Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Gift of Christmas and Wishes

A Christmas tree for Connie's Fall from Autumn

by Cherie Colombo

I remember an Autumn, a September's warm and sunny day in Santa Clara, California, 45 years ago. Anxiously awaiting for my kindergarten son of five to make his "big man walk alone" home from school. I watched the clock calculating my little five year old's couple of blocks' strategy. "That's it!" I thought, "taking too long!" As I was about to bolt out the door for rescue, the phone rang. A smiling voice on the other end saying, "don't worry, he's here, he gave my daughter a rose." I arrived at this nice lady's home. The door opened and I walked into Connie's life and a friendship that would last for decades.  
Connie K. Garcia Hoy. Our lives shared the trials and tribulations that a relationship of blessed longevity brings. She was married and had two sons and a daughter. I was married and raising my only son. Young mothers, young wives, and young lives had a lot to share in common. The swift passing years brought multiple changes. Changes in marriage, change in career. A change in location with a major move to Idaho, cultural shock in our 30's. The teen years of raising those kids, and then the death of my son in my 40's, the divorces, serious life threatening diseases, medical procedures, ageing parents, dying parents, care giving to parents, loss, and death adjustment, and us aging..... It all plays out like a fast forward movie in your mind. But, we were solid lifelines, encouraging, laughing, crying, and talking and talking our way through it all.
Connie K. Garcia Hoy, we called each other best friends, but after knowing each other for forty-five years, we merged as family somewhere along the line and I will forever see her this way. "Happy Birthday", I had said to her on September 13, 2013. We laughed that she didn't feel anything different at all! I sent her a card with sentiments relating to how much we had experienced together and that we now were in the Autumn of our years, not knowing when our winter would come.... but still looking forward to all we would share with new beginnings.

Connie had recently lost her husband Ray to Alzheimer. An intense few years of care-giving had left her recouping and searching for a new direction in life. She died four days later after her 72 birthday. An unexpected massive heart attack. Connie literally did fall on September 17, 2013, but not without a last wish to be realized. Truly, my heart and mind will miss her for the rest of my days. You just keep looking for those subtle messages that make you go, hmmmm.
Connie treaded lightly on this earth. Her love for nature and philosophy galore! Not to be confused that she wouldn't stand up for a cause if needed be, but, intelligently weighed her convictions of justice with grace of wisdom as she saw it. Her thrust was for fairness in truths revealed and although I argued she could take some things too seriously, her analytical mind remained restless. Thank God for a wonderful sense of humor and good nature that would eventually maintain her balance of goodwill, and, realize her wish in the outcome....                   

Her life was relatively quiet and content in her marriage to Ray Hoy. They settled in Nampa, ID. And Connie's love for gardening, exotic plants, and rare heirloom seeds grew. For a few years she made a business of servicing restaurant's chefs with her beautiful edible herbs and flowers. My interest in gardening was not as extensive as hers, but I learned a lot from her that shows in my own gardening skills of today.

Later in years, Ray retired and his health began to slip away. Connie still kept gardening but the grounds once maintained with both of their efforts were now out of control and overgrown. Her time, now devoted to Ray when the devastating disease of Alzheimer slowly took its toll. Her strength of handling the situation is to be revered.  

Christmas Tree. memory, spruce, City of caldwell
Spruce Tree
After the passing of Ray, Connie's determination of putting things back in order became her ominous mission. We had hour long conversations of what needed to be done for restoration. And then, a real focus occurred.  The front of her home had been obscured from view for some time due to a monster huge Spruce tree. " I am going to remove it," she said with conviction. "Oh, really? How's that going to happen?" I said with much apprehension. I could tell she had given this much thought, after all, the tree was part of the family! Being the wonderful researcher she had become, she told me she had found an interested connection for the tree and it would be donated in Ray's name as a beautiful "City Christmas Tree"!  What a tribute to Ray, what a honor, I was so excited for her. The anticipation of this event would truly be soul healing and gratification..... who knew what was to be?  Was her wish gone with her own demise?

city of caldwell, christmas tree
Tree Transportation
for the City of Caldwell
Christmas Tree Lighting
Connie was blessed in many ways through this life. The best being she had three beautiful children who grew into amazing adults! Rina, Frank and Steven. She referred to them as the jewels in her crown and I admired how she knew how to love each of them equally with all the differences of individually they presented. They all lived in distance in the pursuit of their lives. 

The devastating news would bring these three together in the most challenging ways they have ever known. I share the grief with them, but they were the ones that had to deal with the physical closure and all that must be addressed physically and mentally when these kind of life events presents itself in our lives..... I know somewhere, my dear special friend smiles and is proud. It is perfect completion of a life cycle. Her children have met all her wishes, and then some. The three came together as an awesome team! Accomplishing things together and establishing a new bond between each other that will last forever. Big Smile Here! AND, the last wish of my friend, the tree? It was removed by the fine City of Caldwell, ID. and stands tall and proudly waits for the Christmas lighting ceremony November 22, 2013 in the name of Ray and Connie Hoy. 

caldwell, spruce tree, christmas tree, connie, memory
Connie and Raymond Hoy's tree has reached its final destination.
Placed in The City of Caldwell and is now ready to be decorated!
For the Christmas Tree lighting on November 22, 2013.

MERRY CHRISTMAS my friend and to all, wishes do come true.... and new beginnings.....

This guest post contribution is written by my friend and mentor of many years.  Though 1000 miles separate us, my inspiration to write was generated by many beautiful and descriptive hand-written letters sent to me from Cherie. The three children in this story.... I was their babysitter when I was 13 ~  a fact non related (seemingly) to my friendship with the author.  ~ It's not the destination..... it's the journey ~

Monday, November 4, 2013


Angels In My Life

angel, stamp, christmas, cards, ink
My Angel Stamp
A golden Angel sits at the top of our Christmas tree.  She smiles down at us as we gather below in celebration of the Christmas season.  The old traditional icicle ornamental tree topper from many years before no longer carries the sentiment it once did.  The Angel is our family’s new tradition, a symbol of protection and God’s Love.

I ordered an Angel stamp and gold ink to use on our Christmas cards.  Two weeks later, there was a funeral in our small town for a fifteen-year-old girl who died in a tragic accident.  During the service, her mother read a poem she had written.  It was about an Angel.  I returned home after the service feeling very emotional, trying to make sense of it all.  The mail carrier left a package on my doorstep, the angel stamp had arrived.  I opened the package and found myself thinking about Angels.


I first knew of the physical presence of an angel when I was about eight years old.  My family was traveling across the desert by night during a violent rainstorm.  I was sitting with my head on my mother's lap as lightning bolts lit up the sky.  My father lost control of the car and we started skidding sideways into a ditch and directly toward a telephone pole!  My mom told my dad to let go of the steering wheel and let the car go its own way.  I saw the huge telephone pole that was getting closer and closer when suddenly the car miraculously changed direction by 90 degrees, rolling in reverse, and narrowly missing what could have been a fatal crash into that pole!

The six of us were badly shaken but unharmed.  The wheels of the station wagon were embedded in mud.  While waiting for help to arrive we had time to recount what had happened.  I remember my other saying that a Guardian Angel was standing at the pole and had kept us from crashing into it.

The idea of God sending an Angel to protect our family seemed very reasonable to me.  However, this was my first realization that I was the recipient of Divine Intervention by an Angel.  Ever since that night, I am aware that Angels are present and most certain they play an important part in my life and the lives of others.


My mother took my little sister and I to visit her sister for the summer.  Our little cousins were the same ages as the two of us and we considered them our "twin cousins".  Muffy Sue, my own "twin" cousin was suffering from Leukemia.  Though I did not know the severity of her illness until I was much older, I knew she was very sick.  We had to take her to the hospital for lots of tests and she took medicine, constantly.  However, when she had good days we got to play in my Grandma's sprawling gardens and go on outings to the parks, the circus, and the zoo!  The four of us played all summer long and became very close.

One day we went to the petting zoo and the lambs and goats got into a scuffle and frightened Muffy.  She was terrified of lambs and goats from that day on and would cry every time she saw one.

During my Kindergarten year, my Mother woke me up in the night to tell me that Muffy had gone to heaven.  I could not understand why God had not kept her from dying, because in all of my 5 year little life I had never prayed for anyone as much as I prayed for her.

Years later, I learned that just before Muffy died, she told her mommy that she could see all the little lambs and could she go and play with them?  Her mother told her that yes, she could go play with the lambs.

I know that Muffy is among Angels, but often wish that she were here.  I wonder what she would be like today and how she and I would influence each other's lives.  I think of her when I see lambs... and when I think of Angels.

My doctor shook his head in amazement that I was still pregnant at 34 weeks gestation.  I was carrying triplets and the pregnancy was challenged by many factors including preterm labor symptoms.  He suggested a scheduled Cesarean Section the next day but I convinced him that I could make it one more week to give the babies more time to develop.  I wanted my babies to have the heath advantage of being five weeks premature rather than six weeks.

Two days later my husband was called out of state.  His father had just suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma before his son could make the 2000 mile trip to go see him.  His parents were scheduled to come out and help once the babies were born.  I was afraid they might be born while their daddy was away.

The triplets waited until their father's return to be welcomed into the world.  We celebrated their birth and felt determined that no matter what challenges our family faced, these precious lives would remain safe.  Their arrival gave us all hope at a most difficult time. There was a lot of praying going on.

Though our babies had only routine health complications due to their premature birth, their Grandpa remained comatose.  We spent every possible moment in the Neonatal Intensive Care Ward with our three babies in incubators; two of them were on ventilators.  Two thousand miles away, our extended family took vigil in the Cardiac Intensive Care Ward with Grandpa.  We longed to be with them and they, with us.

The two weeks we spent in the NICU taught us extraordinary lessons about life and death.  Each day held moments of joy and sadness, love and fear.  Tragedy and miracles are regular occurrences in such an environment.  We rejoiced with families when a baby was sent home.  We cried and held our babies close when a family was sent away with empty arms, never to hold their own baby again.  I am convinced that the staff of doctors and nurses who work for such great causes know they work amongst Angels.

As our babies grew, I was determined to continue my independence as much as possible.  The idea of being responsible for four small children was terrifying! The oldest had just turned five and his three siblings were lively five month olds.  Knowing I was faced with the many challenges of raising a large family, I took a deep breath and decided to continue onward.  It was time to see what I could manage on my own so I packed the children into our new van, buckling the babies into their car seats.

We started out on our new venture to my parent's house, 100 miles away.  I was mentally prepared for a lot of stops and delays as I would need to tend to the children's needs.  I was not completely comfortable with driving after a bed-ridden pregnancy followed by a life that kept me housebound, and new car that I was just getting used to operating.  My mind was whirling with thoughts of how I would manage the next couple of days as I made stops at each of the stop signs along the country highway.  Some of the intersections had two-way stops and some had four-way stops.

The next thing I knew there was a loud BANG!  I opened my eyes form what I thought was a split second blink to see no front end on the van and smoke curling up from where the engine once was.  There were people running toward us.  With no time to spare, I unbuckled my seat belt.  The next moment found me unbuckling babies from their car seats and handing them one by one to total strangers that came to help.  I felt like I was in a dream and had no idea of what had just happened.

A women and her daughter had been passing through and they were the first to come to our aid.  Her first words were that no one was hurt, which was all that mattered.  She invited me to bring my children to her car while we waiting for the police to arrive.  She helped me hold and calm the babies.  Realizations started sinking in of what had just happened.  Though I had stopped at the stop sign, I had continued as a semi was approaching from the left.  The impact of the collision had caused my van to spin 180 degrees across the intersection. Miraculously, everyone was unharmed including the driver of the semi.

Through my humiliation came intense anger. Most of my family had almost been wiped out in a moment.  My error had been no different from the mistakes many of us make in any given day.  A lapse in judgment, a wrong reflex...  Why was the fragility our mortality being thrown in our faces once again?  After all we had been through with the loss of my father-in-law and the fight to keep our babies alive?!

Instead o feeling gratitude that we were all alive, I felt angry and afraid.  I would not talk to anyone about the accident.  I lost faith that tragedies can have purpose even when we do not understand what that purpose might be at the moment.  I felt I would never trust myself again.  I would not acknowledge my Angel.

A few years later, my recently widowed Mother-in-law had a near fatal accident.  She was just starting to settle into a routine of leaning to live on her own without the companionship of her beloved husband.  After recovering form her injuries, she and I shared our feelings and thoughts about each of our accidents.  We had gone through similar experiences and we shared a special closeness as we shared with one another.

I had finally realized that I was wasting precious energy trying to figure out what purposes these incidences have.  It was at this pint in my life that tI stopped searching for reasons and learned to accept all that has happened.  I was finally ready to acknowledge my Angel.  It seems that when we think we are in control of our lives, circumstances humble us and make us realize that something much greater than us is at work.  I believe the Angels are sent to us to guide us through these times.  They help to protect us and keep the presence of God alive in our hearts and souls.

No longer am I surprised at the presence of Angels.  I have learned to expect them and welcome them.  Whether they take the form  of the woman who let me wait in her car with my children, or of the halting of a child's intense fear, or the words that surprisingly pour from one's lips as they find just the right thing to say to comfort someone, these Angels are all around us.
Christmas tree, angel, tree topper
Angel topping the Christmas Tree

On a well-traveled country highway, about two miles east of Stockton, California, there is a white cross that marks the place where a life was lost.  Just west of that marker is a house where a wheelchair bound man lives.  He often sits outside on the side of the highway with his big black dog, waving at people as they whiz by in their vehicles.  Many of them wave back.

Seeing him has caused me to wonder of his condition... and his story.  I have admired how he chooses to spend his time; making contact with the folks that are probably strangers to him.  Does he have any idea of the impact he has on so many of us that notice him? Does he realize that his presence interrupts our fast-paced thoughts long enough to cause another look at the speedometer or to cause a new awareness of our surroundings?  How many lives might he have changed in one brief moment?  Or even saved?

He must have an Angel close be to keep him from harm.  Or is he the Angel?


This story was written on a typewriter in 1995.  In 2005, my daughter came home from school with her writing assignment.  It is about her Angel.  I have chosen to include it as the sequel to my story. 
My Angel

      Driving along a busy highway on a sweet, sunny day, I observed the familiar scenery of orchards and shrubs and the occasional house peeking through tiny holes of soaring oak trees.  Wisps of wind coming from the open window tickled my face as I inhaled the fragrant aroma of the fresh spring morning. I turned my head to peer out the adjacent window.  A movement caught by the corner of my eye lured my curiosity toward the front, where I noticed a man perched near the side of the road outside of a cozy, pastel-colored house.  As we approached, his appearance became more obvious to my vision. The man was in a wheelchair…and he was waving.

I had a whirlwind of questions about this peculiar sight.  Who was this mysterious man waving at?  What was his name?  Why was he in a wheelchair?  Of course, these questions had to remain in my mind for the remainder of the afternoon, because the car had stopped and my mother, rushing us out of her old, blue mini-van and wishing us a wonderful day at school, interrupted my thoughts.  Throughout classes, during lunch, and until the last bell rang I thought about this man.

I awoke the next morning to the smell of fresh apple pancakes and coffee.  I went through my ordinary routine, forgetting about the man from the day before. At 7:40, my siblings and I raced out the door and scrambled into the van for another school day.  It was not until my brother curiously asked about the “waving man,” as he called him, that I remembered.  We all decided to look for him as we approached closer to the site where we first saw him.

Sure enough, the waving man was sitting in his timeworn wheelchair waving vigorously at passing cars.  I was able to get a much better look, and what a sight he was!  Upon long, dark, straggly hair rested a unique, black leather cap. His skin appeared tanned and rough, and his eyes drooped under heavy eyebrows.  He wore a tattered, soft-brown leather jacket with leather fringes dangling from the arms.  His jeans were a faded blue, and a beautiful black Labrador dog sat at his side.  The only thing new about him that I happened to notice were his bright blue and white sneakers.  I waved at him as we drove by, and I thought I saw the corner of his mouth turn up into a smile.

For the next two years, no matter how extreme the weather, we drove by the waving man each day, wondering many things about the events of his life.  He transformed what was a boring drive to school into an exciting and entertaining twenty minutes.  Regardless of where the waving man was from, we were grateful we had the opportunity to share our morning drive with a stranger who gradually became less of a stranger with each “wave” we exchanged.

Many years have passed since I last witnessed the warm presence of the waving man.  He vanished as quickly and mysteriously as he appeared. To this day, I am in awe at his exceptional desire to be a part of our world, despite the challenges of everyday life. I saw in him never-ending courage and deep compassion for the world and the different people who lived in it.  This man taught me a valuable lesson about cherishing life, and I now know what it means to truly live.  His disappearance doesn't bother me, because I know he was my "angel," and has gone to shine brightly on other young, eager souls as he did on me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fall for the Sip

This is a re-blog from the GlassDharma Blog "Sip The World".

The recipes are my own, so I just had to share the with you - too often we think of Autumn salivating for gravies, soups, stews and baked goods.  Today lets think nutritious beverages!

waldorf, smoothie, celery, walnuts, apples, pear
Featured glass straw: "Smoothie"
Beautiful Bends (12mm)

Waldorf Smoothie

1 small Apple 1 small Pear
  (core, diced, previously frozen)
1 oz. Apple Juice
4 oz. Almond Milk
1 - 2 ribs fresh Celery (sliced)
1/4 Cup broken Walnut-meats

Instructions: blend all ingredients & serve immediately.
(We used the NutriBullet for this recipe.

 Serves 1 - 2

Almond - Pear Smoothie with Raisins

2 diced Pears (peeled and previously frozen)
4 Dates (seeded and soaked in water)
smoothie, almond, pear, raisins, sugar
Featured glass straw: "Smoothie"
Beautiful Bends (12mm)4 Dates (sliced and soaked)
1/4 cup Raisins (soaked)
1/4 cup Almonds (chopped)
1 t. Baking spice*
3/4 cup Almond Milk

 Instructions: blend all ingredients and serve immediately.

* Baking Spice suggestion - Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves and Cardamom.

TIP: Soak the raisins and dates together for at least 10 minutes (hot water) or overnight.  Some of the soaking water can be used to improve the consistency and desired sweetness of this recipe.

Note: This recipe has no sugar added.

Serves 2 - 3 
glass straw, cherry pepper jelly, martini
Featured glass straw:  clear Decorative Dots
"Sipper" (7mm)

Cherry Pepper-tini

2 t. Cherry Pepper Jelly
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
2 oz. Vodka
Splash of Vermouth (extra dry)

Mix over ice in a cocktail shaker and strain,
serve with a slice of Bell Pepper

Mocktail Version (non-alcohol)
 2 t. Cherry Pepper Jelly
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
1 oz. Apple Juice
1 oz. Seltzer water

Mix over ice in a cocktail shaker and strain,
serve with a slice of Bell Pepper

Serves 1

Add a Glass Straw!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Wow ~ My Cousin Makes Dandelion Jelly

Making and Preserving Jelly from Flowers 

Summer months are behind us now and there is a push to get as much of the bounty "put up" as possible.
Home Canning is an age old practice that is once again gaining popularity with recent findings of plastic lined cans leaching toxins into our diets.  Home canning in glass jars assures us of our own food safety and control over what we consume and choose serve our families.

My cousin, Renee Brakemeyer makes Jelly from Flowers!  ~ seriously!
Here is her recipe for "Dandelion Jelly" (She combined 2 different recipes for this tried an true version).

canning, jelly, preserve, flower, dandelion
Photo by Renee Brakemeyer

200 Dandelions
4 cups Water
5.5 cups Sugar
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 packages Pectin

Discard stems and remove petals from flower.
Add petals to water and boil for about 4 minutes.
 Strain petals through several layers of cheesecloth and reserve 3 cups of the liquid.
Add to the liquid: sugar and lemon juice into a large saucepan.
Heat and add 2 packages liquid Certo Pectin and boil for 2 minutes. Hard boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat and ladle into jars and process according to canning instructions.
Tip: (This foams a lot even if you add a tablespoon of butter so use a large pot so it doesn't splash over.)

canning, preserve, jelly, flower, queen anne's lace
Photo by Renee Brakemeyer

Word of caution:
First make sure they are Queen Anne's flowers,  "Hemlock" looks similar - but it is poisonous!

(check out some photos of both here.)

Boil 4 cups water and add 2 cups packed flowers
Remove from heat and let steep for 2 hours
Mix 3 cups of the infusion with 1/4 cup lemon juice and 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bring to a full boil.
Add 2 packages liquid Certo Pectin and boil for 2 minutes.
Fill jars and process according to canning instructions.

So many instructions and ideas are available on Pinterest and YouTube to help with tips and techniques.  Make sure you properly research your methods if you are new to canning.  First time canning?  I recommend you can with an experienced and practiced partner - and take notes!

Update June 8, 2014

She is at it again!  More jellies so I am sharing her pictures.  Such talent!
Mint Jelly
Honeysuckle Jelly

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Turning the Page...

wildermuth house, road, turn the page, retirement
It has been more than 40 years since my 16-year-old self walked into Westgate Beauty College knowing little of what to expect. I was hoping that, just maybe, a Cosmetology License would be the means I needed to support myself as a soon-to-be-adult.  I was ready to venture on my own at age 18!  Sixteen hundred hours was the course requirement for completion. My plan was to finish high school as well. 

Age 17, I was a High School graduate in January and had obtained my Cosmetology license in May, same year.  I moved out of my parent's home in September, the month of my 18th birthday.

How could I know then, that the industry would serve me well for over 40 years?

 Standing at a new gateway of life, changes are in the air.  Excitement fills my heart and a new chapter begins. I will no longer stand behind the hairdressers chair and look at my clients in the mirror, a role that has become comfortable for me. No longer will clients come through the front door bringing with them their own life's circumstances and observations to be discussed, explained or just silently understood.  The days ahead will be different for me, no doubt. I will no longer be included in salon community discussions of the news headlines or the latest gossip of some noteworthy celebrity.  Small town events will not be reported to me on a daily basis. I will miss it all... the sharing of thoughts, emotions and especially the laughter!

My years as a hairdresser taught me skills that spurred me to begin a new career five years ago.  The professional intimacy that I discovered in the field of hairstyling has given me glimpses of wisdom beyond my own years and experiences.  I learned sometime back, that if a client was 80 plus in age, it was cause to notice and listen in a different way than I listen to everyone else.  After all, we all hope to make it there someday...  It is with the courage that I learned from these very wise and wonderful clients that I tackle new career challenges. I have learned from them, "it's never too late".

The days of years gone by in the Salon held surprise no matter how well laid out the appointment book predicted.  Even on the days when appointments did not change, what took place in a day was not even predictable!  I loved that! I was never bored!

As I helped each of my clients look into the mirror and discover their own images, I helped them learn to see the positive, and I know they have helped me with the same.  I still cannot figure out why we tend to be so hard on ourselves, or why we need someone else to point out the beauty within ourselves... I will die trying to understand that one!

I learned so much through these years in the hairstyling industry.  The client/professional relationship melted into touching friendships. We saw each other through happy celebrations and tearful sharing of tragedies.  One thing I learned, whenever I judge a circumstance or person's action, there is usually a piece of the story I did not know.  The meaning of this?  My judgments may certainly be inaccurate!

Now it is time for me to turn the page, embrace the change and purposely rock my own comfort zone!  Will I miss the days, routines, creative outlets and the relationships?  You betcha!  Nevertheless, I will also, thankfully take all of these encounters and experiences with me as I test the waters of my own uncharted territories. It is the path behind that lays a solid foundation for the road ahead. I have many to thank for that!

My confidence is high and I thank co-workers and clients of many years for the part you have played in where I am today.  My heart is full and my wishes for us all to carry on, living life to the fullest and knowing just how wonderful and beneficial the days were that we leave behind us now.

Thank you to those who stepped in and showed me the ways of choices, dreams and loves ~ life's treasures for sure!

I say goodbye to these days, as we know them and fearlessly look for new moments to take place, as they will.  Trusting that these changes will bring about the best of circumstances is Hope, but trusting the outcome as it will be is Faith. 

To my Clients and Salon Business Associates:  I bid you farewell with my heart full of gratitude for every facet of every encounter that has led us to this place in time.  I hope to see you in the days ahead. 

My prayer will always be for your continuance wrapped in the Very Finest Moments Life can Offer. ~ Cheri
gift, chair, retirement, itsnothedestination, journey, time

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bike Riding

I love my bike!

You might have read what I wrote about riding my bike in this blog post titled "Second Chances".  Add trail riding to everything that I said before!  The mountain trails are exhilarating and so scenic!

We just got back from trying portions of 3 trails in Northern California.  I can use a lot of words and descriptions in this post about why this is so fun for me - but, better, c'mon and see this video.

(The most fun rides do require two hands on the handlebars and paying close attention to every rock and bump on the trail, so the video cannot show this with my current camera setup.)


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Of all the little luxuries that await us in life, many are but an ordinary substance - yet it will transform the mundane moment into something special.  I am talking about pancakes here, a breakfast regular, a staple, an expectation on every breakfast menu.  Serving "pancakes" is about something special.  A treat saved for when company comes, or an indulgence if fixed for one person.

I was invited to join a Pinterest Board called "Culling Frugal Luxuries"  I contemplated that title for some time.  Pancakes!  Making pancakes is "culling frugal luxuries"!  I remember as children, we used to beg visitors to stay overnight because we knew our Mom would make pancakes in the morning if they did!  While visiting a dear friend we immediately started planning what we will do together upon my arrival... lunch out, shopping. ... And in the morning... we will make PANCAKES!  And, oh the smell of pancakes on a camp out in the woods!  The butter, the syrup, it's an experience to savor!
Pancake mixes seem a little silly to me, a few simple ingredients is all one needs to make them for scratch.  Eggs, milk, flour, leavening, oil and a bit of sugar or honey.  Healthy diets can be adhered to by using whole grains and egg whites.  Substitutions of bananas for the eggs, and almond milk for cow's milk can take the pancake totally non-diary.

Yeast pancakes, blueberry pancakes, whole wheat and oatmeal pancakes - I never get bored of the variations and recipes! (I have learned to eat just one.)  The rest I bake up, put wax paper in-between each once they have cooled, then freeze in a storage bag.  They are ready to take out one by one and stick into the toaster on a moents notice.

Yep, you can be "special" everyday!

My recipes vary as I take on the creation of just the right texture and flavors. Here is my latest creation -

1c. all-purpose flour
1c. white whole wheat four
1c. old fashioned Oats
2t. Baking Powder
1t. Baking Soda
3T. pure Maple Syrup (or sugar)
3T. butter melted (subs. Coconut Oil)
2c. Buttermilk (or Almond Milk + 2T. Lemon Juice)
2 eggs (or 3 mashed bananas)
1/3c. water
1/4 t. Cardamom
1t. grated Orange Zest
Add a cup of fresh or frozen Blueberries to the batter (optional)

Just mix it all up with a wire wisk and pour dripping ladles full onto a prepared and preheated griddle. Flip.

You know the rest!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jelly-Jar Vinaigrette

I found four, mostly empty condiment jars in my fridge this week.  And (!) replacement jars opened and added to the inventory!  Happens at your house too?  No one seems to want to be bothered with scraping out those last contents in the bottom of the jar.  Expecting they would do a "rinse out" before the jar finds its way into the recycle bin?  Too much to ask, obviously!

I have found the solution!

At our house, we love fresh salads served "family style" with fresh homemade salad dressings. (plus) My husband loves Strawberry Preserves.  Here is my method of "killing two birds with one stone" - (please pardon the expression).

Strawberry-Orange Vinaigrette:
Contents of mostly used Stawberry Jelly Jar
1/3 C. Red Wine Vinegar
Juice from 1/2 fresh orange
1 1/2 t. Paprika
1/2 t. Dry Mustard
1/4 t. White Pepper
~This complete your "base"~
Add Olive Oil (about 1/2 to 2/3 Cup) to the 'base", once ready to use.

Shake up the "base" ingredients in the jelly jar until the goopy stuff (jelly) frees up from the sides and bottom of the jar.

This is now your Vinaigrette "base".  To complete the Salad dressing you will add Olive Oil (the same amount as your mixture).  I prefer to refrigerate the "base" until ready to toss the salad for the best consistency and freshest taste.

My quest for easy mealtime prep has added a new step.  Store your "Vinaigrette Base" in smaller jelly jars, pre-measured for one fresh salad per jar.  Make sure you leave enough room in the jar so you can shake it up after you add the oil.  This "base" mixture will keep for many weeks until you are ready to toss up all that freshness at dinnertime.

This method works for many other condiments that seem to fall into the "stuck in the bottom of the jar" syndrome.

More recipes:

Mustard Vinaigrette:
Contents of Mustard Jar, (Dijon or any "brown" variety)
1/3 C. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 T. fresh Lemon Juice
1 T. Honey
1/4 t. White Pepper
Then the Olive Oil (1/2 "base" + 1/2 Olive Oil)

Tomato Vinaigrette:
Contents of Catsup Bottle
1/3 C. Wine Vinegar
Dash of Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 t. Dry Mustard
1 to 2 t. Paprika
1/4 t. Black Pepper
(add the Olive Oil when you serve)

Creamy Vinaigrette:
Contents of the Mayonnaise Jar
1/3 C. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 t. Dry Mustard
Seasonings to taste: Italian, Basil, etc....
(less than 1/2 Olive Oil is added to this "base" to compensate for the Mayonnaise)

While we are at it ~

My Ranch Dressing:
1/2 Mayo and 1/2 Buttermilk
Dried Parsley, Chives, Tarragon
1/3 clove Garlic (finely grated)
Fresh cracked Black Pepper
In that order (most to least amount)

Ok, now - use your imagination and go for it!  I would love to see your own concoctions in the comments section!

Condiment Jar Recipes are the solution to:
  • using up leftover condiments
  • cleaning out jars without wasting so much water
  • keeping the recycle bin cleaner
  • keeping your fridge cleaned out

But wait!  One more thing - you know that Orange or Lemon that you just squeezed the juice out of?  Well those peels have purpose too!  :) 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mozzarella Cheese

Meet Julie, whose career by day is working as an Ad Designer/Production Coordinator for Maximum Capacity Media. Her time is spent "Living a simple life in a land between two rivers, in a cabin, by a Lake" as her artistic and curious nature brings surprise to the most ordinary of days.

Saturday February 2, 2013
~by Julie M. Stark
I made my own mozzarella cheese today. Being a cheese lover, I have yet to meet a cheese I did not like. This is a very exciting task for me. I am not going to give a step by step instruction. You can find that many places on the web. I read a lot of recipes and approached it my way. My research ended here.

Two months ago I ordered the Citric Acid, Rennet and Cheese Salt. Once it arrived I quickly bought a gallon of whole milk. The first gallon never saw its destiny as a cheese. Things came up and I never got around to starting the project and it spoiled.

Today is the day! First delay, the milk needed to be room temperature. Well room temperature here is barely over 60 degrees so I thought that it will not take too long and I set it out. An hour later I pour the gallon of milk into the stainless steel pan. I add the 3/4 cup of water with the citric acid dissolved in it and started a low heat to get the mixture to 95 degrees, stirring constantly. Apparently a cheese making thermometer is a better idea then the candy thermometer that I used, Candies need to be heated much higher then a cheese. 95 degrees is not very hot.
curds and whey

Once I reached the desire temperature the eight drops of rennet was added stirred in, fire off and cover on for 15 minutes. Every five minutes I peeked in to see what was happening, wondering if I should be peeking. "What if you're not supposed too be peeking", I ask myself. 

I was excited to see some yellowing on the side and glossing on the top. At the 15 minute mark I plunged my finger into the pot to see if it would come out clean. A quick squeal, “Its working!” 

Whey is milk with the fats and solids pulled out (the solids are now curds for the cheese). Milk contains two types of protein – casein and whey proteins.  Most of the casein ends up in your cheese and most of the whey protein ends up in the whey.

colander lined with cheesecloth
captured solids
 I have yet to realize the whey has its uses. It could have been used in the bread rising and as a liquid in the French onion soup in the oven.  I give it a few more minutes and run a sharp knife through the mixture to cut up the solids. It seems that I am ruining it, then with a slotted spoon I start to scoop it out into a colander lined with a cheese cloth to capture as much solids as I can. It seems soupy. I don’t know if it is right or wrong but just keep scooping and straining the solids. Once separated I have a quart of solids and 3 quarts of liquid. The solids are still weeping liquid so I keep straining and kneading with the spoon. 

seems soupy

I get my hands in a few times and taste... 
    Yummy, but it is still too soon!

    Now, one minute in the microwave     extracts more liquid  and I add the cheese salt and continue kneading with the spoon. Hands are back in and know I taste with the salt added .... heavenly texture and flavor!  Four or 5 20 second visits in the microwave and constant kneading and I have a moldable hunk of Mozzarella cheese. I rolled 5 small cheese balls and set them in cold water outdoors in the snow to set up. The rest I dropped into a small plastic storage container and let set in the fridge. An hour later I unveil the finished product!

One pound of Mozzarella Cheese. We all know whats next....a homemade Pizza with
Julie’s Own Mozzarella!

extracting liquids
moldable hunk
Finished Product

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Show Stopper Cake

You are in for a treat!
Darcy's Delicious Dinners
    We have the recipe thanks to  Annies Eats!
Tuxedo Cake
For the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups water
1 cup canola oil
4 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1¼ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

For the chocolate topping:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup                                                                                                    
2 tsp. vanilla extract                                                                                              

To make the cake layers, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line three 9-inch round cake pans (or two 10-inch round cake pans) with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the inside edges of the pan, shaking out the excess flour.  
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, water and canola oil; heat until the butter is melted.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, and flour; whisk to blend.  Pour the melted butter mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then whisk in the buttermilk.  Add the baking soda, salt and vanilla to the bowl and whisk just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each cake layer and invert onto a wire cooling rack.  Allow the cake layers to cool completely before frosting, at least 2 hours.
To make the frosting, add the heavy cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the powdered sugar and continue to whip until thoroughly combined and stiff peaks form.  Be careful not to over-beat!
To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake platter and spread a layer of the whipped cream frosting over the top.  Top with a second cake layer, more frosting (and the third cake layer, if using).  Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake.  Refrigerate until the frosting has stabilized, at least 1 hour.
To make the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous.  Blend in the corn syrup and vanilla.  Pour the glaze into a pitcher or measuring cup and let cool for 10 minutes.  (Do not let the glaze cool longer or it may become difficult to pour over the cake.)  Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, ensuring that the top is covered and the glaze drips over the sides.  
Refrigerate the cake until the glaze is set and the whipped cream frosting is firm, at least 1 hour.  Slice with a long, sharp knife, wiping the blade clean between slices.  
Printed from Annie’s Eats

Now for the filling used for this special birthday cake! See recipe here --> Seedless Rasberry Filling

Visit Darcy's Delicious Dinners on Facebook!
Photos by CherLea Productions

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


My Triplets are 25 years old - a "quarter of a century"!

I started out with my first born, their Big Brother in 1983 ~ since then, the expansion of the family has not stopped!  More and more are coming into the circle as the years go by and the chapters change..... this whole family thing is about to snowball!

So now to look back ~ wow!

They still love each other, but maybe they don't hug as much as they used to....

They used to HAVE TO hold hands, every time we went somewhere, every time they crossed the street!      It was how I could make sure we all stayed together.  I think they are relieved they no longer have to hold hands!

Their big brother was 41/2 when they were born.  As they grew, he was always trying to teach them stuff.  They did not always cooperate, but at times, he caught their attention!  It was like he had his very own classroom to experiment with.

Dezi is still at the pool as Director of a huge Aquatic Center since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration.  She insists that she is only happy when the smell of chlorine surrounds her!

Joey still loves cooking and  is a Cook for the Holiday Retirement Facility nearby.  He often cooks for as many as 80 people at a time!

Cassie pursued her love for writing with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Literary Journalism only to find her passions in Education.  She now works with children with autism and recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Applied Behavoiral Analysis.

Their Big Brother, Jeremy, is serving in the US Army and has served one tour in Iraq.

He still teaches them stuff but sometimes they teach him stuff!

The day the Triplets were born changed a lot of things for a lot of us.  Our family doubled in size over night!  It's been a wild ride with tons of fun and lots of craziness.  I hope for nothing less in the years to come!