Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Day Through 5 PM

Another day like quite a few others...up late last night, though I slept better, awakening at 8 AM and rather than rising, chose to spend an hour in bed watching some holiday video on demand programming.

After releasing tails and starting a load of wash, I got on the computer for awhile. Around 10 AM or so my friend Josh IM'd me from work and asked if I wanted to do lunch and offered to bring lunch to the house here. How could I say no to such a gracious offer from such a good friend? I told him I still had to exercise and then clear the snow outside, so we settled on a noon lunch time. I rode the exercise bike, watching...can you guess.... the second half of an Iron Chef America, and then since I needed to cool down from the 8 mile ride, I did some cleaning in the kitchen and living room.

I was just going to shovel the snow but after seeing the amount of snow outside was greater than I had anticipated I decided there was enough to snow blow, so I did the driveway and the front walks of my house and my next door neighbor's, and came back inside.

Josh arrived promptly and we enjoyed an excellent lunch from Panera Bread, and some good conversation about the holidays, work, etc. After lunch I showed Josh the cinematic intro for Left 4 Dead which is quite excellent, and then I showed him the game play for a few minutes. I also showed him the database management program I keep my DVD collection under.

As Josh was working today he departed back to the office, returning about 20 minutes later for the badge he had left here! I thanked him again for lunch and got on the computer. It was really good to see and have lunch with him today.

Around 2 PM the X called, I had invited the family over here for New Year's Eve instead of going into the cold city this evening. As I had had heard nothing back I just assumed they were going ahead with their original plans but the X asked if my offer was still good.

I said it was, and I finished the campaign of Left 4 Dead I was playing. At 3 PM I decided I'd better get out to the store for snacks and hot and cold appetizers for this evening. Forest Hills Foods was a mad house! A FREAKING MADHOUSE! You'd think the Storm of the Century was coming or something. I lucked out and got a space at the very end of the parking lot while watching many other cars circling like sharks looking for an opening. I did my shopping and escaped as fast as I could! Had I know yesterday they were coming I would have gone out to the store early this morning....oh well...not a big deal.

Returning home I unpacked the bags, threw in another load of wash and retired to the couch where Tails immediately jumped up and settled down in my lap, where she still remains.

A Very Quiet Tuesday

The fried lasagna I posted the recipe to yesterday was the biggest event of the day. I slept late, not getting up until almost 9:30 AM. I had stayed up late and had trouble sleeping the night before, so it was nice not to have to get up. It was sunny again in the morning...very strange weather we have been having since Christmas. I rode the exercise bike while watching the last half of a Dinner: Impossible episode followed by the first half of an Iron Chef America.

Just to give you an idea of how much programming my DVR can hold, the Iron Chef episode was this year's Halloween episode. The secret ingredient was offal (hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, tripe, etc.) and it was surprising how many decent entrees the two chefs made out of this stuff, including a chocolate and liver mousse truffle that the judges loved.

The X's dad has not been feeling the best this past week, he's having heart rhythm and blood pressure issues and had to wear a monitor for a couple of days. I was IM'ing with the X and Kevin and found out he nearly passed out, and fell,banging his head on the stove. He was OK after resting on the couch so he did not hit his head too bad, but I hope he overcomes his other issues. I really love the former in-laws, they are excellent people.

Other than some laundry nothing constructive was done yesterday, it was good having a day to just chill out though I would not have minded seeing the family.

Around 9 PM I remembered the garbage, which was chock-full from Christmas present wrapping and packaging, had to go out to the curb. Figuring I would only be outside for a minute or two I threw on a light jacket and some shoes and opened the door, stepping into......

fierce, howling winds! An inch of snow on the ground and Blizzard-like conditions! Icy snow blasting into my face.....talk about brisk! I got the can out to the curb, retreated back inside, and once again marveled at how quickly the weather changes around here in the winter.


Guess what this is! If nothing else it makes an excellent desktop wallpaper!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recipe - Lasagna Fried In Olive Oil


Growing up as a child in a low to middle income Italian household, pasta was a staple part of the diet. We had it two times a week with homemade sauce as my mother would have jumped off a building before opening a jar of Ragu! I don't know if any of you remember the Ragu spaghetti sauce commercials from those days, but they had an obviously stereotyped Italian guy taking a taste of pasta with Ragu on it and loudly proclaiming "That's Italian!". My mom said he was a traitor to all Italians because the sauce tasted nothing like her homemade version!

Speaking of 'The Sauce', my mom would make the sauce early Sunday morning, we'd have pasta promptly at 1 PM and the remaining sauce would go in the fridge until Thursday evening. More pasta would be made and the sauce remaining from Sunday heated up. There was always salad with oil and vinegar dressing, and Italian bread and butter as accompaniments.

The sauce was always flavored with some kind of meat, anything from sausage, pepperoni, pork, beef, meatballs, whatever, and each type of meat or combination of meats gave each batch of sauce a unique flavor.

Sometimes we had pasta three or four times in a week as leftovers if too much pasta was made Sunday or Thursday. That leftover pasta, which was put away coated with whatever leftover sauce there was, was then placed into a frying pan with hot olive oil and some spices and fried. As soon as it was taken out of the pan it was served with freshly grated cheese on top of it. Delicious! If you have never tried fried pasta like this, you really should.

So, today I wondered if leftover lasagna could be treated this way, and the answer is a resounding Yes. YES!! For those of you who do not make their own lasagna, I see no reason that you couldn't do this with some store bought frozen lasagna which would certainly improve its taste tenfold at least, in my humble opinion.

Ingredients:
Leftover or heated frozen lasagna, two to three servings
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup shredded four cheese blend (I use Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan, & Provolone)
4 tbs Olive Oil

Preparation:
Heat leftover lasagna in microwave until warm, for frozen lasagna heat according package directions. Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat. Slice the lasagna in 1 inch wide pieces and add on side to frying pan after oil is hot. Sprinkle with garlic, basil, and oregano. Cook covered three minutes, turn pieces over, and cook and additional three minutes. Turn off heat and top with shredded cheese blend and let sit covered until cheese is melted.

Serve and enjoy!

Monday

Monday was another quiet day; I arose early in spite of my late bed time and poor nights sleep. I was greeted by a glorious sunny day and a clear blue sky, something you do not see a lot of during the winter here in West Michigan!

I worked on the computer until around noon. Danielle was the first one of the kids up, and shortly I had her wake the other two as we would be meeting everyone (except Christopher who does not like Chinese food) at Ming Ten for lunch.

The four of us squeezed into the Mustang and drove over. The nine of us had an excellent lunch. Ming Ten is the best Chinese Buffet we have found in the area. The food is well above buffet quality and then have a sushi bar and a made to order hibachi grill. Scott loves the lo-mien with chicken that they make there.

Chinese food in Michigan was a bit disappointing after living on the east coast. It took us quite a while and many disappointing dining experiences to find a high quality regular sit down Chinese restaurant (The First Wok) and buffet. One thing I still miss is Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce, you just can't find anyplace out here that has that!

The weather, which had still been gloriously sunny when we entered Ming Ten, began to deteriorate while we ate. The sky got very cloudy and then heavy cloud cover totally rolled in and the day got very dark. I joked that the weather in the morning had been "Sunny for part of the day and then apocalyptic cloud cover later in the afternoon". It was amazing how dark and dreary it became in the short space of time.

When I went to pay at the end we hit a bit of a snag as Mom had two discount coupons and they also wanted to claim their senior citizen discount. The waitress (and later the manager) said you could only do one.

So, I had them split the bill into 3 bills and I had to give them three different credit cards before they could process it! What a pain, but, hey to save over $15 it was worth it!

Lunch over I drove the four of us back where the kids took Scott's car back to the X's house. The majority of the rest of my day was spent watching TV (mostly Christmas themed shows I had recorded in the DVR) and using the computer. I also did some pre-work for the upcoming installation of my new AV receiver which should take place this weekend if UPS tracking is correct.

I'm glad the kids are having extra time with Uncle Kevin, Lili, and Lucy, but I am really missing them this week! I know I volunteered to give them extra time at the X's house but the days have been kind of empty without them, particularly as I've been doing work from home for the most part. At least I have Tails for some company.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Heart Attack Grill

In these days of nutrition conscious individuals and corporations it seems there is always a new diet popping up.

Well, I say to heck with that!! I want to go to the Heart Attack Grill for lunch, and I want to go now! Click here for their official site! It looks mighty tasty! Their burgers come in sizes called single bypass, double bypass, triple bypass, and quadruple bypass. Their fries are cooked in pure lard! The only beverage is Jolt Cola...oh this place looks like pure evil and a great place to chow down! The waitresses are dressed like nurses and if you manage to finish a triple or quadruple bypass, you get a free wheelchair ride to your vehicle. Talk about atmosphere. The quadruple bypass burger can be seen below in all its glory.



People over 350 pounds eat free all day every day! Their motto is Taste Worth Dying For.

A Pretty Quiet Sunday

One of the frosty panes of the garage's back door window.

The majority of Sunday was very quiet; after arising and riding the exercise bike Tails and I spent the day watching TV, relaxing, using the computer, and even a bit of a nap, something I rarely, if ever do. This need to nap might have been caused by the piece of leftover lasagna I had for lunch, you never know!

Another thing of note is I was pleased to discover that after four correct weather predictions in a row which was starting to freak me out a bit, the forecast for today was way off, it was supposed to be above freezing and never did make it above 3o degrees.

Around 8:45 PM I left to pickup Danielle and Lucy at Danielle's friend's house. The roads were fine until I turned on the friend's street and I finally found roads that are cared for less by the town than my street is; treacherous ice and snow everywhere, I had to maneuver the Mustang carefully, particularly in one spot where someone was having a party and people parked on both sides of the street leaving a passageway barely wide enough for the Mustang to squeeze through.

After hearing how the girls had a good time at the party and how Danielle basically abandoned Lucy socially when they arrived; she had to introduce herself around, we arrived home. Scott came in shortly after and while I made myself a late dinner of leftover turkey, stuffing, cooked onions, peas, and a piece of cornbread, he headed down to the China Garden. I had offered to make him some Ramon but he said he was going to go get Chinese food but he forgot his wallet so I gave him some money. He got his usual chicken lo-mien no vegetables and an order of chicken wings for Lucy and Danielle to snack on. We watched the Monk episode where he shoots Santa Clause. The girls headed downstairs, Scott and I played some left for dead for awhile before he joined them.

By the amount of noise coming upstairs the kids were having lots of fun and I let this continue to 1:30 AM before breaking it up by announcing it was time for bed. Scott professed he wanted to stay up but since he had been sick earlier in the day I insisted he go to bed.

Probably as a result of my afternoon nap I had trouble falling asleep and last remember the clock saying 3:00 AM before dropping off.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saturday
or
The Fog

If you've never seen either the original or remake of The Fog, you can't understand how foggy it was almost all day yesterday! We went from below freezing temperatures to the 40's in a matter of hours overnight. It started raining and ended up in the 50's yesterday. This made for some world class fog conditions. Virtually all the snow is gone except the remnants of big piles from snow removal, and I think the majority of the huge ice dams on my roof are gone as well.


It was a surrealistic look out the windows of the house after I got up. I let Tails out of her room and instead of her usual being cute and cuddly behavior she began running around the family room in a very agitated manner, stopping inside the fireplace and meowing. Thinking she's found a mouse or something I went over to discover water dripping down the chimney! Not a lot, but water none the less.

A quick checked showed the infamous basement steps dry (thank goodness!) and the 'control' crack in the furnace room was leaking slightly. For details on the leak and repair of the basement steps see these older posts from 2006 here, and here, which will open in a new window. Wow, have I been blogging that long??

Tails and I went upstairs and I ascertained the leak in the fireplace downstairs was coming from the runoff of the one directly above it in the living room. Some ice must have worked its way down the chimney and with the big thaw underway it was melting. I kept a watch on it while I used the PC for the next couple of hours and by the time I finished my session on the exercise bike it had stopped.

I talked with the X about dinner as I had invited the family over this evening for leftover lasagna but did not know if they had accepted. The X stated they had so we set a time and I headed out into the fog which was quite the experience! It was very unreal and downright spooky driving the wipers had to be n constantly because of all the moisture in the air and I had to repeatedly roll down the windows to keep them clear. It's only a half a mile to the grocery store! Halfway there I could not see the light from my street or the one for the store, that's how thick the fog was. I was reminded of scenes from The Mist which I quickly put out of my head!

I picked up extra peperoni because Kevin likes it so much and as some got eaten on Christmas there was not a lot left. Since I would be making garlic bread I got two loaves of bread and garlic so I could make my special garlic butter. Arriving home after another spooky journey in the fog I started cooking the pepperoni and then went outside to take a few pictures.

A bit later I made the garlic butter which consisted of one stick real butter, an equal amount of margarine, some olive oil, a LOT of crushed garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. This then sat for two hours before making the bread to allow the flavors to mingle and permeate the butter.

Scott does not like lasagna so for him I made some spaghetti and I made one and a half loaves of garlic bread warming half a plain loaf for mom and dad who are not big on the garlic. Mom can't eat it at all without getting sick so whenever she will be eating my spaghetti sauce I substitute onion power for garlic....not as good...but an acceptable substitute.

To round off the meal I made a nice garden salad and got a new flavor of Kraft dressing, their light version of Traditional Italian. It was surprisingly good! I put out ranch too because the kids love it.

Christopher does not like pasta in any variety and he had plans anyway for the evening so the nine of us sat down to a most excellent dinner which everyone enjoyed. Uncle Kevin bested me by an extra helping of lasagna, and that was impressive considering we both had multiple pieces of garlic bread and pepperoni. I don't know how he did not explode!

After dinner which thankfully I had to do very little cleaning up from I headed into the living room. I noticed my little fiber optic tree looks quite colorful in a dark room as this picture shows:


I asked Kevin to join me in some Left 4 Dead on the easy skill setting. It was a bit comical; Kevin has not gamed in years and he was having a bit of trouble with the X & Y axis controls on the xbox controller. Danielle sat next to him and started giving him 'helpful' hints and after a bit I gave her my controller. Everyone sat down and was watching us play.

After a few levels I put on the Christmas Episode of Night Court entitled "Let it Snow" and we all watched that. Afterward I started up Get Smart.s The Nude Bomb as I figured everyone was leaving. It turns out mom and dad really like Don Adams and Get Smart so they stayed along with Kevin and Lili which was nice because I had company until after 9 PM and that was quite enjoyable.

The rest of the evening was spent watching TV and in research mode shopping for my new AV receiver which I planned to utilize my Amazon Gift Certificates to purchase.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friday

Not much to say, I had to work so after rising I headed into the office. The temperature was still below freezing, though predicted to rise to the upper 30's. The roads were not too bad but there were some slick spots so I took my time.

Work was like a ghost town! I swear I saw tumbleweeds roll by my cube several times. I am in a division of GE that provides IT services, so, even though I sit in Grand Rapids as I did when we were Smiths, I am not part of the Grand Rapids company which is a different division. So, while they kept the same holiday schedule Smiths had, which gives them off from Christmas to New Years, my division does not have this.

When I pulled into the lower parking lots, there was only one other car, and by the sheer amount of snow and ice on it, it had been there for days, maybe even since that first big storm a week ago.

After a fun day at work, I came home, relaxed with Tails until about 5 PM when mom picked me up and brought me over to the X's. Friday was Kevin and Lili's anniversary; in fact, they were married out here in Grand Rapids on a previous trip!

We were going to our favorite Chinese place, the First Wok for dinner, but, mom told me they were delayed at the mall...not an unusual occurrence where Lili is involved. If ever there was someone born to shop, it is Lili; she loves a good session at the mall.

After confirming via a call phone call that the X and company were on the way, we headed down to the restaurant. We had an excellent dinner, some of us sharing our dishes with each other. It was nice to have all of us together (and Scott's friend Ben...the X said there was a story behind this but I forgot to ask her) and it was a very enjoyable dinner. I was quite impressed by the way Kevin and Lili's daughter was so polite, saying "Please" and "Thank you". I asked Kevin, sotto voce, if she could give my kids some politeness lessons!

Afterward, mom and dad dropped me off at my house as some of them were going to the movies (more than one movie actually, depending on preference, I was so beat I just wanted to relax.

Tails and I watched some TV, and I was in bed around 12:30 AM. All in all, other than work, a relaxing day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day

A few pictures from Christmas day are shown below. Clicking any of them will display a larger version in a new browser window.

Tails makes her presents known!


The kids playing xbox down in the family room
(l-r Lucy, Danielle, Christopher, and Scott)



My super heavy Christmas decorating


Wonder of Wonders, the weather was agreeable overnight and only a light coating of snow had fallen! (Upon journeying out to the trash can later to discard some trash I discovered this was actually making the ice underneath less slippery because the snow was of the 'crunchy' variety; it had started to snow after the temperature went below freezing). So! No snow removal as I had originally planned.

I arose around 7:15 AM, released Tails from her room, fed her, and began organizing the kitchen for the preparation of the turkey. That done I vacuumed the house and turned my focus on making the stuffing. First, I fried 2 pounds (one original recipe, one sage flavored) sausage and some seasonings including chili powder, which in then dumped into a bowl lined with paper towels. This was then put outside in the snow by the rear slider for a few minutes. Now cool enough to handle, I crumbled the sausage into smaller pieces. While the sausage was cooking I had added chicken stock, butter, chopped onion, and spices to a pot to heat up. Once it came to a boil I combined the sausage with the contents of the pot and some cornbread cubes and viola! Sausage and onion cornbread stuffing!

I removed the 16 pound Turkey from the refrigerator. This was the first year in many years of turkey preparation where the bird was pretty much thawed out! This year I turned the fridge down low, and turned the bird over every 24 hours,except for the day it got jammed in between the lasagna and the wall of the fridge. I was most pleased not to have to wrestle the giblet bag out of the chest cavity!

So, I stuffed the neck and body cavities, oiled the skin of the bird, and seasoned it with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, some poultry seasoning, and a small amount of chili powder. The bird was then delegated to the oven's care. Note that with my ancient stove you need to use a thermometer to get the right temperature. It took several tries before adding the bird, but for the oven to be at 325 degrees the oven control was set for 250. Some fine tuning after the bird went in was needed as well.

The next hour was spent in a fervor of running around the house taking care of last minute things, setting up my small fiber optic Christmas tree in the living room and my light up Christmas village. I figured since I was having company I would do some minor decorating. I setup a digital picture frame with pictures of Christmas going back to 1999, which was the year I had my first digital camera.

The first hour of turkey roasting was announced by the timer going off, I removed the bird, re-oiled the skin, and returned it to the oven. Time enough now for shave and a shower! That done, I was actually able to relax a bit with Tails on the couch, watching the Rocket Power Christmas episode. Noon arrived and the turkey was cared for and returned to the oven along with onions, cut in half, in the pan (something my mom used to do and they taste great cooked in the turkey drippings!). The lasagna was placed on the back of the stove to slowly absorb some of the heat coming from the oven. It would get baked for 30 minutes after the turkey was done.

The X and the kids arrived around 12:30 with Lucy (Kevin's Daughter) Kevin and Lucy had stayed with mom and dad overnight, and Lucy had stayed at the X's house. Presents were exchanged and opened, and I was pleased to see that my attempts of disguising easily identifiable items like xbox games and audio CDs worked very well! This also came back to haunt me as I was presented with a small metal box with Snoopy on the lid which appeared to have candy in it (perfect gift for a diabetic!). This turned out to have an Amazon gift certificate inside!

The one o'clock check of the turkey showed via a meat thermometer it was done way ahead of schedule. Butterball.com stated 3.5 to 4 hours for a stuffed bird of this size, and here three hours later it was ready to go. The frenzied preparation of side dishes ensued! This was complicated by the small size of my oven, and the fact that after the turkey came out the lasagna pan had to go it, plus there were tow trays of biscuits and corn bread to deal with, and only one free shelf in the oven to use because of the lasagna hogging the other one. Add the temperamental temperature control and the different temperatures needed by the biscuits, cornbread, and lasagna....well....now you start to get the idea! Mom, Dad, Kevin, and Lili arrived, the card table dad brought was setup at one end of the kitchen adjacent to the dining room, everyone (except the kids who had disappeared to play video games) pitched in to get everything else done and on the table,.and soon we were sitting down to:

Lasagna
Turkey & Stuffing
Cooked Onions
Biscuits
Corn Bread
Mashed Potatoes
Niblets corn with butter sauce
Early peas in butter sauce
Broccoli in cheese sauce
Cauliflower in cheese sauce

It was an awesome dinner! A delicious dinner! I was well pleased that the efforts of the past days had come together, and doubly pleased to have everyone at my house on Christmas. It was funny having a 'kids' table for this meal, though Christopher, in age anyway, is no kids!). They were boisterous, and laughing and it was most amusing. At one point they teased their Mom about where the meat came from for the dinner, which she put a top to when they got too descriptive. That's been a running thing with the kids and her for many years now.

At one point mom and I got into a bit of a discussion on 'A Christmas Carol' talking about the religious roots of it, and how this came about. I saw Kevin looking at me strangely and I said "Hey! I can be philosophical if I want to you know!'

I helped with some of the cleanup (though traditionally the chef is exempt from washing dishes) and then plunked myself down on the couch.

Presents to/from Mom/Dad/Kevin/Lili commended and after that the kids pretty much went back downstairs, the rest of us engaged in some TV (holiday themed of course!), some napping by assorted individuals, and some impromptu computer work (Kevin's laptop was having wireless network issues, which, later at the X's house, were fixed by his daughter! MOST impressive Lucy!!)

Dessert followed which consisted of chocolate cake, cookies, blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.......talk about being too full! Everyone left around 6 PM, I did not finish the cleanup until 11 PM (The bottom of the turkey roaster and the pot for the potatoes had been soaking four hours before they could finally be completely cleaned.

All in all it was the best Christmas I have had since the divorce. The only downside was hearing from my brother, staying in New York where he was doing a job, stranded by bad weather. so, he was kind of blue, and I felt badly for him.

Of course, I'd love to hear about your holiday as well! My mailbox is always open.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Merry Christmas to All!!

Christmas 1999.
Myself, my dad, my brother Rick
Danielle, Scott, and Christopher.

I really miss my dad this Christmas!


There's so many ways to speak of Christmas, the happiness, the giving, the joy, the love.....rather than use my own inadequate words, I'd like to share two quotations from two classics which sum up Christmas for me and I hope you enjoy them..

The first is from Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' and it is spoke by Scrooge's nephew Fred:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"


The second is from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and is said by Linus, after Charlie Brown shouts out "Isn't there anyone here who knows what Christmas is all about!??"

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]
"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.


While Christmas has not been quite the same for me since my divorce, I truly believe in the spirit and sharing around Christmas! From the kids and I we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. Our best wishes for a happy and safe holiday and a joyous and prosperous New Year!

Christmas Eve..and Christmas Eve Day

It is just after 8:30 PM, and the lasagna was finally cool enough to put in the refrigerator. Even with the whole bottom shelf clear there was not enough room for the lasagna pan and the turkey that is thawing in there. I had to put the turkey on it's side crammed next to the lasagna pan, with the plate under the turkey partially under the lasagna pan. I forgot what an ordeal it is making my lasagna, particularly the way I make it, and not having anyone to assist. If everyone enjoys it tomorrow it will be worth it!

I make my lasagna in the bottom of a 26 pound turkey roasting pan. I make three different types of fillings, the traditional Ricotta cheese, plus a layer of ground sirloin which is seasoned and fried in olive oil. I do the same with sweet Italian sausage. Each meat is then crumbled into a bowl and some of the home made sauce is added to it. Using 2 pounds of each meat, is enough for one layer of ground beef, and one layer of sausage. If MacGyver were here to see it, he would say "That's one honking big lasagna!"

So, tomorrow's lasagna starts with the bottom two layers being Ricotta cheese, then the layer of ground beef and grated Romano cheese, then a layer of Ricotta cheese, the sausage layer, this time sprinkled with Asiago, Parmesan, and Mozzarella cheeses, and then two more layers of the Ricotta cheese. Note I also add some things to the Ricotta cheese mixture. Don't ask, I won't tell. ;)

The homemade sauce for today's creation was flavored with Italian sausage (browned first in olive oil and spices), and pepperoni.

I can't believe I still have to cook a turkey dinner in the morning......I am beat!

I also finished clearing out the living room and organizing it, even temporarily moving the exercise bike into my bedroom since there will be 10 of us tomorrow. The living room looks positively palatial without the exercise bike! I love the way the room looks without it! Below is a panoramic shot of the room.




I wish I could re-arrange my bedroom somehow to keep the exercise bile in there, but, there would be no way to do that without making the already small bedroom seem very cramped.

In addition to the above I also cleaned out the fridge, throwing out three plastic supermarket bags of old items...now at least there will be room for leftovers tomorrow!

I did manage to watch a little bit of holiday TV today though, I watched two versions of a Christmas Carol. And older black and white version with Alastair Sim, and a newer one with George C. Scott. I love a Christmas Carol! It speaks a lesson many seem to have forgotten......

The weather was surprising today, it stayed above freezing long enough where we had rain and then some snow but the majority fell as rain not as the predicted snow, which makes me feel a bit better. The forecast has been right three times in a row, today would have made four and that would just be too hard to believe! The real downside here though is I could have gotten to the store much easier today than last night's nightmarish journey. oh well!

I went out around 9:30 AM and snow blowed my driveway and sidewalk, and the sidewalk of the next door neighbor. I am still loving the new Snow Blower, it just makes short work of deep snow, and even the stuff the plow leaves in the driveway is no match for it.

I also got all the kids presents I ordered nicely wrapped, as well as a present for the X's mom, and one for the x too.

I never did get around to vacuuming, that will have to be right after the turkey goes into the over in the morning.

Everyone is down at the X's parents for dinner. Mom was making Swedish meatballs. I had to stay home and deal with the lasagna. As much as it is somewhat lonely here alone on Christmas Eve, at least the kids and the X will get to see Kevin, Lili, and Lucy. I'll see them tomorrow though.

A Lull in the Weather

We're in a bit of a lull between storm systems. AND it has risen to above freezing! 33 degrees may not seem warm to some of you but it's nice to know today will hit mid-30's for awhile, the snow is due again later this morning and this afternoon temps will tumble below freezing again.

I will go out around 9 AM and snow blow in preparation of the next wave of precipitation.

I was cleaning until 11 PM last night and there is still more to do today! Plus, a lasagna begs to be created from the pile of ingredients amassed on the kitchen counter!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scott is home safe and weather update

I just heard from the X, Scott is home safe though they can't get his car up the driveway. I am glad for my nice level one!

AND they've extended the winter storm warning; I just saw this flash on the weather site:

Winter Storm Warning in effect until 1 am EST Thursday...

Thursday!!! It's only Tuesday! Looks like my decision to hit the store this evening was the right one!

Everyone keep Kevin, Lili, and Lucy in your thoughts and prayers for a safe trip here!! I see the freeze line extends down into Ohio though I know this evening they will stop at a hotel for the night and perhaps tomorrow the increase in temperature will move the freeze line closer to the Michigan border!

Barely made it back home.....

Danielle arrived around 2 PM, and we were soon playing an entire campaign of "Left 4 Dead". We had a great time! We then watched the new Christmas episode of Fairly Odd Parents, followed by Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street. I made us dinner, some Buitoni frozen cheese ravioli and tortellini which I doctored with some additional spices and served with freshly grated Romano. I also sliced up some pepperoni and let it simmer in the sauce before adding the pasta. Very good, it's something we've had before and Danielle really likes it.

So, we spent close to five hours together which I greatly enjoyed. Around 6:30 I went out to snow blow the driveway. The new snow blower is a monster! I easily did the driveway in half the time than with the old snow blower and the headlight on this model really helped in the dark! I missed that feature from the snow blower I used to have at the X's house. I called for Danielle and we headed, very, very, slowly to her mom's house without incident, though the roads were treacherous and in bad need of plowing particularly in the intersections. As I feared, getting to the X's house was no problem, other than having to drive very cautiously. Getting back was a nightmare. As I expected, coming out of her street and having to make a left, I got stuck in the snow, and had to back up, time the oncoming traffic (which I had to estimate by headlights reflecting off of the snow, and then pull out, which I did finally manage to do.

I decided that since the weather report was basically snow tonight, snow tomorrow, I was just going to hit Forest Hills Foods now since it is on the way. I got the fresh ground beef and ground Italian sausage for the lasagna, some additional beverages, and a few other items, as I was not planning on leaving the house until after Christmas!

Again, it was as I expected driving in the snow; there is an incline from Forest Hills Foods up to the corner where I need to turn left and then a hill before hitting the downward slide home. The only chance was to time it coming out of the parking lot and using the built up momentum to get past the incline and start up the hill, hitting the intersection when the left turn signal at the corner is green. I failed and the Mustang was unable to move forward. As traffic was sparse I backed up, and tried again, failed, and tried again, and again failed. I was very worried as more traffic was approaching in the distance from all directions. I ended up backing up about 50 feet while avoiding the oncoming car in the left lane that the Mustang had drifted into and the cars in the right two lanes adjacent to the left turn lane I was in!

Finally moving forward but still without a lot of traction I approached the turn and just as I was just about clearing the incline the left turn signal went red! I beeped the horn and flashed the lights and took the turn anyway. As I had planned since there is a delay in opposite street light going green after the left turn signal gos red, the cars in those lanes saw me and waited. I then had an near impossible time getting up the incline of the hill with the Mustang wanting to go sideways instead of straight. I finally cleared the apex of the hill and moved into the left lane. This time I was able to time the next left turn onto my street with the left turn signal. I rolled into my driveway (which already had another inch of snow, it is falling at about an inch an hour) and pulled into the garage, so very glad to be home safe. I even had the presence of mind to put the trash can at the curb before carrying in the groceries.

I unpacked and put away the groceries, had a beverage, and settled down to blog! Tails is comfortably curled on my chest between me and the keyboard, oblivious to all this, and purring gently. While the house is shaping up there is still so much to do; tomorrow is going to be a very busy day between cooking, cleaning, and organizing the remainder of the house! Being a single parent, particularly at times like this when the kids are not here and there is lots to do, can be a challenge.

Below is the current radar map. I am under the + mouse cursor (a bit above and in between Chicago and Detroit; click the small image for a larger one and you can easily see the cursor). The storm is tracking Northeast so everything below us is just coming across the lake, which enhances it, and then tracking through our area. It may snow all night and a good portion of the day tomorrow!


I'm a bit worried now; I just talked to the X; Scott left work at 8 PM and has not arrived home yet; it's a 10 minute ride in normal weather and now it is 8:50. I hope he's OK, she's going to call when he gets in!

I'm also worried about Kevin, Lili, and Lucy; they are driving here from New Jersey and they could not have picked a worse time weather-wise to to do this! They are supposed to arrive tomorrow and then will hit nothing but snow it appears, from the freeze line somewhere in Ohio and the Michigan border. That's about 3 hours driving in good weather!

And the day rolls on

More cleaning, organizing, got the DVDs entered manually that needed to be, all are now on shelves. The two big boxes have been unpacked.

Danielle will be over in about 45 minutes, I am sure she will want to play Left 4 Dead, so, I must get in as much additional cleaning as I can before she arrives!

Oh! The snow blower was delivered about and hour or so ago, I filled it with gas, checked the oil, and test ran it for a few minutes, works fine, can't wait to see how it will do with some major snow later.

Pictures from West Michigan

These shots are all from Sunday December 21st. The death of the snow blower and subsequent scrambling caused the delay in getting them posted. All open in a new browser window. Note the the temperatures here have not gone much above twenty in days and have been in single digits as well. Makes snow cleanup like eating a york peppermint Patty!


Tails watches for Polar Bears!


The snow overhanging the garage roof (it is bigger now!)


A Panoramic shot looking out my front window


The view down my driveway showings drifts
right before I discover the snow blower is broken!!!


The wind was so bad snow stuck to the outer screen door


Link of the day - Wood

Time to take a short break from the snow!

What can you do with wood?

Well, click HERE to see) opens in a new window)

Monday and Tuesday

Monday Night:
I went into the office, leaving here around 7:40 PM. The roads wee quite treacherous in places, snowy, icy, and the Mustang and I were not pleased having to go out in these conditions. As this was the only night this procedure was being run before the affected people would be laid off, I had no choice so, off I went.

I made it to the office, learned the procedure, took care of some follow up e-mails, and, after setting my "Out of Office" messages on phone and e-mail I headed home. I am off until December 26th when I have to go back to the office.

I stopped at Forest Hills Foods and did the rest of the Christmas dinner shopping, plunking down about $150 on top of the $100 previously spent. Add that to the cost of the snow blower and the kids presents and I guess I am giving Chase a very Merry Christmas!

I got everything except the sausage and ground sirloin I need for the lasagna, I like to get that fresh the day I am making it so I will run out first thing tomorrow morning.

Tuesday Morning:
Even though I had the day off I got up around 7 AM since I thought I might be first on the delivery route. However, it's almost 11 AM and still no snow blower.

Of course it has been snowing like a son of a gun for several hours but the main roads (I can see the intersection in the winter when the leaves are down) appears to be moving OK, so, hopefully the snow blower will still arrive today. UPS just delivered a package and I see there is already close to three inches of snow on my laboriously cleared driveway.

Yesterday morning they said we have had 50.5" of snow this year. The bulk of that was in the last 10 days. Add the snow since then and I think we easily have 55". I remember the first year we moved out here, the winter of 2000, by the end of December we had 96" of snow. We'll see how the rest of the month goes though I doubt (pray!) we will hit that!

I spent the morning doing more cleaning and organizing, the Living Room is slowly morphing into the most cleanest and organized state it has been in for quite along time. For Christmas I may even move the Exercise bike from the living room into my bedroom when my guests come over.

I've also been unpacking boxes and such, and Steve THANK YOU SO MUCH for the wonderful book and Gift Certificate, though they did give me quite a scare! The box was in a group of other Amazon shipments and first I opened a box with a couple of the kids items, and then I opened yours. I thought "OH CRAP!!! AMAZON SCREWED UP!!! CRAP!!! I double checked my address on the box, it was me. THEN I examined the packing materials! Whew! For a few minutes I though part of my Christmas order for the kids got placed wrong! Again though Steve, Many, Many thanks! As Brian's gift yesterday was the high point of my day, yours was both the high point and the most adrenalin infused moment of the day!

I have two big boxes left to unpack, and that short stack of DVDs to enter into the database manually, and then tomorrow all I need do later in the day is vacuum and dust, and the house shall be ready for visitors. Oh! I have a large poster I need to hang too, but that's no biggie. And of course I have sauce and a lasagna to make tomorrow too.....Yikes!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday, that's not my fun day!

More snow overnight, at least it was just a couple of inches of snow so I shoveled that before I left for work. I left the office at lunch time and headed out to look for a new snow blower. I had exhausted the possibilities on-line and the quickest I could get a decent unit here via delivery was 12/30. Since snow is forecast tomorrow going into Wednesday, and this coming weekend, and on and off the other days, I opted to get a replacement ASAP! Of course this cost me about $120 more than the unit I could have gotten free delivery on, time was of the essence to me.

Home Depot had a very hefty unit on sale, which I procured and arranged for delivery tomorrow. It is a lot more powerful than the dead one and has an 8 inch wider cut which should make clearing the driveway much quicker. I spent more than I wanted to, but, it should last a lot longer being it is heavy duty. The warranty was twice the length of the expired unit.

I worked from home for the remainder of the afternoon, and around 5 PM headed out to shovel again as it has been snowing on and off all day. Imagine my horror when I discovered since my arrival home the plows had been by in force, and the bottom of my driveway was clogged from the street to the sidewalk with heavy chunks of icy snow, three feet deep in some places!

It took about an hour to clear this, me taking my time between my back and heart rhythm issues I don't want to take any chances! Once again I had a deep appreciation and respect for those that do heavy work for a living!

Tails and I are relaxing now, I have to go into the office around 8PM to learn a new procedure because the people doing it now have been laid off. Sigh! I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a job these days!

If I am not too long at work I plan to stop at the grocery store to pickup the majority of items I still have need of for Christmas dinner.

Oh!! One particularly nice note of the day was that Brian and his wife Carrie sent me a Christmas present, a Star Trek Original Series Communicator. It was in fact the high point of the day. Thanks you guys!

And Carrie, EXCELLENT work on the cookies! While I should not have had any, I had two in the morning and then one later; they were delicious!!

Sunday, or KaBoom!!

I spent a good portion of the day indoors doing additional cleaning and organizing. I started catching up my DVD database. I had not realized I was so far behind entering DVDs into the system. Fortunately I have a little bar code scanner that scans the UPC codes and then the program imports this and pulls all the information (and cover/back shots) down for each DVD.

After fixing the driver for the scanner which for some reason was not working I began. Easily 40 titles had not been indexed since they were acquired. I got the majority scanned and have a small stack of about 8 DVDs that will have to be entered manually.

I went out around 4 PM to snow blow. We had close to another 6 inches overnight and during the day the strong winds caused this to drift to over a foot in some places. I started up the snow blower, engaged the gears, and headed over to the leading edge of the snow by the garage. I pulled the lever to engage the impeller and KABOOM!! A Dreadful thunking noise issued from within the snow blower's casing and voluminous clouds of noxious black smoke issued forth!

It was obvious that it was a gonner. I removed my ski cap, held it over my heart, and thanked it for four years of tireless service. Then, to do a sailor or trucker proud I recited a string of litanies not suitable for our younger viewers! I then spent about 90 minutes clearing the snow with a shovel. I was exhausted, sweaty, chilled to the bone, and sore when I finished.

I had dresses in layers to keep the coat from getting sweaty and I jumped into a nice warm shower. My back was already complaining about this activity, but, what can you do?

Making myself some Ramon was all I could handle and then Tails and I settled down to watch TV as I vowed not to move from the couch until bedtime unless the house caught on fire!

Around 8 PM the X brought over Scott who did not want to drive in the bad weather so he could pick up some things he needed for his stay at his mom's. She mentioned in passing that he should come over tomorrow and help me shovel. He groused stating that it was his day off why would he have to do that. Set your phasers on stun, I was flabbergasted! I love my kids but sometimes they can be very self centered. They forget things like my cleaning off his car on the mornings it snowed on school days, and before he had to go to work a couple of days we had the heavy snow. Not to mention the countless other things his mom and I do. I got very angry and after he had his stuff I told him he could go. As he was leaving I thanked him for making my day!

He and the X departed and I learned from email today they continued the conversation on the ride home. She reminded him of how little they do compared to all the work and chores we had as kids and how the constantly complain when asked to do something simple like emptying the dishwasher. Plus the fact that we work full time and still do all the tasks we need to do to run the houses and take care of the kids."Times are different now" was all he had to say.

Note this does not apply to Danielle, she is constantly helping the X and I with laundry and other chores, often without being told. She even does some of Scott's chores when he complains he is tired from work.

Sadly going forward he's going to see a change here at my house; no extras, no more game purchases, etc. unless there is good reason like a birthday or a really great report card. Perhaps that will make him understand it materialistically since he can't seem to understand it from the heart. I hardly slept at all last night, and have been in a foul mood all day today. I'm seriously considering selling the second xbox I recently bought for the family room. It's obvious he does not appreciate it. I'd welcome any opinions on this.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowy Sunday

As if the Snow on Friday was not enough, and as if it were not freaky enough that the weather forecast was right about it, once again I am surprised that yesterday's predication for more snow was right on the mark. I noticed early in the AM hours that it was snowing and it was snowing when I got up around 9 AM. It's almost 11:30 AM now and it is still snowing!

I took a panoramic shot out the back slider, I'll get that off the camera later and post it. One thing I really like about my 12 megapixel digital camera is it has a built in panoramic mode. You can snap and overlap up to three images and the camera automatically stitches them together. It does this with ease producing far better results than the software I had purchased a few digital cameras ago.

Right now it is time to disturb Tails (who is nestled under the blanket between my legs) so I can ride the exercise bike. I will then ponder how to spend the remainder of the day, which will probably include more house cleaning, laundry, and other mundane tasks. I have no plans on venturing out into the cold (the living room digital clock which features a built in weather station reports the exterior temperature is 8.7 degrees) since Tails and I have food and drink enough for the day. Since I have to go to work tomorrow I will snow blow after it stops snowing though.

Saturday (not in the Park)

I had planned on going to Meijer early Saturday since I still needed a turkey. I woke up a bit before 7:30 Saturday morning, so I decided what the hey, and off I went into the 15 degree weather!

The streets still had some snow and ice but the highway was much better. I arrived at Meijer without incident and parked in the lot which was still coated with snow and ice despite obviously having been plowed multiple times,

When I went through my diabetic education classes early last year one of the things the nutritionist told us was to always park at the far end of the parking lot wherever we go. Except at work I do this without thinking and I had done so this morning. As I slowly navigated the treacherous parking lot in an effort not to slip I regretted that decision!

I did my shopping, securing an excellent Butterball turkey, and saving $15 on it! Birds up to 16 pounds had $8 off, birds over 16 pounds had $15. Since I am making lasagna as well I only needed a 16 pound bird and I was fortunate to get a nice 16.1 pound one for the additional savings.

They were also having a sale on roasting pans so I got a full turkey roaster with lid, and a spare bottom pan. I use this for the lasagna, as I don't make no little lasagna, I make it in the bottom of a 20 pound turkey roasting pan! I also picked up a smaller oval shaped roasting pan since this year, for the first time, I think I am going to make the stuffing outside of the bird, though I will add some turkey drippings to it before roasting it. In previous years since the divorce I had borrowed the X's roasting pan. I figured since I needed to get a pan for the lasagna, why not get the turkey roasting pan too. One less thing I need to borrow around the holidays.

I also stocked up on Tails' preferred brand of cat food and treats, as Forest Hills Foods, right by my house, does not carry these, and on Tails' favorite canned cat food which is 20 cents cheaper a can at Meijer.

While the store was not crowded at all because of the early hour, I did notice Meijer was following the same rule all stores seem to have which is:

"Whenever there are three or more people in line, we will close another register!"

Since the bottom of the roasting pan I had did not have a UPC code (only the top for the set had those) I knew some adjustment would have o be made by a human so I skipped the you bag it yourself registers. Finally checking out, I then had the fun adventure of pushing the shopping cart through the parking lot to where the Mustang was parked on the outskirts, nearly overturning it a couple of times when the front wheels got stuck in the snow,

I headed home and plunked down for a short rest. I then began slowly cleaning the kitchen and dining rooms. I've pretty much given up on having them clean when the kids have their week at my house, so I usually clean the house the day the go back to their mom's for her week. I had them a day extra because the X, as she frequently is, was out of the area (in this case out of the state) on business, She would be back this evening.

Danielle got up, and, I sense a disturbing trend here, we played Left 4 Dead. Scott got up as his friend Alex arrived at 10 AM. I made Scott empty the dishwasher, and they disappeared to play the xbox downstairs. As Alex was here until 3:30 PM, I saw little of my kids until I made them a late lunch around 3:15. Scott and Alex had Ramon soup, and for Danielle I cooked some Dreamfield spaghetti and tossed it with a dash of salt, some olive oil, a pinch of garlic powder, butter, and grated Romano cheese. I had a bit of this myself.

Scott headed off for work, Danielle was picked up by the X (who had to wait until Danielle and I finished the level we were on) around 5PM.

Once again I was reminded how much I dislike when the kids leave for their week at their Mom's. This will be even worse because the kids Uncle Kevin and his wife and daughter will be out on Christmas eve from New Jersey. I offered the kids extra time at their Mom's house so they could be there with them since they will be here until New Years. While I will really miss the kids during my week, I felt it was the right thing to do since they rarely see Uncle Kevin and Company. I'll see them for Christmas dinner and I'm sure I spend sometime with the group since I get along great with Kevin and family.

Tails and I spent a quiet evening at home watching some Christmas specials and other TV. My favorite was A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart playing Scrooge. I was in bed early around 11 PM, but my thoughts would not quiet for a long time, and I last remember seeing the clock say 1:11 AM.

Friday Part II

Since Scott had to go to work Friday at 6:30 the driveway had to be cleared. Again the weather forecast impressed me with it's accuracy (or blind luck!) as shortly after 1 PM the snow stopped.

We had been snug and warn inside and spending the majority of the day watching TV specials and playing video games. At 4 PM I gave Scott my Xbox 360 and he took my place int he game Danielle and I were playing, and I headed out.

There was a foot of snow on the ground. And as this snow was so very fine, it was very heavy! I started up the snow blower and began easing through it. I have a good 5 horsepower machine but even on the lowest forward speed setting it was having some trouble. I took it slow and easy. My next door neighbor has one of those snow thrower machines, and he did my sidewalk up to my driveway, I thanked him, though I could have done the job quicker with my machine it was a nice gesture! If I beat him out there today I shall do the front walk on his house!

One of my neighbors across the street always shovels his snow. Today he accepted defeat and came over to borrow my unit to finish clearing his property, particularly the bottom of his driveway! You can just see my snow blower on the left side of this (size greatly reduced) panoramic show I made looking from the bottom of my driveway towards the cross street.



I worked on clearing the snow off of Scott's heavily encrusted car (see picture below) so he would not have to before departing for work.



Scott left for work and Danielle and I gamed for awhile before watching TV. A bit later I headed to China Garden to pickup some takeout food for Danielle and I. The rest of the evening, even after Scott's arrival home, consisted of more of the same; TV and Video Games. We all had an early bed time of 11:30 PM.

Friday, December 19, 2008

They Nailed It!

Well, the weather forecast was spot-on last night! They said it would not start snowing until midnight or later, and when I went to bed at 11:30 last night no snow had fallen. Around 3 AM I looked out the window and it was snowing fiercely and there was already a few inches on the ground. I awoke again around 6:15 AM and turned on the TV and as expected the kids school was canceled as there was not easily 5 inches of snow and it was snowing harder than it had been at 3 AM. Danielle has already been watching the news in the living room so I told her to go back to bed.

It was a perfect day for working at home, so I decided to get in another hour's sleep figuring no one would be int he office on time, and of course they would call me if anything came up.

I got up, freed Tails from her room in the basement, and connected into to work. After going through my e-mails and such it was around 8:45. I had a meeting at 9:00 AM (Conference call) so I went to check on the snow and the weather. They said the snow was now falling at a rate of 1 to two inches an hour! The snow on Scotti's car was already above the bottom rim on his wheels and the wind was blowing hard.

Right now I would say there's around 8 inches on the ground. The kids and I are safe, warm, and have food and drink, and heat! I see no need to journey outside for snow removal until 5:30 PM so Scott can get out of the driveway for work. Danielle was up around 9:30 and Scott around 10:30 and they disappeared downstairs to play Castle Quest on the xbox 360.

The storm is supposed to start slowing down shortly and will hopefully b done before I have to clean the driveway. Once will be enough!

Tails has been having fun running in a frenzy between outside viewing locations in between hanging out with the kids and napping.

Here's a video I shot out the back of the house. I'll post some pictures of the snow later or tomorrow.


video

Thursday, December 18, 2008

YARB! (Yet Another Random Bloggette!)

It was about 12 degrees here this morning when I got up for work. Single digits overnight.

It is 25 right now. By midnight the snow is forecast to start, by the time it ends tomorrow they are saying 6-12 inches - we shall see what happens!

We had three inches yesterday morning...fun times here, a couple of days with the roads ice covered and the temperatures so cold the ice on the streets would not melt it....

The extended forecast shows snow in some form or another through next Wednesday!

On another note, Scott and Danielle had their Christmas Concert (both are in Choir), so, I took the cowards way out and ordered from Vitale's our favorite Italian place that provides delivery. Danielle and I, and later Scott and I, got to play some Left 4 Dead together before they had to get dressed for the concert. We also watched some TV afterward.

First the first time in I don't know how long (a couple of years at least!), Danielle wore a skirt! I took a picture of the two of them, I'll try and remember to post that with another picture I have in mind regarding an event this past Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Weekend in review (and Monday too!)

More spine-tingling excitement from the Falco clan!

The major fun Saturday was the washing of the kids bed linens and pillows, 7 loads of wash required for this and it ran for a good part of the day. LOADS of fun...pun intended!

I also went online and did all my Christmas shopping for the three kids, and all this via Amazon.com. Being a member of their prime service is certainly worth it, particularly around the holidays. All 2 day shipping is free, and overnight shipping upgrades are available for $3.99.

Sunday I took the kids to the mall, making them get up early, so we could be there for the 10 AM opening. This is the fourth year I have done 99% of all my Christmas shopping on line. This year due to financial constraints I won't go into here, only family, I am very sad to say, will be getting presents. (Note though in my spirit of giving I am happy to take your presents!) So anyway, unlike their Dad, the kids still need to have a trip out to procure some or most of their items.

So, I had no problem with this, but did not want to have to deal with crowds just so they could sleep in as is their habit. So, Danielle was awakened at 8:45 (her choice so she could straighten her hair) and Scott around 9:00, so we could be out of the house on time.

Scott still groused a bit about the early wake up call, adding that people would still be in church at 10 AM, but I hate crowds at the mall, and having to wait in line to pay for purchases, so, we went. We arrived about 10 minutes before the stores opened so we used the time to part and walk to the first store we would be shopping at.

The mall was indeed not crowded at all, I don't know if this was due to people being at church, the economic state of things, a combination of the two, but for whatever reasons we got in and out rather quickly, even having time to stop for a pretzel at Auntie Em's before heading out. Total time in the mall was less than two hours!

Sunday the weather warmed up and the temperature rose into the low 40's. It has also risen to about 35 on Saturday. While the driveway pretty much lost the inch of ice it had the roof only shed about half of it's icy covering.

I made homemade chicken soup for dinner Sunday, timing it to be ready after Scott's friend Alex had departed, and because the X had been sick for a couple of days, I made her a container and ran it over to her. She was most pleased, and Scott tells me she had the second serving for lunch on Monday. Scott, Danielle, and I had it for dinner last night too. It was delicious!

I had Monday off of work for personal reasons I won't go into, but I did go out and do the majority of the staple shopping for Christmas dinner. Since I painted myself into a corner I will be making Lasagna and Turkey for 10 people, I think I am going to make the Lasagna Christmas Eve day or there is no way I can pull this off, particularly with my small stove! I planned on getting the turkey too, but I wanted a Butterball, and the only ones that had were either too small or too big.

Danielle and I watched the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, and I was quite surprised how much better this was than I had anticipated. We did not go to see it, and I am very pleased we watched it. Great viewing for kids of all ages, particularly older ones like myself who remember the cartoons and Christmas albums. Note the link above takes you to a history of the Chipmunks but has links to the cartoons and movie.

Danielle continued to impress me with her video gaming. She and I have moved from Easy to Moderate difficulty on Left 4 Dead and have been having great fun over the weekend and last night playing it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Great DVD Giveaway

I have quite a few DVDs in my collection. Last year I bought a program to automate the tracking of this and even procured a cheap bar code scanner so I can just scan a DVDs UPC code and the program automatically looks it up and populates the database entry.

Over the past two years I have been having random DVD giveaways at work. The reason behind this is because I end up with duplicates. Reasons for this include, but are not limited to:
  • I might get an HD-DVD or Bluray version of previously owned DVD title.
  • I was stupid and forgot I had a DVD and did not discover it until after I could have returned the duplicate.
  • I had one movie from a trilogy and later I bought the boxed set of the trilogy
  • A new special edition was released, like this years remastered special edition of "A Charlie Brown Christmas.
So, because of these reasons I periodically have spare DVD's.

Rather then saving them for a garage sale or trying to sell them by other means, I bring them into work and I wait until a point in the day where most people would be in, and I send out an e-mail detailing the DVDs that are free for the asking.

The rules are simple, reply back with your choices in order of preference. You can only get 1 DVD each time I do this, and yours must be the first reply I get back for the given title. When I have half a dozen or more DVDs this generates quite the flurry of activity considering I mail this to 30 or more people. I've given away around 40 DVDs in this manner.

So, it is a nice thing I like to do, and until yesterday all I received in return were some thanks, which really is all I required. I really do like giving more than receiving, though it took me a long time over the years to realize it truly is better to give than to receive. Please don't get me wrong though, anyone who wants to send me an Amazon Gift Certificate this year to help me replace my failing AV receiver is more than welcome to!

One of this weeks movies, the first Jurassic Park movie, was taken by my friend Brian. Yesterday he told me when he brought home the DVD I had given him he told his young son Brandon, that Mr. Chris (my nickname at work) had given him Brandon's all time favorite movie!

Dad! How did Mr. Chris know this was my favorite movie?? his son had asked, and then excitedly ran around the house brandishing the movie which he then settled down to watch.

It made my day! It made my week!! In fact it was the best thing that has happened to me this week!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More boring stuff.......

Monday night I went to bed with the thought of much snow and bad conditions in store for Tuesday morning based on the media slathering based on cold temperatures and and an approaching storm from the gulf of Mexico in addition to lake effect snow.

Well, the temperatures rose overnight to a good 5 degrees above freezing so the majority of what fell was rain on top of the snow. Travel was a bit hazardous but nothing major.

Then they predicted that by sun down the temperatures would plummet and the snow would continue all night for large accumulations. Wrong again! The temps fell (Nice sheet of ice under the snow in my driveway I discovered this morning!) but the snow only amounted to another 2-3 inches by me. This morning's ride once I got out of my driveway and off my street was better than yesterday's.

The sun is actually out now, rare to be seen in West Michigan winter, though through Friday evening the temps will stay in the 20's. Saturday and Sunday will warm into the low 40's which will be a nice break.

On the non-weather front work has been very challenging since an event I will not discuss here happened last Friday. It has been super ultra stressful, but, what can you do?

Scott and I played an hour of Left 4 Dead last night and had a good time, plus Danielle joined us to watch a couple of Scrubs re-runs, and How I Met Your Mother. Another quiet evening and as it was my dinner night of the X's week the kids stayed until about 7:30 when they headed to the X's house because of the snow.

I watched TV and also played some Left 4 Day solo with computer generated team mates.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Weekend in Review

This post is so boring I almost did not post it!

Tails Kitty and I took advantage of the fact that there were no kids at my house and we stayed in. Because of the snow forecast for Saturday Friday on the way home from work I picked up supplies and Saturday we basically stayed in and watched the snow. It snowed most of the day (or so it seemed whenever I looked outside) yet there were barely an additional 3 inches as the snow was the finest I have ever seen.

Sunday I went out and cleared the snow, and other than laundry and some deep appliance cleaning, I watched TV, played on the Xbox 360, puttered around on the computer, and watched a number of classic Christmas specials off of the DVD set I was given for Christmas last year.

A quiet weekend, but a relaxing one!

Speaking of snow from this afternoon through Wednesday morning we have a winter storm warning in effect!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Winter Storm Watch
or
What else is new?

Last night was a quiet evening after work. After the requisite exercise bike ride I got cleaned up and settled down to relax. Scott had his friend Ben over and they brought home all the dishes from the International Fair which I mentioned previously.

After Ben left I made Danielle and I an omelet with diced turkey pepperoni, shredded potatoes, egg beaters, with slices of Kraft 2% sharp cheddar cheese melted on top. For Scott I boiled some water, added some skinless chicken breast tenders, and then a package of Ramon soup mix. The majority of the evening was spent watching TV.

A bit before bed I washed the dishes Scott had used. As they had soaked in the sink in soapy water for 5 hours the cleanup here was relatively an easy one!

It was snowing during the night, only about an inch, just enough to make the ride into work a slippery adventure! Of course it has been snowing since the ride in and now at lunch time there is at least 5" and it is still snowing. It's supposed to take a break but be back big time for the weekend. Of course, it is still snowing now and it was already supposed to stop. The Mustang, even with all season tires, does not like to go in the snow.

I am SO GLAD I got the snow blower working!

My plan for this evening, and the weekend in fact, is to hunker down and plan on going NOWHERE! The kids go back to their mom's this evening for the start of her week, so I can just kick back, queue up some of the holiday compilation DVDs I got as presents last Christmas, and enjoy the snow while being indoors.

This has been one of the most stress filled weeks at work I have ever had....I really need the downtime, and I am so looking forward to not having to get up in the morning for work.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rice, rice, baby.

Today they had an international fair at Scott and Danielle's high school. Scott, just turned 17 on Saturday, is in his second year of learning Japanese. So last night we had fun making 60 rice balls with seasoning wrapped in seaweed. It required four batches of sushi rice (which is harder to make than regular rice!) The first batch was completed by 4:30 and the last by 10:30 PM.

Working around this at the dinner hour I also made the kids homemade French toast with real vanilla and I had an Egg Beaters omelet with turkey bacon. Danielle enjoyed turkey bacon on the side.

This morning we all had fun carrying all the dishes of these (they have to be in a single layer, not touching) out to my sons car. Needless to say he arrived home from school with rock hard rice encrusted dishes in hand which are now soaking in the sink. Superglue has nothing on the holding strength of dried sushi rice!

It was nice, my daughter pitched in to help too which was nice, and of course I got to do all the cleanup duty in between batches of rice and from dinner.

I also managed to play a bit of the Left 4 Dead video game with Scott supplying me with helpful tips. It's more fun when we play together but he came in on me about 80% way through a chapter in this series we play together. My daughter and I watched the second part of this weeks 2 part Heroes episode. And I made them my infamous French toast (made with heavy cream and real vanilla) for dinner with me having a nice healthy egg beaters omelet with turkey bacon.

All in all, a decent evening in spite of the incredibly stress filled day of work yesterday (and then again today). Sigh!

On the weather front, it is 24 degrees outside and the forecast for the next 8 days is "Chance of snow"......again I say sigh!

My street was so icy this morning! (How icy was it??) It was so icy that when I approached the corner at idle speed of the car, I still almost slid out into the intersection at the red light! This was after have to spend 15 minutes using my little portable pump to inflate the right rear tire which was almost flat (an anomaly perhaps? The tire was at full pressure after work today) which should have given me an indication of the day yet to come. Dare I say sigh again....no....I will use some self control and save it for tomorrow!!

Monday, December 01, 2008

It never fails

I thought I felt a bit weird this morning when I got up, after retuning in from snow blowing and grocery shopping my mild headache had blossomed into a real pounder and I have the feverish tired feeling.

Sigh! Were the kids not coming over this evening I would have retreated to my bed instead of shopping and clearing the snow, let's hope I feel better after some home made chicken soup and a nights sleep as it is back to work tomorrow.

It's Winter in West Michigan......Again!

It snowed for the first time in earnest though early last week we had just over an inch of wet heavy snow and of course the snow blower would not work so I had to shovel it.

I did get the snow blower working which is good because it began snowing pretty heavily with lots of wind last night. The power went off around 9 PM and was off for about three hours. It was maddening, because on one side of my house, the side that is next to the main street, is a small chiropractor's office, and it had power. The light by their back door seemed to be mocking me as did the light of the office building across the street from me opposite the chiropractor!

My whole neighborhood was dark and it was pretty localized; I called the X who lives on the other side of the park that sits between my old development and her newer one and she had power.

I soon saw the flashing lights of the power companies truck working on something near the street between my house and the chiropractor.

Tails and I settled in, her madly dashing about in the dark and me, on the couch with the oven set to 'warm' and flickering L.E.D. candles going. I watched Christmas specials on my Archos 5 Internet Media tablet which fortunately had close to full charge!

I see via my e-mail alerts this AM that the kids had a snow day, I bet they are pleased! I have the day off as well, I took it off to extend my thanksgiving vacation. Back to work for me tomorrow.

The conditions were right for this snowfall to be the kind that piles up on branches, wires, etc. It is quite beautiful actually!

Below are four pictures, the last one being my favorite, which can be clicked on for much larger versions, of the snow that greeted me this morning.





I'm sure the beauty will fade fast, or it's magic lost on me, particularly with the weather report showing snow every day this week into the weekend........ugh!

Friday, November 28, 2008

WARNING! Stuffin' Muffin Recipe Recall!

WARNING!! If you have not made the Cornbread Stuffin' Muffin recipe I posted earlier today, and you have pets, then for heaven's sake DO NOT MAKE THIS RECIPE!

Tails ate most of one of the muffins a couple of hours ago and I heard her making strange guttural noises in the other room. Below is the picture of her that greeted me.....do not let your pets eat these muffins!!!



Humans appear unaffected by these side effects. I wonder about small children.......

Recipe - Cornbread Stuffin' Muffins

So, I was really missing my cornbread sausage stuffing this year! Last night when I was doing my shopping prior to Scott getting off of work,I picked up a couple of packages of Jiffy brand corn muffin mix.

Today, an idea hit me, and while I was out running errands I stopped at the local grocery store and picked up some sausage and onion. A new recipe was born.

Note that in the spirit of Thanksgiving dinner this is NOT one of my healthy recipes though I may go back and do such a variation down the road. This is bad food, but, for a first try it came out fantastic!

Ingredients
1 8.5 oz box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
5 oz sausage (Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans Original recipe)
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup milk
2 tbs butter
1/3 cup Egg Beaters
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground back pepper

Preparation:
Flatten out sausage in frying pan and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning, 1/8 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp freshly ground back pepper. Cook until edges start to brown, flip over and cook other side. Remove from pan in place in bowl lined with paper towels to drain grease. After sausage has cooled, crumble coarsely.

Reserve 2 tbs sausage drippings and add to this 2 tbs butter. Once butter has melted add onions and sprinkle with remaining spices. Stir well and cook, stirring occasionally until onions start to brown.

Return sausage to pan, stir well and cook an additional two minutes. Remove mixture to a bowl lined with paper towels to remove grease.

Make muffin mix according to package directions substituting the 1/3 Egg Beaters for the 1 egg and increasing the amount of milk from 1/3 cup to 1/2. cup This will be needed to make mixture a bit thinner so it seeps down into and over the sausage and onions..

Spray a 12 muffin pan with PAM or other cooking spray and then divide sausage and onion mixture between the 12 compartments. Top each muffin with the muffin batter and if need be carefully smooth to edges. Let set for 3 minutes and then bake per package directions.

These Stuffin' Muffins can be eaten as is, substituted for stuffing with your favorite poultry dish, covered with gravy, or served however you like.