This year, I am officially the Matriarch of our small family. So, yeah, you might want to say a prayer for my husband and kids. Matriarchs are not supposed to still be operating (at least mentally) on a 20 year-old level. I’m having to navigate everyone’s food preferences, and make sure that there is plenty of gluten-free stuff for my hubby, and non-Thanksgiving type food for my daughter. I have to make the Pumpkin Cheesecake, lest the entire family mutiny. I have to do most of the cleaning up for myself, because Mom is no longer here, and Gaylon and Abby are working. And I have to figure out how to make the things my mother always made, like her amazing fruit salad. And NO! I do NOT want it with yogurt or kefir or almond milk! Ewwww!!!! We are going to at least do the fruit salad correctly, and use good, old-fashioned Hellman’s Mayonnaise! And if we all die from it, at least we’ll die happy!

But in reality, all I want to do is crawl back into a safe place in my past, that looks something like this: I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the entire house filled with the smells of my mother and grandmother cooking turkey in the kitchen. I will pad out to greet everyone, and there will be pumpkin pie (made by Granny), apple pie, and pumpkin bread (made by my mom) covering up one counter. (My brother will bring his World-Famous-Or-At-Least-It-Should-Be Pecan Pie when he shows up later.) My grandmother will probably already be tipsy, although there will be no evidence of this, since her main source of alcohol was the vanilla! Or vodka, but that’s another story. . . Daddy and Granddad will be drinking coffee and discussing all sorts of things that I don’t care about or understand, but now that I will never again awake to the hum of their voices, would give anything to hear. In addition to the wonderful smell of turkey, the air will be filled with the scent of coffee, cigarette smoke from my grandmother and my dad, and with the steam from the potatoes my mother is boiling on the stove.

Granny will worry that the turkey will be too done, and that the stuffing won’t work. She’ll fuss over how much it cost at Tootie’s, and whether or not she should have gotten the potatoes at another grocery store. Daddy will laugh at her, and tease her, and make her laugh, too. My grandfather will sit quietly, taking it all in. He was crippled, so he couldn’t do much around the kitchen, and wouldn’t want to, anyway, since he was born in the day when women did all the cooking. Except in my dad’s case, in which he was an amazing cook, and taught my mother how to cook after they married.

At some point, various relatives will show up. My brother will come, with his (now ex) wife and her bratty kids. She’ll bring sour cream potatoes that were absolutely divine. My Mom’s brother will probably come, too, with his wife and my two cousins. They will have already eaten at her mother’s house, but will make an obligatory stop at our place later in the afternoon, during a football game. Sometimes, my dad’s sister would come, too. Sometimes she brought people with her, sometimes not. My sister rarely joined us, but would call from Albuquerque and talk to Daddy, since we had different moms.

And ah, yes, the football game! After everyone has eaten their fill of the turkey, cornbread stuffing, giblet gravy, rolls, potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, cranberry sauce (plopped unceremoniously from the can onto a plate, which I always thought was hysterically funny), candied yams and green beans, we all migrate into the living room to watch football. My mother will scream and cuss and shake her fists at the television, never doubting that her antics would help propel her team to victory. I will probably fall asleep on the big floor pillow in front of the television. After the game, we will all wander back into the kitchen and eat more. There is, as of yet, no such thing as “Black Friday”. In a week or so, depending on when Thanksgiving falls, I will celebrate my birthday with my friend, Maureen, and we will watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at either her house or mine. And the whole world will feel completely safe and cozy, with no threat of ISIS or terrorism or economic meltdown.

All of that is, of course, an amalgam, a mixture of my memories of Thanksgiving with my family over the years. My brother and sister are still alive, as are my uncle and his family. Everyone else is gone now: my mom, my dad, my grandparents. And it feels very empty. My husband’s family usually doesn’t invite us to join them, now that his dad has passed. His mom just really isn’t up to it anymore. And even though we are back in Texas with most of the rest of the still-living family, it’s a long drive for any of us to get together, and now, of course, I’m on call for several births. Thanksgiving just ain’t what it used to be.

And yet, my little family still wants to get together and celebrate, and eat perennial favorites, like the corn casserole and the fruit salad. I am doing my best to fill in the gaping hole left by my mother, and yes, I’ve already sat down and cried my eyes out several times. I know I’m not done; this is our first year without her. But we will carry on, and we will enjoy each other and the food, and honor her memory, as well as the memory of all the others who no longer join us at our earthly table.

I am always highly entertained by the things my kids say, and just because they are older now, doesn’t mean they have gotten any less entertaining. In fact, I tend to think that they are getting funnier, and I keep trying to get Alex to write his stuff down and try an open mic night at a local comedy club.  Anyway, today has been rich in humorous conversations around our place!!

This morning, at breakfast~

Okay, I just needed an excuse to put a picture of Tony Stark on my blog!!

Okay, I just needed an excuse to put a picture of Tony Stark on my blog!!

Alex: I had an epic dream last night that I was Iron Man!
Me: Really? Were you flying?
Alex: Yep! And I was using those hand cannons and everything! It was awesome! But I can’t tell you everything, because my dream had spoilers in it, and you haven’t seen the movie yet!
Me: Seriously? Your dream had spoilers???
Alex: Yeah.
Me: *SIGH*


Who can resist a recipe collection like this??

Who can resist a recipe collection like this??

Later in the day, upon returning home from Jo-Ann Fabrics, where Abby and I bought a book entitled “Zombie Cupcakes: From the Grave to the Table With 16 Cupcake Corpses” by Zilly Rosen. When we started flipping through the recipes, we discovered that it is full of Zombie Movie Trivia, so I was quizzing her on it, even though we hadn’t seen most of the old zombie flicks.
Me: Okay, try this one: The movie “The Serpent and the Rainbow” (1988) is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by which anthropologist?”
Abby: The what???
Me: “The Serpent and the Rainbow
Abby: Oh, great! Gay Slytherins!
Me: Wow. That was an amazing leap!!

Stay tuned. Kendall is coming, and that can only precipitate more hilarity!!!

No, this is not another recipe!  It’s about those last few days before Christmas, when, no matter how hard I try, I always start to feel like the walls are closing in on me! This is the time when my daily devotions start to unravel, and when I realize that there are three or four really important people that I’ve somehow forgotten to buy presents for!

This year, I was very proud of myself for getting our newsletters out early.  I also didn’t freak out when it took a week to finish decorating. My problem is that I’ve been spending every spare second working (frantically) to try and finish a very special Christmas present, and so I’ve let a lot of other things fall by the wayside.

But! Tomorrow morning, Abby and I are headed to the airport to pick Kendall and Lishi up, and so at that point, I have to just let go!  I still have a few packages to mail, and a couple of gifts left to purchase, but I think it will all come together.  And, if it doesn’t, I have a pretty good feeling that everything is still going to be okay!

San Antonio Riverwalk

San Antonio Riverwalk

I am trying to focus on the fun we’re going to have while they are here!  Tomorrow night, we are going to see “The Hobbit”, and I am just so thrilled that we are getting to see it while we are all together!  (I only wish my sweet friend, Angela, and her daughters, could be with us, like they were for the LOTR Trilogy!  I love you, Angela!!!)

Friday, we are going to have special foods and decorate the “Family Tree”.  We will also watch Christmas Vacation. I seriously cannot wait! This will be the night I start baking and making candy, too. 😀  Saturday we are going to the Vigil Mass, then we will probably go down to Zilker Park for the Trail of Lights. Then, on Sunday, we are headed down to San Antonio to go to the Riverwalk.  Lishi has only been to Austin, so we are broadening her Texas horizons, ever so slightly! Monday, we will, of course, be cooking, and will celebrate Wigilia, topped off with the Pasterka, or Shepherd’s Mass at Midnight.  Christmas day we are going to relax, and then head over to some friends’ for their annual Christmas Party.

Anyway, sorry I skipped a couple of days. . . did I mention I was feeling crunched? 😉

Abby’s homeschool group is having their annual Christmas party tomorrow evening.  Everyone has been asked to bring Christmas Cookies, which of course, begs the question: which kind?  I love baking, and especially love baking around the Holidays. I bake all sorts of treats, not just cookies.  I love to make Pralines and Marshmallow Fudge. (But I must give credit where it is due: my brother makes much better fudge. . . he just doesn’t seem to mail it to me anymore. . . hmmm. . .)

Anyway, I  have a small repertoire of cookies that I bake every Christmas, and I am betting that most families have their own favorites, as well.  Here are some of mine, complete with recipes, if anyone is interested. 🙂  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what your favorite Christmas Cookies are!!


Crescent Cookies (3 dozen)
My Mom remembers that every Christmas, her grandmother would send a box of these to them from Chicago.  She still loves them, and so do I!  Sometimes, I think the best recipes are the most simple, don’t you?


2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and chopped pecans. Stir in the margarine and vanilla until a dough forms. Knead by hand for a few turns.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into triangles, and roll from the square end up to the point. Bend into a crescent shape, place on an unprepared cookie sheet, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar for decoration.

Date Pinwheel Cookies(about 5 dozen)
I have this thing with spirals.  I love pinwheel cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc. These are probably my husband’s favorites.

1 – 8 ounce package (1-1/3 cups) pitted whole dates, finely snipped
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour


For filling, in a medium saucepan combine dates, water, and the 1/3 cup granulated sugar. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook and stir about 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in lemon juice and the 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; cool.

In a large bowl combine butter and shortening. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and the 1 teaspoon vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

Roll half of the dough at a time between pieces of waxed paper into a 12×10-inch rectangle. Spread with half of the filling to within 1/2 of the edges; roll up dough into a spiral. Moisten edges; pinch to seal. Wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Freeze for 2 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large cookie sheet; set aside. Using a serrated knife, cut rolls into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool. Makes about 64 cookies.

Note:Place in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Mocha Meringues (2 dozen)
Meringues are Alex’s favorites, no matter what the occasion.  We all like them, and we all love chocolate and coffee, so you can’t go wrong with this combination!


2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules


Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, vanilla, cocoa, and coffee powder.

Drop mixture onto parchment paper lined baking sheet in 24 mounds. They should be about 2 inches apart.

Bake 40 minutes at 250 degrees F (120 degrees C), or until firm. Turn off oven, and let meringues cool in oven for 1 hour. Do not open oven door while the cookies are cooling.

Spritz (6 Dozen)
These are so much fun!  I mean, seriously, how much easier can it get than shooting dough out of a cookie “gun”? 😉


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup butter
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and egg yolk; beat until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and orange zest. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Fill a cookie press or pastry bag with dough, and form cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cookies are golden brown on the peaks and on the bottoms. Remove from cookie sheets at once to cool on wire racks.

Recipe Sources: 
Crescent Cookies –
Date Pinwheel Cookies –
Mocha Meringue Cookies –
Spritz –

In Western North Carolina, home canning was common place.  Pretty much everyone I knew put up at least tomatoes and peaches every year. Everyone had a garden, or at least went to the Farmer’s Markets.  Most of my friends had chickens and many of them had goats or cows.  Practically our entire homeschool group was in 4-H!

So I learned to garden and can.  I learned to crochet and to quilt.  I made my own bread (often from wheat that I had either had freshly ground, or ground myself!), and we were pretty much prepared, at any time, to be totally self-sufficient. We were not unique in any way, because, like I said, most of my friends could do all of those things, and frequently, more! So I never really gave it much thought. Until we moved to Austin.

Austin is not only a large city, it is known as “Little Silicon Valley”.  It seems to me that everyone here works with computers.  Software designers. Code writers. Stuff like that.  And nobody does any of that old-fashioned agricultural stuff!

Therefore, I have felt sort of like a fish out of water since we moved here.  Not only is the climate rather unfriendly toward vegetable gardening, but I have a tiny little yard. But I am not going to give up that easily!  We went down to the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market and I talked to the guy selling apples.  He was selling tiny little 3 pound bags of apples for $8.00!  So I asked him if he had any ‘seconds’, and explained to him that I wanted to can them.  He brightened right up, and told me to come back next week, and he’d have a bushel of seconds for me, for only $20.00!  (For any of the non-farm types out there, a bushel = 48 pounds).

So, I went back a week later, and true to his word, the apple guy had a bushel set aside for me.  I took it home and started ‘putting up apples’.  I canned 2 runs of Spiced Apple Butter, 2 runs of Spiced Apple Jelly, and 1 run of Spiced Apple Maple Jam. It was absolutely heavenly to have all of my jars and supplies cluttering up my kitchen!  Our house smelled wonderful, and, if I do say so myself, the results of my labors were very, very tasty!  It made me feel more at home.

It still bothers me that I have to rely on others to grow my food for me.  In North Carolina, while I did buy most of our food, I knew that if I ever needed to, I could always grow my own vegetable crops with pretty decent success.  But at least there are farmer’s markets, and I can get home grown food there.

The funny part to me, though, is that so many of my friends here in Texas are so impressed that I can.  They are all so amazed, and one of them even called me a “Pioneer Woman”!  (Not sure how to take that one, so decided it was a compliment, haha!) My grandmother canned everything from fruits and vegetables to Quail! So I am very happy to carry on a family tradition.  Of course, I can!!

It’s not what you think.  I do not use illegal drugs, and I didn’t start smoking again.  But I have discovered that I have another addiction that seems to be far more insidious and possibly even more difficult to conquer than all of my other addictions combined.

Yeah, my name is Valarie, and I’m an addict.  A wheat addict!

Let me explain. I recently have made the most startling discovery.  If I don’t eat foods with gluten in them, I feel good.  Not just sort of maybe possibly a bit better.  But GOOD.  As in my stomach doesn’t hurt, my ankles don’t swell, my headaches disappear, and I don’t have indigestion!

So, for Lent, I tentatively gave up wheat.  Well, to be more specific, gluten, which includes things like oatmeal and rye and barley. And I have to tell you, it really was harder than giving up cigarettes!  I felt foggy, cranky and vaguely desperate (although I had no idea WHY!).  I kept making circles through the kitchen trying to figure out what to do with my life, now that I had eliminated one of my primary reasons for living.  I wanted to cry! Literally.

But, like I mentioned above, the benefits have been phenomenal!  And the craziest thing of all?  I don’t feel very hungry anymore!  And I’m losing weight.  I am sure it’s because I am not as hungry as I used to be, and I have been working very hard at not eating if I’m not hungry.  But when I am hungry, I do eat, and I eat whatever I want, as long as there is no gluten involved.

Which brings me to another thing I have quit.  I have quit dieting! After all, I’ve been on some variation of a low-calorie, fat-free diet for roughly 35 years now. And all it’s gotten me was fatter and fatter.  My grandfather used to pay me a dollar for every pound I lost, when I was like 8 or 9 years old. My dad used to follow me around the kitchen and tell me how fat and ugly I was, and how could I eat all that *&#$*???  (Trust me, destroying someone’s self esteem does nothing to help them feel motivated to lose weight!) So, I’ve quit dieting.  It’s not working, and I don’t enjoy it.

At first, (again, like I said before) I felt a bit desperate!  I mean, I am Polish, for crying-out-loud!  How in the world am I supposed to take proper care of my family if I don’t feed them huge quantities of breads and pierogi and babkas?  They will surely starve, right?  Or, (and this was really my fear) they would hate me for depriving them.

Okay, Alex may have some sort of deep-seeded resentment, but since he’s always gone at work, I don’t think his vote really counts. However, everyone else has been amazingly supportive, and jumped right on board with me!  So, as a family, we are on a quest to eliminate gluten from our lives.  Which, is not as easy as you might think.  Wheat is freaking EVERYWHERE!  For example, I was going to make a chicken and rice casserole the other night.  I checked the ingredient list on the Cream of Mushroom can, and sure enough, it has wheat in it.  I thought maybe it was just a Campbell’s thing, or perhaps a Cream of Mushroom thing.  So, I checked my Cream of Celery from H.E.B., and found wheat hiding in there, too!  (And for those of you who, like me, are deathly allergic to MSG, it was lurking in both cans, as well!)

Well, I started really freaking out inside, and feeling very desperate that this was never going to work.  But, we made stir-fry, and it was delicious! (Except that we had to do without soy sauce, because, you guessed it: there is wheat in Kikoman’s soy sauce!!!)

If it wasn’t for my family’s support, I would really be in trouble.  Because I am thoroughly convinced that gluten makes me feel like crap, and I don’t want any more of it. Mom left me a really sweet card on my desk, promising her undying support (there was never any doubt about that one!) and describing this new dietary thing as our new ‘adventure’! The encouragement really did help a lot.

So, finally I felt a bit more bold, and Googled “gluten free cream of mushroom soup” and found a plethora of wonderful websites and recipes and best of all, support and understanding!  So now, I am armed with a new determination, and a sense of hope.  I *AM* going to do this, and I *AM* going to be successful, and it *WILL* taste good!  I mean, it has to, right?  I love to cook too much! I found one website, in particular, that was so helpful and encouraging: Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom.

Now, I know that not everyone believes that gluten is an issue, and I appreciate that.  It took me a long time to really believe it, too.  But I started by reading a book that my friend, Jen Fulwiler, recommends on her blog, “Conversion Diary“, in one of her “7 Quick Takes Friday” posts, called “The Perfect Health Diet”.  Now, it is a rather complicated book, with information I will probably never be able to wrap my brain around (Jen is clearly far more intelligent than I!) but it got me started. She also recommended a blog called Wellness Mama, which I spent hours reading.  It changed my religion!  So, when I went to order my own copy of “The Perfect Health Diet” from Amazon, I noticed a book that had been recommended by Wellness Mama, too: “Wheat Belly”, by Dr. William Davis.  Seriously, how could I not order that one? 😉

I’m glad I did, because it makes a lot of sense, and explains how hybridization of the various (okay, thousands!) of wheat varieties has lead to all sorts of terrible problems.  Most of which I have been suffering from!  It also explained that wheat has opiods in it, and that there really is such a thing as wheat withdrawal, similar to nicotine withdrawal. That was nice, because I didn’t feel so crazy after that.

So this is my new adventure, and I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I’m off and running.  Figuratively, anyway. 🙂

After we got somewhat settled in here in Austin, I got with a couple of the moms who are in charge of our homeschool support group and offered to create a yearbook. They thought it was a great idea, and the Teen Board did, too, so, we dug in, and created a yearbook. That was in October or November, I think. We got a pretty slow start, but for the past couple of months, I’e pretty much not done anything but work on the yearbook.  Yesterday, it was finally finished! I have a call in to the printer, and expect to send the file to him early next week. By the middle of the month, we should be able to have a yearbook signing party! Yay! It has been absolutely delightful getting to work with the kids, and to get to know them and their families better. This is an amazing bunch, and they are so gifted and motivated. I have been so very blessed by them!

So that leaves me with a little free time before we start up with our homeschooling in August. I have some cross stitch projects I’m working on, (can’t tell what they are . . . other than it’s for Christmas!) and I also have some sewing to finish up as well. But, what I think I will spend the most time on is Genealogy! It’s been such a long time since I’ve gotten to do anything with it, and I was really inspired last weekend.

The Golden Anniversary Couple

Let me explain.  Last weekend, a lot of us got together up in Ft. Worth at my cousin’s home to celebrate his parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  It was a lot of fun, especially because I got to see family that I don’t see very often, like the Guests of Honor, my uncle Harvey and Aunt Enid; my cousin Ronnie and his son Don; my cousin Jamie and his family (they hosted this shindig) my cousin Phyllis from Albuquerque, and best of all, Kendall!  (Especially Kendall!!) And it was awesome to eat real Texas Barbeque, which Jamie stayed up most of Friday night smoking.  We had an absolute blast!

Without question, one of my favorite parts was getting to see Phyllis and getting to compare notes on the Family History.  She is LDS, and has done quite a bit of research on our family tree.  I was able to glean quite a bit from her records, and was able to share some family photos with her, as well as a bit of data.  Isn’t the digital age amazing?  Anyway, she really inspired me to get off of my cyber-butt and start really re-organizing all of my files, which I have really been meaning to do since the fire (umm. . . 6 years ago!) And now that I live just up the road from the Texas State Archives, well, I have no excuses!

We also got to go see my cousin, Branden, his beautiful wife, Laura, and their family, on my Mom’s side.  This included getting to meet his brand new baby boy, Reid, and  his 2 year-old little girl, Lily, and his brother’s son, Garrett!  So, that was awesome.  I am posting a picture of all the kids together.  We were missing Spencer’s other three kiddos and Branden’s 3 stepchildren, but it was still a nice photo-op. 😉

Granny & Grandad Would Have Been So Proud!

I don’t want to forget to mention that Mom’s friend, Janet, let us stay at her lovely home in Grapevine, just minutes from my cousin’s home, so that was really nice. She is a wonderful hostess.  I think she should have been Polish! 😉

So, I know I’ve been pretty spotty at keeping this blog up, and I read such wonderful blogs maintained by women who have far more to do and many more children than I, but somehow I can’t begin to keep up with them.  (You people know who you are!!)  So, for now, suffice it to say, even though I am going to have some free time on my hands for a few weeks, I plan to spend it ‘documenting the dead’, and still may not get to this blog regularly for a while.  Oh, and I have a couple of movies I plan to go see, too!  The final Harry Potter movie, and Cowboys and Aliens.  (Seriously, how could I NOT go see that last one??)


I don’t have a lot of time to write anything deep and meaningful, and with today being Good Friday I feel like I should. However, I am very happy to announce that my butter molds turned out perfectly this year!

I use real wooden butter molds from Poland. The secret to getting the butter to come out perfectly? Food grade mineral oil. We oiled the molds for several days then froze them for an hour or so before putting the butter in them. This morning, the little forms just popped right out of the molds!!! I had to take a picture to share:


Polish Butter Molds


On a more meaningful note, I do pray that all of you have a very holy Good Friday, and an amazingly blessed Easter!

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