Month: November 2017

Economical Christmas Traditions

Economical Christmas Traditions

We have many traditions throughout the year. December is no exception. Our Christmas traditions begin on December 1st and continue until the big day. The first of these traditions is the changing of the dishes.

Spode China

Many Christmases ago I was given Spode Christmas Tree china. Instead of just bringing out the china for the big day, I bring the dishes out December 1st. Therefore, my regular dishes are put up for the month and the Spode fills the cabinet. Thus instead of special Christmas plates enjoyed once a year, they are utilized 31 days. Since the dishes were a gift, my direct cost is zero. However, they were not free-someone in my family paid good money. Since I reuse them each year, the average life time cost continues to decrease. Durable gifts/decorations like the Spode Christmas Tree plates are a great value over time. I have had the pleasure of using mine for over twenty years.

Bucilla Stockings

Another of my favorite Christmas Traditions is the hanging of the stockings. We do not have a fireplace, so I hang them on a half wall at the front entrance. My grandmother made my stocking. She also made one for my husband and gave it to him the first year we were married.
Once I started having kids, the tradition passed on to my mother. She made each grandchild a stocking. As you can see from the pictures, each has a different design. Since I do not have grandchildren, I have not made any.

Research over the Internet repeatedly brings up Bucilla Felt stockings available for sale through numerous retail avenues. However, I could find very little history of the company and no direct links. If you are interested in making a Bucilla stocking ask your local craft or sewing store if they carry the kits. Most of the stocking kits I found listed on-line were under $30.00. Again, spreading the cost out over the years yield a very economical Christmas tradition.

Holiday Decorations

Outdoor decorations are wreaths on the doors. This is one of the few expenses of the season. I buy a fresh evergreen wreaths from one of the local youth fundraisers. Sometimes I buy from the Boy Scouts and sometimes from the high school. In each case I feel the money is well spent.

Indoor decorations are treasured family heirlooms. Nativity sets and ornaments which have been in the family for generations are on display. Some of the nativity sets are kid friendly so they can reenact the story. Others are displayed atop the china cabinet. Most of the kid friendly nativities were found at auctions or yard sales.

Many of the ornaments were acquired through another of our Christmas traditions. Each year I would take the kids downtown and they were allowed to pick out one ornament. I always looked forward to that Thursday night of ornament shopping. It truly is the one thing I dislike about being an empty-nester.

I love the holidays and have many Christmas Traditions. Most do not involve spending large amounts of money. Please feel free to share some of your favorite traditions.

Sampling San Diego

On a recent trip to San Diego my visit lasted about 60 hours. But I sampled a lot of great food during the allotted time. The Gas Lamp District was the first stop. One of the best things about the city is the climate. Even in November, outside seating is pleasant. The Gas Lamp District of San Diego has numerous establishments allowing the chance to dine alfresco. Parking is tough but when driving, opt for a city parking lot at the edge of the district.

Gas Lamp District

My favorite neighborhood bar is appropriately named The Neighborhood Bar. Although a change in chefs had occurred since the last visit, the pub maintains its friendly vibe. In addition to the patio tables, large sections of the exterior walls open up giving the inside tables an airy atmosphere. Further, the bar top extends to a two seat high top table on the sidewalk. Only once have I been able to score this spot. A large selection of tap beers is a draw and wine drinkers should have no trouble finding something to their liking. The menu is now burger based. Opting for appetizers, a dozen muscles were ordered before heading down the street for the main meal.

The center of the district is a short stroll away. Living in the center of the country, fresh seafood is a treat. But I also love Italian. Fortunately, San Diego offers a number of restaurants that combine the two. Chianti is one of these establishments. Halibut and salmon were complemented by grilled vegetables, polenta, risotto and an additional side order of pasta with traditional red sauce. This was my first visit to Chianti and I was happy.  The couple at the next table were sharing the lasagna. It looked fantastic. They said it was their favorite and they ordered it whenever they visited San Diego. A highlight was watching the moon rise while having dinner and people watching. If you don’t like cannoli, you have the option of crossing the street to Ghirardelli’s famous for both chocolate and ice cream.

Torrey Pines

A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines served a great meal the second night. A gorgeous sunset as you can see in the photoSunset over ocean provided a backdrop for dining. The large group I was with sampled pretty much the entire menu. Seafood ranged from Alaskan Halibut to Hawaiian Snapper. Roast Chicken and Seared Duck along with Prime Rib were other choices. I enjoyed the Apple Wood Smoked Niman Ranch Pork Chop with grilled vegetables. My favorite wine, Caymus Cabernet provided a nice finish to the meal.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego was the dinner destination on the third night of the visit. Unlike the previous nights, a lengthy wait for dinner occurred. Casa De Reyes is very popular. The large courtyard restaurant is surrounded by shops with numerous types of items. Olive oils, salsa and chocolate are just a few of the food items. You can watch while they make the fresh tortillas used at the restaurant. Items celebrating The Day of the Dead are also sold around the courtyard. Live musical entertainment in the center of the courtyard helps pass the time as well.

The food is worth the wait. The Reyes Appetizer Platter will spoil your appetite if your group is small, but it is amazing. The fresh corn and flour tortillas highlight the many varieties of burritos, enchiladas and soft shell tacos. If you like your food spicy just ask for their extra spicy hot sauce. I prefer tea to tequila but I saw plenty of margaritas served in the restaurant, some jumbo sized. However, the atmosphere was very family friendly. I had never visited Old Town before and I really enjoyed it. Plans are to go back in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this sampling of San Diego area eateries. While some places I visit one time, San Diego is a repeater. So if you have a favorite restaurant in San Diego, please share in the comments below. I would love to sample a new place on my next trip.

We Band of Angels

We Band of Angels Book Review 

While my favorite source for reading material is my local public library, it is by no means my only source. I also frequent book sales and used book stores. One of these was my source for the book We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. This is a well written and documented history of female nurses trapped in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II.

Quite a few things stand out after reading Elizabeth M. Norman’s We Band of Angels. First, the incredible hardship faced by the nurses, troops and others caught by the Japanese. Even though all the nurses survived, they endured much. Shortly after their bases were bombed, the nurses followed the troops into the jungle. They struggled to operate in the war theatre. Bombs were not just nearby but also hit the makeshift hospitals. As the military retreated, so did the nurses. Eventually, the Americans surrendered.

We Band of Angels: Prisoners of War

Second, the survival after surrender stemmed in great part by the discipline and organization of the commanding officers. The nurses ended up spread apart as P.O.W’s (Prisoners of War). The majority spent over three years living in Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manilla. In addition to manning the camp hospital, nurses sewed and worked plots of garden. Before liberation, all internees were living on well under 1000 calories a day. One meal served per day. Scurvy and beriberi led the malnutrition diseases. But a host of maladies from measles to dysentery to whooping-cough took a toll as well. The nurses, weak themselves from hunger, stayed on the job.

Finally, the appreciation by the nurses of a sunset or the stars resonated with me. Throughout unfathomable conditions this appreciation of nature kept many going. Material goods were gone, they were all starving and sick but they still appreciated the wonders of the Earth. In fact, the natural wonders may have kept them sane.

Contrast in Treatment

The contrast between the internment camps run by the Japanese and my knowledge of both Relocation Centers and the handful of U.S. based P.O.W camps is stark. Admittedly, the relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to interior camps is not parallel. The nurses depicted in Norman’s We Band of Angels were caught behind enemy lines. The thousands of Japanese Americans interned were taken from their homes, American homes. The situation with the mostly German P.O.W.s is a more direct comparison. But in both the case of relocation and the enemy soldiers, neither group faced starvation. In fact in some cases individuals were granted day passes to leave the camps. Furthermore, the internees of Camp Amache outside of Granada, Colorado produced a surplus of food.

National Museum

A few years ago I spent a few hours in the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. This museum is one of the best in the country. When I return to New Orleans in March I plan to revisit the museum and discover more information about the nurses in We Band of Angels. Elizabeth M. Norman did an excellent job of piquing my interest in this chapter of military history. If you would like to read the book, it has recently been reprinted and can be found through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.


Garage Door Update

Garage Door Update

Between the travel and the weather, the home projects are tough to complete. I am happy to give a garage door update. Both doors are finished. Or should I say refinished.

Work on the single door occurred in late September. Since then I have travelled to both coasts and states in between. Weather also delayed things. Ideally temperatures should be in the 70s for staining. As November rolled on, I began to think I would have mismatched doors for the winter.

However the third week of the month turned uncharacteristically warm. I did have a planned trip back to Kentucky so the race was on to see if I could strip, sand, stain and varnish in the allotted six and a half days. I made it!

The challenge was great. This time I was working on the double door. That is twice as much surface area to work on. Also I learned from some of my earlier mistakes.

Taping the door took quite a bit of time. On the single door I left the tape on the windows throughout. This left a sticky residue. So this time I removed the tape from the windows after each step and the tape from other areas after the staining. No residue is evident anywhere.

Because the wind kicked up on two days, I worked occasionally with the doors partway up. This may have caused a problem with the mechanism. The door is now off kilter and we are waiting for the installers to come adjust it.

This has happened before so it may not be related. I love my wood doors but the heavy weight has caused problems with the double door. My recommendation to anyone would be to use them only if all your doors are singles.

The garage door update is related to an earlier post. If you are a new reader you can click here for the initial report. I am a DIY individual. The money saved on this project was considerable. But the main reason I refinished for a garage door update was the inability to find someone willing to do the work.

If you are a young person out there struggling to find work, look around. Many skilled labor jobs are going unfilled. Ten years from now I may not be in shape to do another garage door update. I hope someone can be found to do the work then.


The Gatekeepers-How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

The Gatekeepers- Book Review

In mid-October I happened upon a press conference where John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, made his first statements. He made quite an impression on me. Shortly thereafter I spotted The Gatekeepers-How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency on a relative’s coffee table. I borrowed the book.

Kelly soon after ran into a maelstrom of controversy. As an outsider looking in, I believe much of the trouble stems from the great political divide our country is currently facing. The Gatekeepers provides a history of the Chiefs of Staff from President Nixon forward. However, reading the book also gave me a sense that the current divide in our country is nothing new.

Chris Whipple

Chris WhippleCover of The Gatekeepers, the author of The Gatekeepers, provides evidence of the importance of the non-elected, non-Congressionally approved White House Chief of Staff. He iterates his opinion a need by President Trump to have a strong honest broker as Chief in order to stave off disaster. Whipple’s historical accounting demonstrates how Chiefs can make or break a presidency.

The Gatekeepers is fascinating. The view of the White House from the inside provides a different perspective on the historical events of the last fifty years. But the account meshes with personal recollections.

Whipple treats each administration fairly. Strengths and weaknesses of the Gatekeepers and the Presidents are presented. The discussion centers on how the interaction of the principles weighed greatly on defining each presidency.

Most of the administrations started on shaky ground. Some Presidents attempted the spokes in the wheel approach where they themselves tried to act as a gatekeeper. Others gave little power to the Chief of Staff. In a few cases the Chief wielded too much power.

Students of history will find The Gatekeepers compelling. Whipple posits the success of a presidency depends more on the organization of the administration and less on the individual. The intellect does not always prevail. For example, historians perceive the Carter Administration as an ineffective one. Yet President Carter himself is considered to be one of the most intelligent presidents of the last fifty years.

The inside scoop Whipple provides helps the reader understand why some administrations are more successful than others. Each administration faces crisis. How those events are handled says much about the Chief of Staff. But the gatekeeper has just as important role in the interaction with Capitol Hill.

Understanding Washington D.C.

The individual serving as the Chief of Staff needs the political knowledge of how Washington D.C. works. Even though President Obama was an outsider, his first Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel was not. The book gives much credit to some of the early successes of the Obama Administration to Emmanuel and his ability to both work with Congress and organize the White House.

Through the years, individuals serving as the gatekeeper without the understanding of how Washington politics worked did not fare well. But there was also a need for organization. The administrations without an organized White House were chaotic and ineffective. The key role of the Chief of Staff is the running of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Everyone wants time with the President. Many want to be the last voice heard before a decision is made. In some administrations that last voice was the Chief of Staff.

The Gatekeepers is a well written historical document explaining the importance of the Chief of Staff. Whipple clearly shows how administrations with strong gatekeepers have more success than those without. The take away is a message for the current administration.

Like many before, the Trump administration has already had turnover in this critical position. Reince Priebus lasted six months. John Kelly did impress in his first two months. The organization of the White House precipitated any public message. Kelly’s first press conference was well received. It is unfortunate that controversy soon followed.

This is a difficult time for the country. The divisions are great. Historical perspectives are beneficial. The Gatekeepers provides this perspective. This book is well worth the time spent reading. Consider reading it yourself or giving a copy to your favorite history buff.


Fall Clean-Up Time: Organization Tips and Tricks

Organization Tips and Tricks

It is officially fall here on the High Plains. Sleet has ushered in the days of staying inside. I prefer to spend my mornings in the garden, but this is the time of year to reclaim the house! Today I am going to share some organization tips and tricks to keep things uncluttered.

Junk Drawers

Clutter comes in many forms. Junk drawers are famous for holding clutter. I confess I have more than one junk drawer. The one in the kitchen is reorganized most often. As you can see from the top right picture, it is time to do that again.Kitchen junk drawer

I believe completely emptying the drawer is the best way to start. This also gives you a chance to wipe the drawer clean of dust bunnies. As the photo on the left shows, the contents of the drawer are better viewed when spread out on a table or countertop. The amount of junk is amazing.Junk Drawer Emptied

Identifying trash is not easy. Some items which may seem like trash to others might have sentimental value. For example, wine corks or even the outside foil of the wine bottle may have personal significance. In this case, you need to have a plan. Can the items be displayed as a keepsake? Many people collect corks to display. In my case however, they will go into the compost pile.

Some things simply need to return to their designated home. I keep batteries in another place, so the package I found has been returned to its rightful place. A place for everything and everything in its place is a good motto.

Items that stay in the drawer are separated in two categories. The small articles are placed in baggies, either snack size or quart size. I use baggies I have previously used and washed out. The larger items are placed directly in the drawer. The lower right photo shows great improvement.Organization achieved

Bedroom Closet Organization Tips and Tricks

The bedroom closet is next on the list for reorganization. I use two key organization tips and tricks I in my closet. Now that cold weather is here, I group all the summer outfits and move them to the back of the closet. Next are items that can be layered. Then I place cold-weathered items up front where they can easily be reached. This is reversed in the spring.Hangers facing two ways

Second, at the beginning of each year, I turn all the hangers in my closet backwards. By the fall the majority of the hangers have changed position. Those hangers still hanging backwards represent outfits that I have not worn in ten months. Most of these outfits are placed in a bag to find a new home at the rummage shop. Again, sentimentality can intrude. Once more, organization tips and tricks can help with this.

One Thing In One Thing Out

Recently, we implemented a one thing in one thing out rule. For every item purchased or gifted, another item needs to leave the house. This simple rule is helping reduce clutter. Since it is unlikely we will ever move again we need to address clutter creep. In the past, moving equaled purging. Staying in one place means a huge build up in items.

Now, before I buy something, I think about what can leave the house in place of the new item. Sentiment can give way easier if you keep this in mind. There is some flexibility. A new dress does not mean an old one must be deleted, just some item.

Charitable organizations reap the benefits from this organization trick. Books are donated to the public library, clothing to the rummage store and other items to the church yard sale. Thus my organization tips and tricks benefit the community and remove clutter from the house.

Progress is reached in the closet and the kitchen. If anyone has any tips or tricks for the laundry room please share. That small space is next on the list!


The Good Daughter Book Review

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter is riveting. I could hardly put it down. Action, drama, crime, and mystery combine with love. Love for family, father-daughter, husband –wife. This book has it all. One of the best reads of the year. Some of the plot I could easily see but the tears flowed anyway.

Two Good Daughters

Charlotte (Charlie) Quinn is the Good Daughter. But her sister Samantha (Sam) in her own way is equally good. The novel opens with the two sisters struggling to pass a baton. Their mother is coaching them. A picture is painted quickly of a family, normal, nosy and loving. An intellectual mom married to a lawyer who defends the lowest of the lowlife. Both involved parents.

Then disaster strikes. The fire-bombing of their house pales in comparison to the murder and rampage that follow. The sisters manage to survive their physical injuries. But neither has fully healed psychologically.

Much of the story takes place twenty years after the opening scene. Charlie, the good daughter, shares a law office with her Dad. But not his practice. She has separated from her husband of 20 years. An ill-timed one night stand lands her back into disaster. Afterwards, she lands in the middle of a school shooting while retrieving her phone from the guy she hooked up with.

The new horror opens old wounds. Ben Bernard, the estranged husband as well as the assistant district attorney reaches out to Sam. He knows Charlie needs support. The two sisters have not spoken in decades. But Sam out of a sense of duty, arrives on the scene.

Gender-Based Violence

The plot line is well written. As the storyline unfolds, everything falls into place. The tale itself is full of violence. Violence against women lies at the heart of the book. Organizations such as Zonta International, AAUW and UN Women raise awareness every November against this type of violence with their 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. If you know, or have been a victim of such aggression, The Good Daughter may be tough to read.

Slaughter wrote with enough foreshadowing so the reader becomes wrapped up in the characters. Both Charlie and Sam are survivors. Even though their mother dies, she lives on through her teachings. Charlie carries the emotional scars and Sam bears the physical ones. Neither sister realizes what the other has experienced.

The school shooting triggers the reunion and the flashbacks. Both sisters are lawyers like their father. The three family members team up to defend the accused shooter, a young girl from a disadvantaged background.

The Good Daughter Redemption

The latter part of The Good Daughter focuses on forgiveness and above all love. Somehow Karin Slaughter infuses the characters in such a way you feel like you know them. Sibling rivalry is evident. But so is the familial love. Slaughter leaves you upbeat, which is hard considering the amount of violence in the story.

I am sure The Good Daughter will make my top ten list for books read in 2017. However, anyone with personal experience of this gender-based violence may not be able to handle some of the story. The power of the story comes from the love established among the Quinn family. The strength of the women is compelling. Please consider putting The Good Daughter on your reading list.

The Good Daughter



Econogal’s Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins

High cholesterol runs in the family. There are many drugs on the market to address this health problem. But, a heart healthy diet can be part of the solution. This natural approach can be used in addition to the drugs. For some, a diet including heart healthy oat bran muffins can lower LDL cholesterol without resorting to medication.
I buy my oat bran in bulk from Heartland Mill. You can visit their website by clicking here. Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins are a staple in our house baked on a regular basis. The muffins are easy to mix and take less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins:

2 ¼ cups oat bran cereal
¼ cup chopped almonds (Feel free to substitute an equal amount of your favorite nut)
¼ cup dried cranberries (Other dried fruits as well as chopped fresh fruits can substitute)
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup honey
1 ¼ cups skim milk
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons sunflower oil

Directions for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the honey. Stir milk, egg whites and sunflower oil together and pour over oat bran mixture. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Use paper baking cups to line muffin pan. Bake for 16 minutes and then test to see if done. Use a toothpick to make sure Healthy Oat Bran Muffins are moist but not wet. If batter clings to toothpick bake a few more minutes.
If you substitute fresh fruits with a lot of juice such as peaches, substitute brown sugar for the honey for better results. I like to chop my nuts fairly fine but individual tastes may vary. These disappear quickly at my house, but you can store in the refrigerator or freezer if you cannot eat all in 72 hours. The lack of preservatives such as salt means the Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins will not keep for an extended amount of time at room temperature.

Ingredients for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins
Getting started
separating the yolk from white
Be sure to just use egg whites
Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins before cooking
Ready to bake
After baking
Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins ready to eat