Monday, December 31, 2007

It's almost over....

The holidays are winding down......It's been nice to have a few days to just sleep until I wake up (without any alarm!), and spend some time sewing and relaxing.

I enjoyed an all-afternoon sew at Leah's quilting store, with my dear friends and daughter Karen......We really enjoyed the extended time to just relax and create and see what each other was working on, etc.

(You gotta watch that red-head on the left, however......she tends to liven up the party in unexpected ways!!)

Today I should have worked a lot more than I did, but Michael and I went to look at kitchen cabinets, counters, floors, etc., instead. We know its time to update our kitchen, and we've put it off as long as we can. The cabinets are worn down to bare wood, the drawers are all broken and have been repaired, the sprayer in the sink doesn't spray, the faucet has a leak in the shaft, the sink is rusting out, the microwave is tempermental and the microwave handle is gone, the stove doesn't light without matches, and the dishwasher doesn't work.

None of those items really bother me (except maybe the worn, dirty cabinets), and the possibility of the sink relocating itself in the cupboard underneath itself.....but its time. First quarter next year maybe....if we can get our act together and pick everything out.

So we looked around a bit today. Then we stopped at the Joanne's on the way home and got some foam. We've noticed that Nikki (one of the dogs, short for Monique) has had a great deal of trouble with her right hip/leg lately, and we thought a new foam bed might help. It could be used on the floor, or in the crate she sometimes snoozes in.

The saleslady at Joanne's said the best thing to cut it with was an electric slicer!

She was right! I trimmed it a bit, and then I put some old scraps together in a checkerboard pattern and quilted the checkerboard top to two layers of batting.

Then I made a boxy envelope with more scraps, with a simple opening in the back to allow us to put the foam pad inside.

We got the foam at half price and the scraps were "free" so I thought it was a pretty frugal solution to making one of our resident "older ladies" more comfortable. Seems like only yesterday Laurie latched onto her and persuaded Michael to let her keep her.....but its been about 11 years! I think she likes it!

Goodbye to 2007!

Here's to a great 2008!!

Friday, December 28, 2007


There's cream of turkey soup in the pot.....All is well with Michael's world.

He's been cold in the mornings this week as he drives his FedEx truck. No heat or AC in those trucks, and he even wore gloves this morning! (I would note that I'm still wearing my teeshirts and my one adjustment to the temps has been to wear a pair of socks......but then we'd get into a discussion of all the fun that menopause is not....suffice it to say that this weather is heaven for me!)

So I decided to make my cream of turkey soup to warm Michael and Karen (who also has been shivering......)

The usual cast of characters was used.

I took the carcass of the latest BigBird (#4) and simmered it for several hours. I cooled the carcass and removed the meat for various uses, turkey salad for me, and some turkey trimmings to be added to the dogz food.....they do love it when I cook a BigBird!

But the broth that resulted from the simmering - that's the "motherlode" for soup, to me! I cooled it to be able to remove the fat. I took a Tbsp of the chilled fat I removed, and heated it, and cooked a finely chopped onion in it, until the onion was translucent. I then added about 1/4 cup of flour, and after it became a smooth roux, I added the cooled fat free broth. So, the entire huge pot of soup only had that tiny bit of fat in it, used to make the roux. To that, I added finely chopped (i.e. mindful of the Schatzki's ring!) chunks of turkey breast. I seasoned the whole thing with the spices pictured above.

Then at the end, I added a bit of the magic ingredient: sobenbinder!!

There is a story to that. Many years ago, my dear friend Judy, whom I have known as long as I have lived in California, shared a box of Sobenbinder with me. Her son Jay, who lives in Germany, brought several boxes to her.

The magic of this product is that you can pour it directly into a boiling soup and instead of miraculously thickens the soup (or gravy, or whatever liquid you might add it to!)

I have used it every year for every BigBird since then. I ran out once and wrote to her and she sent me more! (She had since moved to Colorado and then to Texas.....but Jay still brings it to her when he visits the states.)

I have since found out that Wondra cake flour works on the same principal.....but Karen and I think its way more fun to peer into the pot and stir, and frown, and state....."This needs 'sobenbinder fur dunkle soben'!"

(Yes, we are easily amused!) And as I have said before, I do love me some easy cooking.....and anything that helps me do the job. It wasn't until I started using that product that I started getting the "oh I love your gravy" and "your gravy is wonderful" comments from Michael! I've since learned how to make his gravy without it, but I'm glad when I don't have to!

Last night he pronounced the soup "fantastic"...... Grin!

Christmas memories

It goes by so quickly.....all the preparations and excitement of getting the perfect gift for your family member or friend.....and then the day comes, and goes!
Karen started Christmas Day with her manual for Midori (she named her new Janome DC2007LE, and the word midori in Japanese means green and is a girl's name....very appropriate!)

Laurie and Billy had to drive back from Las Vegas where they had celebrated with Billy's family.....They arrived safely and Patrick and his friend Tawny joined us. We gathered in the kitchen for a bit, snacking and catching up on news with each other.

But, then we got down to the serious excavation of the pile of brightly wrapped gifts under the tree.

Laurie won this year's prize for Most Beautifully Wrapped Packages! (I was doing well just to get paper around the presents - making them gorgeous was beyond me, but she did a great job! I hated to open mine!)

But I'm glad I did! Laurie and Billy gave me a beautiful sign..........

and the cutest birdhouse! I'm all inspired now - I'm stopping at the nursery next chance I get and will get fresh flowers on my porch and spiffy it up with the new sign. The birdhouse may hang in my office or kitchen.....I'm undecided as yet!

Karen gave me a beautiful and extremely useful set of earrings!

I am covered for any color I could ever wear. She knows me well. I don't like big earrings, but a touch of color is right up my alley.....These will be perfect!! Lately I've been getting the urge to wear something besides advertising teeshirts.....although I certainly don't mind them.....

Side story: Every time we get a car repaired in the body shop at Solesbee, we get a free teeshirt. I have enough for a week........what does that tell you about our mad driving skilz in this family? Everyone in the family knows.....taking your car over to Solesbee? Get the teeshirt in Mom's size..... :)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to using my embroidery machine to make some new shirts with a bit of decoration, and the earrings will go nicely with them!

Michael blessed me with gift certificates for two of my favorite places.....Leah's quilt store (for my class fees!) and also Tall Mouse for crafting supplies!! I am set for all kinds of fun!

If you know me, you know how much I appreciate the following gifts!

Tools for my toolbox! I can never find the drill bits around here, because they are put somewhere "safe" by Michael and my need for them never coincides with his presence at home to let me know where that safe place is, at that moment. And what is it about hammers? I gave him a hammer as a joke recently, because we couldn't find either of the two we had been using for several years. Last week? HIS NEW HAMMER WAS MISSING. Where do they go? Anyway, I have my own, in my own toolbox! The screwdriver is cute, isn't it? I can get a grip on that! The other tool is an adjustable thingie (I'm so technical!) that can grasp any sized nut and it ratchets to make using it easy and quick. Very cool! Might have to get one of those for my Dad!

And here's a gift that is very thoughtful.....and apparently also very cool, as Patrick was coveting it!

Did you see the size of that remote control in relationship to the sofa and Le Tigre? It's ginormous! And I love it. Let's face it folks, I'm getting older, and my eyes are not what they should be. Not only is this too big for Michael to lose between the sofa cushions.....but I can see it! I haven't had time to open it and program it to the TV just yet but its going to be a hit with our household!

Michael gave me hints this year (as I did, for him!) which meant he didn't have many surprises, but here you can see his reaction to the calendar I made him. It's filled with pictures of family all year, and all the important dates and birthdays are already printed in it. I had never tried making one of these on before, but it was fun, and I plan to do it more often!

He looked at every single page and it got passed around and admired. In the background you can see the red VW bus (radio controlled) that Laurie and Billy got for him. So cute! and he loves it!

Karen gave Michael this clock on December 1. Reminiscent of the advent calendars his Mom used to give the girls, it counts down the days until Christmas and plays a Christmas song on the hour. He kind of hates to put it away until next year!

Well, I must get back to work. But hopefully, I'll be upstairs sewing by mid day! This period between Christmas and New Year's is a bit lighter on the work load. Yay!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fun evening!

As the girls get more involved in their own lives and life in general gets busy, busy, busy, it's harder and harder to get everyone together for an evening. But sometimes, they just happen! :)

Laurie spent the night with us, as Billy and his mom left a day early to go to Vegas where his sister's family lives. She has one more work shift to fulfill and then Karen will take her to the airport and she will fly to Vegas to join Billy and his family for Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day. She and Billy will return Christmas Day in the afternoon and they and Patrick will come over for a few hours. :)

Anyway, we had some very fun, very impromptu "together time"!! We shopped for Billy Boyfriend and Laurie. Karen and Laurie took in a meeting at Milton's place. Then the girls and I had a mini wrapping marathon in the den.

Sadie was beside herself. She had "her Laurie", a bone to chew, and so much interesting stuff to sniff and investigate that she didn't know what to do first.

Karen made a yummy pizza and brought a plate of slices into the den. At one point, Laurie said, "Karen, I need your finger!" And Karen knew exactly what she meant, and hunkered down to help.

That brought back so many memories!

This morning the girls got to hang out with Sadie, over coffee. And Laurie tried on Santa hats to accessorize for her work shift. Now its back to work for me. :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A beautiful thank you!

I had the biggest surprise tonight while making my World Famous Chicken Tortilla soup. (As I told Vicki later, the only really true adjective there was "chicken", as I'm out of tortillas and the "world famous" part is, of course, an exaggeration of gargantuan proportions.)

Anyway, I was stirring away (recipe, or at least a rough explanation, will follow at end of entry) and Karen walked in the kitchen and said "Mom? Look what came for you!" It was a huge, long flower box and we opened it carefully and quickly. Right on top, was a card from the sender that "made my eyes leak!" (click to enlarge)

We carefully extracted the flowers, and vase, and made the water/flower food solution, trimmed the ends and put the flowers in the vase. Soooooooo pretty!

This account is really special. For now, I'll call them the Fantastic Orthopaedic Group! Because they are! It's a group of nine doctors and three physicians' assistants and they are wonderful, caring people and great dictators, all of them! Their staff is a joy to work with and I really take pride in making sure that my transcription service meets their needs.

I definitely couldn't do it without my terrific team! (And Michael's fantastic cookies- I'm sure they help!) I wish I could share these flowers with my transcriptionists, but blogging it will have to do!

Back to the chicken tortilla soup. I started making this after falling in love with the REAL chicken tortilla soup at Islands Restaurant.....and trying to duplicate it at home. That wasn't possible, but my family fell in love with my variations. It's funny sometimes how something so simple will hit the spot for your family and they are as enthusiastic about it, as they are about your homemade lasagna! Here are the ingredients in today's interpretation of this soup....

The only ingredient not pictured is the chicken. I simmered a whole bird and chilled the broth to remove the grease, and have taken the breast meat and chopped it up for this soup. I would show it (the carcass nearby), but apparently some of my readers are delicate flowers.....and I don't want to gross them out! Snicker!!

Any time I make this soup, I just use whatever veggies I have on hand. For example, some times it has a bit of chopped spinach in it, or some celery, instead of peas. I just try for color, and lots of it. This time I used both diced plain canned tomatoes and diced canned tomatoes with green chilies. Sometimes I use less tomatoes and more of other veggies. The constants in this soup are the chicken breast, chopped up....and the taco seasoning flavor packet! The seasoning packet takes the soup from "cooked veggies in chicken broth", to rich, deep flavor with a hint of warmth from the spices on the tongue...without any real thought from me. And I do love easy cooking.

Yum! If I have tortilla chips, I put them on the bottom of the bowl and spoon the soup over. I always top it with Mexican 3-cheese blend. Sometimes I toss in a can of cream of chicken soup, just to mix things up a bit, so its not the same old thing... changes the texture a bit, but still oh-so-good!

Michael did an 11 hour shift in the Land of Lost Packages yesterday, and another 10 hour shift today. He loves this soup, so hopefully this will warm him up!

Now I need to start thinking about Big Bird #4.....(we have five in the freezer right now!) I want to bring him in, thaw him and cook him in advance so that Christmas is a bit less rushed. I think I will make my side dishes a day early also, and then make Dill Bread on Christmas Eve. That's always a huge hit and makes the house smell great!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today's Word: Schatzki's Ring

Well, actually that's two words. But that's the medical terminology Michael learned last Saturday night. He came home from a hard day in the Land of Lost Packages and since Karen and I were diligently working on decorating cookies, he helpfully offered to cook us a quick lunch of some steaks he had picked up on sale at Ralph's. We were delighted, and kept on decorating while he fixed us a yummy lunch using our large sized Foreman grill. (He has a little one he fixes quick meals for himself on - and we liked it so well we upgraded to a big one.)

Michael has had problems with a choking sensation in the last year and we've worried that he might have had a hiatal hernia. Well, a bite went down wrong as he ate his lunch with us....and he knew the minute it went down, that it wasn't going to make it and it wasn't going to be fun.

He spent a long time trying to dislodge it. He could breath, he could talk (not comfortably) and he thought he could get it to move. Two hours later, he conceded defeat and went to the ER at St. Jude's. (He had had a similar visit to another hospital last year and it was so unpleasant and unprofessional that he decided to try St. Jude's this time. What a world of difference! That will be our hospital of choice from now on!)

He was whisked into triage immediately, his history was taken, he was examined, a GI guy was in the building, and before he knew it, he was being prepared for an esophagogastroduodenoscopy. He was "under" for about ten to fifteen minutes, recovered for another thirty, and came home right after that.

The GI doctor, Dr. Martin, was very, very nice, very caring, and Michael will be seeing him again for a recheck and future treatment planning.... Dr. Martin took pictures while he was scoping Michael's GI tract, and Michael even got to bring home a set of the pix.

(Just in case anyone thinks I'm violating about ten different privacy laws regarding personal health information, this blogger is HIPAA compliant, thank you! This patient has asked me three times, "have you blogged about me yet? is my picture of my esophagus on your blog?" which translates into permission to share personal health information. So there, peoples.) (as usual, click on pix to enlarge)

Yep....there it is. The word of the day. Schatski's ring. I type these reports all the time and I've always wondered what one looked like. Apparently Michael has a "good one" and that's the source of the choking sensations he has been experiencing. It is involved with a small hiatal hernia too, but I would hazard a guess that the Schatzki's ring is causing more trouble than the hiatal hernia....

So we are looking forward to finding out what his options are so that he can once again enjoy a good steak without cutting it up into mincemeat before eating it. He probably can look forward to some minor procedures where the ring is dilated with increasingly larger dilators, which will give him long periods of relief. Lately Michael and I have both been a bit underwhelmed with how well the old bodies are holding up. I agree with my mother, who recently said, "old age is NOT for sissies!"

Michael has enjoyed several meals since this episode, so its certainly not anything serious. I've been on a soup kick lately anyway, and that goes down easy! Tomorrow I'm making chicken tortilla soup with lots of of his favorites.

A small side story:
I dimly recall when Karen was in grade school, she was being teased about her lack of athletic ability involving a basketball on the playground. At which point she went toe-to-toe with the bully-teaser and emphatically stated, "Oh Yeah? Well let's hear you spell esophagogastroduodenoscopy!!" At first the bully scoffed that it wasn't even a word, but once this was verified by the teacher, who had to take Karen's word for it, as she didn't know how to spell it either....but Karen explained not only how to spell it, but how to break it down, what it involved and why it is done.........that shut him up. At least briefly.

I'm sure she will forward her therapy bills to me at some point, when it is determined that teaching her words like that as a child, scarred her permanently. Probably also explains why she's never had the slightest interest in joining the family business!!

Back to work for me!

The Magic Cookies........

After the First Annual Second Friday Cookie-Extravaganza, we got serious about decorating the rest of the sugar cookies. After I dug out the recipe for the Royal Icing and the directions for a few of my favorite designs, I noticed on the article that I had been making these since 1989. Sheesh!

Daughter Karen joined me and we experimented and perfected our individual ideas and mass produced cookies that were colorful and will add to the cookie plates a bit. Karen's cookies were so pretty that she decided she will enter a few of them in her company's cookie competition this Friday.

Karene came over Saturday afternoon and lent us a hand.

She made some really pretty reindeer and snowmen and cute kitties. (On those, if it were up to me, they would have been painted white and had sprinkles thrown at them - she made them MUCH more special than I could have!)

We let them dry on a big table covered with a cloth, in front of the Christmas tree.

Last night, I whipped through a gazillion trees, and figured out a way to make a candycane on the bell cookies.

Here's a few more of our creations.

We're done! Here's a pix of one of the plates that was delivered yesterday to one of my transcription clients.

Michael's gingerbread boys are still my all time favorites!

Michael gave up his day off to log about 120 miles on the car, delivering to all our clients. We got compliments on the cookies which was really nice, but we also got remarks of appreciation about my transcription service, which was especially rewarding! He even got a hugs at two offices, along with the thanks and compliments. He delivered a huge tray of cookies to my biggest account, an orthopedic clinic, and they were so appreciative. No matter how tired of cookies we are, when he delivers them and he sees the smiles of the staff members at the different offices, and in many cases, the doctors themselves, it makes us determined to do it again next year. I'm grateful to Michael and Karen for the days and days of effort with me on this project!

We're going to take plates to neighbors, and then we are planning that a box will be taken to a shelter that Michael knows about in Anaheim. Hopefully, the cookies will brighten someone's Christmas just a little!

That's it. The Great Cookie Caper and Extravaganza of 2007 is over!