Happy Thanksgiving and Then Some…

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving as much as I did.  Once again, I shared mine with many family members and once again, although I was careful to avoid vegetables in creamy sauces and gravies, I will admit I had my share of desserts.  I couldn’t help it; there were so many to choose from and I don’t like to waste food.  Actually that’s only one part of it. 

The other truth is two-fold; I missed seeing my daughter for the holiday (she remained near campus with family friends) and I was quite frustrated that we’ve been without hot water for three weeks due to a defective tankless water heater that crashed during the storm.  I do not do cold showers! Those two situations contributed to my mini-meltdown and emotional overeating where I broke my low-cholesterol meal plan for several days.  Yes, those are also poor excuses. 

I recognize, however, I’m human and am getting back on track.  I’ll just need to do an extra half hour of exercise daily for the next two weeks to avoid the extra holiday weight gain.  You would think that lugging pots of hot water to and from the bathroom every day to wash up would be exercise enough.  (You would think!)

Before my daughter comes home for winter break, I want to get the house in order, decorate, do some Christmas shopping and finish my last class with flying colors.  I spent half the day testing light strings and three hours attempting to wash windows.  We had windows replaced throughout the house as we remodeled and although the new ones are beautiful, the double panes with the insulated inserts are extremely difficult and time-consuming to remove and clean.  Thank goodness they only need to be done once a year, with the exception of the insides.  My fingers are beginning to feel like alligator claws.

If it weren’t the fact I’ve been out until after 2am for the past few nights, I think I’d have more energy to do some meaningful writing.  On a positive note, catching up on some much needed sleep should put me back in the race.  The next set of holidays is quickly approaching and there’s so much to do.  I love busy but I like it better when it’s on my own terms.  Tomorrow I’ll be back to my healthy eating and exercise again and can organize my schedule for decorating, shopping, cleaning, cooking and finishing school. 

 With so much going on in the next month or so, it’s important I take time to reflect on what is important and sacred in my life.  I’m looking forward to a new year but don’t want to rush what’s left of this one.  Life is too short.  I’d like to take it one step at a time, savoring each precious moment.

 “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” ~ Agatha Christie

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Nothin’ Says Lovin’ Like Something From the Oven! (Pillsbury)

I’m excited it’s that time of year again when I liberate my holiday cookie cutters and utensils from their year-long refuge and prepare my kitchen for a virtual holiday bake-off.

 This year, I was asked to bring cookies to the Thanksgiving feast.  I enjoy making dozens of different cookies but I’ll have to narrow it down.  Everyone loves sugar cookies.  I have three favorite recipes; each with a different twist.  My personal favorite is the one made with cream cheese.  After scouring my holiday cookbooks and personal recipe files, I’ve decided to make decorative sugar cookie snowflakes, peanut blossoms (the kids’ favorites), chocolate raisin oatmeal cookies and linzer cookies (to start)!

 I’ll be careful what I have for dinner on Thanksgiving, sticking as best I can with the low-cholesterol meal plan I’m following, however I will allow myself a treat or two because after all, isn’t that what the holidays are for?  I couldn’t possibly spend an entire day enjoying my family without a little indulgence, namely dessert.  I only wish I could allow myself to bring some treats back home with me, but I can’t if I want to avoid the temptation. 

 After baking and decorating the cookies, I’ll be posting the recipes along with photos.  For now, it’s time to finish my holiday cleaning, do some decorating, complete writing assignments and get ready for the big day! 

“I figured if I was going to make the world a better place, I’d do it with cookies.” ~ Ana Pascal, Stranger than Fiction

Traditions and Customs: Do They Impact Our Lives?

With the holiday season upon us, I like to ponder the many traditions and customs our family has passed down through the generations.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years are among the most popular of the many holidays celebrated with great joy at this time of year.  Celebrations of family, home, community, spirituality, good bounty, gift-giving, and revelry are prevalent.  Even those who live by themselves, without family members or other loved ones nearby can find love, comfort and happiness during the traditional festivals. 

We may consider traditions and customs similar; however, according to Merriam-Webster, “a custom is a practice common to many or to a particular place or class.”  On the other hand, “a tradition as an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior, such as a religious practice or a social custom.  Traditions are representative of a person’s culture.”When I was a child, our home barely accommodated six children and two parents, yet we always found room for relatives to celebrate the holidays with us.  This meant not only setting up several large tables in the dining room and living room but in the basement as well, to serve our many guests.  I recall my brother and I having to surrender our bedrooms, as several distant relatives chose to stay on with our family for several days or longer.  Looking back, I find it amazing how we accommodated all those people with only one bathroom!

As my older brothers and sisters started having families of their own, the celebrations grew more contemporary; however we still preserved the traditions and customs of the previous generations.  A favorite tradition is the Easter egg-roll and hunt which began when my nieces and nephews were old enough to maneuver the egg on a spoon; a generation later, their children were doing the same and soon, another generation may begin.

Of course, most who celebrate the more common American holidays still have the traditional turkey feast on Thanksgiving, complete with a vast assortment of autumn vegetables and fruit pies, not to mention stuffing and gravy.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has countless photos of family members with puffed cheeks as they blow out their birthday candles; always an attractive photo.  We generally eat similar food on the same holidays too; Lamb on Easter, Fresh Ham on New Year’s Day, Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and Turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are rituals surrounding religious services, and customs of opening or exchanging gifts, stringing popcorn, decorating wreaths and trees, sending cards, putting up lights and so forth, which make the holidays so enjoyable.

Traditions, customs, rituals and habits all have their place in our society.  Even if you don’t celebrate any of them, you’ll find yourself entangled in the labyrinth of holiday madness no matter where you go.  From crowded airports and rail stations, to post offices and banks, garden centers, grocery stores and malls; the masses are in full swing when the holidays come around.

It’s nice to take time and reminisce about the holiday traditions and customs we hold near to our hearts.  Having a large family is wonderful at this time of year however even if I found myself away from home, I would still be able to enjoy the memories and continue the family practices of my past.  To me, traditions ignite the embers in a dormant soul which brilliantly surge with the first spark. 

Dropping supplies off at our parish food bank followed by church services is the prelude to Thanksgiving morning.  I’m looking forward to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television this week, as I’ve done for many years, as I prepare an assortment of baked desserts and side dishes to bring to the celebration at my sister’s house.  I hope to enjoy a day of gratitude, hope and customarily traditional activity with many family members as we pray for blessings on all.

“A love for tradition has never weakened a nation; indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.” ~ Winston Churchill

“There is no rest for the weary .” Prov

Another of my father’s favorite quotes…

It’s November; the weather was unusually mild and Thanksgiving is only 11 days away.  What happened to August?  It seems as though yesterday we were driving our daughter to college and now I’m scheduling her trip home for the winter holidays.  Did the days always fly by this quickly or am I only beginning to notice it as I grow older?

The phrase “grow older” doesn’t agree with me.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m still in my early thirties raring to go.  Actually, when I was about 42, I was in the best shape of my life; lean and mean.  I am trying to stay on the right path as far as nutrition and physical exercise are concerned but now it seems like such a chore.  What happened to all the fun I used to have raking leaves, shoveling show, trimming shrubs and bushes, painting, decorating and cleaning?  I suppose I’m in a new life cycle, or so I’ve heard.

Today was a busy one for me, which is always a good thing.  While my husband was cleaning up debris from the yard and blowing leaves, I helped by clearing out our pond, trimming bushes and cleaning up the flower beds.  When I paused to prepare lunch, I decided I’d bring all the Halloween storage bins that had yet to be put away, back up into the attic by myself.  It wasn’t that I minded so much, lifting all the boxes up the narrow stairs to the attic, what concerned me was I felt I had no arm strength.  This was the first time I ever felt weak and I didn’t like it.

I can still lift the 42 lb. package of cat litter fairly easily.  I carried the heavy Halloween props in and out of the house and onto the lawn by myself.  Yet I had trouble lifting the boxes up into the attic.  It occurred to me that I need to incorporate a lot more strength training in my workout routine.

After the boxes were stacked in the attic, I figured, since I was already up there, I may as well bring down some Christmas lighting.  The weather was calm and my Christmas decorating usually begins in a couple of weeks anyway, so what the heck.  I managed to put up several strands of lights around our garage and a couple of trees as well as assemble our outdoor music light show.  All the lights worked however I won’t be turning any of them on until the weekend after Thanksgiving.  It felt good to get some of them up before the colder weather sets in.

Between doing yard work, decorating and cleaning, I feel I got a lot accomplished today.  The first day of my Low Cholesterol meal plan is going well:  ½ Grapefruit, ½ English muffin with lowfat spread and tea for breakfast, lowfat yogurt, banana and walnuts for lunch and a large salad with 2 hardboiled egg whites and lowfat dressing for dinner was pretty satisfying.  My husband had somewhat more substantial meals today: Oatmeal w/skim milk, yogurt, melon, turkey sandwich, baked flounder with LF/LC dressing, brown rice and green beans were on his menu.  Not too bad for the first day. 

The box-lifting incident motivated me and I think I’ll change up my exercise routine tomorrow.  I still can’t believe Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas right on its tail.  There is still so much work I would like to finish before mid-December including the traditional decorating, baking, shopping, gift wrapping and writing cards.  I’d really like to have the foyer painted before my daughter comes home to make it more welcoming.  I just wish sometimes, there were more than 24 hours in a day. 

I have to say that I am satisfied with what I accomplished today.  It’s now time to relax for the remainder of the evening.  Fuzzy slippers, green tea and two soft furballs on my lap sounds like a plan.  I am surely blessed.

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” ~ Ovid

A Sweet Diversion

I’m going to take my mind off the elections today, temporarily, to focus on the next major holiday coming up on the calendar, Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday because I’m usually in the company of family, and lots of them.  I can recall Thanksgivings from the time I was a child and every one of them were special. 

 For almost twenty years now, my eldest sister has had Thanksgiving at her home.  Her five married daughters and their families are always on hand as are some of my other brothers and sisters, often with their grown children or grandchildren.  Nobody comes empty handed.  The food is served buffet style and there’s usually enough to feed an army.  Of course, donations are always made to the food banks at our churches and communities before Thanksgiving to help those less fortunate.

 My sister’s home is very cozy and everyone always finds a place to sit and eat.  Many hands help prepare the food, set the table and clean up afterward.  There’s usually enough time in between or after dinner, watching football games, a movie and dessert to play a board game or two.  Scattergories, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble are some of our favorites.

 One of my favorite desserts, provided I haven’t stuffed myself with appetizers or dinner, is cheesecake.  For Thanksgiving, I like to make a Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake which, for me at least, combines the best of both worlds!  Here is the recipe I’m trying this year which is almost identical to the ones I’ve already tweaked from other cookbooks:

 Chocolate Swirled Pumpkin Cheesecake (courtesy of MomsWhoThink.com)

 Ingredients:

  •  1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate mini chips, divided
  • 3 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 Directions:

 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 9-inch springform pan.

 2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and granulated sugar in medium bowl. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

 3. Microwave the remaining chocolate chips in medium, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on HIGH power for 30 seconds; stir.  If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until chips are melted; cool to room temperature.

 4. Beat cream cheese, granulated sugar and brown sugar until smooth; beat in pumpkin.

 5. Beat in eggs, evaporated milk, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove 3/4 cup pumpkin mixture; stir into melted chocolate.

 6. Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into crust. Spoon chocolate-pumpkin mixture over top; swirl.

 7. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until edge is set but center still moves slightly. Cool in pan on wire rack.

 8. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Remove side of springform pan, serve.

 “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” ~ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin