Friday, December 21, 2012

Life Changes... Retirement Pending!

by Ann

Change is exciting and scary at the same time; depending upon the change, one more than the other.  After a 31-year career first as a teacher, then as an instructional coach, and finally as a professional development specialist with the same school district, I am retiring! 
Me with my WONDERFUL director, Marlo as I recieve the compulsory retirement placque.  To the right is Judy who is new to our office and has added so much energy and fun to our group.  To the left is Sue, one of my Friday happy hour buddies.
Here’s the list of why I’m excited:
·         More time to do what I want to do.

·         I won’t feel like I am constantly transitioning from one place or activity to the next.

·         The retirement system for teachers in Arizona is good, so it will be nice getting a “paycheck” without having to go to work for it.

·         I won’t have to get up early and rush out in the morning.

·         I won’t feel like I need to be in bed by 9:30 each night.

·         I am hoping that new doors of opportunities will open once I have more flexibility.

·         I can finally clean out closets, drawers, etc.

Here’s the list of why I’m scared:

·         I like my job and the people I work with a great deal.

·         I keep current on technology and other aspects of life in general because of what I do at work.

·         To a certain extent my identity, purpose, and sense of contribution have been defined by my career.

·         I have to figure out the world of insurance, where it has always been part of my benefit package with no choices up to now.

·         The word “retired” makes me think “old.”  --  Can I say I am just making a career change?  (Ok- I guess that won’t work unless I get another career going, and I’m not ready to do that yet.)

·         I’m so used to being crazy-busy that I may not know what to do to fill my time (although I really don’t think this will be a problem.)

·         I’ll have no excuses for not clearing out drawers, closets, etc!
As pictured above, Marlo, the  fun and fabulous director of my office planned a retirement happy hour in honor of Elaine, our office secretary, who is also retiring, and me on the patio of a local Mexican restaurant on December 13, which in Arizona is typically a safe bet for an afternoon outdoor get-together.  Threats of rain were present, but the weather held out for our event, which was wonderful.  I asked my dear friend, colleague, and former student teacher, Kathy to take pics for this post, for which she did a fabulous job.  As I just looked at them tonight getting ready for this post, it once again made me realize how fortunate I have been to work in such a wonderful district and have many opportunities to shift gears in my career to stay excited and fresh with what I have done throughout my career.
Even though today, December 21, 2012 is my last “official day” I am so lucky to be able to continue to work for a 2/5 contract, which means that I will work two days (four half days?) on a retirement contract.  The best of all worlds!
If you have the energy to indulge me, take a look at Kathy’s pics from the happy hour below!
Kim, Ed, and Stephaine from our Career and Technical Education office.

In spite of threats of rain, the weather was wonderful.  The ladies next to Sue are more of my pals in the CTE office, Cindy and Martha.

Kathy, Michele, and Kim are my partners in crime at the CTE office.

Peggy, from our office, and Denis,one of our valued Industrial Tech teachers. 
Don't the snacks and margaritas look wonderful?

On the left is Kathy, the photographer (huh?) and my dear, dear friend Lisa who was my student, then my student teacher, then my colleague, and at one point my boss!

And finally, another dear friend and colleague, Kim.  I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.

On to the next adventure in life!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We Need a Little Christmas Now

by Heather

Come on in and gather 'round the tree...I'm getting organized for Christmas Eve when family and friends will gather with us to enjoy our traditional menu of Tom's seafood chowder (a magnificent creation of scallops, shrimp, cod, red-skinned potatoes, bacon, and sauteed onion in a bechamel sauce), a crisp Caesar salad, loaves of sourdough bread, and various wines.

The table is set for the occasion.  I changed out the gold accoutrements (see December 17 post) for silver all the way from the chargers to the chandelier decorations. A new centerpiece filled with silver and glass ornaments and lit from within by battery-operated mercury glass globes is surrounded by a small herd of sparkling reindeer standing among mercury glass and crystal Christmas trees.
This little tree functions as a place card holder and can be taken home by each guest to be used as a tree ornament.

Along with the old traditions of Tom's chowder and exchanging pajama presents on Christmas Eve, my nephew's wife suggested that we wear our pj's this year.  I loved the idea but added "sweats" to the suggested attire for those whose bedtime nightclothes are either non-existent or R rated. Of course, this added to my dilemma of what to wear. I had already bought my pajamas for this Christmas (don't get me started on how we buy presents in our household -- I usually buy and wrap my own and just say thank you to him when I open them -- I've never been disappointed yet!) but they weren't appropriate for this gathering. Most of my current nighties aren't for public consumption, but neither did I want to wear any of the flannel pj's I save for ski vacations (don't ask when the last time was that we went skiing). And my sweats are seriously not pretty. But ah ha...found a long black "lounge" gown packed away that I bought on sale from Soma several years ago but never had the occasion to wear (when it's just the two of us, I don't drag out this type of look -- that's sad, isn't it? Why did I buy it and what the heck am I saving it for?).  It will be perfect for Monday night...except what shoes/slippers to wear? And does one add accessories to nightwear if you're wearing it in public?  Might have to go shopping...

The other new tradition this Christmas Eve will be the addition of a hot chocolate bar. I'd been seeing all sorts of pictures of hot chocolate bars on Pinterest such as the one below from the delightful blog, Dear Lillie.

I've done a hot chocolate bar before, but just for 20 preschoolers. This Christmas Eve cocoa bar will be for three-year-olds to eighty-one year olds so I've included an "adults only" section complete with different liqueurs for those who wish to amp up their cocoa -- after all, it might be a bit chilly outside.

I had a false start setting up the bar.  Initially I placed it on a counter top in the kitchen, but I'm dealing with a small kitchen, so the bar got moved to a table in the family room just off the kitchen.

For anybody who might be new to the cocoa bar concept, it's a set-up with lots of different toppings, add-ins, or stirrers to be used with the hot chocolate. The cocoa is prepared first and then the children can point to what they want; the older ones can do their own thing. I'm placing a large coffee urn filled with hot water as part of the set-up so we won't need the stove to heat up the water while Tom is busy with his chowder.

The add-ins and toppings that I decided needed to be a part of this Hot Chocolate Bar:
  • cinnamon sticks
  • candy canes
  • mini chocolate chips
  • whipped cream
  • white chocolate chips
  • crushed mint chocolate Oreos
  • cinnamon marshmallows
  • mini marshmallows
  • large marshmallows dipped in chocolate and red and white sprinkles (this is an activity I'll be doing with my granddaughter and great-nephew on Sunday)
  • South Pole sticks (toffee sticks dipped in milk chocolate from WmSonoma)
  • North Pole sticks (peppermint sticks dipped in chocolaty candy coating from WmSonoma)
Adults-only Section of the Hot Chocolate Bar
Adults-only section can include but is not limited to:
  • Peppermint schnapps
  • Kahlua
  • Baileys
  • Baileys mint chocolate cream liqueur
  • Creme de cacao
  • Creme de menthe
  • Creme de banana
  • Chambord with fresh raspberries (could be my favorite especially with whipped cream)
  • Grand Marnier with fresh orange peel (or maybe this one)
  • Cointreau
  • Frangelico
  • Coconut rum
  • Cognac with orange peel
  • Butterscotch schnapps
  • B and B
  • Strawberry vodka
  • Cinnamon vodka
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Anything that would taste good with chocolate...bacon stirrers?

I have a recipe for a huge batch of rich and creamy cocoa mix that can be used all winter long. I'm keeping the cocoa in the large glass jar with the red and white ribbon on it.

Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe

  • 1 16 oz non-dairy creamer
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 8 qt box instant nonfat dry milk
  • 1 2-pound can instant powdered chocolate drink
  • Mix all ingredients well
  • Place in large tightly covered container
  • When ready to make a cup, place 1/3 cup chocolate mixture in each cup
  • Add enough hot water to fill
  • Stir well
  • Top with mini marshmallows and/or other toppings
Come back and visit with me Monday, Christmas Eve.  


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Last Minute

December 19, 2012

By Sheila

You know what they say, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person" and really, would anything get done if it weren't for the last minute?  Although I still have a few things to cross off my list for the holidays, the majority of the planning, decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, and all-around Christmas preparation is done.  Why again is it that Santa gets all the credit?  We know who really pulls it all together!  I said to Heather and Ann this week that I was tired, I had brain-drain, and I had no concern for conserving anything except my own sanity.  Let's just say I had a liitle Scrooge meltdown.  Is it just me? Oh yeah, my husband might be starting his shopping in a few days - a little early this year, don't ya think?

The women in my family who make it happen...

As you head down the last stretch, do yourself a favor and take a little time out.  You deserve it.  Stop and get your favorite coffee drink and then sit down and enjoy it!  I am as guilty as anyone of being so busy that I let my list run my life.  That is even more true this time of year than ever.  But I have to remind myself that I am in control of the list, and life is short, and the years get shorter every year, so take a break already. As a matter of fact, if you are taking time to even read this post today, I am impressed.  Good job.  Okay, now your break is over; you better get back to that list....

The next generation of elves...

Merry Christmas to All and God Bless Us Everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pecan Tassies

by Ann
Even though it seems like the majority of my posts are for sweet treats, desserts are not my downfall.  (I’d rather spend my empty calories on chips and dip or wine -- or better yet, chips, dip, AND wine!)…) With that said, here is yet another recipe for dessert! 

I can’t remember the last pie I made, yet I love the little mini pecan pies called Pecan Tassies; two wonderful bites to satisfy a sweet craving, without overdoing.  The only time I make these is for the holidays, but I don’t have a reason for that other than they take a lot of effort to make, and for some reason the season calls for going above and beyond “what’s normal.”  I actually made this batch with my mom while the caramels were cooking a week or so ago.

Pecan Tassies
  • 1 c (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 (3 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • In a medium bowl, mix together the butter and cream cheese until well blended. Beat in flour, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture forms a smooth dough. Roll into small balls, and press into the bottoms and sides of mini muffin pans (with liners for easy clean up).
  • In another bowl, mix together the eggs, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the pecans. Use a spoon to fill each of the crusts 2/3 full with the filling mixture.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until shell is light brown, and the filling has puffed up. Cool, and carefully remove from pans.
Yield – 4 dozen
Line the mini muffin pans with papers, put a small ball of dough in each one, and with your fingers carefully spread the dough on the sides and bottom of the papers.  Try to avoid having the crust too thick.

Fill crusts about 2/3 full with sugar/pecan/egg mixture.  Then bake for 25 minutes until edges of crust are golden and the top cracks.

The key to these being delicious is to make sure that the crusts are not too thick.  Ideally the filling should “run out” when all Tassie crusts are filled.  When we made these last we the recipe truly made the four dozen it was supposed to, and we had enough dough left over for about six more that didn’t end up being made because we were out of filling and ready to be done with the process.       

Even though these take longer to make than most cookies, they are worth the effort, and appreciated by those who receive them as gifts.  (Oh, who am I kidding -- these are staying at our house!)  Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

December 17, 2012

by Heather

Baby, it's finally cold enough in the Valley of the Sun to have a fire in the fireplace!  We've had two days/nights of rain and temps below 60 and even though the sun is shining today, it's still chilly outside which makes it perfect weather for woolies.

Chico's boiled wool camel blazer; Burberry-inspired but not Burberry-priced camel, black, and red plaid scarf; White House Black Market jeans

My new favorite purse from Michael Kors; gold-tipped heels from Macy's; set of 11 bangles from Nordstom's; Michael Kors gold watch; Alexis Bittar gold bangles

In the last post I wrote, I was scurrying around getting ready for book club. I like to provide an elaborate meal for the December meeting because it's close to Christmas and I think that's cause for celebration -- which translates, in my world, to food, drink, and pretty surroundings. I'm not an everyday cook, but I do enjoy "event cooking" as my husband calls it, and I've been doing it for 41 years, so this meal shouldn't have been any problem at all.  Hah!

The house was decorated...
(love how the mirror reflects the fireplace)

The tree was trimmed...

The rocking horse was be-wreathed...

The holiday glassware was moved to its proper place...

The plant shelf was candle-lit...

The table was set...

with a slight change for the dessert course...

And the menu was chosen...


  • Holiday dip (goat cheese, cream cheese, toasted walnuts, chopped dried cranberries, orange zest) with cranberry toasts
  • English Huntsman cheese, crackers, red grapes 
  • Mousse Truffee (pork and chicken liver mousse with truffles)
  • Prosecco with a dash of cranberry juice for taste and color with a garnish of frozen cranberries to keep it well-chilled
First Course:
  • Winter salad of mixed greens, thinly sliced Anjou pears, chopped walnuts, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, and dried cranberries dressed with a vinaigrette of rice vinegar, cranberry juice, Dijon mustard, and olive oil
Main Course:

  • Herbed standing rib roast marinated overnight with a paste of crushed garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme combined with ground peppercorns and bay leaves, olive oil and sea salt, then set on a bed of potatoes, carrots, and onions to roast until the thermometer reaches 110 (roast continues to cook once removed from oven until it's 130 -medium rare -- pink and perfect) 
  • Popovers (or individual Yorkshire puddings)
  • Jus - beef broth, roast juices, fresh thyme and rosemary
  • Pinot Noir or Zinfandel 
  • Tea
  • English trifle (I use pound cake, assorted fruits, Birds custard, sherry, and whipped topping)

Sounds good, right?  All things I've made before, so should be easy, right? Hah!

Things started to go wrong as soon as I placed the rib roast on the middle rack (where it's supposed to be) in the oven.  The rack went crashing to the bottom of the oven -- somehow the racks had shrunk or the oven had bowed -- and the weight of the roast meant that it would spend its time at the bottom of the oven.  Okay, maybe I could still make it work.  I put the thermometer in, checked it ten minutes later and saw that nothing had happened...checked it again..still nothing showing.  The thermometer I had just used at Thanksgiving was no longer working...same for a backup thermometer...heaven help me.  The recipe gave a time of about two hours (20 minutes at 450 degrees; the rest of the time at 350) so, without much choice, I set the timer and hoped for the best.  When the time was up, I pulled the roast from the oven, and set it on the counter to rest while I put the popovers in.  I've made popovers or Yorkshire pudding for years and have never had a failure...until tonight.  The popovers start at 450 degrees and then the temp gets reduced to 350.  Now granted I was chatting with the girls in the living room and drinking wine by this time, but I swear I did go into the kitchen and press the buttons on the range to adjust the temperature. When the timer rang, I went back into the kitchen to find I had a batch of dark brown hockey pucks, not the golden, puffy popovers I was expecting.  The temperature in the oven was 450 degrees...not the 350 it was supposed to be.

The good news is that the book club members are my friends and kindly suggested that the hockey pucks might still have some life in them (they were wrong about that).  We sat down for dinner, introduced English crackers to the unfamiliar, put our paper crowns on our heads and showed off our cracker prizes while my husband carved the roast for us.  The best news is that the rib roast came out perfectly - succulent and medium rare. The surrounding veggies were crisper than usual (okay, slightly burned) but still tasty.  Everybody cleaned their plates (always a good sign) and enjoyed the trifle with a cup of tea for dessert.

Wishing you better luck with your holiday cooking!