Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


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Ice Cream Cone Tacos

putting-olives-on-your-fingers-1024x819Like most kids, my grandkids love all things olive. They have olive-tipped fingers every time they get the opportunity. They even love my olive tapenade, which has strong Kalamata olives and stuffed green olives. And that’s how this idea was born.

deliciousLast week they wanted some tapenade with lunch and I didn’t have any chips or crackers to go with it. The only crunchy thing I could find in the cabinet was a half-empty box of stale ice cream cones. Well, why not? I coated the insides of a couple of cones with tapenade and the kids were thrilled. They finished the rest of the box.

As I watched them chow down, I was thinking of how strange it was to put something that savory into an ice cream cone. Then it struck me – how fun it would be to fill ice cream cones with taco fixings!

The plan for the following week’s Famiglia Paladini Dinner was in place! The kiddos come over every Wednesday to hang out in Grandeeland, and their parents join us for family dinner.

So when they came over yesterday morning we discussed what we needed for our ice cream tacos, and we all made grocery lists. (How I love these early years of learning to write! Cute crooked little letters, formed with such solemn care.)

img_3184Our list included ice cream cones, and I was informed that we needed to get a lot of them. Olives, taco meat, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, and salsa.

Caleb directed operations from the grocery cart as we walked around the store. Audrey carried the shopping bag, and Nathan painstakingly weighed and baggedimg_3206 the tomatoes.

And we all weighed in on which kind of olives to get. Audrey said “Let’s get the red ones.” She picked up two red cans. Nathan said, “Those are BLACK.” Audrey looked at her brother like he had lost his mind. “They’re RED.” It was funny – Audrey was choosing the label color and Nathan was  looking at the picture on the label.  Perception and communication.

Back at Grandeeland I cooked the taco meat while the kids cut up all the vegetables with dull butter knives. There was lots of tasting along the way.

It took about two hours and we made a huge mess; but we also made wonderful memories!

img_3192Audrey said, “Mommy is going to be sad that she has to go to a meeting tonight and she won’t get any ice cream tacos. But Daddy is going to love them.”img_3201

And he did! In fact, we all did.

It’s a good thing we got that box of 112 ice cream cones.

 

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My 2016 Bookshelf – January to April

book-journalSomeone gave me this cute little book journal in January, 2006. I really like the picture on the cover, although I prefer my own big cuddly reading chair, and the cluttered oak table beside it. I usually have a mug of coffee on the table so I’m pretty sure I’d knock that orchid over every time I reached for my cup. Still, I love this little journal. It sets on the cluttered table by my reading chair and every so often I pick it up and slide myself into that roomful of books. I look at all those overflowing shelves, try to read the titles, and imagine titles for those I can’t read. It’s really lovely. And when I open the journal, it gets even lovelier because I have kept a list of all the books I’ve read since that January 11 years ago. It’s like my little private bookshelf in a book.

Looking back at my 2016 bookshelf, I started the year with MERE CHRISTIANITY by C.S Lewis. I’ve read it a couple of times before, but somehow this time it came together as it never has in the past. It’s a clear, orderly, step-by-step description of Christianity and the path to belief. I was stunned at how current a seventy-five year old book could be and what a visionary C.S. Lewis was.

lake-houseSo as I was reading Mere Christianity for my morning “devotional” reading, I was reading Kate Morton’s THE LAKE HOUSE for pure enjoyment. Also because it was the January book for my book group. I love Kate Morton books. They are a little hard to get into because she throws out a bunch of threads and it’s hard to keep them sorted out, but the mystery grows and the sub-plots all come together, and they never disappoint! One thing I especially love about her books is the way she flows from generation to generation.

JABER CROW by Wendell Berry came next. I picked it up because I read Berry’s HANNAH COULTER in 2015 and loved it. I really liked the intertwining of the characters’ lives and the Ohio feeling it brought back to me. But Jaber Crow didn’t measure up to Hannah Coulter.

And I don’t know if there is any connection, but Jaber Crow made me think of LAKEWOBEGONE DAYS, which I have always kind of wanted to read, just because I have heard about it my whole life.  Well… sorry, Garrison Keillor, I couldn’t take more than three chapters.

A fellow booklover once told me you should give every book at least three chapters before you decide you don’t like it. I’ve found it to be a good rule of thumb. Especially, as I said, with books like Kate Morton’s. But I was Wobegone to get through those three chapters of the Lake.

My final January book was LILITH by George MacDonald. I have read bits and pieces of this magical book before, but this was my first time to read straight through it. George MacDonald is a master of story-telling and amazing imagery! Pictures from Lileth and Phantastes (which I read in July of 2015) will be happily stuck in my mind forever!

summerMy friend Sandy and I are both book lovers, but we have vastly different taste in books. For example I can’t be bothered with the Amish generational novels that are some of her favorites and she shudders when I talk about Hind’s Feet on High Places or other allegories.  But her enthusiasm for SUMMER OF LIGHT by Dale Cramer got my attention and it was totally uplifting and enjoyable! Although I don’t really remember many details  about it now, ten months later.

My second book of February was recommended by a different Sandy – someone I don’t know at all. I was at a “Friends of the Library” book sale in Livermore and struck up a conversation with the woman who was running the sale. It was obvious that this Sandy and I were miles apart philosophically and politically, but kindred spirits in our love for reading. oliveI asked her who are some of her favourite authors. She said she loves anything by Jodi Picoult, but her favourite book in the world is OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout. She said she likes these books because they deal with “women’s issues” – which I was not sure what she meant, but I thought they might be in the same category as Anita Shreve, who I like very much. So I picked up a copy of Olive Kitteridge, intending to chat with her about it the next time I see her at a book sale. I have to say Elizabeth Strout is a good writer and she definitely knows about women’s issues. She nails a lot of the feelings and problems and situations we face, and I’d swear she had been reading some of my deepest darkest thoughts.  I’m glad I read it. Details from that book will be stuck in my mind forever, and I find myself pondering what I would have done in such and such a situation. Well written –  but no hope. No peace or joy. No answers.

John and I enjoy audio books on our long drives, but our first audio book of the year was THE POET by Michael Connelly, and it was just an average police procedural book. No big deal. Completely forgettable.

fryIn March our Lalas Book Group read THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce. It was recommended by my cousin Debbi, as we were engaged in one of our hundreds of on-line Scrabble games. What a good book! Average, boring, middle aged Harold Fry, set out to mail a letter and that walk to the mailbox turned into a pilgrimage that changed his life and the lives of many people who knew him and who met him on the way. A book reviewer might say it is “A triumph of the human spirit!”

By this time I had finished Mere Christianity in my morning devotional reading, and was scanning the shelves for a nice uplifting biography. Considering the vitriol and underhandedness that was part of the politics of the election cycle, it seemed like a logical choice to read BORN AGAIN by Chuck Colson. Colson was heavily involved with President Nixon and the Watergate scandal, and all of that brought him to a deep, rich personal relationship with God. It was worth reading for the edification and also for the history!

Our book club book for March was A SEVERE MERCY by Sheldon Vanauken. Not our typical book group choice, but I was glad to reread it after reading it some 15 years ago. It’s a biographical and true love story about a couple who became acquainted with C.S Lewis, and partially because of his influence gave their life and love to the Lord. Heartbreakingly beautiful and profound.

And since March hailed the first call of baseball season I read SET-UP MAN by T.T. Monday. I heard the author interviewed on sports talk radio. The “set-up man” is the pitcher who comes in near the end of a baseball game, and sets things up for the closing pitcher. The hero of this book moonlighted as a private detective, and was not very heroic – too much sex and violence. But I enjoyed the baseball chatter, and it was interesting to read behind the scenes of major league baseball.

I tried a second book by T.T Monday in April. DOUBLE SWITCH. But the good baseball stuff didn’t outweigh the trash, so I quit after the obligatory three chapters.

toughI read TOUGH AS THEY COME by Travis Mills, a true American hero who survived quadruple amputee injuries during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, and has gone on to live a satisfying, productive life.

April also brought a new wrinkle to my brain in the form of THE BOG PEOPLE . It was written by P.V. Glob  and translated by  R.B. Mitford.  This book, not surprisingly, was recommended by my sister, Monica, who is a docent at a big museum in Houston. It was a collection of amazing stories about the discovery of whole human beings preserved like mummies in peat bogs. Bog people! This was something I had never even heard of in my whole life.

windAfter I left the bog, I read THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame. I told my son, David that I was reading it for the first time, and he reminded me that we read it as a family. I argued with him, and assured him that I had never read it. I said all I knew about it was a bad Community Theater production I took them to when they were little, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. He started quoting parts to me and reminding me of things that happened in the book, so I looked back at our family book list and sure enough, there it was.  I had decided to read it because they talked about it in A Severe Mercy, and even though it’s is probably technically a children’s book, I was thrilled at how many breathtakingly beautiful passages there are.  Still not a fan of Mr. Toad.

brideFinally, at the end of my April shelf is THE PRINCESS BRIDE: S. MORGENSTERN’S CLASSIC TALE OF TRUE LOVE AND HIGH ADVENTURE by William Goldman. Very much like the movie we all love, but even more so. Inconceivable!

gardenSo that’s the end of the first four shelves of my 2016 reading. I’ll come back next week and talk about May to August. But right now I have to go read! It’s kind of an emergency. There’s a bunch of mysterious threads pulling on me, and tangling my thoughts, and calling me to get back to this haunting story about a Forgotten Garden…

book-journal


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Jello Rainbows

Why do I keep a box of food coloring in our bathroom medicine cabinet? My grandkids, (and their parents before them) love it when I plop a couple of drops into their bathtub and they get to swirl the colors around.

The simple pleasures!

img_0814So a few months ago my grandkids and I took this water coloring a step further. I got three glasses of water and let them drop colors in, and stir. img_0820We made a glass of red, a glass of blue and a glass of yellow. Then I let them pour certain colors together into other glasses to make green, purple and orange.

They seriously thought it was magic!

14670806_1450516938297813_1984779776334946488_nAnd then last week we made a “rainbow” on a plate. We placed Skittles all around the edge of a flat white plate and poured enough water to just touch the candy – then we watched the colors mingle and cover the plate. Again they were delighted!

So just thinking of how much fun we’ve been having with colors I thought about making a jello rainbow. It took several hours, but it was fun for all of us.5

This is how we did it:

3 three-ounce boxes of Jello. Red, yellow and blue.

3 ziplock bags

3 clear containers, straight-sided to make and serve the rainbow in.

3 big measuring cups to mix the Jello.

7 glasses to mix the rainbow colors of liquid jello.

1-2

I put the Jello powder into ziplock bags so I could cut off the corner and the kids could pour slowly and carefully, with less mess.

Caleb, our youngest grandson, is two. I jokingly call him “Me Too” because that is his current favourite phrase. He wants to be in on everything his big brother and sister are doing.  2It was a little nerve-racking to have a two-year-old stirring jello into boiling water. That’s why I chose a four-cup measuring cup for the one cup of hot water. Less chance of splashing.

1Caleb poured yellow Jello from the cut corner of his ziplock bag, and stirred it with a plastic chop stick. Nathan chose red and Audrey chose blue.

So we had three big measuring cups, each with one cup of liquid jello.

After the jello was dissolved they each added a cup of cold water.

So we ended up with 6 cups of liquid Jello in three containers. Primary colors – red, yellow and blue.

I reminded them of how we had mixed the colored water a couple of weeks ago to make new colors. And then we looked at a book about rainbows to see how many colors there are, and what order they are in.

The seven are, of course, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

3We got seven drinking glasses and mixed and stirred, and stirred and mixed a quarter cup at a time. We had quite a discussion about the difference between indigo and violet. Purple was easy: blue mixed with red. Finally we decided that indigo is bluish purple and violet is reddish purple. Not very scientific, but it worked for the under-six crowd. And it worked for Grandee.

I had found three heavy glass containers at the dollar store. (Don’t you love the dollar store!?) I think they are actually candle holders, but they worked great for our purpose. They hold about 2 cups each, and are heavy enough that they probably wouldn’t break if little hands dropped them. What I liked best is that the sides are straight up, so the colors would be evenly distributed.

First came red. I used the quarter cup measure and let each of the kids pour it into the bottom of their glass container. Then we put them into the fridge for half an hour to set. We left the remaining six glasses of liquid jello on the counter so they would stay liquid.

2I set a timer and we went about our day. Each time the timer rang, we came into the kitchen to add the next color to the rainbows. We added about ¼ cup of new color each time, in rainbow order.

At room temperature the added jello didn’t melt the jello that had already set in the dishes. It just made a nice flat layer. As the day went on the refrigerated jello set up more quickly, so the progress went faster. By the time we got to the purples, the new layer was setting in 15 minutes.

3The kids were so excited to show their parents, and then to take them home for dessert.

Golden memories at the end of the rainbow!4


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Cauliflower Pizza

pizza

1820 – Eighteen hundred, and twenty PIZZAS! I figure that’s how many I’ve made in the last 30 years. Conservatively. Every Thursday has been Paladini Pizza Night as long as John and I have been married, so I’ve made at least a pizza a week for all those years – and that’s not counting the hundreds of pizzas I made before that when I worked at Circus Pizza 40 years ago.

CaptureI’ve seen some changes in the pizza world. We’ve gone beyond mama’s traditional pizza. Now we have pesto, barbecue sauce, and ranch dressing…bacon, chicken and garlic…pineapple, fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, and broccoli… My daughter even sprinkles whole kernel corn on hers.

So what could be new under the Italian-American sun?

Cavolfiore!

That’s Italian for Cauliflower.

Cauliflower crust pizza!

Since I have reached “middle age” and begun keeping company with my Fitbit and Fitness Pal, I’ve been trying to find loopholes in my cooking to cut calories and improve nutrition, but still taste delicious.  And this cauliflower pizza fits the bill!

 

Wash and dry and chop 1 large head of cauliflower.IMG_2054

Put it in your blender to rice it. (Someone told me that Trader Joe’s sells packages of riced cauliflower if you want to save yourself the trouble of grinding it.)

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Cook the riced cauliflower in the microwave until it is very soft.

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Mash out the juice. I usually start early enough in the day so it can drain in a colander, and then I can press it till it is almost dry.

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(I gave this recipe to my brother, Brian, and he put the cooked cauliflower into his juicer then threw away the juice and kept the remaining fiber. Way easier, but I don’t have a juicer.)

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When the mashed cauliflower is cool or lukewarm, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt and two eggs.

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Spoon it onto parchment paper on a pizza cooking screen,  and shape it into a circle like a pizza crust.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 400° until the bottom is starting to brown. If you want, you can remove it from the parchment paper and put it directly on your pizza screen.

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Brush the top with pesto, or the pizza sauce of your choice.

Sprinkle with cheese, and top with toppings of your choice.

Bake again at 400° until cheese is well melted and veggies are cooked (usually about 15 minutes)

 

pizza

Brian, who worked at Circus Pizza with me, says this is the best pizza he has ever eaten. If I am completely honest, I have to say I still prefer my regular French bread crust pizza. But this is a wonderfully guilt-free and healthy alternative! It’s here to stay in the Paladini Kitchen.


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The Oscar Swan

Oscar Swan was an investment banker in Chicago at the turn of the century. He and his family enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, which included a gracious country home, built in 1902. Mr. and Mrs. Swan, along with their little daughter, Betty Jean, often escaped the oppressive heat and humidity of the city, and spent long weeks at this country home about 50 miles west of Chicago. Betty Jean enjoyed the county life so much that eventually her parents decided to leave Chicago, and make Geneva their permanent home.

John and I had the opportunity to spend five days with the Swans recently – or at least with their memories. The Swan home is now The Oscar Swan Country Inn on State Street in Geneva.

IMG_1115.JPGIt’s a surprising little patch of country right on the busy highway next to a strip mall…dry cleaners, nail salons, and restaurants. “Drive slow after you pass Walgreen’s,” our friend had warned us, “or you’ll miss it!” And we almost did. After the strip mall we came to an area of grass and woods which thickened to almost a wall of greenery. Then it gave way to a long tree tunnel, marked by a small sign, a profusion of orange daylilies, and a lamp post.

I felt like we were traveling back through time. The gravel driveway with its white board fence opened to some of the loveliest grounds I have ever seen. And the house looked like something out of Downton Abbey or an Austen novel.IMG_1131.JPG

I know my mouth was hanging open as we wandered through the big house to find our room that first night. I quickly modified my mental assessment of the house. Inside, it was not so much like Downton Abbey, as it was like Bleakhouse. Charles Dickens could have been describing The Oscar Swan Inn when he said, “It was one of those delightfully irregular houses where you go up and down steps out of one room into another, and where you come upon more rooms when you think you have seen all there are, and where there is a bountiful provision IMG_1735.JPGof little halls and passages, and where you find still older cottage rooms in unexpected places with lattice windows and green growth pressing through them. Mine, which we entered first, was of this kind, with an up-and-down roof that had more corners in it than I ever counted afterwards.”

As for John and me, our room was actually a suite – “The Twin Room Suite” according to the brass plate on the door. We followed a little passageway off the main hall, made a sharp turn, went down three steps, and came to the door of our sitting room. IMG_1740.JPGWe later discovered that if we turned right instead of left at the sitting room door, we would come to a flight of stairs leading to the kitchen. It made us wonder if The Twin Room Suite had been the servants’ quarters back in the days of the Swan family. What fun!

But our quarters could not have been more unservantlike! Elegant chairs, a writing desk, and a credenza with a few books and a slim understated TV. (Which we did not touch – too much else to see!)

IMG_1742.JPGAcross the sitting room was another short hall. Turn to the left and there was a door to an exterior walkway that went along the roofline of the house, IMG_1754.JPGand took us to an outside staircase going down to the back lawns. Turn to the right and there were two beautiful bedrooms, and a lovely old bathroom with a wonderfully deep tub.

IMG_1797I felt like I was in the best antique shop ever! The place was filled (not cluttered) with cute, beautiful and interesting pictures, knick-knacks and lamps – all so comfortable and touchable!

IMG_1818.JPGAlthough everything I have described was old and antique-y, there were a few exceptions. Our suite had its own air conditioning control; so the weather was lovely when we came in from the ninety-five degrees of heat, and fifty per cent humidity that made the grounds flourish like a greenhouse. And there was nothing old and antique-y about the linens. They were glorious! The sheets were many thread count and wonderfully crisp and clean, the beds were soft but firm, and every day brought a new supply of fresh thick white towels.

We met Nina, the landlady when we went downstairs the first morning. She reminded us of Julia Child, and not only because every breakfast she served was fabulous. She was big and loud and friendly, and had that way IMG_1195.JPGof making you feel like you, of all her guests, were somehow special. Each time we came home from one of our excursions she would call out a greeting from the kitchen. Without being pushy she would ask about our day, inviting us to pause and chat for a moment.

IMG_1173.JPGAfter breakfast that first morning, (a lovely and beautifully presented feast) Nina invited us to wander around the house and look in all the guest rooms since there were no other quests at the moment. I was thrilled about that since I had furtively been peeking into the empty rooms, wishing for a longer look. And it’s a good thing we took her up on her offer that morning, because that was, I think, the only moment The Oscar Swan was empty.

IMG_1758Nina gave the illusion of being a bit scattered and absent minded, but over the course of our stay we saw just how sensible and capable she is. While we were staying there we watched her expertly juggle two large weddings, a “Mystery Dinner” a lunch meeting of “The OK Croquet Club”, as well as being very attentive to her “regular” house guests.

So, at Nina’s invitation, we spent the next hour wandering through all the guest rooms of the wonderful old house. It was like a delightful interactive museum. IMG_1835At home in Modesto we enjoy visiting The McHenry Mansion, a grand old house about the same size and age as The Oscar Swan. But at the McHenry Mansion the rooms are cordoned off and you dare not touch a thing. IMG_1746.JPGHere we reveled in touching. Each room is labeled with a small brass name plate: The Oscar Swan Room, The Betty Jean Swan Room, Oscar and Jessie Swan’s Bedroom, etc. This link will take you to the web site, where you can see more details of the Inn and rooms.

IMG_1125.JPGI mentioned how this rambling 6,000 foot house made me think of Dickens’ Bleakhouse. Well, the literary allusions didn’t stop there. The second morning of our stay I looked out the window and was transported to Daphne DuMaurier’s Manderly, where that grand estate was preparing for the mid-summer gala party. In this case The Oscar Swan was preparing for a gala wedding with about 200 guests – gardeners sweeping walks and the setting up of the great tent – although I could watch the preparations from any distance I chose, I still felt like Nina’s special pampered houseguest.

IMG_1391.JPGStill another literary allusion was in store for us. Tramping over the eight acres of lush lawns and gardens a few days later, we discovered Betty Jean’s little playhouse. It was pretty much modeled after the big house. (No wonder Betty Jean talked her parents into abandoning Chicago and moving to the country!) My friend and I ducked our heads and stepped through the little doorway, back 100 years into any little girl’s paradise! IMG_1392Wall paper and small antique furniture, and sweetest of all, a fireplace with roses for flames like the fireplace in George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin.

John and I had just about decided that we don’t really care for “Bed and Breakfasts” because when we have a chance to get away, we want to be left alone and not have to make small talk with strangers. This trip may have changed that. There was lots to see in Geneva and the Chicago area, but we could have happily spent every moment of our time right there on the grounds of The Oscar Swan Inn. We were alone as much as we wanted to be, but thoroughly engaged with history and conversation when we felt like it, and relaxed and pampered every moment of our stay.IMG_1188.JPG


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Baseball Brown Rice Salad

Today I made a variation of this salad using white basmati rice. I did not have basil, bell pepper and olives, so I added some chopped toasted almonds along with the diced celery and red onion. And, of course, Vidalia Onion Vinegarette. It was very scrumptious, and my friend asked me to share the recipe. So Shellie, this is for you!

Paladini Potpie

I could have stuck a feather in my hat and called it macaroni… The point is, I didn’t have any macaroni, and feathers get stuck in your teeth.

I had offered to take macaroni salad to a baseball barbecue birthday party the next day. So I used some good old Yankee ingenuity when I spotted a couple of cups of leftover brown rice in the fridge.

Brown Rice Salad!  (Baseball Brown Rice Salad, since we were headed to a baseball birthday party.)

It was delicious! Jim would have been proud!

Here’s how I did it:

2 cups cooked cold rice (I had brown basmati, but I think any kind of long-grain rice would work as well)

cold rice

add

1 cup finely diced celery

½ cup finely diced red onion

½ cup diced red pepper

mix

1 can of black olives, drained and diced

About 8 fresh basil leaves and 8 fresh…

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Thankfulness ABCs

January 1, 2016. I opened my eyes this morning and lay still. The light seeping through the blinds looked so pretty; and our clean sheets felt so good; and John’s gentle snores made me overflow with love and joy and peace. I lay there for a while thinking and praying. What will the New Year bring? 2015 had a lot of hard stuff. But also many blessings – a lot to be thankful for. I thought about the Thankful List I made a couple of years ago, and I decided that I should start this New Year by making another list. As I was tiptoeing out to my computer to find the ABC Thankfulness template, it occurred to me that I should write a blog about it. Encourage other people to start the year off by focusing on thankfulness. So here I am at my computer, five minutes later, absolutely stunned to see that I already DID write a blog about it. I could gripe about losing my mind and my memory, but instead I will be thankful for a computer to remind me of the things I forget!

Paladini Potpie

Amanda, Audrey, anise, and Abercrombie T-shirts for a dollar at a yard sale.  This is part of my “A-list” of things I’m thankful for this year.

Thanksgiving Day is a little more than a week away and I’ve been enjoying the posts of many of my friends who are taking part in Facebook’s “ month of gratitude “.

I haven’t been posting regularly in the Month of Gratitude. That’s partly because I somehow missed it until it was well underway. And also because I knew I would get writer’s block trying to think of something “profound” to write in that public arena every single day for a month. 

I went back and forth about it in my mind. So what if it’s not profound? So what if I miss a day?

As a rule I am a thankful person, and I’m usually pretty vocal with my thanks. But I had to…

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