Tuesday, December 17, 2013

peanut butter balls

It's Christmas time!

I have so many good memories of Christmas as a child. When I think back on the things that made it special, I remember things we did as a family.

Some were more work, like polishing the silver for dinner (wish my mom knew about this great method!) and ironing napkins and cleaning the house.

But other things were more enjoyable, like putting every single ornament we owned on the tree and making little crafty things and having plum pudding after Christmas dinner with all of our family.

I remember gifts received - The Atari game we were able to open on Christmas Eve. We woke up Christmas morning to my parents playing it. And also gifts given - My brother gave my grandparents a Hickory Farms gift in a cool ceramic turtle planter kind of thing (take my word for it.) The reason I remember it so well is that my mom was so impressed that my brother chose such a thoughtful gift for them. I wanted to get a ceramic turtle planter kind of thing for them every year after that, but could not find another one. Too bad.

When Hero and I got married, we each brought memories and traditions to our Christmas season. I loved making cookies and hanging stockings, which Hero had not done before. We got together with his family for Christmas dinner and made treats his mom liked to make.

One of those things was Peanut Butter Balls.

I thought they were the Best. Things. Ever.

And I still think that. 

Since the first days of our marriage, we have improved the system quite a bit. It helped having a bunch of kiddos to help with assembly. When they were younger, we had to watch them like a hawk to make sure they did not eat too much of the profits and to wash their hands if they even looked like they may have licked their fingers. Sometimes we would end the evening in a meltdown, but most years we did pretty good.

Each year we make between 400 and 600 of these little yummies. We love eating them and sharing them.

This year Colin wanted to make 1000. Um, that is a lot even for us. We made a deal - we would try to make 1000 but no one is allowed to complain about making a thousand.

Even though we are down to four of us, we were pretty efficient. We got the dough mixed up pretty fast - It helps that we have teenage boys with strong young muscles. We ate a quick dinner and got right to work on production. One of us - usually me - uses the little cookie dough scoop and drops the dough balls on the (clean) table. Everyone else grabs them up, rolls them up and plops them on the trays. 

We try to be very careful about placement - We need to get as many as possible on each one. There is usually someone that gets a little crooked in lining them up, but we are pretty much pros - We usually get them straightened out.

After a tray is full, out to the garage it goes. They dip better when they are cold.

(And in our opinion, they taste better frozen. That's because we keep them out in the garage and grab one every single time we go out there. We get a lot more cooperation about taking the trash out this time of year, too - Just another opportunity to grab one or two.)

These little beauties are ready for their chocolate bath. 

(Just had a vision of taking a chocolate bath. On the one hand, so warm, smells good and something new. On the other hand, ummmm, I don't think so.

When the kiddos were little, Hero did most of the dipping while I supervised the ball rolling and hand washing. Now that we have responsible teenagers with no one else to monitor, they get to help with that part, too. Yay!

The middle of the production isn't always the prettiest. These still need topping.

Liam demonstrates the two handed dipping method. Basically with one hand you stab a ball with a toothpick, dip it and let it drip back into the pot, and while it is dripping you use the other hand to stab, dip and let drip. It repeats over and over and over. Many, many times.

Got a little wonky in formation here. That happens toward the end of the evening.

But the quality control never slips. 


I rarely made treats with my mom - She was a great cook, but didn't do much baking or treat making. When I had the chance to do that with our family, I jumped on it. Over the years, we have tweaked how we do things, but the peanut butter balls have been a consistent favorite year after year. For everyone.

And I really hope our kiddos have good memories of making and eating and sharing them.

But as much as we tried, we did not reach our goal of 1000.

We only made about 750.

But that should be plenty.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What We've Been Up To

Holy cow - It's been a while!

And do you know why?

Because we have not done anything.

Sometimes it works out like that. Let me explain.

About three months ago, our daughter Alex, who has lived in Idaho for the last six years, told us they were thinking about moving to Michigan. I immediately did not believe her. Ever since her wedding to Lawson, we were under no illusions to ever think they would live anywhere east of the Mississippi. Lawson is from Utah, and like so many who have grown up in mountain regions, felt such a deep connection to those mountains, that he never wanted to leave them. Alex supported that and since their wedding, we have visited them or they have visited us twice a year. Oh, and regular Skype sessions. Not ideal, but it was the reality. And in those years, never a word about anything different than living near the mountains. (There were a few times they talked about relocating for school or work, but those conversations ended in denial for me - They were talking about California or Oregon - Even farther away!)

So when Alex said they were serious, I did not believe her. When she looked into transferring their jobs - they both work for Target - I did not believe her. When they ended their lease on their apartment, I did not believe her.

I really, really did not want to get my hopes up. I knew for so long that this was not an option that I was cautious. 

And then there was a conversation that went something like this:

Me: I can't believe you are really coming. 

 Alex: Mom, we are coming. We have jobs in Michigan. We have no place to live here. We need to live there.

Me: Really?

Alex: Really.

Me: Are you sure?

Alex: We are sure.

Me: Really sure?

Alex: Really sure.

Me: Well okay then!

And Hero and I hopped on a plane to Salt Lake City, then hopped in a shuttle bus up to Idaho Falls, then hopped in a 16 foot Budget rental truck and drove that truck from Idaho, through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and finally into Michigan.

And since we arrived home safely and all in one piece (Yay!) on October 25, we have not gotten a single thing done on our small house.

Because when you have a sweet little family living in your basement while they find their own small house, it is pretty much impossible to get anything done.

Not that I am complaining. It has been terrific having them here in Michigan! We could not be happier.

Even though we are not getting much done. Because what is the point of having a great little home if you don't pause to enjoy it?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy Halloween!


Boy - Have we been really busy. We are usually busy, but we were really busy the last few weeks.

One thing we did was fly out to Idaho Falls, jump in a 16 foot truck towing a car and drive with our daughter, Alex, her husband Lawson and son Jett, and drive all the way to Michigan. Out of Idaho, into Wyoming (YIKES - MOUNTAINS!), through Nebraska (flat - I got to drive in this part of the country), through Iowa (rolling hills - lovely to look at, not so much to drive in a big truck), into Indiana (the only construction and it was a doozy - wall to wall semi-trucks stopped for an hour at 12:30 in the morning) and finally into Michigan. It took two and a half days and we were never so glad to see our little house. We are thrilled to have our daughter and her family living so close!

So there was that.

We had the usual craziness that comes with planning a trip - getting everything done that you would have been doing if you were not traveling - that kept us from doing anything on the house. In fact, the stairs are not any farther along than they were in the last post. But we will get that wrapped up soon.

And just the everyday "we have this and this and that to do today" busy.

We did have a super fun project to work on for our church Halloween party last week. (The party was the evening of the day we got home.) Hero and I spent a few hours getting into the Halloween spirit painting a photo backdrop.

Hero and I work together so well. Here is just a sample of how projects work around our house:

Me: I got a canvas drop cloth to paint the photo backdrop for the party. I have an inspiration photo and I am pretty sure we have the paint. Let's paint!

Hero: Where are we going to spread it out? How are we going to keep paint off the floor?

Me: Downstairs. Piece of cardboard. Let's paint!

Hero: Cardboard? How about a sheet of plastic? It will fit better. What are we going to use to paint with?

Me: Plastic sounds great. Brushes. Let's paint!

Hero: How about a roller for the bulk painting? Do we have enough paint?

Me: Roller sounds great. I think so. Let's paint!

He is so practical - I really need him to help me get things worked out. I always want to start right now and he is the voice of reason. 

Once we got our hands on everything we got to work on the canvas, backed by plastic, using a paint roller, down stairs.

Recognize the color? One of the colors we used on the stairs. Sweet.

This why Hero asks me if we have enough paint - It's big! It's actually a little too tall, so we did not go all the way to the bottom.

Hero likes to do the bulk painting. Even when we paint a room, I am the one to do the cutting in and trim work. If I outline it, he does the middle. It's a great system!

To make a moon, I needed a big circle to trace. Hero suggested my Bosu - It worked like a champ!

I am all about Halloween spookiness, as long as it is on the fun side. I get scared way too easy - I need a little humor with my terror. 

I never go to haunted houses. But maybe I would if it were quirky like this one.

We added a friendly little grave yard. Creepy tree. No big deal. Not scary.

Hero doing the bulk painting on the house.

Adding a few neighborly bats. Not the kind that sink their teeth into your neck to suck all your blood out.

Got this baby done in just a few fun hours. We hung it up on the clothesline to dry for the rest of the day.

Watch out Hero!

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Seriously, Plan F on the Stairs!

For a space that doesn't have any furniture or someplace we hang out, this stairway is sure getting lots of attention.

Here is where we left off:

And our latest idea was to not scrape and sand the steps and just cover them with plywood like we did the kitchen floor and then paint them and they would be terrific.

And so we got started on plan 6. Or F.

And then we discovered a little tiny super annoying problem:

We could not use just straight cut wood for the steps. There is a little notch on the front side edges on both sides of each one. 

Not sure why we didn't consider that when we thought up this genius plan. Except that maybe we were just too happy to have a plan that might actually work out.

Hero gave a valiant attempt to measure and hand cut a sample step to see  how challenging this new development would be. And it was a big pain in the neck. It's not like he can just make a template, cut them all the same and then install. Each one would have to be measured, then he would have to go out to the garage to cut, and then back down to fit them in place. And if it fight perfectly (highly unlikely) he could go on to the next one. 

Like I said, big pain in the neck.

Hero suggested we just take out the old boards and replace them.


And then we came back to reality.

After one step, Hero got out the plastic to seal off the area. 

He was ready to give it the old college try to scrape and sand the wood.


Here is a common scenario in our house with things like this:

I try to do something, say scrape ick and goo off the basements steps, and it takes FOREVER to make any progress. at. all.

Hero comes along, throws the scraper around and one step is done in like two minutes. Seriously.

So between the two of us, we got all eleven steps scraped and sanded. Good thing Hero had me to do a few of them.

Heavy duty sanding and scraping action.

Since no project is complete without at least one trip to the store, Hero ended up at Harbor Freight for more sandpaper. Not that he was sad about going to one of his favorite stores.

Now this is more like it! 

I just love that Hero cleans up.

Back to my specialty - Painting!

We decided on two colors with a runner down the center.

I painted the outside color first. Then taped off for the second color.

Painting stairs is a serious exercise in patience. It's not like you can just paint the whole stairway and be done. This kind of project really makes me twitchy.

Here is a trick I learned online with painting stripes on a painted surface. After taping, paint a quick layer of the very same color the new color is next to. That way, if there is any seeping under the tape, it is the same color and there should be very little touch-up. 

After that dries paint the new color. I had to do three coats of paint. One half at a time.


And then the tape comes off. There is not anything much more satisfying than pulling the tape off and having an awesome perfect line.

Patience rewarded.

And painting the other side a few days later.


There are a few little spots to touch up - No biggie. And there are a few spots that need a little caulk and then I need to paint the white trim along the stairs.

And then add something fun.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Progress and Some Ideas

We are working on that plan E for the stairs. It is going to sound a little bit like our kitchen floor, except different. But before we can actually address the step part of the stairs, we needed to do some prep work. 

It was probably a good idea that we did not know exactly how we wanted to go forward quite yet, as prep work is a weakness of mine. 

I am usually so impatient to get started on the part of the project that is just before the finished part.

I used to do things a little backward with projects - Starting in the middle and then having to go back to the beginning because the middle wasn't working out so good. 

Like painting a room - I would totally skip cleaning the area of cobwebs, and go right to painting. Then I would have to stop the painting, clean the brush of dust and cobwebs, clean the corners of dust and cobwebs, get a wet rag for cleaning my fingers, find some gloves, grab the tape to cover edges and get a drink of water and turn on some music.

And then get back to painting.

Hero has been working lots of overtime, so I have had to patiently wait on him to address the steps. And while I am waiting patiently, I am able to work out my impatience with prep work by doing the prep work while I wait. Make sense?

First, have to caulk those gaping cracks. Seriously. Having all that split molding just looks so unattended. It's not the end of the world that those gaps exist, but it is one of those little details that makes such a difference. And it is so easy to fix!

I just squirted that stuff in all the cracks. Piece of cake.

Looks gloppy at first - Don't worry about that. The middle usually looks not finished, because it's not.

Just run a finger along that bead of caulk and it smooths right out. It may need a swipe or two, but it is pretty darn forgiving. 

See how prepared I was? I wore gloves.

Here is how the steps look after they were vacuumed up. So ready to put this look behind us.

I pulled out the primer and got to work. I was hoping (as usual) that this particular project would only need one coat. I painted and painted and painted and when I got done with the first coat, I realized I would need two coats. Rats.

Good thing I am still being patient.

I was pretty pleased with myself that I remembered that if I painted each step all the way down, I would be stuck in the basement for a few hours.

A little tip about primer - It's stinky. There are warnings on the can to use in a well ventilated area, which this area was as much as it could be. Remember the stinky kitchen floor when we stained it?

Yep - I pulled out the candles again. They really work!

When the right side was dry enough to walk on, I got busy on the left side. At this point, Hero woke up (Remember Hero sleeps sometimes during the day because he stays up all night saving lives.)
and asked why I painted the step if we were going to cover it? That is a good question. I thought the same thing as I was painting them. 

You see, I thought our conversation went something like this:

Me - What can I do on the stairs while you sleep all day long?
Hero - Prime everything.
Me - Great idea! I will get right on that.

But Hero probably thought the conversation went more like this:

Me - What can I do on the stairs while you sleep all day long?
Hero - Prime the parts that need to be painted. Don't worry about the step part because we are going to cover that.
Me - I hate priming.

And that is why the steps look like this from this view. 

With the candles.

So that is how it looks in the middle of the project. Not necessarily better looking, but really it is, because it is progress.

Our plan is to cover the step part with the same plywood that we used for the kitchen floor. There simply is no hope for those steps the way there are - Remember they are about 55 years old and have seen plenty of action. Those two layers of linoleum we removed were only a small part of their history.

But we are not going to stain the stairs like we did the kitchen. Since we choose not to paint the kitchen floor at all, we thought the stairs would be the perfect place to do something fun with a painted floor. Here are some inspiration photos we are thinking are pretty darn clever:


Grey & Teal painted stairs for basement

Simple paint design idea for basement stairs.

Three blue stripes in middle of painted white stairs in seaside cottage,

Pretty neat, right?

The thing is with this space, we feel like we can be a little more clever ourselves. As I think about all the changes we have made in the stairwell, I feel like I am channeling all those who lived here before me. They took the opportunity to do something they thought was clever in this little area, and now it's our turn.

Maybe someday in the future, when we are long gone, someone will wonder what the heck we were thinking, too.

But so far, we are liking the plan E.

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