Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Baby Boy

Thirty years ago today we welcomed our bouncing baby boy. Nicholas Patrick Valenta joined our family early in the morning on November 23, 1981. He came into the world in a big way, weighing in at 10 pounds 5 ounces, and he's been larger than life ever since. He embraces life at full tilt and has never lost his childlike enthusiasm for fun.

I love the book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. It always makes me think of Nick. I gave him this book when he left for college. We both cried.
"I'll love you forever 
I'll love you for always
As long as I'm living
My baby you'll be."

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


As Thanksgiving approaches I'm taking the time to count my blessings which are many. These are the seven that are at the top of my list today and every day. I am so thankful for this beautiful and remarkable family. Every single one of them makes me proud!

This post was inspired by a similar post at Grandma's Briefs. Thanks Lisa!

And, in case I don't have time to post again for a few days, Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all of you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Secret Weapon for a Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday, both Grandad and Grams had the day off. We're still working on cleaning out closets and cabinets in anticipation of a big garage sale this weekend. We spent the morning running errands which included a drive to a credit union which is located on the other end of town about thirty miles from home. Fortunately, there's a Starbucks nearby which made the drive worthwhile. While riding around together, we used the time to discuss and firm up our plans for our Thanksgiving meal and the weekend.

My mother was not a great cook. I really hated a lot of the things she cooked on a regular basis; her chili mac comes immediately to mind. But, she always did and outstanding job of putting together a delicious Thanksgiving meal. Meals at my mother-in-law's table were always delicious, and her Thanksgiving meals were always outstanding. As newlyweds, we always ate two, yes two, Thanksgiving meals. My mother served Thanksgiving lunch and my mother-in-law served Thanksgiving dinner. So we would go to my parents for lunch, watch a little football with them, then later in the afternoon, we would pack up the kids and make the 45 minute drive to my in-laws house for dinner. No wonder I once weighed 300 pounds.

In recent years our Thanksgivings have changed drastically. My mother-in-law is in her eighties now and doesn't cook any more. My parents have both passed on and my siblings don't often get together for Thanksgiving. We all have kids of our own and have started our own traditions. You can read about our last Thanksgiving gathering here. I will admit that I feel a little bit guilty about not hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to include my mother-in-law. But she has two grown daughters who have never hosted Thanksgiving or cooked the meal, so I've decided that I can deal with my own guilt. Bylinda will be picking Kay up from her group home and taking her out to lunch with them. As long as someone makes sure Kay is taken care of, I'm good.

My mother's Thanksgiving menu was set in stone and never, ever changed.

Mom with Nick circa 1986
  • Celery stuffed with pimento cheese (it had to be Price's pimento cheese, no substitutions allowed)
  • Deviled eggs
  • Cheese ball with assorted crackers
  • Crudite with Hidden Valley Ranch Party Dip
  • Roasted Turkey
  • Cornbread dressing (never stuffing)
  • Cranberry sauce (the jellied kind straight out of the can)
  • Green bean casserole
  • Broccoli and rice casserole
  • Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (the marshmallows were always burned to a crisp)
  • Giblet gravy (this was the one thing that was AWFUL, Mom just didn't do this well)
  • Fruit salad (always forgotten and left in the refrigerator until we were finished eating)
  • Dinner rolls
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Pecan pie
  • Coconut pie
  • Chocolate pie
  • Chocolate cake with walnuts & raisins (not every year, but often)
Yes, that does look like a lot of food and it was. But keep in mind that my parents had six children. As we married and had kids of our own, it got to be quite a crowd. We needed a lot of food.

I remember my mom would get up very early and put the turkey in the oven. My dad, who always woke up early, would get us kids up early and whip us into a frenzy about watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. He liked it as much as we did. Watching the parade with him is one of my sweetest memories. Meanwhile, Mom would slave all morning in the kitchen. Then we would all gather round the table and feast. After lunch there was football, the Aggies vs. Longhorns and the Dallas Cowboys.

As the years went by and our parents got older, Bylinda and I took over the cooking and hosting responsibilities. Bylinda's menu is even more impressive than the one listed above. My children would probably kill someone for her macaroni and cheese. She also adds ham and mashed potatoes to the menu.

The last time I hosted while Mother was still alive, I decided to try something a little different. We still had the usual roast turkey and dressing with all the usual sides. However, neither Grandad nor I really like the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, so I went looking for a different way to prepare them. I found a recipe from Chef Emeril Lagasse for Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

I looked over the recipe ingredients and decided that it would work nicely. It had enough molasses that it would still be sweet, but not sticky with marshmallows on top. I wasn't really worried about the potatoes containing bourbon because I've always heard that the alcohol cooks off when you prepare food and two pounds of potatoes only has a quarter of a cup of bourbon.

I don't remember exactly who was at Thanksgiving that year. I think it was a mix of my family and Grandad's family. Grandad and Bylinda made the turkey and dressing and then we all worked on the sides.

It wasn't until Thanksgiving morning, as I was making my Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes, that I realized that the bourbon was not cooked into the sweet potatoes. It was added during the final preparation stages so it was not cooked. But, by then it was too late. I was committed. When we served, Mom expressed disappointment at not having our traditionally prepared marshmallow sweet potatoes but she dug into the Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes enthusiastically.

At this point, I should tell you that my mother was a teetotaler. Only once in my entire life did I ever see her take a drink. That was a pina colada at Red Lobster which she only took about two sips of before being giddy, giggly, dizzy, and visibly drunk. (And a lot more fun than usual.) After that she absolutely swore off of all liquor. She wouldn't even taste anything that had any small amount of liquor in it and she was kind of rude and condescending about it. I should also mention that we didn't tell her that the potatoes had bourbon in them.

Needless to say, Mom really liked the mashed potatoes. She liked them so much that she had seconds and then thirds. She liked them so much that she kept on eating them until they were all gone. She kept saying how good they were and eating more of them. Before long she was smiling happily and soon she was giggling. We never told her about the bourbon.

My friend Lisa over at Grandma's Briefs is hosting a Thanksgiving recipe exchange today. So, in the spirit of sharing, I'm sharing this recipe which came from Good Morning America. It's my secret weapon for making everyone enjoy Thanksgiving just a little more.

Emeril Lagasse's Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 3/4 to 2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly rub the sweet potatoes with the olive oil. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon their size. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Peel the sweet potatoes and transfer the flesh to a large bowl. Add the cream, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, and salt, and beat on high speed with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

There's A Rat Among Us

This is not a humor blog, although from time-to-time you'll find some humor. The story I'm about to tell you is completely true and maybe a little bit funny.

You may recall that on Saturday, Grandad and I undertook the cleaning and de-cluttering of our garage. Like most suburban homes in South Texas, we have a two-car attached garage. We use it primarily for storage and I park my car inside. Before Saturday, there was so much clutter that I could just barely fit my mid-sized SUV in it. Lots of stuff gets stored in the garage including the lawn mower, weed-eater, Christmas trees, outdoor holiday decorations, Grandad's tools, fishing equipment, just to name a few. It also serves as the collection point for anything to be donated or sold. Our bicycles used to be stored there until they were stolen a couple of months ago, when we carelessly left the door open one night.

We used to be really good at cleaning it once a year and making a donation to Goodwill and/or having a garage sale. But in the five years that Grandad was sick, we've not been able to get it done. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of stuff has amassed there. There was so much that we didn't know where to start. We just dove in and started.

We worked for several hours and got a lot done. We filled both our trash can and our recycle bin to the point of overflowing. There were several domestic accidents that mostly included broken glass. There were no injuries, so it was okay.

After 36 years, I have come to realize that I am married to a potential hoarder. If I let him, Grandad would keep EVERYTHING! He comes by it honestly. It took several days and several collection bins the size of 18 wheelers to clean out his Dad's shed.
My Father-In-Law's shed
 I have decided that we've just got to have some rules.
  • We now have a plastic cabinet with three large drawers to hold "shop rags." He can keep all the rags that will fit in that cabinet and no more. Any more than that must go into the trash.
  • We will only keep a limited number of pieces of plywood. He probably has 15 different scraps of various sizes of plywood leftover from various projects. They have been in the garage for at least ten years without being used. Plywood is readily available and not expensive. We will no longer be storing plywood scraps in our garage.
  • Dangerous and poisonous substances that are stored in the garage must be moved to a safe place. We often have little ones here, therefore everything must be moved out of reach of little hands.
  • We will get rid of all the stuff that we've been saving to use for nonspecific projects, especially those that have been waiting for several years.
We made a lot of progress, but we only got about halfway done. Sometime around 3 p.m. things went horribly wrong.

We moved a cabinet from one side of the garage to the other and in doing so uncovered a stack of posterboards. I was kind of happy to see them, because some of them were the signs we used for our last garage sale. All we have to do is darken them up a little and I won't have to make new signs. So I picked them us and stacked them to one side and turned back around to see what was on the other posters. I picked up the next one and behind it was a rat ... not a mouse ... a rat ... a big, black rat. It actually hissed at me. I screamed and ran out the garage door into the yard. The rat ran through the kitchen door into the house and ultimately into our bedroom. Grandad attempted unsuccessfully to close the kitchen door, thereby keeping the rat out of the house. Instead, he bumped into two 8 feet long glass shelves that had been destined for the garage sale, causing them to crash and fall onto the concrete floor and explode into millions of pieces.

Grandad pursued the rat into the house where he found it under our bed against the back wall of the house. In a flash of genius (?) Grandad decided that he should just shoot the rat with a pellet gun. I suggested a shotgun, but he thought that would be too messy. Grandad closed and sealed all the doors thereby trapping the rat in the bedroom and went next door to borrow a pellet gun. Meanwhile, I camped on the swing in the front yard.

He returned 20 minutes or so later, with not a pellet gun, but with a bb gun. While I stayed on the swing, he went in and started shooting. He did manage to hit the rat several times, but not enough to kill it. So now we had a bleeding rat in the bedroom. When Grandad came out of the bedroom, the mouse hid. At this point I decided to go buy a rat trap. I made a quick trip to HEB and returned with a very large trap and peanut butter. We set the trap, closed the door, and waited. Nothing happened. Around 7 o'clock, Grandad went and bought sticky traps and placed them around the room, also baited with peanut butter. He spent quite a long time looking for the rat and could not find it. We picked up something for dinner and continued to wait.  Around 9 o'clock I announced that I would be sleeping on the sofa, Grandad said he'd take the recliner. I had Grandad get me a pair of pajamas out of our room and I went to the bathroom on the other side of the house for my shower. Grandad bravely decided to shower in the master bath. While he was in the shower, the rat emerged and got stuck to the sticky trap. More precisely, the mouse's back feet got stuck. His front feet were still on my floor. He was so big that he was dragging the trap around the bedroom.

Grandad ran to the garage and grabbed a shovel and a box. He had to whack the mouse a couple of times with the shovel to knock him out, because he kept running, with the sticky trap attached. He was approximately 9 inches long, not counting his tail. We both breathed huge sighs of relief. Neither of us was looking forward to sleeping in the living room. But mostly neither of us was happy about sharing our home with a 9 inch rat.

We have now moved the sticky traps to the garage. Hopefully, he doesn't have any brothers or children.

Grandad has taken the day off tomorrow and again on Wednesday to work on finishing the garage and getting it ready to set up for a garage sale on Saturday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We Have Too Much Stuff

I'm still on my clean out and de-clutter crusade around the house. Today's target was Nick's room, more precisely, Nick's closet.

Nick graduated from high school in May of 2000, then left for college in August. After that he came home for summers, and then he lived at home for about eight months after graduation until he found a job. For the most part, he's been gone for more than ten years now. But the problem is, he never completely moved out. Oh sure, he's married and has a house of his own (which is more than twice as big as ours), but he's never really moved all his stuff. It's like he's trying to keep a foothold here in case he ever needs to come back home.

My question is ... do they every really move out? Don't get me wrong ... he's gone, but his stuff is still here. And by stuff, I mean clothing that he hasn't worn in many years, shoes and boots that he occasionally wears when he comes home to go hunting, college textbooks and notes, photos of his high school friends, the suit we bought him for job hunting, a catalog case from his first job that he can't remember the combination to unlock, notes from a basketball camp he went to in 1996, assorted trophies and medals from high school sports, both high school and college letter jackets, a beautiful onyx chess set that has never been taken out of the box, and a variety of other "stuff."

Now, in all fairness to Nick, we also found a bunch of other stuff that we had just been cramming into his closet for the past ten years or so. I had stored pillows, mattress pads, quilts, blankets, picture frames, books, a picnic basket, stacks of magazines, a bunch of clothes that Grandad has outgrown, a briefcase, several overnight bags and suitcases, boxes of memorabilia from the kid's school years, a pair of lamps I want to rewire, and assorted other "stuff."

In short, even though I've been working on it for months, we still have too much "stuff" all over the house. Next up on the clean out list is my craft closet and then the closet in Katy's room. My goal is to get it done this week and have a garage sale within the next couple of weeks. My real goal is not to end up like those people on Hoarders. None of this stuff is coming back into my house. Anything that doesn't sell goes to Goodwill.
"Anyone who has ever cleaned out a closet and taken stuff to Goodwill knows how liberating it is. You feel lighter, your mind feels clearer." - Cecile Andrews

Monday, November 7, 2011

What I Want To Be

Grams and Grandad enjoyed a short visit from Our Little Princess and Her Highness this weekend. Their parents celebrated Travis' birthday by spending a weekend sans children. Bonus for us! We loved having the girls. We make the exchange in Three Rivers. It's only a little more than a one hour drive for all of us. We got them on Saturday morning and returned them on Sunday afternoon.

Our Little Princess will be 3 years old in February. She's beginning to go through that shy stage where it takes her a while to warm up to anyone that she hasn't seen in a while or meets for the first time. But after a few minutes she definitely comes out of her shell. Her Highness is seven months old and is now crawling and pulling herself up into a standing position. I think she will be walking in very short order and when she does, big sister better look out. There will be no stopping her.

A couple of hours after they returned home on Sunday evening, we received an email with this video. It was so cute that I had to share it. Our Little Princess is wearing parts of the Tinkerbell costume that I made her for Halloween.

If you listen all the way to the end, you'll hear her tell her dad "I'm on TV."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Quick Post

This is just a quick post to let you know that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. The past two weeks I've been sick with a sinus infection. It's so common here in South Texas that we actually call it the Corpus Christi Crud. I've been to the doctor and completed a round of antibiotics, but I'm not better yet. I just don't feel good enough to do any writing or sewing or anything. In fact, I've only worked two days in the last three weeks. Hopefully, I'll feel better in a few days and I'll be back to posting on a more regular basis.