Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Last week I posted a recipe for TAGALONGS SHAKE.  Today I have a recipe using Lemon Chalet Cremes, the lemon sandwich style cookie.  The recipes were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste.  I intend to try them out when we receive the cookies in February and I will update with my evaluation.  If anyone tries the recipe out before I, I'd love to have your opinion in the comments section!

Crust ingredients:
* 1/2 box of Lemon Chalet Cremes Girl Scout Cookies
* 1/2 stick butter, melted
* 1-1/4 cup chopped pecans

* 2 packages lemon flavored instant pudding plus required milk
* 16 oz. whipped topping 

Mix crust ingredients and press the mixture into greased 9" x 9" glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and then allow to cool.  For the next layer, prepare the lemon-flavored instant pudding according to package directions.  Spread over the crust.  For the final layer, spread the whipped topping over the pudding layer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #6

A couple weeks ago I became aware of Renee's blog at The 2011 Letter Project.  She is a homeschooling mother who is trying to collect 2,011 letters this year from all over the world.  This is just the kind of project that appeals to me and it just happens to fit in with my own 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project.

I dropped a small package in the mail to Renee last week and it hopefully has arrived by now.  I wrote a letter telling her family about Cincinnati, where I grew up, as well as the city to the north where I now live.  I told her about two of my favorite Cincinnati destinations -- Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal and the Cincinnati Zoo.  I explained how Cincinnati got the nickname "Porkopolis" (think slaughterhouses) and how the winged pig has become the mascot of the city.  I tossed in some brochures for local Cincinnati destinations including King's Island amusement park and Coney Island, King's Island's predecessor along the Ohio River.

I also sent her a Cincinnati treat -- a can of Skyline Chili.  Cincinnati is well known for its special chili, which is significantly different from the Texas-style chili most people are used to.  For a brief history of Cincinnati chili you can out the Wikipedia page, which will not only tell you some of the more unusual ingredients in Cincinnati chili but also tell you the difference between a two-way and a five-way. 

The best thing about Renee's project is that she posts pictures and information about the letters she receives, so we all get to share in her project.  I encourage you to check it out for a good read and if you're interested in sending them a letter, shoot her an e-mail and she'll be happy to send you contact information.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cincinnati Zoo Adoption -- Another Way to Say "I Love You"

For most of my son's 11 years, we have given a yearly Valentine gift to the Cincinnati Zoo in the form of their A.D.O.P.T. program.  Through donation to this program you can "adopt" an animal of your choice from the zoo.  My children love animals and the Cincinnati Zoo is one of their favorite outings.  In addition to our sight-seeing romps, my children also attend classes where they learn about animals and are given the chance to touch various critters in a safe environment.  (One of our favorites has always been Minnie, the Chinchilla.  You've never felt such soft fur!)  The Zoo also has an annual Festival of Lights in December, a Hall-Zoo-Ween celebration in October, Zoo Babies in the spring, and some of the most gorgeous flowers to be found in the city.

In addition, they are working hard make the Zoo environmentally friendly and to live up to their reputation as "The Greenest Zoo in America."  They incorporate wind power, green building practices for new construction, energy efficient products, and water conservation into daily operations.  This year they are embarking on a new project with solar energy.  A huge parking area will be covered with a canopy of solar panels, the largest urban, publicly accessible solar array in the country.  It is expected to generate about 20% of the Zoo's energy needs and they are hopeful that some sunny and cool days they can be off the grid completely.  It's this kind of innovative thinking that gets me excited, and hopeful, about the future.  (Please check out this link to the Zoo's website for more information or watch the brief video below.  It's awesome!)

Since I have two animal-loving children, they take turns choosing the animal of the year.  This Valentine's Day belonged to my daughter and she chose to adopt the manatee.  We received a lovely certificate with their names and the occasion on it, as well as an informational sheet on manatees.  (We're frequent contributors to Save the Manatee Club as well, so these gentle giants have a special place in our hearts.)  Higher donation levels come with even more perks such as Zoo shop discounts, Christmas ornaments, and docent-lead tours.  It's a nice way to give back to the Zoo for all the knowledge and joy they've given my children.  And it's a good lesson for the kids as well.

If you're planning a trip to Cincinnati, be sure to check out and pay then a visit.  Tell the manatees we said "hi"!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Last week I posted a recipe for THIN MINT BROWNIES.  Today I have a recipe using Tagalongs, the Girl Scout cookie with the peanut butter filling dipped in chocolate.  These recipes were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste.  I intend to try them out when we receive the cookies in February and I will update with my evaluation.  If anyone tries the recipe out before I, I'd love to have your opinion in the comments section!

Makes 2 servings

* 1/2 box of Tagalongs Girl Scout Cookies
* 6 cups of vanilla ice cream
* 1 cup of milk
* 1 can of whipped cream
Mix cookies, ice cream, and milk in blender.  Blend until desired thickness.  Serve in tall milkshake glass and top with whipped cream and garnish with crumbled cookies.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


When my son made his ill-advised comment at Christmas that his upcoming iPod gift was a "snooze-fest", I made the decision that I was going to severely cut back on my gift-giving.  Every minor holiday somehow has become a mini-Christmas.  Last year for Valentine's Day my kids each received candy plus a Pillow Pet from me.  They loved them.  It was a successful gift.  Other gifts, however, were not so popular and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

In an effort to teach my children that less is more and that there is as much joy in giving as receiving, I informed them that this Valentine's Day they'd receive only candy.  The money I would have spent was instead going to a cause close to our hearts.  We are animal lovers in our family, particularly dogs and cats, and we care passionately about pet overpopulation.  We support numerous no-kill shelters, help to finance low-cost spay and neuter clinics, contribute to the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry who distribute pet food to low-income owners, and have ourselves adopted three stray animals that wandered into our yard.  Knowing how much they loved animals, it seemed obvious what to do with the Valentine gift money.

My mother, sister, and I took my two kids to PetSmart today.  I gave them each the amount of money I spent on last year's Pillow Pets and let them pick out items from the League for Animal Welfare's wish list.  My son  chose canned food.  They were in need of food for dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens.  He carefully picked sizes and flavors he thought were appropriate.  He also chose a 28 pound box of scoopable kitty litter.  My daughter took the decision a little less seriously.  She fell passionately in love with a stuffed squeaky toy which she wanted for herself but agreed to pass on to the shelter.  She also picked out some soft dog treats.  She wandered off with Grandma while I filled in the gaps from the wish list with a 6' nylon leash, a large Nylabone, and a box of small Milkbone dog biscuits.  As usual there was a rescue group at the PetSmart and we saw several sweet dogs walking around wearing shirts that said "Adopt Me."  It's all I can do not to come home with a 40 pound bag of dog food and a 40 pound dog.

Looking at the dogs.

We have a particular fondness for hound dogs.
During the 30 minute drive to the shelter we listened to Bill Cosby cd's in the van.  Upon arrival we hauled in the bags, as well as some afghans I made from scrap yarn.  I had dozens of small balls of yarn from past projects and I crocheted them into ugly but functional afghans.  They use them folded on the cat beds and in cages.  After dropping the supplies at the front desk we went to the back to view the animals.  We started with the dogs, who live in very clean kennels and are easily viewed behind the glass.  We aren't allowed in to pet them, probably for liability reasons, but we wave hello to all of them and read their stories on the cards pinned to bulletin boards.  We also saw our sponsored dog, Connor.  We have $10 per month automatically deducted from our bank account each month to help with his care and maintenance until his adoption.  There's an adorable picture of him on the bulletin board wallowing in a filled kiddie pool.

From there we moved on to the half dozen or so cat rooms.  In these we are able to pet, cuddle, and play with the critters.  Despite my desire to take home every animal at the shelter, I'm always left feeling happy when I leave The League.  A traditional kill-shelter I find almost intolerable to visit, as I know if I don't take the dogs home many won't live long.  Of course, taking home every dog and cat is impossible, so I'm left depressed and miserable.  I always tell my kids that the worst thing that will happen to the animals we see at The League is that they will simply stay at the shelter forever.  And it's a beautiful shelter.  Each dog has his or her own kennel with a flap door so he can go into an enclosed area outside at will.  The cats live about 6-8 to a room, with plenty of climbing apparatuses, beds, and toys.  The cat rooms too each have a flap door that opens into a fenced area outside, complete with a bird feeder just outside the fence, giving the cats plenty to stare at.  Everything is clean and all the animals are well cared for.  The only depressing element is that I know there are some pets who have homes that aren't taken care of nearly as well as these animals in the shelter.
Do these cats have it made or what?

When we arrived home we were greeted by our own two cats and our big hound dog mix who sniffed us for the next 15 minutes in wonder.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - Letter #5

I had to explain to my 78 year old mother why she was receiving a letter from me, since she lives 6 minutes away by car.  As part of Katy Wolk-Stanley's 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project, I'm dropping lines to everyone I can think of and while there's probably no "news" my mother hasn't already heard from me via e-mail, telephone, or in person, she seemed an obvious choice for my fountain pen.

I often tell my son he is "pure awesomeness."  If he gets that quality from anyone, it's from his grandmother.  My mom is an award-winning cook (ribbons, baking contests, recipe contests), an award-winning quilter, a blogger, and an all around cool person.  Lately her blog, Lillian's Cupboard, has been featuring Civil War quilt blocks she's making from Barbara Brackman's patterns.  She's seen a big increase in traffic to her own blog because the instructions given for the Civil War blocks are sometimes confusing, especially to novices, so my mother has taken it upon herself to give step by step directions on how she did each block, complete with pictures.  Based on the comments she's received, many a new quilter is considering her a godsend.

Every Sunday the kids and I go to her house for lunch, which ensures I get at least one decent home cooked meal a week complete with dessert.  (My own culinary skills and interest are both mediocre and my kids refuse to try anything more exotic than a piece of grilled steak.)  My mother often posts the recipes for these meals, complete with pictures, on her blog.  If you ever need a meal idea, her blog is the place to go.

Joan Fontaine - 1939

Her sewing skills have also been put to good use over the years.  She's made everything from clothes for my children to quilts for Project Linus to cat motif tote bags for the League for Animal Welfare's Christmas party craft sale.  In 1995, as I was planning my wedding, I saw a black and white photo of Joan Fontaine from her 1939 wedding and I wanted that wedding dress. 

My mother and father - 1952
I had also been inspired by my mother's own dress from her 1952 wedding, which was borrowed from her future sister-in-law.  It was much too heavy for her May wedding and too big, but she looked stunning.  I wanted a dress like my mother's and Ms. Fontaine's -- simple cut with a 40s/50s feel, shimmering white satin, and no embellishments.  At the time every dress I looked at was dripping with sequins and beads and pearls.  The solution?  My mother to the rescue.  For a fraction of the cost of a purchased dress my mother sewed a beautiful white satin dress with a full skirt, puffed sleeves, and faux pearl buttons up the back.  I wore a strand of pearls and pearl earrings my then-fiance purchased for me, along with a veil of handmade lace my sister made.  It was exactly the look I was going for.

My husband and me - 1995
My son commented the other day, after seeing a paw print patterned blanket and pillowcase my mother whipped up at my daughter's request, "Is there anything Grandma can't do?"  Outside of riding a bicycle and playing guitar, I don't think there is.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I have the feeling I'm not the only parent of a Girl Scout who is going to find herself in possession of way more boxes of cookies than can (or should be) consumed in a few months' time.  In case you're looking for options for your cookie stash, I'll be posting some cookie recipes which were provided at The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Cookie Rally my daughter attended last month.  I haven't made any of these personally, so I can't vouch for the taste, but I figure you can't go wrong with anything containing Thin Mints.  Once the cookies are delivered in late February I plan on making each recipe myself and will update you on any changes or additions I feel are necessary.  If you have good luck (or bad luck) with any of the recipes, please let  me know in the comments section.

* 1/2 box of crushed Thin Mints cookies
* 1 box of brownie mix
* 2 eggs (3 eggs for cake-like brownies)
* 1/4 cup of water
* 1/2 cup of vegetable oil

Crush Thin Mints into medium size chunks. Mix all ingredients into mixing bowl. Do not use electric mixer -- batter will be stiff. Spread batter evenly in greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Bake in center of oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve with mint-flavored tea.

Monday, February 7, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #4

Letter #4 in the 52 Letters in 52 Weeks Project was mailed at the end of January to my friend Kerry who lives in New York City.  Like me she's a Cincinnati native; unlike me she married a man who quickly whisked her to the Big Apple while I migrated to the suburbs, otherwise known as the "Big Snooze."  Actually I'm much better suited to the somewhat quieter experience of Ohio than the crowds of Manhattan, yet hearing of her experiences makes me feel like I'm getting news from another galaxy, especially since Kerry doesn't have any children and has a busy career.

I filled her in on our frequent snowstorms.  When I get a return letter I'm sure it will be filled with insinuations that I'm a complete wimp considering what NYC got blasted with in December.  Just to be a thorn in her behind, I mentioned how the traffic in my small town is getting to be just impossible and she wouldn't believe how much they're charging for one-bedroom apartments around here... 

Friday, February 4, 2011


Part of my effort to reduce my food expenses, as well as to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, is to eliminate food waste as much as possible.  I'm the queen of the Bermuda Triangle Refrigerator.  Lovely, expensive foodstuffs have been known to disappear in there, only to be found months later moldy and biologically hazardous.  This week I finally got around to cleaning out my fridge.  I was astonished at how much expired food was in my refrigerator.  Astonished...and ashamed.  It's not just the money lost but the thought that there are people who are having trouble feeding their families and I'm throwing away $15 worth of expired yogurt.  I'm disgusted with myself.

I could berate myself over this, and I probably will, but I'm trying to regard this as a learning experience.  Sometimes we all just need to have a light shone on our faults.  Once we're aware we can do better.

To that end I'm making a trip to a nearby park with a lake this morning.  It's freezing here -- only about 13 degrees -- and there's still lots of slick stuff left from an ice storm this week.  At this park are several dozen ducks who can't be having an easy time either.  I have bread that's just on the verge of turning stale.  Yes, I should probably make it into crumbs and use it to coat chicken or something, but being the animal lover that I am, I'm choosing to make use of it by feeding it to the hungry critters.  More environmentally friendly than throwing it away.  Easier than having to find a use for it in my own home.  My kids helped me feed the ducks a couple weeks ago and they seemed very grateful.  They rushed us and got within a couple feet of my large hound dog, so I figure they must have been hungry.

Lastly, I've always loved this song and have found myself singing it over the years whenever I'm mad at myself for a failure.  It applies as well to dieting as to food waste as to parenting mistakes.  Or, as I've heard Judge Judy say, "You need to put a period and move on."  Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


When I started this blog I said no doubt my attempts to change my lifestyle would be full of hypocrisy.  I got hit full in the face with it this week with my daughter's Girl Scout cookie sale.  She's a 7 year old Daisy and this is her first cookie sale.  They're hoping to have the girls average 40 boxes of cookies each.  Sigh...

I'm trying to dramatically reduce our food expenditures this year.  Even more important, I'm trying to greatly reduce our garbage output and make "greener" purchases.  What do I do, then, about cookies that are housed in a plastic tray surrounded by plastic wrap and inside a cardboard box?  Hardly eco-friendly.  And the $3.50 per box price tag?  Not the most expensive snack in the world but hardly a frugal option either.  I know this is the most important fundraiser for the girls and even on a social level it's almost a rite of passage for a Girl Scout to sell cookies.

What to do?  How do I balance my ecological concerns with the money making necessity of the cookie sale?  How do I justify buying overpriced boxes of cookies?  My daughter's very young and door to door selling would terrify her.  I know I'll be spending some time with the troop sitting outside grocery stores hawking our goods but there's no guarantee of success there.  Relatives have been helpful in meeting that 40 box quota, but what about the rest?  Do I buy them myself?  Do I scour the neighborhood begging subdivision inhabitants for help?  Do I buy them but donate them to the food pantry? 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has come up with the solution to my cookie dilemma. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #3

Letter #3 in Katy Wolk-Stanley's letter writing challenge was sent out a couple weeks ago to an old friend named Richard.  He and I worked together twenty years ago when I was in advertising and he was a photographer.  We were very close for the five years or so we worked together and then he went on to bigger and better things.  Thanks to the Internet we managed to keep in touch with e-mails, but since these usually came about once or twice a year, a thorough letter was in order.  I figured he would appreciate the extra effort I put forth by writing the letter by hand with my Waterford fountain pen.  He used to do calligraphy for his wife and designed his own seal to use with sealing wax on his envelopes.

One thing Richard and I had in common back in the day was a love of music, particularly 60's British Invasion, so I told him about our family's trip to Cleveland last year.  We went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I told him all about John Lennon's piano and Mick Jagger's pants.  (By the way, the latter has a teeny, tiny waist.)  I told him about my recent attendance at the David Cassidy concert at The Newport Syndicate and about my son's report on George Harrison for English class.

I hope to get a letter back, complete with my name in calligraphy and nice red sealing wax on the back.

David Cassidy


We are, unfortunately, a typical fast food family.  I'm ashamed to admit it.  I blame part of it on my children as they never like what I cook and my husband is almost as picky as the children.  Mostly I blame myself, as I am the kitchen gatekeeper and I have 95% of the say on what goes down my children's throats.  Like a lot of people, though, my kids are involved in activities.  They aren't over scheduled -- each is allowed one activity, two if they're not too time consuming.  For instance, my daughter takes gymnastics one night a week and is a Girl Scout Daisy.  The latter has twice monthly meetings and the occasional weekend activity, so it's a very moderate time commitment.  Even with a relatively sane schedule, we inevitably find ourselves rushing through dinner time.  My daughter has to leave for gymnastics by 5:20, my son for twice weekly karate by 5:10.  Throw in the occasional doctor's appointment, dentist check up, or after school activity and dinner time becomes a nightmare.  My solution, unfortunately, tended to be a quick trip through the drive-thru.

I know the obvious health problems associated with over consumption of fast food.  In addition, as I always say to my husband, "Geez, they charge an awful lot for lousy food."  Between fast food and convenience foods, our monthly food total was very high.  Last year, for instance, our average monthly food expenses were $957.  That includes eating in, drive-thru runs, restaurant meals, and any purchased snacks (such as amusement park candy) for myself, my husband, and our 11 and 7 year old kids.  We go out to eat almost every Saturday afternoon with my mother and sister and I have no intention of foregoing those meals.  We've done it for almost 40 years (i.e., my entire lifetime) and it's an enjoyable part of our week.  As a result I know I'll never have a rock bottom food budget like some.  Since we're fortunate enough to be going the frugality and simplicity route voluntarily my food budget goals are more moderate.

I knew training my children out of the fast food habit would be difficult.  My daughter in particular likes so few foods, especially protein, that Chicken McNuggets sometimes almost seem like a healthy option.  Since they dislike my cooking, have a limited number of meals they'll even try, and we have those rushed evenings, I knew we'd need some inspiration to change our ways. 

We're all huge animal lovers in our house and support a number of animal charities.  One close to my heart is the Grayson County Humane Society in Leitchfield, Kentucky.  They are, unfortunately, not a no-kill shelter, but they do the best they can with extremely limited resources to care for abused or abandoned pets and find them homes.  They get no government money, so they stay open solely through donations and volunteers.  On their website they had a link to become a Grayson Angel.  To be an "angel", you commit to giving $1 a day, regularly, to the shelter.  Knowing how much my children love and are concerned about these dogs and cats, I told them we were going to cut back extremely on our food budget for the month.  (I originally tried to do a "Food Stamp Challenge" similar to Katy Wolk-Stanley's on The Non-Consumer Advocate blog, but we failed in that one.)  I told them if we stuck to it for a month we could save enough money over what we spent last year to be an "angel" for the next year.  This they were enthusiastic about, particularly my son.  I can easily win them over by showing them a picture of one of the little doggies at the shelter.

For the month of January we spent a total of $561.47.  I know, this is hardly a great accomplishment for a true frugal gal, but considering our average last year of $957 per month, we shaved just short of $400 off of our food bill.  More importantly, I'm signing us to become Grayson Angels.  The little bit of sacrifice or deprivation we might have felt from the lack of trans fats in our diet were more than offset by the good feelings we have knowing that some animals are going to get a little bit of help.  I guess it's all about finding the right inspiration.

Snickers, who turned up at our door on Halloween 2002.

Milky Way, who turned up in our front yard just before a blizzard in 2008.

Franklin, who turned up in the neighborhood wearing a choke collar with no tags in 2003.