Christmas Cookies pt 1

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I LOVE baking cookies… but I’m not a cookie lover myself, I’m more of a chips, cheese and pickles gal.  I couldn’t tell you how many I bake/make before Christmas each year..  it’s the only time of year I actually bake cookies.  Last year I took a break from Christmas baking as we were living at my sister’s house while our house was under construction.  Even though I had access to her fabulous kitchen, I had packed up all my baking supplies, and we were just too busy and i decided to give myself a break.

Since moving back home on Dec 21st almost a year ago, I’ve been excited to use my new kitchen and gas oven to bake in.  (still learning how to use the convection setting on the gas oven, so different than regular electric baking!!) 

Those of you out there with Gas Convection ovens.. what are your tips?   

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Our church does a live Nativity walk through play every year we call “Evening in Bethlehem” Live animals, indoors, outdoors, campfires, hot chocolate and cookies.. LOTS of cookies.

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We’ve been doing it for about 15 years now. We, the church ladies, bake all the cookies for the approx 1200 people that come through on the 2 day event.  This is a photo of the “cookie room” at church ready for EIB last year.  3 yrs ago I baked over 75 dozen cookies.. not just for EIB, but for my neighbours, coworkers, family and EIB together. At one point our guest room was filled with boxes and containers stacked high on the bed and dresser.

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EIB is a pretty big project for our church every year.  Bill’s headed out now for a day of set construction, a full month before the event.  While he’s there, I’ll be nicely warm and sheltered in our kitchen baking cookies for the event.

One of the favourites I’ve been making the last few years is Reindeer heads, using an upside down gingerbread man.  I’ll blog about that one another day, but here’s a preview.img_1683

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Today I’m baking 3 different recipes that I found on line several years ago, – I made the dough a couple days ago, and just took them out of the fridge to thaw a bit before baking.

NOTE: Yes, I use freezer bags.  ’cause i can wash and reuse them several times.  You can’t wash Saran wrap and re-use.  These 3 bags are all washed now, and hanging to dry for the next batches of cookie dough I’m making later this week.

(from top to bottom:
1. an old family recipe for Gingerbread cookies “Speculaas” that I’ll blog about separately
2.  Red Velvet cookie dough
3.  Orange slice & bake dough.. see below for details and caveats…

Credit where it’s due:   The first recipe I baked today is “Dark Chocolate Orange Slice & Bake Cookies from Sallys Baking Addiction.   The recipe is HERE.  Trust me, these are fabulous – and quite easy to make.   Sally makes some amazing cookies.. I just got lost on a rabbit trail on her blog looking for this link… yummmm..

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I realized when I took a second look at her recipe for the orange/chocolate cookies, that I was supposed to roll the dough into logs BEFORE I refrigerated the dough.  D’OH! 

hahah.. get it?  Dough?  D’OH? 

I had the ingredients to make a second batch,  so I went ahead and did that while I was waiting for the first batch, now in logs back in the fridge, re-chilling.

Question for you bloggers…. do you have issues with your mixer when you make single recipes?  I feel mine behaves much better when i do large or double recipes.  Look at this butter!!! how do you cream butter when it doesn’t leave the paddle?   LOL

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Recipe calls for a room temperature egg.. oops.. mine were in the fridge.. no worries.. I put an egg in a cup of quite warm water for about 5 minutes.. that should do it i think?
What are your tricks?

  And who remembers to take eggs out with the butter ahead of time??

I like to make sure I use good quality ingredients.  ie.. no fake vanilla crap.  The best Vanilla I’ve had is from Mexico.  My sister gifted me with a bottle a few years ago, I picked up more myself when I went 2 years ago.. and will restock when we go later this month.  You know even this Vanilla itself thinks it’s the best? Just look at it’s name.. VAINilla..

haha… ok, that’s right down there with bad Dad jokes…

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This recipe calls for 2 cups + 2 tbsps of flour spooned and levelled.   I used these new measuring spoons we received as a gift at a wedding last year.  Aren’t they sweet?   Each spoon has a saying on the handle:

TBSP: A heap of love
TSP: A spoonful of laughter
1/2 TSP: A dash of kindness
1/4 TSP: A pinch of patience

What good reminders as we bake with love for those we love. 🙂

Re the “logs” of dough for this recipe, Sally says in her recipe to make 2 x 8″ logs, about 2.5″ in diametre.. I did about half that width1.25″ width (and did 4 logs.. and got about 16 cookies from each log. (she says 12)  NOTE:  i had WAY too much flour on them… don’t do that…

When i cut the logs, I thought.. ok these are a bit toooo small.. but then when the first tray came out of the oven, they had expanded quite a bit, to about the size I would want them.  (close to 2″ diametre for most of them)  I mean..they just need to be a taste.. right?  So you don’t feel guilty going for two.. or three?

(first pic is pre-baked, center pic shows baked cookies with one unbaked in the centre to show how much they grew in the oven, 3rd pic after baking)  Yes, I know. i do have to work on my consistency…

Recipe suggests to roll the logs in coarse sugar.. I didn’t have any in the house, so I used table sugar.. and it didn’t work so great… I think i would skip that next time, or at least make sure I have coarse sugar in the house

One thing i learned quickly is to roll the log between each cut.. probably because my dough wasn’t chilled enough.. it got squishy as I was cutting.  I had to re-shape most of the cookies.  And that’s where i  lost the consistency of size and shape.

After baking & cooling, heat up chocolate (i used 72% pure dark Belgium chocolate melting wafers) then sprinkle with sea salt. (I used Pink Himalayan sea salt.. isn’t it pretty?)

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The second recipe for today is Red Velvet Crinkle Cut Cookies.  A single recipe using 5, yes FIVE tsp of red food colouring.  So if you’re not a fan of red food colouring.. just skip past this one.   I found (pinterested) this recipe from Cooking Classy.   Recipe is HERE.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t post recipes for these cookies..here’s a short explanation.

If someone else already posted a recipe, like both these talented bloggers – and they did a great job.. I’m not messing with it, or copying it.. you can visit their blog, and give them a shout out.  They are much better food bloggers than I am.. I just post my experiences, and my results.  The recipe isn’t mine.

You’ll notice mine turned out quite a bit darker in colour than those on Cooking Classy’s blog.  I think it’s due to the cocoa.  I used really really dark cocoa. LINK: Rodelle Gourmet Baking Cocoa if you’re interested. It’s so rich and chocolately.. mmmm

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Lemme tell you, both these bloggers, and so many others.. take the most amazing photos of their creations on their sites… I’m not able to do justice to what they do to showcase their recipes.. but I hope to have some fun and allow you the reader to enjoy the journey with me.

these are nice n’ easy.. it’s basically a really spruced up chocolate chip cookie.. that you roll in little balls, then in icing sugar.. and bake.  I set myself up at the island with all my tools.. gloves, mug of hot water with my cookie scoopers to alternate scooping with, bowl of icing sugar, and trays lined with parchment.

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I used a smaller scoop, making smaller balls than the recipe called for.. getting a lot more cookies out of one batch.. but again, these are definitely “right sized”.   At least I think so.  They’re so pretty and festive.  And SUPER yummy.

Please DO wear gloves doing this.  Reason#1 for food handling safety, and #2.. red food colouring.  you will have pink hands for days if you don’t.  Bill is a hobby mechanic, so he buys plastic gloves in bulk, and shares with me.

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If you were looking, you saw my gingerbread men baked in one of the above photos. (go back and look if you missed it..)   I’ll blog about them later this week when I get around to decorating them, and I’ll tell you all about the recipe handed down.

so tell me… are you drooling yet?

Are you inspired to start your Christmas baking?  

 

Welcome New Friends!

I’ve been receiving notifications of new followers, and want to say “Welcome!!!” I’m sorry I do not blog regularly.. I wish I did.. i tend to go in ‘spurts’.. and on different subjects.   But seeing you come and visit, inspires me to get to cooking/baking and sharing!

Lately I’ve been cooking old favourites that I’ve already blogged about, and life has been “normal” which I guess is a pretty great blessing.  But upon reflection, there has been some new things of note to discuss.

I’m stressing & getting excited about an upcoming 2 week trip to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.

How do I pack enough for 2 weeks, but pack “light”?  I’ve NEVER been a light packer.  And the flights.. oh how i hate airplanes.  I don’t mind the actual flying at all, I kinda like it… but the germ tube that keeps getting smaller and smaller, and I’m not a small person. It’s a very uncomfortable experience for Bill & I both.  He’s 6’3″ and most of that is legs, and i’m almost wider than i’m tall.. so together, it’s almost tortuous for us to go anywhere, so we don’t often.. we will roadtrip comfortably instead. BUT we fell in love Mexico, particularlyNuevo Vallarta on the Pacific Coast, and can’t wait.  We’re staying at 2 different resorts, a week in each, both on the same beach, but about 2 km apart.  It’s sort of an early 50th birthday celebration for me.

The second resort (will be new to us) is all inclusive with amazing pools that spill from one to the other the last one an infinity pool overlooking amazing Bandaras Bay..

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and the other were staying at Week 1 (we’ve been to twice before) is “a la carte”, with a great grocery store, kitchen in our room, and great beach service. I’ll be parked under a palapa with good books and umbrelly drinks for a week. Restaurants on site are “meh”, but a very short walk or taxi ride to so many fabulous restaurants at great prices.

As for life at home/church, our Life Groups have started up, we have 6 couples and we’re bonding quickly.. we meet Monday nights, and it’s been really quite wonderful.  Our new space at home has worked like we hoped, we can set up the living area to seat 12 people very comfortably within a couple of minutes, and transition back after they leave again in just a few minutes again.

Last night I made a new favourite (roasted squash) from last year.. (see this post: You had me at Garam Masala)  with wild rice and baked rainbow trout.  I love this recipe for Butternut squash.. it’s so flavourful.

(below image from Yum & Yummer cookbooks 59416174993__b9ee9fd1-ccd9-448a-8f6d-fb50f8396920

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Weather here in Niagara, Ontario this past October has been STELLAR. but went out with a BIG Bang of a storm.. poor munchkins that came out to trick or treat.. it was a wet mess out there.

Still we had 55 brave souls come out.

Throughout October we enjoyed late afternoons soaking in the sun on the new deck, and a lovely walk in nearby St. Catharines by Port Dalhousie through the parks.

I recently made a few Shepherd’s pies – and meant to blog, but then realized I had blogged about them before here.. They’re a fall/winter staple, and one I often make to give away as well.  This recent one had mushrooms, green beans, as well as celery, carrots, onion in the ground turkey mix. 

We had dear friends lose a parent unexpectedly, so I whipped up 2 on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, one for them, one for us.  Note the heart in the potato topping.

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For Canadian Thanksgiving (first Monday in October) we had a potluck dinner at my sister’s, and I decided to make/bring an EPIC salad.. I took out my favourite Spanish reclaimed glass bowl,   img_6804

and filled it with EVERYTHING. (see the pretty picture on my counter?  That’s my gorgeous niece and her newly betrothed.. I told her they match my counter, so they’re staying there for a while)

I picked up organic local heirloom carrots and shredded them, they were soooo pretty, i had to photograph them.

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I mixed the carrots in with the greens, and then topped the salad with mushrooms, peppers, maple roasted pumpkin seeds, shaved onion, black beans, mandarin oranges, feta, mini cukes, and ground cherries (golden berries).   I prepped all the cut up veggies in the morning, and kept them in the fridge until later.

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I assembled the salad just before heading to my sister’s house.  I also made a dressing using Cherry Juice, dijon, white balsamic vinegar and avocado oil.

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I love when I get asked to bring salads.. they are a lot of prep work in advance, but there’s no last minute rushing with a hot dish, no guessing.. you get to create, be artful, and no matter what, it’s gonna be great.. you can’t over or under cook a salad.. can’t burn it, or make it too watery.. I mean.. ANYONE can make a salad, am I right?  You don’t even have to know how to boil water.  🙂  Look how pretty that is… img_6812

 As I finished up this post last night, I was sitting on my front porch staying dry and handing out treats to little tricksters… happy Halloween! And blessed November!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smells like Fall

It is Saturday September 28.. 26 degrees Celcius and 100% humidity.  It looks like Fall if you look out the windows, but I have my AC on in the house.  Cause I don’t do humid.  Period.

But I’m craving Fall.. the cool crisp days with Cerulean blue skies.. (maybe) wearing socks again, being able to wear my hair down, and having the choice to be able to wear a jaunty scarf around my neck.

So to celebrate Autumn’s (sure to come soon) arrival…I made Bill’s favourite cornbread for lunch (recipe HERE) and heated up the soup stew from yesterday, served with a side salad.  The soup STEW turned out fantastic, especially with some cracked pepper and melted cheddar.  Mmmmm.  I’ll definitely make this one again.  Or at very least something similar, since I don’t remember at all how it came together.  Remember I was the mom cutting her daughter’s bangs.. badly.

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This morning, as promised, I used some of the apples I froze last week.  I don’t love apple crumbles, when the fruit is on the bottom, and it’s all mushy and just a crumble on top, so I used my super easy strawberry/rhubarb crisp recipe, (crust on bottom, crumble on top) and tried it with apples.    Some comments I’ll make.. is that I should have cut the apples into smaller pieces, and I definitely over-baked it (as you’ll see) so it’s hard to tell. This is what it sounded like when it came out of the oven…(hint.. put your sound on) as you can see the pecans I snuck on top got just a little too toasty.  It’s a bit dry too, so less corn starch for sure.. and less time in the oven for next time.

 

i’ve been trying to learn how to adjust for the convection setting on our new gas stove/oven, and haven’t quite perfected that yet.  But it did turn out yummy.  here’s the (sorta) recipe.

 

Fruit Crisp recipe (sorta)

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup Whole wheat flour (or subs your vegan floury stuff)
3/4 cup cold butter in small pieces (I used Coconut oil)
Cinnamon (sometimes cloves & nutmeg)
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mix the above until pea sized sorta (a pastry knife thingie works great) .. put enough in bottom of 9/13 pan and press down with your hand to make an even(ish) crust –  bake for 8-10 min, take out of oven and then top with fruit mixture, then put reserved crumble on top and press down a bit.

 

Fruit mix:
about 6-8 cups of fruit (rhubarb/strawberry, apples, pears, peaches or blueberries, or all of the above – be adventurous!  I’m guessing watermelon or citrus fruits might not work though.. LOL..)
1/4 cup corn starch (only if you’re doing rhubarb…less for other fruits)
1/2 cup sugar (again only if you’re doing rhubarb..) i didn’t use any for the apples.. just a touch of honey.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes if using a glass pan & fruit is frozen like my apples were..(note to self.. I did convection 375 for 35 minutes, and it was too long.. I should have done Conv. 350 and then tested)

25-30 if using an alum pan and fruit isn’t frozen.

Lemme talk for a minute about my new kitchen.  I love my Island.  I have the drawers all set up mostly just for baking.  One for mixing bowls, big measuring cups,bakeware, cookie cutters (ohh.. Christmas cookie baking is gonna be FUN this year!!)

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one for baking ingredients, one for baking tools, measuring cups, spoons..

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And a heavy duty pullout drawer for my Kitchenaid, coffee maker and juicer.  The big guns that I don’t want sitting on the counter all the time.

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This middle drawer though is my favourite, because I have it all nice and organized with a lot of my favourite ingredients in nut jars.  (Kirkland unsalted mixed nuts used to be in these.. now they are filled with brown sugar, pecans, coconut, quinoa, chocolate chips..)  As I get more nut containers, I’ll put the granola, 12 grain cereal and oats in them as well.. and label the lids.  It’s just been so great to have all this in a drawer at easy reach, rather than shuffling items on a dark shelf.  img_6760

Next.. let’s talk about Coconut Oil instead of butter.   For baking things like Crisp, it’s great, you get that great coconutty flavour, i’m guessing it’s better  less bad for you..  SO much easier to measure odd amounts and to blend in.  I just put my measuring cup right in the jar and scoop it out.

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Just before lunch when it was time to make the cornbread, I made the sad happy discovery that I didn’t have quite enough corn meal.. img_6757so I had to got to make the trip to Bulk Barn.   My jars were ready to go, and so was I!   I was home again in 25 minutes, got the cornbread going in the toaster oven, and lunch was on.

But now it’s a couple hours later,  tea is steeping while i type, and it’s time to try a piece of this morning’s crumble… I have lots to share.. are you ready for tea?  🙂  Bring ice cream.

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Prep Cook

I had an epiphany this morning.  I often lament to myself.. why can’t i just cook enough for 1 meal for 2 people?  More often than not, we end up with way too many leftovers.. and it sometimes goes to waste and gets freezer burnt before I find it again.

I’ve never been that mom with 13 hungry kids around the table like Ma Kettle, so I don’t have that excuse.  So what is it?ma-and-pa-22222

A recipe for Tomato Mushroom Barley soup came into my email yesterday from Kraft.   (click on the above link to check out their recipe) so I thought I’d try it out, I was craving a good hearty Fall soup, even though it still thinks it’s July here in Southern Ontario.

(below photo from Kraft What’s Cooking)

Kraft soup

In typical Amy fashion.. I quickly scanned the recipe, and totally ignored the amounts.  I washed, peeled and cut up a 2 lb bag of organic heirloom carrots.

img_6742 Recipe called for 1 carrot.  ONE?  Who peels and chops one carrot?

I did the same with a full head of celery

img_6743  (recipe called for 2 stalks) an onion, and a few garlic cloves.

This is the celery and carrots together

img_6746While I was shopping for a few of the ingredients I didn’t have in the house – (barley, mushrooms, carrots, celery) I thought to myself.. I should make something nice for Guillermo for supper while i’m making the soup.. i’ll be cutting, cooking and cleaning anyway.. might as well fill up the stove.

So I picked up boneless skinless chicken breasts, and pulled out some rice and mushroom soup from the pantry.  One of his favourite comfort foods is a mushroom fried rice.  I did a few variations last winter/spring that I blogged about here.

 

Basically it’s this.. heat oil in pan, soften garlic, onion, carrots, celery.. set aside.

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cook a meat (ground chicken/turkey/beef.. or in yesterday’s case.. chopped boneless chicken breast) Add your spice in with the meat.. S&P, Greek seasoning, Mrs. Dash.. whatever you like…

fry mushrooms separately & set aside..
while all this is happening cook rice (we like Lundburg Wild Blend Brown rice – takes 45 min so start it early!)  When there’s about 10 min left of the rice to cook, I put it in the fry pan with it’s liquid , top with a can of mushroom soup (we use low sodium organic)  add in some fresh veg (like beans, snap peas, broccoli) and continue to cook everything together.  img_6752

I just realized I completely forgot to take a pic of the plated food.. I served it with the crockpot applesauce I made last week.  Here’s a pic of the stove instead with the Soup cooking, the rice in the back, and the fry pan full of chicken, not that you can tell under the steamed up glass lids.   Have i mentioned that I LOVE my new gas stove???
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So back to the SOUP… As I mentioned.. i cut up ALL THE VEG.. way more than the soup called for.. so I fried up half of it in the fry pan, and then again only used 1/2 in the rice dinner..the rest of the cooked Carrot/Celery/Onion/Garlic I spread out on parchment paper and froze to bag for future meals/soup.  For those that wonder.. Most often (unless it’s had raw meat in it) I re-use my ziploc freezer bags as many times as I can.. washing, hang to dry and re-use.

 

1/2 of the cut up raw veg went in the soup pot.. cooked in Kraft Sundried Tomato & Oregano dressing instead of your standard EVOO, again starting first with the onion & garlic til translucent, then adding in the carrot & celery.  Next, according to the recipe, you’re supposed to add the mushrooms, tomato and water.. but I had used all the mushrooms up in the dinner pan, while at the same time, cooked way too much chicken for the dinner.. so I swapped in chicken instead, changing it from a Vegan soup to a more hearty one.

Recipe called for 2 cups of water, but since I had put in at least double the veg, img_6745I doubled the water, 1.5 times the diced tomato, and added a can of tomato paste as well for more flavour, and did 1 -1/4 times the barley. (the poor original recipe is now completely out the window)   You would THINK that since I didn’t double the barley while doubling the water.. it should have been runny.. but NO.. it was as thick as stew.  And like the mom who cuts her kid’s bangs on a bad angle and has to keep recutting.. i kept adding to the soup.  Instead of a nice little batch to serve 2 people.. i had enough for the whole Kettle family.   My last addition was a tetra of no sodium Chicken broth to thin it out and add some more flavour.. and still it was thick.   (below some of the leftovers.)img_6756

So back to my epiphany this morning.. why do i cook for an army when we’re a house of 2?   I blame my high school years when I worked as a prep cook at a local restaurant.  I was cutting veg, cracking pails full of eggs and chopping pallets of lettuce daily.  I guess that stuck with me..

I never learned good knife skills then, and wish I had.. I think I’d like to take a course sometime on knife skills, and get a really good set.  Another retirement goal. 🙂

Today is rainy and yucky outside (warm and sticky like July), so my next goal is to make something with some of last week’s frozen apples, and maybe a cornbread to go with yesterday’s soup.  Heading to the freezer now, and digging out some apples!

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Cheers to Fall and all it’s yummy flavours! 

I know what I did last summer

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For posterity and rememberence.. here it is.

Work continued on the house, painting the doors black, (almost) finishing the front porch, and Bill’s latest biggest and least fun project, work on the cottage foundation.

We’ve so enjoyed our new outdoor space, with many friends and family gatherings, in good and bad weather.

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We went on 2 long weekend trips here in Ontario.  We love road trips, especially on back roads where we are driving for miles through corn or wheat fields by ourselves with the windows down. img_6092

The first road trip on Civic Holiday weekend, was to Goderich and Chatham.  We stayed at 2 very unique and lovely Air BnB’s.. the first with a heated swimming pool and a short walk to amazing sunset views over Lake Huron. I had a hard time leaving the first.. i lived in that pool all weekend.  Bill just dipped his toes.. he’s not a water baby like me.

 

Got a little sunburnt and bleach blonded.. but so worth it.img_6100

We spent considerable time in Goderich itself, walking the boardwalk, enjoying the sunset there, and a couple of great meals out.

One of Bill’s favourite new discoveries… “Flippin’ Eggs” a greasy spoon diner at the end of the Goderich airstrip.

 

We spent most of our time in Chatham with good friends, visiting their life group on  Sunday morning in the backyard.. the first of 2 times this happened for us this summer, and we also had a lovely evening stroll along the river watching the sun set.

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the drive home on Old Hwy 3 at the end of the weekend was spectacular with storm clouds looming over farmer’s fields.

We went to another seminar at 13th St Winery, this one for heirloom tomatoes.  VERY yummy… I love 13th Street and all the cool outdoor art installations.  It’s really become a destination…. that’s only a couple of kms from home.. very convenient!

I joined the ranks of David’s Tea snobs.. and made my first couple of on line orders.. I don’t know that I’ll ever enter a shopping mall again, i so enjoy letting my fingers do the shopping, and will even more so now with a cup of yummy tea beside me!  (pic here butterfly pea flower

We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary very simply.. a gorgeous bouquet filled with my favourite colours..a fish n’ chip dinner at a local restaurant, and then watching the sunset over Lake Ontario at our local beach –  Charles Daley Park, where we spent so much of our dating time & first year of marriage.

On Labour Day weekend, we took an early morning drive on the Thursday to Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario, where we broke fast on the lake at the Drake Devonshire.  What a feast for the stomach and eyes!

we toured,

tasted

and took in many great views along the shoreline of Lake Ontario in the County.

We discovered a lavender farm that makes it’s own honey,

and visited a couple of wineries, a sheep/goat cheese factory, and found ourselves on one of our favourite modes of transportation.. a ferry boat.

We spent the weekend at our cousin’s home,  (pictured here my gorgeous dear friend & cousin Hope, with an extraordinary piece of art she brought home from Africa last year)

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Hope served us amazing meals, and we had great fun together touring around, and visiting their life group where we made new friends.  I learned I am a pretty great shot at throwing axes.. a new discovery!  We ended this evening with a gorgeous fire under a very star lit sky.

Highlight of the weekend was the 1000 Islands boat cruise and tour of Boldt Castle.  One needs a passport to stop at the Island which is on the US side of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  It was certainly worth the visit.  We saw some amazing island homes on our journey there and back.  Some for sale, and one sinking in despair.

 

We stopped in at “the Point” a piece of property that’s changed hands a few times in our family, and now owned/stewarded by my sister Wilma & her husband.  It’s such lovely amazing parkland on a beautiful small lake filled with pike, bass, perch, sunfish, snapping turtles and water snakes.. not to mention the amazing loons, osprey, and of course Canadian geese. (snakes pictured on rock are actually fake, to deter the geese – but wow! they fooled me!)

One of my favourite memories of this summer though, will be the night we celebrated my sister Sue’s birthday, ending with an after party on our deck in a thunderous rainstorm under the tarp.  I don’t think i can get the video to load here. .but the photo

and the faces in it say it all.  My family.. Mi Familia.. I love you to the moon and back.

There’s so much more to the summer of ’19.. but looking back today on the last of it.. it was a pretty amazing one.

Bill and I are starting out this coming Monday night as “life group” leaders in our home.. finally seeing to fruition the beat of our heart when we embarked on the renovation/addition on our home.  The most interesting thought we keep coming back to, is how we feel God led us to visit 2 very different home/life/small groups this summer that were never part of our plans.. they both just “happened” while were were vacationing away from home.  We learned a lot, and were encouraged on this new road.

We look forward to what Fall 2019 has in store and sharing what we can here.

Happy Last day of Summer or “Apple Day”

 

img_6702.jpgWe have 2 apple trees in our backyard, and they are LADEN with apples.  They don’t get sprayed at all, and are also a bit in the shade from a ginormous silver maple.. so most years we get tiny apples that rot on the trees/ground.img_6707


img_6710For some reason this year, while my new vegetable garden was a bust (no zucchinis,hardly any tomatoes, 3 onions out of 30 planted).. the apples were begging me this week.. “pick me, pick me!” 
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So on this ‘last day of summer morning, as I sat on the deck for one of my last breakfasts outside.. I decided to go for it.

It’s 30+ Celcius here today in Southern Ontario.. you’d never know Fall was coming tomorrow.

I picked about 50-60 apples from the Red Delicious and MacIntosh trees.

I almost decided against it, as last night we came home with 2 gorgeous apple tarts (pies really) img_6700

from a silent auction held for  Elisha House   [which] provides counselling for individuals, couples and families who are actively seeking God in the redirection of their lives.”  We heard some pretty raw and real testimonies at the annual fundraiser dinner.  While so very sad to know that there is such a great need for this, I’m thrilled that we have a few in our Region meeting these great needs.  (like Niagara Life Centre & Grimsby Life Centre)

Earlier in my own adult & teen life, I was in a couple of abusive & codependent relationships, and thankfully was able to get biblical counselling I needed at the time – and very grateful that there are even more resources today.

Back to the apples.. As I mentioned on Instagram.. they’re quite organic.

Meaning no sprays of any kind.. no ground treatment.. we let the apples fall to the ground usually and go back into the soil .  The last time these trees caught a whiff of spray was  close to 10 years ago, when the previous orchard behind us was last in full production.  So they’re small-ish, sometimes wormy, they get apple scab and brown rot.. but the majority this year are really not bad.  I came across a few ‘wigglers’ in the cores, but not enough to make me squeemish.

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It was a great day to be set up outside.. with my bowl of lemon water bath, apples, knives and green bin bowl. I put on a podcast and got to work.

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img_6690A few hours later I had filled 3 very large bowls with sliced apples, which were drained, and set aside.   I have 2 trays currently freezing in the chest freezer

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2 large freezer bags in the fridge waiting their turn for freezing

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and half of the crockpot being made into applesauce

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One thing I had forgotten since the last time i peeled and cut this many apples.. is that it shows the true nature of my thumbs.. they’re not green, which may explain why my garden failed this year.. they’re ORANGE!

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Hydrating Foods

My Guillermo is generally very good at drinking water.. or so most people think.  He guzzles it when he thinks about it, and will always have a few glasses with a meal.  However.. he can also go several hours, when he’s in the hottest weather without drinking.. not so good.  In the summer time, he can easily eat a half a watermelon a day, which really does help his hydration. Last night I bought him 2, and he ate 2/3 of the first one. img_5951

I learned several years ago from an old man I met in the grocery store the trick to buying the best sweetest watermelon.  Look for good solid green striping, and a good solid yellow spot on one side.  this means it’s been sun ripened in the field, and not picked too early (or too late if the watermelon no longer has it’s good solid bright striping) That advice has never steered me wrong, and I haven’t knocked on a watermelon since, wondering what in the world I was listening for.

My sister and I attended a basil seminar called “Your Herb it Here First, Basil is Back” at 13th St Winery.  It was a wine pairing with different foods made with basil, the last pairing was actually a wine spritzer infused with basil.

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It was fun, educational, and inspiring.
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I shopped the next day for some ingredients, as the poor basil in my garden is struggling to grow…

The first I tried was the basil infused wine spritzer.. it didn’t quite turn out.. either I’m not a good muddler (you have to “muddle” the basil first) or not patient enough.. or they used a different kind of basil. (apparently there are over 150 kinds of basil!?!?!)

The chef’s was clear like sparkling water and so wonderfully aromatic.. mine was grassy green even though I did almost 1/2 and 1/2 with sparkling water… much less basil aroma shone through, and just didn’t do it for me..  I may try again once my own basil is grown enough to start harvesting, and get myself a good muddler.

Next, this morning, I made my first ever attempt at Gazpacho.  this was to be a honeydew melon/cucumber cold soup with basil.

I looked up a recipe this morning after buying all i thought i needed, (classic Amy error) and realized I needed a green chili, and should have had 2 cucumbers.  Recipe called for 2 cukes to 1/2 a melon. I had one huge melon, and one cucumber.

So i did a 1/3 melon to one large cuke.. but it still ended up too sweet, as the yellow honeydew I bought was super duper sweet. (Guillermo’s gonna be happy)

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First you soften garlic and onion in a bit of olive oil.. instead of garlic, I used garlic scapes from my garden for a softer taste.  I even used the top flowering part of the scape, and cut up the stems until they got woody, discarding the woody parts.

Once the onion is translucent and the garlic is softened, you add ~ 1/4 dry white wine, and cook off for about 3-5 minutes. (I used some of the failed basil infused wine).  cut up the cucumber (leave skin on), melon, add salt, pepper and basil.. I added a few ice cubes to the garlic/onion/wine fusion to quickly cool, then poured it over the cut up cuke/melon. 

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Then Immersion Blender to your heart’s content.. and the result was…. too sweet  (for my liking).  I was missing that 2nd cucumber, and as a result the honeydew was a bit overpowering.  So I added in half a squeezed lime, some S&P and a bit of chili powder.  THEN it was perfect.. I still would like it zestier and more savoury, but I know Guillermo will actually like it, because of the sweetness.  The basil comes through really nice, as do the scapes without overpowering like garlic might. I poured the gazpacho into a large mason jar to chill in the fridge for a couple hours til lunchtime.

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Next I made a melon salad, with the remaining honeydew and half a cantaloupe.  Garnished with chopped fresh cherries, basil, feta, salt & pepper.

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This is fantastic, and one of my favourites.. I love doing this with raw onion, feta and watermelon with loads of chopped mint, but it makes my sweet Guillermo aghast, that I would do such things to his favourite fruit.. why, oh why would I  ruin a watermelon with cheese , mint of all things, onion and salt??  haha.. poor guy. 

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So lunch was a wonderful treat of hydrating cold soup and melon salad. It’s 33 Celcius with about 67% humidity, well over 90% earlier this morning..

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3rd day in a row of our Southern Ontario July heatwave.. Stay Hydrated and Cool! 

Weddings, birthdays and decks, oh my!

Did I miss me?  I certainly did!

I realized suddenly tonite while wondering what to do with myself while Guillermo was cutting grass.. that I’ve really missed blogging.. and I need it, for therapy.   For memory.. posterity.. and to put in to writing what is on my heart.  But since it’s mildly public, and what’s on my heart isn’t all for public consumption….. i keep some of that in.. or leave it in drafts.

We have our kitchen garden planted.. but so far no produce, other than lettuce.. in the meantime I bought a couple of Costco bags of zucchini and made 4 loaves of Zuke bread which have been devoured.  The tomatoes are growing and show a lot of promise, as do the new Zuke blossoms, and cucumbers looking for a place to climb.

The last month has been very busy Chez Prince William.

Our patio, deck and driveway are complete! Our favourite addition of all right now, has to be the Perogy, Pergatory, .. PERGOLA!!!  We’ve actually taken to calling the space… Pergalatory… I had one of my super cute great nieces over for a visit the other day, and ask me.. “Aunt Amy, what’s a deck?  What’s a patio?”  so i tried to explain both.  I didn’t use any of the above P words.. that would have been just too confusing.  LOL!

Everyone who visits expresses the same as we feel.. “Wow! that is a SOLID deck!”  and really we do love it.  the space is awesome.

We’ve been able to use the backyard space so much already, it’s been so wonderful to finally be able to host family get togethers.  2 birthday parties so far;  a very impromptu celebration for my sister from Vancouver who was visiting, following a great dinner at a local winery (Honsberger Estates for the plug!)

The best part of the weekend, was being able to spend time with my 4 sisters.  It happens so rarely now that we’re all able to be together in the same timezone, that these times are cherished.

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The following weekend we hosted Bill’s dear mom’s 90th birthday.

We had over 35 people here for the birthday celebration. The prevailing commentary  of the evening was how wonderful it was to all get together as extended family to celebrate a birthday instead of a funeral… How true is that!

I’m so pleased that so many people honoured this wonderful woman with close to 120 birthday cards, flowers, chocolate and well wishes over the course of a couple of weeks.

My gorgeous niece (inside and out) who is only 10 yrs younger than I was married last month to her prince… we were able to help with the flowers, and have an incredible time celebrating their union.   We are so very pleased for her, and thankful for a wonderful day. Pictured below, 3 of my 4 sisters, 2 with their grandsons.  Dancing, a gorgeous bride, umbrella buddies, and My prince & I in formal attire.

We’ve had weekend guests twice, and many others for bbq’s and impromptu dinners or lunches over the last month.

It’s been so wonderful to be able to practice and stretch the gift of hospitality.  I used to stress so much more, if the house was clean enough, the menu, and dusting every edge.. toilets sparkling… no clutter.. we’re learning to let go of that (a little), and just be.  it really IS a practice.  We’re excited to stretch more, and are both looking for others we can invite in (or outside) to bless.  Keep your shoes on.. just chill.. be comfortable here.

We had a guest visit that we’re just getting to know..  as she came in the house, she let out a really long sigh.. I asked her what was wrong, she said.. ‘nothing.. nothing at all..  i just feel i can actually relax here.. and just let go’   That was the BIGGEST compliment..and true measure of what we’re trying to achieve.. a haven, a place of rest and reprieve.

Not a castle or a show home.. but a place of comfort.  A haven.  Where we can serve and bless others.  Having that confirmation was huge.  I pray we can keep that always in mind and in the forefront.. to be that place where people can come and find rest.

Work has been very busy, and has definitely had it’s share of deep waters and challenges lately.  At the same time, our Pastor has been teaching through different Psalms, which has been so incredibly timely for me personally during a time of a lot of challenge, fear, disappointment, some anger, and at times a total lack of understanding of why things are allowed to happen in this world.

I was convicted as well that I have not been reading my bible lately, so 4 days ago, decided to read through the Psalms via my Youversion phone app. (here is my accountability!  i’ll check in and tell you how I’m doing…)  I found a Plan that has me reading through the entire book of Psalms in 31 days.  I have chosen to have the Bible app read aloud  to me, while i read slowly along, so I’m engaging both my eyes and ears, and not rushing through.. hopefully to penetrate the Word more into this feeble brain.  Each day I’m also choosing one portion that sticks out to me, and making a photo with it, posting to Instagram.  So far I’m 4 for 4…

Guillermo and I are also trying to be more focussed on what we want/should/feel called to do ministry wise.  Is what we’re doing working?  Where is there need? Where is our passion?

I had this most amazing 80+ yr old lady from our church, who suffers from quite a bit of back pain and general old age say to me the other day… “Amy, the Lord has impressed on my heart that I’m just not doing enough for him..”

I was silenced.

this is a woman who serves so much already, with joy and behind the scenes without accolades.. I was humbled to tears.

We were speaking with other leadership this week, about signs of growth in the church.. and one significant way is when we see/hear people looking for ways to serve.  How awesome it was to hear this woman on her way to 90 still looking for ways to serve over and above.. not out of guilt, or duty.. but out of her incredible love for the Lord.  I want to be her when I grow up.  

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve so enjoyed our new outdoor space, each morning of the past weekend I have been able to take leisurely breakfasts on the deck, and even worked one afternoon and another morning from home here in this fabulous new outdoor space.

We’ve been BBQ’ing all our dinners.. burgers, steak, cedar planked salmon, lemon garlic chicken, shrimp.. potatoes, bbq veg..  it’s been so wonderful.   Grilling food is my favourite, we’re still learning, we never knew how before, but thanks to the internet and our handy Weber Grill app.. we’re learning and having fun together, and making our guests be our guinea pigs.

Moving Bill and Amy’s kitchen outdoors has been fabulous, and we’ll gladly take it for the next 8 weeks of summer before we move back inside.

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Changing up breakfast

Its FRIYAY! I typically work Mon to Thurs outside the home, and I LOVE my Fridays. Whether sleeping in, getting up early.. shopping, staying home, getting my hair and toes done, or staying in my pjs all day.. visiting people or just writing a bunch of emails and facetiming.. baking up a storm or cleaning the house in silence or with music blaring.. whatever the mood and day calls for. Today I got up on time-ish, got laundry going, and decided to take a whirl with a different breakfast. Workdays I typically make egg whites on a piece of toast with a slice of cheese with coffee and a piece of fruit, while I’m at work and plowing through emails or accounts payable. Guillermo eats the exact same breakfast every day, all year round, 7 days a week, unless I switch it up. But he really does prefer his simple one egg on toast with jam and half a grapefruit. Chaçon son gout?

I said to someone this week, I’ve never made a smoothie in my life. But then I remembered ….yes I did and that’s precisely why I never did again. I have this huge honking 20 yr old blender that is so noisy – (how noisy is it?) people in the next town know when I make a smoothie. And the cleanup! I thought there’s no way I’m doing this every morning. Besides the horrific noise- it left lots of chunks and just really didn’t blend well. That was about 15 years ago, and the end of my smoothie days.

But I was intrigued to try again. I now am the proud owner of this really cool “smart stick” that has several attachments, so I can whip cream super fast, blend soups, chop and dice.. and today I pulled out the cup it came with and the recipe book and decided to try one.

This recipe called for 1/2 a banana, for which I substituted 1/2 an avocado. 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, tbsp of almond butter and I added a drop of honey.

I think I would lesson the almond butter next time, it overpowers the blueberry. But still quite good . Too thick for a straw though so I’m eating it with a spoon. I think it will take all morning and into lunch. Definitely too much for one person.

For my next trick, and 2nd breakfast for you LOTR fans.. I’m going back to an old favourite I haven’t done in years. Egg baked in 1/2 an avocado.

This time I used egg whites, with some good ole Franks hot sauce and a sprinkle of cumin underneath the egg white. Here it is coming out of the toaster oven. Convection 375 for about 12-15 min

I baked a few plum tomatoes alongside to add some flavour and acidity

Then mixed them in with a sprinkle of grated cheese with a side of fresh basil leaves.

Ohhhh mmmmmm. Excuse me now while I dig in!

Is it well with my soul? and.. landscaping!

I have so much to share with what’s been going on, and I apologize (mostly to myself and this “diary” ) that I have been absent.  My sister who is in China right now reminded me again that it’s been awhile since i’ve written.

Let me start you off with some cute bird photos.. we put up 2 bird feeders about 3 weeks ago right outside our new dining room window, and I’m loving the activity we’re witnessing daily.  They’re especially active in the rain, which we’ve had a LOT of lately.  Like seriously… a LOT of rain.  We are nowhere near flooding like parts of 3 of our provinces, and other parts of the world  –  so we have nothing to complain about.  (reminder to self to pray for them..)

Our landscapers have been hard at work for over a week now getting going on our hard-scaping (interlock stone, driveway, patio etc) .. and I’ll share more about that in a minute.. but I want to talk first about something that happened this past Sunday.


Do you ever get that feeling that someone’s been praying for you?  Or do you ever have an exceptional softening of the heart – when you are suddenly slammed with the overwhelming cost and gift of our Saviour?  Both of these happened to me this last Sunday.   I am on one of our rotating worship teams at church – and I kinda went in to church this past Sunday to practice with a bit of an attitude.  I confess that.  One of the songs we were singing was not my favourite – to say the very least.  I won’t mention which one, but i was dreading leading it.

I wasn’t really ‘present’ during our group prayer times before service.. mostly focused on if my necklace was  hanging straight, and the scuffs on my shoes.  You know what i’m talking about…. you’ve done it.    Reminds me of this 4 year old praising her 2 yo brother at our dinner table last week during pre-dinner prayer…. “lookit!! (with pride) he has his eyes closed!!, good boy!”  … i had a hard time holding back my laughter.   Obviously, she was spending her whole time during prayer watching to see if he had his eyes open… HOW OFTEN DO WE DO THAT AS ADULTS???  We are so busy focusing on someone else’s faults, sins, if they’re doing things right, ready to judge… when we have a huge honking Redwood log in our own eye??

So, back to Sunday.  Service has started, and I’m now leading the congregation in worship, and have been given some scriptures to read between songs… and suddenly the worship package is speaking to/through me.. I’m not just leading, but I’m personally in full on worship..when i hadn’t been during practice.  I’m hearing, soaking in, and praising back to God the words of the songs. And it was completely overwhelming.

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Then we got to that amazing hymn, the last of our package.. “It is well with my soul”.   Now… if you’re like me, sometimes the over-familiar songs that we sing several times a year throughout our lives, sometimes we sing without anything sinking in.. just singing by rote and memory.. and your mind could be completely elsewhere.  “What’s for lunch?  I hope service doesn’t go long.. “so and so” isn’t here again this week.. hrm, wonder what’s up?… Oh man, that lady behind me is SO offkey!  What is HE wearing??  I can’t hear the drums.. That guitar is TOO loud.. oh look at that cute baby!! ….hey, we should invite that new family over for lunch”   This was NOT the case for me this past Sunday.

We got to Verse 2… and I started to fall apart right there on stage, facing 125+ people.. tears began to stream down my face, and my voice was gone.  I could only whisper as I bawled… Those tears are present again now, as I write.  “Let this blest assurance control that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed HIS OWN BLOOD for my soul”…  then when verse 3 came, I just started sobbing right there on stage…  “My sin.. OH THE BLISS of this GLORIOUS THOUGHT… my sin, not in part, but the WHOLE.. is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.. Praise the Lord  – PRAISE THE LORD!! oh my soul!!”

I wasn’t crying from sadness, or pain, or because anything particular was going on in my life that I was dealing with or upset about.. .. but the overwhelming gratefulness and words I can’t describe just came over me.. that Christ loves me so deeply, that He died for me, the worst of sinners.. while i continue to sin, and battle “while Satan buffets, and trials come..”  Yes, it IS well with my soul.. but ONLY because of Christ, and the work He did on the cross.  Not because of anything I’ve done.    It really IS Finished.  I may not be finished sinning or living on this crumbling earth.. but His work is finished.. from now to eternity.  He has paid it all.

Wow.

Thankfully it was the last song of the set before the speaker came on stage, I had some serious clean up to do. 🙂   One fleeting thought I had as I exited stage left.. ‘I really need to wear waterproof makeup on Sundays’

After the service, this dear elderly lady came up to me, and said some really kind things about the worship, and then told me that she prays for Bill & I every day.   And I wondered.. what exactly does she pray?  Cause I think that she was praying a prayer I had NOT been praying for myself… and it was answered.                Amen.


 

Our landscapers called out of the blue on the Thursday before Easter –  they were ready to come early! YAY!  We had finally cleaned out all the storage across the street, and the stone/wood out of our driveway, so we were almost ready.. but suddenly we had to clean up our gardens, remove, move and/or give away several peonies, garlic, and rhubarb.  Problem was, we had only Easter weekend to do it – when it POURED rain all weekend, the only times it didn’t, we were either at church or at a family dinner.  So poor Guillermo soaked through several layers of clothing, several times while he worked tirelessly.

Between a dear cousin and my brother in law, all the peonies were gone on Saturday, and we had all the rhubarb and some garlic moved before Monday as well.   I was able to give some of both away as well.. it’s always nice to see it go to good homes. 🙂

Here’s our driveway “before” pic.   it was in really bad shape before we started the renovation/addition, and we understood why when they peeled off the “very thin” layer of asphalt, that was almost directly on top of spongy clay.

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And here’s some of the work that’s been going on the last week and a half.

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Machines have arrived, and the original asphalt is torn out
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view from garage man door of new driveway area
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new walkway beside garage to…
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new interlock patio going behind house, complete with lots of drainage tile for our wet backyard
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double wide driveway all excavated (note the stone pile ON the street across from our house)
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view from back yard
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first layer of stone in and tamped down

Something “interesting” happened this first week, that you may have noted in a couple of the above photos…  There was no room on our property for the excavated dirt and the deliveries of stone that came in.. so they dumped it RIGHT ON THE STREET, across from our house.  And just as I was thinking on the drive home from work one day.. “oh man, this is gonna be the week that the Town’s street sweeper comes along..”  I turned the corner onto our street, and there he was, going around the pile of dirt.   SMH (‘shaking my head’ for those of you who are not used to texting shorthand… )

 

It all worked out, and we really do have the most fabulous neighbours.. who we owe a huge thank you to..

I’ll be back hopefully in a few days with more photos and updates as to where the landscaping is at.. in the meantime, here’s a teaser to an upcoming post…

“Guillermo baked a cake”

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