Monday, March 29, 2010

Hot Cross Buns

Here is a traditional British Easter bread for you.  There is quite a history behind Hot Cross Buns.  Apparently, they have been baked since ancient times and served as a spring treat to represent the equal day/night of the Equinox.  The Christians didn't like reminders of any pagan religions  It was Queen Elizabeth I that made a law that these little treats could only be made on religious holidays, thereby "converting" them to an acceptable goodie.  See, if you rotate it, it changes the whole thing!

 The cross on top suddenly represented the cross of the crucifixion and these buns became most popular on Good Friday.

Regardless of their history, they are delicious!

Hot Cross Buns:
3/4 cup evaporated milk, warmed
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 egg
1 egg white
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup currants
3 cups flour
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp water
Put the evaporated milk in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm.  Combine the milk, butter, sugar, salt, yeast in a mixing bowl and let work.  Add the egg and egg white and mix.  Add 1 cup of flour, currants and cinnamon.  Mix in the rest of the flour.  Knead, cover  and let rise until doubled.  Form into 12 buns and place in a greased baking pan.  Keep them far enough away from each other that they won't stick together as they rise.  Cover and let rise 1/2 an hour.  Combine the egg yolk and water.  Brush the buns with the egg mixture and bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.  While they are cooling, make the glaze in a bowl.  Combine the butter and powdered sugar with the back of a soup spoon.  Combine the water and vanilla and add slowly to the powdered sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.  It should be thick, but spreadable.  Put it into a sandwich size plastic bag.  Seal and snip one corner.  Pipe the icing onto the buns ONLY after the buns are mostly cooled down (you don't want the icing melting and falling off!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Stories: Stories I Found Out Along the Way

When I started out to record the stories of my family, I mainly wanted to get down the stories of my direct ancestors.  I suppose it's a natural thing to do; to concentrate on your line and let of the branches of the family slide.  Interestingly enough, though, as my I was going through the pictures left in my maternal grandparents' estate, my mom started telling me about her dad's brother and sister.  And the stories were just too good to not record.

My grandfather's parents only had enough money for their oldest boy and their oldest girl to go to college.  That was the way it was.  Period.  The other three surviving children didn't even think about going....well, they may have thought about it.  In fact, they may have resented their birth order or their parents' lack of funds or the Great Depression which ruined things for them....that I don't know for sure.  

Wesson was brilliant.  Are there smart genes?  Does intelligence follow blood lines?   All of the kids in that family were smart.  Wesson was the only one who really got to show it, though.  He went to RIT and then was hired by Eastman Kodak as an engineer.  He married a girl from Wales and they had two children.   When he was 48, he started having some stomach and bowel problems.  After two weeks, he went to the doctor and found out he had colon cancer.  He died soon thereafter.  My mom didn't get to see those first cousins much after that.  

Beulah went to business college and became a legal secretary.  She fell in love with a man of whom no one approved.  There was mental illness in that family.  Everyone advised her against the relationship, but she went ahead and married him anyway.  For the first few years of their marriage things seemed okay.  They had a little girl and then a little boy.  But sometime thereafter, things went wrong.  James ended up being committed into a state mental hospital in Rochester.  Beulah was faced with some awful decisions to make.  She ended up leaving her two young children with her parents.   She moved into a small apartment in Rochester and got a job.  She chose her husband over her children.  She visited him every weekday  until he died in the 1960s.  That was almost 30 years!  I don't know what was wrong with James.  I don't know how they treated him.  It was a scary time to be a mental patient.  Lobotomies, electric shock treatments, experimental drugs; once you were in an institution, who knew what would happen to you.

On weekends, Beulah would drive to her hometown to visit her kids.  It was awkward for everyone.  Monday through Friday, Nonny was the parent figure.  Then on weekends, Beulah expected to arrive and be the mom.    I think there were probably sometimes when the kids didn't know who was in charge.  Because Mom's two cousins were living at Nonny's house, they grew up really close to my grandfather and his twin brother.  My mom was over ten years younger than the boy, but she really liked him.  He was another smartie.  In school, though, his teachers didn't know what to do with him.  He failed English and hated to write, but in math he was a whiz.  He ended up getting a degree in engineering and going to work for National Cash Register.  

He was, in fact, the engineer who invented the scanners on all of the cash registers that we use everywhere.  He laughed about it because he got no credit...intellectual property and all, but now you know.  Every time I go to the store and watch the clerk swipe the UPC code over the scanner, I think of him.  You can, too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Homemade Yogurt: Make Your Own Monday #12

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was getting a Yolife yogurt maker from the CSN family of stores and that one of you was going to get to win one, too.  Well this is the week - the giveaway will start on Wednesday.

I received my yogurt maker last week and was very excited to try it out.  You must remember, however, that I live in Nowhere, AZ, so I had to call quite a few stores and drive a bit to buy some yogurt starter.  There are other alternatives; I could have used a store bought yogurt as my starter, but I like options.
The nice thing about this yogurt maker is that it comes with two lids.  Can you see them on the box?  The small lid fits over the seven 6 ounce jars that come with the maker.  The larger lid allows you to make much larger quantities of yogurt using mason jars up to 1 quart in size.   I chose to make mine in pint jars.

Here is what I did:
Homemade Yogurt: 
64 ounces milk
1 ounce yogurt starter (or 1/2 cup plain yogurt with active cultures)
Bring the milk to 180 degrees (use a candy thermometer to measure the heat).    Allow the milk to cool to 110 degrees.   Take 3-4 Tbsp of milk out of the pan and mix it with the starter in a bowl until smooth.  Add the starter mixture back into the milk and stir until completely combined.  Pour into your clean glass jars and place in the yogurt maker.  Leave it in the maker 4-12 hours depending on the size of your jars and the kind of starter.  (note to self, do not start at 2pm if it's going to take 12 hours!!).

There is a nifty clock dial on the top of this yogurt maker's lids that allows you to indicate when you started so that you can better keep track of the time.

Now that I had four pints of plain yogurt, what was I to do?  Can you see it in the jar?   That's the amount I saved to make another batch.

I took one pint and made yogurt cheese by placing it in cheese cloth within a strainer over a bowl.
After a 15 hours, it looked like this.  Then I added 1/2 tsp stevia and 1 tsp of strawberry all-fruit jam.
It made a great spread for bagels and french toast.  

I tried adding regular jam to another pint.  My sons, the Yoplait lovers, thought it was too tart and too flavorless.  Then I had an idea.  I am a little ashamed to tell you what I added to the rest of the yogurt, but it worked.  All five of my kids slurped up the remaining yogurt in 60 seconds flat.  I added strawberry jell-o (about 1/3 of a big package to 1 1/2 pints).
 Look at that artificially dyed and flavored kid heaven.

I am still working on a healthy concoction that the kids approve.  I will let you know.

Now, I know that there is a way to make yogurt in the crockpot.  My problem is that the milk has to be kept at a fairly low constant temperature and my crockpot was always too hot.  It burned things on the low setting (and has since earned a place in the world's landfills).   I know that there is also a way to make yogurt in a towel wrapped cooler.  I don't happen to have one small enough.   

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday Stories: An Inevitable Part of Life

Death is a part of life.   Sometimes it comes like a thief, striking suddenly when life is just beginning.  Sometimes it comes like a welcome visitor, taking the pained or feeble to a welcomed rest.  How it comes often determines how we deal with it and what happens in our lives afterwards.

My grandparents, Mamie and Bumpa, had four children.  Marilyn was their first.  She was the apple of Bumpa's eye.  Both of her parents doted on her.  Next came a little boy named Kirk.  He had problems from birth.  The hospital gave him oxygen in a tent which caused him to be blind.  He later got sick with pneumonia and died before his second birthday.  Two years later, Dan was born.  He too was blind and died before he was three.  My mom was born six months before Dan died.  When my mom was eleven, Marilyn was killed in a car accident.  Mom, who had started as the youngest of four, became the only child; the protected last hope of my grandparents.  They didn't let her swim, they didn't let her go anywhere.  How could they?  What if something had happened to her, too?   At the same time, they withdrew from her, too.  In protecting themselves from the anguish they had experienced, they went about their lives without pouring their affection into their remaining child.  She grew up feeling hurt and resentful of both her sister for dying and seemingly taking with her her parents' love and of her parents for insulating themselves from further hurt.

One summer night in 1959, my dad and his friends decided it would be fun to sleep out in the middle of the alfalfa field on his property.  They went to his house to ask and stood in the kitchen and dad said loudly, "Aw, my dad never lets me do anything.  I'll have to ask my mom."  He then went into the other room and asked his dad and was given permission.  They slept in the field with their camping gear.  The next morning, they heard ambulance sirens, so they got up and followed it.  They caught up to it and the driver, recognizing dad yelled, "go home and wait there!"  Dad didn't know what was going on, but obeyed.  Soon neighbors started showing up.  Dad thought it was really strange.  One of the ladies asked him for a drink of water and asked him if he knew what was going on.  He replied, I think maybe something has happened to my dad."  She said, "Yes, he has been in an accident.  He's been killed."  Dad thought, "Oh NO!  Not my daddy!"  He was fifteen.

I have a little brother buried in Michigan.  My dad was stationed there with the Air Force.  I had been an only child for thirteen years when mom had my brother, John.  He was healthy and beautiful and we were all adjusting to a baby in the house when mom got pregnant again.  This time, the pregnancy didn't go well.  Mom had all sorts of complications.  At around 24 weeks, she had James.  Technology hadn't gotten to the point where micro preemies could be saved.    There was no NICU in the small base hospital.  The doctor didn't even try to save him.  He lived for twenty minutes.  Mom didn't see him, but he changed her forever.  He left behind a hole in her heart.

No matter what our philosophies or religious beliefs, death comes.  No matter how we look at it in the abstract, it comes.  No matter how prepared we think we may be, it changes us.  We are left behind.  We have to keep living without our loved one.  We have to find within ourselves the courage, the strength to go on without the person we loved so much.  How we react affects the rest of our lives, our relationships, our peace.

My great grandmother spent her last months at my great-aunt Eileen's house.  Near the end, Eileen wouldn't let her siblings in to see their mom.  That act forever damaged the sibling relationships.  There was a resentment that was never forgiven.

There is so much to be learned from family stories.  Recipes passed down from generation to generation bring fond memories.  Stories told about children's antics bring smiles for decades.  There are also lessons to be learned about what not to do.  Perhaps that's what I was trying to get at with this post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Update on Life

Periodically, I will either keep your interest or bore you to death by telling you about my life away from the stove.  Life is the reason I blog.  That probably doesn't make sense, but it would if you knew me.  It stems from the fact that I wasn't really prepared to adopt.  Oh, I thought I was.  I was desperate to have kids.  I knew I was meant to be a mom and because my body wasn't cooperating, I was sure adoption was the way to go.  And it was.  I am not in any way sorry that I did, it's just that all the preparation in the world couldn't really prepare me for parenting children with mental illness or baggage from poor prenatal care. 

Anyway, lest you think that life is all sugar and kumquats, I'll let you in on what's up with my life these days.

1. It's Spring Break.  All of us are enjoying the opportunity to sleep in past 5am.  The boys fight a lot when they are home togethers, though.  The Musician believes he is king of the castle and that his brothers are the peasants who must serve his every whim.  Too bad no one sent them that memo.  The Thinker absolutely will not do anything his older brother says.  I can see their chests puff out a bit as they circle each other like roosters fighting for supremacy. 

2. The Musician is playing a piano/organ duet with a friend for a special musical number in church soon.  I took  both boys over to the church to practice this week.  I had a hard time convincing the organ player to be quieter and the piano player to be louder.  After an hour or so, they had a really nice sound.  I am pleased to see teenagers sharing their talents.  It seems like my generation of friends and I were more excited to sing and play in public than my kids' group.

3. This year, the Musician was accepted into a program called Upward Bound.  I think it is basically a way of helping underpriveledged kids get into college.  The leaders of the program are affiliated with a local university and bend over backwards to make sure the kids in the program are getting good grades and have  opportunities to grow.  He will get to tour all of the state universities, see plays and operas, do community service and get extra help in subjects that challenge him most.

4. Last update on the Musician: his school particiapates in a lot of great extra cirricular programs.  He was able to be a part of both a mock congress and a mock trial competition last grading period.  Despite the fact that he told us that he needed a suit at 8:30pm the night before the mock trial (which resulted in a frantic drive to 3 stores), he learned a lot from both competitions.

5. The Thinker is a miliary geek.  There is no other way to descibe his passion.  This week, his scout troup went to Luke AFB where they were given a full tour.  He got to see planes taking off, drive a bomb squad robot, see a room full of every kind of shell, bomb, etc, see a guard dog attack a man in a pink fat suit and then got to go shooting at a range.  It was a great day for him.

6. The Thinker has also joined the Civil Air Patrol.  I didn't even know that the CAP existed for kids.  It's an off-shoot of the Air Force.  They perform search & rescues, transport blood and teach kids leadership, responsibility and order.  For the Thinker, who with ADHD struggles with organization and follow through, but dreams of military glory, this could be a great opportunity.

7. The Thinker has also started therapy to learn to deal with his anger issues.  After he lost control and pummeled the Comedian's face with his fists, we knew it was a problem that had to be formally addressed.  I wonder how much of it is nature or nurture.  All of my boys' birth-fathers are felons.  How much of that miscreant behavior is genetic?

8. The Engineer.  This year, I finally got a teacher to agree that he is dyslexic.  Mrs. P has gone the extra mile to help him improve his handwriting, his organization and his math skills.  We had him evaluated by the school reading specialist, but she couldn't help him.  I am discovering that dyslexia is too broad of a term.  In the Engineer's case, he flips bs and ds, qs and ps, he flips numbers like 14 and 41, he switches words like deal to idea.  When I found an expensive reading program that might help, he absolutely refused.   I told him I'd do it, that it would be just between him and me, but nope.  He doesn't want anything to do with it.  I wonder if because he was in speech therapy at school for a few years if he just doesn't want any more stigmas attached to his school work.  Maybe he is too young to realize how much it could help him.  I am stumped.

9.  Now that the weather has turned warmer (fingers are crossed that it's real), the boys have gotten out their roller blades.  The Engineer and the Thinker are really good.  They race around the block or play street hockey almost everyday.  I love to see them whooshing by with great big smiles on their faces.

10.  I think we are going to have to adjust the Comedian's meds again.  He is spacing at school and not completing assignments.  He is at the max for his ADHD meds.  He cannot take stimulants because that sends him into strange psychotic episodes.  His bipolarity isn't completely stable.  I can tell that some days he is manic.  He acts super hyper and goofy.  Then, with no warning, he will get mad...really mad.  He isn't as dangerous as he was before Depacote, but I watch him.  I don't think I will ever trust him completely.

11.  On a good note, the Comedian has learned to do his homework by himself.  I cannot tell you how happy that makes our entire family.  I blame myself for his bad learned behavior.  When he wasn't stable, I felt like I needed to help him.  As he actually learned his math and writing skills, I started to wean him off of my help and that made him mad.  It wasn't until this year that I could finally see that he could complete his work alone and that he just wanted me to sit next to him for hours.  It was like getting a baby to stop using a pacifier, though.  He cried and yelled and swore that he was never going to do his homework, but when he realized that I really wasn't going to hold his hand, he stepped up to the plate and did it himself.  We still battle over big projects like state reports, but for the most part, he is doing his work and getting decent grades on his own.

12. Princess Pat has been a gift.  She is able to cajole her brothers out of bad moods.  She has softened them as no one else could.  Oh, she still bugs them, still gets into their stuff; but her presence brings more smiles than anything else.  She is learning her letters now.  Her drawings have gotten to the stage where there is a great big head with big eyes, a line for a mouth and long lines descending out of the head for legs.  She likes to grab a piece of paper and pen and go up to all of us and ask us what we want to eat.  She will scribble down what we say and then return with any toy of her choice and designate it as the food we ordered.  She prefers to watch Food Network over most others, excepting PBS Kids, of course.  Although she doesn't look much like me, she is a mini-me in all of her mannerisms.

13. I'd like to thank you all for your comments and emails.   When you tell me I am doing something right, it makes up for the "I hate this family, why did you ever adopt me"s that I hear more often than not.  Because I grew up mostly as an only child, I have no clue what to do with sibling rivalry.  Because I grew up in a calm, quiet house, I have no clue what to do with yelling and fighting.  Thank you for giving me a break.  Thank you for half an hour or so of sanity every day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Stories: The Rest of My Trip to Ireland

 In 1991, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to Ireland, he was there on business and I was able to tag along.  I kept a journal of the trip.  Last week, I shared the beginning of the journey.  Here is the rest:

Tuesday, March 19, 1991
The Good Guy got up and called Microsoft, Ireland to report that he was here.  He left at 9:30 and I headed out to find a bank.  I exchanged $95US for 57.05 Irish pounds at the Bank of Ireland. I came back to the hotel room and watched the maid clean and then headed across the green to the Genealogical office/Heraldic Museum and saw the crests and artifacts of old clans.  The man there said I had to make an appointment for 10 pounds to talk to a researcher.  I guess I need to go to the National Library (next door) to do some of my own research tomorrow.

I stopped at a sandwich store on the way back and got a pint of milk, a chicken sandwich, 2 golden apples and a package of cup-a-soup for 2.35pounds.  That was a much better deal than a pub or Cafe Stephen at the hotel...and the food was delicious (of course, by then I was starving).  The Good Guy will be hungry  - I hope the people at work will help him find a place to eat.

He came "home" at 3:30.  He had stopped at a market and gotten 2 apples and 2 oranges, 1 can of soup, 1 can of beans, 1 loaf of bread, 2 carrots and 3kg of potatoes.  We went to a walking street (Grafton St.) and bought another loaf of bread for 65pence.  We went to a hardware store and bought a potato peeler.  That store was amazing - such clutter!!  We stopped and got a pound of margarine for 48p, too.  By this time, it was pouring rain.  I looked like a drowned rat.  We went home and ate.  By 8:30 we couldn't keep our eyes open anymore.

Wed., Mar 20
We slept in!  I don't know how business travellers manage jet lag.  I am doing very poorly adjusting.  We got up and I made Texas toast with milk for us to drink.  The Good Guy left at 9:30 again.

I went to the Library at 10:30 and it wasn't open!  I had misread the times.  Tomorrow it opens at 10am.  So, I went to the National Museum and saw the artifacts from the Vikings, Dublin and a section on New Zealanders.  I didn't go up to the 2nd floor.  I thought I'd bring the Good Guy back to see it sometime.

After that, I went to Grafton St again and browsed through some shops.  I bought some coursemeal bread for 74p.  I almost got a scone, too, but decided against it.  I bought another sandwich for 1.20pounds.  When the Good Guy gets home, hopefully, we will go to a market.

I have failed to mention that we are staying in Stephen's Hall, which has one of those famous Georgian doors.  We are situated kitty-corner from St. Stephen's Green, a 4 acre park that is simply beautiful.

Thurs, Mar 21
The Good Guy and I went to a mall this morning to get a Dublin street map.  He is sick of getting lost 2-4 times each way to work.  I went to the National Library afterwards.  I found the Journal of Cork Historical and Archeological Society.  I read an article called "The Origins of the ____ Family in Country Cork."  It convinced me that I have to go to Cork and then to a certain town to see where my ancesters lived.

I next went to the Museum of Natural History.  It was 4 floors of stuffed dead animals.  On the 2nd floor, I got the heebee jeebees amongst those huge animals.  Water buffalo heads were inches above my own.  Rhinos were posed to attack.  It was fascinating, though.

Then, I went to the National Gallery of Art.  It wasn't as wonderful as I'd hoped it would be.  There were paintings and busts from Italy (1500-1600) and Irish painters (1700-present).  There was a restaurant as well, but that was it.

I finished my day back in the mall.  I went into a store like a Target.  The linen tablecloths were 35 pounds and lower.  I can get a 72" white one for 14 pounds.  Hopefully, Cork will be cheaper.  Everything here is so expensive.  Sweaters are 30-60 pounds, Levis are 20 pounds and food is expensive, too.

Friday, March 22
At 10am, I went back to the National Library.  I looked through tons of books and found the crests of many of our families.  I had some pages copied and then I looked for the RC parish records from that town in Cork and started looking for my family....and I found them!!! I found the baptismal records for my great-great-great grandfather and all of his brothers and sisters. And then I found his parents' marriage record!!!  The records only went back to 1817, so I couldn't find their baptism records.  As it is, I am afraid the records don't help much in putting generations together.  Now we need to go south.

I got to the hotel at 2:40 and had to run down the street to the bank to exchange more money (it closes at 3)  Tomorrow, we are going to Galway for sweaters.  Galway is where one of my mother's great-great grandfather's came from.  I haven't had much luck finding anything on that line, but it will be fun to see the area.

Saturday, March 23
The alarm went off at 4:35, but I couldn't make myself get up until 5:15.  We were on the road by 6.  It was an easy drive over.  No one, apparently, gets up that early on Saturday mornings.  The countryside was beautiful.  We passed many manor houses and tons of sheep.  The lambs had been born just a few weeks ago.  They were so cute!

In Athlone, we crossed the River Shannon and took pictures of an old castle and library.  We got to Galway at 9am.  The crystal store was just opening.  We went in but things were just too expensive.  We went into the city center tourist information office to get directions to the various sweater shops and the Royal Tara china factory.  We went to the china factory first.  We got The Good Guy's sister a clock - it's beautiful.  I sure wish I had lots of money.  I'd have gotten my mom and myself some shamrock china. 

We went on a wild goose chase next and ended up on Galway Bay.  We could see the three Aran Islands in the distance.  It was breath taking.  We were in Spiddal, another town and bought a sweater at a shop there.  Then we returned to Galway and bought 7 more sweaters.  It wiped us out for money until we can get to a bank again.

We ate lunch at Supermacs, a hamburger/take away (not take out) joint.  We bought way more food than we could eat: 4 hamburgers, 4 fries and a large Club Orange fizzy.  We had to get our daily Cadbury candy bars, too.  We are totally addicted to British chocolate.

The road back to Dublin was quick.  We got really, really lost and short tempered as we tried to find the hotel again.

Sunday, Mar. 24. 
We attended a local church and then basically stayed home all day. 

Monday, March 25
I am afraid I have run out of things to do.  At least I have covered the walking radius around the hotel.  I went to the Library again and had the rest of a family article copied.  I looked for the Galway family and had no luck.  At noon I came home (bought milk on the way) and washed some clothes in the sink.  I made my own sandwich for lunch and saved a pound.

I think I need to address my new chocolate addiction.  I absolutely love the Dairy Bars.  The Good Guy loves every variety he has tried.  I cannot believe the difference between a Cadbury bar in the States and one here.  It's like the difference between wax and cream. 

The weather has been beautiful for the last few days.  No Rain!  Everyone has been out in the Green lying on the ground.

Tuesday, March 26
I left the hotel at 9:30 and went to Grafton Street again via St. Stephen's Green.  That park is so much fun.  There is a giant jungle gym in one section for kids.  There are two fountains with cattails painted where the water comes out.  There is a stream in which ducks, geese and swans swim.  This morning a rooster of all things was crowing there.  There is a big statue of three people at the Leeson entrance, but I haven't figured out who they are and what their significance is.

At Grafton, I bought 20 postcards and a finemeal pan (bread) at the bakery.  I went into the mall at the end and bought an Irish cookbook and apron for my mom.

We went out for fried chicken last night.  We were going to go to an Irish food place, but it ended up being too cold to walk that far and we knew we'd get lost if we drove.  We will try again later in the week.

I need to describe the National Library building.  You walk into a great circular hall.  A man checks your ticket to let you in and then another man puts your bags and coats into a locker and hands you a key.  Next you climb up a great stone circular staircase to the Reading Room.  In this round room are tables with banker's lamps.  The walls are lined with books.  The ceiling goes way up to sky windows and a wonderful dome.  There are cupids looking down at the patrons.  If you want to look at something that is not on the shelves, you fill out a slip with your table number on it and the library aide brings it to you.

Today is overcast.  It hasn't rained yet, but I think it will soon.  I suppose if I weren't from Seattle, I would think it dreary.  It is just like home.

The Good Guy is making a presentation today at work.  He has been amazed at the difference between Microsoft US and Microsoft Ireland.

Wed, Mar 27
I went for a long walk today.  I walked around Stephen's Green, through the streets around Grafton Street and then by Trinity College.  I stopped off in a few book stores and found myself a little cookbook for 60p.  I went back to the National History Museaum again and saw the top two floors this time.  It seemed more interesting.  Maybe it's because I am over the jet lag.  The animals there are up to 130 years old.  They just don't shoot and stuff animals like they used to.

Thurs, Mar 28
I went to the National Library one last time today.  I copied a long list of our family names.  Someday we may know how everyone fits together.  I spent a few hours staring at microfilm.

We went to the supermarket and bought lamb chops, milk, eggs, cereal, 7 candy bars and 3 boxes of biscuits.  We had potatoes and lamb chops for dinner.  The potatoes here seem extra starchy.  I wonder if they grow a different variety in Ireland?

Tomorrow is Good Friday, which means it's only a half day of work for the Good Guy.  We are planning on site seeing when he gets home.

Friday, Mar 29
Today is known as Black Fast Day here.  No one is supposed to participate in any frivolities.  I went to the Green for a stroll.  The weather is sunny and warm.  I watched the ducks and pigeons for a while.  It's spring, but the males aren't having any apparent luck with their wooing.  It was funny to watch them try to attract the females.

The daffodils are in full bloom everywhere.  As you drive down the roads, you find them in the middle of fields, randomly blooming with the sheep.  It's hard to imagine them being planted there.  In the Green, however, they are planted in specific places.  The tulips are budded and anxious to open, too.  Hopefully next week they will open before we go.  I am already missing the ones at home.  It's a peaceful day.  Not many people have to work, so everyone seems to be taking it easy.  I talked to one of the desk clerks and he suggested we go to Cork today to avoid the traffic.  This weekend may end up really boring if everything is closed for the holiday.

Saturday, March 30
We ended up taking a really long walk after work yesterday.   We woke up late this morning and hurried through getting ready.  By 6:30am we were on our way south.  First we drove down to the coast of Wexford.  It took us 2 1/2 hours.  We went grocery shopping at a place called "Crazy Prices"  There seems to be no order to the stores here.  Things are shoved everywhere.  The aisles are not even parallel!  We bought bread, milk, butter, apples and of course chocolate.

We went to the tourist info office and got directions to Johnstown Castle.  We went there next and saw the beautiful house.  It was closed, but we took some pictures. 

We drove through Waterford and saw the world headquarters of the famous crystal company.  We crossed a few bridges and saw wonderful scenery.  It was terribly foggy in the distances, so some of our photos will be hazy.  We arrived in Cork at 1pm. The streets were crowded.  Easter weekend is a big one here.  We decided to go to my ancestors' town before it got too late.  It took us another hour to get there.  The old parish church was gone and the cemetery was disasterous.  The headstones were little more than crumbles.  Father Murphy, the parish priest, was too busy getting ready for Easter to help us (duh!  I wish we'd taken that into consideration before we made the trip).  We took pictures of the town and then went to a market and got directions to a possible cousin's house.  She was very sweet and had pages and pages of family history, but none of it appeared to tie into our line.  We left at 5pm and drove back through Cork.  We saw the cathedral and then went north through Tipperary to Dublin.  We arrived home at 9pm, very tired.

Easter Sunday, March 31
Unbeknownst to us, Ireland went to Daylight Savings last night. 

Waiting for us outside our hotel room door was a wonderful Easter egg, compliments of the management.  Here in Ireland, instead of baskets of candy, everyone gets a giant egg that is filled with little candies and prizes.  It was, of course, divine chocolate.  We bought some meat pies at the corner store....ooooh! They were so good!

Monday, April 1
We went first to Limerick today and decided to visit Blarney Castle.  It cost 2.5pounds each to get in.  We walked up a trail to an impressive building.  We looked in the dungeons and tower.  People were certainly a lot smaller back when that castle was made.  The passageways were very narrow and short.  Next, we walked through a garden that had been a Druid's cave.  There was a staircase carved into the wall of the cave and another cave that was called a witch's kitchen.  We walked around the lower end of the castle and then entered the main part.  We walked up a ton of narrow stairs.  The rooms were damp and tiny.  The floors to the chapel and banquet hall were gone, so the family rooms were open to the sky.  We finally reached the top floor after looking everywhere for the Blarney Stone.  There it was...on the top.  Over 150 feet above ground and on the outside of the castle wall.  In order to kiss the stone, you have to lie on your back and extend your body out over the expanse of nothingness and kiss the outside of the stone.  Suddenly, I had no need to kiss the stone.  In fact, I wondered what made anyone want to!

We left the castle and headed to the Blarney Woolen Mill.  It was cheaper than Galway, but we had already made our purchases.  We ate lunch in Blarney.  I had Irish Stew.    We had planned to go to the coast to see the cliffs, but The Good Guy was beat, so we headed back to Dublin.

Tuesday, April 2
After pricing linen all over the country, it turns out that the linen tablecloths at the mall nearby are the cheapest.  I bought a 54 X 90 cloth for 14.95 pounds. 

The days are winding down.  We are ready to go home.  Irish television is pretty bad.  Between 1970s and 1980s US programs and Gaelic channels, we have been pretty bored at night.  We have watched the entire mini series "V."  We also watched the Irish/English football championships, dog obedience tests and the news.

Wednesday, April 3
I packed up everything today.  It is going to be hard to get to the airport from Euston station with 5 bags.  We have bought sweaters, table linens, a clock and some little touristy things.  Maybe we should have shipped it by post home....Live and learn.

Thursday, April 4
Tonight the Microsoft people took us out to an Indian restaurant.  It was simply delicious!  We had course after course of wonderful food.  As usual, my favorite was the bread (naan). 

Friday, April 5
We checked out today.  We drove to a store and stocked up on chocolate.  We ate a lunch of fish and chips.  We cashed The Good Guy's paycheck at the Bank of Ireland and exchanged it into dollars.  I had on a big sweater with a fanny pack underneath and we put the money into that.  No one should suspect I am carrying money on me.  We drove a little to the north of Dublin and saw another castle and a park.

We turned in our car and at 7pm we took a taxi to the train station.  We were in Dun Loaghaire by 8.  We boarded the ferry, but forgot to do our VAT's so the Good Guy had to find the customs office really quickly and have our receipts stamped.  We need that so we can get a refund on the taxes we paid here.

The weather was very windy, but the ferry crossing was smooth.  We watched Fletch Lives and Field of Dreams.  We also bought a pizza for dinner.  We had the choice of ham & mushrooms, ham & pineapple, or tuna fish for toppings!  It was 6pounds for an 8 inch pizza.

We arrived in Holyhead at midnight.  We got on the train in a nonsmoking car, full of smoking drunk people.   We would have moved, but with all of our luggage, we'd have made an awful noise.  The train didn't leave for 2 hours and finally arrived in London at 7:30am.  I tried to sleep on the train, but was not very successful. 

Getting through customs was another adventure.  The first man asked us whose luggage we had.  Of course it was ours, so we acted surprised that he would ask.  That made him all the more suspicious of us.  Then we went to get the luggage x-rayed and that darned clock made them think we had a bomb.   We had to unpack it and show it to them.  They wanted to break it and look inside, but we finally convinced them that it was simply a gift.  The Good Guy was then frisked at the metal detector. 

We got on the plane at noon.  We fell asleep right after lunch.  When we arrived in Canada, we went through US customs.  They didn't like my estimate of how much everything was worth, so we had to unpack our suitcases one more time.  It was quite a hassle and both of us were cross for a while after that.  Our plane back to Seattle was bigger than the hopper we'd rode getting to Vancouver.  Our ride was late picking us up, but it didn't matter.  We were home!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday Stories: Our Trip to Ireland

In March of 1991, Microsoft sent my husband to Dublin to set up a printer lab for Microsoft Ireland.  The Good Guy asked if he could bring me along.  They said it would be fine if we paid my way.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we jumped at the chance. Microsoft paid for our hotel, the Good Guy's airfare, a car rental and gave him a stipend of 60 pounds a day.  I was on my own, but I have been frugal for decades and we ended up going home with a profit.

I kept a journal of the trip in a small sprial notebook.  The Good Guy and I were naive tourists.  I look back at our trip and wish we had not been so shy, perhaps not quite so frugal and just a little more adventurous. 

Friday, March 15, 1991
The Good Guy and I boarded the tiniest plane at 1pm.  It had propellers!  The noise was deafening and we were right by those noisy things in seats 1C and 1D.  We arrived in Vancouver, BC at 2:20.  We went quickly through customs then went up to our gate to wait 2 hours for our connecting flight.  We flew to London  on a 767 jet.  Canadian Airliunes is a nice airline company (the headsets are free -  so the Cheapskates (us) are happy).

The Good Guy's family gave us money and lists of goodies they want from Ireland.  Hopefully we'll have enough of our own to get things for ourselves.  This is a skimpy month because of this vacation.  The inflight movie was "Mermaids" with Cher and Wynona Rider.  It was terrible!!! We finally rested and then the sun rose.  That was pretty.

Saturday, March 16
By the time the breakfast snack came, we were mighty uncomfortable.  We ate fruit and croissants.  When we landed and got to customs, we had to wait for the customs agent to look us up in a special "undesirables" book because The Good Guy had been in Argentina during the Falklands War.  I think the guy was hoping to find our names.  We managed to get through eventually.

We went out to the International arrivals seating area and sat down to wait for The Good Guy's parents to pick us up (they were in England for an extended stay at the time).  They didn't arrive until almost 2pm (almost 4 hours after we arrived).  We were certainly glad to be out of Gatwick.

The In-Laws had their own little blue car.  It was cute to watch Mom tell Dad to watch for traffic on the right over and over.  He did a great job.  They showed  Arandale Castle and its cathedral.  Those building were pretty neat for our first sites.  Then it started to pour.  It was like being back in Seattle.  We went to their flat, an old farm house that had been converted into nice apartments.  The ceilings were very ornate.  There was a flower pattern carved into wood painted white.  The walls were light and dark peach in one room and light and dark blue in another with beautiful chair rails.  All of the toilets have to be double pumped to work.  Have to remember that!

I took a 2 hour nap right after we arrived.  Jet lag had me bad.  When I woke, we went to the George, a pub, for dinner.  I had a cottage pie.  I learned that shepherd's pie has lamb or mutton in it and cottage pie has minced meat (ground beef) in it.  The Good Guy had lamb with rosemary, his dad had steak & kidney pie and his mom had lasagne verde (she isn't very adventurous).

We slept on the couch and chair cushions on the floor.  I awoke at 4am, wide awake!  I need to get used to this new time zone.

Sunday, Mar 17.
There was no mention of St. Patrick's Day in England. (Now that I am older, I know why, but at the time, I thought it was weird).  We went to church in Chichester.  Afterwards, we took a tour of the area and went down to the ocean.  We packed up and started our journey toward Ireland.  First, we took a train from Chichester to London's Victoria Station.  We were lugging big suitcases and were so very obviously tourists.  We took the underground to Euston station. There we got on the Irish Mail and went to Holyhead, Wales.  We tried to sleep, but only got about an hour's worth.

Monday, Mar 18
We boarded the ferry at 2:30am.  It took off at 3am.  It was totally different from our Puget Sound ferries.  This one was more an ocean liner.  There were seven decks.  Two were for cars.  We stayed on the disco/tv deck and watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Harry & the Hendersons.  There was a restaurant deck and also one full of sleepers.  The trip was very smooth.  There was a gentle rolling sensation once in a while.

We landed at 6:45am in Dun Loaghaire (pronounced dun lorry) and grabbed a train.  The man who rodeon the Mail with us told us how to find our motel.  He was so nice.  He took us to the bus station, but it wasn't open yet.  We ended up taking a taxi.  We paid 4.2 pounds for a 2 minutes ride.

We are staying at Stephen's Hall in a suite with a kitchenette, living room, bedroom and bath.  We ate breakfast in the hotel cafe.  I had the continental which consisted of a croissant, a raisin scone and a whole wheat scone....yummy carbs!  The bread over here is divine.  The Good Guy ordered a traditional breakfast which included Kelloggs cereal (ha!!) and a plateful of eggs, ham, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and black pudding (which we both tried and both hated UGH!)

No one told us that when St. Patrick's day falls on a Sunday in Ireland the next day is a "bank holiday."  That means that absolutely nothing is open.  We were sorely disappointed that we couldn't begin our site seeing immediately.  We were able to pick up our rental car.  We got lost many times trying to find our hotel again.  The Good Guy kept veering back to the other side of the road.  At one intersection he forgot to look right and we were almost broadsided.  The other driver got mad and followed us for a while, but finally gave up.  This is going to be an interesting couple of weeks!

I decided to take a nap and ended up sleeping the entire night!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blogging Brings Unexpected Opportunities For All of Us

When I began my "Make Your Own Monday" series, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone a bit and make some things I hadn't really thought of making, like cream cheese, jelly donuts, yogurt, and pizza rolls. Making some of those things might involve some creative repurposing of things I already own, as it would be at cross purposes of "frugal antics" to spend a ton of money in the attempt to save money.

Certainly, I can fry donuts in a dutch oven.  I always have cheese cloth on hand and have found that it doesn't hurt to wash and reuse it. I thought perhaps I would make some yogurt in my crockpot.  I have seen it done on a few blogs and not having a yogurt maker of my own, I thought it would be the best route to go.  Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by company that sells tons of products from cookware and barstools to furniture and other things about doing a review/giveaway of one of their items.  I got to choose.

My thoughts immediately turned to this series.  I went through my list and decided that we (you and I) need our own yogurt makers.  So, sometime soon, I will be posting about my adventure with the Tribest Yolife Yogurt Maker.  I will also be hosting a giveaway of the same product.  Stay tuned!
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