Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Changing Career Paths And An Award!

When I was in elementary school, I had all kinds of ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an author, an archaeologist, a teacher, a fashion designer and a few dozen other things. By the time I got to high school, I was far less inspired. While many of my classmates had decided on specific career paths, I was clueless. Being an author was still something that interested me, but I knew I could spend years writing books and never make a dime, so I needed to choose something with a more solid income potential.

I'm not sure where the idea came from, but I thought I might like to be an x-ray technician. Our family doctor had an x-ray center in his office and employed a technician several days a week so his patients didn't have to go to the hospital for x-rays. I got some information about training and job opportunities from her (the tech). She worked at several different offices and loved the variety it offered.

I lived close to a hospital that offered a prestigious training program for x-ray technicians. There were very strict criteria you had to meet just to qualify to apply to the program and they only took 25 students per year. Their job placement rate was 100%, so I was anxious to be accepted.

Several weeks after applying to the program, I was called for an interview. I agonized over what to say and what to wear. I wondered what questions I would be asked and whether I would have to take any sort of test. It's a huge hospital, so I also worried about being able to find my way to the program director's office.

The interview went very well. The director was pleasant and conversational and I felt fairly at ease. We talked about why I was interested in the program and what my ultimate career goals were. He asked about my GPA and the classes I was taking in school. And then he asked me an unexpected question, one I had never even considered. He asked me if I would find any of the work distasteful. When I asked him to elaborate, he told me that, in the hospital, x-ray technicians are often faced with blood, urine, and feces as well as other bodily fluids. He also said patients are frequently agitated and disoriented, and can be difficult to deal with. In my mind I had only pictured the scenario you would see in a family doctor's office. I was thinking sprained ankles, broken arms and chest x-rays and he was talking about car crashes and severe trauma. I confidently told him I had no problem with any of it, but inside I was reeling at the notion.

He called me the next day to thank me for the interview and to tell me that my GPA had put me at number 26 on the list of applicants by 1/4 of a point. But, he said had been very impressed with me and wanted to offer me the option of being added to the alternate list (in case someone backed out of the program) or giving me the number one spot in a program at another hospital. When I asked about the other hospital he told me it was in downtown Detroit. The idea of driving around Detroit, by myself, through seriously crime ridden areas didn't appeal to me and I didn't want to hang my hopes on the possibility of another student quitting the program close to home so I declined both offers.

Looking back, sometimes I think I should have taken the offer in Detroit, but then I wouldn't have taken a job at the company where I met my husband and my life would be completely different today. So in the end, I have no regrets.


I was pleasantly surprised to find that I received an award from Rachel at Rachel vs. "The Kitchen" this morning. Thank you so much Rachel! If you've never visited Rachel's blog, you need to do so. She has the most delicious recipes, I want to try them all! I wish I had a slice of that banana cake to enjoy with my coffee right now!

Here's the list of rules for this award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog
  3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award
  4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting
  5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers
  6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate
  7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated

I can't imagine that there's anything interesting about me that I haven't already blogged about at one time or another, but I'll give it a shot.
  1. An essay I wrote in the 4th grade was chosen to represent the state of Michigan in a national endangered species essay contest. It was about the bald eagle.
  2. I'm the youngest child as well as the only girl in my family.
  3. I'm good at tongue twisters and once won a tongue twister contest.
  4. I get queasy during take-off when I fly.
  5. When I get really nervous, I hyperventilate.
  6. I spell my name in an unconventional way. I had a teacher in middle school who would correct it with a red pen on the top of my papers.
  7. I'm a second generation American on my dad's side of the family and third generation on my mom's side. My dad's parents and my mom's grandparents were all born in Germany.

I can't believe how hard it was to make that list! Now, I'd like to pass this award on to the following bloggers:

  1. Marvelously Mundane
  2. Muddy Runner
  3. One Step At A Time
  4. Purple Flowers
  5. Tattoos and Teething Rings
  6. The 5th Sister
  7. What's For Dinner?

These are some great blogs. Click on over and check them out if you haven't already!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Hairy Situation

I hate my hair. I really do. I like to have it looking nice every day, but not in a vain "I'm so beautiful" kind of way. It's really more of a "I don't want small children pointing and laughing" kind of way. It never seems to do what I want it to do and I have no patience with that. If I get it to do something I really like, it doesn't last, but if I get to look terrible, it lasts all day. Why is that?

Part of the problem comes from the fact that I have what I call "Christmas Tree Hair". What that means is that if I let my hair dry naturally it will be flat at the top and progressively poofier (is that a word?) toward the ends, forming a triangle, or Christmas Tree effect. Festive? Perhaps, but attractive? Absolutely not.

I'll never be one of those women you see at the beach who can shake out their wet hair and look stunning. Once, when we were on vacation, I had pulled part of my hair back in a rubber band before we went swimming in the hotel pool. I thought it would keep it a little bit neater while it was wet and after it dried. As we were leaving the pool area, I noticed that I got an odd look from another family who were entering. It wasn't until we got back up to the room that I realized my bangs were standing straight up in the air. Along with the huge semi-circles of black mascara under my eyes, I looked like an escaped mental patient.

I'm not good with trendy styles, either. The super straight look that was so popular doesn't work for me at all. I tried it after I got a straightening iron and it made my face look too big for my head. When parting your hair with a zig zag or crooked part was all the rage, I tried that too, but my OCD would take over and I'd have to make the part straight again. The only celebrity hairstyle I ever pulled off was the Dorothy Hamill bob when I was in the fourth grade. Looking at old pictures, I now see that it made me look like a boy, so I guess that wasn't all that successful either.

For the last few years, I've been pulling the sides of my hair back in a clip (remember Sarah Palin's hair during the election? sort of like that, although I was sporting that look before she was). It still takes a blow dryer, two different brushes and several styling products to make it look decent that way. If I hold the blow dryer in one place too long, I'll get an extra poofy spot in my hair that looks like a bump or tumor when I pull it back in the clip. Other times, I only get a poofy spot on the very top and I look like Zippy the Pinhead.

I've been thinking about making a change and getting some layers in my hair, but I want a very stylish, professional look. Does anyone have a Flowbee I can borrow?

If it works for the people on the box, it's got to work for me, right?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cheese Filled Breadsticks

We had our favorite grilled pizzas for dinner last night. My son and his girlfriend were headed out to a concert, so we had more dough than we needed. Instead of making extra pizza crusts (which refrigerate nicely for later use, by the way) we made mozzarella filled breadsticks. I can't even begin to tell you how amazingly delicious they were. They were excellent with pizza, but would equally good with any grilled meat, or as an appetizer with drinks.

Mozzarella Filled Breadsticks

  • one batch of prepared grill dough*

  • mozzarella cheese (string cheese would be great for this, we used shredded)

  • melted butter

  • assorted dips, if desired (marinara, garlic butter, ranch dressing, etc.)

After grill dough has risen, pinch of a piece of dough about the size of a small golf ball. Stretch and shape with your hands until you form a rough rectangle. Place a small handful of mozzarella cheese (or a piece of string cheese) in a line down the middle of the rectangle. Pinch the long sides together to make a seam and repeat with both ends, making sure all seams are sealed well. Set breadstick on flour dusted plate until all have been prepared. Place breadsticks on preheated grill and allow to cook for several minutes. Brush lightly with melted butter and then flip to cook other side. Brush top side lightly with melted butter and remove to serving plate. Serve as is or with a dip.

The breadsticks were so successful that I'd like to try some other variations in the future. I think pizza filled sticks would be great, as would taco sticks. Got any other ideas? Let me know!

*If you missed my previous post, you can find step by step instructions for preparing and grilling the grill dough here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bar Is Open

I'm feeling under the weather tonight and I won't be enjoying anything stronger than a Coke, so I'm cheating a little bit and reposting a drink that I posted a while back. It's our new favorite drink and if you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it. It's easy to make by the pitcher if you're serving guests, just hold off on adding the cola. Top each glass with it just before serving to maintain some carbonation.

San Juan Tea

  • 1 1/2 ounces Bacardi Limon
  • 1/2 ounce light rum
  • 3 ounces whiskey sour mix
  • 8 ounces cola
In a cocktail shaker, mix Bacardi Limon, light rum and whiskey sour mix. Divide evenly between two ice filled glasses and top each with 4 ounces cola.

Enjoy your San Juan Tea responsibly and have an extra one for me! Happy Friday, everyone!

Lost In Translation

My husband and I have been together for so long that we don't need to speak to each other in complete sentences all the time. Sometimes one of us will start a sentence and the other one will finish it. Other times, a sentence will just trail off with no ending and still be perfectly understood. There are even times when a single word is sufficient.

Of course, we also have conversations that wouldn't make sense to anyone but us. I'll say something like "What did you have for lunch today?" and he'll say "One of those things" and I'll say "Did you put that stuff on it?" and he'll say "No, I used the other stuff, but it was good". Makes sense to me.

If you are visiting our house, it's very helpful if you speak and understand movie quotes fluently. For example, if you said that you hated someone, you may get "If hate were people, I'd be China" as a response. It comes from the movie City Slickers. If you were foolish enough to begin a sentence with "All I need..." you would likely hear "All I need is this pen and maybe this chair" in a bad Steve Martin impersonation from The Jerk. "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'" is what you would probably hear if you were pondering what to do with your life. That's a quote from The Shawshank Redemption. And if you were unnecessarily uptight about something, you would be told to "Lighten up Francis" which is from the movie Stripes. If you're totally clueless about something, "May I mumble dog face through the banana patch" is a perfectly acceptable response. Steve Martin used to use it in his stand up routine.

When I was a kid, I assumed all the words we used were commonly understood by all English speaking people. I didn't know that we had our own version of slang. If we visited my grandparents and my grandma made me a sandwich she would cut it diagonally and call it a "Sunday cut". My mom cut sandwiches straight down the middle, so I thought a "Sunday cut" was pretty fancy. Imagine my embarrassment when I used the term among my friends. When I was really young, about two or three, I thought a robe was called a robe-on because my mom would ask me "Do you want your robe on?" when I got out of bed in the morning.

I'll be back later to open the bar. I hope to see you then!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where's Willoughby? And A New Feature

Can you find me? I'm wearing a yellow jacket with a red "W" on the back. If you click on the image, you should get a larger view (aaargh! not working, I'm working on it, I'm just not great with HTML).

I've been absent for about a week now, but I haven't actually been hanging out with Waldo. In reality, I've just been busy with some yard work. I hope you didn't miss me too much while I was gone. Wait, no, I take that back. I hope you were checking your computer every ten minutes around the clock for the past week, just waiting for my latest post!

Now that I'm back, I want to start a new feature on my blog. Martha Stewart has her "Good Things" so I'm going to have "Willoughby's Wonderful Things" where I can share some products or ideas that I think are worth mentioning. I'm not sure if I'm going to make it a weekly thing or just surprise you with it from time to time.

To kick off this new feature, I have two wonderful food products to recommend. They are both fairly new to the Willoughby household, but neither is new on the market, as far as I know.

The first is Multi-grain Sandwich Thins from Arnold Select. These things are amazing and make deli quality sandwiches. They're thin and soft and delicious. You can use them as you would bread or buns. At 100 calories with 5 grams of fiber, they're pretty healthy, too. Our local supermarket carries them, but we buy the larger 16 count pack at Sam's Club.
The next item is T. Marzetti Ultimate Blue Cheese Dressing. You can find this in the refrigerated section or produce section of the supermarket. If you like blue cheese salad dressing, you know how much the taste can differ from one brand to the next. So much so, in fact, that my husband never thought that he liked it until he tried this one. It has a smooth blue cheese flavor, with just enough bite. Great on salads, but also delicious on sandwiches.

What do you think of the new feature? If you have any comments about it or products/ideas to share with me, please leave them in my comment section!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Bar Is Open

Tonight's drink is creamy and smooth. It's almost like a shake, but with the kick of alcohol.

Creamy Raspberry Grenade

  • 2 ounces Irish Cream

  • 1/2 raspberry liqueur

  • dash of grenadine

Mix ingredients in an ice filled cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into a martini glass.

Enjoy your Creamy Raspberry Grenades responsibly, please. Happy Friday, everyone!

*Please forgive the quality of my photo. I can't seem to get my camera to focus on the foreground instead of the background. If you have any ideas how I can fix this, please leave them in my comment section. Thanks!

Things Change

I know I'm always telling you that one thing or another fascinates me. What can I say? I'm a thinker, a ponderer. I wonder about things that probably aren't interesting to other people. Today I'm thinking about change.

It's interesting to me that you often don't realize the finality of events until after they happen. I'm not necessarily talking about major events, just little things. For example, think of a toy that you loved when you were a kid. You probably didn't realize that the last time you played with it would be the last time you played with it. For me, it was Barbie dolls. I loved them and I had a lot of them. I don't remember how old I was when I played with them for the last time, but I'm sure I didn't know that I was putting them away for thirty years (they belong to my daughter now) on that day. I suppose you could say it was a milestone marking the end of a part of my childhood, but I didn't know that then.

It's the same thing with places you go and things you buy. A favorite restaurant may close or a company might stop making your favorite product. I think everyone has experienced looking for an item in the store to find out it's no longer made. It always makes you wish you had known about it when you could have bought out the entire supply the store had, or at least savored it a little more when you could get it.

Sometimes it happens with people. Of course, there are times you know that when you say goodbye to someone it is for the last time because they are moving or you are. You might have even had the experience of saying goodbye to someone who was dying. But what about old friends, co-workers and even family members? People's lives move in different directions, things change and you just don't see them again. You probably didn't know that the last time you said goodbye to them, though.

It's just the way things are and the way they're supposed to be, I guess. You can't get too down about it or you wouldn't be able to enjoy the people, places and things in your life today. Also, life would be boring if nothing ever changed.


I'll be back later to open the bar. I hope to see you then!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Let The Games Begin!

I love games. Board games, card games, online games, video games, I love them all. In the summertime, especially, I love to sit on the back porch and play games. We have a good sized collection of them, but I like to add to it whenever I can. Last year at the flea market, I spotted a Monopoly game in the 50 cent box of one of the vendors. When I paid for it, he told me to take the other game he had, too, at no charge. It turned out to be Clue. I was prepared for some missing pieces, but both games were complete. Not at bad deal for 50 cents!

Some of my favorite games are Scrabble and Battleship. I'm partial to Trivial Pursuit, too, although we can never get through a game without one of us making reference to the episode of Wings where Lowell thinks the answer to every question is Ann Margret. Have you ever seen it?

We used to invite friends over to play cards. We would usually play Texas Hold Em, but once in a while we would play Euchre. I am seriously the world's worst Euchre player. I seem to remember a friend of ours begging to have any partner other than me!

It's early in the season, but soon we will be putting up our 12 foot movie screen in the backyard and playing video games on it. You wouldn't believe how hard Pacman becomes when you play it in that format. The Wii is a riot, too. Wii Sports and the carnival games were our favorites last year.

Yesterday, my husband and I played a few games of chess before dinner. Mr. Willoughby has been playing since he was a teenager, but I only learned to play a year or two ago. If we haven't played in a while, I need him to explain the rules of the game to me all over again. Needless to say, I always lose. Chess is a game of honor so I don't expect Mr. W. to go easy on me or let me win and he doesn't. It's frustrating, though, that I can never catch him off guard or out strategize him. When he was celebrating one of his victories last night, I told him that an experienced player like he is winning against a novice like I am is similar to an adult beating up a kindergartner. Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but I can't let him get too cocky.


According to my survey, the majority of you do re-visit the comment section of blogs to read answers to questions and additional comments. Now that I know that, I will make every effort to respond to the comments you leave for me. I love the feedback I get from all of you and I'm always glad to have you drop by my little corner of the blogosphere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Go Hang A Salami; I'm A Lasagna Hog!

I'll bet you're wondering what that title means. Read it backward and you'll see. It's a palindrome; a word or phrase that is the same read forward or back. Racecar, deed, mom, dad, toot and radar are all palindromes, too. Yes, my friends, we will be having fun with words again today. Creating palindromes may be considered floccinaucinihilipilification (categorized as worthless), so instead we will discuss some new words to add to our vocabulary. I'm sanguine (cheerfully confident or optimistic) that you'll enjoy using them.

Remember the nude resort from this post? You may cause some umbrage if you stare at the sunbathers. Someone may be offended and ululate in your direction. You may even have to put your hands over your tragi. Before you think this has become an x-rated blog, I'll translate. Umbrage is the feeling of being offended, ululate is to lament loudly and tragi is the plural form of tragus which is the flap of cartilage that protects the hole in your ear.

Do you suppose they offer classes in tauromachy at this resort? That could be dangerous. Of course, the art of bullfighting is dangerous regardless of how much or how little clothing you're wearing. You certainly wouldn't want to spartle while you're standing in front of a bull, because moving in a sprawling or struggling manor might provoke him. In fact, it might just be best to leave the nude resort altogether. You are spending way too much time there, people are going claver!

Speaking of gossip, do you know anyone who is a quidnunc? If you do, you should be careful what you say around them. A quidnunc is a busybody or gossip. They would love to tell everyone about that embarrassing wet spot on your oxter. But then they would have to explain why they were looking in your armpit.

It's only natural that you would perspire if you were involved in some sort of physical activity. How about a penny-farthing? You could really work up a sweat riding one of those old fashioned bicycles with the big front tire. Even if you don't have one, it's really fun to say. Try it. Penny-farthing, penny-farthing, penny-farthing.

Meldrop is the penultimate, or next to last word that I'm going to share with you today. If your allergies are bothering you while you ride your penny-farthing (yep, it's still fun to say), you might develop a meldrop. Be sure you have a tissue to wipe it off. It's a drop of mucus at the end of your nose. Gross.

Lastly, if you need to make a stop at a public restroom to clean up that meldrop (yep, still gross), be sure to check out the latrinalia. Just don't get caught adding any of your own or you may have to clean it up. You do know that means restroom graffiti, right?

See how many of these words you can work into everyday conversations and until we meet again, ponder this: Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Willoughby's War And A Delicious Blueberry Muffin Cake

I didn't spend much time on the computer yesterday because I was busy doing yard work. It was a beautiful sunny day and perfect for working in the garden. I don't mind watering the flowers or doing some pruning and dead-heading, but I do hate weeding. I don't hate it a little, I hate it a lot! This year, the weeds are getting the best of my flower beds. The clover and grass, especially, have it in for me. We're not talking about a measly dozen weeds or so, but a full out attack on my garden and my sanity! If you listen closely, you can probably hear them laughing and mocking me.

I have several strategies to keep myself from going insane while I spend countless hours on my knees pulling weeds. I try to visualize the ocean, or mentally work on that book I'm supposed to be writing. Sometimes I'll think of a song I like. No such luck, yesterday, though. I couldn't seem to get the ocean on my mental viewing screen, I had writer's block with the book and the only song playing in my head was "Crimson and Clover". I don't care much for that song to begin with and the only words I know are the chorus, so that's what played on my internal radio for several mind-numbing hours. I guess I should have gotten out the ipod.

I've heard of some different ways to deter weeds, but I'm not sure they would work for me. My Mom talked to her landscaper who told her that he never pulls weeds, he instead, sprays each one individually with weed killer. It sounded like such an easy way to go that my Mom tried it. RIP, ivy! She wiped out an entire patch of it with a few squirts.

My neighbor swears by adding about 3 inches of mulch every year. It works for her, but I've got hundreds of feet of flower beds and gardens and it would cost me a small fortune for that much mulch. My mulch is only an inch or two thick and it's not stopping the weeds one bit.

I do find that Preen is effective, but you have to get in on the soil before the weeds emerge. I have a whole container of it in the garage, but I didn't get it applied soon enough. The war rages on!

I did find the time to do a little baking, though. I made this wonderful Blueberry Muffin Cake. It's delicious and easy to make. I had it ready for the oven in less than 15 minutes.

The streusel topping is outstanding!

Blueberry Muffin Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups blueberries

Streusel Topping:

  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 inch square pan with cooking spray.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl, set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine milk, oil, egg and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix well. Gently stir in blueberries. Pour into prepared pan.

In another small bowl, combine dry streusel ingredients. Cut in butter with a knife or pastry blend until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle over top of cake.

Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool before cutting.

~~One more quick note, if you know a thing or two about birds and haven't seen my post from Saturday, please take a quick look when you have a chance. We still haven't identified this guy and we would value any input you may have. Thanks! ~~

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do You Know What This Is?

This afternoon, we had a visitor to our yard. He was a handsome fellow and not terribly shy. We first saw him when he landed on our porch railing. He sat looking at us for a while and then flew over to one of the flower beds where he sat motionless for quite some time. I was able to get fairly close to get a picture without scaring him away. We were concerned that he might be sick or injured.

Although it's difficult to tell in this picture (my camera's focus hasn't been working well), his feathers were fluffy leading us to believe he was still a baby. He was much larger than other baby birds we've had in the yard, larger even than some adult birds. We're quite curious to find out what type of bird he is because we've never seen another like him.

He was still in the flower bed when we went in the house for lunch, but he was gone when we came back out. Sadly, we found him dead on our porch some time later. He had found a spot behind our bar and quietly passed away. My guess is that he had lost his mother and was unable to fend for himself.

I would still like to identify him. I've looked at pictures of dozens of birds that are native to Michigan and I can't find any that look quite like him. He resembled a robin, but he was larger than a typical adult robin and he had very long tail feathers, almost hawk-like. Do you know what he is?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Bar Is Open

It's Friday night and the bar is open! We won't be having our usual cocktails tonight, though. It's a lovely breezy evening, perfect for a bottle of wine.

Wine snobs will likely scoff at our choice this evening, but I'm okay with that. We're not wine snobs, we'll try almost any wine regardless of variety or price, so we will be enjoying our Gallo Moscato without their approval.

If you've never had it, Moscato is a sweet wine. It's not the sort of wine I would want to drink every day, but it's refreshing in the summer time.

If you're enjoying some wine or other drinks this evening, please remember to do so responsibly. Happy Friday, everyone!


Words fascinate me. I enjoy everything about them. I love reading, writing and especially word puzzles. I've even developed a habit (obsession) with finding anagrams in written words.

This morning I was playing an online anagram game and one of the words that came up was nuder (not to be confused with neuter). This word is real head scratcher for me. Doesn't the word nude mean to be unclothed? How, exactly, can one person be more nude than another? I thought I might be overlooking another definition so I looked it up on an online dictionary site. It was listed as an adjective for nude. It stands to reason, then, that if one could be nuder, one could be nakeder, don't you think? No such luck. The next time you visit a nude beach or resort, it might be helpful to know that some sun bathers may be nuder than others, but certainly not nakeder.

While you are visiting this nude resort, could you call yourself a nudiustertian? Probably not. The word nudiustertian means pertaining to the day before yesterday. So if you were talking about being nuder the day before yesterday, you could use it. Exactly how much time are you spending at this nude resort, anyway?

Let's move on to absquatulate. Doesn't that sound like something you should do behind a bush while camping? As in "I don't think the roasted hot dogs agreed with me, I've got to find a place to absquatulate". In reality it means to flee or depart in a hurry, which you may need to do if the hot dogs aren't setting well.

Could you tell someone that you needed to madefy your hallux without blushing? It does sound rather suggestive, but it means to moisten (madefy) your big toe (hallux). Of course, why would you need to moisten your big toe? I'll leave that for you to decide.

Spanghew is another word that leaves me wondering. It means to cause a frog or toad to fly up in the air. Does this happen so frequently that it needed a special word to describe it? Perhaps there is a place where it's a common occurrence and it became easier to point and yell "spanghew!" than to say "look at that frog or toad being caused to fly up in the air!". Who knows?

Do you know anyone who is a omphalopsychite? If you do, they probably spend a lot of time in the bathroom. An omphalopsychite is a person who contemplates their navel. That's a hobby I really don't want to know any more about.

I'll be back tonight to open the bar, try not to develop dipsomania (an uncontrollable craving for alcohol). Until then, see how many of these words you can use in conversation!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grillin' It! Step By Step

Last summer, I became the sort of unofficial president of the grilled pizza fan club on the recipe exchange at Allrecipes.com. I think I recommended the recipe and gave step by step instructions on a daily basis. The only thing I think I explained more was how to make home made yogurt (I'm thinking of demonstrating that in the near future).

For some reason, people seem to be a little intimidated by putting unbaked dough on the grill. They think it will stick or be difficult to work with. It's actually very easy and unbelievably delicious, not to mention fun. If you've never worked with yeast before, this is an easy recipe to start with. You can find the entire recipe here. It belongs to Allrecipes.com, so I can't post it here without their permission, but I can give you step by step instructions.

Start by proofing your yeast with 3/4 cup warm water. (You can use a thermometer, but I never do. The water should feel "just warm" to your finger. If it's hot it will kill the yeast, if it is cold it won't activate it.) The process takes about 10 minutes. You should see some swirling, bubbling or foaming on the top of the water.

When it's finished proofing, add your yeast/water mixture to your dry ingredients.

I start by mixing with a spatula, then I switch to using my hands. You want to continue kneading until you end up with a smooth, elastic ball of dough. If it's too sticky you can add a bit more flour.

At this point, I remove the dough from the bowl and drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil into the bottom of the bowl. Using my fingers, I spread the oil all over the inside of the bowl. Then I replace the dough and rotate it on the bottom of the bowl to coat it with oil.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil and place in a warm, draft free place to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. It should double in size and look like this.

Gently punch down your dough. Now you have to decide how you want to shape it. You could roll it out onto a floured surface and make one large pizza, or you could do what we do and make free form individual sized pizzas. To do that, pinch off a large golf ball sized piece of dough and roll in into a ball. Flatten it between your palms and then gently stretch it into a larger circle. Place on your heated grill and cook for about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. You don't want them to change color very much or they will be overcooked. We bring the bowl(s) of dough right out to the grill and form them and throw them right on.

Sometimes they end up a little less than round. That's okay, that just makes them rustic! Remove crusts from grill. We transfer them to a cookie sheet until they're all done and ready to be topped.
Now comes the fun part! We set all the toppings in the middle of the table, give everyone a plate and a crust and let them top their own pizzas. Last night's toppings were cheese, standard red pizza sauce, alfredo sauce, ham, bacon, pepperoni, onion and hot peppers.

Each pizza then goes back onto the grill to melt the cheese. We usually close the lid and check them often.
After a few minutes, they're hot and melty and ready to eat. The crust is lightly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Sometimes we make an extra batch of dough to form into pizzeria style soft breadsticks and brush them with melted butter and garlic (we didn't last night).

It may look time consuming, but, except for the rising time of the dough, it really isn't. We get six individual sized pizzas from each batch of dough.

Delicious!! If you've never tried it, I hope you do. It's so much fun!

I've added a survey to the top right hand side of this page. I'd appreciate it if you could take a minute to add your own answer. Thanks so much!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cheap Thrills

My last post was "Cheap Eats" and I like the idea of carrying on the theme of saving money. After all, who doesn't like to save a few bucks, right? Even if you're not currently in a financial crisis, why spend more than you have to? Plus, I like the challenge of finding ways to get more for less. I should also say that I'm using the term "cheap" playfully, here, to mean less expensive, not of lesser quality. It's all about being creative and not about lowering your standards.

We don't take our family vacation until fall, but since summer is upon us, I wanted to find some "Cheap Thrills" to enjoy while the kids are out of school. I've told you before how much we used to enjoy day trips, so I decided it's time to bring them back. My goal is to spend less than $20, aside from gas, on each trip. The cost of a picnic lunch isn't included because we would eat lunch at home anyway, so it's not an added expense. To meet the "Cheap Thrills" criteria each destination must:
  • Be within a reasonable distance from home so that no overnight stay is required
  • Charge little or no fee to enjoy
  • Appeal to both kids and adults
  • Have a place to picnic nearby

I wanted to start planning now, so I went to my state's tourism website and ordered the free travel guide. Yes, you can get all the same information online, but it's nice to have the guide to take with you when you venture out. If you don't have the travel guide from the state you live in, I urge you to get one. I was amazed at how much information and how many beautiful pictures are included in the glossy magazine style Michigan guide I received. They also included a separate road map, which is handy if you don't have GPS.

When was the last time you were a tourist in your own state? How much do you know about it outside the area where you live and work? I've lived in Michigan all my life and still found some things I didn't know about. I had no idea, for instance, that surfing and parasailing are common activities along the south western side of the state. I thought those pleasures were limited to the ocean. I can't do either one, but they're fun to watch!

Before we hit the road, I need to get a travel kit together. We used to keep one in the back of our SUV for summer beach trips, so I've got an idea of what I need. Our kit will include:

  • A small brush/dustpan combo (you wouldn't believe how handy this is to clean up picnic tables in parks or spilled snacks in the car) I got ours at the dollar store.
  • Baby wipes (you clean almost anything with a baby wipe!).
  • A roll of paper towel
  • Napkins
  • Paper plates (you could use non breakable reusable plates if you want to bring them home and wash them).
  • Plastic disposable utensils (or regular flatware if you want to bring it home and wash it).
  • Tongs and a spatula for grilling (an extra set just for the travel bag)
  • Wooden matches for lighting grills
  • Grill cleaning brush
  • Foil
  • Plastic zipper bags for leftovers and dirty grilling utensils. Also handy for collecting shells, rocks, pine cones and other souvenirs.
  • Small first aid kit

I know it sounds like a lot, but it all fits into a tote bag or backpack. We leave ours in the car at all times and replenish supplies as needed. If going to the beach is on the agenda, I also pack towels, sunscreen, some sand toys, a hair brush and pony tail holders. On travel day, all we need to pack are the cold items that go into the cooler and a bag with snacks and buns. We prefer to grill hot dogs and/or burgers on the grills available at public parks and beaches than to bring sandwiches. It just seems to be more fun (you can roast marshmallows over the grill, too!). The mini bags of charcoal that don't need lighter fluid are great for this. You just strike a match, set it on the bag and you're good to go. You could, of course, use regular charcoal, but then you need to bring along lighter fluid or a charcoal starter. If you're worried about the cleanliness of public grills, don't be. I'm a serious, serious (did I say serious?) germophobe and I can handle it. As long as you bring a grill cleaning brush, you can get them plenty clean. The heat of the fire kills any germs left behind, anyway.

We now have a tentative list of places to visit this summer. Among them are beaches, historic sites and quirky little towns. Sadly, one of my first choices, the Sanilac Petroglyphs has been closed due to budget reasons. The walking trails are still open, but I wanted to see the ancient rock carvings. In any case, I'm sure each trip will be an adventure. You can be sure I'll share them in upcoming blogs.

If you can spring for a tank of gas and a picnic lunch, I hope you'll find a few "Cheap Thrills" for your family this summer, too. I'd love to read about them on your blog!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cheap Eats

Chances are, you or someone you know has had to cut back on their grocery budget because of the economy. I'm not a financial expert, but I do know what works for my family, so I thought I would post some of my favorite shopping tips and inexpensive meal ideas.

The easiest way for us to save money on groceries is to buy most of our food at Sam's Club. No one is paying me for the endorsement (I wish they would), but we save a lot of money shopping there. There is a $35 yearly fee, but we more than make it worthwhile in a few shopping trips. I did some comparison shopping last summer and found that we spent approximately 50% less by shopping at Sam's. I don't know how much the prices vary by city or state, but here's a list of my favorite budget friendly purchases in our area:
  • Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs - $4.57 for a 3 pound package. There are 30 hot dogs in each box, separated into 6 resealable packs. That comes to about 15 cents per dog.
  • Aunt Millie's Hot Dog Buns - $1.89 for a 16 count package. That comes to about 11 cents per bun.
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese - $4.62. I have the receipt in front of me, but the cheese is gone so I'm not sure how big the package is but I think it's 3 pounds.
  • Kraft American Cheese Singles - $7.62 for a 48 oz. package which contains 72 slices. About 10 cents per slice.
  • Jif Peanut Butter - $7.88 for a twin pack, each jar contains 40 oz. About 11 cents per sandwich.
  • Smucker's Strawberry Jam - $5.42 for a twin pack of 32 oz. jars. About 6 cents per sandwich.
  • Aunt Millie's Sliced Bread - $3.08 for a twin pack of 24 oz. loaves. About 7 cents per slice, or 14 cents per sandwich.
  • Pace Medium Salsa - $5.42 for 64 oz. About 10 cents per serving.
  • Tortilla Chips - $5.46 for two 3 pound bags. About 6 cents per serving.
  • Spaghetti Noodles - $5.64 for 6 pounds. About 12 cents per serving.
  • Prego Pasta Sauce - $7.38 for a twin pack of 67 oz. jars. About 7 cents per serving.
  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast - $1.89 per pound.
  • Fresh Ground Chuck - $2.20 per pound.
  • Large Eggs - $1.38 for an 18 count carton. About 7 cents per egg.
  • Milk - $2.62 for one gallon.
  • Fresh Garlic Heads - $1.88 for 2 pounds.
  • Garlic Powder - $3.87 for 21 oz.
  • Onion Powder - $3.88 for 21 oz.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil - $14.87 for 68 oz.
  • Red Seedless Grapes - $1.89 per pound, sold in 3 pound packages.
  • Gala Apples - $5.88 for a 5 pound bag.
  • Russet Baking Potatoes - $2.88 for a 10 pound bag.
  • Green Giant Red Skin Potatoes - $5.86 for a 10 pound bag.
  • Gas - 10 cent per gallon discount for members at the Sam's Club gas station.
These are just some of the things I buy on a regular basis. I also buy coffee and baking supplies like flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips and cocoa. Cleaning supplies, paper goods and toiletries are usually good deals, too. Some items, like the garlic powder, onion powder and olive oil last for a long time, so I don't have to buy them often. I still go to the grocery store for items that aren't available at Sam's Club, or that I don't want to buy in large quantities. Some produce, for example, is a little tricky for me to buy in bulk. We can't always finish a huge container of salad or tomatoes before they spoil. I freeze whatever meat we aren't going to use right away and defrost it in the microwave when I need it.
My favorite tips at the grocery store are to shop by what's on sale, try store brands if they're cheaper, and pay attention to the unit price on the shelf tags because it makes sizes easier to compare (biggest isn't always cheapest). Also, the meat department at my local store marks down meat that is close to the expiration date every evening. If I'm going to use the meat that night or the next day, I might find a bargain. Shopping after 7:00 p.m. can pay off.
From the list above, you could easily make a handful of inexpensive meals. Hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken, spaghetti, and hamburgers would all be good choices. Or you could use the chicken with some of the mozzarella and pasta sauce to make something like chicken parmesan. How about using the ground chuck to make meatballs served with a little teriyaki sauce, rice and steamed vegetables? I'm sure you could come up with a dozen other ideas.
For the boneless chicken breasts, I like to cut them horizontally into two thinner pieces. Not only do they cook much faster, but you feel like you're getting twice as much chicken for the same price. Buying chicken thighs and legs are a good way to buy chicken inexpensively. A family size pack is usually under $5.00 and might be enough for two meals. You can also buy and break down whole chickens to save money. It takes a little practice, but you can watch how-to videos online that give you step by step instructions. This is a delicious and inexpensive recipe for bone-in chicken pieces. I have a great recipe for roasting whole chickens here if you don't want to cut them up.
For chicken thighs, we love this recipe I got from my friend A.Z. at Allrecipes.
A.Z.'s Lemon Pepper Chicken
  • Chicken thighs
  • Lemon pepper
  • butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all thighs in the pan skin side up and sprinkle with lemon pepper to taste then put a small pat of butter on each one. Bake for about 30 minutes uncovered, this gets the skins pretty crunchy. Then flip, bake til done (about 15-20 more minutes) The last 5 min or so flip them back over to skin side up again to get the edges crispy.
How about pasta? This is my favorite budget friendly pasta recipe. It's light and delicious. Serve it as a main dish or side dish.
Tuscan Pasta
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup Italian salad dressing
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 8 oz. uncooked pasta
Cook pasta according to pkg. directions. Heat a few drops of olive oil or vegetable oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they are translucent. Stir in tomatoes, dressing and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cooked, drained pasta. Toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Pizza can be inexpensive if you make it yourself. It's fun to try different combinations, and a great way to use leftover shrimp, grilled chicken, hamburger, sausage, bacon, and/or vegetables. For a simple sauce, mix pre-made pasta sauce with tomato paste until you reach the consistency you like. You can add some herbs, fresh or dried, too. Leftover alfredo sauce is excellent, also. For the crust, I like this recipe. It's for pizza on the grill (which is really fun, a favorite summertime meal in our house), but you could bake it if you don't want to try grilling.
Now how about some side dishes? Garlic bread is simple and inexpensive.
Garlic Bread
  • 8 - 10 slices Italian bread
  • 1 stick butter
  • garlic powder, to taste
  • Italian Seasoning, to taste
Soften butter in a small bowl on countertop or by microwaving at 20% power for 50 - 55 seconds. Sprinkle garlic powder and Italian seasoning over butter and mix well. Spread on bread slices and place them on a cookie sheet. Broil in preheated broiler until lightly browned, serve immediately.
You can also use split hot dog buns instead of bread to make garlic sticks. A great way to use buns that have gotten a little dry.
Baked French Fries are popular with my kids. They're easy to make, delicious and healthier than the frozen bagged fries. Cheaper, too. You can find the recipe here. I double or triple it. Be sure to watch them closely so they don't burn. Mine are usually done is less time than the recipe calls for. Also, salt them immediately after taking them out of the oven for an authentic french fry flavor.
Last but not least is dessert. One of the easiest, least expensive desserts I can think of is pudding. A little milk, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa and you're in business! I like to make pudding when our milk is close to the expiration date. I'd rather put it to good use than throw it away. The Argo Cornstarch website has some good recipes for different kinds of easy to make puddings.
Fruit crisps and cobblers are a good way to make dessert with inexpensive canned fruit or fruit that's past it's prime.
I hope I've given you a tip or recipe that you can use. If you've got any you'd like to share with me, feel free to put them in my comment section.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Choosing A Topic While Cleaning My Office And A Big Oops!

There are so many things I want to blog about, that sometimes I have a hard time choosing. Today's list included secrets of life, inexpensive meal ideas and shopping tips, travel destinations, and some miscellaneous summer items. I was thinking about all of these things while I was reorganizing my office.

My job is supposed to be selling clothing on ebay, so my office is full of inventory. I haven't had any listings posted in a long time. The business was in full swing up until the time my brother in law died in October. Everything seemed to come to a halt, then, and I never got back to listing my items. I also never stopped accumulating inventory. Today, I decided, is the day to get back to selling.

The shelves are pretty full and there are stacks of shirts and hoodies in another cabinet. On the floor is a stack of boxes of clothing that haven't yet been unloaded. We buy our items in lots, so I couldn't even recall what was in the boxes!
I started going through the boxes and sorting the items into piles when I came across an unexpected find. At the back of the stack of boxes was a box filled with clothes I had promised to send to a needy family in California. I was absolutely mortified that it was still here! I had heard about them through one of my online friends and offered to send them the clothes back in February. I called my husband right away to ask him if he knew why the box was still in the office because I thought he had mailed it for me. He thought I had mailed it. Talk about a big oops! Needless to say, it will be going out first thing tomorrow. I'm terribly embarrassed about the whole situation. I can't imagine what the family that was expecting the clothes must think!

For now, I'm headed back into the office to get the photos I need for my listings. I expect to put them on ebay some time tomorrow afternoon. There's a link on the right hand side of this page if you're curious and want to have a look once they're listed.

I'll be back tonight to open the bar!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Beautifying Willoughby's World

I've been a little busy for the past few days, so I haven't posted a blog or read any of my friends blogs. This morning, I've been trying to catch up with all of you. It's amazing how much you miss when you're away for a few days!

If you're wondering what's kept me so busy, I'll tell you. I've been making the world a more beautiful place. Well, maybe not THE world, but at least MY world.

On Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I went to the local greenhouse to pick up some flowers. I bought quite a few flats of annuals as well as some perennials and I've been busy finding homes for all of them.

I tried to step out of my comfort zone a little bit this year and include some pink and burgundy along with my usual purple/white/yellow color scheme. The only pink I've had in the past few years has been my roses and the blossoms on the apple tree. I also bought some plants I'm not terribly familiar with, but just couldn't resist.

I've never grown Nicotiana before, but I love the star shape and attention-grabbing colors of the flowers. I planted most of them in the front flower beds, but I added a few to my favorite vintage cement urn on the front porch. I hope they do well because they look so welcoming.

This Spider Wort is new to me, too. I've admired it at the greenhouse in the past, but never bought one. I was so drawn to the color and the fact that it could be grown in the shade, that it practically jumped into my cart. I wonder why such a lovely plant was given such an ugly name.

This Asclepias is another new kid on the block. If you're not familiar with it, it grows on long bamboo-like stems covered by slender leaves. Some varieties have a vanilla scent! It's currently about 2 1/2 feet tall, but it can reach 3 to 4 feet. Since we live on a corner and our backyard is exposed to the street, we're always looking for tall plants to add a bit of privacy.

This was an unexpected addition to the garden. My daughter spotted this Fuchsia and noticed how much the flowers look like fairies when they are fully open (this one isn't fully open yet). How could I resist the idea of planting fairies in my garden? I had a hanging basket with a different variety of Fuchsia in it years ago and I found it to be a bit difficult to keep looking nice. I hope this one will be more cooperative.

We also picked up some herbs, but I haven't planted them yet. In the mean time, my new bunny candle holder is pulling double duty as a planter.

It's a temporary job, but he doesn't seem to mind. Maybe he just loves basil!

I do have one fantastic gardening tip to share with you, too. I normally wear cotton gloves while I'm gardening, but I forgot to pick up a new pair and the pair I wore last year were trashed. I have super duper, incredibly dry skin (yes, I do use hand lotion, it just doesn't help very much) and the dirt seems to stain my hands badly because of it. I often look like a mechanic for a week after having my hands in dirt even with gloves on because the dirt gets through the cotton fabric. In the garage, I found the box of surgical gloves that we use when we're staining wood or using strong cleaners, and wore those instead. I will never go back to cotton gloves again! My hands stayed clean and the texture of the gloves makes it easier to grip garden tools. It even makes pulling weeds easier because they're not as bulky as fabric gloves.

And now I have a question for those of you who have a greener thumb than I do. I've never had much luck with Clematis. I love them and I know all about keeping their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade and keeping them moist, but they've always died on me. This year, I have one that is doing very well. It's planted at the base of a four inch post. My question is, do I need to give it something else to anchor to, or can it wrap itself around the post? I've had Morning Glories planted there and they successfully climbed the post, but I don't know if the Clematis will. Any suggestions would be welcome!