Snow Days

Over the past week some much-publicized snow storms have blown across the country, bringing thick blankets of fluffy white snow to cover the land. Here, we were at the outskirts of the storms coming across Kentucky and Tennessee, so we missed the majority of the snow, but still got enough to leave us snowed in for a couple of days.

Walter, of course, loved having everyone shut up in the house with him for much of the week. He thrives on companionship and, given the choice, would require it at all times, with the possible exception of during his late morning-noontime nap. He was perfectly content to just look out the window; the couple of times he was given the opportunity to get out in the snow, he was actually afraid of it, and turned tail and ran back inside as soon as he got the chance.

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There was certainly plenty to see outside, though. The snow and cold brought out all manner of wildlife. The bird feeders are always popular, but during the snow they were absolutely covered. Though they are less immediately recognizable in their winter plumage, the goldfinches were out in full force. I don’t think I have ever seen so many in any one place at one time. That’s right: all of those round beige splotches in the tree will soon be gloriously dressed in bright yellow.

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Even though it isn’t much snow volume wise, it was enough to make roads icy and close schools. I almost slid down twice in one trip walking the dogs, and Florence actually did slip and fall on her walk. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot to do besides stay inside. We’ve perfected the art of relaxing; it’s going to be a shock when the world starts going again.

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Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

Back in the day, my grandmother was the grand hostess of Thanksgiving. She cooked a huge meal attended by all seven of her children, her many grandchildren, and later even great-grandchildren. Though her daughters helped, the majority of the work was done by Granny. When I got a bit older, I started frying the ham out on the enclosed porch; it was really a tiny drop in the ocean of everything there was to be done, but it made me feel like an important part of the event to help out even in that small way.

The group that gathered for Thanksgiving was large enough that it filled three tables. The dining room had the most formal place settings, and was the unofficial men’s room, filled in with the oldest daughters and wives. The second table was in the kitchen, where the daughters and oldest granddaughters sat. The children’s table was a card table out on the enclosed porch off of the kitchen. Out there we sat in some old ladder back chairs, which had an unfortunate tendency to flip over backward if you tried to sit back in the chair and lean against the backrest.

My first associations with Thanksgiving will probably always include those tippy ladder back chairs (which still show up occasionally if we have a big Thanksgiving crowd) and sitting at that old oak table, backed up against the house plants on the window sill. We are making a new set of Thanksgiving memories, however, with Thanksgiving dinner in a new location. My mother, the only family member who has thus far managed to replicate Granny’s rolls, is the obvious heir to the throne of Thanksgiving hostess, and we do our best to make it continue to be a special time for our family every year.

We’re a smaller group than we used to be, and we sit at different tables and eat off of different plates, but at the heart of it, we enjoy the same things about Thanksgiving that we always did: the reunion with family members that we don’t see as often as we’d like, the traditional foods that make Thanksgiving dinner so happy and comforting (turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes – and of course rolls and pecan pie!), and even some little family heirlooms that remind us of all of those wonderful Thanksgivings at Granny’s house.

As much as I’d like to travel back in time for another Thanksgiving at Granny’s, I know that we can’t turn back time, and we have to make the best of what we have. I am thankful for the Thanksgivings I was able to share with my family in that dear old house, and that I am able to share them with my family now in my own home.

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Cat Portraits

It is painfully obvious that I have been absent from posting in quite a long while. It is sadly very easy to get caught up in all of the business of life and drop the things that aren’t absolutely essential. However, it seems quite a shame to drop something that I enjoyed as much as I did running my humble little blog here. Therefore, I have returned! Hopefully I will be able to keep things up better in the future.

To atone for my absence, behold, a truly stunning collection of cat portraits.

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Little Tom, the old man of the family, is not usually the biggest fan of having his picture taken, but he submitted to a photography session.

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Walter is the model of the group. He’s photogenic and he knows it, and can always be counted on to show up for a good photo op.

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Here is a moody profile shot of Jake, which his a bit ironic, considering that he is the least moody cat around.

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And Myrtle? Myrtle doesn’t do press appearances.

Pansies & Tulips

Remember those pansies with the tulips planted under them? Well, here they are, with the tulips blooming above them. These red tulips are particularly gorgeous, and I love the way the bright red and yellow look together. It looks like this experiment was a success!

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Getting Ready For Spring

It may still be winter, and it is definitely still cold, but there are a few signs of life starting to emerge from the recently frosty ground.

Crocus are one of the first flowers to appear at the end of winter. Here is a bright yellow one, defying the dead brown around it.

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The hyacinths are just starting to sprout out. Before too long, these will show delightfully fragrant deep blue blooms.

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Tulips are starting to show up, too. There are lots of bulbs down there, so hopefully there will be a good spring show.

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Buttercups are always early risers. They are quite cold-hardy, so even if there is more cold weather to come, they should be fine.

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While I can’t deny that a large part of the carpet of leaves covering these flower beds is from my own idleness, it’s not an entirely bad thing. This winter was so cold that it easily could have killed some of the plants back. Fortunately, these hydrangeas were protected somewhat by the leaves covering them. We’ll see if they bloom this year; a really cold winter can wreck their blossoms for a season, even if the plant isn’t killed.

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Here is an experiment: there are tulips planted underneath the pansies in this pot. You can see them peeking out. Hopefully, there will be bright tulips above the pansies soon!

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I  hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the first bits of spring venturing out of the ground. It’s nice to think about the season changing after our unusually cold winter! I’ll be looking forward to showing more plant life when it is really spring!

 

Microwave Stuffed Potato

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When you need something quick to eat, but don’t want a sandwich, leftovers, or takeout, a baked potato can be the perfect solution. You can cook one quickly in the microwave, then add whatever toppings you like to change it up.

Just wash your potato, preferably with a plastic scrubber to make sure you get the dirt off, then poke it with a fork. This keeps the potato from exploding in the microwave. (It is also a good way to take out your pent-up aggression or stress from the day). Wrap it in a paper towel and put it in the microwave. The cook time will vary based on you microwave and the size of the potato. I usually start at about three minutes and add from there if I need to. You can test it by giving it a squeeze to see if it is squishy yet. When it is, wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil. This will keep it hot and keep cooking it until you are ready to eat it.

Next comes the fun part: toppings! My go-tos are butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, sea salt, pepper, and bacon. This time, I used lower cholesterol butter (butter mixed with canola spread) and Greek yogurt instead of the regular butter and sour cream. I also switched out barbecue for the bacon. We had some left over in the freezer from a butt roast we got from a fundraiser. As long as it’s for charity, right? Besides, it is Tennessee, and we are known for our barbecue, after all. It’s the right thing to do!

I put a little Frank’s RedHot Kickin’ BBQ Sauce on the meat. If you haven’t tried it before, Frank’s Hot Sauce is delicious, and they make varieties for buffalo wings and barbecue that I really like.

If you’d rather enjoy bacon on your stuffed potato, the easiest way to cook it is in the oven with a piece of aluminum foil between it and the sheet, dish, or pan you’re using. That way, your clean up is as simple as dropping the aluminum foil in the trash – no need to battle with bacon grease!

I’ll go ahead and throw this out there: stuffed potatoes are not healthy by nature. However, there are things you can do to make it healthier (or perhaps less unhealthy). For example, I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream that is so common. It gives a nice tanginess and moistens the potato, as does the sour cream it replaces. The good news is that the Greek yogurt is healthy, so you can use as much as you want, and not feel bad about the butter and cheese. You can of course leave the meat off, which takes out a lot of the unhealthy parts – it also makes it vegetarian. I actually do that a lot when I make a baked potato. Not only is it better for you, it’s often less trouble! I usually cut way back on the toppings if I’m just having a potato as a side, but when it’s a la carte, it’s delicious to go all out!

The Grapefruit Diet

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My definition of “the grapefruit diet” is pretty simple: When you feel the urge to snack, instead of going for cookies, candy, potato chips, or other unhealthy go-tos, slice a grapefruit in half.

Take your half a grapefruit, put it in a bowl, and dust the top with a little sugar. I have the incredibly helpful grapefruit spoon, which is serrated around the end to help scoop out the grapefruit sections. You can also use a knife to cut out the white core in the center to make it easier to get them out.

Grapefruit really is fulfilling for all of the senses. The deep pink fruit is as appealing to the eyes as the sent and taste are to the nose and mouth, and the thin layer of sugar crunches satisfyingly between the teeth (and adds just enough sweetness to the natural tart flavor to stave off those sweet cravings!).

When you have your first half, you can just wrap the second one in cling wrap and set it aside in the refrigerator for later.

So pick up some grapefruit at the grocery store now, while they’re in season. You won’t regret giving this healthy snack alternative a try!