Monday, December 20, 2010

The SECOND Best Picture of the Christmas Season

I love to have my younger grand kids over weekly for Grandma day.  The first day they came over after all the Christmas decorations were up, I took them around and we put red stickers on the decorations they couldn't play with and green stickers on the ones they could play with.  One of the "green sticker" decorations that they can play with is a small Santa that reads the book, "The Night Before Christmas" in it's entirety.  His mouth moves and his eyes look around as he is reading. 
After lunch this same day, I was cleaning up and the kids were exploring.  I stopped briefly to check on them and I found the 3 older kids, Mr. C, Miss S and Miss E, laying on their tummies listening to Santa read the story.  It was the perfect picture so I ran as fast as I could to get the camera but by the time I got back the 2 girls had moved, but it was still a cute picture.

I took it quickly before they moved anymore and Mr. C was surprised by me taking the picture.  The girls didn't even notice they were so involved in the story. 

It was so cute I just wanted to share it with you all.  Here are a few others of them trying on the Santa hats that I have for them to play with.  Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy 235th Birthday to Jane Austen!!!

 Jane Austen-born December 16, 1775
Tomorrow marks the 235th Birthday of Jane Austen. She is one of the world’s greatest, and most well known authors. For the past few years, I have been commemorating her birthday by having a Jane Austen birthday tea party, either on or near her birth date. Since I have my grandkids come over on Thursdays to play, I instead held my "tea party" today.

I invite die hard “Jane Austen” fans. They don’t necessarily have to have read her books, but if they love the movies made from her books, that is just as good. I do have 2-3 friends whom I invite that I label as “people I’m trying to convert to Jane”, and they know who they are…ahem…Marie and Tammy… (I don't need to say anymore about them, but one day we will get them to convert!). This event is just a fun time to sit and talk with other Jane enthusiasts about her books.

For today’s menu I offered an assortment of herbal teas, the most popular being the Almond Sunset and Berry Berry flavors, based on the comments that I heard. I also had Chicken Salad, Egg Salad, and Cucumber Sandwiches; strawberries, tea scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, or fruit preserves to put on top of the sweet scones.
Leslie, Kathy, Susan, Emily, Ora, Alicia, and Anita

Melissa, Alicia, Jennifer, Sheli, Me (with the goofey hat), Dorothy, and Tiffany

Nancy, Theresa, Caroline, Kathy, Kathy, Leslie, and Joan

Dorothy, Tiffany, Marie (taking a picture of me taking a picture...too weird), and Sheli

Jennifer, Alicia, Melissa, Anita, and Ora

I just know Marie secretly wants my JA action figure!!!

The desserts were lemon cake cookies, banana spice cookies, cream wafers, caramel shortbread cookies, and sugar cake (from a mix I picked up in a bakery in Old Salem, North Carolina).

I decorated the tables with sayings and excerpts of her books and letters. I had a stack of questions on each table for those who wanted to see how well they knew her books. I even had my “Pride and Prejudice” board game out but no one wanted to play with me. My Jane Austen action figures were the best part of the table decorations along with flowers potted in tea cups.  (Yes, I am over the top!)

I also got a new dress for the party (Thanks Wendy!!!). I love dressing up and this is probably the “real” reason I have a tea party, so I have an excuse to dress up once a year. We really had a very nice lunch and being able to have it this year outside was a real treat (75 degrees)!!! I love the winters in Arizona!!!
Me, in my new dress, trying to convert Marie!

Thank you to all my friends and Jane Austen fans for humoring me!!! And THANKS to Jane Austen for making our lives richer because of her amazing books!!! By the way, my favorite book of Jane's is Persuasion, and my favorite character is Anne Elliot (just in case anyone was wondering).

BBC's latest production of Persuasion...AWWW Rupert Penry Jones as Capt. Wentworth!!!!

This is my favorite movie version of the book!

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

---Jane Austen

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Show Off Our State To Your Out Of Town Christmas Company

With the down-turn in the economy, many families may be staying home for the holidays or entertaining company. I wanted to share some of my favorite places in AZ to show off or to enjoy yourselves. We have the most amazing state with many things to see and do and at reasonable prices.
I will start with one of our family favorites. Start early in the day and head north on highway 87 towards the Payson area. Continue north to Tonto Natural Bridge.

Tonto Natural Bridge is an amazingly beautiful spot that changes with the seasons. In the spring there is a lot of water running through it and it may be difficult to get too far into the opening, but later in the summer when the runoff has slowed, there are several routes you can take into the bridge.

On hot days the water can be refreshing. The falls and the bridge are beautiful and the hike to reach them is not long at all and quite easy.

After spending as much time at the bridge as you would like, get back into the car for the next adventure. Continue north until you come to highway 260 and head west on it until you come to interstate 17. Turn north as if heading to Flagstaff but instead, take the Sedona turn off. By now you may be getting hungry for lunch and if you planned a picnic there are many beautiful spots to stop to eat, or stop at “Jose’s Café” just as you are coming into Oak Creek Village. It is a great café that serves yummy breakfasts all day, or get great sandwich or burger.

After stopping for lunch, head on up into Sedona and at the main round about in town, go to the right and head on up into Oak Creek Canyon to Slide Rock State Park.

Slide Rock State Park can get pretty busy in the summer but it is a lot of fun for the kids to swim and slide in the natural setting. There are plenty of shallow areas for little ones. Again, here there is more water flowing in the spring and early summer than later in the year so bring your swim suits along if you are going in the summer time and have some fun cooling off.

Now from Slide Rock you can either head back home to Mesa if you just want a day trip, or find a hotel in the area and stay the night. Hotel prices will be higher in Sedona, but there is Oak Creek Village or Cottonwood that has more reasonable rates and both very close by.

Day two: Spend the morning in east Sedona visiting the shops and galleries. The scenery is breathtaking. Sedona is really one of the most beautiful spots in Arizona but also one of the most expensive, so just look. Save your money for later. There are also many trails to hike if your family enjoys that. After spending the morning in Sedona, drive over to the west side of town and continue out of town on highway 89A towards Cottonwood. When you get to Cottonwood, follow the signs to Tuzigoot National Monument. It is only about 10-15 minutes from Cottonwood.

Tuzigoot National Monument are some great Native American ruins. My kids used to call it the original condominium complex because that is what it looks like. The prices are $5 per person, kids under 16 are free. They are open from 8-6 daily.
This is an interesting and quick site to visit. The kids will have a great time exploring. Then back in the car and follow the signs to my favorite spot in all of this beautiful state.

Jerome is an old mining town that in the past 20 years has had a rejuvenation as a spot to visit. You can spend a few days here or a few hours. Here is where you will find everything you wanted to buy in Sedona but at half to a third less expensive. There are galleries, museums, fun shops and many markers around town to read and learn about the history of the town. Unfortunately, I read that due to budget cuts, the Jerome State Park is temporarily closed which is too bad because it is a great little museum with many historical treasures from Jerome’s past heyday.

You will still want to drive over to it so you can get a great view of the town from a distance. You will want to walk through the streets, from the former red light district to the main street and on up the hill to the asylum.

You will have fun learning about all the ghosts that inhabit the homes and streets and see the city jail that has slid down the hill over 200 feet from it’s original site. My kids have always enjoyed visiting this town. There are several good restaurants also. Then it is time to head back to Mesa, or stay in one of the great B&B’s in Jerome. For less expensive hotels, go back down the hill to Cottonwood or Clarkdale if you are going to spend more than one day in Jerome. I hope this has got you excited to start your adventures here in Arizona.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Belgium “Belgian Waffles” are better than American “Belgian Waffles”!

In America when you hear the words “Belgium Waffles” we think of breakfast, but I learned what a real Belgium Waffles was when I visited Bruges (or Brugge), Belgium this summer. There it means dessert! It is the most wonderful dessert. So delicious that we had one everyday that we were there! You could pick various toppings, but maple syrup wasn’t even a choice, thank goodness.

Once we got home, I started craving the Belgium waffles that we had had on our trip so I began to scour the internet for a recipe that was close to it and I finally found it. I tested it on the family one night for dessert and they all loved them. I had 3 topping available, powdered sugar, strawberries and whipped cream, and the last was a creamy topping like peanut butter but made of crushed up biscoff cookies. I can’t remember what it is called, but it was delicious!

I want to share the recipe with you and I hope you all try it for a new dessert some time. Here it is:

Belgian Waffle Recipe
For a Basic Belgian Waffle recipe we will need:
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant dried yeast
4 medium eggs
whole milk
two sticks butter
vanilla sugar
some salt

1. Take a cup of milk and heat it until it is lukewarm then mix in your yeast. You can now leave the yeast standing for a while.
2. In the mean time – melt the butter, but stop as soon as it melts, don’t over heat it or even burn it – you will lose the taste. You also need to...
3. ...separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the egg whites until you get snow.
4. Now take a big giant huge bowl and throw in all the flour, vanilla sugar (one tablespoon) and some salt. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and fill it with melted butter, dissolved yeast and egg yolk.
5. Mix while you are adding milk. You should mix it really well so there are no lumps. The question you might ask here is how dense should the dough be, how much milk? It should be thick, think pancakes and then make it a bit thicker.
6. OK, now gently mix the beaten egg whites into the dough…and…STOP! Enough mixing :).
7. Leave the dough to rest and rise at room temperature for a while until the volume of the dough doubles or even triples! If you are in a hurry then wait for 30 minutes to one hour, but if you can, make the waffle dough in the evening and leave it overnight.
8. Use the oil to grease the waffle iron (which should be hot hot hot) so your waffles don't stick to it and pour the dough in it. Bake them until they turn golden brown.
9. Eat!
***As I mentioned above, we tried it at home with the 3 toppings mentioned. I hope you like it!

I found these instructions for making vanilla sugar also:

Vanilla sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, whole or scraped
• 2 cups granulated sugar
If vanilla bean is whole, slice down side of bean with back of knife and scrape seeds into airtight container with the sugar. Bury bean in sugar and seal tightly with lid. Let sit for 1 to 2 weeks. Use as regular, granulated sugar.

To make vanilla sugar with vanilla extract:


1 teaspoon vanilla extract ( to make it yourself see homemade vanilla extract)
1 cup of granulated sugar (any kind : white sugar or sugarcane)
Mix the vanilla extract with the sugar, that's it!