Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Creative Crafts

The SITS Girls are hosting a Halloween link-up. Participants in this link up have a chance to win a fabulous state-of-the-art Canon Rebel DSLR camera, so I'm participating. Today's assignment is to post about something we made for Halloween. This SITS girls is a "group of more than 7,000 women bloggers dedicated to supporting one another by leaving comments. Lots and lots of comments." 

Grams and Grandad dropped out of the neighborhood Halloween festivities a few years ago. But I still like to stay in the spirit.

This year I made three things in keeping with the Halloween spirit. I've already posted directions for two of them, so I'm just going to re-post photos and link back in case you want to see how they were made.
First, I made a witch's hat into a wind sock for my front yard. If you want to see how it's done, click here

Then I made this edible centerpiece for the Valenta Family Reunion. This was very simple to make, anyone could do it. Click here for a list of supplies and directions.
The third thing I made was a Halloween costume for Our Little Princess, but you'll have to come back tomorrow for a picture of the cutest little brown bear ever! Happy haunting!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Grams was distressed this week to hear on the news that some cities are limiting trick-or-treating to children under 12 years old. In our neighborhood, children have always trick-or-treated well into their teens and I like it that way. Kids and teens are in such a hurry to grow up that I love to see them acting like kids for a few hours on Halloween night.

When our kids were growing up, Halloween was much anticipated and details were planned for weeks if not months. Kids and adults looked forward to it. Our neighborhood has always excelled at Halloween, often throwing huge block parties. Yards were decorated, candy was purchased, costumes were planned, games were set up in driveways.

Our neighborhood costume contest circa 1986. Katy is the punk rocker in blue and Nick is the cowboy. Nick won best costume that year.
As the kids got older costumes progressed from ballerinas and cowboys to punk rockers and zombies, but that didn't bother me in the least. It's a normal progression and part of growing up. These block parties provided my favorite memories of Halloween. Our neighborhood was alive with kids and teens running around and having good clean fun.

Usually by 9 o'clock the kids would be off the streets back safely in their homes. About that time, the adults would gather at the corner house with bottles of wine or margaritas and spend an hour or two sharing a few drinks and a laugh or two. Then we'd all head inside to tuck the kids in.

We continued to participate for a few years after our kids left home, but it made me sad because I missed the fun times we had with our kids. So, although the neighborhood still has a big block party, we usually choose not to participate. We usually go out to dinner and a movie for Halloween. This year, we're planning an early dinner at P.F. Changs and then we're going to a live performance of The Rocky Horror Show. We've seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show dozens of times on television, but this will be our first live production. I can't wait for Dammit Janet, The Time Warp, and Sweet Transvestite.

Happy haunting to all of you!

This post about a Halloween of the past is linked to By the way, I also want to tell you the “Tiffany is Pretty” although I'm not sure exactly how that ties in to this post. ;)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Meatloaf Incident

I know I've told you before that I am the fifth of six children. Basically, my parents had two families; the first four and then several years later me and my youngest sister. The youngest two of us were practically raised by our eldest sister. She took care of us and the house and she often made dinner for the family from a very young age. She learned to cook long before I can remember ... and she's darn good at it. People compare her skills to those of Paula Deen and they're not wrong. Her meals are great and her macaroni and cheese is legendary.

Somehow Grams only recently learned to cook, probably because I just didn't need to learn earlier. Oh, I took homemaking in middle school and learned the basics, but as far as putting a meal on the table, I just never had to do it. When I first moved away from home, my roommate and I survived on a diet of frozen pot pies which cost 19 cents back then. Occasionally, her mom would come by and cook for us, but mostly it was frozen dinners.

As a newlywed, I did try cooking. But many of my efforts led to scorched dishes and burned pans. In my memory, the most monumental failure was meatloaf.

Now, I didn't grow up eating meatloaf. In fact, I don't ever remember eating it at home. I had only eaten it a couple of times at friends' houses. The only meatloaf I had ever eaten was the kind that is topped with ketchup/tomato sauce and I wasn't fond of it. So when Grandad requested meatloaf, I pulled out a cookbook and used a recipe for what I knew, meatloaf with tomato sauce/ketchup. And, I actually thought it came out pretty good.

Grandad, however, did not agree. He sat down at the table, took a couple of bites of my meatloaf, looked at me and said, "This doesn't taste like the meatloaf the nuns made."

I was livid and that was the end of all my cooking for a long time. Grandad took over almost all the cooking from there and it was almost 30 years before I took over again. It is known in our family as "the meatloaf incident." 

(Let me just insert here that Grandad was educated by nuns. He went to Catholic schools and even attended the minor seminary for a couple of years. But, he left the seminary long before we met. I did not lure him away from the religious life.)

A little over a year ago, our beloved parish priest died suddenly. We attended the funeral, along with many priests and nuns from our diocese. Our small church was packed. It was standing room only. About halfway through the mass, Grandad leaned over to me and whispered in my ear that the nun who made "the meatloaf" was sitting a few rows in front of us.There amid a superfluity of nuns (According to the Oxford Dictionary, that's what you call a group of nuns. I looked it up.) sat one very elderly nun in traditional habit. You could practically hear the angels singing when you looked at her.

As soon as mass was over, intending to ask for the recipe, I attempted to find her, but first I had to figure out exactly which nun she was. Not to be trite, but all nuns pretty much look alike if they're wearing traditional garb. Grandad had been recruited to move chairs from the church to the parish hall, so I was on my own. But I lost her in the crowd and never could figure out which one she was, thus missing my one opportunity to get "the meatloaf" recipe.

Since I took over the cooking a few years ago, I've made meatloaf a few times. I found a pretty good recipe that's made in the crockpot and I make it every couple of months. It's easy to make and it's easy on my budget. It's seasoned with fresh chopped onion and garlic and I use panko as filler, but it is topped with the same tomato sauce/ketchup as my old recipe. Grandad likes it okay.

Yesterday, I was tired. I just didn't feel like chopping onions and dicing garlic for meatloaf. So I took the lazy way out. I opened a package of Lipton Onion Soup mix, added a cup of panko, one lightly beaten egg, and a cup of water. I mixed it together, formed it into a loaf and put in in my crock pot on low for 8 hours. When it was done, I made instant Pioneer Nonfat Brown Gravy, to which I added a can of mushrooms, a teaspoon of garlic powder, and about two tablespoons of red wine. I served it with butter beans and broccoli. When Grandad had taken a couple of bites, he looked at me and said "This is better than the nun's meatloaf." I was so shocked, I asked him to repeat it. So he said it again, "This is better than the nun's meatloaf!"

Finally, after 35 years, my meatloaf is better than the nun's! Now if I could only make poppyseed cake like his Aunt Georgie, my life would be complete.

This post has been linked to the GRAND Social blogging event.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How To Entertain a Princess

At our annual fall family gathering last weekend there were lots of activities for the older kids and adults. Some played softball, volleyball, horseshoes and washers. While the adults talked and played games, Our Little Princess found her own entertainment.

Look what I found.

I think I'll just move it over here.

This looks like a good place.

Wait a minute!

Hey look, there's a hole in here.

I wonder if I can get inside.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grams Made an Edible Halloween Centerpiece

One of the highlights of the fall season for Grams and Grandad is always a trip to the Valenta Family Gathering held the 4th Saturday of every October at Moravian Hall in Corn Hill, Texas. This is one of two Valenta Family reunions held in Corn Hill each year. The Valenta Family Reunion is the second Saturday of June each year and is for the entire Valenta Clan. This Fall Family Gathering is only for the descendants of Adolph and Louise Valenta, who were my husband's grandparents.

This is what real kolaches look like.
The rental for the Moravian Hall is paid from the proceeds of a silent auction. Every family is asked to bring an item for the auction. This year there were 47 items. Bidding is a good-natured competition among cousins. There are always one or two items that go for ridiculously high prices. Home-made pickles are a perennial favorite sometimes bringing as much as $35 for one jar. Yesterday home-baked pastries and home-canned goodies were the high dollar items. My brother-in-law paid something like $48 for a bukta, which is a large pastry similar to a coffee cake or danish. My other brother-in-law paid around $50 for this plate of cream cheese kolaches.

I always have trouble deciding what to take as my donation. On Friday I was still trying to choose something when I was reading one of my favorite blogs A Little Sussy. Nicole Hill Gerulat is a professional photographer who shares her photo shoots. She recently posted photos from a Halloween party that had this beautiful centerpiece. I decided to try to copy it for my donation to the silent auction. I think it came out pretty good. Here's my copy.

In case you want to make one yourself, here's what I did.

You'll need:
  • a one gallon container with straight sides (I used a gallon canister with a lid)
  • 1 bag of mini-marshmallows
  • 1 package black licorice whips
  • 4 packages of Jack-O-Lantern Peeps (I could only find one, so I improvised)
  • 1 bag candy pumpkins (they're similar to candy corn)
  • 1 carton malted milk balls
  • 4 packages of ghost Peeps
  • 2 bags candy corn
  • 3-5 decorative lollipops or other tall Halloween candy
  • about one yard of ribbon in a coordinating color.
Step-by-step directions
  1. Fill the bottom of the container about one inch deep with mini-marshmallows. 
  2. Make the licorice layer by curling the licorice around the container starting at the outside and working your way in. 
  3. Next line the container with Jack-O-Lantern Peeps then fill behind them with candy pumpkins. 
  4. The next layer is malted milk balls. I used the entire carton.
  5. Next line the container with ghost Peeps and fill behind them with candy corn all the way to the top of the canister. 
  6. Arrange the tall candies to stick out of the top.
  7. Tie the ribbon around the rim of the canister and you're done.

If I make another one I would probably replace the mini-marshmallows and with yellow and orange sour balls. Although I do like the white color of the marshmallows, I don't really like marshmallows. You can really replace any of the candies with any others, but I recommend that you stick with the orange, black, brown, yellow colors for Halloween.

I think I'm going to make a red and green one for Christmas.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Substitute Diaries

Grams spent the last two days substitute teaching in second grade. I love kids this age. They're still young enough to be wide-eyed and innocent, but they know how they SHOULD behave in school.

Substitute teaching has reinforced for me that I don't remember much of the math I learned "back in the dark ages" in school. It's also shown me that math is taught vastly differently than it was when I was a kid. We weren't even encouraged to count on our fingers. These kids are taught to use tools like hand signs, rhymes, songs and charts.

For the past two days we worked on learning how to use a "hundreds chart." Basically, a hundreds chart is similar to a number line (which is what we used). Students learn to add and subtract by moving left, right, up, or down on the chart. When you move left and right you add or subtract by one. When you move up and down you add and subtract by ten.

Keep in mind that many second graders don't know which direction is left and which is right. And although most of them know how to count by tens, doing it on the chart was beyond their comprehension. With a couple of them, I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. I thought I had made real progress with all of them on the first day, but at least five of them didn't remember how to do it on the second day. I worked one on one with all five of them and I think the last one finally grasped the concept on the very last problem.

This class has three or four little boys who are "a handful." They challenged me several times yesterday with their behavior. In fact, they pushed the limits of my patience at every opportunity. One of them got in trouble with the language/social studies teacher and had to sit-out for the entire recess period. In fact, yesterday the entire class had to sit out the first five minutes of recess because they were too noisy in the cafeteria. Grams is NOT a fan of making kids sit out at recess. I think they need to burn off their excess energy. If they've misbehaved, they should not sit out. In my opinion they should run laps or at least walk, not just sit silently at a table.

I took a different approach today. I started out the day telling the class that I expected better behavior today. I took the challenging students aside and gave them positive reinforcement and encouragement. Before they left my classroom to go to language/social studies, I made it perfectly clear that I expected better behavior today.

The result was that, in my classroom, their behavior was vastly improved. The other teacher expressed that they were not as well behaved in her class, but there were no major infractions and no one had to sit out for recess.

Then they went to lunch! Teachers take their lunch break while the students eat lunch under the watchful eyes of the cafeteria aides. Then second graders go to recess and the teachers meet them on the playground. I was the first second grade teacher to arrive on the playground today, the others were only a minute or two behind. But, when I arrived, another teacher was leaving the playground with three boys in tow ... two from my class and one from another class. It seems that a fist-fight had broken out as soon as they got onto the playground.

As we supervised the remainder of recess, several more pushing and shoving incidents occurred among the second graders. From this point on, for the rest of the day they were noisy, argumentative, and difficult.

When we went back to class, we moved from math to science. The science lessons this week were about magnets and compasses. We showed them some Bill Nye, The Science Guy videos on the subject. We had several different examples of magnets and lots of items to test for magnetic attraction. The kids loved this part and handled all the materials carefully. They shared and passed them around without any troubles or complaints. It was fun for them and for me.

I love the rush I get when I see a class really enjoying learning and when I see one kid finally grasp the lesson I'm teaching. I really do love it, but this day wore me out. And, here's the best thing about being a substitute ... I don't have to work the next two days unless I want to ... and I don't want to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grams Made Pork Chops with Mustard-Caper Sauce

Grams had a great weekend. We did a little shopping on Saturday and went to Chili's for dinner. Today after church we went to Denny's for breakfast and then we decided to the movies.

We saw Red, which has an amazing cast -- Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker. But in my humble opinion John Malcovich stole the show. Nobody plays a crazy person better than him. The movie was fast paced and very entertaining. I want to be Helen Mirren when I grow up. She's so elegant and beautiful.

We came home and caught up on our television shows and both of us took nice, long naps. When we woke up it was late and I had to think of something quick for dinner. I had some wafer-thin pork chops in the freezer so I took them out and looked for a recipe that would be quick. I found one at Food and Wine that was easily modified for what I wanted and I had all the ingredients in my cupboard. You can find the original recipe here.

Here's my version of Pork Chops with Mustard-Caper Sauce.

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 thin-sliced boneless pork chops
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 can low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup drained capers
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until browned. Transfer the pork chops to a large plate and cover loosely with foil.

Add the stock, capers and chopped rosemary to the skillet and boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Return the pork chops to the pan and simmer until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the pork chops to 4 plates. Whisk the mustard and butter into the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Pour the mustard-caper sauce over the chops and serve.

I served it with green beans, baked sweet potato fries, and a green salad. It was one of my best ever quick meals.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Halloween Frenzy Continues

Every day when I drive through the neighborhood there are more and more decorations. And, I just have to tell you that yet another household has joined the Halloween decorating frenzy in our neighborhood.

Imagine my amusement on Saturday when I turned the corner about three blocks from my house and found this. I actually did a U-turn and went back to look at it again. Then I drove around the block, fished my camera out of my purse, and snapped a couple of photos.

I've seen similar Halloween displays on the internet, but I never expected to see one in real life ... especially not right here in our very conservative "bible belt" neighborhood.

All I can say is ... at least they have a sense of humor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grams Made A Witch Hat Windsock

Grams loves to decorate for holidays. When my kids were at home I often took it to extremes. In fact, some of my neighbors used to call me the holiday lady. In recent years, I have cut back. I just don't have the energy to get it all out and put it all away for every holiday. With the exception of Christmas, now I only put out a few indoor decorations. But I always keep a seasonal windsock in the tree in the front yard and a wreath or other seasonal decoration on the front porch.

The windsock helps minimize the number of birds that roost right over my swing in the front yard. It cuts down on the bird poop on my swing. I've had quite a collection of windsocks over the years, but last year I noticed that many of them were looking worn and haggard, so I tossed those out when I took them down.

When I went shopping for a new Halloween windsock this year,
I couldn't find one that I liked. I decided to make my own. I went shopping for an inexpensive witch hat that would stand up to the weather. There is a strong prevailing south wind that blows right into my front yard, so it needed a rigid brim. I had a very hard time finding one that wasn't made of velvet or Pellon. I knew neither of those would take the wind and sun. I also had a hard time buying just a hat. Wal-Mart and HEB only had the entire costumes. I finally found a suitable hat at Family Dollar and it only cost $3. BONUS!

The hat is made out of a rip-stop parachute fabric and has a sheer overlay with a silver spiderweb print which also hangs off the brim and makes a ruffle about 4 inches long. The purple hat band also came on the hat.

All I did was add four lengths of black tulle spaced evenly around the brim. The tulle is 6-inches wide and I cut each length to about 48 inches.  Then I added four lengths of black ribbon, also about 48 inches long. I sewed them to the brim of the hat on my sewing machine. Then I knotted the tulle every 12 inches or so to give it weight. I used hot glue to attach small craft mirrors back-to-back every 6-8 inches down the ribbon. The mirrors were left over from another project so I was happy to use them up and get them out of my craft closet.

Finally I attached 8 inches of black ribbon in a loop, which I stitched across the tip-top of the hat. Since the wind is very strong, I added a swivel hook to the top which is used to attach it to a hook in the tree. The swivel hook came from the fishing tackle department at Wal-Mart.

I'm really pleased with the finished product. The mirrors really look good in the sunlight. They create a moving array of little spots of light all across the yard and the front of the house. I took several pictures, but it was difficult to photograph. This is the best picture I got.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gone to Goliad

On Saturday, I met my sister, "Aunt B", in Goliad. Goliad is one of my favorite places to visit and I've been there many times. It's about halfway between my house and Aunt B's house. We're always looking for someplace to meet and this is a good choice. This was my first trip to Goliad Market Days.

If you're not from Texas, you may not know that Goliad is the site of Presidio La Bahia and Mission Esperito Santo. It was the place where the first offensive action in the battle for Texas independence took place when local colonists captured the presidio and hoisted the "bloody arm" flag. On December 20, 1835 they signed the first Declaration of Texas Independence here on the altar of the presidio chapel.

On Palm Sunday of 1836 it became the site of the largest single loss of life in the cause of Texas independence when Colonel Fannin and 341 men, who had surrendered to the Mexican army, were marched outside and shot at close range. Twice as many people died here as at the Alamo. The rallying cry for Texas independence became "Remember Goliad. Remember the Alamo."

You can still visit Presidio La Bahia which has been restored and the replica of Mission Esperito Santo. You can sit in the chapel and walk across the drill yard. It's especially moving to go for historical reenactments. The museum curators and docents tell the story in a beautiful and moving fashion. Grams will admit that no matter how many times I go, it still moves me to tears.

The centerpiece of Goliad Market Days is the Goliad County Courthouse which was designed by English Architect Alfred Giles in 1894. The market is set up all the way around the square. As you can see from the photo, Saturday was a post-card perfect day. The weather was warm but not too hot.

We started with lunch at one of several restaurants located around the square. We chose Panache on the Square which turned out to be a really good choice. It only offers a few menu items each day, but all of them are done well. It's a great little place, especially if you consider yourself a foodie. Aunt B and Grams both had half a Rachel sandwich, veggie chips, and a bowl of potato soup. It was delicious. On Saturday's menu they also offered a hamburger and another soup (I think it was Chicken Tortilla). We also noticed that they have a Sunday brunch. I think it would be worth the hour and fifteen minute drive from Corpus Christi just to try it.

We especially enjoyed several things about the market. As a matter of fact, we had so much fun that I didn't snap very many pictures. First of all, the market is smallish but it offers a very nice variety of merchandise. It wasn't just the same thing over and over again. Second, it was not crowded. There were a lot of people there, but it's set up well and spread out enough that it's not jam-packed with people. But my absolute favorite part was that all around the square there are rocking chairs and benches placed so you can just sit and rest a while. That's a really nice touch ... especially since Aunt B and Grams have dubbed ourselves as "LOL squared" (little old ladies - laughing out loud). We're both afflicted with bad knees and need to rest from time-to-time.

Market Days are dog friendly. There were several dogs there who were all on leashes and all very well behaved. I will admit that I fell in love with this beauty who is half Golden Retriever and half Chow. Gorgeous!

Goliad Market Days are held year round on the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can buy a wide variety of merchandise from hand-made lace to Tupperware. If you go, I recommend that you stop at the Whataburger or a gas station and use the bathroom before parking and walking into the square. They only have one bathroom with two stalls and the line for the ladies room was long.

For more information about Goliad and Market Days, visit the Goliad County Chamber of Commerce web site.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Halloween Doesn't Scare Me, But This Does ...

Grams' neighbors have started their annual Halloween decorating frenzy. There are ghosts and ghouls hanging from trees. Gravestones are popping up in front yards. Front doors are guarded by scarecrows and witches. Walkways have been lined with spiderwebs and jack-o-lanterns. This neighborhood is big on Halloween. I blogged about the Haunt-aholics in my neighborhood last year.

But ghosts and ghouls don't scare me. Here's what's really scary. Christmas is less than twelve weeks away. (Cue Psycho music.) AmberLee over at Giver's Log called this to my attention with a couple of recent posts.  She has also put together a very helpful Holiday Organizer to help us get organized and make this the year that we "get holiday things done in time to enjoy the holidays." Click on over to this post and you can download the organizer in two different forms.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nerds Rule the School

Grams has worked two days at our local high school this week. Yesterday I taught chemistry. Today it was algebra. I'll just admit right now that I am woefully inadequate to teach either, but especially algebra. Fortunately, for today's algebra class I had an aide who was a math specialist for the first two class periods. She actually taught the class while I observed and took notes.

It's homecoming week at the high school which means the students are celebrating every day. Yesterday was celebrity day. I saw girls dressed as Kim Kardashian, J-Wow, and Christina Aguilera. The boys didn't seem to participate too much.

Today was Nerd Day. There were dozens of kids, both boys and girls, dressed as nerds. It was the cutest thing ever to see high school kids who are usually so concerned about being dressed in the most fashionable and popular clothing. Today they came in plaid shorts with suspenders, argyle sweaters, knee socks, Chuck Taylors, black socks, hair in pig tails, horn-rimmed glasses with tape on the nose piece, bow ties, and plaid skirts. I even saw one boy in a beanie with a propeller on top. It was SO cute!

There were even a couple of teachers who dressed nerdy. At lunch, one teacher came into the faculty lunch room and in her best "Steve Urkel" voice asked if anyone saved her a seat. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out her reading glasses which were extremely thick and held together with masking tape. But my absolute favorite thing was the science and math teachers. They all had on black t-shirts emblazoned across the front with "Talk Nerdy To Me."

Personally, I like nerds. In fact, I love them. I always told my daughter that nerds make the best husbands. Many years ago when I went to one of my high school reunions, I discovered that many of the boys whom we had considered nerds in high school were looking much better. They had great jobs, had learned how to dress well, looked younger than many of the others and seemed to have overcome the "nerd" label we had put on them.

Tomorrow is breast cancer awareness day at the high school. Each class has made and sold t-shirts to support breast cancer awareness. The school will be awash in pink.

Friday is maroon shirts and crazy socks and hat day. That should be fun.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grams Made Pumpkin, Cranberry & Pecan Muffins

When we were in Houston last weekend Grams went to Ikea where I bought a new muffin tin. It makes a tall, skinny muffin which is bigger than a mini-muffin but smaller than a regular muffin. I've been dying to try it all week but I've been crazy-busy. This afternoon, while Grandad went dove hunting I decided to give it a try. The muffins sort of look like pop-overs when you fill the tins properly. I had to experiment a little to get it just right.

I got this recipe from another blogger. I modified it to use Splenda for Baking which is a Splenda/sugar blend. Click on For the Love of Cooking for the original recipe. While you're there, look around. She has some great recipes.

2 cups of flour
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons Splenda for Baking
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a muffin tray with cooking spray.

Mix together the flour, Splenda for Baking, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the pumpkin, oil, eggs, cranberries, and pecans. Mix until just combined. Divide batter evenly between the muffin cups. Sprinkle coarse sugar evenly over batter in each cup.

Bake in the oven for 20-23 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

These were delicious, even with the Splenda/sugar exchange. I had two for dessert tonight.

I Hate Bra Straps

Grams can't stand it any more. I just have to finally say it. I hate it when women deliberately show their bra straps. I'm not talking about the occasional, stray strap peaking out now and then. I'm talking about blouses, tanks and dresses that are clearly meant to be worn with a strapless or T-back bra, yet women just go ahead and wear their regular bras and let the straps just show. I've noticed that young girls even seem to wear contrasting or matching colors. I hate it!

Grams tries to be tolerant, really I do. If you're just hanging out at the park or maybe even the mall, I'll just look the other way. But, if you're going to church, come on people, show a little respect.

As I've told you before, I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. I know it's different now, but in my youth we didn't even wear pant suits to church. Dresses were the only acceptable attire for church. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was okay to wear slacks when I started attending the Catholic Church.

The church we attend now is in a very small farming community. Casual attire is very acceptable and we often wear blue jeans to church. But, this morning there was a young woman seated about three rows in front of me who was wearing a blouse that had deep vees cut into the armholes on both sides of the back creating kind of an X-back and baring almost all of the upper part of her back. She had two sets of straps in two different colors showing. I assume what I was seeing was a bra strap and a camisole strap. It was all I could do not to take off my sweater and drape it over her shoulders and back.

Aside from the inappropriateness of the blouse and exposed straps, the weather was cool this morning; cool enough that I had a sweater over my blouse. It is highly unlikely that she was not uncomfortably chilly. But most of all, it was just not proper attire for church. My mother would have described it as "trailer park trash" and I would have been sent to my room to dress properly. To borrow a phrase from Bill Cosby, "Come on people!"

I do want to point out that there is no photo to accompany this post. I resisted the urge to snap a picture with my cell phone for two reasons. One, because it would have been inappropriate behavior for church and, two, because my mother-in-law was sitting right next to me. See, I know how to behave.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm One in a Million

Grams has joined the army ... the Love/Avon Army of Women that is. Grams has joined and you should too!

You see, this year someone Grams knows lost her life to breast cancer. She was a beautiful, fun-loving, talented, caring woman who dedicated her life to her family, to the education of young children, and to mentoring young teachers. She was about the same age as me and her daughters went to school with my kids. She fought a long and hard battle, but ultimately she lost the fight. The entire community was moved by her struggle and devastated by losing her. Martha won't be there to hold her first grandchild when it's born in a few months. I joined for Martha.

And right now, someone I know is actively involved in the battle against breast cancer. She's a member of my book club. She is also a beautiful talented woman. I don't know her well, she's only been in the club a couple of months. She shares Grams' passion for reading. Her smile lights up the room. Sometimes she has chemo on the same day she comes to book club. Sometimes she doesn't feel like eating and she can't have a glass of wine, but she shows up and participates. I love seeing Becky every month at book club and I love her smile and positive attitude. I joined for Becky, too.

The Army of Women is an opportunity for women and men to take part in breast cancer research studies aimed at determining the causes of breast cancer–and how to prevent it. This is a groundbreaking initiative that connects breast cancer researchers via the internet with women who are willing to participate in a wide variety of research studies. The goal of the Army of Women is to recruit ONE MILLION MEN AND WOMEN of all ages and ethnicities, including breast cancer survivors and those who have never had breast cancer.

Signing up for the Army of Women does NOT automatically enlist you in any research project. What it does is put you on an eblast mailing list for notification of studies. When you get an email, you respond yes or no to let the Army of Women know whether you qualify for a particular study and whether you are interested and able to participate in that study. Participation is ALWAYS VOLUNTARY. Just because you join the Army of Women doesn't mean you'll be in a research study.

Studies will require a variety of different things. Participation in a study may be as simple as filling out an online questionnaire or you may be asked for a blood sample. It all varies according to the study. Joining the Army of Women is free.  It doesn't cost you anything and there's no charge when and if you participate in a study. This is an opportunity for women to help find the cause of breast cancer. The goal is to PREVENT breast cancer not just to cure it.

Now, Grams is asking you to join the Army of Women too. Sign Up Today. I joined for Martha and Becky. I also joined for my daughter and for Our Little Princess. Who will you join for?

After you sign up (or if you're already a member) you can also help recruit more members. Use this ‘invite a friend’ link to ask them to join.

You can also help by passing the word. On Oct 1 please post this following update to your Facebook status; “I signed up to STOP breast cancer before it STARTS. Have you? Join today at, then copy and paste this status update as your own”.

And, men, did you catch that you can join the Love/Avon Army of Women? That's right, you can and you should. As a matter of fact ... all men who love boobies should join.  And we all know you all love the boobies!