Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Year Over And a New One Just Begun

On the weekend before Christmas, Chris, Kelsey and the children came to our house to spend one night before we all headed west to Nanny's (my mom's) house, in Carlsbad. Because transporting the dollhouse to Carlsbad was not feasible, we decided to let Clara see her Christmas present early. I tried to get some pictures of her first reaction, but I didn't do a very good job. Most of the pictures came out blurry. Maybe I was shaking a bit with excitement! Anyway, here are a few.

Walking in the door . . . Clara's eyes go directly to the house (Robert's eyes, too!)

A little confused . . . is this for me?

First time to open the front door of her new house

Soon after the kids arrived and a very quick lunch, Dan and I took the kids to see Sesame Street Live, which was playing at the Expo Center. It gave Chris and Kelsey a rare chance for a kids-free movie date. I chose to leave my camera behind, thinking I'd get good enough shots with my iPhone, but, sadly, somehow the iPhone setting got set to "Fade" mode, and I didn't get even ONE good photo. But here are a few, anyway, to prove that Robert and Clara got to meet Elmo and Bert. The show was fun -- lots of music and dancing, with encouragement from the stage for the kids to join in. Lots of character interaction with the audience. We had second row seats, but Clara made her way into a front row seat, thanks to a family whose son wanted to sit on Mommy's lap.

Clara has "scary eyes" in this one, but it was the best I could do with those poor photos.

The next morning we all hit the road, in two very tightly packed vehicles. Besides the six of us, there were Christmas presents, luggage and food for most of our up-coming meals at Nanny's. It's about an 8-hour drive to Carlsbad from Temple. We made good time, and the kids were wonderful travelers.

On Monday Tim arrived. His new job at UNM gives him a long holiday break at Christmas time, for which he was very grateful. He hadn't seen the kids in over a year, so there were lots of changes.

Despite not being together in a while, it didn't take much time at all for the kids to warm up to Uncle Tim.
On Tuesday, Christmas Eve, Chris, Kelsey and the kids drove down to Pecos, TX, where Kelsey's parents live, to spend the day with them, her aunt and uncle, and her brother and sister and their families. Her family always does Christmas in a big way, including a piƱata party and a visit from Santa Claus. They drove back to Nanny's that evening, and we got the kids all tucked into bed before Santa's arrival.

Christmas morning was delightful. The children were so good about enjoying what everyone else was opening, as well as their own presents. Robert gave Clara a tent and camping gear for her new American Girl doll, Julie. And Clara gave Robert a wonderful, stuffed Michelangelo (he's a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, especially since his birthday party of that theme).

Santa brought Clara a new bicycle, since she has outgrown her first one. This new one is a beautiful, classic style, powder blue bicycle, with a pink wicker basket. Just exactly what Clara asked of Santa! After breakfast, she hopped on it and took off with no trouble at all.

She also got roller skates. It was her first time to try skating, and she found it a little more challenging than the bicycle. But she was persistent and definitely made progress. Here's a picture of her very first fall. OUCH! But no tears! Grandpa taught her a new riddle related to skating, and she definitely understood it: "What is the hardest thing about learning to roller skate? The cement!"

The first fall :-(
By the second day, she made it through a skating session without a single fall. She and I came up with a slogan for the day, "A few close calls, but no falls!"

While we were there, we enjoyed quite a bit of outdoor time -- walks along the river, feeding the birds, and playing at the park playground.

Clara and I enjoy taking pictures on our walks together

Finally, on Friday, we all packed up and headed home. For most of the way, Chris and Kelsey led the way and we followed, so this was the view from our front window. There's a rather complicated story about the bicycle rack, on the back. It involves a trailer hitch, a missing key, and some bolt cutters. But Chris wouldn't want me to go into all of that. So I won't. ;-) In the end, Clara's gift from Santa made it home in perfect shape.

When we all arrived in Temple, the plan was to spend the night at our house, and, then, for us to go with them the next morning, to deliver the dollhouse, because their vehicle was packed too full. But the plans changed, and Chris, Kelsey and Robert ended up driving home, while Clara stayed with us a few days. Yesterday, New Year's Eve, we drove her and her dollhouse home. We celebrated New Year's Eve with them, watching several animated movies and snacking on all sorts of wonderful goodies. This morning we all went out to breakfast together, after which Dan and I returned home.

It was all wonderful, but we are happy to be home and getting back to some sort of a routine. I ended up with a cold, which I am hoping I did not pass along to the Houston Judds.

Christmas and New Year's Day are only memories for us now - very good memories.

52 in 2013 - #40 Theme of the Week: Off Center

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cookies and Cocoa

We had a few friends over this evening for cookies and cocoa. There were lots of goodies to add to the cocoa, including homemade marshmallows. Yum!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cookie Time

I went to the liquor store this morning.

I know. I'm a teetotaler (spelled correctly, per Wikipedia, here; I always thought it was spelled teatotaler). So what was I doing in the liquor store?

As I mentioned, recently, on one of my posts, my mother is half French and half Scottish. But, surprisingly, it is the Scottish side of her family that has, for generations, made these waffle-like cookies, and called them French cookies. One of the important ingredients is a splash of Brandy. We've tried making them without the Brandy, and they just aren't the same. 

I remember my Great Aunt Agnes making these cookies when I was little. And after we moved to Alaska, she faithfully sent a box of them through the mail to us each Christmas. By the time they arrived, they were usually all broken up, but they still tasted delicious.

When Aunt Agnes made them, she used an old, HEAVY cast iron iron that had to sit atop a stove to get hot. It only held one cookie at a time, as I recall, and she had to cook each one for awhile on one side and then turn the iron over and finish them off on the other side. When Dan and I moved back to Oregon, and my parents followed us there a few years later, Mom would borrow that heavy iron from Aunt Agnes or mom's cousin, Margaret, at Christmas time so she could carry on the French cookie tradition. 

In later years, both Mom and I discovered an electric iron that holds two cookies at a time, and makes the job so much easier. (Mom tried a couple electric irons before she found one that made the cookies thin, like we like them.) So, today I bought the Brandy, heated up the iron, and made French cookies. I'll probably take most of them to Carlsbad at Christmas, but will use some at the Cocoa & Cookie party we're hosting at our house next week.


Yesterday we put the finishing touches on the dollhouse. Other than a big red bow and a tag that says, "Merry Christmas Clara," it's done!

This house was assembled from a kit made by Real Good Toys, of Vermont. It ended up taking two months and a week to complete. We worked on it almost every day, some days a lot, some days not so much. We really, really enjoyed assembling it. Dan even says he'd like to do another one, now that he knows more about the process. 

The most difficult and time consuming part was shingling the roofs. On all of the corners, and all of the edges around the dormers, the shingles had to be cut precisely, one at a time. Dan used a little saw for most of that, and then he ran the cut edge over a piece of sandpaper to smooth it before gluing it to the roof. In the end, I re-dyed all of those edges, to make them match the rest of the shingles.

Our first attempt at shingling was a failure. The instructions suggested using Liquid Nails, and specifically said no water-based adhesives. I bought Liquid Nails, and Dan started putting the shingles on, but it was a disaster! The shingles were curling and wouldn't stick to the roof. Finally we realized that the glue WAS water-based. Apparently Liquid Nails comes in more than one variety - whoops! We had to remove all of those original shingles and start fresh with Quick Grip glue (from Michael's), which worked well, except that it was hard to keep it from running down the steep sides of the roof. We re-used some of those first shingles, because we were worried that, because of our faux pas, we'd be short. But we weren't. We were happy with how the wooden shingles took the dye, some of them dark, others lighter. It gave the roof a nice, textured appearance.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

52 in 2013 - #39 Theme of the Week: Friendship/Love

Tuesday evening the ladies of Avenue T Church of Christ got together for a Christmas party. My friend, Wynn, in this first picture, was the party organizer, and she did a great job. We had a lot of fun and laughed until our sides hurt. 

No one had to prepare food, which was a nice break for us all. Instead we just pitched in $5 each, and Wynn picked up deli sandwich trays from Subway. 

We sang some Christmas carols, did a goofy Twelve Days of Christmas production, had a fun ornament exchange, and cheered on a couple teams of women who competed in a snowwoman building contest. We agreed that both teams were winners:

I took a group photo at the end, and then Wynn took a second one with me in it. Later, at home, I used my Photoshop magic to combine the two shots into one with both of us in it (don't examine it too closely!).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Look What Came to My Door

I had just taken a pain pill, and was watching Dan put the final shingle on the dollhouse, when the doorbell rang. Oh . . . the pain pill was because I had oral surgery this morning to do the tooth implant in my lower jaw (see previous post here).

When I answered the door, there was a delivery man with this vase of flowers. I was puzzled, and looked at Dan, who shook his head and said he hadn't sent them. Upon opening the little card, I was flabbergasted  to learn that the flowers came from my dentist and my oral surgeon. The note read: "Thank you for giving us the opportunity to care for you. With best wishes from Dr. Crowson & Dr. Leland."

What a thoughtful thing for them to do! I realize that the cost of this procedure is high, and that they can well afford to send flowers. But the fact that they choose to do such a kind thing for their patients really impresses me and makes me glad to be in their care.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The House on Our Kitchen Table

Since October 7, my kitchen has been a construction site. The dining table, covered in a plastic tablecloth, has been host to knives, blades, rulers, squares, three cans and one jar of paint, paint brushes, sanding blocks, a hammer, saw, putty knife, glue, tape measure, painter's tape, and shingle dye. We started out with a very orderly work space, but, as time went on, it has turned into a little bit of chaos, with boxes of materials migrating to the floor and the counter tops. We have been using a card table for our meals.

Hopefully, by Wednesday, we will be completing the project, relocating it to the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, and cleaning up the construction site kitchen. What we have built, over these two  months, is a beautiful dollhouse - Clara's Christmas present from Grandpa and Grandma. I'll post some photos of it later this week, when it is finished, but for now, here's a close-up teaser of the front door, Christmas wreath and all.

We are nearly finished with the most difficult and time-consuming part of the entire project, shingling the roofs. After that we have a little bit more trim to put on top and some touch-up painting. Then we'll be done!

Dan was the general contractor/builder and project manager. My part was the painting and shingle-dying, assembling the shutters; standing beside Dan and handing him the glue, the flashlight, and tools, as he needed them; and being the "gofer".

The house has three floors plus a little tower above that. We will not be decorating the interior because that will be part of the fun for Clara and Kelsey. They can paint, paper, finish and furnish it however Clara wishes. The floors, however, already have finished "hardwood." I anticipate buying dollhouse furniture for gift-giving occasions for a long time to come. Stay tuned for the final pictures later this week.

Friday, December 6, 2013

52 in 2013 - #38 Theme of the Week: Work

Dan and I are going to a Austin tomorrow night for his car club Christmas party. We are supposed to bring either a dessert or an appetizer. I went out early this morning to get all of the ingredients to make Santa Hat Brownies. I spent a long time this morning baking the brownies, cleaning the strawberries and putting together these little treats. Yes, it was a lot of WORK. Here's what they looked like after I put them together.

And here's what they looked like an hour later :-(  The strawberries wouldn't stay atop the brownies. The white "stuff" is marshmallow creme, which slid off the brownies like melting snow, taking the strawberries along for the ride. Seeing this disaster-in-the-making, I changed from marshmallow creme to regular white frosting for the remainder, but that wasn't successful either. The strawberries seeped their red juice into the frosting, and it, too, started sliding off the brownies. I guess we'll have to buy a dessert to take tomorrow night. How disappointing!

As a side note, I did use a new brownie recipe for this failed experiment, and those brownies were NOT disappointing. They were very good -- moist, dense, rich and chewy. Even though these little Santa hats will not be going to the party tomorrow evening, they won't go to waste - or maybe I should say they WILL go to "waist", somebody's waist anyway. Dan always appreciates my failed baking projects.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

52 in 2013 - #37 Theme of the Week: Winter

A cold front is moving into Central Texas. Tonight's forecast is for temperatures in the 30s with a chance of freezing rain. Snow is also a possibility in the next couple of days. Nothing combats winter's chill better than a sparkly Christmas tree and a warm fire. Care to join me, in front of the fire, for a nice cup of hot cocoa later tonight?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Visit with Family

Yesterday Dan's cousin-who-is-more-like-a-sister, Marci; her son, Caleb; and grandson, Miles, dropped by for a visit. (Caleb's wife, Tammy, didn't make it.) They were in Waco, visiting Tammy's family for Thanksgiving, and since they were so close, they came down for the day. 

After a nice lunch at B.J.'s we took a drive out to Oenaville. Oenaville is a little spot in the road, six miles northeast of Temple. It was first settled in the late 1860s, and had its own post office by 1872. At its peak, in 1890, the community numbered 200 residents. 

Oenaville holds significance for our family, since Marci's father (Dan's Uncle Wiley) and two of his brothers, were born there between 1909 and 1923, while their father (Dan's grandfather Baker) was farming there. It was only after moving to Temple that we realized how much Baker family history took place here, in Bell County. Someday I hope to spend some time in the archives room at the library to see what I can learn about the Bakers and their connection with Bell County.

Miles took no time in discovering Robert's cars in the toy box. Miles is about six months younger than Robert.

It was a little chilly, but warm enough to play ball in the back yard.