Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Days Gone By" and "Happy New Years"

From my friends at Wikipedia:
“Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well-known in many English-speaking countries, and it is often sung to celebrate the start of the new year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day. The song's title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long, long ago"or "days gone by".

To all my friends and family and anyone else who might be reading “The Sweet Life”, I thank you for hanging out with me these past three months. I look forward to more sharing in 2009. Until then:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old times since?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely I’ll buy mine! And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roaredsince auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.


Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Lists - Part II

On this, the day after Christmas, I want to now, take a moment to celebrate the good things that happened in 2008. On Tuesday we covered the year’s “eye-rollers”. Today, let’s review some of the “Sweet Spots” from 2008. Again, I also invite you to contribute your own comments below. I am certain I have missed some good ones…..but these are my favorites:

  1. A toast! Red wine is good for you!

  2. Shiba Inu Puppy Cam – in a year of hardship and crisis, leave it to puppies to make us smile! All the cuteness of fuzzy puppies - no housetraining required! I have been watching this website for a couple of months and now the puppies, Autumn, Ayumi, Amaya, Aki, Akoni, and Ando are just about ready to go to their new homes! Tooooo cute!

  3. Heartwarming story of “Annie” the Golden Retriever in Minnesota

  4. Great news for frugal fashionistas: Michelle Obama shops at J Crew!!

  5. Oprah decides to “be healthy”amen! Maybe this will take some pressure off the rest of American women. Happiness and health is not necessarily tied to a certain body size or shape!

  6. Saturday Night Live’s lighthearted stabs at the 2008 election

  7. Lin Hao, the nine year old “class leader” who saved many of his classmates from the rubble of his fallen school building following the Chinese earthquake. He was honored by the Chinese government with a place of honor next to Yao Ming,a Chinese basektball player, during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics

  8. Michael Phelps historic Olympic medal wins – notice this is #8??

  9. Heroes in uniform – this includes U.S. Armed Forces, police, firemen and women, doctors, nurses, and even Boy Scouts, especially those who endured the Little Sioux tornado

  10. Singularly the most moving event for me in 2008: Barack Obama Speaks to 80,000 in Chicago's Grant Park on Election Night– Part 1 and Part 2 . I am especially moved at how the crowd silently listens and a nation is inspired.

I hope you enjoyed my lists of "Dips" and "Sweet Spots" for 2008. I hope you all are enjoying a wonderful holiday season! Talk to you on Tuesday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 Lists - Part I

2008 has come and nearly gone. It is that time of year for the media to begin reviewing the year’s highs and lows, bests and worsts, and of course, the big music countdowns. Not to be outdone by the media and in keeping with the “ice cream-y” perspective of my blog, I have decided to compile my own lists: the “Top 10 Dips” list: a list of “eye-rollers” – people and happenings that have just completely frustrated me in 2008, and the “Sweet Spots” list which is my Top 10 list of people and happenings that have made me smile.

I invite you to comment or contribute your own “Dips” and “Sweet Spots” over the next coming days. I would love to hear how my “Dips” compare to your “Dips”! This could be fun…

Keep checking back this week to see if we have any comments and on Friday, tune in for the “Sweet Spots” list!

My “Top 10 Dips” for 2008 are:

  1. The Pregnant Man – do we really care about this? Not me! Our economy is collapsing around us and this is “big” news??

  2. Ellen DeGeneres Shelter Dog story…c’mon, people! Do we really have to waste our time reading about this? Give her a break!

  3. “Joe the Plumber” – ‘nuff said

  4. The stock market – stop the ride…I’m getting queasy!

  5. Salmonella-tainted tomatoes – OMG!! Have you ever tried to order a decent sandwich at Subway without being able to put tomatoes OR spinach on it??? Whew! Glad all that craziness is settled!

  6. The size of my food packaging is getting smaller but the price stays the same – Thank you to Blue Bunny….the ice cream remains at 56 ounces and not going to the 48 ounces like all the other ice creams!!

  7. The financial bail out – OK, I have made some poor financial decisions….can someone bail me out, too??

  8. Overexposure to campaign ads, debates, and political smack-talk

  9. Gas prices – puh-leeeze!

  10. “Caribou Barbie?” (a.k.a. Sarah Palin) – what is that all about??

You are invited to submit a comment and tell us some other Dips who have ruined your day, your week....or your wole year! C'mon...let's vent 'em out...then on Friday, we'll finish on high note with our "Sweet Spots"!

Friday, December 19, 2008

All I Want For Christmas...

To quote one of my favorite Christmas movies, “A Christmas Story”, it is that time of year when I begin to anticipate Christmas – “Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.”

As a kid, the countdown to Christmas began the day the tree came down. Many of my memories of Christmas involve the family traditions we kept year after year. One of those traditions is so odd that I cannot believe it stood the test of time: each year, when the artificial Christmas tree box was drug up from the basement, we all signed the box. It is so fascinating to see the progression of my and my siblings’ handwriting from year to year. There were even years, to my recollection, that I wrote things like, “I love Scott” – a boyfriend of mine in my late teens. I understand that my sister still keeps this tradition by signing the box when my parents set up their tree – even though none of us still live at home anymore.

I also remember the “Ralph Parker” method of campaigning for Christmas presents was protocol for each of us kids. One year, I might have been 13 or 14 years old, I was set on getting a pair of brown leather boots – you know, the kind that Blaire wore on “The Facts Of Life”? I was relentless. The very last present I opened (Mom always dictated the order in which we could open presents, usually a graduated process from boring and predictable to most desirable – i.e.: underwear was first) was a large box containing my gorgeous boots. I think I wore them until the soles became too thin.

Christmas morning was always eagerly anticipated by myself and my brother and sister. So much so, that my parents, after years of early morning frustration, finally placed a “baby gate” at the end of the hallway which separated our bedrooms from the living room. We were not allowed to cross the gate barrier until the living room clock chimed 6 a.m. This was a very strict policy in our home…and I recall a few Christmas mornings where my brother and I sat at the gate for a half an hour waiting for that clock to chime.

I also remember our annual church Sunday School Christmas program – a big deal for me, spending Christmas Eve at the Fergusons, singing “Silent Night” at the conclusion of the 10:30 Christmas Eve service while they rang the church bell, and always getting a new pair of pajamas. This was what made Christmas so magical for me as a kid.

As an adult, I am now part of the Christmas planning process. The season brings with it the stress of planning a holiday that meets or exceeds the expectations of family and friends while maintaining a festive and calm exterior as we maneuver our way through it without forgetting anyone or any activity. Balance schedules. Balance checkbooks. Balance sanity.

But, every year, it has become very important to me that I incorporate a few holiday traditions of my own so that my kids can grow up remembering some magic of their own. Each Christmas Eve is spent at one of the earlier church services, followed by a hearty dinner at the local Chinese food restaurant, playing a “Rob Your Neighbor” game with my family, and orange rolls on Christmas morning.

But there are two traditions I give myself. I always try to give myself a few moments of peace on Christmas Eve. When everything is done and the kids are asleep, no matter how late, I always like to sit in a quiet place, listen to some Christmas music and reflect on all the joys I have been blessed with during the past year. It is Christmas in stillness. It is probably the only moment when I can clearly experience the magic – as an adult – of the holiday. Myself. My faith. The peace.

And new pajamas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Santa Claus Is My Grandfather!"

Art by Anne Marit Bergstrom, Dakota Drawings

Peanut, my 9 year old, believes in Santa Claus. And why wouldn’t he? His Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather, William John “Jock” Ferguson, was rumored to have deposited candy in the shoes left out by children in his neighborhood of Dumfries, Scotland, on Saint Nicholas’ Day.

His son, John Ferguson, was born on Christmas Day in 1838, and has a very interesting story.

At the age of 14, John embarked on a journey to America with his father, “Jock”, his mother and sister, both named Elizabeth. Sadly, Jock did not ever see American shores. He died during the journey, was sewn up into a gunny sack and was given a proper sea burial.

John, the same age as my oldest son, Bud, then took on the overwhelming responsibility of taking care of his mother (who was expecting another baby) and his sister. They landed in New Orleans and took a steamer to St. Louis. John found work on a Mississippi River steamer as a deck hand. At the outbreak of the Civil War, John served as a night watchman on the steamer, New Falls City, which operated between St. Louis and New Orleans. From there, he went to live in his grandfather’s home in south central Missouri.

John enlisted in the Missouri Militia in 1862 and served with them until he volunteered for the army. He joined the 3rd Missouri Cavalry at Rolla, Missouri, and was honorably discharged in 1865.

Following the war, John served as justice of the peace in a town in south central Missouri. He retired in 1938, just shy of his 100th birthday. “Squire” John, as he was affectionately known in his hometown, served as state commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).

John Ferguson died January, 1940, at the age of 101.

It is very interesting to know that “Squire” John was small in stature and had a long, flowing beard, and twinkling blue eyes that complemented his happy smile. He was known to have a very generous heart – just like his father, the man who delivered candy to children in his native Scotland home.

Perhaps Peanut’s interpretation of his Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather being Santa Claus isn’t too far off. His son carried on in his tradition. Now, whenever Peanut is asked if he believes in Santa Claus, he responds enthusiastically, “Yes, I do! He was my Grandfather!”

I am thrilled to know that Santa Claus will live forever as long as Peanut continues to tell this story.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Enjoy the Ice Cream While It Is On Your Plate!

I read this really great quote the other day that someone in my office uses as part of his signature on all of his emails and it totally hit me in the head with the intensity of one of those ice cream headaches…..only less painful.

I am, as I am sure most of my readers are, a bit of a worrier. What if I buy the blue sweater and decide that nothing goes with it? What if I can’t afford groceries at the end of this month? What if I lose my job next year? What if….what if??.....what if???

There are days where it consumes me. But this quote really seemed to put a new perspective on, not only my love of ice cream but, my love of life.

This quote:

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy the ice cream while it’s on your plate.” -Thornton Wilder

…is so great on so many levels. Here is my interpretation. The obvious message Mr. Wilder, (American writer and playwright, best known for the Pulitzer Prize awarded play OUR TOWN (1938)) is telling us is that we need not worry about why things happen to you in life and when they are going to happen to you but, rather, enjoy the present. Live in the moment and enjoy it. Forget the things that are beyond your control.

Here is something else to consider that I will bet Mr. Wilder did not. The flavor of ice cream is at its fullest when the temperature of the ice cream is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is neither too hot, nor too cold for the product, but it has tempered, like a good wine that has been allowed to “open up” in order for you to experience the fullest aromas and flavors of every ingredient in its recipe.

So enjoy what you have. It will always be a balance of good and bad. Life is sometimes served cooler than the optimal level of enjoyment, sometimes hotter. But life is best enjoyed when it is tempered so that you can get the fullest taste of all the tastes it has to offer. Flavors and textures, chunky or smooth, sweet or salty. No matter how it tastes, enjoy it. While it is on you plate.

What better reason than to scoop yourself a bowl of the sweet stuff of life – and the bigger the serving…the better!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Martha Stewart Taught Me A Lesson

I am writing this blog for a couple of reasons: one, to reinforce to my loved ones that I DO cook but prefer not to and, two, to remind myself to recognize my strengths and weaknesses and to remember my limitations this holiday.

I have been known to succumb to the hypnotic presentations of the happy home-maker and reformed tax evader, Martha Stewart. She may have fallen for some bad advice from her accountant but that woman makes holiday preparation look like mere child’s play.

A few years back, I had called in sick to work. In my weakened state, I lay on the couch, surrounded by half-drank mugs of tea, dry toast and Kleenex boxes but managed to find the strength to channel-surf my way to an Oprah episode. Martha Stewart, her guest, was preparing to make “home-made white hot chocolate and marshmallows”. Now….to me, “home-made” hot chocolate comes from an envelope pouch and why-on-Earth-anyone would-want-to-make-marshmallows-instead-of-picking-up-the-99-cents-per-bag-kind is completely beyond me.

“You actually make marshmallows?” asked Oprah. “Don’t they just grow in the wild or something?”

But it was Martha Stewart…and I have been known to be a bit of an over-achiever.

The beautifully hand-made white hot chocolate (white, as in the kind of chocolate, not the temperature at which it is served) was garnished with a beautiful hand cut marshmallow in the shape of a star. The presentation was lovely. This became my new holiday mission: to prepare the best-ever hot chocolate and home-made marshmallows and serve it to my amazed family at the big Christmas dinner and serve it up like Martha Stewart would….like it was no effort at all. They would gasp and leap out of their chairs to pat me on the back and laud my culinary masterpiece.

A few days later, I obtained the recipe from Oprah’s website and planned my grocery store excursion. My odd assortment of ingredients that I purchased must have cost me somewhere in the area of $10 - $12, only slightly more than what I would have paid for a 10.5 oz. bag of “Campfire®” Marshmallows. But the impression these delights would make would be worth the effort!

December 23…two days before the big Christmas “festivus” and I set to work on making the marshmallows. Did you know that when you make candy and boil it, you must use a candy thermometer (another item I needed to purchase for this recipe) and you have to be VERY careful at what temperature your concoction reaches? This recipe called for 244 - 248 degrees. Not 243 degrees…not 249 degrees. Do you know what that is called? The “firm ball” stage. There is also a “hard ball stage” and a “hard crack” stage. Okay, that makes me laugh a little.

Anyway…the procedure was quite complicated but in the end, the mixture slightly resembled the appearance of actual marshmallows….but a little more grey (that should have been my first sign!). I poured the mix into the pan and dusted it with powdered sugar and waited for it to set overnight.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I took my new star-shaped cookie cutters (also newly purchased, along with the candy thermometer, now bringing my marshmallow escapade to somewhere close to $15-$20) and pressed it into the, now hardened, marshmallow mixture. And by hardened…I mean one rock-solid mass of marshmallow-resembling putty. It was as if Martha Stewart was mocking me. She was laughing and pointing from the bottom of the pan, crying out to me: “What EVER made you think you could match my skills in the kitchen! You fool! You FOOL!!!!” (cue the Martha Stewart evil laugh).

No matter how hard I pressed that cookie cutter into the pan of marshmallows…or, rather…tile grout….it wouldn’t budge. It would not cut the mixture. Not to be outsmarted by marshmallows, I unleashed the steak knives on ‘em.

Christmas Day arrived and the family was gathered around my table. After finishing the perfectly prepared holiday meal, I presented the family with mugs of the Hot White Chocolate (this recipe was much easier to execute and reached a higher level of success). On a separate platter, as a condiment to the hot chocolate, were grey pieces of “art” more closely resembling white landscaping rock than star-shaped marshmallows.

The family was stunned. They were all silent for a moment before they burst into laughter. Confused as to what to do with the landscaping rock, I performed a visual demonstration: “First,” I said, “You take the mug of White Hot Chocolate – a recipe I got from Oprah and Martha Stewart – and then you top it with a couple of my HOME MADE MARSHMALLOWS!” I dropped them into the mug and stirred it around. I drank it and made an “Mmmmmm!” sound just to reinforce to them that it was safe to consume.

“You make marshmallows??” someone asked. “Don’t they just grow in the wild or something?” Hmmm….seems I have heard this line before…..

They looked awful….but they tasted like marshmallows, just extra firm. An expensive and time consuming lesson to learn from my buddy, Martha. Next time I want marshmallows in my hot chocolate, I will buy a bag of ‘em from the neighborhood grocery.

So the moral of the story?

Know your limitations. If you can cook…cook. If you can’t…cook with cash. And if you try and fail, laugh at yourself and drink hot chocolate anyway.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Blue Bunny Perfectly Peppermint Ice Cream Sundae Makes Everything All Better!

I am sitting here in front of my computer, composing my blog, and suddenly it hits me. Gripped in fear, I stare at the calendar and realize that I have three weeks to complete my holiday activities.

It always amazes me that in my family’s attempt to simplify the hustle and bustle, it always seems that we end up making it slightly more complicated. We end up drawing names, patronizing the local Chinese food restaurant following 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service (a tradition that I established several years ago in tribute to my favorite holiday movie: “A Christmas Story”), and reducing the Christmas Day gathering to finger foods. My OWN contributions to simplification are that I have removed the dreaded “Christmas Letter” from my holiday cards (even though I “hear about it” from family members who inform me that this is the only way they know what the boys and I are up to year after year), and simplified my in-home holiday décor to a decorated tree, a singular strand of “fat” bulbs along the roofline of my home, and evergreen-scented candles scattered around my living room and kitchen areas. Less is more. Right?

So then why do I still feel like the next 21 days will be lived in a scurry of frenzy-fied shopping, card-signing and envelope addressing, adopt-a-family coordination, Sunday School Christmas program planning and band/choir holiday program monitoring. Throw in piano-practicing-getting-ready-for-the-Christmas-recital, work holiday party and food-bringing preparation, cookie-baking, and meal planning and you have a recipe for "The Holiday Crazies".

I always remain hopeful that I might find a moment or two to myself. Wishful thinking.

But, I did read on the website, icecream.net (of which, your's truly's blog is featured!), some fun facts about candy canes that – despite my terror as to how I will navigate these next few weeks – really kind of got me in the mood for the holidays AND reminded me of a really yummy ice cream sundae that I only make this time of year. If you want to read the Candy Cane Fun Facts, visit the site….if you want to read about how to make the most yummy holiday sundae ever….read on. It is so easy and is really festive if you place it in red or green plastic cups. All I do is take a couple of scoops of Blue Bunny Perfectly Peppermint ice cream (this is a seasonal flavor and supplies are limited in stores so you will want to get three or four cartons of it – trust me!!) then drizzle some chocolate sauce or hot fudge topping and marshmallow crème topping over the scoops. Top with whipped cream and garnish with a candy cane. I am telling you that this is the sweetest and easiest ice cream dish…perfect for little holiday get-togethers or when (and if!!) you find that singular moment to yourself.

Let’s all pledge to each other that we will take a moment to sit calmly and listen to the holiday music on the radio and enjoy a little Blue Bunny Perfectly Peppermint ice cream sundae. It is the sweetest anecdote to the Holiday Crazies. Good luck…..

Stay tuned….Next Tuesday's blog will be about how Martha Stewart taught me a valuable lesson one holiday.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holy Cow! My Planets Are Aligned!

At the risk of sounding a little melodramatic, I have to tell you that I feel like something great is about to happen! For most of my close friends and family, they will tell you that one of my top favorite reasons to watch TV (and, believe me…there aren’t many of ‘em!) is the show, “Deal or No Deal”. It usually airs on Monday nights (and has been peppering NBC primetime a few extra nights during the week) and I gather the boys around the ol’ tube and we watch people jumping up and down, screaming like goofballs…all in an attempt to win one (or on some occasions) multiple millions of dollars.

A confession: I actually sent in an audition tape this summer featuring my boys, Max The Wonderdog, and myself in an attempt to be considered as one of those maniacal contestants. Sigh! No invitations from that good lookin’ bald guy or his miserly banker.

Yet, I wait.

However….I happened to be scrolling through the website for NBC to find out what the holiday programming would be this week (OK – so I am a sucker for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Peanuts Christmas Special) and I noticed that “Deal or No Deal” is not airing tonight. WHAT’S THE ‘DEAL’?? or…more appropriately….WHERE’S THE ‘DEAL’??? Hey, Howie….how can I get through my Monday without arm-chair quarterbacking your screaming constant??

To make matters worse – and to confirm my conspiracy theory that Howie and The Banker are in cahoots to keep me from consulting with the contestants telepathically from my living room - I found out that the show is airing in other markets (for my family and friends who watch this show in OTHER markets – check your local programming…it airs this week, just not in my area….I am sure YOU will find it in your area). Anyway…..I digress.

But, wait…what’s this?? An ad for my favorite ice cream on the planet?? A Blue Bunny ad that, when you click on it, takes you to the Blue Bunny webpage which features a holiday message and FREE song download for one of my favorite a cappella singing groups, Tonic Sol-fa??? Do my eyes deceive me or is Howie trying to make up for the fact that his show will NOT air this week on NBC in Sioux City, Iowa? I nearly gasped when I realized that my worlds have collided and so many things I adore (Deal or No Deal, Blue Bunny ice cream, and Tonic Sol-fa) are all connected in one cyber-riffic circle of relevance!!

My planets are aligned! Something good is going to happen…I can just feel it. Maybe Howie will call me with that personal invitation to appear on his show and be the first contestant to win a record-breaking, bank-busting amount of cash! Or maybe I will simply be able to download a fab Christmas song for…..uh-huh! Oh-yeah!!...FREE…..AND see Blue Bunny’s name splashed all over a popular reality TV show website!

How sweet is that??