Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

I wanted to put up a clever New Year's picture or something but I'm too tired. We returned from our ski trip this afternoon (or rather yesterday--Dec. 31). More details tomorrow (or rather later today).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

frijoles rancheros

I had never before made this spicy bean soup, typical of northern Mexico, before last night. I winged it, and it turned out delicious! I'm writing down the recipe so I don't forget, and thought I might as well post it:

Boil 1 lb. pinto beans for five minutes. (I do this in the microwave.) Let set for 1 hr. Drain and rinse beans. Cook according to package directions.
Fry until crispy 1/2 lb. bacon.
Remove bacon from pan and chop into tiny pieces. Remove bacon grease from fry pan except 1 T.
Add 1 chopped onion to fry pan and cook about 5 minutes.
Add 1-2 serrano chile peppers, diced.
Add 3 large cloves garlic, minced.
Cook, stirring with spatula, 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.
Add chopped bacon.
Add 2 medium or 1 large can petite diced tomatoes. cook several minutes.
Combine this mixture with pinto beans in a large pot.
Add 4-6 cups chicken broth, or more. Eye ball it. (I use "Knorr Suiza" instant boullion.)
Simmer 20 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Add small handful of chopped cilantro and simmer a few more minutes.

A few more from Christmas day

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas 2005


Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

Saturday, December 24, 2005


We finally got the tamales made today. They are steaming as I write this. The red sauce was for chicken and the green for pork.

Cinderella bids you a Merry Christmas

A gift to Lidia from J's parents...

Friday, December 23, 2005

I said yesterday

I went in to Menards looking for a paint sprayer. Here's what I said to the friendly Menards man: "Do you have any saint prayers?"

What does that mean? Does it only mean that I am tired, stressed, and a little sick, or does it indicate that I am in need of heavenly intervention?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Family Home Evening

The construction of this gingerbread house went way more smoothly than I anticipated. It helped that I 1) used a kit, and 2) bought two extra bags of candy so there was plenty to stick on the house and eat, too. Next year I'll probably get one house for the older girls to do by themselves and another for the two younger.

Monday, December 19, 2005

sun dogs

Yesterday on our way to church we saw what looked like three suns. I thought it was a millenial sign or something. On either side of the sun were two smaller suns, and those had brightly colored rainbows beside them.

Today J's business partner told him there were not really three suns. (We figured that out after awhile.) They were "sun dogs" and they appear on very cold days. It seems that sun dogs are common, but what we saw was much more dramatic than usual. The picture above and the link below of Alaska Sun Dog are very similar to what we saw.

Here are some sun dog images:
Alaska sun dog

my coat!

You may remember from a previous post that I lost my coat, or rather, someone at the gym stole my coat. Well, today I found it! I went to the women's locker room and, as usual, checked the coat room. There it was. It had two black gloves shoved in the pockets. I had left navy blue gloves. It was not locked onto the hanger, so I took it up to the front desk and reported that I'd found it.

I am annoyed that I feel a nudge of guilt about taking back my coat today. It's -4 degrees F. And get this. I called J about it and after I told him I almost considered leaving a little note stuck to the hanger for my coat thief, he said this: "You're weird. It was probably just a mistake."

Uh-huh. And that's why she left those black gloves jammed in the pockets. She felt really bad that she'd made the mistake and she left the gloves as a peace offering. I left the gloves at the front desk. J is so funny about never wanting to think ill of people, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary. I suppose that's something I love about him.

I just bought a replacement coat Saturday, of course. Luckily I still have the receipt. (I don't always keep those like I should.)

As you can see from the picture this is not a stylish coat but it's very warm. I'm so glad to have it back!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In memory...

A good friend died unexpectedly this afternoon. He found out one month ago that he had cancer. He is about fifty and has five children including a 10-yr old son. Have you read the book Cheaper by the Dozen? When I read this book about efficiency expert and father of twelve Frank Gilbreth, I thought constantly of this friend of ours. His charisma filled the room. He was an inventor and a "character." He was funny and had seemingly boundless energy. He never slept. He was the dedicated and tireless bishop of a large LDS ward, and my husband was his executive secretary.

This friend loved J. Every time I saw him he would tell me wonderful things about my husband. He and his wife are friends we haven't seen as much since we moved almost two years ago, but when our paths crossed at weddings and stake gatherings, we always talked of getting together. I wish we had. We found out about his illness about a week ago, but weren't sure whether or not to visit. We heard that he was receiving so many visitors it was hard for the family to have time together.

I don't know exactly why I'm writing this, because few of you reading have met this great man. I just feel like I need to write this. To tell someone. I know the Plan of Salvation and I know that this man will some day see his family again. But that's not helping very much right now. I must say it does help a little bit to imagine Bishop busy as always on the other side, unencumbered by physical needs or affilictions. Mormons believe that when a righteous man or woman is taken "before their time" it is because they have received a calling in the Spirit world. He is needed more there than here. Trusting that there is a loving Father in Heaven who makes these decisions, who cares for us and knows what is best for us brings comfort.

Still, I wish I'd had the chance to say good bye.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

AVE and company

Yes, it is true. Brains, beauty, and a wonderful sense of humor do run in our family. And we're only about half as vain as my husband's family.

our neighborhood

Whoopie Pie Recipe

Allright already! A recipe! (btw, I stole the whoopie pie picture off someone's site on the web. No, I did not actually make that particular whoopie and neither did Maine Girl.) Maine Girl was so very kind as to send me her whoopie pie recipe, but I haven't yet asked permission to post it. I'll ask her.

I found the following recipe on the web. Looks pretty good. It was labeled "The Best [Durn] Whoopie Pie Recipe in the World." You be the judge:

The Cookies

Mix, then cool completely:
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup boiling water

Cream together:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
Add two eggs.

Add & beat well:
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sour milk (or milk with vinegar)

Add cool cocoa mixture and blend.
Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 oven for 10-12 minutes (watch 'em carefully ... they burn easily.

The Filling

Cook until thick:
3 tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk
dash o' salt

Cream together:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margerine
1/4 cup shortening

Add cooled and cooked mixture and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Add 3 tbsp marshmallow Fluff and beat well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Makin' Whoopies

It's made me all nostalgic to read in Maine Girl's blog that she just whipped up a batch of whoopies (or several batches it seems!). There's nothing like a good whoopie, a classic Maine food. But only if they are soft and a little gooey. And have really rich filling.

I would like to make some whoopie pies but my kitchen is torn apart right now because my father-in-law is painting my cupboards and also the built-in entertainment center in the adjoining family room. Stay tuned for before and after pics. Well, in a week or so. It's taking longer that we'd thought. The tamalada will be late this year.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What I don't love about Christmas

Now that I've written about what I love about this time of year, I feel free to jot down just a couple of Christmas gripes. I hope that in my previous post I established myself squarely in the Christmas lovers' camp so that no one will think me a Scrooge.

Gifts. I don't like gifts. Or rather, let me say first: I love gifts for children. I love to shop for children. I love their priceless excitement when presents are first placed under the tree. I love how they play with their gifts and occasionally tear a piece of wrapping paper, hoping and at the same time hoping not to find out what might be in there. I love, love, love watching children open gifts. It's delightful! But there oughta be a law against gift exchanges among adult people. My mom says someone should start a movement where only books are exchanged as gifts at Christmas. I think she may be on to something there. But really, I'd like to go the moratorium route. In Friday's Wall Street Journal Daniel Akst writes so convincingly on this topic in his commentary "Please, No More Presents." I love this: "But if the process of gift-giving is familiarly fraught, hardly anyone talks about the complex--and, until now, silent--agonies of being on the receiving end, which in my view are incomparably worse. It's time to come out with it; the biblical injunction about the superiority of giving over receiving contains more truth than anyone so far has been willing to admit. ... No, the real problem is that presents, no matter how thoughtful or well intended, are inherently burdensome. I can't shake the sense that they come tightly wrapped in a foil of guilt, with ribbons of obligation, imposing more discomfort and inconvenience than delight on both sides of the transaction. It was to spare myself as much as my friends that I talked my then-fiancée into putting 'no gifts' right on our wedding invitations (we already had two of everything by then anyway)."

There is another problem I'm finding this year with Christmas that is interfering with the peaceful, kind-hearted feeling I normally have throughout the season. It's the whole "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" thing. Evidently there are people so outraged that some stores are saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" that they are boycotting these stores. People, that is just plain wrong. This is Christmas! The time of brotherly love! It does annoy me when people say "Happy Holidays" but lets just reply "Merry Christmas" and move on.

What I am currently bothered by is the grim determination of my daughters' public school to mention no holiday at all, let alone Christmas. It's become a nasty word or something. Truly, I think teachers would be more shocked to hear children say "Merry Christmas" to one another than some foul, vulgar word. I've been helping organize the "Winter" party for Georgie's class. One mother suggested we do a beach party theme so as to entirely avoid the whole "holiday" thing. That didn't fly, thank heavens. For a craft I suggested making a tree ornament. That's what Lidia did in her other school. They looked at me like I had said something inappropriate, or rather didn't look at me. They said that would be "too holiday" and quickly changed the subject. I then suggested painting cookies and that went over much better. However, there was concern about finding cookie shapes that are not "too holiday," as well as concern over the colors red and green. To tell you the truth, I felt like these ladies were speaking another language. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Some friends of ours had their children at The Blake School, a very expensive secular private school in Minneapolis. My friend and another mom were annoyed that the Holiday concert did not contain one single Christian song. They were all Hannukah or secular. In a quiet little moment of defiance, the other mom made some church-shaped cookies for the after-concert treats. There was a big hue and cry. The other parents were outraged, simply outraged. My friends eventually removed their children from that school, partially because the culture there was too liberal.

I understand that public school districts do not want to offend the aetheists and non-Christians. But what I don't understand is why Christmas must then be taboo. There is another wonderful opinion piece in the WSJ that contains the following quote: "An Afghan-born Muslim friend of ours likes to say 'Merry Christmas' every chance he gets, and believes that many immigrants of all persuasions enthusiastically do the same in their adopted land: 'Coming from societies with ancient histories and cultures and traditions, they have a deep appreciation for religious holidays,' he explains, 'and the more observant, the deeper their appreciation.'"

Here, here! I am so worried that we will obliterate, at least publicly, our beautiful Christmas. And to what end?

What I love about Christmas

Here is what I love about Christmas: the music, the food, the lights and decor, the convivality and the sweet peace.

I look forward all year to Christmas music. I generally pull those CDs out of the hall closet as soon as we're done with Halloween. All of the best music in the world is dedicated to the Savior, but I also love the vigorous secular music. I love all forms of "Sleigh Ride." I don't find that I much enjoy the pensive ones such as "Chestnuts Roasting." Too sentimental maybe. One of our family favorites is "Christmas with the Manhattan Strings." The two best tracks are the Appalachian-inspired "Deck the Halls" and very funny "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with the bass solo. I play "Sleigh Ride! Classic Christmas Favorites" ad nauseum. Another fun one in moderation is "Three Tenors' Christmas." What we mean to do every year and have always procastinated until it's too late to get tickets is hear the Minnesota Orchestra and choir do The Messiah at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Maybe next year. Two years ago I took my mom to see "A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie and last year J took Georgie to see it. I told J that from now on I want us to go every year as a family. It is just too wonderful to miss! The music is incredible and it makes me feel good for days after I see it. It's like a Christmas Carol buzz.

Friday night J and I went to see Hansel and Gretel at Orchestra Hall. We have a friend now who plays french horn with the Minnesota Orchestra and he has tickets to give away. He gave J these tickets and they were good seats! Two sisters played the parts of Hansel and Gretel--it was an opera. It was a marvelous production. Those sisters are Twin Cities natives and their voices are so beautifully matched. There were lots of kids and we felt guilty for not having our kids there. I think they would have really enjoyed it and we are always looking for ways to introduce them to the best cultural experiences. Next time!

The food. Oh, the food of Christmas. I love Christmas baking. I love gingerbread cookies hot from the oven. I love trying new cookie recipes. I think I may have mentioned before on this blog about my cookie obsession. However, it's not total junk food for us at Christmas. I make tamales every year. I've made all types, but I find that our consistent favorites are pork and chicken. I love the southern Mexico tamales wrapped in banana leaves, but I haven't learned to make them yet. I make the traditional northern Mexico tamales wrapped with corn husks.

Our neighborhood is pretty good with the Christmas lights. We don't do them ourselves, but our tree shows up well in the front window and we have a large wreath on the front of our garage that looks nice. I splurged on a thick, bushy, expensive one this year. Perhaps some of the wonder of Christmas lights has worn off for me compared to when I was a child, but I still drive very slowly up our street when I'm coming home in the evening. Minneapolis has the gorgeous Holidazzle parade every year that is a must-see. Fairy tale-themed floats are decked out in Christmas lights.

There is a special feeling this time of year inspite of the commercialization. I know the history of this holiday. I know that the Christ child was not really born on December 24th. Our Christmas is a mixture of both pagan and holy traditions, and I love both. I'm glad that the poor aetheists can enjoy the pagan part of Christmas or "this holiday season" or whatever they choose to call it. Good grief, they need to find joy in something.

What are your favorite Christmas foods? Favorite music?

Saturday, December 10, 2005


I finally saw the new Pride and Prejudice today. I started reading Athena's post a couple weeks ago about the movie, but stopped before the spoiler. If you are reading this and haven't seen the movie yet, STOP! Read no further. Get thee to the nearest theater and see this movie.

I wasn't going to see it. I saw the trailer and was unfavorable impressed. And I didn't want to be disloyal to the excellent BBC miniseries. However, I kept hearing such good things about it. One of my favorite girls in the Young Women's class at church loved it. The bishop's wife has seen it three times and, get this, the bishop has seen it twice!

Keira Knightley is far too beautiful to play Elizabeth Bennett. Even the frumpy hair style they give her does not disguise it. That makes it rather ridiculous when Darcy claims upon first meeting her that she is not good-looking enough for him to take notice of her. They may as well have left that line out. But in spite of the too-good looks, I thought this actress was superb as Elizabeth. She really made the movie. Her face is wonderfully expressive and they couldn't go wrong with all of the close-ups. I frankly can't imagine a better Elizabeth.

Matthew MacFadyen is not as handsome as Colin Firth, but he held his own for the most part. I cut him slack because he had his work cut out for him constantly opposite the riveting Kiera Knightley.

I liked very much the sets and costumes. I think it was in the Wall Street Journal where I read that this version was set earlier than past productions. The Bennett home is untidy (at one time an enormous hog wanders through) yet intimate. The first ball is a rowdy affair in a rustic hall.

I loved it that the Bennett girls are spirited and natural. They are ferocious eaters--no simpering daintiness at the dinner table. And I love it that there is a good deal of affection in the Bennett family. While in the BBC version Mrs. Bennett gets big laughs for her outrageous silliness, in this version she is still silly, yet likable. She is warm. You can understand why her daughters would be devoted to her in spite of her faults. In fact that is something that I feel is far more present in general in this version: an understanding and acceptance of human frailty.

Yes, the movie is very condensed. It must necessarily be so. But they included all of the best lines. I must admit that many of the lines were done better in this version than in the BBC. Yes, I admit it reluctantly but I think it's true. There is a wonderful long sequence at Bingley's ball where the Bennetts all expose themselves. The younger girls are staggering around drunk, Charlotte is singing her mournful tune, Mrs. Bennett is glorying in the prospect of a match between Jane and Bingley, and Mr. Collins is being Mr. Collins. I just love how that was done. I suppose it was the editing. The editing in this movie must be superb.

I may actually purchase this movie when it comes out on DVD. I purchase very, very few movies. There are so few I like to see more than once. I think this just may be one.

Friday, December 09, 2005


I was inspired by Athena's beautiful Christmas pictures and thought I'd try some of my own. Some turned out o.k., some are fuzzy.

Venezuelan creche

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas