Diary of a Homemaker: The Last of the Year

Saturday:  John and I had such a lovely evening for Christmas Eve.  We watched two of our most favored movies.   We really love the old black and white "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  The second movie we watched was "The Bishop's Wife".     We had popcorn and hot cocoa to go with our movies.  

This morning, we had our usual canned orange Danish for our holiday meal.  I was out of sausage of any sort but no hardship to go without.  It's the Orange Danish that's a must!

I popped our roast into the oven before we left to go over to Sam's to see the boys' and Millie's Christmas.  We spent a happy hour sitting on the front porch watching the boys play with remote control cars and attempt to ride their bikes.  Millie wanted only for me to see her new purple toothbrush.  I suppose when you're two that's probably the most important thing.   She proceeded to show me how she could climb up and slide down all by herself.    

The two dogs, Rufus and River, vied for attention, too.  At one point, Rufus was fully sitting in my lap, while River pushed in from the other side.   Silly dogs.   Sam was amused that River always acts as though she's all excited about our coming over as well.  She definitely feels that she's equal to any grandchild.

Our dinner was excellent, and we enjoyed it, but we didn't want supper tonight.  We were quite happy to skip that final meal and have a snack of crackers and fruit. 

A very quiet day at home which we've enjoyed very much. 

Sunday:  After spending the week away from home, Katie wisely returned yesterday afternoon and evening.  She said traffic was light which is what I'd hoped for her.  Overall, I think she enjoyed getting away from home for a bit, but homecoming is always sweet, too.   There's nothing like sleeping in your own bed or waking to make your own coffee and have in a spot that blesses you with peace or stepping into your own shower.

John and I again attended the only service our church was having today, which was the 11am one.   We had plenty of folks there though it was by no means full.   We didn't really expect it to be with so many people visiting out of town for the holiday.    Nevertheless, it was a moving and powerful service and I'm glad we attended.

On our way home today, I found I was very hungry.  I mentioned this to John who said as we neared Ft. Valley, "I'll stop and get something if you'd like..."   I suggested Taco Bell.  I figured it was the least expensive option and a reasonably healthy one as the crunchy Tacos are just 13g of Carbs each.   We placed our order and drove over to the cemetery and had lunch with dear Elizabeth Slappey.  It's been months since I went by there to eat with my oldest friend in the cemetery.   We drove home along a meandering back road and enjoyed the drive very much.

Before we'd left home today, I managed to clear up the kitchen and make the bed.  I needed only to fold a partial load of clothes that had been hung to dry on Friday evening and remove the more fragile ornaments from our tree to finish up my work of the day.   I'd just offered John a piece of cake when the phone rang.  It was Katie asking if she might come out for cake and coffee.   Of course, I said "Yes."

Caleb came in with many greetings, "Hi!" and immediately went to all the places he typically goes to on a daily basis: the toy box, the tree, the kitchen cabinet where I store canned foods, the bench at the back door to borrow Grampa's boots.    Katie and I sat and talked over her vacation, her desire to get control of her household tasks back in line and the travails of traveling with a two-year-old.  

A funny moment occurred just before they left.  John asked Caleb if he was going to be good this week.  He sort of shook his head and nodded it at the same time.   A mixed answer if ever there was one, lol.  I suspect he was being very truthful in that moment.  He will be good, and he won't.  He will be two all week long and that's as it should be.

Now I shall go review my menu for the week and determine which, if any, of those meals we shall have for supper tonight.  

Monday:  I realized last night that I'd failed to record our Christmas Day dinner as a part of the menu.  Then when I was reading off to John his possibilities for meals last night he said "Pizza?" which was not on the menu at all but something I typically make at some point in our weekend.  From start to finish I can put a pizza on the table in under 2 hours from making dough to thawing meat to go on top and prepping all the ingredients.  Of those 2 hours only about 20 minutes is actual prep time.  The rest is waiting for the dough to rise and the pizza to cook (about 50 minutes or so).  I figure a homemade from scratch pizza usually costs about $4, but that's because we add different toppings.

If I were to run to town for a frozen pizza, it would take roughly 30 minutes for the trip into town and another 20minutes to cook the thing if I think to call John to preheat the oven.  Otherwise it's an additional 35 minutes to pre-heat and cook.  I'd spend at least five or so minutes doctoring it up.  We only buy cheese pizza as most pizzas have some type of pork on them.  Occasionally, but only rarely, we can find a Hamburger pizza.   Usually, I can buy a frozen pizza for under $5.   The doctoring part of it probably adds roughly $1 in cost.  That's a rather low-cost convenience food that will serve us two meals.

To get a pizza from the pizzeria would take roughly an hour of driving time.  Last time Mama and I got a pizza it was $22.  Making my own saves us a bundle and means we can pizza once a week every week and spend far less than the average of a takeout pizza.  

I never felt I was very good at pizza to be honest.  I thought those Chef Boyardee pizzas were a whole lot better than any I could make but I've done something this year that I have learned will almost always improve any skill: I've practiced.   A lot.  Making pizza once a week has given me a real feel for how the dough should look and feel at each stage.  I've made up my own pizza dough through trial and error, not using any particular recipe.  I've found that depending on the weather (dry/humid/cold/hot) I require varying amounts of water or flour.  I use my stand mixer to do the kneading.  I find that setting it on low speed and letting it work for at least 5 minutes after the dough has fully come together is key.   Then I let it stand and rise for 30-40 minutes.  After the dough has risen, I punch it down, divide it in half and put half right into a greased bag, and pop that into the freezer.  The other portion I flatten out by hand to fit my sheet of greased foil, cut to fit the pizza stone.

I heat the pizza stone at 400f for at least a half hour prior to putting the pizza in.  I lift the foil with the pizza on it and set it directly on my heated stone.  Then I cook the pizza for about 17 minutes at 400f.  

On the following weekend, I'll remove the frozen dough from the freezer and set it on the counter to thaw and rise in the bag.   It almost always comes out just as good as a fresh crust if I don't rush the thawing/rising period.  I've also let it thaw overnight in the fridge and it will rise in the bag in the fridge.  I find no fault with this pizza dough either.  I make my pizza with the dough right from the fridge if it appears to have risen enough.  

I've tried a variety of toppings.  We like a hamburger pizza with pepperoni right well and usually that's what we choose.  But I've taken time to experiment with various toppings and we've had some favorites that we return to when we feel ready for something different.  I put together a BBQ Chicken pizza with pineapple and onions and cheese that is so good.   There's also a buffalo chicken with blue cheese that is pretty dang good, too.  I've tried a spinach and artichoke pizza based on the dip I enjoy (I liked it, John wasn't a fan), Bacon Ranch Chicken (still playing with that one), Philly Cheesesteak (really good and high time we had that one once again), Taco Pizza (refried beans and taco seasoned meat), Sausage and Mushroom, and plain Pepperoni.  

We got a scooter/ride on toy for Caleb for Christmas.  Today John put it together and Caleb was so happy with it.  He pulled it behind him, rode it back and forth, turned it upside down.  He figured out he could carry things in the empty space beneath the seat and rode around with his truck or cup of water in there.  He fussed when it was time to eat, until John brought it over to his chair and he could rest his foot on it while he ate.   John attempted to put it in the living room as Caleb was leaving tonight but he was having none of that.  So, it's sitting on the bench at the back door where he could see it as he left and will see it in the morning when he's coming in.  

The White Chicken Chili I made tonight was pretty good.  I didn't follow any recipe.  I started by boiling two boneless skinless chicken breasts.  Then I added in some onion, garlic, cumin, a can of green chilies and some of the Salsa Verde I opened up at Christmas time.  I added some broth powder to the liquid in the pan and the equivalent of two or three cans of white beans.  I had beans in the freezer I'd cooked some time ago.  I loved that this recipe is the perfect Gathered Fragment sort of meal.  I used things I was sure would either spoil or which had been languishing in the freezer.    

John ate two bowls of this tonight.  I sent home a container of it with Katie who isn't feeling well.  I have one pint leftover that I've popped into the freezer for a day when I need a soup meal.  I'm finding that is averaging once a week here of late.  I really do love a good bowl of soup!  I find it very comforting and so nourishing.

Tuesday:  John reminded me yesterday that he had a lunch date with his former partner today.   I was pretty much prepared for it but you can never be fully prepared, can you?  

For one thing, I had a miserable night last night.  I think partly it's due to erratic barometric pressures and humid heavy weather and partly due to other stressors that I'm doing my best to ignore since I can't really resolve them.  At any rate, I got up prepared for the day alone with Caleb. 

What I didn't expect was a mercy call from Bess.  Millie has fully embraced terrible twos even though her birthday is 6 weeks ago.  She's learned "NO!" a little too well, crosses her arms to pout and apparently screeches and carries on at home.  I have witnessed most of this while visiting so I'm not terribly surprised.  Anyway, Bess asked if I could please give her a break and take Millie this morning.   Even though the boys are home from school, the call was specifically to just take Millie.  I said I would for a few hours and gave my set time for her departure.

Of course, she was perfectly fine here.  After an initial crying at goodbye for good effect, she stood at the window and happily waved goodbye, asked for "Boy" and told me she was ready to eat.  The morning went smoothly enough, truly it did.  The two toddlers played together happily and enjoyed their play together.  Millie wasn't clingy or fussy in the least.   When Bess returned, shortly after John's departure, she went to her Mama happily and pleasantly.  Sometimes, you just need a break from each other and that's the truth.  

I've noticed that along about this stage, most Mamas and babies do a sort of weaning.  Even if they long ago finished up nursing or taking a bottle, this is an important stage of becoming separate from someone they have been solely dependent upon for the first two years or so.   I've watched it occur over and over again at this stage life and it is a difficult passage for all concerned.  Sometimes Mama's are ready before the children are and sometimes the children are ready before Mama is.  Sometimes the need to be separate beings once more occurs at a mutual time but regardless of when each individual is ready it's a hard and difficult season to be got through for all concerned.   

Away from the person upon whom they have been so dependent, children often display a greater independence.   Millie can make most of her wants known by pointing and some word use, but around Bess and Sam she tends to simply go "Uh Uh Uh Uh" and the volume increases with her frustration that they don't know what it is she wants.   Yet when she is with me and John, she uses her finger to point or goes to the area where an item is located.  Juice, for instance, is in the fridge so when she wants juice, she tells me "I want...." and then goes to the fridge and shows me her sippy cup.  I catch on right away simply because she has given me every possible chance at determining what it is she wants.  On the other hand, to sit in the floor and cry or just stand before someone going "Uh Uh Uh Uh" gives no hints at all.   She is so accustomed to Bess and Sam automatically knowing what she requires that she assumes they still do and gets upset that they are not providing it without any direction at all.  Fortunately, neither she nor Caleb expects me or John to just know.

Caleb and I had our lunch after Millie went home.  He played about a bit but looked absolutely worn down, so I put him to bed.  This is becoming an issue for me in many ways.  Usually, these days he strips naked and wets everything in the pack n play.  Right now, he's dressed in a number of layers and can't undress (or so I am supposing) but he's ripping the bed apart and banging on the wall.  Truth is, he's quite tired and really needs that quiet time but I can see that our current method is not working for him at all.  I have to figure out what this next stage of his quiet time is going to look like.  

Do I put the tot sized mattress on the floor and allow him to lie in the room unattended?  If I do that I must also completely remove and block everything he might potentially get into out of the room and frankly, I've nowhere I can put it.   So that option has been nixed.   I could move the mattress to the living room and try to make him lie upon it.  Our one attempt at this resulted in him turning somersaults and doing belly flops every five minutes.  He stayed on the mattress, more or less, for about an hour, but it was hardly the quiet rest he truly needs.

My solution today is to leave him in the room with the door open but insist that he lie down with milk.  We shall see how this goes.  Frankly, I am tired, and I need the rest whether or not he thinks he does!

I did take time earlier, while the door to the quiet room was shut, to clear the toy box.  I removed toys that are infant toys and toys that are seldom played with.  I have grouped like toys together and have seriously considered which toys are favored (cars and musical instruments rank high, as well as the toy dishes), and which don't seem to get too much interest.   I ended with a small grocery bag of infant toys to clean and store away and a larger bag of toys I know the older children will play with even yet, but which are a little beyond Caleb and Millie.  I'll keep those for future days.

After I picked up the remaining toys from the living room floor, I removed all the ornaments and Christmas cards from the room and now we've just the lit tree left and some faux greenery in a vase.  We are ready now to remove the tree come New Year's Eve and put it all away for another year.  

John asked me last night how I felt about Christmas this year.  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed everything about it: the gift giving, the wrapping of presents, the making of special treats and the visits.  I enjoyed the movies we watched and the quiet Christmas Day at home.   I am also ready for the fresh start a New Year promises and ready to put away the things of 2021 and move on.  I'm wiser and perhaps more wary than in year's past but nevertheless I embrace the New Year just as I did the Christmas season.

I have no clue what we will have supper tonight.  I've got my menu where I can see it, but nothing appeals to me in the least.  I do have a couple of convenience meals I could put together with little to no effort.  I keep such things for days like these when my mind is fuzzy and unfocused on mundane things like meals and cleaning tasks, and I have to be heavily focused upon a little boy and/or girl.

Wednesday:  The weather has been heavy and humid all week long.  Temperatures are about average but with the humidity it feels a good bit warmer.  It's a breeding ground for storms, but until today we've had no rain.

I was reminded of how lovely winter can be here.  The trees are bare of leaves now and the bark shows up a beautiful white when the sun shines upon them.   Against a stormy western sky with a sunny eastern sky the trees are so lovely that it makes you catch your breath.  That sight carried me through lunch today.  The rain moved in after we'd finished eating.  

Caleb loves to stand at the windows and look out and he really enjoys watching the rain fall.  He stood transfixed today as it poured down.

I am making the Alpine Swiss Chicken for supper tonight.  

I'll serve it with cranberry sauce as a side.   I discovered we're out of bread at lunch time, or almost, so I started a batch of bread dough after lunch. I used some yogurt whey Bess gave me as my liquid but my yeast never really took off in it.  I almost went ahead with the bread making process because there were a few bubbles, but my instincts told me to pour out the mixture and start over rather than waste the flour.  I used plain old warm water in the next start and had a bubbly molasses smelling brew within 6 minutes.   I'm glad I listened to instinct.  I'll make a smaller loaf of bread and some hot dog buns from this batch of dough.   

I think I'll discard the whey.  I failed to date it when it was brought over this month, and I can't for the life of me remember how old it is.  I prefer not to waste foods but it's not unusual to lose track when you've had a holiday month with a lot of extras in the fridge.  

I was going over sales ads this morning and I'll do a quick report on what I see for meat prices.  Pork is up.  A Boston Butt is about $2.99 a pound.   Beef has held fairly steady here.   Chuck Roast is $5.39 a pound, roughly 60c less than it has been.   Bone in Rib Eye steak is $8.99/pound.  Ground beef continues to come in at about $4 per pound.   Chicken prices remain good too, with bone in breasts for 99c/pound.   Fruits and vegetables are only moderately higher and in season fruits are about where they typically are.  Mandarins at Aldi are $2.99 for 3 pounds and Florida strawberries are $2.49 per pound.  That is an excellent price this time of year.    I've no clue what eggs or milk are running but I would say that the higher costs I've heard of in other areas of the US have not yet hit us here.  

Thursday:  Katie and Caleb have just gone home.  We had things to talk over this evening about other matters and she opted to stay this evening rather than come out tomorrow.  We both want a day off.  John was all for leaving it until tomorrow, but we girls just wanted to get it done.  

For once, Caleb was pretty happy to have Katie sit and relax and let us do our stuff.  Usually he starts yelling "Bye!" immediately and if she happens to stop to sit down and speak, he melts into puddles.  I think what eased our passage tonight was that he was eating supper when she came in.  I was little later than usual; she was a little early.   She made a cup of coffee while he finished eating and we started talking.  When he got finished eating, he ran off to play.  It gave us the opening we need to attend to our business.

It was a miserable day today.  Heavy and overcast.  My head ached from the barometric pressure rising.  I went outdoors when Caleb laid down, I went out to the shed to put away the Christmas decorations properly.  It was miserably hot outdoors, well above 80f and so thick you could barely breathe the air in.  

While I was in the shed, Maddie clambered in with me.  Maddie has never come into my shed ever, so I was quite surprised until that rumble of thunder came and cued me in as to why.   It started to rain and I just decided I'd go on and work at putting things away properly now rather than leave it.  It's so much easier, if you can take a few minutes to just go on and do jobs.

I will say that it wasn't all that easy.  Those glue traps that the pest control man put out are industrial strength for sure.  I dropped ornaments, the wreath, one of the reindeer headbands and I got things stuck.  I got everything loose except the headband.  That is a lost cause.  I also got glue on my fingers, so they stuck together and at one point both feet were stuck to the floor where glue had come off the soles in the past.  Sigh.  I would say these glue traps work terrifically.  They certainly hold me in my place for a few minutes at a time so I suppose any pests would be well and truly stuck!

John very sweetly came outdoors and retrieved my umbrella from the car and brought it out to theoutd shed.  He can be so thoughtful.  I would have just gotten fully soaked going back across the yard.  Maddie very smartly found her spot under the umbrella, for her trek back across the yard.

Caleb napped again today, and he slept long and hard.  No wonder!  Not only did rain pour, but it was dark outdoors, so dark that by 4pm our security light was already on.  It poured hard for two or three hours.

I think I'll end the post here this week.  We have the day off tomorrow.  I will put the Christmas tree away for another year.  And we'll see 2021 out on a far better note than it began.   It's been a challenging year.  The year ahead will no doubt have unique challenges all its own.  I have made my resolutions for the year ahead and our calendar is slowly filling for the month ahead.  

May you all have a lovely New Year Day!

(C) Terri Cheney

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