Friday, November 28, 2008

Scenes from Thanksgiving

Maggie's preschool class celebrated Thanksgiving with a Stone Soup Lunch. We were all asked to bring in 2 cans of some part of the soup (we brought in chicken) and an extra can of something for the Soup Kitchen. Maggie very proudly and happily shared her "Stone Stoup." On the turkey below, all the children had what they were thankful for on their hand. Maggie is thankful for Momma (aww) .

Maggie and I spent the week working on potty training and spending a lot of quality time together.

We played with her babies.

We played on the Wii Fit (Maggie loves the Ski Jump, especially when she falls).
We did some crafts.

And we snuggled.

And then . . . The Feast!
Maggie helped with the apple pie.

Rocky carved the Hutterite turkey. It was one big bird! Over 19 pounds and the smallest they had. It was really good, but that may have a little to do with the cook! I used an apple cider brine: 8 cups apple cider, 3/4 cup kosher salt, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 T black peppercorns, 1 T All Spice, 4 cloves garlic, 6 whole cloves, 1T ginger. Boil for 5 minutes and allow to completely cool. Take thawed bird, remove giblets and neck (save for gravy). Rinse and pat dry. Stuff cavity with 2 oranges cut into fourths. Put bird into a basting bag (2 if you are worried about leaks) and then into a large bucket (I use a 5 gallon water cooler). Pour cooled brine over bird and then add 6 cups of ice. Put in a cool place for at least 6 hours -- overnight if possible.

I've used this recipe for the last 3-4 years and every single time it's a nice, juicy bird!

We also had Parmesan mashed potatoes, giblet gravy (which actually turned out! Yay me!), green beans with caramelized onions and almonds, and homemade buns. All served with a Chilean Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed!!

And then Maggie and I relaxed while Rocky cleaned up.

Eventually, Maggie did take a nap, her first one of the week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Maggie-isms

We are working on potty training and at the risk of jinxing the hard work so far, I think it is going well. Maggie went to preschool today and only had one accident towards the end of preschool (she's only there for 2 1/2 hours). I took the week off to give Maggie and me some fairly uninterrupted time to, hopefully, have a successful shot at potty training. In the midst of all of this, we are also working on the different words for bodily functions. About a week ago, Maggie announced to Rocky that "My butt burped."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seattle: the photo adventure

The water front

Mt Rainier

The Space Needle
A seagull enjoys the afternoon sun
Aunt Pat & I after one of our Adventures in Food

Adventures in Eating: Seattle Style

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle on a recruitment trip. As much I as was looking forward to the recruitment side of the trip, I was also looking forward to the food. I knew I would be able to get some good seafood and other options as well. Upon arriving at the hotel and only having eaten a few airplane snacks, Betty and I were ready for lunch. And across the street, like a beacon in the night was the Cheesecake Factory! There is no Cheesecake Factory in Billings, and I would wager there isn't one in Montana. So, we indulged in some over-sized portions of a delicious lunch (but skipped the cheesecake -- I'm not sure how people could actually eat one of their meals AND cheesecake). The remainder of the trip, we did hit the local joints!

The following day, Betty and I walked down to the waterfront for lunch. Many hills and stairs, we made it to the Crab Pot. A restaurant with checkerboard table cloths covered with butcher paper, just waiting for that large pot of crab, shrimp, mussels, corn on the cob and red potatoes. Neither Betty nor I were quite that hungry, so I opted for the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Heavenly! The chowder was buttery, creamy, the clams were meaty. And the sourdough was wonderful! You cannot get sourdough quite as "soury" anywhere but on the west coast. There's just something in that salty, sea air that gives it an extra tang.

My aunt Patsy from Eugene drove up that afternoon to spend the weekend. She knew exactly where she wanted to eat that night: The Wild Ginger. She raved about their green beans. Unfortunately, that Friday night, the earliest reservation we could get was 9:30. Never fear, the Sheraton has a wonderful concierge that got us reservations for the following night and recommended a tapas place, Tango Restaurant, just a few blocks walk. Neither of had ever had tapas, but we were up for the adventure! We started out and soon realized the walk was straight up a hill! I never knew Seattle was so hilly, like San Francisco. I think we all worked off all the food we ate! But the tapas place was fabulous! The staff was very friendly. The owner greeted us and got us drinks right away. Pat had the margarita and I enjoyed the sangria. Our meal started with an appetizer, complements of the owner. It was a mini bleu cheese souffle, topped with a cranberry compote. We ordered the green beans, a pear and pomegranate salad, and a seafood combo tray which included shrimp, scallops and a mixta with mussels, calamari and octopus! I tried the octopus, which while it tasted fine, was very chewy and probably not anything I would order again. The rest of the meal was fabulous!

Saturday, we enjoyed a late breakfast after Betty and I finished our 2nd to last exhibit time at a restaurant at Pikes Public Market (one recommended by the concierge). We had one last exhibit session, and after we packed up, Pat and I had some time to enjoy the market before dinner at the Wild Ginger. Dinner was as wonderful as Pat had lead us to believe. We had the green beans, lettuce wraps with halibut, kung pow chicken and jasmine shrimp.

Over all the recruitment trip seems to be very successful. Betty and I spoke to many nurses who seemed genuinely interested in moving to Billings or at least learn more about what we are doing at the Billings Clinic. But oh the FOOD! I have also learned to ALWAYS ask the concierge for a restaurant recommendation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below

I woke up at 2 am the other night. Not sure why. Maggie was peacefully sleeping and hadn't woken me up yet (she still usually wakes up once a night and I get to hear through the monitor -- "Mommy, where are you?" in a little sing song voice). I glanced out our bedroom window and noticed it was very bright outside. I wondered if the neighbors had left a porch light on or something. When I put on my glasses and really looked, I discovered the full moon, bright and beautiful, and disrupting my sleep.

I have been reluctant to get curtains or shades for this window because I like how it looks without cover. There's no molding, it's just a big window looking out over our backyard and into the pasture and prairie behind the house. I like that on a clear, dark night, I can see the big dipper from my bed (if I have my glasses on). I like that in the evenings in the summer, we can watch the sunset into the prairie. I LIKE the coverless window. But this full moon is making me rethink this.

I did get a little more sleep, but was completely up for the day around 4 am. Maggie really did sleep through the night (and in her own bed all night). The moon set sometime soon after I got out of bed, as it was dark when I let Otis out. The cold night air was a tad jarring, but the sky was lit by the millions of stars visible. And I was reminded of why we wanted to move here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I love homemade food. Typically it is tons better than anything I could buy in the store, and sometimes even cheaper. Homemade bread, fresh from the oven -- doesn't even need butter (not that I would leave that off!) The cookies I bake at home are much better than the ones at the store (with the exception of the DoubleTree Hotel cookies -- but I now have the recipe and will be trying them out soon). This morning, I ended up trying something new: syrup.

I knew I needed to make a big breakfast this morning because there was a package of bacon that needed to either be cooked or I would have to throw it out in a few days. So I asked Maggie and Rocky if they would like pancakes, waffles or eggs for breakfast. Maggie immediately said "Waffles!" And asked to help stir the eggs. I started the waffles as usual, but didn't double check to be sure I have everything I need. Very typical of me. I tend to assume I have everything (even though today was grocery shopping day) and move forward until I have to figure out a work around, substitute or let it sit until Rocky or I can run to the store to pick up the missing ingredient (you should have seen the bread dough the day I ran out of flour!).

I got the first set of waffles done and called to Rocky. He immediately went to the fridge to grab the syrup. But we were out. Whoops! I offered a substitute of jam, but Rocky wouldn't go for it. Then he asked if I could MAKE syrup. Interesting question. Do I have a recipe for syrup?

I have one cupboard that holds my cookbooks. I have quite a collection. I love to read them, even if I never crack it to actually try one of the recipes. I started with Betty Crocker. No luck. Paula Deen? Nope. The book from my mother-in-law that her sister put together with their family recipes? Unfortunately, no. My last stop before heading to the Internet was "Gilbert's Goodies," a collection of recipes from my mother's uncle's family. Success! There was a recipe, tucked into another recipe for pancakes. A very simple recipe: 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp maple flavoring, stir and boil until sugar is melted. Of course, I don't have maple flavoring so I added a tsp of vanilla instead. It wasn't too bad. I think I will be hard pressed to purchase syrup in the future knowing just how easy and cheap it is to make.

The leftover syrup is in the fridge and we'll see how well it keeps. After all, we have left over waffles (heated in the toaster -- you can keep your Eggos) and bacon, so I know what I'm making for breakfast tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Christmas already

Even though we are only a week past Halloween, consumer-driven Christmas has already begun. The hospital gift shop is all decked out -- and I could easily spend a small fortune there on the beautiful Christmas decorations they have (even with my employee discount). The Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. I love Christmas; it's my very favorite holiday and I love that it really does last about a month. But to start in early November!?!

I have started thinking about Christmas shopping. As it will just be our family for Christmas, all other gifts will need to be sent, and you can't really shop at the last minute for a gift that needs to be sent. We are going to try to keep the Maggie presents to a minimum as well. Last year, she was completely over-whelmed and didn't even open all of her presents on Christmas morning. I have fun memories from when I was a kid of just hanging out on Christmas, playing the new game we got, watching TV. No rushing, just enjoying the time. I hope as Maggie (and any future children) grow, we will be able to build those family traditions and make Christmas about family and not just the presents.

I did ask Maggie what she wanted for Christmas, and she replied "Santa!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I know I'm not the only person in this country tired of all the political ads. I'm happy to see all of this coming to a close, at least for this election cycle. It will all come up again in another 2-3 years when the party on the outside starts making its bid for the White House.

Montana has early voting and no-restrictions on mail-in ballots. I opted for the mail-in/absentee ballot. I must say it was nice. Being unfamiliar with Montana politics, I was able to look over the choices, read up on the various positions and submit, what I feel, is the truly first informed ballot I ever have. I took the ballot with me on a recruiting trip and spent one evening looking up the candidates and initiatives on-line. I didn't feel rushed and didn't get the "who the hell is that?" feeling when looking over the choices. I plan to sign up to be on the permanent mail-in list next time, though if trends continue, Montana may be all mail-in soon. I look forward to Maggie getting older and being able to discuss the ballot issues with her and teach her about voting, as opposed to this time around when I simply needed to keep the ballot away from her and her drawings.

Rocky opted for early voting and is spending today getting video of other people standing in line waiting for their turn.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

We finally did it! We finally visited Yellowstone. We are a mere 3-hour drive to the northern (and open year round) entrance to Yellowstone. We probably could have made it a day trip, but we weren't sure how long we would spend in the park. Rocky's coworkers told him about a very affordable Super 8 in Gardiner, which is the northern entrance to Yellowstone. So, Saturday morning, we dropped Otis off at the kennel and started off!

It was a nice sunny day in Billings when we left, but was overcast in Yellowstone (perfect for picture taking). It was a brisk 57 degrees when we stopped at Mammoth for lunch. This was really the last weekend to get through Yellowstone by car for the winter. On Monday, they will close most of the roads. Some will reopen to snow cats and snowmobiles after the snow comes, but you won't be able to drive into the park much. We still bought a yearly pass. Maggie was happy to be out of the car for lunch. She loves picnics with "pink milk!" We took some time to walk through the visitor's center and saw some of the native animals (stuffed) of Yellowstone. Maggie really wanted to see more animals, and that was the only way we could get her to go back in the car. It had been a long ride already!!

We decided to drive to Old Faithful and just play it by ear for the day. We hadn't gotten very far, when we came upon some buffalo. Just a small group of them and, while Rocky and I thought it was cool, Maggie was unimpressed. The weather was getting cooler and the clouds thicker. We continued our journey and Maggie soon fell asleep. It started to sprinkle on us, and we came upon a buffalo taking a leisurely stroll down the middle of the road. He paid us, or any of the cars who passed him, no mind. I've always known, theoretically, how big buffalo are, but seeing one, practically face to face and in comparison to a Jeep Cherokee, was a real eye opener as to just HOW big they are. And also made me wonder a just how bright someone would have to be to approach this animal on foot to get a photo. It was a tad unnerving being in the VUE.

Maggie slept through the buffalo and a few coyotes. She slept through a stop to see a waterfall. She probably would have taken a really good long nap, but we arrived at Old Faithful and Rocky and I were ready to get out of the car. You can't really get a 3 year old out of a car seat without waking them up, so we prayed for a good mood. She complied. She enjoyed walking around in the rain, carrying a Billings Clinic um-BRELL-a. It rained quite hard on us most of the time we were at Old Faithful. I wondered to myself (and Rocky wondered aloud) what possessed me to only pack 1 change of pants for Maggie! Seriously, not sure what my thought process was for that. We had just missed seeing Old Faithful and had about a 90 minute wait. We wandered around, let Maggie jump in some puddles, looked at what appeared to be other geysers. From the literature, there are several other geysers in the area, but not as predictable. We ran into several people looking for the Grand Geyser, which is much bigger than Old Faithful, but it looked a bit far for Maggie to walk on the map (maybe next time, on a nicer day). Maggie seemed to have a good time. We looked around the gift shop and Maggie got a moose puzzle. Then, it was finally time!
Now, if you have never seen a geyser, it's difficult to know what exactly to expect. You know the concept, but the actual experience may be underwhelming, depending on the expectations. I've been to Old Faithful before. To me, it is interesting to see nature at work. To see the earth send the water shooting into the air, the steam coming across; to be able to see this end product of all the movement going on beneath our feet. And it all happens on a time table that we can predict within 10 minutes of the next eruption. Rocky was expecting more -- a rumbling, a little shake, something a little more than just the water shooting into the air. A gray, cloudy sky did not help. Maggie was, of course, unimpressed and asked to see more animals.
We saw just one more animal on our trip in Yellowstone -- a lone coyote sitting on the side of the road. He seemed to be asking us for a sandwich, but we were good and didn't comply. We had seen another coyote pick up some road kill, but as the crowds are gone, I believe the plethora of road kill is also gone.

Our last stop in Yellowstone was at the grand canyon of Yellowstone and the lower falls (picture at the top). It was fabulous! I don't remember seeing it the last time I was in Yellowstone -- of course that was also over 20 years ago! It was starting to get dark, so we didn't spend a lot of time there. Maggie enjoyed stretching her legs, walking up and down the stairs and really really wanted to stay (or didn't want to get back in the car). We told her next time and started on the road back to Gardiner.

It was a great trip and the hotel in Gardiner wasn't bad (especially for $50/night). There's a nice little pizza place in town, which in better weather would have been a nice little walk. It was a nice little getaway, and we also learned that you can do a short weekend in Yellowstone fairly inexpensively! We've started talking about another trip in the spring after the roads open up, and before the crowds show up. Yellowstone Park is truly a strong testament to the beauty of God's handiwork.