Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Year

I started this blog one year ago today.  I had plans to celebrate my one year anniversary with a fun post or a give away, but here's the problem.....I'm sick.  I've got a nasty case of the flu and I'm absolutely exhausted.   I'll have to postpone celebrating for a while.

Thank you so much to all of you who sent emails expressing concern about my absence.  I've been MIA for a while, but that was due to all of the decorating, shopping, wrapping, cooking and baking that I did for Christmas. I didn't get sick until the day after Christmas.

I'm looking forward to catching up with all of you when I'm feeling better!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do These Cookies Come With Instructions?

I have a simple question to ask you.  What is a Christmas cookie?  I've celebrated Christmas every year of my life, but today was the first time I ever thought about the what the term actually means (my son says I have too much time on my hands).   When I looked it up online, the definition read "A sugar cookie, usually cut in festive shapes, that is made and eaten at Christmas."  Really?  Could I have been doing it wrong all these years?

Does Christmas mean December 25th, or does it include the entire holiday season?  Would it still be a Christmas cookie if you ate it on Thanksgiving?  Or New Years Eve?  What about other types of cookies?  If I make Chocolate Truffle cookies, for example, can they technically be called Christmas cookies?   And should I wait until Christmas to serve them?   

Who are Christmas cookies for?  I know a lot of people, myself included,  make up platters of them for friends and neighbors or take them to Christmas parties.  Santa always gets a plate of them, too, of course.  But I know you must have heard of someone who hides the cookies they bake because "they're for Christmas".   Does that mean you can't bake Christmas cookies for your own household to enjoy?

I want to know what you think!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Long Overdue And Christmas Cards

I've been given some awards by my fabulous blog friends.  I apologize for not taking the time to post them and pass them on sooner.   I adore my blog buddies and appreciate each and every award.  If you haven't visited these blogs, please do so.  Right now.  I'm not kidding!

Several of these awards have rules that state you must list a number of interesting or unknown facts about yourself.  Instead of making a different list for each one (you'd be bored out of your mind reading all that), I'm going to post one list of five things you may or may not know about me.

  1. My family and I were in a car accident while on vacation in North Carolina a few years ago.  We were rear ended repeatedly by a man who passed out while driving. 
  2. I was hired for a job that fell through at the last minute and ended up taking a job with a different company where I met my husband.  Must have been fate!
  3. I don't like salmon.  I wish I did, it always looks really good and I love most other varieties of fish, but salmon tastes funny to me.
  4. I have issues with personal space.  It makes me crazy when someone I don't know stands too close to me.
  5. I played the clarinet for a short time when I was younger.  I was terrible at it.

The other rules I'm going to follow are those that come with the THETA Tag Award.  The rules state that you must list 5 things that make you a true, authentic mom.  

  1. I spend one on one time with each of my kids every day.
  2. I'm not a super strict parent.  I'm willing to bend or change the rules if there is a good reason.
  3. I don't believe in forcing my kids to eat foods they don't like.  Dinner shouldn't feel like punishment.
  4. I try to remember what it was like to be their age(s) before dealing with a problem.
  5. I never forget how lucky I am to have these two amazing human beings in my life.
Thank you again to all of my friends who passed these awards on to me.  You guys are the best!  In the spirit of the season, I would like to pass them along to all of my blog friends (I know most of you have them already).  Please take as many as you would like.  An early holiday gift from me to you.  Enjoy!

Holiday Cards

I'd love to send Christmas cards to any/all of my followers (yes, L.B., I'm totally stealing your idea!!!).  If you would like to email your address to thisstopwilloughby@yahoo.com, I would love to send you a Christmas card.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Willoughby's Donut Shop

Last week, I told you that Mr. Willoughby and I like to try new recipes together.  This morning, we decided to try making homemade donuts.  We prefer cake donuts to raised donuts, so we used this recipe.  They were easy and delicious and it didn't take much longer than a trip to the donut shop.  We got 13 donuts, or a baker's dozen,  plus a bunch of little donut holes out of one batch.  We did alter the recipe a bit by leaving out the cinnamon and nutmeg because we wanted to add a variety of toppings to the end product. 

As you can see, we coated some with cinnamon sugar, some with a chocolate glaze and left a few plain.   We used our deep fryer, but I'm sure you could improvise with a deep pan, a few inches of oil and a candy thermometer.

Our son liked them so much he thought we should go into business selling them.  Willoughby's Donut Shop?  I like the sound of that!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Clearing The Clutter And Customer Service

I haven't been around as much as I'd like lately because I've been really busy.  I got it in my head that I wanted to go through every closet, drawer and cabinet in the house and get rid of all of the unused or underused items taking up space.   It's been quite an undertaking, but I feel really good about it.

I went into this project telling myself to make decisions logically, not emotionally, but I still found it hard to part with some things.  I'm not really a pack rat by nature, but I am sentimental.  In the end, logic won out.  I reminded myself that stuff is just stuff.  Keeping items that remind me of when my kids were babies won't bring those days back.  On the flip side, parting with them won't erase cherished memories.

I still have a few cabinets to go through, and I didn't even start on the basement, but we donated more than 18 bags of toys, clothes and household items to charity.  If that's not worthwhile, I don't know what is.

Customer Service

On our way back from a trip to drop off some of our charitable donations, Mr. Willoughby and I decided to stop at a little store we had passed regularly but never been in.  From the outside, I thought it was a typical resale shop with the standard assortment of trash and treasures.  Once we were inside the door, I saw I had been wrong. 

This shop was filled with gorgeous vintage and antique furniture, glassware and home accessories.  There was holiday music playing and the whole store was decorated for Christmas.  Each vignette looked like a room in someone's home, all decked out and waiting for company to arrive.  From the Duncan Phyfe dining table with it's vintage bone china and delicate wine glasses to the tufted antique settee and inlay end tables, we were quite taken with this place.

We decided right away that this might be the perfect place to do some Christmas shopping.  Most of the adults on our list have similar taste to ours, so we were confindent that we could find a great gift.  When I looked at the price tags, however, I changed my mind a little.  This place was expensive!  They had a nice set of glass bar decanters labeled for Scotch, Whiskey, Gin and Rum that we liked, but they were priced at $55 dollars per bottle.  At least I think they were.

The price tags were incredibly difficult to read.  Many of the items in the store are on consignment, so each tag had multiple numbers to identify the vendor, the item, various dates and multiple prices.  We could only assume that the lowest price on each tag applied, but it wasn't clear.   An antique sideboard, for example, was labeled $1350, $1275 and $1250. 

When we passed from one room of the store to the other, we came across a woman setting out new merchandise.  She asked if we were looking for anything in particular, but when I told her we were just browsing, she abruptly turned away.  I started to tell her that we had passed the store many times, but that this was our first time coming in.  She cut me off in mid sentence to chat with a coworker.  I was hoping to ask her how the pricing worked, but she clearly didn't have time for "browsers".  The man running the cash register was no better.  He was talking with a woman who had brought in some items for consignment and never looked up.

This store is in a small town about 15 miles away from our town.  It's not an affluent area, so you would expect fabulous personal service if they are going to charge prices that are double what the local antique stores charge.  We would have been happy to have simply been treated as anything but annoying distractions.  One of our favorite sayings is "Vote with your feet" and that's exactly what we did.  We walked out without buying a thing.  And we won't be back anytime soon.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interesting And Unusual

Everyone is good at something, right?  I think so, anyway.  It's what makes you interesting.  Me, I'm a pretty good cook.  I'm also good at trivia.  Neither of those are very unique, though.  If you asked me to name my most interesting or unusual talent, I guess I would have to say my ability to use power tools (because I'm a woman, people always seem surprised).  When we installed the trim molding on our front porch, we set the chop saw up in the yard and took turns cutting the pieces.  No one seemed surprised to see Mr. Willoughby using it, but I got a few strange looks when I did.  When I tell people that I cut all of the trim for the back porch with a chop saw and installed it with a nail gun while Mr. Willoughby was at work, they always seem to think it's unusual.

I'd like to have one of those talents that entertain people at parties.  I'm always envious of people who can juggle or do card tricks.  I'm also impressed by those who can sit down at the piano and play Chopin perfectly or pick up a guitar and jam something other than Smoke On The Water.  

Mr. Willoughby has some cool, unique talents.  He can cut a deck of cards in one hand without setting them down.  He can also wiggle his ears.  He's tried to teach me how to do both, but my hands are too small to cut the cards and I can't wiggle my ears no matter how much I concentrate.  I am double jointed, though, so I can bend the tips of my fingers.

What is your most interesting or unusual talent?  I'd love to know!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Latin Twist

Over the past few months, Mr. Willoughby and I have tried to expand our culinary horizons and experiment with some new dishes that we can make together.   On weeknights, I usually start dinner before he gets home, but on weekends, when time isn't an issue, we can leisurely prepare a meal together.  There isn't much criteria for choosing a recipe.  It's generally just a matter of finding something that sounds good and doesn't require a major shopping trip.   We also try to choose something the kids will be likely to enjoy.

One of our most popular dishes has been paella.  It's a great dish for two people to prepare because it involves quite a bit of prep work.  There are onions and peppers to chop, chicken and sausage to be sliced and shrimp to be cleaned.  It gives us a lot of time to talk, laugh and enjoy a glass of wine while we work.  The end result is pretty fantastic, too.  Paella is delicious.

We've had empanadas on the "must make" list for a while.  We weren't looking to make a truly authentic filling for ours because we had some leftover spicy pork I had made for tacos and burritos.  Thanksgiving leftovers would make some tasty empanadas, too.   For the dough, we used a simple, traditional recipe (below).  It went together in minutes and was extremely easy to work with.

Basic Empanada Dough

  • 3 cups flour (plus a little more for kneading)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, shortening or lard 

In a small bowl, beat the water, egg, egg white and vinegar together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the 3 cups of flour and salt.

Cut the butter (or shortening or lard) into the flour mix using a pastry blender or two knives. Make a well in the center and pour in the liquid ingredients.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until a stiff dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it just until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but no more than 24 hours.

When you are ready to prepare your empanadas, divide dough into 10 pieces.  Form each piece into a ball and then, on a floured surface using a floured rolling pin, roll ball out into a six inch circle.  Place several tablespoons of filling in the center of the circle.  Using a wet fingertip, moisten the edges of the circle.  Fold dough over filling and crimp edges with the tines of a fork.  Set aside on baking sheet that has been dusted flour (if you will be frying them) or lined with parchment paper (if you will be baking them).

We fried our empanadas in the deep fryer at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  If you would prefer, you can bake them in a 400° degree oven for 25 minutes.

Enjoy your empanadas!

*A quick note about fillings - because of the short cooking time involved, you should choose a filling that is already cooked.  Meats, especially, would not have enough time to cook through.

Do you and your spouse like to work in the kitchen together?  If you do, what are your favorite recipes to make?


Monday, November 23, 2009

A Holiday Project And Food For Thought

I love this project because it's so versatile.  You can use them for a variety of different occasions and personalize them any way you want.  You can also make them in nearly any size you like.  I'm talking about pillowboxes.

I learned to make these years ago, long before I had the convenience of computer software and a printer.  You can make them out of any heavy, sturdy paper.  I prefer to use cardstock because it scores easily and holds it's shape well.  Heavy scrapbooking and decorative papers (even wallpaper) work well, too.

To begin, you need a template.  You could easily make your own with a piece of paper, a ruler and something to trace for the curves.  If you want to skip that part, I've scanned one of the templates that I used.  It is for a pair of pillowboxes. 

Be sure to click on the image before saving to get the largest size.

You can use this template as a guide to create your boxes with your photo software.  With the software I use, I add this template as my background.  After placing my photos and text, I delete the template so that the cut and score lines won't be printed on the finished product.  The next step is to print your sheets.

Before cutting and scoring

Now, place the template over your printed sheet.  Using a ball point pen and ruler, trace over all the straight lines of the template being sure to press very hard.  I usually go over each line twice.

Trace the curved lines next.  It is helpful to use something with the same curved edge as a guide to keep your lines clean.  I use a saucer.

After you have traced the entire sheet, you can cut your boxes out.  I use scissors, but you could use a mat knife if you prefer.

Next, fold along your straight score lines.  Then, secure the flap by using glue or double sided tape.  I used a glue stick that is purple when wet and clear when dry.  Be sure to let the glue dry before moving on to the next step.

Using gentle pressure on the straight sides, squeeze the box open.  Carefully fold in the end flaps along the score lines.  The flaps should stay closed.  That's it, you're done!  

You can fill your boxes with small items like candy, individual serving packets of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, photos or lottery tickets.   You can also wrap the boxes in ribbon and tie them up with a bow or add a loop of string for hanging on the Christmas tree.

I made some tiny boxes to use as placecards for Thanksgiving. 

Each little box is the perfect size for a single mint.

Here are some larger placecards made with the template I used for this demonstration. 

Christmas themed boxes. 

I'll be making plenty of these between now and Christmas!

Here are some boxes used as invitations to a holiday gathering. 

I printed the invitation on the front side and the address on the back side of each box.  They would have to be delivered by hand to keep their shape, of course.  You could tuck a map or a menu inside.

All of the lovely vintage graphics I used can be found (as well as lots of other great pictures and project ideas) at The Graphics Fairy.  Please visit her lovely website and check out her fabulous Brag Monday feature.

Food For Thought

I don't make as many homemade food gifts as I used to. I love to bake, so every year I made dozens of cakes, cookies, candies and pies to give as holidays gifts. It got to be pretty time consuming and, therefore, stressful to get it all done, so I've cut back over the last few years. Last year, Mr. Willoughby and I made batches of hot buttered rum batter, packaged them in attractive freezer containers (the batter is to be kept frozen) and paired them each with a bottle of spiced rum to give to friends and neighbors. We adorned each rum bottle with a silver Christmas ball on silver string and included the instructions for using the batter to make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. They were simple to make and very well received.

I've been thinking about what to make for this year's gift, and I'm wondering how "homemade" I want to go. I read a survey where people were asked if they enjoyed homemade food gifts, and, while many said that it depended on who made the food, a large number of people admitted to throwing it away without taking a single taste. They appreciated the thought and the effort, of course, but didn't want to eat food prepared in someone else's kitchen. With all of the flu viruses going around, I'm guessing people will be more wary than ever, this year.

How do you feel about homemade food gifts (other than those from immediate family members)? If you were to be completely honest, have you ever received something that you threw away without tasting? What are your plans for homemade food gifts?


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Small Town Is Small Town?

I grew up in the suburbs.  From the house I lived in, you never had to travel more than a mile to get to  shopping malls, restaurants, drug stores or gas stations.  We had multiple movie theaters, bowling alleys, golf courses and a water park.

After Mr. Willoughby and I got married, we lived in an apartment in that same suburb for a few years. From there we moved to another suburban area, and then the city.  It was while we were living in the city that we started spending our weekends on country drives and shopping at flea markets and farm stands.   We found ourselves charmed by the small towns with their farmhouses and quaint shops. When it was time to get out of our house in the city, we decided that we wanted to live in the country.

It was an adjustment at first.  The closest place to shop (other than Kmart or the supermarket) is 20 miles away.  We have no movie theaters and only a handful of restaurants.  If you're in a hurry to get someplace, you better hope you don't get stuck at the railroad crossing when a train is coming through.  On the plus side, there are only five traffic lights in the whole town.

So how small town is small town?  Have a look and judge for yourself.  All of these pictures were taken between my house and the supermarket.

This is the view across the street behind the supermarket.

The Lutheran Church.

A local convenience store.

Local chicken farmers.

Up the road about a mile.

The weathered sign on top of a building in town.

Silos next to the railroad tracks in the middle of town.

The tractor dealership.

More silos.

The local produce store, all decked out for the holidays.

Abandoned railroad tracks.

You know you're in a small town when the local dealership advertises "Hit a deer, fix it here".

A local restaurant.  I haven't been there since it changed ownership (forgive the quality of this picture, I leaned out the window at an intersection to take it).  It used to be painted hot pink.

Looking down Main Street.

This mural is painted on the side of the fire station.

Some of the businesses on Main Street.

The Wednesday Farmer's Market is a local tradition. 

An antique shop (which is currently for sale).

Outside the local tack and saddlery shop.

Part of the walking/biking trail that runs for miles through the county.  This used to be more railroad tracks.

Where do you live?  Small town, suburbs, big city?

~I'd like to thank everyone for the get well wishes.  After taking a week to relax and recover, I'm feeling much better!~


Friday, November 13, 2009

Sick And Tired

This is just a short post to let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.  I'm behind in posting, behind in commenting and behind in passing on the thoughtful awards I've been given.  I'm also behind in everything else.  I've been sick for a little over a week and I just can't seem to get my energy back. 

On Halloween, I broke a toe.  A few days later my right ear drum ruptured.  Since then I've had a bad cold (or possibly the flu, I'm not really sure), laryngitis, and insomnia.  I'm trying my best to get healthy again, but in the mean time, I'm exhausted. 

I hope to get back on track over the next few days.  I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired!!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Would Pa Say?

When I was in elementary school, my mom was a volunteer at the school library. Every week she would bring home a few books for us to read together. Our favorites, by far, were the books in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think we read each one of them at least twice. We even checked out several biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder so we could learn more about her and see what she and her family looked like.  When we heard the books were being made into a television series, we were ecstatic.

On September 11, 1974, we watched the pilot episode of Little House On The Prairie.  It instantly became my favorite show on television.  I loved the way it brought the stories and the characters to life.  Everything about it was quaint and charming.  I remember wishing I could spend an afternoon in Walnut Grove with Laura and Mary and taste the homemade bread Ma baked.

I was watching television a few days ago when I happened to see a commercial for Little House On The Prairie, The Musical. I did a double take. Did I hear that right? Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary singing? My first thought was 'I wonder what the actors from the series think of that?'. My question was immediately answered when I saw Melissa Gilbert singing and dancing a jig. Apparently, she plays Ma in the musical adaptation.

I'm not a purist about too many things.  When it comes to food, I'm all for eating it any way you like.  You want ketchup on your steak?  That's fine by me.  Fusion cuisine?  Go for it!  The same goes for fashion.  Rock those legwarmers if you've got them!  You can even wear white after Labor Day without bothering me in the least.  But some things just shouldn't be messed with, and Little House On The Prairie is one of them.

I was perplexed when Hallmark made a new Little House On The Prairie movie.  Why, I wondered, would you want to see anyone other than Michael Landon in the role of Charles Ingalls?  Could they have found another spitfire child actor to play Halfpint?  It wasn't a movie that I had any interest in seeing, but I thought if they had found a new way to share the wonderful stories written by Laura Ingalls Wilder with a new generation, that was worthwhile.

I can't say I feel that way about a musical version.  I don't understand setting the trials and hardships of the Ingalls family to music.   Do they have a catchy tune to belt out when Pa's crops fail or Mary loses her sight?   Will Nellie dance and sing while she taunts Laura?

I just don't get it.  If it comes to my town, I think I'll pass.  I'll wait for Little House On The Prairie on Ice.  I wonder if Melissa Gilbert can skate?


Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Last Wish

A five year old local boy will be celebrating his last Christmas this weekend.  Noah Biorkman is dying of Neuroblastoma and his parents don't think he will make it to Christmas (click here to read the article on MLive).  People all over the world are sending cards to him and you can, too.

Cards can be sent to:

Noah Biorkman
1141 Fountain View Circle
South Lyon, MI 48178

May Noah and his family enjoy a wonderful Christmas together. 

I would like to thank  Rook No. 17 for posting Noah's story.  Even though the Biorkman family live an hour from my home, I hadn't been aware of their story until I read it on her blog.  My daughter and I will be making a card for Noah tomorrow. 


A Little Reminder From George And Weezie

When I get up in the morning, I have the mental capacity of a slug.  On weekdays, I get up around 5:00 a.m., but I don't start processing information until at least 5:45.   I have only partial hearing in one ear and I sleep like the dead, so my husband has to wake me when the alarm goes off.

While he heads to the kitchen to start the coffee, I stagger into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a shower.  I have to stick to autopilot at this point.  I always shampoo and then condition my hair, but if I start thinking about it, I get confused and can't remember if I've completed both steps.  I'll remember putting something in my hair, I just can't remember which one it was.  The water temperature can be an issue, too.  At 5:00 a.m., I just can't seem to remember whether to turn the lever to the left or the right if the water is too cold.  As long as I remain only semi conscious, autopilot knows to turn it to the left.

Things were less confusing when we had a single shower head, but when I melted that one with grout cleaner (true story), we replaced it with a dual head system.  One shower head is fixed to the wall and the other is a removable hand held unit.  There is a lever to adjust the water to spray from either of the single heads or both heads at once.   In my barely awake state of mind, I could never remember if I wanted to turn it up or down.  Recently, though, I came up with the habit of singing the theme song to The Jeffersons to remind me to "move it on up". 

Jeffersons Opening TV Theme - The top video clips of the week are here

Now if Florence would just stop by and clean the bathroom for me.  Of course, she probably wouldn't have melted the other shower head.


Friday, November 6, 2009

It's Friday, Welcome Back To The Cocktail Party!

Welcome to Willoughby's Blog Style Cocktail Party. I hope you will find some new blogs to follow and expand your circle of blog friends. I know you're all anxious to mingle, so I'll get right to it.

I'd like to introduce Elvira from Magical Places On Tuscany's Coast.  I know you'll enjoy her blog as much as I do.


Tuscany's hill towns and countryside have enthralled inhabitants and visitors for centuries:  The golden light in the afternoon, the grape arbors and the rolling hillsides dotted with rustic farmhouses and villas.

The sea, the very heart of this part of Tuscany, the Etruscan Coast; it is always with you.  It lives in it's history and in its landscape. It lights up the sunset; it pervades the air and offers wonderful views from the hills and villages.

Living in this beautiful place with my Tuscan husband and my two boys and writing now about :  Beach-Style-Hideaways-Countryliving-Lifestyle

......who knows ... maybe I can bring the magic of Tuscany to your corner of the world.!

I am so glad to be here today
at Willoughby's
Cocktail Party!

I just love to be your guest and I hope so
much to WELCOME all of
you very soon in my

The Coffee is hot, the table is set,
just come over..!

AUTUMN MORNING like in a Fairytale:
Once upon a time.....
far, far away, ....on top of a hill....
behind "seven soft rolling hills"....
lookin out on a

...Waking up in a FAIRYTALE .......
In a romantic room of a dream of a
B&B, elegant and unique ...
in the Tuscan Hills..

...The open beams, the vaulted ceilings...
the Pastel Colours of the walls
so pleasantly beautiful....

.....The Houses Magnificient
Buffet surprises with most
delicious specialities....

......One Day....!


Thank you, Elvira, for being a guest on my blog.

The cocktail party has finally come to an end.  I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have, and that you've made some new friends in the process.  Thank you all for coming!