Monthly Archives: September 2011

Little Acorn Treats

I saw these cute little acorns on Pinterest the other day and decided to make a bunch to welcome Fall.  This is our one-eared squirrel, Woody, and our house gnome.  We call him Gnome.

Ingredients:

Mini Nilla Wafers

Chocolate Kisses (I like dark chocolate, but milk would be fine too)

Butterscotch (or Peanut Butter) Morsels

Directions:

Put a handful of Butterscotch Morsels in a small glass dish and microwave until melted.   Please check every 15 seconds or so.  I did mine for 20 seconds at a time but I know I don’t have a very powerful microwave.  So go slowly and stir them after they start to soften. Mine were still holding some shape after 60 seconds but once they were stirred again they were ready to use.

Spread a small amount of melted Butterscotch Morsels on the bottom (flat side) of a Mini Nilla Wafer and  stick a Chocolate Kiss (unwrapped) on it.  Let it set.

If you have a gnome in the house, he might be interested in helping.

Other small folk may also be interested too.  Sticky fingers may ensue.

With a small brush (you could probably do it with a toothpick), put a bit of the melted Butterscotch on the top, rounded side of the Nilla Wafer and stick on a Butterscotch Morsel. Let it set.

Warning: Mini Nilla Wafers have a way of disappearing from their box.  Maybe it’s the gnome.

Chocolate Kisses at least have foil to slow you down.

Or not.

Aren’t they cute?  And easy as can be.  I think they’d be a great garnish with an autumn dessert or a sweet addition to a plate of cookies.

I put mine in little cellophane bags with tags stamped with leaves.

Happy Fall, Y’all!

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Minted Pea Salad

This is an easy and delicious salad that goes together quickly.   It is cool and refreshing especially if you’re experiencing a spike in the temperature as we did in these last few days.

Start with a few handfuls of sugar snap peas.  Trim off the ends and cut them in half.  Put them in a bowl.

Pour about 1 1/2 cups of frozen petite peas into a mesh strainer and defrost them under running water.  Shake the water off them and dump them in the bowl with the sugar snap peas.

Dice up two stalks of celery and add that to the bowl.

Chop up some fresh mint – you’re aiming for about a 1/4 cup of chopped mint, and add that to the bowl.

Toss the salad together.  Drizzle with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a few tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss again and serve or if made ahead, refrigerate and serve chilled.

Like I said, easy and delicious.

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Dahlia Fold Flower Card

I recently made a special card using this beautiful Dahlia Fold.  I had wanted something different for the design and knew that splitcoaststampers has some great tutorials, so I decided to look there for ideas.  Since making that first card (which I made and gave away without taking any pictures of it), I’ve made two more and they both turned out beautifully.

The design looks complicated but it really isn’t that hard.  It is made up of 8 folded petals that when put together create a lovely flower or medallion.

Supplies:

Double-Sided Paper

Adhesive

Circle Punch (I used a 1 1/4 inch punch)

Bone Folder (optional)

To make card with finished Dahlia Fold flower:

White Card Stock

Colored Card Stock

Ink

Rubber Stamps

Paper Cutter

Scissors

Rubber Stamps

Embellishments (optional – for finished card)

Instructions:

For every full flower, use the circle punch to cut out 9 circles from the double sided paper.  Eight will be petals and one is the base – the circle for the base can be smaller than the petal circles.

Fold each flower in half and then in quarters and unfold.  The crease lines will be your guides for the next folds.

Now in the lower half of the circle fold a little curved flap up on one side.  The flap should only go as far as the crease lines.

Repeat on the other side – these two little folded flaps should come together to a point as if you are started to fold a tiny paper airplane.

Flip the circle over, in my example above, you would be flipping from the green side to the pink side.

Fold in towards center line on each side – the photo above shows the first two folds, the circle flipped over and the second two folds.  That is one complete petal of your dahlia.

Now fold seven more petals the same way so you have eight petals.

Fold the base circle in quarters and unfold to give you guidelines. Adhere the folded petals to the base, two petals per quarter.

I found if I pinched together the little flaps, it was easier to hold the petals as I adhered them to the base.

Sometimes I have to pull a petal off and re-stick it for better placement.

For this card design, I folded a few extra petals and then used green printed paper to fold two smaller circles into the petal shape.  I glued one of the full-sized petals into the smaller, green petals to form blossoms.

The stem of the flower is formed with a word stamp.  Additional leaves were created by stamping birthday greetings on green card stock with green ink and cutting out leaf shapes.  A self-adhesive crystal was added to the center of the flower and a few dots of pink ink accented the design.

I used white card stock to back the flower design and matted it with rose-pink card stock on a green card.

Here is the same Dahlia Fold using different paper.  A brown paper dot forms the center of the flower.

Here is my work space after finishing a card.  This is also the dining room table and I’ve learned that a placemat will cover one of those sheets of grid paper that I like to work on.  Too bad it won’t cover all the stamps, scissors, pens, punches and paper!

Thanks for visiting.  I’d love to see your Dahlia Fold creation.

Update: Here are two fantastic Dahlia Fold cards from crafters and sisters-in-law: Carson Hildreth Riutta and Jean Villanueva Riutta.  I love how they turned out.  Great work, ladies!

 

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On Caring

car·ing

adjective /ˈke(ə)riNG/ 

  • Displaying kindness and concern for others
    • – a caring and invaluable friend

noun /ˈke(ə)riNG/ 

The work or practice of looking after those unable to care for themselves, esp. sick and elderly people

I appreciate the concerned and caring responses to my recent post about my dad.  All the love, prayers and supportive messages have been wonderful.

In these last few days, I’ve experienced many examples of caring and in both the definitions above: “displaying kindness and concern for others” and “the work of looking after those unable to care for themselves, especially sick people.”

Around 2 am Wednesday morning my father got sick.  His third round of chemo had ended Friday and he’d had three pretty good days over the long weekend.  But on Tuesday he wasn’t feeling well and my mom didn’t know why.  I mean, other than the fact that he has cancer and had just finished five days of chemo.  I don’t want or need to go into graphic details here, but dad was sick and mom was giving him water in the feeding tube throughout the day on Wednesday.  It wasn’t a good day but she was in contact with his oncologist and following the doctor’s advice.

In the afternoon Papa was still sick and unable to keep water down so mom called me to help her get him to the hospital.  When I got to their house it was soon clear that the two of us couldn’t manage to get him down the stairs and out to the car and so we called 911.  It was such a relief to have these guys show up and just take the weight of care from us.  They were very calm, efficient, professional and caring.  On the ride to the hospital they were already transmitting his vital statistics to the ER staff, they got him on an IV and got fluids going and started giving him anti-nausea meds.

My mom got to the hospital before the paramedics as she took a few shortcuts and they got slowed down with commute traffic.  She found that not only were they caring for my dad, but also that when you arrive at the hospital in the back of an ambulance, you don’t have to have someone  find a wheelchair for you, or fish around for your member card or try and explain symptoms to the triage nurse.  You go right in the special ambulance entrance and into a room.

All the staff in the ER were wonderful but Claude, the nurse who was mainly caring for him, was especially caring and kind.  When my mom started to feel a bit shaky Claude asked when she’d last eaten and quickly got a sandwich, applesauce and juice.  That helped some but she’d been awake for too many hours and was overwhelmed and she needed to lie down.  Which is how she ended up on a gurney in the hall.  My dad was undergoing tests and receiving fluids in his room, my mom was resting on a gurney in a busy hallway and I was going back and forth between them.

It was after 5 pm when dad arrived in the ER and probably after 9 pm when the decision was made to admit him to the hospital.  The medical staff still hadn’t pinpointed why he was experiencing the symptoms he had other than as a response to his recent round of chemo.  My mom felt that she was unable to give him the care he needed at home in the shape he was in (and to be honest, in the shape she was in…it was pretty clear to the doctor while he had this conversation with my mom and she herself was lying on a gurney).

We stayed until he was finally in a room around 10:30 pm.   Claude was so helpful, calm and efficient throughout the evening as he moved quickly in and out, helping us and other ill or injured patients and their distressed and tired family members.

Before we left the hospital, I spoke with Rem on the phone.  I had decided to spend the night at my folks house to keep my mom company and to take the following day off from work so I could join her at the hospital.  I asked Rem to pack up a bag of clothes and toiletries for me, naming some specific items I thought I would need. I was touched when I found other things that he thought would offer me comfort that he had packed as an expression of his care and concern.  I was glad to have my soft, cozy bedroom slippers, a book to read, and my favorite pair of socks.  It helped the next morning, when facing our return to the hospital, to be armed with some sleep and these socks that make me feel stronger when I wear them.

It is now Sunday and dad is still in the hospital and now we know why my dad is sick. He tested positive for C. diff:  Clostridium Difficilea bacteria that can cause diarrhea and colitis.  It is one of those bad bacteria that some people have in their guts all the time without any symptoms and is most often transmitted in a hospital or medical center.  It typically occurs after a person has been on antibiotics or chemo. Dad has, of course, been in the medical center recently as he went in on the first and last days of his chemo cycle, he’s been on antibiotics for an infection and has been on chemo. A triple whammy.

He is in isolation which means every time anyone goes into his room they must put on a (paper or plastic) gown and gloves which are in a rack on the outside of the door.  When leaving the room you remove the gown and gloves in the room and discard them and then wash your hands.  Alcohol-based hand cleaner isn’t effective against the spores but traditional and stringent hand-washing is.

The large garbage bag in the room fills throughout each day as caregivers come and go, each one gowning and gloving as they enter.  The hall and nurses station are noisy so we try and keep the door closed and the room quiet and calm.  You can hear the knocking as someone pulls a packaged gown off the rack on the door, another rattle as they tug a pair of gloves out of their box and a pause as they garb themselves in the protective clothing.

With the yellow gowns and blue gloves the various staff as they come into the room have a sameness, but they are a mosaic of different nationalities, cultural backgrounds, ages, sexes and sexual orientations.  We have our favorites but they all define caring by their actions.

Different nurses have different styles of care and communication.  They are all professional and concerned with keeping my dad as comfortable as possible.  They are also busy and can’t always respond immediately when dad pushes his call button for assistance.  Those waits are difficult for us and I think particularly for mom.  She’s been caring for him, feeding him and giving him his medications for about 11 weeks now and if he experiences pain or nausea she responds quickly.  That is one of the upsides for the 1-on-1 patient-to-caregiver ratio.  The downside is the caregiver can become tired and burned out.

We get tired at the hospital even though we are mostly just sitting quietly.  Often Papa is resting or fully asleep.  We sometimes hold his hand and read.  The nurses, technicians, housekeepers and myriad other staff that I don’t know by title are on their feet constantly and interacting with people who are frightened, ill, cranky, and confused.   Yet even at the end of long shifts they continue to treat us and my dad with care and consideration.

Dad doesn’t like being in the hospital and he’s pretty down.  Considering what he’s been going through, it’s no wonder.  But he has shown improvement and we hope he will be able to come home early in the week.  It depends on how he is doing and of course we want to be sure he is well enough to come home before he is released.  In the meantime, mom is getting a little respite from the 24/7 caregiver role, my siblings and other family members and I are pitching in to care for the caregiver and dad is in the hands of professional caregivers.

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Doodle Heart Background

Here is a technique for the doodler in you.  You need oil based metallic pens – I’ve used both a Zig Painty pen that I’ve had for ages which is gold on one end and silver on the other.  I’ve also used Sharpie Paint Pens.  You also need watercolor markers.  I have a beautiful set of 48 colored markers from Stampin’ Up that have a writing tip one one end and on the other a wider brush tip.  Finally – you need some white card stock to draw on and to finish, a piece of colored card stock and some adhesive so you can mount the decorated paper on to the colored piece.

In my examples, I wrote out the words of a song for the center of the page and did the Doodle Heart Background all around it.  It could also be used for a card front or to frame a photo or poem.

I’m a member of the Threshold Choir in Marin.  As it says on our website: “The all-women Threshold Choirs honor the ancient tradition of singing at the bedsides of people who are struggling: some with living, some with dying.”  The songs are from our repertoire: the one with the red background, “I’m Sending You Light”  by Melanie D’Amore is a healing song we sing at every rehearsal to send healing out to those we name and hold in our hearts and I did that one for my father.  The other song  which we sing for caregivers and is called “In These Hands” is by the choir founder, Kate Munger, and is for my mom.

I cut a piece of white card stock large enough to write out the song with lots of empty border left around it.

Be sure and work with your card stock on another layer or two of paper to protect your work surface because the paint markers might bleed through the page.  Now with one of the metallic pens, draw a bunch of hearts to fill in the space around your message.

I kind of skipped ahead here and didn’t capture all the steps in pictures along the way, but after drawing these hearts, go back and draw two or three smaller hearts inside each one. Then go back and add dots and dashes and curlicues in all the layers.

Add larger hearts around the original hearts and lots of flourishes and swirls inside of all the hearts. You want to make all the heart touching each other. Go in the smaller in between spaces and add more curlicues and scrolls; have fun! Go all the way to the edge of the paper.  Doodle away.

Your song or poem or greeting should now be surrounded by metallic gold or silver hearts filled with layers of doodles.  Take the colored markers and start coloring in all the layers of hearts and swirls.

I like staying with colors that are fairly analogous or close together on the color wheel. Try and keep the colors balanced by moving around the design with one color of pen and doing a bit in one area before moving to another section.  After coloring several hearts with one color, switch to another color of pen.  Fill in the whole page.

Cut a piece of card stock in a coordinating color that is just a bit larger than your decorated piece.  Adhere the decorated piece to the colored piece and sign the back.  That’s it.  Now it is ready to present to a person dear to your heart, with love.

The songs:

I Am Sending You Light

by Melanie D’Amore

I am sending you light.

To heal you, to hold you.

I am sending you light.

To hold you in love.

In These Hands

by Kate Munger

In these hands great blessings.

From these hands great healing.

All around, all around,

All around these hands peace.

Thank you for the visit, do come by again.

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Sometimes Life Just Piles Up

Sometimes life just piles up.  I read that phrase on Facebook recently and it really struck a chord for me.  Life has been piling up, especially these last few months.

In late May my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  I’ve learned that writing that down is not quite as hard as saying it out loud.  I’ve been thinking about writing a post about this and recently talked it over with my dad.  He said it was my blog and that I should write what I want.  I said it was his illness and I would abide by his wishes if he didn’t want me to write about it.  He said it was fine to go ahead.

He had lost some weight and had been having some difficulty swallowing.  He has been quite active and fit up to this point, doesn’t smoke and ate a healthy diet. He’d previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer but it seems like many men his age (76) were also living with that and he and the doctor had taken a watch and wait stance.

With this new diagnosis “watch and wait” wasn’t an option. At the time it seemed like we had to do too much waiting and things were at a standstill, but things were moving steadily forward.  He needed to turn the weight loss around which meant adding rich, easy-to-swallow smoothies to his regular diet. He, my mom, and my sister met with an oncologist and got more information about his cancer.  My parents attended a “Cancer Class” to learn about chemotherapy, they had an orientation at the Radiology Center in Rohnert Park and of course they shared the news with all of us.

Before treatment started he had a feeding tube and chemo port put in.  The tumor was impeding his swallowing, and the radiation causes inflammation of the esophagus so the feeding tube allows the necessary nutrition, medications and hydration to be delivered.  His radiation treatments were 5 days a week for 6 weeks up in Rohnert Park. My mom drove with my dad the 94-mile-round-trip for every one of those days.

The hope with the feeding tube was that it would be there only if he needed it.  He did need it and sooner than we expected.  He went from one day drinking smoothies to the next day being completely unable to swallow.  Every bit of food, water and drugs are being given through the tube.  At first my mom was doing it all with a large syringe but it was quickly apparent that they needed a pump which hooks up to the tube and propels the formula mechanically into the feeding tube.  Still, it is a daunting task to stay ahead of the feedings and meds and make sure everything can be given through the tube either via the pump or a syringe.

He has just finished his third round of chemo.  He goes into the chemo center and gets infused with a cocktail of drugs on Monday and after about 6 hours of that they hook him up to a small pump with another drug that he wears in a fanny pack for the next 5 days as it delivers its contents.

All of this clinical description of what is going on does not speak to any of the anxiety, fear, pain, misery, sadness, or nausea that he has and is experiencing.  Nor does it address the worry, fear and sadness that we are going through. Each day and each week of treatment has had it’s own challenges and problems.

Medical appointments have to be kept, there was a clogged feeding tube, a broken food pump, and a chronic infection.  And if dealing with cancer wasn’t challenging enough, there was a problem with the phone, the AC in the car went out, both the dog and the cat needed to see the vet, the dog needs walks and attention, mom needs support and meals.  Life just piles up sometimes.

So, we’re coping.  One brother installed grab bars after pain meds threw my dad off balance and he fell.  My younger sister located a used recliner so dad has somewhere else to sit besides in bed.  We talk with mom on the phone and visit as often as we can.  We walk and wash the dog, we pick up meds and groceries, we ride along to appointments, we bring our love and humor and caring, cornbread and cookies and custard.  We do what we can to make things easier for them.

As for the two of them – I see their courage and grace.  And lots of patience.  They are together nearly every moment of every day and both have to contend with the new roles this disease has given them. My dad is fully vulnerable and needs assistance, my mom has to take care of everything.   My mother is living with cancer in a different way then my dad but it is every bit as life-consuming. I feel both relieved and guilty when, after visiting, I go home.

How we define good days has changed.  But we  look for small improvements and try to celebrate them.  We’re doing the best we know how.  I like to make my dad laugh (mom too) and to give them a break from each other.  I sit and smooth lotion into my dads dry skin.  Or just sit and be present with him.  Sometimes I hold his hand.  Because life just piles up and sometimes all you can do is sit and hang on.

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Mocha Guinness Cupcakes

These cupcakes are really delicious.  The batter with Guinness and cocoa in it has a depth of flavor that is unlike any cupcake I’ve ever had.  There is just an edge of bitterness from the beer and coffee but also a nutty/earthy essence that is somehow more grown-up then most cupcakes.  They bake up into marvelous, moist little cakes which are filled with a luscious semisweet chocolate ganache and topped with coffee buttercream frosting that entwines all the flavors together into a wonderfully balanced confection.

I found the original recipe at Smitten Kitchen and it was a doozy with whiskey in the filling and Baileys in the frosting.    Rem was taking them to his bocce league and we were looking for something a little less potent.   Since the alcohol in the Guinness gets mostly baked out, I decided to try the cake part of the recipe but skip the other hard stuff.

The first batch I made was quite good and very well-received but the bittersweet chocolate used in the ganache was too dark for my taste and the buttercream too sweet.  (Photos, by the way, are from both batches.) Changing the chocolate to semi-sweet  was an easy fix for the filling.  I remembered a chocolate cake my mom used to make that had coffee frosting and decided to try adding instant coffee to the buttercream.  I also used salted butter instead of unsalted and added some vanilla to round out the flavor and this combination really made all the difference.  The decision to use instant espresso instead of instant coffee was made because I wanted to buy the smallest jar at the grocery store!  I encourage you to try it with the instant espresso because these really turned out to be, as one friend said, “the best cupcakes” she’d ever had.

If you are looking for scrumptious cupcakes, give these a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Mocha Guinness Cupcakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

You will need a 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer to cut out the centers of the cupcakes and a piping bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off for piping the filling.

Cupcake Ingredients:

1 cup Guinness (or other stout)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs

2/3  cup sour cream

Chocolate Ganache Filling Ingredients:

8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup heavy cream

Espresso-Vanilla Buttercream Ingredients:

2 Tbsp.  instant espresso (I used Medaglia d’Oro)

2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

4-5 cups powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 35o degrees. Put cupcake papers in 24 cupcake cups.  (We have two muffin tins that each hold 6 muffins, so I had to bake these in two batches).

Bring  the Guinness with the two sticks of butter to a simmer in a heavy saucepan.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool while you continue.

Stir together flour, sugar and baking soda in a large bowl.  In another large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together eggs and sour cream.  Add the Guinness-cocoa mixture to the egg mixture and beat to combine.

Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.  Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Divide batter among cupcake papers, filling about 2/3 full.  I used a 1/4 cup measure to scoop out the batter from the bowl.  Bake cupcakes until toothpick comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Cool cupcakes on a rack.

For the filling: Put the chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl  Heat cream to a simmer in a heavy saucepan (cream can froth up and boil over easily, so keep an eye on it) and pour over the chocolate.

Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth.   Let the ganache cool until thick enough to be piped.  I put it in the fridge, taking it out every 10 minutes to stir it until it was thick but soft enough to still be piped.

While ganache is cooling use your 1-inch round cookie cutter or apple corer to cut a plug out of the center of each cupcake.  If you go all the way through to the bottom, pinch a bit off of one of the cores you’ve removed and push it back down in the hole.  Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip or a plastic bag and cut off the corner and fill the holes in the cupcakes to the top.  Put the cupcakes in the fridge so ganache sets up.

For the frosting:  Put espresso powder in a small bowl and stir in 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, set aside.  Whip the butter in a bowl using an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, add vanilla and the espresso-cream mixture and beat until combined.  I used 4 cups of sugar.   If frosting seems too thick, add remaining 1 Tbsp. heavy cream, if it is too thin beat in a little more of the powdered sugar. Frost the cupcakes – I used a piping bag with a star tip but it can also be spread on.

Let me know if you make these cupcakes.  Thank you for stopping by!

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