didn't realize I had left things out until after we had eaten it for supper. And it's done in 15 minutes. That is 900 seconds. Pretty speedy for homemade soup. Another reason to hang on to the recipe.

I saw this recipe, tore the page out and added it to my stack. I was saving it for a night when I needed a 'mergency meal. Little Sister knows about 'mergencies. I like the way she says it. Tonight wasn't an emergency, but I didn't feel like cooking a big supper. Sometimes we (honestly it's mostly me) like a soup and sandwich supper if we've had a bigger lunch.

When I typed the recipe here, I realized that I forgot to add the garlic. I did this in a big hurry. And then I saw that I didn't add the water. It was listed in the directions but not in the ingredient list. All that my mind absorbed was "process all ingredients." I wrote it into the recipe for next time. No more mistakes is the goal.

Well, you know what? It was delicious! Maybe I'll add garlic next time. Maybe not. It was pretty good like it was. And the water was only a quarter cup. Left as it was, it was a thick, creamy soup, much like you get in restaurants. I think restaurant soups are always on the thick side. You can add a little water to make the consistency suit you. Because of the roasted peppers, the soup has a more complex, mellow flavor than plain ol' tomato soup.

Homemade soup in 15 minutes. For real. I made grilled cheese sandwiches while the soup heated. Here's something I learned at the knitting retreat last week—brush the bread with olive oil instead of butter before grilling. That eliminates the need to soften the butter. Tastes really good, too.


1 (28-oz) can peeled, whole tomatoes with the juice
1 (12-oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained (my jar was 16-oz, so I used 3/4 of it)
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or, to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or, to taste)
2 garlic cloves (which I totally forgot to add)

Process all ingredients in food processor or blender until smooth.
Pour into medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until hot. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Monday, November 16, 2015

Back Down The Mountain

I had the opportunity and the privilege this past weekend to spend three days in the North Carolina mountains with women from across the South at the Carolina Fiber Frolic. It is a weekend retreat—a retreat from everyday cares and responsibilities. This particular retreat offered no classes. But I still learned much, coming home with many notes jotted down in my small notebook.

There were accomplished knitters and spinners of yarn. There were discussions of sheep breeds and knitting patterns. "What did you say the name of that pattern was?" "And there is a difference between UK fleeces and American fleeces?" There was laughter and conversation. "Oh, you don't live very far from me!" "OH NO!!! That really didn't happen, did it?!?"

There was lots of knitting—there was always knitting—on socks, sweaters, shawls and blankets. But the goal was not to come home with a finished project but to come home with new friends. And to come home rested and relaxed.

There were old friends I had met at other knitting retreats. And new friends waiting to be made. How wonderful to spend time together. Thanks to Instagram and text messages and email and Ravelry, it is easy to stay in touch.

Our meals were provided and so many times I heard someone say, "Isn't it wonderful to have a little time away from cooking, from laundry, from all the chores we'd be doing if we were at home?" There was plenty of time to sit by a fire (there was more than one fireplace) and just BE.

This morning, I AM back at home—with the laundry and cleaning and cooking all waiting for me. But I am back, refreshed in body and refreshed in spirit.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cook It Easy, Cook It Slow

For the next couple of weeks I am trying to cook things for the freezer. Things so that we can have quick and easy meals when it gets hectic during the holiday weeks. I know there will be extra activities and maybe a trip or two to see the grandchildren perform in their Christmas concerts.

I have made this barbecue before. It's one of the easiest recipes ever. Just put everything into the slow cooker and turn it on. When I saw boneless pork butt roasts were on sale this week, I decided it was time to make this again. This time I used a jar of Bone Suckin' Sauce. That's a barbecue sauce. I know I bought it for a specific recipe—but I couldn't for the life of me remember what that recipe was. So I used the sauce here. It was great.

We had sandwiches for supper last night. I left enough out for Daddy-O to eat again while I'm away. And I put a couple of bags in the freezer for later. Did you see the "Holiday Freezer List" on the sidebar? I'm using it to keep track of what I put in the freezer in the coming weeks. Do you have an freezer favorites that you'd share? I'm always on the lookout for good new freezer recipes.


3-4 lb pork roast
2 large onions
1 cup ginger ale
1 (18-oz) bottle BBQ sauce
extra barbecue sauce for serving 

Slice one onion and place in crockpot. Remove the strings or net from roast and trim fat if necessarly.  Place roast on onion layer. Top with the other sliced onion. Pour the ginger ale and barbecue sauce over. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Remove meat and onions from pot to a large pan*. With two forks, shred the meat, discarding any remaining fat.  Discard excess cooking liquid.

Serve with extra sauce.

*This time I just dipped out most of the cooking liquid and shredded the meat right in the crockpot. One less pan to wash.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Starting The Sourdough

Sourdough Bread

It's time. Thanksgiving is in two weeks. I know. I'm surprised, too. I am surprised every year. It's like "how did November get here so fast?" Are you thinking the same thing?

For years and years—since before I was married—I've taken homemade bread to the family Thanksgiving dinner. After nearly 40 years of providing the bread, my cousins would all be in shock if I didn't bring it. I have used a few different recipes over the years, but mostly it's this sourdough bread that people look for. I even take a few extra loaves for the cousins who love it most. They get to take some home.

It takes a few days to get the starter going, so this morning I mixed it up and set it on the counter to do its thing. While I was mixing, I snapped a few photos of things I've found helpful over the years.

For this recipe that I've done so many times, I had my copy laminated about 20 years ago. I can wipe it off when I spill something on it. You'd think I would know the recipe by heart. And by Christmas, I will. But then when the bread baking slacks off, and then stops after the holidays, I have forgotten it by the next year.

You need to keep your starter in a glass or plastic bowl. I use a large Cool Whip bowl and cut slits in the lid to let it breath. The Cool Whip containers have a flexible plastic lid that is easy to cut. You can see that I used a Sharpie and wrote the "feed the starter" ingredients on the lid to make that easy.

This starter is fed with instant potato flakes. To make measuring easy, I pour the flakes into a container that makes it easy to scoop and measure. Measuring out of that opening in the top of the box is hard. I even keep a measuring spoon (a measuring tablespoon left over from an old set) in the canister.

A couple of years ago, I figured out that I could bag up the feeder mix in snack size bags. Then I can just dump in the starter, add water and stir. Yes, around Christmas things can get so crazy that I don't have time to measure two things. Jessica usually takes a bowl of starter back to the city and she will bake bread between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For her, having the bags of the feeding mix is quick and easy.

If you don't have measuring cups with a 2/3 and a 3/4 cup in the set, you might add that to your Christmas wish list. I love having those extra cups. These are from Tupperware. They still sell them but they look a little different now. There are other ones out there, too. I came of age during the era of Tupperware parties. Just discovered that you can order these cups from Amazon, too.

Last thing I did this morning was to add a note to the lid—a reminder to add the yeast on Monday. I am leaving nothing to memory.

I should be able to bake bread by the middle of next week. This bread freezes beautifully. I like to take it freshly baked on Thanksgiving, but I'll put some in the freezer before that. Insurance.

One year, my starter was bad and I had to throw it out and start over. This year I have barely allowed enough time to make a second batch. In over 30 years of doing this, that only happened that one time. At one point in our lives, I kept the starter going for five years. Now, I tend to make bread during the holidays and during the winter. Then I stop and start over the next fall. With just two of us here, we don't need that much bread!

If you start now, you have time to do this for Thanksgiving. The directions for making the starter are at the bottom of the recipe.


1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading) 

Mix the bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, then use a sturdy spoon for the rest.) Place in a large bowl, sprayed with PAM. Lightly spray the dough with PAM. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.

Punch down dough. Knead on floured board about 10 times. Divide into 3 parts. Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM. Shape dough and place in pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Whole wheat bread: Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

To feed starter: Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potato flakes and 1 cup warm water. Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours. Then refrigerate. Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days.

To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe. Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered. Let set out on counter for 4 days. Then add 1 envelope dry yeast. Let stand another 24 hours. Use 1 cup for first batch of bread or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift.

Just so you know–the photo at the top was bread I baked last year.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A New Kind Of Soup

A few weeks ago, I had just come home from Mommy's and was worn out from the hospital days with Baby Girl. I skipped church that Sunday for a catch-my-breath day, staying in pajamas. I watched a couple of shows on the Food Network. I think that was meant to be. I had never seen Trisha Yearwood's cooking show before. And lucky me happened up on the episode where she made this soup.

I listened to her tell about it and watched her make it. And she convinced me that I needed to try it. I have made chicken tortilla soup before. It was a tomato based soup and it is very good. But this one is totally different. And it is better than just "good." Trisha said it was Garth Brook's favorite. I need to find out what else he likes!

BE ADVISED: If you like a spicy Mexican soup, this one isn't spicy at all. It is a mild, creamy flavor. You can adjust the seasoning to give it more zip. We were happy with it like this.

This is a "busy mama" kind of recipe. (Mommy, I'm talking to you!) Although the ingredient list looks long, look again. SEVEN things on this list are just opened and added to the pot. I cooked my chicken in the slow cooker the day before I made soup. (You could also pull the meat off a purchased rotisserie chicken.) So on soup-making day, my hands-on cooking tasks were chopping an onion, shredding the chicken, and measuring the cumin. The rest is just stirred into the pot.


3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (15-oz) cans chicken broth
4 cups half-and-half
1 (10-3/4 oz) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup prepared salsa—mild or spicy (mine was medium)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled, drained & shredded
1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 (15-oz) can light red kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 (15-oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (1.27 oz) packet fajita seasoning (I used 2 tsp. of recipe below)

Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Cheddar cheese, grated
tortilla chips
sour cream

Melt butter in a large pot (I used my 6-qt stock pot) over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir well. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and the half-and-half. Stir in the cream of chicken soup, salsa, (I used a wire whisk to blend everything at this point) and chicken, beans, corn, cumin and fajita seasoning.

Continue to simmer over low heat for at least 15 minutes. Stir often to keep cream-based soup from scorching.

Serve with choice of garnishes. If using tortilla chips, you can crumble them into the bowl and spoon the soup over.

Serves 8

You know I live in the county. Miles away from a store. So when I discovered yesterday afternoon that I didn't have fajita seasoning here, I looked up a recipe and made some. It was raining. Again. And I didn't want to get back out. There are so many recipes online. I kept looking until I found this one that only used ingredients that I had on the shelf.


4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8—1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used 1/8 tsp.)

Mix all ingredients. Store in an airtight container.
Use 2 teaspoons of seasoning for each pound of meat.

The comments following the online soup recipe talked about the soup freezing well. I hope so, because it makes a LOT. I will try it and let you know. If it does freeze well, this will be on hand for all of our holiday meals when the family is here.

Other commenters talked about adding more beans, less chicken, fat-free half-and-half, and on and on. It's soup, folks! Make it to suit you. But this recipe above it just how I did it. Not sure I'd change a thing when I make it again. And I will make it again.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Looking For Calm

Don't let me frighten you. It is 46 days until Christmas. (Find a Christmas countdown clock here.) That means that Thanksgiving is coming really soon. We are excited that our family will be home with us this year. Everyone! But that means more cooking. More cleaning. More shopping. More planning. More traveling. More. More. More.

So starting today, I'm collecting "calm." I am actively on the lookout for something that is peaceful to me. I might make a photo. I might not. What I think of as calm might not say calm to you (because in the top photo of our neighbor's barn, the farmer might be only seeing more work) but these are places of calm to me. Every time I drive past that neighbor's barn, I slow down to look at the way it is silhouetted again the sky. I love looking at it.

Today during the sermon, my mind had drifted somewhere else (please tell me that I'm not the only who does this) but when it came back to focus on what the pastor was saying, her words were, "Maybe you need to empty out something in your life. Make an empty place so that there is a space for spending time with God." Those words came after I had made this photo collection of "calm." Think that message was for me?

This is one of the bigger roads I drive on my way to town. This morning on a smaller road, the truck in front of me never went faster than 25 mph. The road is narrow and winding. There is no passing. So I had no choice but to slow down. Slow down and enjoy the colors of the leaves as I meandered passed them, until we reached a crossroads and he turned left and I went right. Funny thing, though, after that pokey truck was out of my way, I never did drive as fast as I usually do. The leaves won't last long and I wanted to see them.

I'm taking a pledge right now. I will carve out a few minutes every day to just "be." Oh, rest assured, I will still do lots. It comes with the season. But I am not planning to get crazy over the to-do list. I will do the best I can to plan ahead, cook ahead, and shop less. (That means I can wrap less which makes me happy. That's my least favorite holiday chore.) But if I don't get to everything on my list, it will be no big deal. I'll do what I can.

As you make your lists, leave a space for "calm." If you are at the stage of life where there just isn't time to "do nothing," do what I'm doing on my busy days. I'm looking for something that pleases my eye. Or, maybe I'll hear a song on the radio that speaks to my heart. I will take a deep breath. And I will be actively aware of these few seconds of beauty and peace. Even a few seconds is helpful if that's all you have.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Baby Blanket In Progress

I was so close to getting this done on time. I am glad this is for a close family friend. Mommy's best friend for many years. Middle school, high school, and they've managed to stay in touch although they have both moved several times. I'm glad because she will understand. I wouldn't give a half-done blanket (two-thirds, actually) to just anyone.

This mommy-to-be will know that I trust her enough to appreciate my unfinished work. The blanket will be done before the baby arrives. I just couldn't get it done in time for the baby shower. 

So, how do you give a work-in-progress?  First, make sure it's securely on the needles. I own some of the rubber tips made for knitting needles to hold the work on the needles. But they are clunky looking. And they fall off with a little nudging. My (better) solution is to wrap 2 or 3 tiny rubber bands around the tips. These bands will be enough to keep the yarn from slipping off the needle tips. And I won't worry about the bands themselves coming off.

I also added a  quick rhyme to the package. Bless these parents for choosing the name Jack! This would have been much harder if they were going to call him something like Oliver. Or, Lawrence.

I tried really hard to get it all done,

But for weeks and weeks, I’ve been on the run.

I’ll finish it soon and send it right back.

You’ll have it in time to wrap sweet little Jack

When I was ready to wrap the box, I had a couple of rolls of baby gift wrap. At least, I thought I did. Both rolls only had a tiny bit of paper left. I learned years and years ago to keep a good supply of plain white gift wrap on hand. It works for babies, weddings, birthdays--anything.

And I love using real ribbon for a bow. It's really much easier to tie a single bow than to fiddle with yards and yards of curling ribbon. And it's cheaper than big stick-on bows. A roll of this cute wide polka dot ribbon cost $3.99. (I found it at Walmart.) Of course, it depends on the size of the box, but I should get 3 or 4 bows from one roll.  I don't want to spend too much on the wrapping, but I do want it to look like I care!

We are on the way in minutes to the baby shower. Then this afternoon, I'll be back home with the blanket and will settle in to knit a few more inches. If Jack arrives when he is supposed to, the blanket will be ready and waiting for him.

Friday, November 6, 2015

LIttle Sister Shares

This morning I remembered to give Daddy-O the nickle that Little Sister sent back with me this week. I drove down for a couple of days to babysit Baby Girl while Mommy and Little Sister went on a preschool field trip. There was a doctor visit in there, too, where an extra set of hands was helpful. I was glad to oblige.

But before I left to come home, Little Sister gave me a nickle. She told me, "Give this to Daddy-O. He shares his money with me. I want to share mine with him." She is the most generous, caring, joyful little person you can imagine.

And she is learning more about the world around her. As we drove toward the bank while doing errands one day, she told Mommy, "You know you can't use your 'surance card at the bank." Just a helpful reminder in case Mommy had forgotten that. With all of the doctor/hospital talk that has gone on lately, she knows a little about insurance cards now. At least she knows you can't use one at the bank!

We went to lunch on my last day there. On the way home she asked her mom if she had to take a nap. And then announced that she wasn't napping—she said, "I have math homework. And I have to do scientist, too. I have to do an experience." She is in preschool, but her big sister is doing "science experiments" in high school this year. Little girl doesn't miss much.

While I was there, I cooked supper.  Chicken Bog—Big Sister's favorite. Sloppy Joes—Baby Girl's favorite. And I drove the big girls to school to let Mommy get a little extra sleep. (Some of the best conversations with grandchildren happen in the car.) I am so happy to be near enough to do this now. That's what grandmothers are for.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hospitality For Hospice

I am making this spaghetti at breakfast time today so that I can get the baked dish to church early. From there, the next volunteer will take it, along with the rest of the lunch, to the Hospice House. Our church provides lunch once a month for any family members who are sitting those long hours that come with this end-of-life part of the journey. Centuries ago, hospices were places of hospitality for the sick, wounded, or dying. We try to provide some "hospitality' to those who use the modern version of this service.

Other churches take turns so that several times a week there is something to eat other than fast food that can be picked up quickly. Our monthly meal is baked spaghetti, salad, bread and dessert.

We are free to use our own version of baked spaghetti. I had made this recipe months ago and thought then that when my turn came, this is the one I wanted to make. I posted the recipe back then, but this is how I made it today. Just a couple of tweeks to the original.

One reader emailed after that first post saying that she found it hard to mix the cream cheese into the hot spaghetti. I had the same problem. This time I dipped out a little of the hot pasta water and saved it to add if I was having that problem again. And I did. But when I added in just a little of that hot water, it was like magic. It finished melting the cream cheese and it stirred together much easier.

The other change I made was to increase the amount of spaghetti to 16 ounces. That's what's in a box of spaghetti—at least the brand I buy. And today I needed a full dish. I chose a pack of ground beef that had a little more than a pound. For this dish, I don't think it matters that I used more pasta and more meat. (I do have one pasta recipe where a full box of the pasta is just too much for the amount of sauce. Use your own good sense.)

             ...adapted from Plain Chicken

16-oz. spaghetti
1 (28-oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
1 lb. lean ground beef (I used 1-1/3 lb)
(I also added 1/2 can of diced tomatoes to stretch the sauce a little more)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp of jarred minced garlic)
8-oz. cream cheese, cut into cubes
1-3 tablespoons pasta cooking water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a skillet, brown ground beef until cooked through. Drain, if needed. Stir in spaghetti sauce. Let simmer while preparing the rest of the dish.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and placed hot cooked spaghetti in bowl. Add cream cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic. Stir until cream cheese is melted and spaghetti is thoroughly coated. Add a tablespoon or two of pasta cooking water to make it blend easier.

Lightly grease a 9x13-inch dish. Spread a small amount of meat sauce in the bottom. Put spaghetti on top of sauce. Top with remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

If you "make and take" often, be sure to keep things like foil pans, heavy duty foil and insulated totes on hand. It makes it easier for the recipient (unless it's your next door neighbor.) The spaghetti today was wrapped well and popped into an insulated box and dropped off at church. It should still be warm by the time it gets to it's final destination.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

SAFF Weekend

What a fun way to spend a day!  SAFF (Southeastern Animal & Fiber Fair) is a huge weekend yarn event held near Asheville, NC every year. Lucky for us, it's close enough to drive up for a day. We got to enjoy the fall foliage as we drove up into the mountains.

It's really hard to explain the excitement of this event to a non-knitter or non-fiber person. ("Fiber people" include knitters, crocheters, weavers, spinners, etc.)  Even a knitter who has never been to a big yarn event might not get it. There are many other yarn/fiber events around the country, but this is one of the really big ones. And, one of the really good ones.

There is yarn, yarn and more yarn to admire. These are not the same yarns that I can buy easily at home. We saw and touched yak yarn, bison and silk yarn, and possum yarn. (The possum yarn is from New Zealand possums, not the ones we see here as road kill.) You cannot dash into a big box store and pick up a skein of those.

Along with thousands of other yarn shoppers, we look at samples of knitted garments and accessories. We oogled sweaters, scarves and shawls that other visitors were wearing. You can stop a total stranger and ask about what's she's wearing and in seconds, you're talking like you're family. And I guess in a sense, that's exactly what we are—a family of knitters.

We made notes of patterns that we loved. How easy it is now to snap a photo of the info instead of jotting illegible notes on a piece of paper like we did years ago! These will get added to the long, long list of other patterns we love and want to knit some day. And we might have bought some yarn. And then bought some more yarn.

People come from all over the southeast to spend a few days here. That meant I got to see friends that I had met before at other knitting events. That's one of the best parts of going—seeing friends. There were also animal events in the barns. We never got that far, but I'm adding that to my to-do list for next year. I'm a little sad I don't have better photos to share, photos that would give you an idea of the size and scope of this event, but fewer photos mean I was focused on the event instead of fiddling with my iPhone. And that's a good thing.

So what did I do when I got home with my newly purchased special yarn? I got right back to business and picked up the baby blanket I started earlier in the week.

This baby isn't going to wait for me to try out my new acquisitions. (This is for a friend. No new babies for our family.) But, oh what fun I'll have soon when I can cast on something new!

See those rows of blocks? I need 11 more rows. In a hurry. So I'm not going to look at my new yarn yet. Gotta stay focused!