Category Archives: holidays

A whole lotta love!

I’m a creature of habit.  Once something works for me, I pretty much stick with it.

I work out every day, so I can enjoy eating and having the occasional glass of wine.  So far, so good.

I do the crossword puzzle every morning.  Exercises my brain.

I wear a lot of black.  Makes it much easier to shop.  One pair of boots goes with almost everything.

I can’t go to bed without kissing my daughter and my husband good night.  It’s good luck.

And I eat the same exact breakfast almost every day of my life.  Two slices of whole wheat toast with jelly and a thin spread of almond butter (the kind you grind yourself at Whole Foods…it’s to DIE for!), and a cup of dry cereal (Mother’s Peanut Butter Bumpers).   I love the pear preserves I buy from the little farmer’s market at Hillsboro High School.  There’s something about homemade jams and jellies…I think they taste so much better because of the love that goes into a batch of seasonal fruit, sweetened and cooked in small batches, just like my Grandma used to make.  I always load up in October, the last month they’re there until the spring.

For some reason, I didn’t get my normal stash this year.  So when I saw a recipe in a magazine for homemade pear-vanilla preserves, it intrigued me.  Looked pretty easy.  So I tried some.  I didn’t have the fancy canning pot that is huge and deep so that you can put the jars in with enough water to cover, so I used my big soup pot.  It wasn’t too bad, except for the huge mess I had to clean up.  **Note:  don’t cook the fruit in a small saucepan…when it boils, it WILL boil over.  The final product was beautiful, but the consistency…more like syrup.  So I dumped it all back in the saucepan, added more pectin (extra, too, just in case), and it hardened so much over the next few days that I had to cut it out of the jars.

So I went back to the drawing board, and read everything I could get my hands on about jams and jellies.  My grandma “put up” everything…fruit, vegetables, pickles, sauces, juice, and never really even used a recipe, but there are so many different recipes, and philosophies about making jelly it makes my head spin.

So I went to Costco and bought three different kinds of pears, some jonagold apples  and four pints of blueberries (I know, not in season, but my husband only likes purple jelly).  Yesterday I spent the entire day in the kitchen, and after a couple of mishaps, I think I finally got it.  The recipes in the pectin box call for only boiling for one minute…recipes without pectin call for cooking for a longer time, to extract the natural pectin from the fruit.  I finally settled on a happy medium.  I use a little less pectin, and boil for about 5 minutes, until I put a spoonful on a cold plate from the freezer and it cools off into a soft jell.  I did use the full amount on the blueberries, since they don’t have much natural pectin in them at all, and they turned out perfectly.  It was actually much easier to do the blueberry, because I didn’t have to peel, core, and chop them, like I did with the pears and apples.

Anyway, for those of you who might want to give it a try, here’s my recipe for Apple Pear Jam.

Apple Pear Jam

Apples (sweet varieties, not too tart…underripe is better)
(Total of 7-8 pounds, before peeling and coring…equalling about 5-6 cups prepped fruit)
Sugar  (some recipes call for one cup per cup of fruit, but if using pectin I use about 2/3 cup sugar per cup of fruit)
Lemon Juice
Cinnamon Stick

  •  Prepare jars.  I usually put in dishwasher on “sanitize” setting, before I start chopping.  That way they’re warm when you put the hot jelly into them.  Or you can boil them in a large soup pot or canning pot with something in the bottom to prevent them from touching the bottom of the pan.  Before I purchased an actual canning pot with bottle insert, I put a metal trivet in the bottom of my soup pot…it worked fine.  Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat, keep in water until needed.  Wash and dry screw bands.
  •  Put about 1/4 cup of lemon juice in bowl, more if needed.  Peel, core and finely dice fruit, tossing with lemon juice as you chop to prevent browning.  If you want smoother final product, you can put in food processor or food mill. 

  • Put small glass bowl or plate and spoon in freezer.
    • Measure exact amount of the fruit (with lemon juice) into a large, deep saucepan.  Don’t make a batch larger than 8 cups, or it will take too long to set. 
    • Measure exact amount of sugar in separate bowl, remove 1/4 cup of measured sugar and mix with a little less than one full box of Pectin in a small bowl.

    • Stir pectin-sugar mixture into the fruit , and bring to a full boil (one that doesn’t go away when you stir).  
    • You need to stir constantly to prevent sticking.  Quickly stir in remaining sugar, and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for a minute or two, until the liquid drips off the spoon a little more slowly.  IT WILL NOT SET WHILE IT IS BOILING.  Remove from heat, and drop a spoonful onto the cold plate using the cold spoon.  Put back in freezer for a few seconds, then remove.  If it is a jam-like consistency, it is ready.  If not, return to heat and boil for another minute, then try the test again.
    • *One important point.  The jam will continue to set while it cools.  It won’t completely finish until it’s completely cooled, which will take a day or two.  If it’s too hard, it will be difficult or impossible to spread.
    • When it’s ready to be jarred, ladle quickly into warm jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the tops.

    • Wipe jar rims and threads, and cover with two piece lids.  Place on elevated rack in canner.  Water must cover jars by 1-2 inches; add boiling water if needed.  Cover, bring to gentle boil and process jam for 10 minutes.

    All I can say, is my kitchen still smells like apple pie and I have a whole lot of love to give my friends this holiday season!

    What I’m not Thankful For

     Woke up to rain this morning…blessed cool rain.  I had forgotten how much I love rainy mornings when I don’t have to be anywhere.  In a few hours, the madness of Thanksgiving week begins, but for now, I can relax with my coffee and my crossword puzzle while my dogs sleep on the floor next to me.

    Thanksgiving is a great holiday…maybe my favorite.  It involves eating, family, time off from school and work, the weather is not freezing or sticky hot, and best of all, you don’t have to buy gifts!  We’re fortunate enough to spend the holiday with my parents and my husband’s parents, a tradition we started about 4 years ago.  We started our marriage with the compromise, Thanksgiving at his parent’s, and Christmas at mine.  That seemed fair, given that my mother lives for Christmas, and his mom, being Jewish, felt the same way about Thanksgiving.  It worked out great the first couple of years, even though my mom’s birthday always falls during Thanksgiving, so I had to miss that.

    Then my daughter was born in September, 1993.  Our first Christmas with her was at my parent’s new home, and we had just finished opening presents with my brother and his family when we received our “Merry Christmas” phone call from my mother-in-law.  Her joyful holiday wishes soon morphed into a sobbing moment, when she said, “I can’t believe I’m missing it!”  So, from that moment on, they would travel to Nashville to celebrate with us.  It became a wonderful tradition…Christmas Eve Dinner with my parents, and my husband’s parents and their respective spouses, Christmas Eve Services at church (my favorite holiday tradition is having my jewish in-laws at church with me!), and Christmas morning at my moms.  It took us 16 years to convince my parents to come to Thanksgiving with us, but it’s been great.

    Yes, I am thankful for family.  Having a loving family, in relatively good health at this point in my life, is something I never take for granted.

    Other things I don’t take for granted…A daughter who is everything I wish I had been at her age…and more, and a husband who is my best friend, and who makes me feel like I’m the queen of the world.  I’m thankful for a lot of things.

    But this morning it occurred to me that there are a lot of things I am NOT thankful for.

    I’m not thankful that there are terrorists in our world who have given our government a reason to take such precautions for our safety that our country has been focused for days on the stupid body scan/pat down controversy.  You know what?  As soon as someone hides an explosive on their person that is not found by our security and blows up an airplane or God forbid, another high rise building, people will be re-thinking their opposition to all of this.  What part of “It’s for our SAFETY” do people not get?  Geez.  If they have some body part that every other human being doesn’t have, and they don’t want anyone to see it, then don’t &*(*& fly!

    I’m not thankful that Belle Meade streets have been so torn up for the better part of a year that I can’t bike on any of the streets without fear of losing a tire.  For that matter, I’m not thankful that they haven’t paved the road in Percy Warner Park going from Belle Meade Blvd. to Deep Wells.  There is one turn there that is like a minefield!

    I’m not thankful that Kate and Jon Gosselin are still celebrities, in some way, instead of in jail for bad parenting.

    I’m not thankful that my daughter has so much homework over Thanksgiving break that we have to take another suitcase to hold her books…I weighed them…55 pounds!!

    I’m not thankful that a woman in Pakistan has been jailed for a year and a half, awaiting execution for talking about her religion.

    I’m not thankful that one of my dearest friends and her husband have been fighting cancer for the last few years.

    I’m not thankful that Nashville doesn’t have more options for buying humanely produced meat.  And I’m not thankful that a handful of companies have taken over the production of the vast majority of our food, putting smaller companies out of business and producing inferior food that makes us sicker and fatter.

    BUT, I am still more thankful than not.  Thankful that I live in America, thankful that I have my health and my family, and the ability to to just about whatever I decide to do…including putting my thoughts into words.   I’m thankful for the opportunities that my daughter will have as she graduates from High School in a year and a half.  I’m thankful that I can spend time in the mountains, a place where I feel peaceful and closer to God.  I’m thankful that my body hasn’t given out yet, and I can still run and bike and swim.

    So, when I start to feel all negative and pissy about the things that make my blood boil, I just remember that the good outweights the bad. 

    What are you thankful for?

    Happy New Year!

    Yes, I am still alive. I can’t remember when I had something really profound to say. I just realized that if I don’t write something soon, this blog has a really good chance of just dying a slow, unnoticed death.

    I’ve discovered facebook, or as our old babysitter (“old”, as in WAS our babysitter when H needed a babysitter) calls it “crackbook”. Now, when I have a few minutes I seem to waste them away there, instead of here, using my brain. I signed up for a facebook account when H started hers, just so that I could be her “friend” and keep up with what she was doing. Then, all the sudden, old friends, co-workers, ex-boyfriends, and the like started popping up. It’s fun in a voyeuristic kind of way, to look at other people’s photos, status updates and things. Now I know all kinds of important things…that Leann is wondering what to cook for supper, that Mary wants to go to the movies, that Jack is training for a marathon or that Stuart is catching waves in New Zealand. I can post the thousands of pictures I take and my family can look at them if they want…I don’t have to burn cd’s or email them in multiple attachments. Much easier.

    We had a great winter break. As soon as H finished her last exam we flew up to New York for three wonderful days. You certainly couldn’t tell the country is in an economic crisis in New York! Geesh. The crowds were in full force. I don’t know if they were buying things, but they were certainly in the stores. It snowed like crazy, which really put us in the Christmas spirit. I jogged in Central Park and it was like a winter wonderland.

    Back to Nashville for Christmas, then to North Carolina the day after for five wonderful, relaxing days in the mountains with our dear friends from Dallas. We met with a landscape architect to discuss moving forward with building the deck and driveway for our new lot on the lake!!!

    It’s kind of scary, with the economy like it is, so we’re kind of slowing down a little bit, to see what happens. We had originally planned on breaking ground in May, but now, we’re just going to build the deck and driveway so that we can get down there and use the lake this summer. We’ll see what happens.

    Lots more to write about, but I’ll save it for later.

    I’m optimistic about 2009. I like fresh starts. Take a deep breath, re-evaluate your priorities, look around and appreciate what you do have…family, friends, health, and just take it one day at a time. Happy New Year!

    P.S…Congratulations, Princesse!!!

    No time to write…

    Can’t take the time to write a real post, between helping H study for exams, shopping, decorating, wrapping, volunteering, parties, quick trip to New York, cleaning house for Christmas and guests, then another trip to the mountains between Christmas and New Years…
    So, I’ll write soon, I hope.  In the meantime, …

    It’s a Christmas Miracle!

    It’s a miracle.  There are exactly 17 days left until Christmas, and I am farther along at this point than I’ve ever been before.  Pretty good, considering that when we returned from Thanksgiving in the mountains last Sunday I realized I had done zip to get ready.  So in the last week I bought gifts for my nephews, niece, babysitter’s daughter, my daughter, my in-laws (both sets),  and the two gifts for our dirty Santa game that we’re playing at my parent’s house this year. 

    Thank God, we’re doing the game, because I am seriously out of ideas for gifts for my immediate family.  That might be because a couple of weeks ago we had the “birthday party” for me, J, H, my mom, my brother, my nephew, and my niece.  We have a hard time getting our schedules in sync, so we have resorted to having one big blowout birthday party that’s almost like Christmas, because 80% of our family has birthdays from September-December.  I think I have gotten my brother some variation of the same birthday gift for the last 10 years.   If I had to come up with another idea for Christmas, I think I would blow my brains out. 

    I don’t like to complain about buying gifts for family, though.  Years ago, when I was teaching a fitness class, I was complaining to my students about having to buy three mother’s day gifts (my mom,  my husband’s mom, and his stepmom).  After class, this really sweet girl came up to me, and quietly said, “You know, I wish I HAD a mom to buy a present for.” 


    So I’m happy as a clam that I have parents, siblings and friends to buy gifts for.  I just wish I had better gift-selecting skills.

    Anyway, in addition to getting a huge head start on the Christmas shopping, I finished decorating this afternoon.  I have decided that either I should leave these decorations up until February, or start putting them up November 1st, because it’s way too much trouble to only have them up for three weeks.  I teased our former babysitter (can’t call her a babysitter anymore, since H is 15, and former babysitter now has a 2 year old of her own) because she put her decorations up after Halloween, but now I think she’s actually pretty smart. 

    Also, ordered, received, and addressed 150 holiday cards this week.  They’ll go in the mail tomorrow.

    Now, other than a few small gifts, I just have to make cookies next weekend, and I will be DONE!!!

    Thank God for online shopping!  I neglected to mention that I’ve done all my shopping so far, holiday cards included, without stepping foot into a mall.  And that, my friends, is a miracle I can believe in. 

    Christmas is Not Your Birthday

    I mostly love Christmas. I love baking cookies (although now that I shouldn’t eat them it’s definitely an exercise in control). I love Christmas music…the classics, not the new stuff. I love the feeling when I find the perfect gift for someone, and I love the time when the shopping is finished, I can put Christmas music on, wrap presents, and watch old movies with my family. I love decorating the tree, and when it’s all finished, laying down underneath and looking up at the lights. I love when my parents and both sets of in-laws come over on Christmas Eve. We go to Christmas Eve services at church (which is more remarkable and special with my Christian family and my Jewish in-laws), and come home for a Christmas/Hannukah meal and everyone is together and it’s all good.

    Here’s what I don’t love. I don’t love fighting the crowds at Cool Springs Mall, where it takes 30 minutes to drive .25 miles because it’s the only place in middle Tennessee to shop at certain stores. I don’t love lugging all the Christmas decorations up from the basement, knowing that in less than a month I have to lug them all back down again. Every year I forget to buy the great storage boxes they have to hold ornaments and things, and so after Christmas, when they’re nowhere to be found, I have to wrap each one in old newspaper and squeeze them into shoeboxes or whatever boxes I have left over after Christmas. Then there’s always the box full of the best stuff that I don’t find until after Christmas when I’m putting everything away.

    And the biggest thing is that I don’t like the fact that no one in my family really NEEDS anything, myself included, but I can’t convince anyone to nix the presents. We give to charity, buy presents for the Angel Tree at church, which is all great, but when I search high and low for the perfect present for someone who has everything they need, I get a little bit cranky.

    But, today I got an email from Sam Davidson, at Cool People Care, which if you haven’t checked out, you really need to.

    Anyway, here’s part of the email, and you’ll have to go online to check out the rest.

    Christmas is NOT YOUR BIRTHDAY…Because we all know that unless you’re Jimmy Buffet, Jesus, or Conrad Hilton, Christmas is not your birthday. And, we also know that every step we take to save the planet is a good one. And, we know that the current economic environment didn’t magically make our gift list any shorter.

    I’m happy to learn that every Friday from now until Christmas, I’m going to get ideas for gifts for my friends and family that will help save the world. And they’ll even give you a downloadable gift tag to explain how the gift will help save the world. I plan on using that little feature, because when my nephew opens up the power strip, he will probably need a little explanation.

    Read “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” here.

    Ahhhh, Summer!

    I took a few days to pretend I was actually on summer break, with nothing to do but sleep late, watch TV, go to the pool, eat popsicles… Then I remembered-I’m a mom, mom’s don’t get breaks. Oh well, back to Mom reality, driving H all over the place, packing for basketball camp, motivating (nagging) her to start her summer reading, grocery shopping…

    It’s not that bad, really. Since H is out of school, everything is more relaxed. We can actually linger at the dinner table, unlike during the school year, when she has to cram some food in her face and do homework for the rest of the night. She must be in some kind of crazy growth spurt or something, because she has learned how to sleep late. She never was a late sleeper, but she is loving that bed this summer.

    Basketball tryouts were this week, and I was so nervous! She was too, I guess, but I really wanted them to go well, so that she’d meet some girls from her new school before school starts in the fall. They have three weeks of summer practice, workouts, and camps before the “blackout period” starts at the end of this month. She did a little bit of spring basketball, and worked out a lot with a private coach we found here, who we LOVED. She is an ex-WNBA player, a point guard, and was a high scorer at The University of Oregon when she was in college. She did some really great things with H, and it paid off. The high school coach at the new school told H it was obvious she’d been working hard in the off-season. When I picked her up after the first day, she almost skipped to the car, with an ear-to-ear grin. She is having a blast, and loves the players and the coach.


    Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the summer so much that I haven’t written in awhile, so here are some pictures of some of the things we’ve been doing.

    Spent a few days in Florida for my Mother-in-law’s birthday. She had a dinner party with 25 people, and H gave an impromptu toast. She was so poised and said such beautiful things that my mommy heart almost exploded with pride! (that’s sparkling grape juice in her champagne glass, by the way)

    H’s friends (and their parents) had a “going-away” party for her:

    J’s gardens were so beautiful this year we invited a few friends over for memorial day:

    And last weekend, J’s college roommate from Chicago brought his 11 year old son down to North Carolina for a boy’s fishing trip (but H and I couldn’t stay away, so we joined them for a few days). J taught H and her friend how to cast, and we fished all afternoon.

    This weekend I’m taking four of my college friends back to North Carolina. To be continued…

    Christmas decorations came down…and the Titans blew it.

    Christmas decorations came down. Everything looks so empty.:-(

    I didn’t think I bought that much new stuff, but I had 6 additional boxes to put away! How does that happen? We’re well on the way to overstuffing the attic in our new house, and we haven’t been here a year.

    On another note, the day is flying by. Since it’s our last day before school starts I wish it would go a little more slowly. I’m going to work out and watch the Titans play San Diego. Fingers crossed it’s not a blowout and we eke out the victory we should have had last time we played them.

    Yuck. The first quarter they looked like they might be able to pull it off. Even though EVERY sports writer and announcer said there was NO chance they could win.

    Typical Jeff Fisher football. Run, run, run, run, and try a short pass every now and then. Worked statistics wise at first. We had the ball 80 percent of the time, moved the ball, but only made two field goals. Maybe now they’ll rest up in the offseason and next year…or the next…or the next.

    chili for Christmas!

    Oh, by the way, my mom is making chili for Christmas tomorrow…Woo Hoo!!!

    She usually kills herself making ham and turkey and all kinds of things that my family doesn’t eat. (Mom, I know you read this blog…we always feel bad but you know J and H are super picky…sorry). We LOVE her chili, so we’re looking forward to starting a new tradition!

    Christmas Eve traditions and reflections

    It’s Christmas Eve and my family is almost asleep. I hear J snoring in the bedroom, and H is trying to get to sleep. She’s 14, so there are no “Santa” jobs to do now…it’s all wrapped and under the tree. I took the stockings to my closet where I had stashed the stocking stuff. I put it all together and put the stuffed stockings on the hearth, where I’m praying the dog doesn’t decide to explore before we get to them in the morning.

    I’m so tired I can’t believe I’m sitting here, but for some reason I can’t make myself go to sleep yet. I’ve been thinking about how lucky we are. Tonight we had our Christmas Eve dinner with J’s mom and her husband, J’s dad and his wife, and my mom and dad. My Jewish in-laws are so cool that they always go to candlelight church with us, and then we come here for dinner. It’s actually my favorite family time of the whole year. I know a lot of divorced families have troubles this time of year, but we’re so fortunate that they can all be together and it’s relaxing and enjoyable. H loves it…all her grandparents together in the same place.

    Dinner was great. J didn’t burn the tenderloin, and everyone pitched in to cook and help clean so it was very easy.

    After all the hustle and bustle of getting everything ready for Christmas, it is SO nice to just sit back and enjoy family. Tomorrow will be fun, too. H is excited, not only for her presents, but to see people open the gifts she picked out and purchased all by herself.

    Life’s good, and I just want to say, for the record, that I appreciate it all.