Getting Ready for the Inauguration

Bring on the crowds. I've already reserved my seat for the big inauguration that's just about a month away.

What? Too early? Naw.

If the bleachers are up, the people will come.


A Few Memories

Indulge me in memories for a moment, before I tell you all about the National Museum of the American Indian.

I grew up in a place rich with possibilities for the imagination. In northeastern Wyoming, in the sacred Black Hills, just past the shadow of Devils Tower.

I ventured up the highway from our house, where archaeologists worked to unearth Lakota campsites (they camped there, on their way to what is now Montana, trailed all the way by Custer and his soldiers). I watched as the biggest buffalo jump in the country was excavated on land belonging to Uncle D's family.

Cowboys and Indians weren’t so far from reality. I regularly rode my trusty horses, first Rose and later Gypsy, through the trees behind my house, on the lookout for enemy soldiers, stopping occasionally to dig in the soft soil for arrowheads.

As a child, I didn’t play the superhero or the princess unless called on to do so by my friends. Rather, I played Little House On the Prairie. I made the old well house by the corral my house on the windblown plain and worked away, sweeping the dirt floor smooth and gathering food to eat and even making a fire in my brick oven (in Wyoming, in the heat of a dry summer, which got me grounded when the half-burnt newspapers blew out of my “house” and into the yard, where my father discovered them).

Where others might have preferred shooting Nerf bow and arrows at one another, I was the Native American chipping away at obsidian to make an arrowhead, then carefully crafting a bow from items I found (in the forest behind our house, yes, but also in the garage). I was trying to play a wooden flute rather than a recorder. (Had I ever learned how to do it well, it would have produced the sweet, mournful music I heard played at powwows.) I was saving pretty, perfect leaves between the pages of my books and staring up at the starry night sky so long and so hard I practically went cross-eyed, just because I thought I had to memorize every detail in case the stars were gone the next night.

In school, art class activities involved emulating native artwork—baskets and dolls and gleaming black pottery. On field trips, my classmates and I visited old forts, the site of famous skirmishes between the original inhabitants of the lands we now inhabited and those who came to claim it as their own, tiny museums tucked in nowhere towns filled with the most striking artifacts you could imagine.

This was my childhood. Living history.

A Visit to The Mall (No, Not That Mall)

The day after Christmas, most people head to the mall to take advantage of post-holiday sales galore. Not my family. We stay as far away from stores as we can get. And when we're in Washington D.C., guaranteed you'll find us hitting up some of our favorite spots in the city.

Conservative Boy says it's touristy. Naw. Well, maybe part of it. But taking advantage of all the museums at The Smithsonian (that is, along The Mall) is not touristy. It's terrific.

Here's a look at our day-after-Christmas exploits.

First stop: The National Gallery. Always. Every time anyone in my family is in D.C., a quick walk through the National Gallery is a must. That always means a stop at our favorite Impressionist paintings (you know, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas) and the post-impressionists (Seurat, C├ęzanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh).

We also wandered around the newest exhibit: Jan Lievens, A Dutch Master Rediscovered.

After our quick trip through the National Gallery, we stopped at the newest museum on The Mall: The National Museum of the American Indian.

Just the facade of the building was pretty impressive—its curvy exterior is clad in Kasota limestone to emulate rock formations shaped by wind and water over thousands of years. The interior was pretty interesting (and, admittedly, delicious) too—but I'm saving that for another post. Just because I can. (Oh, and in case you're wondering, those three people moseying toward the building are My Dad, My Mom, and My Sister. They can't ever seem to escape the paparazzi.)

After the American Indian museum, we of course engaged in a few obligatory tourist activities. Like taking photos of the Capitol.

And checking out the Christmas tree outside of the White House.

We also felt it necessary to find the small tree representing Wyoming (once a Wyomingite, always a Wyomingite) ... In case you're wondering, those are tiny jackalopes in the ornaments on the Wyoming tree. Oh, the jackalope. Go ahead, ask me if they're real.

Our last stop of the day? It's another given. We had to have oysters and cocktails at Old Ebbitt Grill.

But again, more about that later.


Christmas in Washington D.C.

Greetings from the nation's capitol!

I'm here in Washington D.C. celebrating Christmas with My Parents and My Sister, who now calls this great city home.

We've had a quiet couple of days but are about to embark on an adventure, which you will most assuredly hear about later. Before we do, however, as promised, I wanted to share the beginnings of our gastronomic adventures.

It all began on Christmas Eve when, as is a family tradition, we enjoy a big pot of seafood chowder. It's a simple meal that's incredibly delicious (and was made even more so this year by the addition of some wonderful pesto rolls rolls—mmmm). See for yourself:

Then, Christmas morning, another tradition:

It's our holiday breakfast bread (basically, a beautifully braided cinnamon roll) ... the perfect treat after we take a peek at what Santa left us in our stockings.

Then, later, after a relaxing morning reading (that's what we do in our family ... go ahead, call us dorks), we enjoyed Christmas dinner.

Beautiful asparagus.

Amazing mashed potatoes with kale and garlic (try them yourself, thanks to 101 Cookbooks).

And one heckuva pork loin.

It sure is wonderful having a cooking pro for a little sister.

I hope your Christmas was just as delicious!


Wishing You A Merry Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve friends, family and random readers! I hope you are able to spend tonight and tomorrow enjoying the company of loved ones.

I will be doing the same!

After a lovely 3:40 a.m. wakeup call and a few flights, I arrived in Washington, D.C. about 1:15 this afternoon and hopped the Metro to Bethesda, Maryland, to check out my lovely little sister's store, lululemon. A cup of lentil soup, another Metro ride, a trip to Whole Foods, and a bus ride later we're at her great new apartment (in which her bedroom is almost as large as her entire last apartment—no joke), snacking and sipping wine (of course) and awaiting the arrival of our parents (whose plane landed just minutes ago).

Stay tuned in the coming days. Should I tear myself from the city for any length of time, I'll share updates on our adventures (and, of course, our gastronomic endeavors—would you expect anything less?).

Until then, try to be good for a few more hours until Santa arrives. And, should he not find a chimney and knock on your door to be let in later tonight, I hope you have better luck opening the door than I did. You see, one year Santa knocked, bearing Christmas goodies, and I couldn't get the deadbolt unlocked. My cries of "Help! Santa's at the door and I can't get it open!" were met with laughter by my family, perhaps because I was in high school at the time. Trust me, it doesn't matter how old you are, when Santa's at the door you can never open it fast enough.

Feliz navidad!


Fighting the Urge to Make More Cookies

Is it possible to turn into a sugar cookie? To wake up one morning and discover your fingers are covered in frosting and you are wearing sprinkles? If so, I'm afraid I may meet such a fate very soon.

That's because the number of Christmas cookies Conservative Boy and I have consumed this week is slightly startling. I was overwhelmed by the piles of cookies we had left after we delivered holiday goodies to friends and family in L-Town, but somehow that overwhelming number of cookies is almost gone. Oops. Funny how that happens.

Now I have to admit I'm growing a bit concerned for our health and our waistlines. (Although, let's be honest here, that probably won't stop either of us from consuming the rest of the sugar cookies when I bring them out of the freezer to frost later tonight.)

So I am trying my darndest not to give in and make these delicious-looking chocolate candy cane cookies I stumbled across in my blog reading today. Can someone please make them and share them with me so I don't spend all my free time for the next couple of days in the kitchen making cookies I shouldn't be eating? Please and thank you.

LED Christmas Lights

If you drive by our house this holiday season, you'll see a pretty row of bluish-white icicle lights along our roofline. These are our new LED Christmas lights, which Conservative Boy so diligently hung a few weekends ago (on one of the coldest days of the month, no less).

He had grand aspirations of decorating our house a la the Griswolds, complete with lots of flashing lights and giant blow-up creatures. But, at least for this year, his attempts at going all out were thwarted after the icicle lights were hung because (a) just stringing the strands across the gutters took the better part of the day, (b) buying all those holiday decorations isn't cheap, (c) did I mention it was cold?

And so for this year at least, all you'll see are our icicle lights.

I must say, however, that I am very proud of Conservative Boy and his purchase of LED lights. I wasn't going to hound him to buy them, but I did mention that the LEDs would be worth the investment. And he heeded my subtle hint and purchased them.

They cast a bluer hue than I would've expected (so they don't quite match the yellow-white lights on our Christmas tree inside), but I can handle that because LED holiday lights consume 75 percent less energy than regular Christmas lights (at least if they're ENERGY STAR ones like ours). Plus they last up to 200,000 hours (almost 10 times as long as regular strings) without burning out or breaking because they do not have moving parts, glass, or filaments. And if one bulb burns out, you don't have to trash the entire string.

You can learn more about LED holiday lights from the U.S. Department of Energy. Oh, and you can decrease your energy usage even more by setting up a light timer like Conservative Boy did—our pretty lights turn on at about 4:45 every day and off around 10, so we don't have to worry about going outside to unplug them each night. (This is particularly nice on days like today, when the temperature outside is -18 with the windchill. Brrrr.)

P.S. Did I mention some of the icicles actually have star-shaped bulbs on the end? Very cool. (Yes, I'm easy to please.)


Cream Puffs

When I would return home from college each Christmas, I would throw a holiday party for all my high school girlfriends. We would get dressed up, and I'd serve some crazy meal I decided to try out (surprise, surprise), complete with dessert and tasty drinks.

Then, when I graduated and my parents moved from my hometown, I started throwing holiday parties in my apartment of the year for my college girlfriends. Unlike in my parents' house, however, I didn't have enough dishes for everyone–let alone enough spots to sit for a formal meal—so I went the finger food route instead.

And one of the things I decided to make was cream puffs. Why not? I thought. I'll be adventurous.

The recipe seemed a bit intimidating—there were all these pointers that were necessary for making what the cookbook writers considered the perfect puffs. But they turned out pretty well despite my limited expertise, so I made them again the next year.

This year we didn't have a Christmas party (no high school or college girlfriends around, sadly), so I mourned the fact that I wouldn't get to make cream puffs this year. And then I just decided to do it anyway. So I did, and served them last Sunday when we hosted Conservative Family Sunday Dinner (yes, we do it every Sunday).

And so, without further ado, I share with you my cream puffs (adapted from the New Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, of course ... I don't create the recipes, I just make them).

The merry ingredients:
1 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
4 eggs
3 c. whipped cream, pudding, or ice cream (I use vanilla pudding)
Powdered sugar or chocolate sauce (optional)

The festive steps:
1. In a medium saucepan combine water, butter, and salt. Bring to boiling.

Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball.

Remove from heat. Cool for 10 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.

(This was after egg number 2, I believe.)

2. Drop 12 heaping tablespoons of dough onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden. Transfer cream puffs to a wire rack; cool.

(This is where my photo-taking failed again, as you'll see—or, rather, won't see.)

3. Cut tops from puffs; remove soft dough from inside. Fill with pudding. Replace tops. If desire (please do), drizzle with chocolate sauce or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Or both. Why not? It's the holidays.

(This is what the cream puffs looked like in 2005, the first year I made them. Tasty tasty. Although even then, I was a pro at taking blurry food photos. Oops.)


Peanut Butter Blossoms

I already covered all the tasty treats that are always on My Family's holiday wish list, but this year I decided to include an additional cookie. Today's guest is a Conservative Boy favorite (in fact, I think these were the first cookies he ever requested that I make for him) and a lovely addition to any plate o' cookies you may be giving away at the holidays.

That's why I made them this year. (That, and because we bought Butter a Kong, we have the world's largest jar of peanut butter. But that's another story for another day.)

And so I present, without further ado, peanut butter blossoms (adapted from The New Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook).

The merry ingredients:
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
Milk chocolate kisses or hearts

The festive steps:
1. Beat shortening and peanut butter with an electric mixer 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping bowl. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla. Beat in as much flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour.

2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in the 1/4 cup granulated sugar. (The sugar is very important. Don't forget it.)

Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into each cookie's center. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Try not to drool over these babies too much.

You can eat one if you want. I won't tell.


Fantasy Fudge

There are four Christmas treats that have made an appearance in my life every year that I can remember—making them is a tradition, whether I'm in the same state as My Family or not.

The first two you've already heard a bit about: candy cane cookies and frosted sugar cookies. The third—caramels—you won't hear about here (at least not this year). They're absolutely divine, but they're one treat I let My Mom take care of (and then I just sample the results when we meet up for the holidays). The fourth treat in the bunch, however, you're going to learn about today: fantasy fudge.

The thing about fantasy fudge is that it doesn't just make an appearance in our family once a year. It stops by twice. The first time is at Thanksgiving. Then it reappears less than a month later for the BIG holiday.

This family tradition, as near as I can remember, began long ago in a place far away (in other words, when I was a little girl and we'd gather for Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house in Montana). The Saturday night after Thanksgiving, My Mom and Auntie L would make fudge, which we'd begin devouring after we ate our pizza (we were big on traditions in those there parts, so it happened the same every year).

We'd put a hurting on the pan Saturday evening, to be sure, and then Grandpa Charlie would do even more damage when he made his way back to it in the middle of the night for his midnight snack. (I know this for a fact because the kids would sleep in the living room and we awoke many a time to catch him standing over the pan, giant pieces of fudge in hand.)

The thing about fudge is that most people don't bother to pass down a recipe from generation to generation. They just look on the back of the marshmallow cream jar. At least that's what we've always done, which worked out splendidly until some nut job started to mess with the recipe. I don't recall when exactly we noticed it, but one year the ingredients list had changed slightly. And then the next it was changed again. These modifications never yielded quite the same fudge we remembered, so after a few years My Mom finally did what any sane 21st-century woman would do: she hunted down the original recipe on the Internet.

And it's a good thing too, because someone keeps changing the darn thing even today. We tried to make a pan of fudge this year in Georgia and the result was less than stellar. Whether this was because the marshmallow cream folks still hadn't gone back to the original recipe or because apparently in Georgia you shouldn't make things like fudge when it's raining, I don't know. All I know is that the classic recipe I now hold in my personal cookbook for posterity makes much better fudge than the impostors the marshmallow cream folks pass off on all of us unsuspecting fudge-makers now.

So, without further ado, I present to you the best fantasy fudge recipe we have yet to try:

The merry ingredients:
3 c. sugar
3/4 c. butter
5 1/3 oz. can evaporated milk (2/3 c.)
12-oz. jar chocolate chips (2 c.)
7-oz. jar marshmallow cream
1 tsp. vanilla

The festive steps:
Bring sugar, butter, and milk to a boil. Boil 5 minutes or to 234 degrees—stir constantly. Stir in remaining ingredients.

(So easy to make, yet somehow also so easy to sugar, so be careful!)

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that my photo-taking during this year's holiday baking was spotty at best? The fudge fell victim to my lack of attention and so I don't have any fudge-making photos to share with you. You'll just have to use your imagination on this one.


Traditional Sugar Cookies

It's day two of the week o' cookie making. Next up: my all-time favorite frosted sugar cookies.

If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one cookie with me, it would have to be these babies. (Although the chocolate toffee cookies I tried recently would be a very close second.) Sugar cookies might taste a little strange with the pina coladas I would undoubtedly be sipping on my desert island, but I could deal with it because they're so darn good. (Wait. You wouldn't be eating sugar cookies and drinking pina coladas while stranded on a desert island? Then what the heck would you be doing?)

Although the sugar cookie and pina colada duo may leave something to be desired, I can attest to the fact that fresh sugar cookies with lots of tasty frosting are about the best thing you could eat with your morning cup of coffee. Trust me, I know. I made sure that recommendation was accurate by trying it two ... OK, you got me ... three times this morning.

OK, OK. So you're sick of my rambling and want the recipe already. I'm more than happy to oblige. Just watch out: Once you start eating these treats, you won't be able to stop.

Traditional Sugar Cookies
Makes approximately 4 dozen 3-inch cookies (which might be enough for your coffee breaks)

The merry ingredients:
3/4 c. shortening (I usually do part softened butter, part shortening)
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

The festive steps:
Mix thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs, flavoring. Blend in flour, baking powder, salt. Cover; chill at least 1 hour. Taste test dough to make sure it's yummy enough.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured cloth-covered board. (In my world, the thicker the dough the better.) Cut into desired shapes.

Place on ungreased baking sheet (again, parchment paper is great). Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until very light brown (in our ancient, super-powered oven, I only bake them for 5 1/2 minutes).

While cookies cool ...

... make vanilla butter frosting. (This recipe makes enough for about a double batch of cookies, so unless you really go overboard with the frosting, you'll want to half this.) Blend 1/3 cup soft butter with 3 cups confectioner's sugar. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and about 2 tablespoons milk; beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency. Then don't forget to add the food coloring!

Now all that's left is the decorating. Have some fun here, folks. And don't forget to "accidentally" break a few as you're frosting. Since you can't give away broken cookies, you'll have to go ahead and eat them. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Just watch out for curious dogs who have a sweet tooth. This fellow seen streaking through the picture here actually spent the majority of my cookie frosting time sitting as close to me as he could get, looking up at the cookies longingly and drooling all over my leg. At one point I actually had to stop frosting to wipe up the puddle of drool on the floor so I didn't slip on it.

Lucky for him, one cookie slipped out of my hand and he got to try it out.

And no, I don't know how he had green frosting matted on his head when we got up this morning. I hope he wasn't stealing cookies while we slept.



Candy Cane Cookies

First up in the cookie cue: Candy Cane Cookies. This recipe originated with My Mom's Mom, and both My Mom and Auntie L still make these cookies for their families every year (sometimes twice). They're a tasty little treat and about as festive-looking as you can get.

The merry ingredients:
1/2 c. butter, softened (note: you can use margarine if you like, but it's real butter all the way in my life, baby)
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. confectioner's sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract (or up the vanilla if you don't have almond on hand)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red food color
1/2 c. crushed peppermint candy
1/2 c. granulated sugar

The festive steps:
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix thoroughly butter, shortening, powdered sugar, egg, flavorings. Blend in flour and salt.

Divide dough in half; blend food color into half.

Make rolls on floured board, twist into candy canes.

Place on ungreased baking sheet. (I use parchment paper. It's terrific.)

Bake about 9 minutes or until set and very light brown. Mix candy and granulated sugar. Immediately sprinkle cookies with mixture (go overboard--plenty of it will fall off) and remove from sheet.

Holiday Baking

One of my favorite parts about the holidays is, of course, all the wonderful treats I get to eat. And share with others. This weekend I was in baking mode, whipping up a whole slew of cookies and other Christmas treats to share with friends and neighbors.

Although I absolutely love trying new recipes (oh, you noticed?), when it comes to Christmas baking I always always always fall back on the old standbys. There's something about those holiday cookies that have been around since childhood. Maybe it's the traditions that have gone into every year's cookie decorating adventure, maybe it's the fact that for some reason the sugar cookie recipe each person grew up with always seems to be the best. Whatever it is, when it comes to Christmas baking I don't leave things up to chance. I go with what I know and love, and hope that whoever I share the baked treats with will feel the same.

This year, I attempted to document my holiday baking to share with you (although, of course, I got distracted and missed photographing a few steps). So, each day this week you can look forward to another recipe direct from My Family's holiday baking archives. (My Mom was making the same recipes this weekend too, only in Wyoming rather than Illinois. It's tradition, I tell ya.)

Enjoy! And happy holiday baking to you.


A New Place to Recycle

If you live in L-Town, get thee to the new recycling center with all your recyclable items.

I went on Wednesday (with one heck of a load of recycling, much to C.B.'s glee) and was impressed with the recycling center, which is sponsored by Good Sam Ministries and located at 1200 N. Postville Drive.

You might already place your cardboard, milk jugs, and cans in the brown bins the city picks up curbside every other week. And maybe you take your recyclables to the big green containers near downtown, where you can dump cardboard and paper, plastic, and aluminum and tin cans. But there's still reason to head to the new recycling center: they take all sorts of treasures, including colored and clear glass, tin, aluminum, chip board, paper, books, corrugated cardboard, ink and toner cartridges, batteries, call phones, and all kinds of plastics except 6PS. Now that's quite a list.

Best of all, even though I understand the recycling center is still a work in progress, it was pretty darn clean and organized as far as these things go. While Christmas music played on the radio, I bopped around dropping my recyclables into the clearly labeled containers that line the walls. Piece of cake. And very worth the trouble.

See, now there's no reason not to recycle if you live in L-Town. My goal is to get to the recycling center often enough that C.B. won't get quite so exasperated with my stockpile of recyclables in the garage. We'll see how that works out.

Oh, and, all you business owners in town, if you have large quantities of recycled goods the folks at Good Sam Ministries will even pick them up. Hurrah!


Understanding Illinois Governors

I am beginning to wonder about the sanity of Illinoisans. And, particularly, about their judgment in picking governors.

The current one, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested this morning. I'm glad, because as long as I've lived in this state (a whole year as of Thanksgiving week!) he has been McShady with a capital "M."

But seriously. If this state doesn't start voting for better governors, the taxpayers are going to have to pay to build a new prison just to hold all of the exes.

(OK. I won't totally blame it on the voters. But c'mon. Maybe now we can try to find some fine, upstanding citizens to run. That's not an oxymoron when it comes to politicians, is it?)


Shockin' Folks

I am feeling rather mischievous this lovely Saturday morning, as I sit here in my PJs and contemplate a long weekend of paper writing and portfolio grading. And so to give into my urge to cause some trouble, I am thinking of buying one of these to take to the grocery store here in L-Town, just for the shock value.

A year into life in L-Town, people are used to my reusable shopping bags, so I think it might be time to mix things up.

What do you think? Will I get folks riled up at the good ol' IGA? Muahahaha. (That's my evil liberal laugh, in case you were wondering.)

Come on people, go buy one. The funds support the DNC. I'm sure that will convince you.

Enjoy the weekend!


Saying No to Strays

Please forgive me for the random, wacky flavor of my posts recently. Prepare for that tune to continue for the next couple of weeks. That's what happens when it's Christmastime (I love the holidays) and when I have a ridiculous amount of grading and paper-writing to do (so of course I don't want to do any). And when the teaching and the taking of classes is done? Then you really should watch out, because all hell could break loose over here. (OK. Not really. I'll probably just sleep, cook, and clean. But it sounds like fun, right?)

The random topic of today's post is stray pets.

You see, for some strange reason Conservative Boy regularly checks out the Adopt a Pet link on the Lincoln Daily News website. It showcases pictures of pets that have been taken to or found by Logan County Animal Control, which is where this sweet fellow came from:

(Don't look so puzzled, Butter. You remember that place!)

So anyway. We had great luck rescuing a dog from animal control. But why Conservative Boy continues to look at the doggies listed I haven't figured out yet. And I also haven't figured out yet why he would even think about coming home and telling me I should look at the Adopt a Pet page. Doesn't he know by now that I have turned into a crazy dog lover? And when crazy dog lovers are around there's no telling what they will do?

One day he came home and told me there was a bulldog on there. A bulldog! I love bulldogs, so of course I was thisclose to going and picking him up. I said if he was still there the next day, I would. But, fortunately, the next day he was gone. Whew.

Then yesterday Conservative Boy came home yet again and told me to look at the Adopt a Pet page because Butter's girlfriend was on there. Sure enough. Hello, adorable yellow lab named Summer. I love you and want to bring you home. Except I got even more distracted by the puppies shown above her ... the ones that said "urgent" in red letters under their names. Now, I don't know much, but I have an inkling this isn't a good sign. (Also, Conservative Boy confirmed the fact. And he would not distress me so if it wasn't true.)

You have no idea how much restraint it is taking for me not to go and rescue all three of them. And the really adorable beagle/lab mix while I'm at it, who is not urgent yet and hopefully never will be.

Please somebody go save these dogs! Because I don't know if we have room for another big dog here yet. At least not until we have a fenced-in backyard. (Because putting a doggie on a chain that's frozen to the back step is quite challenging, I discovered the other night.)

So, like I said, go rescue them! Pleeeeeaaaaasssssse.

And then when we do have a fenced-in backyard? Somebody might want to block the Adopt a Pet link from my computers, or we'll have a doggie zoo.

A New Planner

I know, it's not January yet. And I know, I'm a bit of a freak for being this pumped about a planner, for heaven's sake. But I'm a bit OCD and a bit of a ... um ... planner myself (sorry, there was no other way to say it). And so I am ridiculously excited about this:

It's my new 2009 planner from Sarah Pinto, which arrived in the mail last week.

I decided that since I switch between publishing and teaching and student-ing (yes, I know that is not a word ... I'm having one of those days) so often, that I should downsize to one that I can toss from bag to bag easily.

Isn't it lovely? And, even better, it's made with soy-based inks and recycled paper. Ooh la la. And the profits from some of the planners go to great causes, like a pediatric cardiology center.

Now go buy one now. Or send a link to Santa Claus. This fellow is the perfect size for a stocking. Ahem. Not that I bought one for anyone or anything.

Letting Butter Talk

You know what, Julie? I love my house.

I love it I love it I love it.


Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Toffee Cookies

When I first saw the photographs of these cookies on one of my most favorite foodie blogs, I drooled so much I thought I was going to have to go buy a new keyboard.

Fortunately, I didn't have to. So instead I spent my money on a pound of Baker's chocolate.

And five Heath bars. And a few other ingredients. In order to try these cookies out myself.

And boy oh boy am I glad I did. They're heaven. They will be made again. As soon as I eat all of the first batch, that is. And finish scraping the chocolate from round one off of my double broiler (apparently I was a bit too excited about the cookies and did a terrible job with the after-baking cleanup).

But don't take these painful attempts at photos as the gospel. See for yourself by taking a peek at the recipe and accompanying photos here. Smitten Kitchen's photos make mine look like what they are (amateurish) and will have you rushing to the store for ingredients in no time. Or to my house in order to steal a cookie before they're all gone. Hurry. You have less than 24 hours.

(And yes, I know I should have been doing homework when I baked these the other night. But I'm going through baking withdrawals! Major papers can wait.)

A Top-Secret Target Shopping Tip

In the spirit of holiday shopping season, I had to share this great pointer I just learned from Apartment Therapy Los Angeles:

Full prices at Target stores end in 9. When they discount, the final digit of the price drops. When the final digit is a 4, that's as low as it can go. So if you see something you want and the price ends in 4, buy it! That's the best deal you're going to get.

(I haven't checked it out yet but plan to the next time I make a Target excursion.)


Mourning Another Green Mag

This makes me sad. Very sad. Another green magazine—one of the few helpful, hardworking, real-world green pubs out there—has bitten the dust.

And, sadder still, it's from one of my favorite publishing companies, National Geographic.

Yep, that's right, The Green Guide bit the dust.

National Geographic says they're going to focus on the website content instead. It's a tune those of us in the publishing industry have heard a lot lately.

Not only am I mourning the fact that the magazine is gone (before I could even read the most current issue!), I'm also bummed because I had a whole list of stories I was planning to pitch to them once I finished my grad classes. Sigh.


A Week With the King

Full disclosure: I miss my Butter. I can't wait to get back to him, even though I won't get to see him until we pick him up from the pet motel Monday afternoon. (Nicely bathed and clipped, of course.)

I can't help it. I'm such a dog person now it's ridiculous. And I'm going through Butter withdrawals.

But, fortunately, there's a fellow here in Georgia with us that is saving me from my doggy despair. And no, it's not Conservative Boy. He'd just make fun of my doggy despair.

It's King Walker.

Isn't he a beautiful boy? He came down to Reynolds with Conservative Dad last week and was here to greet us when we arrived Monday night.

He's been very good, except for the time or two he attempted to escape because he's not accustomed to the fact he just can't run out the door into the yard.

Oh, and did I mention he's a doggy model? I did not do anything to get him to pose for these photos. I swear.

Actually, I tried to take Walker's photo in the kitchen, and he ran away. I thought he didn't like the paparazzi, until I followed him and discovered he just wanted to show his best side. He jumped up on his parents' bed and proceeded to pose. Like this.

And pose. Like this.

Lovely, isn't he?

(Butter, don't get jealous. I still love you more. Promise.)


Thanksgiving at Reynolds

This Thanksgiving, we left L-Town behind in favor of a new, warmer location: Reynolds Landing in the Lake Oconee area of Georgia. It's where Conservative Dad and Conservative Mom recently purchased a lovely vacation home and where My Mom and My Dad actually purchased their future retirement condo too. (Entirely independently of one another ... crazy, isn't it?)

So here we are—my parents, Conservative Boy's immediate family, and Kid Sister's honey—having a lovely time. Last night we gorged ourselves on way too much Thankgiving dinner (including something you absolutely must try should you ever visit the area: buttermilk pie ... it's indescribable). We've also done quite a bit of relaxing. And, of course, golfing.

That's why, without further ado, I present some scenes from my round at Reynolds Landing (don't ask about the score though ... I was rusty).

The green of hole #2 and hole #3 (and a peek at the lake):

Looking back up hole #4 (and My Dad!):

The green on #14:

Happy Day After Thanksgiving!


The Field Museum

Last weekend Conservative Boy had a school board convention in Chicago (go ahead and laugh at the fact he's on the school board; I still do). So I made a quick trip to the big city for some fine dining and a trip to the Field Museum, which I'd never been to but had been dying to go to since, oh, I can remember.

The main reason I wanted to go? So Sue and I could meet again.

And we did.

Sue is the largest T-Rex ever discovered, and she occupies a prime spot in The Field Museum. But prior to taking up residence at the museum, she spent a loooong time in the ground near Faith, South Dakota. And that's where she was the last time I met her: In pieces, as she was being excavated. I was in elementary school at the time and met Sue on a SOAR field trip. And years later, when she appeared at the Field Museum, I knew I had to go see her again. But I didn't have the chance to, until last weekend.

You might laugh when I say this, since she is the largest T-Rex ever discovered, but I thought Sue would be bigger. I guess those massive bones seemed a lot larger when I was in, oh, fourth grade or whenever it was that we last met.

But she is pretty massive, isn't she?