Saturday, November 30, 2013

Creating Makes Me Happy!

The Reader, by Mary Cassatt



When you live in the Pacific Northwest and the weather beings to turn, as it is now, you have to enjoy indoor activities.  For me, that is reading.  When I joined, and then coordinated, the local book club it was a great way to jump into reading for pleasure.  While I was teaching I just didn't have the energy during the school year.  Reading 2-3 books over the summer was an accomplishment.

But now, I'm averaging around 15-20 books a year.  In my opinion, that is awesome.

Not only do I love to read, but I also love to write, but, alas, I'm not really a storyteller (unless I'm blogging.)  Settings, characters, and, especially, plots elude me. When I read books by someone such as Fannie Flagg with her full-bodied characters I sigh and wish I could write like that.  So far it hasn't happened.  But I can write about what others write, and that concept helped give birth to my book review blog Read. Reflect. Review. nearly 2 years ago.

What a joy it has been to have that blog.  It gives my reading purpose beyond personal enjoyment.  And, even though I'm not one to count "hits" and "likes," it has been flattering to get at least 1-2 followers after each new post goes up.

Today was a milestone on that blog. I put up my 40th post. So I decided to mark the occasion by adding 2 new sections:  a list of books by author's last name, and an alphabetized list of the books on the site. I think it makes the site easier to navigate.

We all need a hobby of some sort--something that we can do for pure pleasure and without any outside pressure.  For me it is reading and maintaining my 2 blogs.  They bring me extreme joy and a sense of satisfaction in the creativity that goes into how they look and what they express.

The comments and feedback I get on both sites (usually in person or on Facebook) means a lot, but I assure you that I would continue to blog anyway . Creating makes me happy.

I invite you to continue to visit here at Keeping Up With Kristie and my book review blog as we soon move into the new year. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday Gatherings: They are what you make of them

When I was a kid and the holidays rolled around, I never considered that those big family gatherings wouldn't last forever.  I was in the moment, as kids usually are, enjoying my turkey and pie, playing with my cousins, and getting squeezed a little too tightly by that lovable aunt that seems to be in every family.

I wouldn't say I took those years for granted, but I know I could not have appreciated them as much at the time because I had never known anything different. But the kids grow up and the older generations age to the point where you know that a certain era is coming to an end.

In my family, my first real change at the holidays came during my freshman year at BYU.  I am the oldest grandchild, therefore the first to leave the nest.  In an effort to save money, my mom and I decided I would stay in Utah over Thanksgiving break.  One of my friends invited me to her family Thanksgiving.  I don't remember much more than the fact that I was pretty miserable, and I don't think I hid it very well.  My friend's family was perfectly nice and welcoming, but they weren't my family.

That was the last time I missed Thanksgiving in California while I was at school.  Somehow, financially, we made it work.

As time went on, we saw other changes. Cousins joined the military, got married, and moved away, My grandparents declined more and more as they reached their eighties and nineties.

Once my grandparents passed away, Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas, seemed to be in flux, as there was no "Grandma's House" to go to.

When I moved to Washington in 2010, I had only lived here for 2 months when Thanksgiving rolled around and my hubby had to work day shift.  He was a trooper, through, trudging in tired after a 12 hour shift, showering and dressing nice as we sat down at the dining room table.  We ate a little chicken with stuffing and used our beautiful wedding china for the first time.  It was small and simple, and it was fine.

This year, our 4th Thanksgiving together, we are doing small and simple again.  Unlike Year 1 when Hubby came in from 12 hours of day shift. this year he will heading out after we eat to 12 hours of graveyard. Small and simple, again OK.

So tonight I put the Thanksgiving ham into the oven, glazed it the last half hour, sliced it up and put it in the fridge.  Organic russets-- boiled, mashed, and mixed with sour cream and butter--are done and ready to be eaten.  Tomorrow, somewhere around 3pm, we will have our little 2-person Thanksgiving dinner. The menu:  ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad, and rolls, with pumpkin pie for dessert.

I've been to enough very large holiday dinners to carry me for years.  It isn't about quantity, it is about quality.  We are blessed to have plenty of quality.

So whether you are dining with family or friends, in a big group or a small one, have a wonderful day tomorrow.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your many blessings
See what God hath done 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tita's Magic Pot

I was doing dishes tonight, washing this pot for the umpteenth time, and reflecting on its magical properties.

This is Tita's Magic Pot.

Tita was my grandmother, Lucy, who died at age 90 in 2008, and a genius in the kitchen.  Her Mexican rice is the stuff of legends.  Her potato salad is unequaled.  Leftovers turned into mini gourmet dinners full of flavor. Once in a while I would visit specifically at dinnertime (always 6:30pm) just so I could get invited to stay.  Shameless, but, oh so worth it!

This particular pot is the biggest part of a set that was broken up after Tita passed away.  It is the pot that held mass quantities of her Mexican rice and potato salad to family gatherings.  It always went home empty.

You would think that after what was made and housed in this pot I would feel intimidated, but I don't.  Competing with my grandma's cooking is pointless.  I'm a recipe and practice-makes-perfect type of person.  She was a dash-of-this-tad-of-that, risk-taking, cook from memory type person. 

But there is still a bit of her kitchen magic left behind in that pot.

I get a certain confidence and bravado when I use it, which is often.  And, for whatever reason, anything I make in it turns out great, even at the first attempt.  Homemade chicken soup, albondigas (Mexican meatballs,) mashed potatoes, pulled pork, and any kind of pasta emerge from the pot flavored with an inexplicable pixie dust that spells success.

Despite my efforts, other pots and pans in my kitchen do not have the same results.  Water boiling over, bad experimentation, soggy Mexican rice--those things happen in the others.  But not in the Magic Pot.

There is something to be said for meaningful things that are passed down to us.  I've inherited furniture, a nativity, and a Lladro from my grandparents, as well as paintings my grandma painted herself (really beautiful and worthy of another post.) But unlike those things, the Magic Pot continues to be used and produce home-cooked food that we enjoy.  I think of Tita (and Tito too) every time I use it, and memories flood back of their kitchen and the wonderful smells that wafted through it.

Anything that can do that truly is magical.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our Little Winnebago Chalet! Pt. 2

Shakedown trip!

Where to go?  Eric has been on vacation, but much of it was eaten up with me being in California and getting the Little Chalet outfitted for the road.  We decided to stay local and practical and go to an RV park only 20 miles away on the bank of the Columbia River.  I would drive separately in my car--just in case.  No rain was in the forecast, although the temperatures would be chilly! 

One little hiccup, we were waiting for an online delivery to arrive and couldn't leave until it did. Tracking the package kept us on pins and needles as we watched Thursday start to slip away.  We were determined to make this a 2-nighter and not let something as ridiculous as a delivery spoil our plans.

At 3:15pm, it arrived.  Finally!  And throughout the day we had packed and gone through our checklist to be ready to leave as soon as possible.

We got into the park at 4:20pm, drove to our space, and Eric had his first experience hooking us up.  And we learned our first lesson:  1. Some parks have hookups on either side of the space and you can use whichever one you want.  This came in handy for us.  It also helped us to advise a couple who pulled in 2 spaces away yesterday morning and had the same question.

Click on the photos to see them full-sized
Here's one of the first photos I took upon arrival.  That's our Little Chalet on the right with my Honda next to it.  We were one of two Class C RVs at the time.  The rest of the park were trailers, a lot of 5th wheels, and about 4 gorgeous Class As, including the 2 to our left.

One thing with being in a motor home as opposed to a hotel--you can't just drop your bags and go play.  There is work to do, inside and out.  I checked us in and got wifi codes (yes, we roughed it,) Eric handled the hookups, and then I set up things in the kitchen and bathroom (soaps, towels, etc.) We were definitely one of the smaller rigs there and joked about being the new riff-raff in town!

Something else we learned:  2.  It's good to have a shopping area nearby--just in case.  Well, at least when you are greenhorns, like us.  Yes, in less than an hour we were back in my car and driving to the local WalMart.  We discovered that for privacy and trapping the heat in the living area, we needed something to separate that area from the cab.  (The fancy Class A RVs have curtain rods that go all around the front windows.  We aren't that fancy in our little Class C.)  We got a tension curtain rod and a gray, nondescript curtain. Getting back to the RV park, we discovered that we should've bought TWO curtains, and knew that another WalMart trip would be in order the next day.

It was time for dinner.  We had planned out every meal ahead of time and the key word was SIMPLE. Hot dogs and chips for dinner.  Easy enough.  And we were experimenting with some plates and bowls we bought specifically for the RV.  (Brilliantly, none of them were microwavable.) Eric set up his laptop and, since the wifi rules were pretty strict and the connection not that great, we just watched a Friends DVD on his computer as we relaxed over dinner.

After dinner I learned something else:  3.  Our RV's water heater makes the sink water boiling hot! Yes, I learned that the hard way and didn't repeat the mistake of turning on the hot water first ever again.

By this time it was dark and very cold outside.  But at the pace we'd been going we weren't quite ready to take off our shoes and stay inside.  So we put on our jackets and gloves and took a lap around the park.  Most, but not all of the RVs and trailers looked occupied, and we marveled at the sizes of many, the sideouts, and decided that, while they looked very pretty luxurious, they were completely unnecessary for our needs.

Back inside, we watched a bit more Friends and then went to bed early.  Of course that doesn't mean going to sleep early.  It's an adjustment sleeping in a little motor home on the first night.  And I learned something else:  4. Make sure you completely empty your "personal tank" before curling up in the bed above the cab.  Yes, I slept in the top bunk and Eric slept on the fold-out sofa.  None of the beds are really conducive to fit both of us.  We used our high-tech zero-degree sleeping bags and some blankets.  Whenever I travel I always sleep terribly the first night, and this was no different.  So I read my current book and rested the best I could.  We used both the RV heater and a box heater we had bought to stay warm.  Despite the heaters, I ended up sleeping in the coldest spot, but stayed toasty under the covers, even if I did keep banging my hand on the ceiling, 

The next morning we awoke to a TON of condensation on the inside of the RV.  5. Ceiling vents really are important!  We learned that the hard way, and Eric did a 7:30am WalMart run for a squeegee.  Drippy water was everywhere.  Something we needed to address in the future. (In my naivetee, I always thought the ceiling vents were just for ventilation, not a necessity.)

But look at the view outside that morning!
Just extra proof that we really did make it outside of our driveway.


Then, time for breakfast!
I promise it tasted better than it looks.  Just out of curiosity we tried one of the Mountain House freeze-dried breakfast items.  It wasn't bad!  (Tortillas would've been a great addition.)  All I had to do was boil water, so it was very easy.  We've tried the Mountain House Beef Stew and that was good too.

The picture above is inside after the first night.  All the bedding is nicely stored up top.  You can see how one curtain wasn't sufficient.  And that nice slant of our table?  Something else we (meaning Eric) is going to fix down the road.  That after-market table leg is a wee bit too tall.

Then it was time to shower.  I got to be the lab rat with the RV shower.  That thing is teeny tiny!!  There is barely enough room to do the basics, but I did.  Eric used the camp shower.  I also discovered upon cleaning the inside last Wednesday that the shower curtain had a 5 foot vertical rip in it.  Something else we didn't look at while at the lot.  Out came the duct tape. 

Next door to us was a very nice couple in a 34 foot Class A Winnebago.  We talked to the wife, Sue, who was out walking her dog.  She and her husband had started out with a 31 foot Class C and so we showed her the inside of ours.  Then we saw the inside of their RV and met her husband, Larry.  Such nice people!  We chatted for about an hour and Larry even gave Eric a roll of automotive paper towels for the next time we encounter the condensation issue and checked our sewer hookup when Eric had a question.  They were very hospitable and helpful. (They had bought theirs used--a 2006--after the first owner put only 1500 miles on it, backed into something, and was scared to drive it ever again.  1500 miles!)

And then, another field trip (the last one) to WalMart again.  This time to get a second curtain, more automotive paper towels, and some moisture absorbers.  And, what the heck, we decided to get lunch at Subway.

The day was flying! We ate in the RV and then Eric wanted to check some outdoor leaks he'd noticed.  It was already around 3pm.

A while later we went out for another walk.  It was cold, but pretty!
A big cargo ship and the wake it left behind...


Then, because it seemed like a prerequisite, we watched the Robin William's movie RV on the laptop.  The park had movies for borrowing.  What a silly, funny film, and the perfect movie in the context of where we were.  We howled with laughter, sitting on the sofa, wrapped in blankets in our Little Chalet.

Night 2--we both slept a lot better after more of a piecemeal type dinner.  Snacks (beef jerky and a Milky Way Dark) for me, summer sausage/cheese/Ritz/honey mustard for Eric.

Like the night before, the temp got down to about 21 degrees, this time freezing the little brass elbow that we had our freshwater hose connected to.  Result?  No water this morning!  Eventually it thawed and wasn't too big of an issue, but we do see the need to insulate the hose if we're going to camp this time of year.

I made scrambled eggs for breakfast (real, organic eggs) which we ate with some yummy purple organic grapes.  Then, after doing the dishes, I went to take more pictures outside.
That's us on the right, with my car backed into the sunlight to thaw the ice on the windshield.  Another Class C had moved in next door late last night.  All 3 husbands were outside working on hookups, etc at the same time.

The 3 Class C motor homes from the front. Ours is on the left.  The couple on the far right was on their first RV trip too.  They bought theirs around the same time as we got ours.  The middle one is a rental.

All in all, we had a really fun time.  Yes, you bump into each other more than in a hotel room.  Yes, there's more work, but it is still fun to be in your own self-contained space that you can arrange any way you want and drive anywhere you want.

This park had a lot of rules, but it was a very nice park with a great view.  Rules are fine if they are within reason, which these were.  (Mostly they were regarding liability issues--fires, pets, kids and the pool, and sewer fittings.)  They obviously try to maintain a high standard, which I fully support, and we aren't the rule breaker sort anyway. I do like that the park has a "quiet time" from 10pm to 8am.

We would definitely go there again! We learned a lot and laughed at our few bumblings.  Overall we think we did really well and look forward to going out again.  Maybe one more cold weather trip before we store the Little Chalet, depending on the rain forecast.  It's just too bad that we have to kennel Bailey for these trips, but there is no space for him in the Chalet.

Another lovely view of the river.

The first thing I did after we got home and unpacked?  I typed up our checklists!  These are going to be invaluable for the future.  I got some help from an app I found and modified the lists for our needs.
So we are motorhomeys now!  This is going to be fun. 




Our Little Winnebago Chalet! Pt. 1

We have embarked on a new adventure and subculture.  We're RV owners now!

While in the middle of another project, the idea of purchasing a used trailer, and then a mini motor home began to evolve.  I poured over online sites for hours looking for a small RV with a decent floor plan in a comfortable price range.

Finally, I came upon this little guy in Vancouver. A 1995 Yellowstone.
No, we didn't buy it.  It felt dingy, not as cute as the photo, and we felt like we were in someone else's space.  But a new arrival on the lot was this:
A 2001 Winnebago Chalet.  22 feet. Love at first sight.  Isn't it cute? Obviously, because it was newer, we paid a little more, but still comparatively less than we would have somewhere else.

Here's the inside:

Pretty clean for being 12 years old, and we really liked the kitchen area in the back and the fold out sofa bed.  The first one had a small queen-sized bed wedged in a back left corner.  And it is always a bed.  The Chalet has no wasted space day and night.

The next day I was on a plane to California to see my family and Eric was sealing the deal. A few days later the lot owner drove it up to us and Eric texted me this picture of the Chalet in our driveway.  It didn't look small anymore!
So we've done some fancy footwork moving the cars around for the last couple of weeks.

We had a motor home!  Now what?  Eric and I knew nothing...nothing...about motor homes, but we were determined to learn.  While in California, I read 4 books:  RVing Basics, RV Tips, The Tiniest Mansion, and How to Live in Your Car, Van or RV.  The last two were just out of curiosity.  We are not moving out of our house in the near future.  Eric read the first book, our RV's owner's manual, and watched a lot of YouTube videos.  (The RV Geeks YouTube channel has some great stuff for beginners like us.)

We were determined to make a go of this.  Knowledge is power!

While I was gone, Eric also did some local reconnaissance.  It turns out that the nearest RV shop is owned by a couple our age and they are very knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge.  Eric even graduated high school with the wife!  We brought in the Chalet (we call it that, but we rhyme it with "shallot," just for fun) and they gave it the once over.  There were condition issues and we had definitely let the stars in our eyes make us overlook a few things.  What do we know? 

So they kept it for 2 days and fixed what they found.  Then Eric and I went over and the husband gave us a 2 hour tutorial of everything, inside and out.  That was helpful!  And it was helpful to have some educated questions after having done a lot of reading the previous week.

This is last Wednesday.  We brought it home, did "musical cars" again, and Eric ran some errands for some RV essentials while I cleaned the inside.  The place we bought it at in Vancouver?  Well, the people were nice, but there wasn't a lot of attention to detail.  They said they cleaned it, but we think they only shampooed the upholstery and didn't do anything else.  We probably wouldn't recommend that place after learning more, but we do know enough to know that used little Winnebagos are in high demand and low supply, so we are still very happy with the way things turned out.

After getting the Little Chalet back from the local RV doctor, it was time to take it on the road for a shakedown trip! (Term meaning your first trip where you put all of your knowledge to use and determine what you still don't know.)

Pt. 2 talks about our first trip!







Sunday, November 17, 2013

Michael Buble Concert!!

OK, I should be writing about my trip to California last week to see my family, but I am still jazzed about this amazing concert we went to last night at the Rose Garden in Portland (now called the "Moda Center..." what a terrible name change!)

Eric and I saw Michael Buble' and we had SO... MUCH... FUN!

We did the whole premium parking/dinner package/good seats thing and have been hanging onto our tickets since buying them in June.  Think of all we've done since June!

The dinner was "meh," but we were seated with a really nice couple who we chatted with the entire time.  The lady couldn't get over how much Eric looked and acted her her own son, also named Eric!

The opening act was really good!  Opening acts are always a gamble.  It was an a capella group called Naturally 7th.  Really excellent and great at getting the crowd excited.

At 9pm it was time for BUBBLE!  (Our nickname.)  The curtain parted, fiery graphics appeared on the screen, REAL fire jetted upwards from the front of the stage, and Michael appeared at the top of a ramp, which he slid down as he started singing "Fever."  The opening of the show was great, he is really funny and plays to the crowd.

I saw him in 2005 at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and that concert, while good, was not nearly as good as last night.  He was too goofy and it affected his singing.  He's kind of a naturally goofy guy anyway, and incredibly witty, but he has really refined his concert skills in these last 8 years.  And you can tell he has matured as a person and is very grounded.  Marriage and parenthood will do that to a person!

The whole show was just about FUN, FUN, FUN.  I was so impressed with the stage graphics too.  But me telling it doesn't do it justice at all!  I'm going to post some pictures and try (hoping and praying) that Blogger will let me post videos.  I haven't posted without going through YouTube first.  Fingers crossed.

All in all, if Michael is playing in your area...GO SEE HIM.  You will have an awesome time. It's a show for all ages, which were totally represented in the audience last night.

Click on these pictures to see them even bigger.  I would not recommend going full-sized on the videos below.  It will mess with the quality.

Lights, colors, music!!


We were very close to the secondary stage, where he spent a little bit of time during the show's second half.  The crowd loved him!
OK, videos...please work!

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: America Revealed

If you know me well, you know I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and that I'm always reading, hopping around on Wikipedia, or watching documentaries.  So here is one I want to share on PBS (or Amazon streaming, where I discovered it) called America Revealed.  It looks at our country in an entirely new way, through its systems and networks.

I was hooked after the first of the four episodes, which focused on food manufacturing and distribution.  And yes, it does look at the good (organic,) the bad (GMOs,) and the ugly (inside a beef processing plant.)  But it doesn't offer opinions on the political side, which I liked.  You are left to draw you own conclusions. (GMOs bad, organic good.)

Hosted by Yul Kwon, an attorney and former Survivor: Cook Islands winner, the average American viewer is taken "backstage" to places, companies, and factories that we would normally never see.  The four episodes focus, respectively, on farming and food distribution, transportation, the power grid, and American manufacturing.  Every episode was an eye-opener, sharing a lot of information that the mainstream media does not.

I don't plug things on my blog unless they are worth your time, and this series definitively qualifies. What makes it interesting is that it forces us to get out of our bubble and reminds us that at the heart of all of these coordinated networks are people just like you and me, from the farmer, to the man in charge of the Northeast power grid, to the commercial bee keeper, to the person who assembles guitars.  It puts faces to the people who make and distribute things we see around us and the sources that power them. Pretty fascinating.

A link to the episodes on PBS.org is below.  Also available on Amazon streaming if you have Prime HERE

PBS.org links:

Episode 1:  The Food Machine

Episode 2:  Nation on the Move

Episode 3:  Electric Nation

Episode 4:  Made in the USA