Monday, April 2, 2018

Daffodil Cookies and Disciplined Days

Our simple Easter dinner was lovely, if I may say so.  I somehow got the grocery store's last pot of miniature Daffodils for it, my Daffodil sugar cookies--and even their trumpets--kept their shape as they baked, the blackberry dessert I'd concocted for myself turned out better than expected, and the Lilac tablecloth I'd treated myself to for the occasion, since I love Lilacs and never see them on anything, looked as pretty on the table as I'd hoped it would.  The actual meal was good too, yes,  :) but the fun part of dinners for me is playing with the desserts and the table. 
My own Easter dessert was a dish of Greek yogurt mixed with crushed and whole blackberries, cream cheese, and edible flowers.  This was my favorite thing I ate yesterday. 
Saturday marked ten months on the job for me, and I can say now that it ended up taking me all of the first nine months on the job to get into new routines and have life feel manageable again.  That's a long time to feel discombobulated on a near-daily basis, especially for someone so appreciative of order and organization.  I get up every day at 7 am now, despite working until midnight some nights.  The extra hours in the morning are the hours that were missing before that now allow me to get things done, and although I would have guessed that this change in routine would make me more tired every day, I feel better than I have in ages and am only sleepy when I finally go to bed, as opposed to the day-in and day-out fatigued-right-to-my-bones that I felt every night (and day, for that matter) even through January.  I eliminated caffeine and sugar from my diet back in February and have been falling asleep quickly, for the very first time in my life, and sleeping like a rock.  Despite still not liking it, I drink about a gallon of water a day now.  Likely because of eating better and sleeping better, I've lost seventeen pounds so far this year, as well.  I used to be hit-or-miss with all the vitamins and supplements I take each day, but the so-obvious-I-didn't-think-of-it solution of a daily pill-organizer/container has made it easier for me to remember to take every pill every day, and there's something satisfying to me each morning about seeing that day's pills become a blank compartment after I've taken them with my glass of almond milk.  This is such a slight change in routine, but it's one that makes me feel better and more on-top-of-things every single day--and minutes after starting each day--so it's worth noting.  I still walk to and from work as often as I can--the nights I work until midnight, I catch the bus--but I also still need to work my longer walks and some writing-time into my mornings.  And I will.  Those will be two of this spring's changes-for-the-better, after having spent the winter focusing on other ones.   
Home itself has been getting sorted out too.  I cook ahead more often now, to make the nights I work until 6, 7, or 8 pm easier.  I'm in the process of creating a go-to grocery/shopping list of all the things I ever buy so I can just make copies of it and circle what I need on each copy for each trip.  (A friend's dad used to do this back when she and I were in the sixth grade, and now at almost 41, I see the brilliance of the idea that struck me as over-the-top at 11.)  :)  I have been wearing a uniform of sorts to work instead of real outfits, since I have that option at my workplace, and not having to choose clothes, shoes, and jewelry has freed up a lot of my pre-work time.  I've begun the past few months with not only my usual daily to-do lists, but also weekly and monthly ones.  I still need to come up with a better laundry system--it may likely end up being something as simple as "Tuesday is always Laundry Day, no matter my work schedule."  We'll see.  I  began April yesterday knowing I had met every goal on my March list, which felt incredible.  

My latest project has been to create--finally, after years of planning it--a writing corner for myself in the apartment.  In February, I bought a used table on craigslist to transform into a corner-desk.  A few weeks ago, I finished re-papering--really "re-fabric-ing"--one of that corner's walls and found a lamp for what will be my desk.  Saturday evening, I finished sawing the table into the wedge-shape I need.  Next is to put the table/desk back together, attach some type of shelf to its top as a sort of hutch, to paint it all, and to redo the chair I'll be using with it.  Finishing the entire corner is one of this month's projects, and I can already tell it's going to be my favorite spot in the apartment.  

Here's to new routines and better days.  Happy spring to you all. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Third Day of the Year

'A tranquil but determined start to the new year here.  I had a good bit of time off from work these past few weeks, and I used a lot of it to get some things organized and reorganized in this little apartment.  I have long thought of home-care and decorating and what I call puttering around--fluffing up the throw pillows, changing out the tablecloth, adding the fresh flowers to canning jars, hanging the new-old paintings and embroidered pieces sooner rather than later, refolding the granny square afghans on the backs of the chairs, taking oranges out of their mesh bag and adding them to the green stoneware bowl, even just putting the dishes back where they belong and arranging them neatly on their shelves--as hobbies or pastimes or interests, but I have realized this past month that for me, these little activities are actually a form of self-care.  Eureka!  When we see a woman who has made the extra effort to dress especially nicely, paint her nails, look out for her health and fitness, or [insert-your-own-examples], we think "There is someone who values herself and makes the time to take good care of herself," and I realize now that similarly, when my home is orderly and sweet and cheerful, I feel those things about myself.  When my home is orderly and sweet and cheerful, I feel those things about myself.  Ahhhh!  All the little "puttering around" tasks, then, aren't really chores at all, then, just as I would no longer think of them as one of my hobbies either.  I see now that they're more vital for me than that.  These are ways I take care of myself, I have just learned at 40-and-a-half-years-old:  I go for long walks, I take my vitamins, I try to eat and drink well, I use sunscreen year-round, I pray, I read, I cuddle with Stuffed, I show my love to my loves ones, I slather on lotion, I rest when needed, and I keep an organized and inviting home.  

On that front, I have tackled the bathroom cupboard--and after almost seven years of living here, have wrestled it into submission.  It is about seven feet tall and its three shelves are two feet deep but only twelve inches wide.  Without the shelves, it would be the perfectly-proportioned space to store a broom and mop, but . . .I think I've finally figured it out.  And now hanging vertically on the inside of its door are three narrow cork bulletin boards, my work-schedule, a list of that month's birthdays and other need-to-send-a-card-or-otherwise-mark-a-special-day occasions, a small pink dry-erase board I'm using as my weekly food diary, a basket for pens and dry-erase markers, Stuffed's litter-scoop, a dust pan and broom, and a six-inch-wide calendar I use to record my daily walks.  'A good use now, and better late than never, of that seven-foot tall-but-only-twelve-inch-wide door too.  Take that, Ill-Proportioned Closet.  That alone has made home and life feel so much tidier.  It's What-I-Need-to-Remember Central, and it's a breath of fresh air for this lifelong list-maker:  I have it all in one spot now but tucked away on the back of the door so it doesn't "read" as clutter.  That's been just one improvement lately.  And now that I actually like the cupboard, I want to doll it up even more by papering the small wall-spaces inside the cupboard. . .give it a little more love.  Just like that, it's become a time-saver, a better use of space, and features a door I actually enjoy opening and seeing what's behind.  I myself feel so much more on top of things even with this one project, is the point.  And now that I have a better perspective on it all, I look forward to taking on everything else that's on my around-the-apartment to-do list.  Those to-do items no longer feel like problems or chores ahead of me, but instead opportunities and possibilities.  How good this all feels after watching everything fall apart around here the first seven months with this new job and new work schedule!  Ohhhhh, I love learning.  I love figuring it out.  Life already feels so much better, and 2018 is looking so much brighter. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Mushroom Stuffing Recipe (Especially for Cheryl)

I promised this recipe at least a couple years ago to Cheryl from the joyful A Simple Life blog and am finally getting around to sharing it.  Cheryl, I know you are partial to your dear grandmother's stuffing, but I consider this  more of a mushroom side dish with bread cubes added than a "real" stuffing, so it need not compete.  :)  When I worked as a hotel cook years ago, my manager would encourage me and the rest of the kitchen staff to look for new recipes in the cookbook collection, and this mushroom stuffing was one of my best finds from those years.  I think it was in one of those little cookbooks printed by a church group or school organization, and this is a basic guideline, and this isn't the way it was originally written.  I don't measure anything anymore when I make it.  As I just told Mike the other day, finding this recipe and learning how to flip omelets are two of my favorite takeaways from that work experience.  :)  This is the only stuffing I make anymore here for holidays and other "stuffing occasions."  For all of us who like mushrooms, then, here's my favorite mushroom dish.  

Val's Favorite Mushroom Stuffing:
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup herb-seasoned stuffing bread cubes
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/4 cup Half and Half

~  Cook the mushrooms in the butter until tender.  They will "sweat" as they cook, of course.  Do not drain the extra liquid they make.  I think I cook them down maybe ten minutes.

~  Stir in the stuffing mix/bread cubes until they've absorbed the mushrooms' excess liquid and taken on their color.  I have been using fewer stuffing cubes each time I make this, which is another reason I think of it more of as a mushroom side dish than a stuffing.  Play with the recipe however you like, obviously, adjusting all the amounts to focus more or less on bread or mushroom.

~  Add half the mushroom/stuffing mixture to a greased baking dish.

~  Cover this layer with some of the cheddar.

~  Repeat by adding another layer of mushrooms, then more cheddar.  (Regardless of how many layers you make/which size baking dish you use, cheddar should be the top layer.)  Pour the Half and Half over it all.  Sometimes I'll add an extra tablespoon of butter to the top, as well.  

~  Bake 20-30 minutes.  Even twenty minutes seems to do the trick.  

Ohhhhhh, this is so good.  I haven't managed yet to get an impressive-looking picture of the finished dish--stuffing rarely looks pretty, it seems--but every forkful is an incredible combination of bread, butter, cheese, and mushrooms.  'So good. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas Eve

'Two new-old Christmas pillowcases added to our bedding here tonight.  Chinese food takeout, homemade sugar cookies, and dear Emmet Otter are up next in this little apartment.  I wish you all a sweet and cozy holiday season. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday - unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour. ~ Sukhraj S. Dhillon

Well, today has been a relaxing day off.  Really relaxing.  Really off.  I slept in.  The first two Christmas cards came in today's mail, Mom's and Aunt Heidi's.  Mike had the day off too but went out to breakfast alone and then ran a few errands downtown, so I had most of six hours to myself.  I added the miniature pink gingham wreath to my little cottage planter, per somewhat new tradition.  I thought of one last little gift for my older brother and his family and ordered it with just enough time left for it to arrive by next weekend's early Christmas.  While watching The Shawshank Redemption, I touched up a few Christmas tree ornaments with some fresh paint, glue, and faux snow before rehanging them.  I made this year's batch of salt-dough ornaments while watching About a Boy, another of my favorite movies (and books).  (And let us pause here to admire the colorful holiday table-scene here:
Ah!  Love!  Every time I watch this--and it's become another Christmastime tradition for me--I remember that I want to look for a simple candelabra like that one, and then forget until the following Christmas.  Maybe 2018 will be Candelabra Year.)  I had made my last big bunch of salt-dough ornaments in 2011--
--but decorated the tree this year in just pink and white so wanted some pink candy canes and hearts instead of all these rainbow-hued ones.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand just now taken out of the oven and cooling a bit before I add them to the tree, then, is this afternoon's batch, along with a couple hearts formed from the last little scraps of dough.  (Salt-dough:  1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour-plus-more-mixed-in-as-needed. . .baked at 250°-ish for about four hours.  Katy Elliot's recipe--and are the snowflake ornaments in her post not the loveliest!--is the one I started with in 2011.  I usually need more flour than her recipe calls for, and I bake mine at a higher temp, but my recipe is otherwise her recipe--and a good one it is.)  Quite soon, then, the new candy canes and hearts will get hooked onto tree boughs and I'll loop some green thread or fishing line through the hearts to hang them and will declare the tree done. 
I'm off tomorrow too and am trying to talk Mike into a game of Trivial Pursuit.  No takers yet, but I got a "We'll see" upon last mention, at least.  'Am at some point re-hanging the gingham apron "curtain" that has a home over the air conditioner now that winter's here. 
I still have my cards to get ready to mail, despite Wednesday night's best intentions, but returning to my book sounds better than cards and envelopes.  Sometime this weekend, I'll take some Christmas tree pictures.  Ahhh, well, one picture for now, because I just added the salt-dough pieces and this is all making me very happy.
Sweet little tree.    After all the stress and chaos this week, this Christmas tree is actually my favorite one ever.  Go figure.  Thank you all for your kind words on the ol' balancing act.  Maybe everything just had to get worse here before I could figure out how to make it better.