But I’m Not Irish

No, I’m not. And personally I’ve never understood the big deal about St. Patrick’s Day, except for the party side of it.

I’m not Irish. I don’t really like corned beef and cabbage. And I don’t drink beer very often, and I certainly don’t want to drink GREEN beer.

But it seems a lot of people we know think it’s a big deal, so I decided to see if I could figure it out by researching on line.

St. Patrick’s Day is the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, who lived back in the 5th century. It is said he was born in Roman Britain, kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at age 16. He eventually escaped and returned home, but then returned to Ireland where he is credited with bringing Christianity to the Irish people. Interestingly enough, he was never officially canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. His feast day of March 17, the day we celebrate, is said to have been the day he died.

There are many legends about him that have grown through the years, including the one about him driving all the snakes out of Ireland. However, since Ireland is an island, there really weren’t ever any snakes there because it’s surrounded by water. 

And St Patrick wasn’t even Irish? Go figure.

The holiday has been celebrated in Ireland for centuries. Then as people immigrated to other countries, their traditions changed to blend in with their new surroundings, including how St. Patrick’s Day began to be celebrated. Parades, the popular Irish meal of  corned beef and cabbage, wearing of the green, and other ideas gradually found their ways into our culture, as well as in other countries, and the Irish traditions evolved to reflect various cultural activities of the countries doing the celebrating.

Why wear green? Not sure, but most likely it’s because back in the 1800’s supporters of Irish independence wore green to represent their cause, and it just sort of evolved from there. Now I do like the color green, and I have made a number of green bracelets for my jewelry business. I do know that people try to pinch you if you’re not wearing green on March 17, which to me is a bit strange. Then I discovered legend also has it that wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns who would pinch anyone on St. Patrick’s Day not wearing green.

Now about those feisty leprechauns. What are they really? Well, they’re a part of Irish mythology and are said to be mischievous fairy-like creatures (both men and women) who make/repair shoes and spend the rest of their time hiding gold coins in hidden pots at the end of rainbows. It’s also said if you catch a leprechaun he has to tell you where that pot of gold is, but since you can never really find the end of a rainbow….what does it matter?

They’re also supposed to grant three wishes to humans who capture them in order to escape. Obviously, I wouldn’t know because I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting one.  But since they’re Irish, naturally they’ve evolved into part of the St. Patrick’s Day lore.

Why St. Patrick’s Day parades? The first one is said to have been in what is now St. Augustine, Florida in 1601.  But what really started the tradition was held in New York City in 1772, when Irish soldiers, homesick for their native country, marched through the streets on March 17 to honor St. Patrick, and the tradition gradually evolved and spread to other cities. In Dublin however, the first St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t held until 1995.

Today we see all manner of celebrations for this fun-loving day. In my opinion, it gives us a good excuse to act a little crazier than usual, drink green beer (did you know that pubs in Ireland were forced to close on St. Patrick’s Day up until the late 1970’s?), dress a bit crazy (sometimes with green wigs, green hats, green sunglasses and lighted green shamrock necklaces), and just have a party with friends. At least that’s how I see it. And fortunately the restaurant we go to every year for corned beef and cabbage is actually an Italian place, so I can get something I like much better! (And yes, their corned beef and cabbage is excellent, according to everyone who goes there for it, including my husband!)

So maybe on March 17, I could be just a little bit Irish!

Without the green beer, that is.

Guiness Cupcakes

I may not be Irish, but you do know that St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. And sometimes you just have to go with the flow and make something creative for a holiday known for certain foods, such as corned beef and cabbage, green beer, Guiness, etc.

Well I do not like green beer. I don’t really like beer, but I have been known to drink it on occasions. Which is another story.

Corned beef and cabbage? I’m not much of a fan. And I know I probably wouldn’t do a very good job at making it, so that’s a bit much, as far as I’m concerned.  Besides, there’s a restaurant we go to every year so my husband can have it, and since they have other items on the menu that I like, I’m fine with that.

But I figured there had to be something out there I could make for the occasion. But it really had to be something I’d enjoy. Since I enjoy baking, I thought I’d see if I could find some Irish cookies or something. But all I found were cut-out cookies of shamrocks which also required their being frosted. Even though the frosting had Irish whiskey in it, I knew they were well past my talents, which doesn’t lend itself well to either frosting cookies OR icing a cake.

Even if I were going to serve them with Irish coffee, which I do like, it really wouldn’t be my best experience. I do know my limitations.

But then I found a recipe that didn’t look too hard, even though it did require using my inadequate frosting skills. But maybe my husband and my best friend could overlook what they looked like, as long as they tasted good. The grandkids don’t need to try these!

So here’s what I’m going to try this weekend. They look fairly easy, and somehow I can probably figure out a way to do the frosting, although I can assure you they won’t look like the picture I found of them. I do have some St. Patricl’s cupcake wrappers, though.

Then again, it’s worth a try. If they aren’t really presentable, I can always blame it on the Irish coffee or the sip or two of Bailey’s I may have while I’m making them!

So here’s the recipe for Chocolate Guiness Cupcakes. Wish me luck!

  • 1 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • i cup Irish stout beer (Guiness preferably) at room termperature
  • 1 tbl vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking pwder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3-4 mini-muffin tins or cups with paper liners. (I think I’d do regular size and just adjust the baking time.) This says it makes 66 mini cupcakes! That’s a lot!

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk til smooth. Stir in beer and vanilla. Reomve from heat and allow to cool.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and sift into a large bowl. Mix in sugar. Add beer mixture and stir til thoroughly combined. Add eggs, stirring until well incorporated. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, each about 3/4 full.

Bake in preheated over until tops spring back when lightly pressed (10-11 mniutes (for mini’s; check while cooking for regular sizes). Cool in muffin pans for 5 minutes and transfer to wire rack to cool, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile make the frosting.:

  • 1 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream

To prepare, beat buter and confectioners sugar in a bowl with electric mixer. Add the Baileys,, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, and white, in color, about ten minutes. Top cooled cupcakes with frosting.

It’s February 14

What does that mean to you?

Notice I didn’t call it Valentine’s Day. 

Or Galentine’s Day. 

Or Single Awareness Day. 

Or International Quirkyalone Day (Yes, that’s real. I saw it online. It’s been around since 2003 and is for singles and those in platonic relationships.)

Or Let’s Make This Day Go Away Day.

Tell Someone You Love Them and Forget Them the Rest of the Year Day.

Pretend You’re Still in Love Day

Try to Impress Her Because You Really Screwed Up Day. 

A lot of people “celebrate” it that way, you know. As our daughter says, why the big fuss over Valentine’s Day? If you love someone you should tell them all the time. Not just one day a year. She’s always felt that way, even after being married for almost seven years with two kids. 

She does have a point, you know. We should tell those we love how we feel a lot more often than we do.

Of course, she makes sure her daughters have Valentine gifts, and helps them make cards for their friends and grandparents (us), and buys them valentine themed shirts for pictures. One year she even had a valentine photo shoot with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy Valentine’s Day. My husband and I exchange cards, sometimes balloons or flowers, and go out for a great dinner. 

I’ve even started decorating a few areas in our house for Valentine’s Day; our kitchen table has a Valentine centerpiece collection, our foyer table has a few little valentine nuggets, and since I still work remotely, my home office has Valentine gnomes spread around. (I really don’t like gnomes but these are cute!) It’s fun and gives a bit of color and whimsy that’s so needed after all the glittery Christmas decor is put away.

A lot of women authors are beginning to recognize that Valentine’s Day is also a holiday that needs to be explored a bit more. I recently read a novel called “The Holiday Plan” by Emma Lynden about a woman who totally wanted to avoid Valentine’s Day and everything involved with it. She wanted to avoid it so much she booked a weeks’ vacation during Valentine’s week at a resort away from everyone. Except unbeknownst to her, there was a huge week-long event there for singles in honor of, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it. Whether you’re in a relationship or not.

The thing is, no matter how you feel about it, how you celebrate it, or not, it’s a day that’s here to stay. 

So if you’re not in a relationship spend the time with other friends in the same situation. Send each other flowers. Go out to dinner together, or arrange a private dinner at someone’s home. Or maybe even do a “chick flick” movie night/pajama party.

And if nothing else, just remember all that leftover valentine chocolate will be half price on February 15!

An Unconventional Valentine Treat

I’ve been searching for something to make that’s different (and easy) for Valentine’s Day. Yeah, I know we can do brownies from a box mix and add white chocolate and pink M&M’s to the batter, and then maybe put frosting with sprinkles on them after they’re cooled. We can even bake them in a heart shaped pan.

Or the traditional chocolate chip cookie, again possibly with pink M&Ms or white baking chips rather than the traditional chocolate chips, but that’s still a bit too commonplace. Yes, they’re delicious but I kept thinking there had to be something a little more unique. And easy.

I do like to bake, as I think you all know, but that doesn’t really give me much leeway to improvise, since for me, baking has to be sort of precise or I’ll screw the whole thing up.

Now my husband really likes rice krispies treats. You know the ones made with marshmallows and such. But I’m really not a fan. One of his clients actually gives him a couple of the pre-packaged ones each week, because they know how much he likes them. Works for me.

And the other day she surprised him with a bag of heart shaped rice krispies treats that’s she’d dipped in chocolate and added red sprinkles.

Which was good, since I didn’t have to do it!

But still, there had to be something else unconventional I could come up with.

There are always the traditional pretzel sticks drizzled with chocolate or white chocolate tinted pink, but neither of us are really into pretzels.

Then I came across several recipes for Valentine’s Chex mix snacks. Well, I like sweets as much as anyone, but I also like salty as well, so this sounded like a great combination to please everyone.

So why not?? Anyway, I’m sharing the recipe now, and I think I’ll get my husband to make this one with me. With the Super Bowl this weekend, it sounds like a great addition to our junk food snacks that we’re planning, so why not see what happens?

Let me know if you try it as well. It’s always interesting to compare notes!

Valentine Snack Mix

  • 2 cups corn chex cereal
  • 1 cup mini pretzel twists
  • 2 cups rice chex cereal
  • 2 cups Honey Nut Cheerios
  • 1 bag valentine M&M’s
  • 3 cups white baking chips
  • 1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  • Valentine or colored sugar sprinkles.

Prepare large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a very large bowl combine cereals, pretzels, and M&M’s. Stir to combine well.

In medium bowl combine 3 cups baking chips and vegetable oil. Microwave 30 seconds; stir and microwave another 15 seconds. Stir until melted and smooth. If needed, microwave another 15 seconds, stirring for 10 seconds between each time. Pour over snack mix.

Working QUICKLY gently stir until all ingredients are coated and then quickly transfer to prepared baking sheet, spreading into one even layer. Immediately add remaining M&M’s on top and additional sprinkles. Add a bit of additional melted baking bits if desired. Allow chocolate to firm up and harden either on counter or in fridge. Break into pieces and serve.

Please note: I found this recipe online at chelseasmessyapron.com. So it’s not my own creation.

The Flamingos’ Valentine Creations

So you’ve read about the flamingos’ pink chocolate baking party, so now it’s time to post some of the winning recipes. After all, how could we really select just one winner from all the goodies?

And if you haven’t read about the party, which was published on January 27, be sure to read it here before you go any further!

We had a tough time deciding which desserts were the best. All of the flamingos did a great job. In fact we didn’t realize that flamingos were so talented when it comes to baking! (We may have to hire them if we’re ever able to have another one of our flamingo pool parties!)

The pink flamingo cakes were gorgeous and beautifully decorated. It was a lot of work, but we decided we’ll have a cake decorating party one of these months and we won’t have to cut them to taste them and mess them up!

So it was a difficult decision, and required quite a bit of tasting, but….someone had to do it!

Here are the top three winners. We’ll let you decide which one won first prize.

Hint: all the flamingos agreed as to who the winner was!

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Fudge (The flamingos borrowed this from Taste of Home Magazine)

  • 10 oz package white baking chips
  • 1 tsp softened butter
  • 3 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup raspberry liqueur
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Place while baking chips in single layer on small baking sheet; freeze 30 minutes. Line 9″ square pan with foil; grease foil with butter.

In large microwave safe bowl combine dark chocolate chips and milk. Microwave uncovered on high for 2 minutes. Stir. Microwave in additional 30 second intervals, stirring til smooth. Add liqueur and salt. Add white baking chips and stir just til partially melted. Spread into prepared pan and refrigerate one hour til firm.

Using foil, lift fudge out of pan. Remove foil and cut fudge into 1″ squares. Decorate with pink sprinkles or pink sanding sugar (very important). Store in airtight container in refrigerator. They won’t last long!

Pink Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 pouch sugar cookie mix
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (Noite: you can also use white chips or a combination of the two)
  • Red food color gel

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter til smooth, not soft, Using toothpick add food color gel, one dab at a time until it reaches the right shade of pink. Add cookie mis until well blended; add powdered sugar and beat til blended. Note: dough will be crumbly, not smooth. Stir in chocolate pieces by hand.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven when slightly brown around edges but not squishy in the center, Cool 1-2 minutes on cookie sheet and then remove to wire rack for final cooling. Serve on plate decorated with pink hearts.

French Macaroons (borrowed by the flamingos from AllRecipes.com)

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6 tbl superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 cup finely ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely ground almonds for garnish
  • 1 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • Food coloring

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mat.

Whisk egg whites in a clean metal mixing bowl until thick, about 5 minutes, Whisk the superfine sugar into egg whites until thick, glossy and mixture holds soft peaks, 5-8 more minutes. Place a sieve over the bowl containing egg white mixture. Gently fold the almond meal and confectioners sugar into the egg white mixture, retaining as much air as possible.

Tint dough the desired color of pink and add a drop of flavored extract, if desired. Spoon meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 3/8 inch tip. Pipe 1 inch disks of meringue onto the prepared backing sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies, (This wasn’t easy for the flamingos, but they did it!)

Let the cookies stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to form a thin skin on top. Pick up the baking sheets and let drop fromseveral inches above the work surface to adhere cookies to the baking sheets. Yes, that’s what they did!

Bake in preheated oven til tops are dry, about 15 minutes; let cool completely on baking sheets before peeling off the parchment paper. Stick together with a small amount of raspberry jam, if desired.

How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part Two

Yesterday I started writing about what I’d found on line about how Valentine’s Day started and became what it is today. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d actually suggest that you do before you continue.

From what I discovered, it certainly didn’t start out in a very romantic way. Not when people were being imprisoned and beheaded.

So let me continue the story.

I had mentioned Chaucer writing that poem “Parliament of Fowls” for King Richard II, which evidently caused romantic ideas to become more popular. And no, I haven’t read it. Chaucer and other writers of the time celebrated romance between knights and their ladies, many of noble lineage, who could never marry. (Which was usually because the lady was already married, but that’s a whole other subject.) And by the 1400’s these nobles had begun writing poems known as “valentines” to the ladies who were the subject of their attention.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a guy write me a poem, and based on some of the writing I’ve seen from that era, I don’t think I’d want one. But that was a different time. Plus, since the literacy rate wasn’t real high then, could the subjects of their attentions even read them? And did those knights actually write them themselves or pay someone to do it for them? Food for another blog.

But the holiday slowly developed and evolved, with traditions that are still around today.

Exchanging cards didn’t become popular until the 1840’s when the first mass produced cards were made in the U.S.  Now, did you know that these first cards were sold by Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the American Valentine”? She is evidently credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards here in the U.S. Although I’ve never heard of her, and probably you haven’t either, my source says she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures she called “scrap.” So, Hallmark, you have Ms. Esther to thank for a lot of your success! According to the last figures I saw, 145 million valentine cards are exchanged every year, not counting the homemade ones.

Which brings us to Cupid. I’d always wondered about that little guy and how he came to be associated with Valentine’s Day. After all, who goes around nearly naked with a bow and arrow shooting people, and that’s supposed to be a symbol of love?

Well, Cupid actually evolved from the Greek god of love named Eros, who was said to be a handsome immortal man with the power to make people fall in love, although I’m not sure it involved a bow and arrow. Sometime in the 4th century BC the Romans adopted Eros into their mythology, re-named him Cupid, and made him into the image of what we know today. And because he was originally known as the god of love, it sort of figured he’d become associated with Valentine’s Day, even though that didn’t happen until around the 19th century.

What about red roses? Giving flowers didn’t become a popular custom until the 17th century, It’s said that King Charles II of Sweden learned about flowers being paired with specific meanings on a trip to Persia, and when he returned home to England he introduced the tradition to Europe, and the act of giving flowers on special days, including Valentine’s Day became popular. And of course, red roses with their rich deep color, were sent to symbolize a deep love for the recipient.

Then there’s chocolate. Everyone I know loves it, and it’s especially important for Valentine’s Day. But did you know the first heart-shaped box of chocolates was created by Richard Cadbury who was the son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury. How did he come up with the idea? To increase sales, of course. The first heart shaped box of chocolates was introduced for Valentine’s Day in 1861, and today more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold each year.

Guys, are you paying attention here?

Now one more important item to discuss; those cute colorful little valentine conversation hearts. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t either received them or given them for Valentine’s Day. But do you know their history? It’s not really romantic.

It all started when Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a machine that simplified the way throat lozenges were made, which also resulted in America’s first candy-making machine when Chase decided to shift his focus to making candy instead of the lozenges. He founded the New England Confectionary Company, today known as Necco. Sound familiar? And in 1866 the first messages were printed on Necco sweetheart candies. Although those were bigger than the version we have today it sure started a trend, didn’t it?

And one of the first messages? “Married in white you have chosen right.” Well, it was 1866.

So now you have all the information you’ve possibly wondered about Valentine’s Day.

But you can also research all of this yourself as well, and if you find anything different, it’s most likely because you’re looking at a different website. Let us know if you find something else.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part One

I’ve always sort of wondered about that, so this year I decided to do a little research on it. Nothing in depth, though, but I was able to find a lot of information on line.

The problem? A lot of seemingly conflicting articles that may or may not be that accurate. Or that romantic, for sure.

Now I’ve heard of St. Valentine, but really didn’t know much about him. I figured he probably was someone who spent his life bringing couples together, marrying them in romantic settings for a happily ever after. As a writer, I was hoping for a truly “A-hah!” moment that would tell the perfect story.

Well, I was wrong. Sort of. And I also discovered several different sites (Good Housekeeping, Wikipedia,  and History.com) that told different stories, so I’m going to try and condense what I came up with, but please don’t take my word for it. Do your own research. This is a blog, after all, not a history book! And I did at least name my sources,

Here’s some of what I found out.

There were actually three Saint Valentines, but the one seemingly associated with our V-Day was a 3rd century Roman priest and physician who secretly married young couples against the orders of the authorities. (Of course the marriages were illegal in the eyes of the state.) The reason? The authorities were afraid married soldiers would be distracted from their duties if they had a wife and family. He was caught and imprisoned, and eventually beheaded on, you guessed it, February 14. 

There’s also a story about another Saint Valentine during that same time period who was the Bishop of Terni. He also was said to have performed secret marriages and eventually beheaded. Then there’s possibly another Valentine who was imprisoned supposedly for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. This Valentine was also imprisoned and supposedly sent the first valentine greeting to a young girl he’d fallen in love with (supposedly the jailer’s daughter) and signed it “from your Valentine”.

History.com says there isn’t necessarily a lot of proof to substantiate which story is true. Evidently Valentine was a popular name during those times. Real person? Three real persons? Or a myth? Your guess is as good as mine! Either way, it’s not very romantic, at least in today’s standards.

Evidently several centuries later the idea of putting romance into the St. Valentine’s feast day evolved through the writings of the English author Geoffrey Chaucer, who write a poem called “Parliament of Fowls” which contained the line “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.” Wow, romantic sayings were sure different then! I’m not sure what that means or even has to do with love, but it was believed back then that lovebirds began mating on that day, so I guess that’s one reason. (And that’s also why we use the term “lovebirds”)

Chaucer’s poem was supposedly written to celebrate King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia on that date. She was 16 and his second wife. It’s unclear if it was originally a love match because in those days, traditionally royal marriages were arranged for strategic purposes.

So far I’m not seeing a real romantic story here…at least nothing I’d use to suggest flowers, romantic dinners, and boxes of chocolates!

But I did find a few more less-gory tidbits in my research, that I think you’ll find interesting.

This somewhat fractured Valentine’s Day history continues tomorrow, including some interesting facts about the cards and candy we traditionally see at this time of year, with Part Two of “How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing?”

Flamingos and (Pink) Chocolate

Just a few days ago the flamingos came to me with a dilemma. A very serious one, at least to them.

You see, they were trying to figure out what to do for Valentine’s Day and they were really not sure what they could do that would be extra special. And lots of fun. Because as you know, flamingos are all about fun!

But they also wanted it to be something different. Something they’d not done before.

Of course they had to have their special pink flamingo cocktails like they always do at their parties, but they wanted to add a special touch. It couldn’t be just any old Valentine’s Day party.

They needed a theme. Something pink of course, and something to fit in with the sweet theme of the day.  

I promised them I’d come up with something perfect. Fortunately, my best friend Karen is an event and party planner, so who better to talk this over with than her! Plus, she also loves flamingos!

And she quickly came up with a perfect idea. A chocolate treat baking party. Only everything that was prepared had to be in shades of pink as well as having chocolate as the main ingredient. It IS for Valentine’s Day, you know.

So the Flamingo Pink Chocolate Recipe Party was planned and scheduled! The flamingos would select their recipe in advance, buy their ingredients, and then pair off in my kitchen to create their pink chocolate masterpieces! 

While being served pink champagne and pink Valentine martinis, of course. 

You may remember they’d taken over my kitchen once before, turning everything pink and even bringing in little pink ovens and other appliances to use for preparing their food. But they cleaned up really well after themselves, and everything was back to normal the next day! And they pinkie promised they’d do it again.

How can you resist a flamingo giving you a pinkie promise?

Now the party plans were in full swing. Karen designed a beautiful party invitation on creamy pink card stock with fancy cursive fonts and using embellishments of tiny feathers and pink crystal hearts. Definitely suitable for framing. The flamingos loved it and quickly distributed them to their friends, who immediately said they wouldn’t miss this event for anything!

They quickly got to work, searching through recipes and even borrowing a couple of my cookbooks for their very best ideas for the perfect pink chocolate treat! After all, as part of their participation in the event, they had to submit their selected recipe to Karen who was making a flamingo pink chocolate recipe booklet to be given as party favors…after the contest was over, of course!

The big day finally arrived. I walked into my kitchen that morning and it had already been transformed into a pink wonderland of pink kitchen equipment, from mixers to pot holders to small pink ovens, set up at individual baking stations. There were even pink mixing bowls and Valentine utensils set out for the participants to use. How they did it so quickly and quietly I have no idea, but they ARE flamingos, you know….

Of course on the party day, the guests arrived perfectly on time, carrying their (pink) bags of ingredients. They were greeted by my husband, wearing his best pink and white tuxedo, and he presented each of the birds with a specially designed flamingo valentine party apron, and of course a flute of pink champagne!

Let the party fun begin!

You should have seen them! Pink feathers everywhere, squawking and whistling to each other as they worked, sipping pink champagne and pink martinis, flour and sugar flying all over the kitchen!

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea??

However, it was all worth it when the flamingos presented their final creations to us for judging. They’d certainly gone all out, not only in making their desserts, but in their presentation of the finished creations, adorned with shaved chocolate, strawberries, raspberries, and even pink roses!

It was a sight to behold! There were pink cookies, pink flamingo cakes, chocolate and raspberry desserts, pink chocolate fudge, even pink macaroons!

And the winners? Well, it was definitely a difficult decision, and required quite a bit of tasting each entry, just to be sure we selected the right one.

To find out who won, and even get a copy of a few of the recipes, be sure to read “The Flamingos’ Valentine Creations” to be published on February 5,

And believe it or not, the next morning when we came downstairs, my kitchen was back to normal, except for a big plate of Valentine goodies the flamingos had left us as a gift for letting them use our kitchen. Oh, and the last bottle of pink champagne!

I guess we’ll let them do this again. As long as we still get to be the judges!

De-Ornamenting the Trees 2022

I had originally posted this a few years ago, but decided to update it for this year,

I think I just invented a new word in 2018. Maybe. But it sure says what I’m feeling right now!

De-ornamenting. Better known as taking down the Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. Returning to whatever state of normalcy we live in the rest of the year.

We actually have 8 Christmas trees every year. Well, if you want to be technical there’s actually now 12, but the skinny white flamingo tree in the Florida room stays up all year with its clear mini lights and huge assortment of the various flamingo decorations we’ve collected over the years. And there are now three 2 foot little trees which are in the kitchen, our granddaughters’ guest bedroom, and my craft studio, but they only take a few minutes to take down. There’s also a lighted palm tree in the far corner of our family room, with its clear lights and eclectic collection of beach and a few extra flamingo ornaments that wouldn’t fit on the other tree, but we don’t count that one. (If you missed my blog series “Each Tree Has a Story” check it out to see all these trees in their full grlory!)

And yes, putting up all those trees is a lot of work, along with hanging the stockings, putting out the silk poinsettias, and decorating the foyer ledge in a holiday theme. It takes several days. But it was worth it. And it’s worth it every year.

Because there’s just something special about the beauty of Christmas decorations. The sparkling lights, the candles, the shiny ornaments on the trees, and the magnificent sight of so many homes lit up with colorful and imaginative lighted displays in front yards. It just gives each home a touch of brand new elegance, and when the only light in your living room or family room comes from that Christmas tree, it just feels different. Almost magical, with an air of expectancy. The perfect room for enjoying time with family and friends.

And then in all too short a time, it’s all over. It’s time to take everything down, pack it carefully away, and wait another year to bring it back and create those feelings all over again. Even thought taking it down is a bit quicker, it’s still an awful lot of work.

Many people say they’re done with it all the day after Christmas Day, and can’t wait to pull everything down and put things back the way they were. Before the decorating…before the transformation began…before the magical beauty entered their home and took over, just for an all too brief time. Maybe they just don’t feel that special sense of magic that some of us do.

I’m just the opposite. I dread taking down all the decorations. Not because of all the work involved, because my husband and I do it together as a team. But because I just don’t like giving up the sparkle…the glow…and the special feelings that all the decorations bring, not only to our home, but to our lives. There’s a special feeling in our home when all those trees are decorated and lighted that just appears for that one all-too-short time. I really can’t describe the feeling. But I know there are more of you out there that feel the same way.

A few of our friends have actually left their trees up and just changed the theme. One friend re-did hers as a winter tree with icicles, silver ornaments, and snowmen. Another friend re-did hers in a Mardi Gras theme. Well, I do keep our flamingo tree up year round, so i guess I’m right there with them.

Spending the weekend removing and carefully packing up ornaments was not fun. And we’re still not quite done. It wasn’t just all the tedious work involved in doing it. It was thinking about all the memories so many of those ornaments evoked. My grandmother’s glass birds that have survived over 100 Christmases still intact. The ornaments that graced my mother’s tree when she still put one up. The special ornaments memorializing my husband’s and my first Christmas together…our daughter’s first Christmas. And now our two granddaughters’ first Christmas ornaments, along with framed picture ornaments of our daughter’s wedding the grandchildren growing up, and their trips to see Santa Claus.

Now there are empty spots in our rooms where the trees were. Not literally, because the furniture we moved to make room for our Christmas trees is slowly going back into place. But it still takes while to have it feel “right” again. But it will. In a few weeks or so. And we’ll forget about all the beauty and “specialness” of those Christmas decorations until about ten months later until it’s time to start thinking about it again.

But then the cycle starts again as the next Christmas season approaches and we once again get to experience that special excitement, that magical feeling as the trees once again are dressed in their familiar splendor with, of course, a few new ornaments that we traditionally add every year.

Am I looking ahead already? Of course! Because I’m already looking forward to that special magic that starts to happen when we start putting it all back together again. And we don’t wait til after Thanksgiving any more to start decorating.

Or maybe we could even do Christmas in July? Maybe a beach themed masterpiece. Decorated shells and starfish…clear ornaments with sea glass and sand inside of them…some kind of beachy garland…maybe on a blue Christmas tree? What do you think? Who wants to help join in the fun?

Gingerbread House Fails Inspection

I really didn’t plan on having a second blog on this subject, at least not this Christas season.

Christmas may be over, but there are still a few stories left to tell.

But since I did buy those four little gingerbread house kits right before Thanksgiving, I thought, what the heck?!

And as you may have already guessed, it certainly wasn’t the greatest of Christmas projects. The granddaughters still had fun, as kids usually do. But Mom and Grandmom? Not so much.

I think I mentioned in my previous gingerbread story I’d ordered these cute gingerbread house kits on line because they weren’t in stock in the store. Not in any of the stores in our area. Being a regular online shopper, it shouldn’t have been a problem, right? Well, it wasn’t. Until we opened the first two kits and several pieces were broken. And of course they were the little reindeer gingerbread cookies that the younger granddaughter wanted to do, and the sparkly pink cottage the older one wanted to make.  And none of the stores had received any more.

So on to the set of the four small gingerbread chalets.  Shouldn’t be too bad, right? Actually they’re really cute. Right?

Notice I said there were FOUR of them. Yes, they were small, but what was I thinking when I ordered them? That was four times putting together houses, icing the walls and the roofs, making sure they all stayed “glued” together til the icing hardened…. Why did I do that? And yes, I was also thinking to myself, why weren’t THESE the ones that were broken?

As you’ve guessed, the construction job is left to me. My daughter doesn’t have the patience. She and her daughters like the decorating part.

So being the good grandmother that I am, I set out to construct the FOUR little houses. Which came in a block of pieces that needed to be (carefully) broken apart in order to make the house.  And I do have to confess, I almost wanted them to break in the wrong places so I’d have an excuse not to put them together. But being a good grandmother, I separated the pieces carefully, and none of them broke. Would it be wrong of me to say “unfortunately”? Yeah, probably.

Actually, three out of the four went together fairly easy. It was that last one with the funky side roof that didn’t. If you look carefully, the roof sort of has a gap in it.  Which was filled in with a lot of the “snow” icing, which will most likely cause it to fall in. Our son in law said it most certainly failed the final building inspection! (I’m not even sure it had a building permit to start!)

But I guess the other three don’t look all that bad. At least the girls had fun decorating them, and getting almost as many candy decorations and sprinkles on the floor as they did on the houses.

Of course, as luck would have it, when we returned the broken kits, the cashier told us they had pre-assembled gingerbread houses in the Christmas department which only needed the icing and candy decorations to be added to it. Well…….let me tell you how quickly we bought one of those!

You certainly don’t think I’d try to make one from scratch, do you? After all, these were difficult enough!

And even better, guess whose job it was to help his daughters decorate that house! And Daddy did a really good job!  I think we have a new assignment for him next Christmas. Why not?

It’s a Brand New Year

What are you going to do with it?

That’s 365 days. It’s a lot of time to do something you haven’t done before.

To try something new. Something you’ve always wanted to do. Something you’ve thought about but just haven’t had the opportunity – or the confidence – to try. 

You’re not happy with where you are, what you’re doing? What’s keeping you from changing it? Fear of failure? Or fear of succeeding? Lack of motivation? Lack of self-confidence? Or just not knowing what to do or where to go next?

You’ve heard me say many times I don’t make New Years resolutions. Resolutions are broken usually within the first couple of weeks of the new year. Everyone can resolve to do something, but resolving and actually doing are two different things.

To be successful in this new year you’ve been given takes planning, determination, focus, willpower, and something one of my favorite high school teachers called stick-to-it-ive-ness. Keeping at it no matter what.

It’s always easier to give up when it gets difficult rather than to keep pushing through to your goal. It’s easier to say “I can’t” rather than “I can.”

That’s not saying you have to keep doing the same thing over and over if what you’re doing just isn’t working. Take a hard look at what you’re trying to accomplish and try to figure out how to do it differently to produce the desired results. Ask others to give their input and don’t be afraid to listen to what they have to say. Many times a fresh pair of eyes can see things you can’t, and suddenly you figure out a new plan that will change your outcome.

What’s your first and most important thing that you need to re-do?

Are you trying for a new job, but nothing seems to be working? Is it because you’re not presenting your qualifications properly? Or maybe you’re trying for a job that’s just not right for your skills and interests? Or maybe you’re trying for a job instead of a position that excites you; a position that enables you to use your past experiences in a new way, maybe in a new field.

Try writing out a job description of your ideal position, using your qualifications and experience as a base for what you’d enjoy doing. And don’t give that position a name, because it limits your creativity and boxes you in to a particular job. Again. Then make your plan to look for a position that incorporates those skills. Who says you have to stay in the same line of work you’ve always been in?  Your unique set of skills may open you up to an entire new career.

Maybe you want to start your own business. Be your own boss. While that’s not as easy as it sounds, if you want to do it, what’s holding you back? Try it. Put together your business plan. And if it doesn’t work right at first, instead of getting discouraged and giving up, take a hard look at what your business is. Are you selling a product, and if so, is it a product lots of people will want, and can you sell enough of that product to make it a full time endeavor? Maybe, although it’s a product you’re excited about, maybe you’re one of the few who are excited about that product. So what could you change about it to make it more desirable to others? Or what could you add to your product line to generate business?

If you’re offering a service, is it service that lots of people need? Who are you trying to reach? How are you trying to reach them? Look closely at how you’re marketing the service. Are you reaching your target audience?  If not, what can you do differently so those people will know you’re out there, ready to help them?

And if your business plan isn’t working, maybe you need to redo that plan so it’ll work.

Or maybe you’re looking for a new relationship. Maybe you’re stuck in a relationship that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You don’t want to give up, but you also aren’t happy. So are you going to settle for what you’ve got or decide to go for someone who’s more suited to you, whose interests are the same as yours, and who enjoys spending quality time with you? Rather than being afraid you’ll not have anyone at all, look for someone who’s more suited to you. Which is worse – settling for what you think you have, or deciding there’s more to life than what you currently have, and doing what’s necessary to change it? Being alone with yourself is usually better than being alone in an unhappy relationship.

Maybe you want to improve your health, exercise more, eat healthier. That’s a great goal, but you still need a plan, and you need to stick to it. You’re the only one who can make that plan work. And remember that’s going to be a lifetime commitment. Not just for this coming year. And believe it or not, this will be the hardest of the four ideas I’ve just presented to be accomplished. 

These are just a few things you can look at changing for the new year. Notice I still didn’t say the word “resolution”. Because resolutions don’t work. Plans can work. But change only works when you make a plan and stick to it. 

And remember all plans have to be flexible. Because something is always going to come up and try to derail your plan, no matter how well thought out it is. And that’s called life. Life happens to all of us. And we have to continually be prepared to change our plans to fit in with what life brings us.

Sound like an impossible situation? Not at all. All our plans and goals are important to us. It’s what makes us who we are. And just because our first set of plans don’t work, it doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means we’re learning. And growing.

Happy New Year to everyone!

After Christmas Blues?

Yes, it happens. It’s real. And there are reasons it happens to some people, most of us, really, to some degree. It’s a natural reaction.

Think about it for a minute. 

You work so hard at preparing for this one big, important day. For many of us it starts before Thanksgiving. We’re bombarded with Christmas shopping ads on the radio, TV, and social media almost as soon as Halloween is over. 

Suddenly the stores are filling with gift ideas and holiday decorations. Craft stores are stuffed with Christmas goodies of every kind to make special gifts and fun projects for the kids and grandkids. You’re hearing wall to wall Christmas music everywhere you go.

It’s already overwhelming and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

There’s an unspoken push to rush to get everything done so you can have a picture perfect Christmas. Which actually doesn’t exist, by the way.

We’re almost as bad in our household. Our ten trees (yes, ten; read my series describing them “Each Tree Has a Story”) go up every year now before Thanksgiving. Why? Because I love the beauty of them and the way it brightens our home. It’s a lot of work, but I really do enjoy it.

But then there’s shopping, baking, gift wrapping (thank goodness for my husband who enjoys it), visits to Santa with the grandkids, Christmas lists, parties (well, not so many of them in recent years). It’s almost an overload, and for some people it is.

Instead of taking time to enjoy the beauty and peace of the season, many of us frantically rush around and knock ourselves out trying to be sure every little detail is perfect. Our lists have lists, even.

It just gets totally crazy. 

And for those with kids, it’s even crazier, because they’re so excited about Santa Claus, and presents they just can’t wait. “How many more days, Mommy?” is heard at least ten times a day, or so it begins to seem.

It’s exhausting. 

And Christmas Eve sometimes brings panic in procrastinators who put everything off til the last minute. Those of us with lists go over them two or three more times to be sure everything is done, from presents for everyone on our lists to Christmas Day breakfast and dinner. Do we have everything?  What did we forget? Instead of breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing, our nerves are on edge. 

Then comes Christmas Day with all the madness. All the carefully wrapped gifts are torn open, wrapping paper and bows discarded everywhere, and quickly the room where presents are opened goes from beautiful anticipation of what’s inside those boxes and bags to a blur of chaos, trashed paper, and boxes piled around everywhere. And at our home, the grandkids deciding to play with the empty gift bags and putting the dogs’ toys in them to give as more “gifts”.

And suddenly it’s over. Done. All that hard work for an hour or two of excitement.

And now what? We have our traditional dinner and eat too much, friends and families may drop by, and then suddenly it’s over, almost as quickly as it began that morning. 

To some of us it means another Christmas of happy memories to cherish. To some it’s a relief that it’s all over and things can return to normal again. To some it’s the opportunity to go out the next day and collect more things on sale for next Christmas. Like we really need to do that.

But for many others, it’s a sense of letdown. There’s nothing left to anticipate. There’s nothing to plan for right away. Nothing to look forward to with excitement. Just the remnants that have to be put away for another year.

Or for some, it’s disappointment that Christmas didn’t measure up to what they expected, what they wanted, or what they hoped for. All that hype and preparation, and for what?

Suddenly life returns with a vengeance. All the things we put out of our minds for this special time quickly come back, and once again we’re overwhelmed in a different way. This beautiful time of friends and family and joy we just experienced is gone. 

Or so it seems. We think about how we’d like to go back to those feelings we had on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but sadly, the magic seems to be have left when the clock struck midnight. And now the winter is ahead and we realize it’s back to our day to day world. As if Christmas never happened.

We miss that anticipation of something wonderful being about to happen. And worry about what life is going to bring next. And it depresses a lot of people.

Why can’t every day have the excitement of Christmas? Wouldn’t it be nice? But then, we’d lose the sense of excitement of those special days in our lives.

Why not start changing your outlook now by taking a moment each day to think about something you’re anticipating. Not the daily dreading of a day that might not go as you’d like, but the anticipation that something wonderful could happen at any time. Something to look forward to.

A surprise phone call. A chance meeting with someone you never expected. A friend bringing good news. Reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in months, or even years.

Something great can happen at any time. And it usually does when you least expect it. 

Because not everything wonderful that happens is limited to Christmas. That’s just the beginning. It’s time to turn those blues into sunshine.