Coming Soon: Free Book

Coming Soon: Free Book
Planning to give away a book or two!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas letters ...

I don't regularly send out Christmas cards or letters. I am not good at that style of communication. I should be better because I love receiving cards and letters. 

After an unusual year with two big trips, I decided to send out cards. I went over my list and checked it twice but that wasn't enough.  After I printed the cards and thought I would have three extras, I started labeling the envelopes only to realize that I hadn't printed off enough.  

I still have time to print more.  But with my propensity to not get Christmas cards and letters mailed out, I am not going to hold my breath.  So I apologize ahead of time for those that I missed.   

Tomorrow begins the countdown to Christmas! At this challenging time of year,  help me remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I nose you!

I bet you thought that I was using both bad grammar and bad spelling in the title today.  But Sonjia was sitting with me on the couch being goofy. It was only appropriate for me to take a selfie.

Sonjia is my baby (she is a grandma's girl. ) Minutes after this picture was taken I got a puppy kiss. There are many times that I wished I could read their minds.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Detour exit 277

Last summer, a client in Texas asked me to pick her up some "Caribou Cream" a specialty from Minnesota.  It is made in Northern Minnesota.  I've had friends and relatives looking and I haven't been able to find it yet.  But when I saw a billboard for this specialty shop, I decided to check it out.
A billboard sent me here ...
They didn't have it there but at least they had heard about it.  But I had an enjoyable 4-5 mile round trip drive looking as I drove to Mahtowa, Minnesota. There was this perfect little country church.
Minnesota Country church
On the edge of town was this quaint little town was this tiny little church that so exemplifies "outstate Minnesota."
Seasonal Challenge
One of the unique things that caught my eye was the string of mailboxes that were just hanging there ....
Box 1
Some were hanging in a what looked like the hoops from a barrel.  ~ ~ This was a wonderful idea considering the large amounts of snow and how the plows needed to clear off the road.  If the plow hits the mailbox, the rings will protect it and it will swing instead of flying off a post.

Box 2
There were many more examples.  Each resident in this country community had their own interpretation of a swinging mailbox.  It caught my eye and made me smile.
Box 3
When I got back onto State Highway 35, there were Pine trees on both sides of the road.  I had started out with a light snow.  But in this area, hoar frost has settled on the trees over night.  It wasn't a safe place to pull over for taking pictures and I was driving alone so you don't get to see a picture.  But it was amazingly beautiful with the crystals of white snow on the outer edge of the branches.  The white offset against the dark green pine trees. Miles and miles of gorgeous glittering trees lined the road. 

There were two special blessings on the trip.  The first was the eagle that flew over my vehicle as I drove down the road.  The second was the elderly man that was walking from the grocery store to his home.  I had stopped at a Holiday store and as I pulled in I noticed the man walking into the store.  It was obvious that he had slipped and fell in the snow from the grocery store to the gas station.  There was snow from his knee to his hip.  He was warming up in the gas station.  He left as I was checking out.  I asked the clerk if she knew him and she did.  He lived a few blocks down the road.  I stopped and picked him up.  It was a short; three block ride but when he got out he repeatedly blessed me.  He was a believer in God and my following the promptings of God to stop and then to offer a ride, blessed the man in a very special way.  All that he had was words and prayers to offer in blessing me for my help ~ what more can a person ask for? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I am Thankful for ...

November 27th is Thanksgiving Day in the US.  Created as a national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln. Thanksgiving Day is a communal holiday for family and friends to gather together and share a sense of gratitude for all good things in life.

The first Thanksgiving communal dinner was expected to be in 1621 and included 90 people which were a combination of Pilgrims and Indians.  A leader in the colony wrote of a dinner including ducks, geese, venison, fish, berries, etc.  A shortage of flour meant that there was no bread or pies served.  The pumpkin was most likely served as boiled pumpkin.

There is some debate if the day of Thanksgiving was the day of the communal dinner or if a separate day of prayer and fasting was the true day of Thanksgiving.  The pilgrims religious beliefs included prayer and fasting.  It is possible that since there was obviously a communal dinner there might have been two Thanksgiving days.  One day to thank God and another day to thank the Indians for their help.

To finish my title: I am thankful for
  • God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
  • Dale that he is sacrificing a family dinner so that he doesn't spread his cold to my Dad who is in chemotherapy treatments now.
  • My family
  • My friends
  • My job
  • My co-workers
  • My Dobie girls
    Delicious Food
    Our family has a fairly traditional meal.  Ham, turkey, masked potatoes with gravy, yam, squash bake and homemade lefse. Everyone brought a few things and that made it easier on everyone.
    Loving Family ...

    It was a good afternoon surrounded by family.  When the things we depend on in life fall apart on us we will always have two special things: God and Family.  
    ...gathered around the table
    I hope that you too, had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.  By the way, just to keep life interesting there was a work emergency at a Canadian client and I had to work for a couple of hours.  I must have known something was going to happen because I brought my computer with me!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Are you ready for Thanksgiving dinner?

I have been preparing for several days. Over the weekend, I started by baking the pumpkins that would be used to bake pumpkin pie and sugar free pumpkin cheesecake.  Then I started dehydrating fruit and making almond butter.  After that I prepared some chocolate - yes from scratch.  I used a different kind of Stevia and it is grainier than I would prefer but it is slightly less bitter.
Almond butter balls in Dark Chocolate
Since I am taking this with to share for the Thanksgiving feast, I decided to try to make it less bitter.  I have acquired the taste for dark chocolate more on the bitter side.  But it is definitely an acquired taste.  Added to the banana and cinnamon apple it made a nice tasty treat.
Chocolate covered banana chips and dried cinnamon apples
I saw on Facebook, an example of a bacon wrapped Turkey. The picture below is half cooked.  I didn't use any other seasoning, so hopefully this tastes okay.  The dark meat is staying back with Dale and the dogs.  Dale has had a cold and doesn't want to risk getting father ill.  
Bacon wrapped Turkey
From the list that I have prepared, it feels like I am moving instead of going for the day.  I enjoy cooking and baking; but, I must admit that my kitchen looks like a disaster area. I wish there was someone else to clean it up for me.

Ready or not ~ here we come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Almond butter

My food processor is getting a workout this week. Over the weekend, I baked two pumpkins and pureed them.  At lunch today, I made some almond butter.  I had purchased bulk sliced almonds (they were actually cheaper than whole almonds.) 
Sliced Almonds in Food Processor
I turned on the food processor and let it start spinning.  I needed to stop several times and scrape down the sides.
Almonds processing
Once it got to a cookie dough texture, I stopped and started forming balls.  I decided that I could dropped some of the balls into some homemade chocolate.  After all, I deserve some treats at Thanksgiving and Christmas that I can eat guilt free.
Ready for making almond balls
Do you get a craving for peanut butter and chocolate?  We used to make a peanut butter ball that mixed powdered sugar with the peanut butter before dipping it into the chocolate.  They tasted wonderful but the sugar content is too high.  The consistency of making my own almond butter is perfect for making balls without adding the sugar.
Almond balls
Not all of the almond butter went into balls.  I separated the rest of it into two large mouth jars for use as snacks later. I have to say that I did some taste testing so that I would know that the consistency was good.  To no surprise, it tasted like almonds.  Ha-ha~
Almond butter

Monday, November 24, 2014

Back to Winter

The girls wore their jackets outside today.  The temperature was about 18 degrees F plus a wind chill that kept it feeling much colder.  Several times the girls got to the door and they turned around and ran back to the bedroom.  I had to put their jackets on them just to coax them outside.
Sonjia & Misty in their jackets
By the time that I finished work, the girls were ready to play for awhile.  It is a difficult time of year because the sun is down by the time that I get off.  Dale told me to go down to the park with the fishing pier.  I left the lights on and my car running.  It helped to illuminate an area for the girls to play safely. I had to walk away from the car in order for them to run and play.  
Playing in the park after dark
I was surprised to see three vehicles parked along the edge of the parking lot.  As I looked closely, I could barely make out fish-houses out on the lake.  It is unbelievable to me that there are people (probably guys) out on the lake already with some kind of a house.  It was too dark to tell for sure, but they were most likely temporary houses.  
Vehicles of fisherman out on the lake

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A day above freezing!

We had about a foot of snow on the ground so we didn't hit 50 here but it was above freezing and raining outside. As the cars drove by, they were making ruts in the snowy, icy, slush.  Dale called to pick up the dogs during half time of the Vikings/Packer's football game.  I warned him to be ware because the streets were getting worse with each car driving by.  Our city isn't known for the city workers working on a Sunday.  I even mentioned to Dale that today would be a perfect day for the guys to get the plow out and clear off what they weren't able to when the storm hit.
City workers clearing the streets on Sunday
You can't believe how surprised I was when they went by the window.  Thanks city workers for putting in some overtime on a Sunday afternoon during the football game!
Hey! I can see tar again!
When I went shopping the other day, I picked up a quarter yard of this random fleece.  I wanted something that would braid and still give a variety of color.  
Random Fun Fabric
The girls had finally pulled and chewed apart their homemade toys.  It was time to toss out the old ones and replace them with new ones.  See! Once again, I am throwing things out (that is for those of you that don't think I ever throw things away.)  Although, I do make sure that what I throw away is well wore out.  
Time for new toys
Be careful driving over-night tonight and tomorrow morning.  The weather system is due to change again overnight and throw us into another stretch of below freezing weather.  This rain and warm weather will leave icy roads.  By the way, Vikings lost 21 to 24 at least it was a close game in the end.  It would be nice it they could win again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sonjia's day with Grandma by Sonjia

Today I, Sonjia, went alone to St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids with Grandma.  One of Grandma's stops was at Wal-Mart where she bought a full bag of new tennis balls! We had plenty of time in the field behind the church to play with the new ball.  She didn't think that I knew how to play ball.  She started throwing snowballs, but they fell apart when I tried to pick them up.  :^(
I got the ball!
Snow! Who cares about the stuff.  I can run like a wild woman in the snow! Just look at me ~ wha ha ha!  Grandma do you see how fast I can run with this ball in my mouth!?!
Catch me if you can!
Grandma seems to think that I just need to drop the ball at her feet so she can pick it up then I need to chase after it when she throws it.  Take this Grandma! I got it and you gotta get it from me.
Ready, set ....
Grandma told me that I had big feet and she was surprised how I spread my toes apart and it helped me stay on top of the snow.  Hey Grandma, your feet are bigger than mine.  Why doesn't it work for you?
What do you mean big paws?
Can you see my smile with this ball in my mouth?  We are having so much fun.  I have all of grandma's attention.  I am her baby and I really like being with her all my myself today.
Look what I got!
After playing with the ball for awhile, I thought that I smelled something under the snow.  I had to do everything that I could to figure it out! What was hiding in the weeds?  Grandma was patient with me and she let me go all over the field and check out things under the snow.
Just a minute, I think I'm on the right track!
I got to go with alone because we went to Petsmart shopping.  I didn't have a jacket to wear and since I am the largest of the three dogs, I was the one to get the new jacket.  I liked it so much that when Grandma took it off, I came back and asked her to put it back on.  After a while it did get too hot to wear in the house.
Sonjia's new coat
Grandma also bought me a new necklace.  Mine was getting dirty and too small.  It was also difficult for Grandma to attached the leash to my last necklace.  Grandma said that this one will be easier. But the shopping and playtime wore me out.
Sonjia's new necklace

Friday, November 21, 2014

A tough day ...

As I have mentioned before,  I am currently working on writing my Father's story, "Hugs, Hands and Heaven Help Him". As a part of the story,  I am adding significant portions of my Mother's personal journals.

In the ten years that she struggled with illnesses,  she wrote on 18 pages (front and back /36 sides).

This week,  I have been typing her "special" thoughts and feelings.  It has made it an emotionally difficult week for me.

Satan has been doing everything he can to kick me while I was down. But with Faith all things are possible! Jesus has already won the battle.  We just need to fight the fight.  I have also learned that the light shines on the truth. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Always a healthy option is dehydrating fruits for snacks.  Since I am making my own chocolate, I decided to dry some extra fruit to coat in chocolate for the next batch.  I might even mix some nuts in with the fruit for a cluster.  I've never dried cherries before but I figure that it will turn out something like raisins.
Cinnamon Cherries drying
There are a lot of apple orchards in Minnesota and it is just past apple harvest time.  Dried cinnamon apples are always a favorite treat of mine. They were even before I started increasing the cinnamon in my life.  
Cinnamon Apples
The problem with apple chips is that, just like potato chips, you can't eat just one.  It is also easy to over-eat on even a healthy treat.  For tonight, they are getting locked up in bags. If I can resist they will wait until I get another batch of cacao beans.  That way I can make some chocolate covered fruit that is healthy and a special treat for the upcoming holidays.  
Finished treats
It is important that you make sure there are special treats available to eat when everyone else has their special treats over the holidays.  If you don't have something special and safe, you will be tempted to eat unhealthy treats that are bad for you.  You know what they say, "Failing to plan is planning to fail!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Experimental Chocolates

Over the weekend, I made a second small batch of chocolate with my spice grinder.  I think that I burned it out!  I was so bummed.  I figured that I would need to wait until I could afford to replace it.  For my morning snack, I had carrots with almond butter.  The grocery store has a machine that will make almond butter for you.  It got me thinking, what kind of machine would I need to make my almond butter at home?  This evening I did some research and realized that I could use my Cuisinart food processor! Then that little light bulb turned on in my head, "I wonder if I can use my food processor for making chocolate?"

The answer was "YES!"  I roasted up the rest of the cacao beans and dumped them all into the food processor.  I added some cocoa butter and coconut butter to help the cocoa powder liquefy into a workable chocolate.
     Recap of the Process:
     Roast Cacao beans at 250 degrees for 10-13 minutes.
     Put roasted beans into food processor with stevia and begin processing.  When the powder turns to a clay consistency, add cocoa butter (I also added a small amount of coconut butter)
     In about 2 ounce increments, put chocolate into mortar and worked with the pestle
     Add flavoring if desired and temper chocolate on marble sheet.  I clumped mine into small balls for easier serving. Allow to harden and store for future eating.

At this time of year "chocolate covered cherries" is such a huge treat.  I decided to try a healthier twist.  I took some Bing Cherries out of the freezer. After thawing them, I used paper towels to pull the moisture out of several and left the oven at a low temperature drying them even more.  Although they weren't dehydrated, I still used them in the chocolate.  I will need to eat these first.
Cinnamon Sprinkled Bing Cherries
Well, then again maybe I will need to eat my bacon and cinnamon chocolates first?  I will be keeping both of them in the refrigerator to maintain freshness. I had just over eight ounces of cacao beans remaining in my bag.  I decided to make about two ounces of four different flavors of chocolate. (These are listed in no particular order.)
  1. Coconut and Sea Salt
  2. Bacon with Cinnamon
  3. Cinnamon Cherry
  4. Walnut with Sea Salt

They all looked similar once they were done.  To keep them separated, I put each two ounce flavor into a snack size Ziploc baggie after writing a description of the flavor on the outside. Even though I used stevia to sweeten the chocolate, they still taste very similar to 70% chocolate bars.  So if you don't like dark chocolate, you would not like these flavors.

2 oz bags of chocolate
The sky is the limit in regards to flavors.  I am going to take the rest of the cherries that I thawed and put them in the dehydrator.  That will give a different flavor and texture.  I might even dehydrate a couple of bananas and maybe a couple of apples with cinnamon.  All healthy choices that could be added with stevia sweetened chocolate for a fun and favorable treat.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Raising Dobermans

When you raise dogs, and not in a puppy mill, you have a tendency to get attached to all of them.  It is difficult when something happens that they need to be re-housed.  We raise our litters in the house.  Yes, Dobermans are house dogs.  Some people believe because they are a large dog that they should be outside.  But their short hair does not allow them what they need to stay warm outside for long periods of time. In fact, our girls often aren't happy unless they are cuddled under a blanket.  I don't get expensive blankets. In fact, several of my "blankets" are nothing more that 4 feet of random fleece that I purchased.

Family Photo
Some important things to know about raising a Doberman. 
  1. They think they are a lap dog.
  2. The "dog bed" comes in twin, queen and king - you only think that it is yours.
  3. They want to go for a run many more times than you can take them.
  4. They play rough and with their mouth open.
  5. They are afraid of their shadows but boy will they protect you from that shadow.
  6. They are a fabulous dog for families with children.
  7. They will love you and spoil you much more than you could love and spoil them.
  8. They don't swim well but can be trained to play in the edge of water.
  9. There favorite spot is attached to you, where ever you go.
2 puppies visit Grandpa
We had the fabulous opportunity to have two of Sonjia's littermates join us on Sunday afternoon.  They had a fun time together.  Too bad there was so much snow this past week because it would have been wonderful to take them out to a field to run together for awhile.  Instead they played in the snowy, cold back yard for a few minutes then in the living room.
Playing in the back yard
Between Dale and I we have 3 Dobermans.  So he had a good section of the yard blown out for the girls to play in when Precious and Jade visited Sunday afternoon.

Grandma's baby takes queen of the hill to stand by Grandma

Yes, Sonjia is Grandma's baby and she found out if she ran onto the top of the snow bank in the back yard that she could lean against me before charging down the hill.

Time to go in!  Brrr it is cold

Below is the picture of Dale with Precious.  Precious was originally purchased and her first owner took her in to the vet to have her ears cropped.  She nearly died during the surgery. In fact, the owner was notified by the vets office that she wasn't going to make it.  Dale went to the vets office and was allowed to be with her in the operating room.  He kept talking to her, petting her and softly jiggling her legs and she pulled herself back to life. 
Grandpa with Precious
Precious joined her second owner, Sylvia on a horse farm in Northern Minnesota. She is living healthy and happy and it was so wonderful to see her visiting us.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chocolate making time ... part 2

First of all, I want to say that this is an art that I am learning.  It tasted good, but I didn't look the prettiest.  This is what I needed:
Cacao beans (I used raw unshelled)
10 scoops Stevia powder (1 scoop = 45 mg)
Cocoa butter
Flat blade blender
Mortar and Pestle
Marble slab

I started by measuring out the amount of cacao beans that I was going to work with.  A video I saw on the internet recommended working with 2.5-3.5 ounces so I used 3.5 ounces.
Measure out cacao beans
They had a smaller pan for roasting.  The only thing that is important is that the beans are in the pan in a single layer across the pan.  With beans in the shell, they say to heat the oven to 400 degrees and roast for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 250 degrees for 10 minutes.  The purpose of the 400 degrees is to help the bean break away from the shell.  What I did was put the beans in the oven during he preheating process to 400 Degrees.  As soon as it was pre-heated, I immediately turned it down to 250 degrees for the 10 minutes.  I think next time I am going to cook it just a little bit longer.

Roasting Cacao beans

The video recommended using a spice blender with a flat blade.  The other style of spice blender can get clogged up in the process.
Choose Grinder
I filled mine up with beans.  They all fit but once I started processing them, I realized that I had to cut the amount in half then it worked. Notice that I have typed both cacao and cocoa.  That is not a typo.  The beans are referred to as cacao when they are raw.  Once they are roasted, they are cocoa beans.  So if you see cacao powder, that should mean (if used properly) that raw beans were ground down to create the powder.

Load with Roasted Cocoa beans
As they blend, you will notice that they will grind down to a consistency of coffee ground.  These grinders are pulse blenders.  You push the button and it grinds. When you release the button, it stops.  

Stage 1 equal to coffee grounds
There is no need to stop.  It will continue to blend until it begins getting moister.  Then you will need to start using a spatula to make sure that the product under the blade continues to mix together. The moisture is the cocoa butter being extracted from the bean.

Stage 2 like clay
Adding cocoa butter is optional.  It does help the process to progress faster.  They recommend not adding more than 10-15% (1:10 or 1.5:10 ratio cocoa butter to cocoa paste.)

Add cocoa butter

At this point, put your mortar and pestle in the oven and warm it slightly. (You need to be able to hold and work with the mortar and pestle. As you can see, the cocoa will process to a form that is more liquid.  More is the key factor, it is still fairly grainy.  
Stage 3 is more liquid
Pour the liquid into the warmed mortar and pestle.  Begin to work with it.  This process not only takes away the grainy texture but is also brings out more of the chocolate taste and helps the bitter taste dissipate.  When are you done?  When it tastes the way you like it.  Because I am experimenting with stevia, I had to add stevia several times throughout this process.  I liked the taste with 10 miniature scoops (45 grams each).  

Work up in Mortar and Pestle
Did you notice that I got a different mortar and pestle?  The original one that I purchased was 4" in diameter.  This one is 6" in diameter and works much better for working with the chocolate.

The final step is tempering the chocolate.  This step went much faster than I expected.  If you want to make a special flavor, you should do it between these two steps.  When you want to add coconut, nuts, etc to the chocolate add it to the liquid right after you have poured it onto the marble slab.

Temper chocolate
Work the chocolate back and forth across the marble until it thickens.  The test to see if it is done it to put some chocolate on the end of a stainless steel knife then quickly wipe your finger across the center of the knife, if it leaves a clear streak then it is done.  Walk away from it and let it firm up.  Then break it into pieces to eat.  

Homemade Chocolate with added sea salt - done
As I said at the beginning of this post, this is my first try and it doesn't look pretty, but it does taste okay.  I have acquired a taste for 70-85% cocoa and that is the taste that I achieved.  Although I will share a secret with you.  As I tasted and it was too bitter, I needed to clear the bitter taste.  I was also cooking bacon. So I would break off a small piece of bacon as a pallet cleanser.  Sometime I might need to add some bacon chips to the chocolate.  That would be total decadence!