Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Club

I think I've mentioned that I'm in a book club.  However, I've don't think I've really talked about it much, which is crazy because it's one my two favorite days of every month!  My other favorite day is my dinner club.  Mostly it's the same girls that go out for dinner that are in my book club.  There's one in book club who doesn't go to dinner and vice versa.  Anyway, I love my book club and dinner girls and it's time to pay homage to one of the most important groups of people in my life.  I love our time spent talking, eating, and even discussing books. :)  We will be celebrating our 10th anniversay next month as we had our first meeting in November 2002.  That also means that we've now read 120 books!  WOW!  It also means that we've eaten 120 desserts! :) 

Here's my girls...  Our group has changed over the years.  We started with 8 of us.  Since 2002, we have added a couple more, a few have stopped coming due to work and family matters. We also lost our dear Sherry to cancer 2 1/2 years ago.  This picture was taken in 2005:

And here we are last year at Christmas... There are 6 of us now.  Our group may be smaller, but it's still a great group of women who have been through thick and thin together.  We've been through in vitro, adoption, divorce, cancer,  and the loss of close family members through tragic accidents and illnesses.  We have also had our share of happy times, too!  We've welcomed 3 babies during our ten years, and 5 of us (including dinner girls, too!) will have our youngest children graduating from high school next spring.  We've laughed, we've cried, and even argued, but through all of it, we've remained great friends who will always be there for each other when we're needed. 

This is some of us at a fundraiser we hosted to raise money for our book club sister, Sherry, who was fighting cancer. 

We've thought about naming our group, but can never think of a good one, so we're just "Book Club."  If you're ever interested in starting a book club, but not sure how to go about it, just let me know.  I'd be happy to offer suggestions.  We have a pretty good sytem that works well for us.  We all take turns hosting book club at our house each month.  The previous month's hostess takes dessert to the next month's meeting.  Doing it this way really helps to divide up the work it takes to host a gathering.  No one has to get their house ready and make dessert at the same time.  If you are the hostess, you also get to choose what book the group reads.

When we started book club, one of the goals was to broaden our reading horizons.   We have read books from genres ranging from romance to horror/thriller to biography and everything in between.  Now, make no mistake that we are not an intellectual book discussion group.  Our goal is to read a book and discuss it, but a big part of our meetings are also talking. :)  We do not dissect each book and discuss it's themes, foreshadowing, protagonists, or any other of those literary words.  We talk about the plot, characters, what we loved and what we hated.  Sometimes we talk about the book for half an hour, sometimes 5 minutes.  It completely depends on the book and whether or not we just have other things on our minds that we need to talk about.  However, I will say that it is frustrating when you show up to discuss a book and half the group hasn't finished reading it! (You know who you are if you're reading this!)  Yes it drives me crazy, and they know it. :)

As I mentioned, we've read books across all genres.  Our first book was The Divine Secrets of the
Ya-Ya Sisterhood.  We sometimes read mainstream authors like James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, and Jodi Picoult.  Jodi Picoult holds our record for the most titles we've read by any one author.  I think we've read 5 or 6 of her books.  We've read 3 Stephen King books.  Occasionally we'll read a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird or Pride and Prejudice.  Each December we read a Christmas themed book and all bring delicious appetizers and soups for dinner.  Once we read a book called 16 Pleasures and the author (who is a professor at our local college) came to discuss it with us.  We also took a field trip to see the stage production of Vagina Monologues after we read the book.  Yes, we've read Fifty Shades of Grey. :)  But we've also read lesser known titles such as Me and Emma and Last Days of Summer.  We have no rules for what the hostess can choose for a book.  It's completely her choice.  Sometimes we love it, sometimes we don't.  I think we can all honestly say that we've read books we would've never have picked up on our own.

So last month I just wanted to do something special for my book club girls (you didn't think I was skipping out on giving you a recipe did you???)  so I made these jars of fall snack mix:

You can see basically everything I added into the mix, but here's a list:

Honey Nut Cheerios
regular M&Ms in fall colors
peanut M&Ms in fall colors
candy corn
candy corn pumpkins
Cheez Its

I used one regular sized package of each of these items.  This makes a HUGE batch!  You either need one extra extra large bowl to mix it in, or you need to mix it in two batches, which is what I did.  I filled 8 of these Kerr canning jars.  Then I tied some rafia on top and there you go.  You could use any combination of snacks you might like in your mix such as raisins, nuts, or other cereals.  My family loved it and I think my book club girls did too. 

I hope everyone is lucky enough to have such a great group of women in their life! I don't know what I would do without my monthly book club gatherings!  I love you all! :)


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spinach Bisque

I've been trying to think of a good intro to this post, but nothing is coming to mind.  I think my brain has hit overload after spending two days at a state library conference.  So much great information to take in!  Or, it could be that the bump I now have on my head from an altercation with my trunk lid this morning has affected my ability to think straight.  Either way, I think I better just jump right into the recipe...

Spinach Bisque

2 (15 oz.) cans chicken broth
3 (10 oz.) pkgs frozen chopped spinach
4 Tbl butter or margarine
2 Tbl onion
4 Tbl cornstarch
Large jar Cheese Whiz
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 C shredded parmesan cheese
1 pint half and half

Bring broth to boil.  Add spinach and cook until it all separates (10-15 min).  Saute onion in 4 Tbl. butter until tender.  Add cornstartch and stir until blended, then add to spinach and broth.  Add 1/2 or more of the jar of Cheese Whiz, cheddar cheese, and parmesan.  Stir until cheese is melted.  Add half and half.  Continue cooking until heated through on low.  The longer it cooks, the better it is.  Do not boil.  Serves 12.

I got this recipe from Lance's Aunt Marian about 18 years ago.  She has since passed away, but I never make this soup without thinking of her!  She was a wonderful woman and is dearly missed by our family.  I follow the recipe with one minor change...when I get ready to add the cornstarch to the melted butter, I add some of the half and half first.  If I don't do that, the butter and cornstarch get too thick and leave lumps in the soup.  Sometimes I also add a little Velveeta to the soup to make cheesier. 

Makes me hungry just looking at this picture!  My whole family loves this soup!  Kenny even postponed going back to college the weekend I made this so he could have some. :)  I know there are many variations of this recipe out there, but this is the best one I've tried so far. 


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Monday, October 15, 2012

Spooky Ghosts

I'll be the first to admit that even though I absolutely love fall, Halloween is not my favorite holiday.  I guess I'm not a fan of all the horror movies and the macabre that gets so much attention this time of year.  But, I am a huge Stephen King fan.  Go figure.  My kids haven't trick-or-treated for years and I just got out of the habit of doing much Halloween decorating except for the occasional jack-o-lantern.  Anyway, I have tried to get into a more festive spirit this year thanks to Pinterest.  I saw these cute little ghosts and thought I just had to try making them!  I couldn't find the actual website they came from, but this is the picture:

I can make those.  Right?  Let's get started...
First, I had to buy a sheet.  I got lucky and found a set of twin white sheets on clearance at Target for about $12.  That's the only item I had to purchase for this project so that makes each ghost cost $6.  Then I found 2 tomato cages and 2 sets of icicle lights we already had on hand.  I used the icicle lights because 1.  they were easier to get to in the garage than the regular Christmas lights in the attic and 2. They have white cords so I thought they would blend in better with the sheet. 
I washed and dried the flat sheet to get out the wrinkles and then cut it in half to make two squares.  I debated about hemming the cut edges on my sewing machine, but I just wasn't in the mood to drag all that out.  Someday I'll have a permanent place for my sewing machine!
The next step was to wrap the lights around the cage.  There's no rhyme or reason to this.  I just wrapped the cord around the cage leaving the plug end hanging out on the bottom. 
I did decide that I should hand sew some tie downs on the corners to keep the sheet in place. I live in the country and it gets windy sometimes.  All I did was cut one of the hemmed edges off of the sheet and tacked it down with some needle and white thread.  I sewed one tie down on each corner of the sheet.  

Then I just draped the sheet over the cage, tied down the corners to the bottom of the cage and placed them outside.  Aren't they just adorable?!!!!  I drew faces on them with a black Sharpie after I put the sheet on.  I totally free-handed the faces, but I think they came out ok.  

There was a pretty good breeze blowing when I set them up as you can see the sheet blowing below.  

I decided I had better pin them to the ground so they didn't blow over.  I found some metal stakes we had from something else and they worked well.  If you look closely, you can see the wire stake here:

Well, all was well and I went to work the next day.  Unfortunately, it got extremely windy before I got home.  I found my cute ghosts in a pile of sheets, lights, and flowers when I got home.  The cage had also poked through the sheet. :(

I was pretty bummed.  I brought the ghosts in to try to do some minor surgery and repair the damage.  Then I had to figure out how to fix it so the cage didn't poke through again.  Not my best idea here, but his is all I had on hand...

Yep, I taped cotton batting on top of each cage leg.  It's working for a quick fix.  My ghosts are happy to be haunting my front yard again.

You can see the batting in these pictures, but it doesn't really show up when you're just looking at them.  I still think they're cute!  They aren't too bad for no more time and money than I have invested in them.  It probably took me an hour to put them together and another half an hour to fix them after the wind took over. 

A couple of days later I found this GENIUS idea for the top:


Why didn't I think of this?????  Placing a Styrofoam ball on top would give it a better shape and keep the metal from poking through the sheet!  Oh well.  Maybe I'll try this next year.  Until then, I'm happy with my ghosts. :)
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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall Fun and Corn Chowder

Fall is in full force here in the Midwest and nothing says fall in my neck of the woods more than Knox County Scenic Drive.  I think the original intention of the scenic drive was to promote the area by having stops along a scenic route through the countryside.  It has really turned into "drive from place to place to visit craft/flea markets."  Unfortunately, I do feel the quality of the stops has dropped off in recent years.  Nonetheless, I braved the chilly temps (high of barely 50 I think!) and had a great day with my oldest son!  Kenny is the only one in my family who has the patience for something like the Scenic Drive.  A lot of driving around to crowded craft fairs.  Not the ideal day for Lance and Kelin. :)

Here's my partner for the day:

As we drove around the Knox County countryside, we were able to take time to enjoy some of the fall scenery.  I got a few miles down the road and realized that I forgot my camera!  All of these photos were taken with my phone.  They actually turned out pretty good.

Of course one of the best parts of going on the Scenic Drive is the food!  Mmmmm. Pork chop sandwich and apple dumplings!

We were also treated to some live music while we ate.  This girl was rockin' some Adele!
At the end of this long, cool, fall day, I decided that a hot bowl of Gilson Corn Chowder would be the perfect supper.  Gilson used to be a stop on the Scenic Drive tour and years ago I would go there just for a bowl of the this corn chowder.  The last year I was there, you could purchase a copy of the recipe for 25 cents.  What a bargain!  That was the best 25 cents I've ever spent!  This soup quickly became a family favorite and I make it quite often. 
Gilson Corn Chowder
4 slices raw bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 C. peeled, diced potatoes
3 C. water
3 Tbl. butter or margarine
1/4 C. flour
2 C. milk
2 C. diced ham
2 - 12oz cans whole kernel corn, undrained
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbl. dried parsley flakes
In a large soup pot, over moderately high heat, cook bacon until it is almost crisp.  Add onion and cook until soft.  Add potatoes and water, cover and cook over moderate heat until potatoes are fork tender.  Melt butter in saucepan over low heat.  Blend in flour.  Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture thickens.  Add white sauce to potatoe mixture.  Add diced ham, corn, salt, pepper and parsley.  Bring just to a boil, but do not let it boil.  Serve.  This may be kept frozen for several months.  Makes 3 quarts of 8 1 1/2 C. servings. 
I follow this recipe pretty closely with a few shortcuts.  When making the white sauce, I melt the butter then add in a little milk, then some of the flour.  If I don't do it this way, the butter and flour just seem to clump up.  I then continue to just gradually add milk and flour, stirring until it thickens.  I also add about 1 C of shredded parmesan cheese at the end and stir until it melts.  I just like the little bit of added flavor it gives.  I also used frozen hashbrowns instead of chopping up potatoes.  It's much easier and still tastes good.  I do defrost the potatoes in the microwave before I cook them though.  One other shortcut I use is frozen onion as well.  I generally only use about 1/2 cup because we don't like it too much onion.  I know that fresh ingredients would be better, but seriously, I'm a busy person just like you are and I'd rather spend time with my family eating the meal than in the kitchen preparing the meal. 
 What bacon shortage?  Mmmmmmmm bacon!

OMG!  Did you know that you can buy cubed ham?  Cutting up the ham was my least favorite part of this recipe.  Yesterday, I found this already cubed ham on sale and it was cheaper than buying it whole and the package contained the perfect amount!  My life has changed forever!  I have yet another shortcut for my meals.

Looks good, huh?  It's a very hearty soup for a chilly fall day.  You really have to try it!
~ Dawn
Linky parties:
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Everyday Mom's Meals
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

20 Gifts for 20 Years

I can't believe it.  I never thought it would happen to me, but it did.  I'm officially the mother of a son who is no longer a teenager.  Kenny turned 20 last week.  I don't know where the last 20 years went, but they sure flew by!  I don't have any of his baby pictures on my computer since he was born so long ago - before all of this technology - and honestly, I'm just too tired to get up and find one to scan :)  So this is the youngest picture of him I have... (Kenny is on the right-3 years old, Kelin is the baby-8 months)

Yes, I used to dress them up in cutesy outfits like this and take tons of pictures.  What can I say?  I'm a mom.  You can thank me later Kenny for putting this on the internet where a billion people will see it.  Well, probably only about 20 or 30 blog followers, but you're still welcome :)

And this is my handsome son last weekend with his beautiful girlfriend, Demi...

I'm so proud of both of my sons!  They have grown into wonderful young men.  I can't wait to see where life takes them and am excited about being part of that journey. 
I had no idea what to get him for his 20th birthday because, let's face it, he's spoiled and doesn't need a darn thing!  I saw several ideas online for getting someone the number of gifts for their age and putting them in a basket like this one on the Workman family blog.  

Here's my version:  20 Gifts for 20 Years

I had the green plastic tub leftover from a party this summer.  I think I paid a couple of dollars for it.  To get some of the small items to stand up, I taped a block of florist foam in the middle of the tub then arranged the larger gifts around it.  For the gift cards, I taped them to bamboo skewers and stuck them in the foam. The last thing I added was a few $20 bills to round the 20 gifts and then stuffed some yellow shredded paper into the gaps.  I think it turned out extremely well!  This is a great gift when you don't know what to buy, especially for a college guy!  The basket contains the following items:

package of underwear - because you're never too old for your mom to buy you underwear!
Axe body wash
trail mix
mini Oreos
2 bottles of pop
drink mix
beef jerky
gift cards

You can overspend a little when creating gift baskets so I would suggest setting a budget for how much you would usually spend on the recipient first.  The gifts don't have to be expensive.  I love putting baskets like this together though.  I can't wait for Kelin to turn 20 so I can do it again!  On second thought, I'd like to keep my baby a teenager for awhile longer.

Also, last Saturday morning my backyard was a flurry of activity with wildlife.  My fountain was a particularly busy spot.  I thought I'd end this post with some pictures I took.  Some of them aren't the best quality because I took them through a window with a zoom lens, but enjoy...

I rarely get Blue Jays in my backyard so this was a treat!

Uh oh!  I think I've been spotted. 

The robins were everywhere.  My cardinal and hummingbirds made an appearance as well, but I wasn't quick enough to get a picture of them. :(

Purple finches (I think)

One of my crazy squirrels

I've been spotted again!

I don't know what these birds are, but they look rather mean and nasty. 

The squirrel retreated to a nearby tree to eat a nut.
I love watching the wildlife in my backyard.  As much as I love fall, I hate that it signals the end of all this activity.  Wow!  I am officially getting old.  A 20 year old son and all this bird and squirrel watching!  I better see about getting a walker. :)

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