To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More Scenes From Christmas

We spent Christmas eve and day in Florida at my husband's brother's house with them and with their parents. We always enjoy Christmas on the farm with our family and all of the animals. Our dog Bella considers it a Lowe dog family reunion! Some of these photos have already appeared here, and some are new.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scenes from Christmas

It isn't Christmas 'til I decorate sugar cookies.

Santa brought a bulky gift early!

The reindeer are out.

Childhood flies away...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pyrex: They Don't Make It Like They Used To

Take a look at my chicken sitting amidst a bunch of broken glass that was once a 9 x 13 Pyrex casserole dish. Thank goodness the oven was closed when the dish shattered. Given the volume of the explosion from inside my oven, it would have likely blown the glass all over the kitchen had it not been contained. It's a very good thing I didn't choose that moment to peek into the oven to check on the meat.

So what did I do to cause this? Well, I started baking chicken the same way I have been doing for decades in my older Pyrex that dates back to the 1970s, except that this time, I did it in a dish I got for Christmas only 2 years ago. The dish was at room temperature, right out of the cabinet. The chicken had been out of the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. The oven was preheated to 400 before the chicken went in. About 10 minutes into cooking, the dish suddenly broke into a million pieces.

Now, to be fair, the Pyrex website indicates that I was supposed to cover the bottom of the dish with liquid. They also insist that Pyrex glassware is safe when used according to their directions. They aren't likely to sympathize with my complaint since I didn't add liquid, even though the chicken covered the entire bottom of the dish. The thing is, since new Pyrex is passed off as the same product it has always been - same look, same name - everyone assumes that it will behave the same way it always has. I've been cooking in my vintage Pyrex for twenty years and I've never added liquid to baking chicken. My mother and grandmother used Pyrex almost on a daily basis. They never added liquid to baking chicken and yet, they were both still able to hand down their Pyrex to me.

Pyrex is not the same product it has always been. It was once owned by Corning and its dishes were made of borosilicate glass.  It is now owned by World Kitchen, and the dishes are made with soda lime glass. Soda lime is more likely to shatter due to temperature changes. If you scroll down and watch the video I've posted from Consumer Reports, you can see that the newer Pyrex made of soda lime glass breaks in their tests 100% of the time (granted, they are using it in an unsafe way), but they report that when they did the same tests to European Pyrex which is still made of borosilicate glass, NONE of the dishes broke. A decades-old Pyrex dish that was subjected to even larger temperature differences also survived unbroken. World Kitchen puts out statements saying that Pyrex is made the same way it has always been made for the last 60 years, but a former Corning scientist says that they were still making Pyrex from borosilicate when he retired in 1987. Hmmm. More evidence that World Kitchen changed the composition of the glass is found in the fact that, after World Kitchen took over, the crack cocaine industry has had to switch from using Pyrex measuring cups (now made of soda lime) to stolen pyrex lab equipment (still borosilicate).

World Kitchen claims that soda lime glass is better because it is less prone to break when you drop it, but when I investigated a little more, I discovered that soda lime glass can be manufactured more cheaply and reduces impact on the environment. Ohhhhh. Now I get it. Note to World Kitchen:  I expect glass to break when I drop it, and I don't consider you responsible for my clumsiness.  However, I also expect Pyrex to be the same product my mother bought in 1970 and to respond to normal use and kitchen conditions in the same way.  If it's not the same product, give it a new name and a new look. Until you do, selling Pyrex and claiming it is the same as before is a covert bait and switch practice with potentially dire consequences.

As my vintage Pyrex wears out, I plan to replace it with some other kind of bakeware. Considering the possibility of glass flying into a face, or being thrown 6-8 feet across the kitchen, I certainly don't want to use a risky product around my aging mother or my daughter who will soon be learning to cook on her own, never mind my own safety. As you cook for your family this Christmas, please take extra precautions if you are using newer Pyrex.

World Kitchen will only take this seriously if they get enough reports. Consumer Reports has called for an investigation by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. If you've had Pyrex break under normal kitchen conditions, please file a report with the CPSC and report it to World Kitchen as well. WK claims they don't get very many complaints. I think that's just another cover up.

Where to report problems with Pyrex:

The Consumer Products Safety Commission:
World Kitchen, manufacturer of Pyrex: Go here and find the link to email.
Consumer Reports: Report a problem product
Consumer Affairs:  Add your story here.

Read More

Consumer Reports, Jan. 2011:  Blaming the Victim
Consumer Reports, Oct. 2011:  Shattered glass:  More than 140 new incidents reported 
Pyrex Glassware:  Is It Safe to Use?
Should Consumers Beware of Pyrex Bakeware?
New Warnings About Problems With Glass Bakeware

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teacher Gifts

I've been a busy bee this morning! The gift baskets are ready to go! Every year, I give gifts to the munchkin's teachers as well as to some service people who help us through the year. I struggle with the teacher gifts. I don't want to give them something lame when I know that other parents give them $50 gift cards and other expensive things. Our teachers are wonderful, and they deserve those lavish gifts, but it just isn't possible on my budget. I hope they like what they're getting this year!

I found baskets for $1 each at The Christmas Tree Shop, and last year, I found little small tins right after Christmas at Michael's 3 for $1. The baskets hold a tin of spiced cider mix and the small tin filled with Ina Garten's Rosemary Cashews. They're wonderful! I also tucked in some Ghirardelli squares. In the munchkin's main classroom teacher's basket, there are some teacherly goodies as well - pens, post-it notes, fun paper clips, and reward stickers. We have lots of teachers to remember - besides the munchkin's classroom teacher, there are lots of other teachers and staff members at school who deserve to be remembered, plus the piano teacher, the tennis coach, etc. Last year, I caught a sale at Avon on small things like purse size hand cream, lip balm, etc. and packaged those up in the smaller gift bags for the art/music/technology/Spanish/library teachers at school.

What do you give your child's teachers?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Elf Mayhem

The elves are here. Yep, I said elves. This year, we have not one, but two elves on our shelves. Ironically, this was the year when I thought maybe, just maybe, there'd be no elf.

"Mama, is Zippy real?" my 9-year-old munchkin asked just before Thanksgiving. "Suzie's mom told her that she was too old for an elf, and elves come from a store anyway."

I thought fast. "Honey, you've seen the Elf on the Shelf display at the bookstore, right? So, you already knew that you could get elves at the store."


"You know, some of your Santa presents come from stores, too. You knew that, right?"


"Well, just because something comes from a store doesn't mean that Santa isn't involved." I held my breath. I'm not sure if I was hoping she'd buy my explanation or keep asking more questions. I've been a little ambivalent about the elf from the beginning.



So, why do we have two? It was Thanksgiving night, and we were staying at my parents' house. "I can't wait to see where Zippy is tomorrow morning!" said the munchkin at bedtime. Uh-oh. Zippy was still at his summer residence in back-home-closetville.

"Honey, Zippy usually doesn't come until Dec. 1."

"But, Millie said that her elf was coming the day after Thanksgiving. Why would hers come then and mine wait until December 1st? I'm 100% SURE he comes tomorrow!"

After she went to sleep, I asked my mom, "Don't you have an old little Christmas elf that was grandma's?"

"I think so."

"Can we look for it?"

"Oh, Lord, that stuff's all packed up in the storage boxes in the closet. We'd never find it."

The closet had boxes stacked to the 12-foot ceiling. The elf was in the 9th box.

There was a note from Santa the next morning. Turns out that Zippy took a kick to the head while helping Santa feed the reindeer.  He'd recover, but in the meantime, Scotty would be filling in. After a few days, Zippy and his bandaged head appeared with Scotty and they've been working together. We think Scotty might be an apprentice. He's a little less mature than Zippy and is sometimes discovered doing mischievous things like eating our chocolate chip cookies, riding on the Zhu Zhu puppies, or drinking syrup.

I'm thinking that there's just no escaping Santa's elves. There will probably be an elf in the house when she comes home from college.

Welcome, blog hoppers!
Bassgiraffe's Thoughts Thursday Blog Hop

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Love to Play Christmas Music on the Piano?

If you love playing Christmas music at the piano, you should enter the giveaway at my other blog! I'm giving away (courtesy of Alberti Publishing) a free digital download of the book Christmas At Our House by Michael Dulin. Jump on over to the giveaway and enter before the end of the day on November 29th, 2011!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli Soup (Pasta and Beans)

This has to be one of the best soups I've ever made. I made it over the weekend, and ate it 3 nights in a row. Then, I made it again today. It was that good. Today, I made a few changes to the original Rachael Ray recipe for convenience, fat reduction, and improved texture. Here's my version:
  • 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact
  • 1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme with several sprigs on it, left intact
  • 1 large fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 rib celery
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can crushed or diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 quart chicken stock, preferably the lower sodium variety
  • 1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta
  • Grated Parmigiano or  Romano, for the table 
Chop the bacon. Start browning the bacon in a skillet. While it cooks, chop the onion, carrot, and celery just enough to fit into the food processor.  Throw the garlic in there, too. Process until finely chopped. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, and then saute the vegetables from the food processor.  When the bacon is done, remove it from the skillet and add it to the pot along with the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt - there's already quite a bit in the other ingredients. Without bothering to wash out the food processor, put the tomatoes and 1 can of beans into the food processor and puree. Add that to the pot with the chicken stock, the other can of beans, and the 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 8-10 minutes until pasta is done. Remove the bay leaves and the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Some of the leaves will have separated from the stems. That's fine. Just remove the woody stems. Serve with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Try not to eat the whole pot at once.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review of Stephen Mansfield's book Where Has Oprah Taken Us?

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book through the blogger reviewer program at Booksneeze in return for writing an honest review. I received no other compensation.

Stephen Mansfield’s book Where Has Oprah Taken Us? chronicles Oprah’s spiritual biography and some of the cultural influences that have made her audiences so receptive to her eclectic spiritual ideas. It exposes the conflicts between traditional Christianity and Oprah’s pastiche of beliefs drawn from widely divergent religious traditions. The premise is that Oprah, through her celebrity influence, has normalized the idea that religious truth is weighed more by how our feelings resonate with it than by scriptural evidence.

Mansfield is a talented writer and a man of faith. I do think this is a book worth reading, but I can only give it 3 stars out of 5 because I think Mansfield turns a judgmental eye in the wrong direction and in doing so, kills the appeal of the book for anyone except those who already agree with him. This is unfortunate and ironic since the author made such a point of identifying himself as an evangelical.

I believe that Mansfield is correct in saying that Oprah’s faith is not in accord with the teachings of historical Christianity, for all of her laudable good works. I think that he offers some eye-opening revelations about how Oprah arrives at her own version of truth, even if I also think he sometimes paints with too broad a brush. Before we pass judgment on Oprah, though, let’s get the board out of our own eye. Oprah hasn’t taken us anywhere except right down the road that we evangelical Christians paved for her.  As a young adult trying to find God in the midst of residual pain from an unstable childhood and sexual abuse, she found in Christianity a set of burdensome rules, not grace. While I heartily wish she had investigated Christianity further, we are remiss if we do not accept our own responsibility in failing to communicate God’s healing love to her strongly enough. 

What’s more, we ourselves ensured that her future audience would find her brand of "how does it make me feel" spirituality appealing. We have failed to teach our youth or our converts how to discern real truth from subjective emotion. We have fostered a culture of Christian entertainment that glorifies celebrity and the opinions of celebrities. We have embraced a cult of personality by elevating pastors and performers to unrealistic heights. We have baited seekers to join our club with the things the world finds appealing instead of offering real community and real substance. We were making all of these mistakes before Oprah’s rise to spiritual stardom. If Oprah’s brand of feel-good-self-actualization disguised as spirituality has found a foothold among Christians or led seekers astray, we must blame ourselves first.

Mansfield only gives the slightest of nods to the idea that the Church has been ineffective in offering living water to seekers such as Oprah. I think it deserves much more attention, and a more humble approach would certainly be more likely to convey our sincerity about our faith to Oprah devotees. I would love to see Mansfield turn his pen to the subject of what the Christian church might have done to produce a different outcome to the Oprah story. I don’t mean to absolve Oprah from her considerable hubris or her unfortunate choices, but I think we should remember that Jesus reserved his sharpest words for church folk. I think lots of church folk will read this book and find it right on the mark, enthusiastically highlighting in yellow all the parts they agree with that show where Oprah’s theology is all wrong. Sadly, Oprah’s followers will likely not rush to unite with those church folk after reading this book. It’s a shame. We “evangelicals” are great at talking to each other, but we’re often hopelessly inept at communicating with those outside the fold. The irony would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Saturday, October 08, 2011



I used Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe and the corn syrup icing recipe from Karen's Cookies. I had a lot more icing than I had cookies. I guess that means I need to make more cookies!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I haven't posted a menu plan for a while, and I've been in a bit of a cooking slump. We've had lots on the schedule, so I've settled for frozen things and old standbys. Today, though, my oven is humming. We have a small family of three, and we like to cook once and eat twice, so I'll just post the recipes I'm making this week.

French Dip Sandwiches with  Rachael Ray's Oil and Vinegar Slaw. We'll top the sandwiches with some mozarella cheese, red onions, and slices of the beautiful alma peppers I have growing in profusion on my porch.

Paprika chicken with egg noodles and steamed broccoli

Weight Watchers Butternut Squash Salad with pork chops

Pumpkin muffins to use that can of pumpkin that's been sitting in my pantry forever.

Visit Organizing Junkie for more menu plans!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happy 9th Birthday, Munchkin!

Her actual birthday's still 19 days away, but thanks to other weekend commitments in the coming month, the party was today. It was a beautiful day for it, and we couldn't have asked for nicer girls. They were all so polite and well-behaved. One of them even said, "Wow, Mrs. Lowe, you did a lot of work for this party!"  I just love her! The pennant banner above was easy to make using scrapbook paper, an alphabet stencil, a marker, and some ribbon. I could have bought one, but this one's more special.

The munchkin opened her present from mama and daddy early after mama and Auntie finished decorating the cake. Since the theme of the party was "An Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Social," we had some fun with the cake.

My poor photography doesn't do the cake justice. It was adorable! Tasted good, too. Again, we could have bought one, but then I we wouldn't have had the satisfaction of seeing (and tasting) something we did ourselves. Besides, sis-in-law and enjoyed making it together. I thought it looked great on my vintage milk glass cake pedestal.

I found some cute ideas on the internet using Starbucks Frappucino bottles, and adapted them for our party. It was really tough to drink all of those Frappucinos. (Ahem.) The round portion of the bottle label was free to print from the website Eat Drink Chic, and you can edit the words yourself.  I attached them to the bottles with clear packing tape. I ordered the straws here:  Pink Polka Dot Drinking Straws.

Our party started with chalk on the front drive. As the girls arrived, I had them draw their dream ice cream sundae. We had some quite interesting and large pictures to enjoy!

Next, we enjoyed an ice cream cone relay. The girls divided into two teams which they named "Ice Cream" and "Sprinkles." They took turns balancing a styrofoam ball on a waffle cone while they ran down around an obstacle and came back. We played for the best two out of three, and the winners got to be first in line for the food.

The girls really enjoyed playing a version of Duck, Duck, Goose that we renamed Banana, Banana, Banana, Split.

The girls created their own ice cream sundaes. I used some of my vintage Lu-ray pastels to hold the toppings.

All of the topping labels were found at Eat Drink Chic.

Since I'm a complete ribbon junkie, it was easy to use ribbon I had to create this ribbon topiary for the table. (Click here for instructions.)

There might have been just a little too much sugar at this party...

Of course, presents were next!

I found a bunch of ice cream cone containers of bubbles, so I let the girls take them outside and go crazy with them after the presents.

I send the girls home with gift cards from a local ice cream shop. I put each one in a glassine envelope and used a little wooden ice cream spoon as a tag. The printable tags that say "Thanks for Coming" are from Eat Drink Chic.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Labor Day Weekend Accomplishments

I did it! I accomplished enough to feel like I'm not behind, and at the same time, I had a lovely, enjoyable holiday weekend. In addition to the usual laundry, grocery shopping, and playing for church, I got a couple of clutter spots cleaned up, did some shopping for myself, caught up on some work for my piano studio, and spent most of Monday blissfully crafting in preparation for the munchkin's 9th birthday party next weekend.

We're having an ice cream-themed party for just a few girls, and I'm having a great time planning all the little details. I've found lots of inspiration on the internet. Here are a few photos that have sparked ideas:

Amy Moss at Eat Drink Chic

One Charming Party

I did a practice run on this cake last weekend. It turned out great! I'm not so good at piping that pretty edging, but my sister-in-law is, and she's coming up from Florida. Woo-hoo!

Living Locurto
A Little Loveliness

Amy Atlas at Sweet Designs
Amy Atlas at Sweet Designs
I'm seeing beautiful tablescapes, lots of vintage-style elements, custom labels, grosgrain ribbon, pretty paper straws, and everywhere a pennant banner. I'm incorporating all of these elements into the munchkin's party. I can't wait to share the pictures!

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Big Kitchen Reveal!

Or, I should say, the Small Kitchen Reveal because it is a small kitchen. It packs a big punch, though! We love the results of our kitchen renovation! If you want to see just how much it has changed, click here to see the before pictures. We had the ceiling scraped of its popcorn finish and redone, the overhead florescent lighting changed to cans, added new pendant lights, put in a beautiful tile backsplash, and installed new cabinets, countertop, and appliances. The only thing we left untouched was the floor.

As you can tell, I'm neither a professional photographer or designer! Apparently, not much of a housekeeper either. See the dishes left in the sink? Just keepin' it real, folks.

We're missing one knob on the base cab for the sink. We accidentally ordered one too few. No worries - it'll be done soon.

One of my very favorite things is the new microwave drawer. You press a button, and it opens like a CD drawer. Putting it here allowed us to have an actual hood over the stove which creates a great focal point for the room.

We added a little wine fridge under the bar. It's a great spot for it!

Now, credit where credit is due. The kitchen's design and installation were done by Smith Woodworks and Design of Augusta, GA. I've linked to their facebook page because it showcases their other great work. They gave me a time-frame of 3 weeks, and I laughed to myself at the impossibility that it would actually happen. Folks, they did it in 3 weeks and 2 days, in spite of Joel suffering a very bad ankle sprain in the middle of the job. He was right here, crutches, swollen ankle and all, working away. In fact, the whole family worked in my kitchen. Smith Woodworks and Design is a great family-owned company with a super work ethic and a strong commitment to doing things right. If you live in this area and you're planning to redo your kitchen, be sure to check them out. (I'm receiving no compensation whatsoever for that endorsement.)

We are very pleased with our kitchen!
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