Monday, January 31, 2011

Easy Decadent Gourmet Brownies

I was the dessert person for yesterday's family meal. I made fancy brownies. Everybody dug in and enjoyed. They pronounced this recipe "A Keeper".
Picture is from Betty Crocker website.

We are a family of brownie lovers. Brownies are a staple to us. Thinking back, I don't think a week went by that my mom didn't make a batch of brownies. No family get-together is complete without somebody bringing a batch of brownies, no matter what other desserts might be present.

Although I have made them from scratch, I honestly prefer a boxed mix. The mix is reliable, turns out every time, and is, oh, so easy. My preferred brand is actually my local discount grocer's house brand. (If you have an Aldi's nearby, try their Country Cupboard brownie mix.) That said, I must admit, I used Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix this time around. I stocked up last time our local store had a Dollar Day sale.

I wanted to do something a little different and we had just bought a similar single serving brownie at a deli that features "home-baked" goodies on Saturday. (It's an Amish run store and the goodies are a big attraction.) The Big Guy had suggested I try making them at home as he absolutely loved it. Simple enough. It was a regular brownie with a layer of fluffy peanut butter icing and then topped with a thick fudgy chocolate icing. I knew I could do that - with or without a specific recipe.

While the brownies were baking, I went on line just to see what I could find about gourmet brownies. The true treasure trove turned out to be Betty Crocker's official website. There are pages and pages of ways to make your brownies special. The one's I made are called Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies. (They also have a gluten free version of these.)

I suggest you go to the site yourself and find a favorite way to dress up your next batch of brownies.

But, because these were just so delicious and so decadent, I'm reprinting it here anyway!

1 box Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix
(prepare as directed on the box)

Peanut Butter Filling:
1/2 Cup butter, softened
1/2 Cup creamy peanut butter
2 Cups powdered sugar
2 tsps. milk

1 Cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 Cup butter

Mix all filling ingredients together and spread on cooled brownies.

Combine chocolate chips and butter in a microwaveable bowl and heat uncovered in microwave for 30 - 60 seconds or until it stirs smoothly. Cool 10 minutes and then spread over the peanut butter filling.

Pop the whole pan into the fridge to set for about 30 minutes.

Just a few personal comments about the preparation:
*I let my brownies cool for one hour before icing.
*I used a bit more milk in my peanut butter filling to make it a little easier to spread. I'd actually like to play with it a bit more to see if I can get an even fluffier consistency.
*I made mine in a 13"x9" pan and ran a little short of chocolate topping and needed to whip up some more. I would use the full 12 oz. bag of chips and 3/4 Cup of butter.

I'm thinking of trying one with maraschino cherries today.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two in a row !

We had another great day today!! Two in a row !!! We're on a roll.

#1 - It didn't snow again today!

#2 - We had a fantastic family dinner. The 18-year-old cooked. She proved she can still toss pizza dough and made 4 different pizzas and a stromboli. All I had to bring was dessert! How's that for an easy meal?

#3 - The Big Guy and I finally got to meet the newest member of the family, our cook's new 4-month-old dalmatian, Rudy.#4 - My cell rang right in the middle of dinner and a sweet 5-year-old voice shouted "I LOVE it!!" Yep, the infamous Barbie Music Room was received and already played with at that point!! Really made all that effort on my part worthwhile.

Yes, it really was a GREAT day, today.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's been a great day !!!

We picked up our new dining room chairs today. They are beautiful!!!

We’ve had the same old chairs for about 21 years now and we got those second hand. Don’t get me wrong. We liked those chairs a lot but there’s just something about “NEW” that feels really good.

We were sort of forced into this purchase. Our old chairs have slowly died off until, along about Thanksgiving, we realized we only had three useable chairs! Now, that makes for a very small dinner party! It just looks so “college dorm” to seat a crowd using three decent dining chairs, a couple of folding metal chairs, one ancient folding wooden chair and a kitchen stool or two.

Our old chairs were actually about 36 or 37 years old and had lived a long tough life. We got them from my best friend’s mom when she bought new ones. At that time, we received six chairs. Both households consist of some large, sturdy (read “heavy”) folks and these chairs were used for every meal in both houses. They were also used for dining room table bookkeeping, game playing, and everything else one might due at the only large solid table in a household. I recovered them twice over the years. In fact, the reason they were replaced by the original owner was that her cat had scratched up the original leather seats.

They were made of teak by Scan, an upscale chain specializing in quality Scandinavian style furniture. Way above Ikea quality. (Sort of a Nordstroms/Walmart comparison.) Unfortunately, Scan left the Mid-Atlantic area several years ago. I believe they still have some stores on the West Coast and possibly a store or two in Florida. None I could find on line would ship to Maryland or we would have bought the same chairs again. (At the time the stores left this area, they did still carry them.)

We wanted good, solid wooden chairs. We hope to get another 30 years out of these. We turned to the Amish where our purchase was made to order by hand. We chose the style, the type of wood and the stain color. This kind of work takes time. We ordered them the first week in December and they came in this week. The only challenge was finding a weather window in which to go pick them up between snows. Today, we had a few short hours between snow events to sneak up to Lancaster and back.

Mission accomplished!

Another high point of the week was having great neighbors. (Of course, we knew this long before this week!) On Wednesday when we had about 4“-5” of snow in the morning, they came over and shoveled off our steps and cleaned my car off. She began shoveling my husband’s half of the driveway (He’d already left for work when most of the snow came down) and her husband finished it up with the snowblower. Believe it or not, they did it for all seven houses on the block! He even made sure the roadway was negotiable for everyone to get in and out.

On Thursday, we awoke to about 7” inches of fresh snow. The Big Guy stayed home and when he went out to work on the driveway, he was joined by this couple and another great neighbor and his snowblower.A HUGE "Thank You" goes out to Tony, Michele and Dave!!

Isn’t it terrific having such great friends right next door?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Barbie Gets The Last Word !

Okay, I finally finished the Barbie Music Room. Of course, it didn’t fit into any standard U.S. Post Office issued box. I was hoping it would go into the Medium Flat Rate for cost purposes, but no such luck. The Large Flat Rate box is more square and couldn’t accommodate the length and width of the flat pieces. So, I searched for a more fitting box (pun intended). It did fit perfectly in an Old Gran-Dad Whiskey box we had in the basement.
I carefully packed it in, made sure there was a shipping address in the box as well as on the outside and taped the heck out of it. (I’m known for excess tape jobs at my local Post Office.) I trotted right down to the local P.O. to get it mailed.

They refused the box. Seems you can’t mail in a box that was ever used to ship any prohibited items and alcohol (as well as other liquids) is prohibited. I guess this would also pertain to empty Clorox cases, apple juice crates, etc. (I did not know about this regulation.) I asked if this was a new rule and she insisted it had been around for years. The particular clerk who waited on me has a snippy attitude at all times and loudly proclaimed I was breaking the law in attempting to mail in that box! This was the week after a number of mail bombs were shipped to State offices in our area and I got quite a few stares from those waiting in line. I slunked out in embarrassment.

Both The Big Guy and I remember mailing things in empty beer cartons and such in the past. We both carefully read the shipping regulations on the USPS site but were never able to locate this rule. I honestly looked for another appropriate box to no avail. I finally simply covered the box in brown paper, used another ton of tape on it and set out to mail it again.I live halfway between two Post Offices. (Neither services my home. That one is actually farther away.) I decided to go to the other one this time. I intended to ask about the box situation (after they accepted my wrapped box.) This particular branch is a small one and closes for an hour and 45 minutes for lunch each day and wasn’t open when I got there. I was so frustrated, I simply went to Postman Plus and sent it UPS. As it turned out, it only cost me 65 cents more than the Post Office would have and I got free delivery confirmation and insurance for that price.

I did ask there about the old alcohol box. He didn’t know the answer but suggested I call and ask the owner. I haven’t done that yet. Does anybody out there know the answer to this one?

Yep, Barbie gave that knife one more turn, didn’t she? (Actually, a shot of Old Grand-Dad would help ease the pain.)

Maybe by next year, K will have outgrown Barbies and I won’t be tempted to make her a different room.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remember that Barbie Music Room?

This is Part 2 of the Barbie Room Fiasco -
I was so stressed out after all the problems getting the eight wall sections done on that Barbie room that I needed a breather. Time was getting short, but I needed to put it down and forget about it for a day or two.

At this point I was almost convinced it was a jinxed project. I’m not sure who I wronged but I was beginning to suspect a certain 11 ½” blonde bombshell was behind all this. I must have left her lying around naked or dressed in something garish many years ago and now she was finally getting even.

Remember I said this gift needed to be shipped halfway across the country? Time was getting short now. It had taken me the full allotted time just to finish the walls!

I went ahead and packed the gifts for the rest of the family and all the “extras” I had gathered for K. (I admit, I ALWAYS over buy for the little kids.) I took that box to the Post Office and sent it off. The Barbie Room would just have to make the trip alone as soon as I could get it done. If it didn’t make it, there would be plenty for K to open on Christmas Day and she would be none the wiser until she did receive this special box. (I envisioned it arriving the Monday or Tuesday after Christmas, at the latest.)

I sat down that evening to begin working on the floor/base portion of the room. The walls, now connected to form one foldable panel, sits in little troughs in a base that is about ¾” thick with a floor pattern in the room and green (grass) around the outer walls. The floor piece then folds in half for easy storage. There are about 20 of these room patterns out there but the floor plan and a matching carrying case are printed on one separate pattern that can be used with any of the rooms. It’s in a separate pamphlet.

A separate pamphlet which was NOT on the shelf where it should be. Okay, this was easy enough to deal with. I’ve made enough of these that I could wing it on this portion. In fact, I decided to use the 5 count plastic I had on hand (since I wasn’t planning to use it anywhere else!) This took me a little bit longer to formulate than it would have if I had simply grabbed the printed pattern and worked from it but pretty much went smoothly.I quickly moved on to the furnishings for the room. The piano went together smoothly. Only now, I was running out of plastic sheets (the 7 count size). Somehow, I had miscalculated my needs. I was forced to stop for the evening until I could get to the store for supplies the next day. I knew at that point, it was not going to be there on Christmas Day and I strongly suspected it might not be there that week at all. (Thank goodness for all those “extras” I’d picked up for her along the way!)

With a replenished supply pile, I sat down to work on the rest of the pieces. The keyboard and stand went together quickly. As did the amplifier. The microphone was a little trickier as I found the base wasn’t strong enough to hold it upright on its own. I had to redesign the base to offer the proper support but turned out a satisfactory finished product.

Then came the intricate little music stand. Cutting on this item was very intricate and quite delicate. I cut it out once and realized it was wrong. Twice - oops, different error. Three times, perfect - but then, a corner broke as I tried to attach it to the stand. Don’t even ask about the 4th try. Bear in mind, this little piece didn’t even measure 2” x 2”. I was getting quite frustrated. The fifth time was a charm!! Again the base didn’t support the framework. I adapted it the same way I did the microphone stand and moved on.

The stool was a little tricky to cut. I made at least two mistakes and had to re-cut. Once all the pieces were cut out, it stitched together fairly easily. The piano bench, complete with storage under the lid, went together like a piece of cake.

Finally, I was down to the last piece, the guitar. Again, this was tricky and very intricate piece to cut. I thought I had it right on the third try, but then found an error as I began to stitch. The fourth effort was totally off and the fifth also had a problem. I decide at that point to piece a correction together. (Besides, I was, once again, running short on plastic since I’d had so many re-dos.)

Da! Da!! Finished!!! At Last!!!! I set the room up to admire it and then went to bed.

By the light of day, I wasn’t happy with the way the guitar strings looked so I cut them off and restrung the guitar. Easier said than done. Just take my word for it.

Okay, NOW it was done.

End of story. NOT quite. There was one more glitch in the process. That’s a tale I’ll tell you in "Barbie gets the last word!!" -- The Final Chapter of the Barbie Room Fiasco!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some people claim - it's a woman to blame!

Jimmy Buffett made news last night when it was announced he was released from an Australian hospital after taking a nose-dive off the edge of a stage while performing an encore at a concert in Sydney on Wednesday. He hit his noggin and was unconscious for several minutes. His sister reports he should make a full recovery and is on his way home. Now maybe we know why he stayed away from Australia for so long (20 years)!!

Let's get him back to Margaritaville, so we can nurse him back to health ourselves!

We love you Jimmy and wish you a speedy recovery!!

Speaking of the Keys, have you heard about the newest Florida Key this week - the new piano bar in Biscayne Bay?? Seems a baby grand piano (and its bench) suddenly appeared on a sandbar out in the middle of the bay. No one knew where it came from or how it got there. Best mystery of 2011 (so far) !!

My husband quickly hypothesized the thought that this was the ultimate in property distribution in a nasty divorce battle (War of the Roses style). He pictured one spouse taking the other's most prized possession and placing it out there for him/her to go claim themselves. (Let this be a warning to me, should we ever need to divide up our possessions!!)

It remained a mystery for several days while the media pleaded for someone to come forward and tell the tale. Surprisingly, several folks tried to take credit but only one guy has the video to prove it. Seems an enterprising 16-year-old wanted to make a convincing video for his art institute application. The plan was cooked up by him and a few friends at a New Year's Eve party. They hauled the piano from a family member's home (with permission, it turns out) and placed it on the bow of the family boat. (He did get Dad involved in this part of the stunt.) They then hauled it out to the sandbar and unloaded it there where he completed his filming.

The story lost some of it's mystique when we learned his Dad is involved in film production and the piano was an old film prop with no innards, making it much lighter to move. Once the mystery was solved, the Government ordered them to go back and remove it as it is a felony to litter the waterway. If removed within a given time (24 hours) they were waiving the fine and actual criminal charges. Last I heard, they were heading the boat toward the sandbar.

Proves even bureaucrats can take a good joke (occasionally) !!!

The Mid Atlantic was slammed by more snow than expected this morning but a group of strong, buff college men made a lot of folks happy as they awoke to the white stuff. Seems Coach Donald Hill-Eley, the football coach at Morgan State University (in Baltimore), ordered his players to go out into the neighboring community and shovel walks and clean off cars early in the morning as a good well gesture towards the community.

Morgan is a campus in the heart of a city neighborhood made up of many rowhouses (an old term for red brick attached townhomes). The only residential parking in this neighborhood is curbside and, anyone who has ever lived in this type of community knows, it's always at a premium. A few months back, the campus was doing some renovating and the closest parking lots were unavailable to the phys ed buildings. Students wandered into the closest neighborhood to park instead of using the lots farther across campus. As expected, tempers rose among the homeowners when they could not park within blocks of their homes. A resolution was eventually reached but there were still some hard feelings out there.

Amazing what a nice clean parking space can mean in a snow storm!! Went a long way toward reestablishing peaceful relations!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just waaaay too much T.V. !!!!!

It's winter. It's cold and snowy. I've had a cold for what seems like forever. So, I've watched a lot of T.V., emphasis on "a lot."

From time to time, in the midst of watching, you come across a great line, phrase or descriptive word. It's a lot like those "Word-A-Day" calendars. You hear it, like it, repeat it and look for just the right place to slide it into a conversation.

Here are a few I've enjoyed lately:

"Your blood type is Pinot Grigio." (from the Housewives of NYC wrap up show)
They MUST know one of my best friends!

"Random crappola" (from Two and a Half Men)
This one was used to describe a decorating style
but I think it's a great word and very versatile.
It can be used sooooo many ways in life!

"Telepathetic" (from William Shatner on My Dad Says...")
This one might be a little harder to work into a conversation .
He used it to mean "psychic"
and I just love the sound of it.
Kinda Yogi Berra-ish.

This one takes the prize, though, explaining why grandparents have the right to spoil the kids, no matter what!
"Back then we were parents. Now we're grandparents. We have to be GRAND." (The Middle)
Perfect explanation, don't you think?!?!

I even find myself paying attention to commercials like this one for an album by Joe Nichols which is now on sale at Walmart. I have no idea who Joe is (No offense, please, Joe. I'm just not that up on newer music.) but I'm dying to listen to the title song:
"Tequila makes her clothes fall off."
(He must know one of my other good friends!)

There's more to life than sit-coms and commercials. I also watch The Today Show where I learned I must have good taste in pets. (Or at least "popular" tastes.) Over the years, I have shared my home and life with three of the AKC's top five dog breeds - a lab, a beagle and a golden retriever. I've also owned the No. 1 breed from this year's National Dog Show - an Irish Setter. (Don't let all the others know, but I liked the golden best!) Don't judge, please. I loved them all but just was more in tune with the golden. I had him the longest - almost 18 years.

Incidentally, if you're wondering the other two top breeds are the German Shepherd and Yorkshire Terrier.

Sometimes, I just catch up on gossip, like, even though we have don't know anything about the gown, I learned Kate Middleton will have a 4 minute walk down the aisle at Westminster Abbey. Now that's an entrance (or exit). I'm not sure saying our entire vows took much longer than taht! David Tutera of My Fair Wedding, suggests she better be sure she's wearing comfortable shoes for that stroll!!

PLEASE pray for an early Spring. I NEED to get out in the world more!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Size DOES Matter ! ! !

Ever wonder how much difference two silly little squares per inch can make? Huge, I tell you, HUGE !!!

I’m talking about plastic needlepoint canvas. What were you thinking?

For years, decades really, plastic canvas has come in two sizes - 7 holes per inch and 10 holes per inch. For those of us who did a lot of this work, we began to refer to them as the “big holes” and the “little holes”. It was a simple life. The majority of patterns out there were (and still are) designed for 7-hole plastic. The 10-hole was used for more intricate and delicate designs. Many tree ornament snowflake designs used the smaller size grid.

I have done plastic needlepoint for over 4 decades. (Yep, I really am that old!) I’ve even taught the craft, looking out at my first group of eager students about 34 years ago. I thought I’d come up against all the twists and turns of the craft, and, I thought I was too experienced to run into them on my own!! AHA !!! Wrong again my little brainiac!

And then along came some brilliant R&D department and they created 5-hole plastic!!! Brilliant idea. One can make larger items now. Or just stitch faster on the larger canvas. Maybe it will make a good training material for little hands or elderly, arthritic fingers. One little question, guys - Have you come up with new patterns to accommodate this larger monster plastic canvas? I haven’t come across any, have you?

This IS the finished room!!

I began work on the now infamous Barbie Music Room on December 2. I know the exact date because I also ordered new dining room furniture that day - the first time in 30+ years so it was a memorable date!!

On my way to select furniture, I stopped at Joanne’s and picked up the plastic I needed for the Barbie project. I knew exactly how many sheets of 7-hole plastic I needed. I trotted right in and was pleasantly surprised to find they were now making a larger sheet of the plastic grid. (One often has to piece it together to complete larger projects.) Those larger sheets would come in handy on this creation. I grabbed the requisite number of “big-hole” plastic and checked out quickly. (I already had the yarn I needed on hand.)

I started stitching right away when I got home. This was not my first rodeo. I’ve made a number of these Barbie rooms along the way and I know they take me a week to 10 days to complete. This one was for our little K’s Christmas present. I needed to get it done and shipped in plenty of time to appear under that Midwest Christmas tree.

I made great time on the first wall the first night. (There are 4 inner walls and 4 corresponding outer walls.) The next evening, as I neared the last ten lines of stitching, I discovered a counting error and needed to rip out about half the wall. I was disgusted with myself but these things happen when you do stitching projects. I was still able to complete that wall before going to bed that second night.

At some point along the way, it did dawn on me it was a little bigger than I recalled from previous efforts. I glanced it over and reasoned it had been a while since I’d made one of these Barbie rooms and, yes, they always seemed to be a big project. (Duh!!)

Okay, I admit it. Red flags were jumping up. (The larger sheets of plastic available in the store, the overwhelming sense that the single wall was a little large, etc.) I simply chose to ignore those inklings.

I quickly moved on to the next wall (identical to the first but with a small count reversal). This one went smoothly and was quickly completed. Again, I sensed it was a little big. (Again, I did not take time to check the measurements.)

The wall to the right was the third wall.
It featured a lot of detail work
for the "sound system."

The third wall required piecing since it is an extra wide section. I stitched most of the design (more intricate than the first two walls) before attempting to attach the extension. Standard 7-hole plastic comes in a 10”x12” piece, featuring 70 holes across and 91 holes long. You’d have thought the 14”x18 ¼ measurements would have caught my eye (brain) when I counted out my holes for the first two walls. Suddenly, it truly dawned on me just how HUGE this wall was going to be. Barbie was going to either need stilts or steroids to simply look out the window of this music room!!!

OMG!!! I was working with 5-hole plastic. Who ever heard of such a thing?!? Okay, I admit it. There were these cute little stickers stuck to each of those large pieces of plastic canvas claiming to be the “New Larger Grid.” I’d simply peeled them off and jumped right in there with my stitching. Who could I blame but myself?

I then had two choices. I could start over on the right size plastic canvas (which required a trip to the store) or buy K an American Girl doll who might fit the room better. Starting over was a little more economical at that point in time. At this point, I’d lost about 5 ½ days of stitching time. I would now need to hurry.

This wasn’t the end of the difficulties and obstacles associated with this project. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Barbie Room Fiasco!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

8 Degrees!! - Can you say : "H-I-B-E-R-N-A-T-I-O-N"

Brrrr!!! It's cold. It's been cold. It's going to stay cold. So, where have I been? Hibernating, where else? Seemed like the only reasonable approach to this weather.


In this life I'm a woman. In my next life, I'd like to come back as a bear. when you're a bear, you get to hibernate. You do nothing but sleep for six months. I could deal with that.

Before you hibernate, you're supposed to eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that, too.

When you're a girl bear, you birth your children (who are the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping and wake to partially grown, cute, cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that.

If you're a momma bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them, too. I could deal with that.

If you're a bear, your mate EXPECTS you to wake up growling. He EXPECTS that you will have hairy legs and excess body fat. Yup, gonna be a bear !

Seriously, folks, can we choose our next incarnation?

While I'd love to continue to hibernate through about mid-M
arch, it looks like I've had to open the eyes, stretch it out, and return to my normal daily routine. So, what's new?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Henny Penny? Are you out there?

Remember the tale of Chicken Little and Henny Penny?

An acorn fell on Chicken Little's head and she thought the sky was falling. She then did her version of the ride of Paul Revere, running through the barnyard screeching, "The sky is falling!!"

Gotta wonder how many folks thought this same thing the other day when, literally, thousands of red winged black birds fell from the sky in Arkansas at about the same moment. In fact, how many are still wondering. Shortly after that event, it was discovered another several hundred (again, red winged black birds) fell to the ground in Louisiana, too. Oh yeah, did you hear about the flock that dropped from the sky in Kentucky? Or those that also came down in Sweden?

Maybe we watched too many episodes of the Twilight Zone in last week's marathon but this is giving me an eerie feeling and the sounds of "do do, do do, do do..." keep running through my head. Okay, I've also been reading a few strange novels ranging from far-out conspiracy tales to real science fiction (I've got to get back to those culinary mystery novels - you know, the murder mystery lite genre.)

Seriously, I haven't really heard a plausible explanation yet. The preliminary autopsy results show they died of "multiple blunt force trauma to their vital organs." They (the voices of authority) have posted theories of hail, lightning and even fireworks but we're talking 5000 birds here, folks. Don't you think people in the community would have noticed such a hail or lightning event? And just how big a fireworks display does a little town like that put on?

Another baffling question is how did whatever this event was only pick on red winged blackbirds and no other species? I won't buy that this town only has one kind of bird flying around. I'm also confused as to why this many birds were flying around in the dark? In my experience, most would be roosting for the night. Anything disturbing that large a flock of roosting birds would most likely leave some sort of tree destruction behind.

I don't even want to consider the sudden fish kill involving hundreds of drum fish (again, an isolated breed) in a nearby river in the same time period.

I guess both events will go down as the first great mystery of 2011.

I'm not generally an alarmist but I really have to wonder what weird scientific experiments are being conducted out there and by whom?

Well, I'm off to re-watch the dvds of the first few seasons of Lost. It's no stranger than the nightly news these days!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Did you make any resolutions this year?

I'm still thinking about mine. Sometimes, I wonder if they're really worth the effort.

A very outspoken observer if American life, Mark Twain is often quoted as saying this about New Year's resolutions:

"Now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."

He's probably right.

Ann Landers gave out a lot of sage advice over the years and I often agreed with her take on life, so I found this New Year's advice to be somewhat bankable:

"Let this coming year be better than all the others. Vow to do some of the things you've always wanted to do but couldn't find the time. Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. Vow not to make a promise you don't think you can keep. Walk tall, and smile more. You'll look ten years younger. Don't be afraid to say, 'I love you'. Say it again. They are the sweetest words in the world."

For the last few years I have made resolutions along these lines and I believe I actually made some progress last year. I did locate and contact some old friends and I'm glad I did. There are a few more on my list I hope to catch up with in 2011. I did something as smple as a cute "Thinking of you" card and simply wrote "remembering the good times we had and missing you" above my signature. I added my current phone number and email address. All I can say is, thank goodness long distance phone service is so very reasonable these days!

I want to continue my efforts in staying more in touch with family. I've thoroughly enjoyed the company of my cousins in the past year or two. We had let some space squeeze in there as all went their separate ways raising families and such. We've now taken the get-togethers beyond the obligatory weddings and funerals. I make a point of visiting with the few remaining members of my parents' generation. When I accidently get a little too much time between visits, I take time to call and just say, "Hi." I've been well rewarded with copies of old photos and tales of long ago when my parents were young. It's amazing how many stories have been new to me. I thought I'd heard them all.

One of the biggies I want to work on is being a better wife. I haven't had complaints, mind you, but I think I can do better. He's a pretty good guy and I know I sometimes take him for granted. I want to make a more intentional effort. Maybe by putting it here, in writing, I'll be more aware of what I'm doing.

So, what are some of your resolutions ?