Friday, November 28, 2014

Recipe: Coke Salad (you asked for it!)

I was probably legally old enough to drive before I found out that "normal*" people don't know what Coke Salad is.  Or that if you try to find the recipe, "normal" people call it Bing Cherry Salad.

pfffttt...  "normal people".......

Some fun facts about Coke Salad, as far as our family** goes:

  • It's at almost all holidays, and if it's not there, you're going to find some disappointed people (my husband).  
  • Each branch of the family probably knows who makes it best (an un-named source has said that Tina makes the best Coke Salad).  
  • There is disagreement over whether or not it should be girl Coke Salad or boy Coke Salad.  At my house, we don't add nuts, so it's girl Coke Salad.  I hear that Loretta puts finely chopped walnuts in her Coke Salad (slowly shaking head in disgrace).
  • There's also the subtle nuances of which Jell-o to use (cherry vs black cherry) and which cola to use (Coke vs Pepsi vs Dr. Pepper; regular vs diet; regular vs cherry), and of course, pineapple tidbits vs crushed pineapple (Tina says tidbits, so that's what I use).  
  • Many of us have attempted to spread the Coke Salad phenomenon to our in-laws with varying degrees of success.  Tina's nephew is a Coke Salad junkie, but when I brought it to an event for Jeff's family, no one even commented on it.  I was dumbfounded...
  • And, as I've recently found out, it's not at all photogenic.

So, what is Coke Salad?  Here's the recipe for this Jell-o salad from Heaven:

Coke Salad

1 large box of cherry Jell-o
1 can dark cherries; retain juice
1 can pineapple tidbits (or crushed, or I guess even chunks, but I used tidbits); retain juice
1 block cream cheese
2 cups cold cola of your choice - if you're traditional, use Coke

  • Open your cans of fruit and pour the juices out - you'll need 2 cups total.  If you're using crushed pineapple, I find it's helpful to set a colander on the 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup/bowl, pour in the pineapple, and smoosh it down with a potato masher, to get all the juice out. If you end up with less than 2 cups, just add enough water to get up to 2 cups.
  • Boil the juices.  But be careful with that because I've boiled the juices over in the microwave more times than I care to admit.  Don't ask...
  • Add the boiling juice to the Jell-o powder, stirring to dissolve.  The box says 2 minutes.
  • Put it in the fridge for a while to let it get a little thicker.  Like 20 minutes or so (I can't actually find my written down recipe; can you tell?).
  • While the Jell-o is chillin' in the fridge, cut the cherries in half.  You can go ahead and cube up the cream cheese too.  Cutting the cream cheese is my least favorite part of this process because it's all sticky and gets soft and argh!
  • When the Jell-o has thickened a little (not set!), add the cola, fruit, and cheese.  
  • Stir.  
  • Refrigerate until set.  
  • Enjoy immensely.

Now, there is a fundamental flaw to Coke Salad.  That flaw is that the cream cheese rises to the top, so if you're like, 5th or 6th in line to get Coke Salad, and the people in front of you were greedy, or thoughtless, or, well, me, you'll be left with cream cheese-less Coke Salad, and that is not ideal.  Here's what I do to avoid that:

  • While the Jell-o is chilling, in your serving dish, layer half of your fruit, then half of the cream cheese, the rest of the fruit, and the rest of the cream cheese.  What's nice is that the weight of the layers will hold half of the cream cheese towards the bottom!  And then don't stir it,  It's worked well in the few times I've done that. 
So, what do you think?  Sound good?  If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

Coke Salad, taking over the world one family at a time...

*True story:  If you ask the members of my family, most of us will admit that we're really not "normal."  We have our own brand of craziness (i.e. humor) that really intensifies the more of us that gather.  In fact, there have been times when we were in public, and I think if I'd asked others around us, they would have thought we were drunk (never).  And there was at least once that I honestly thought we were going to get thrown out of a restaurant for being rowdy***.
**And for the purpose of this blog post, "our family" refers to my Mom's side of the family tree.
***It was when Loretta & Andy & the kids were traveling to West Virginia.  Lunch at a place right by the Oglesby off-ramp.  It was them, me, Sharon, Susana, Marcos, & Marcos Alan.  And we were seated at a big table in the middle of the dining room.  All the other diners kept looking at us, and the manager was basically circling our table.  I was having as much fun hanging out with them as I was watching everyone else.  Funniest thing ever.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 - What I'm thankful for

1.)  Health.  While I'm sure that medical professionals would say that most Americans, including us, are only in "fair" health, we are doing well.  No injuries or bad illnesses.  And there is an Urgent Care in Glennallen, just in case.

2.)  Happiness.  I can say we are truly happy up here.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am much more happy and content than I was a year ago.  Our lives have completely changed, and while some of those changes bring us pain (being so far from family), the sum of all the changes = happiness.

3.)  Freedom.  We live in 'Merica.  We have the freedom to celebrate Thanksgiving, freedom to worship and celebrate God, freedom to write about what we want to write about or talk about what we want to talk about.  That's something that I will never be able to fully appreciate because I don't know what it's like to not have freedom.  Big thank you to all of our veterans for making Thanksgiving and all of our celebrations a possibility!

4.)  A good internet connection.  Hey, they couldn't all be deep, right?  I don't know if I could have moved so far from family if it wasn't for technology.  Being able to surf the web makes me feel closer to the world.  I can talk to people whenever I want to.  And even though we haven't tried it out yet, we have the computer all set up to Skype!

5.)  Plenty.  We have plenty.  Plenty of heat, plenty of water (even though we have to run and get it), plenty of food, plenty of coziness, and if we run out of anything, we have the capability to get more.

6.)  Family.  We've obviously had a lot of change over the past year, and while our moving has changed our lives so much, it's changed our families' lives as well.  I thank everyone for the encouragement and love during the last 6 months, because without that, without you, we wouldn't be the people we are.

7.)  Coke Salad.  If you've ever had Coke Salad, you know why it's on the list.  I am also thankful that I am too far away for Loretta to actually kill me for giving the recipe to the sample lady at Costco...

8.)  Love.  My love for my husband has grown in leaps and bounds in the last couple of months.  He is my rock.  He is here to celebrate with me, to laugh with me, to hold me when I cry, and to just be near each other in the evenings.

The list doesn't end there.  For all that is good, I am thankful!  So, on this Thanksgiving 2014, please know that as you're saying Grace over your Thanksgiving meal, whether it's the traditional meal or KFC, we are thankful for and praying for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lots to do for Thanksgiving & Christmas

Whew.  I have a lot of stuff I need to do.

Today I'm going to work on as much stuff as possible to get ready for Thanksgiving.  This is the first time that I'm having Thanksgiving with just Jeff, and I think only the second time that I won't be with my family (we had turkey at his sister's house a few years ago).

While it's just us, I still feel like there is a lot to be done!  We aren't skimping on the menu...  We're having:

  • Roasted Turkey Breast (let's all hope it's not dry...)
  • Gravy (hopefully homemade, but I bought a jar, just in case)
  • Stuffing (Pepperidge Farm)
  • Candied Yams (like Mom makes)
  • Mashed Potatoes (more for the leftovers than for anything else)
  • a veggie, from the freezer
  • Coke Salad (ancient family recipe)
  • Pumpkin Pie (again, like Mom makes)
  • Cranberry Jelly (canned)

Yes, we will have lots of leftovers.  But I have my Pinterest board all ready with leftover recipes.  And I plan on making turkey & potato soup, using this recipe as a base.  I send soup in a thermos to work with Jeff everyday (it's a Stanley thermos and he said it's always hot when it's lunch time), so I figure if I make the soup, I could freeze some for later for lunches.

Also, the Coke Salad will NOT last long.  Which reminds me, I gave the recipe to a sample lady at Costco this weekend!  How funny is that?  She was in the aisle near the cream cheese, and Jeff asked if we needed any, and then started razzing me that I haven't yet made the Coke Salad that I said I'd make a month ago (true story), and the sample lady asked what Coke Salad is.  I verbally told her, and she pulled out a piece of paper and asked me to write it down!  I sure hope I remembered it correctly, and that her family likes it!

I'm considering making pinwheels to take to church on Sunday.  They have a lunch after every service.  And I figured if I put some turkey, cranberry jelly, craisens, and cream cheese on tortillas, roll them up, and slice, that would be pretty darn yummy...

So today I need to finish putting away the groceries from this weekend's shopping trip (it was a 2-day event and the car was so loaded down that Jeff said that the car raised up 4 inches when we unloaded it).  I need to do dishes, then make pumpkin pie, then do dishes, then make Coke Salad, then do dishes, then cut the veggies that I'll use tomorrow, then do dishes, then make dinner.  And I currently plan on doing dishes before going to  bed so that I have a clean kitchen to start in tomorrow.

Why do I need to do dishes so often?  We don't have a dishwasher, at least not one that isn't human.  And I have a tendency to dirty a LOT of dishes when I cook.  And I hate dirty dish water.  And I also don't really care for drying dishes, so if I do them in batches, they are more likely to air dry in between batches.

I figure if I get all the veggies cut that I will need for tomorrow, it will make my life easier.  I'm also considering making the mashed potatoes ahead of time; does that work?  Is that a thing?  I don't know, so maybe I'll text Tina and ask.

Jeff and I also have a lot that we have to do over the weekend (so excited that he has 4 days off!  Both Thursday & Friday are paid holidays!  At his old job he always had to work the day after...).  We have to put plastic up on the windows, run and get water, and I know that Jeff has some stuff that he wants to knock out this weekend.  I want to start wrapping Christmas presents and working on Christmas cards, along with some un-named Christmas-related stuff that I can't divulge at this time.

Well, I guess there's no time like the present!  Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Some TV Stuff

So, when the president is on TV at 8PM Eastern Time, it really screws with my recording of The Ellen Show.  And it means that I missed Rebel Wilson from yesterday's episode!  Darn you, Mr. President!  Rebel Wilson is so much more entertaining than you!

So I decided to try to find the interview online.  I tried  I didn't find what I was looking for, or did I?

Rebellen's new single

You MUST watch this!  Tina, that means you!


Buying Alaska on Destination America this Saturday
This episode will feature a couple of people we met while on our trip up here in June, and it says it'll be focused on Glennallen!  If you want to see more about the town where Jeff works, check your local listings and tune in!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tuesday's moose roast = today's moose stew

The other night we got a call from Jeff's co-worker that he was across the street smoking some caribou and we should stop by.  It was definitely a good idea, because we came home bearing gifts of meat.

One of the things he gave us was a moose roast.  Now, Jeff & I aren't big steak eaters, and I've only made roast a couple times in our 5 years together.  We are much more chicken or ground beef kind of people.  But that's okay, because it was time for roast and I had yet to haul out my crock pot since I got up here.

I have this stuff called Better Than Bullion; it's in a jar, a very thick liquid, and you mix it with water to create stock or broth.  I figured that way I don't have to keep a bunch of broth on hand.  I made some beef stock with that, along with some apple cider (I used two cups of each liquid), for the crock pot liquid.  I seared the roast on all sides before putting it into the crock pot with some onions.  And then I put an envelope of crock pot roast seasoning in.  I wasn't going to settle for a flavorless roast!  Since I had put apple cider in, I chose not to add in an envelope of onion soup mix, or any ranch seasoning.

I cooked it for 2 hours on low, 2 hours on high, and another 2 hours on low (I was limited on time, or else I would have cooked it for 8 hours on low).

When I had two hours left, I added in some bite-size chunks of carrot and potato, because that is my favorite* part of having roast - the veggies that were cooked in the juice and sucked up all the flavor.

*When I was a kid I was the youngest so I was always served first at dinner.  And every time we would have crock pot roast, I would complain that my piece was "hard" (7-year-old word for tough), and everyone else would say "No it's not."  And so I would not enjoy having roast.  Finally, after many years, my Dad tried my piece of roast.  And he said, "It is tough."  Finally!  Vindication!  And probably the reason I don't order steak.  I don't know what Jeff's problem is.

So on Tuesday night we had roast & veggies, and mac n cheese per Jeff's request.  Um, the flavors didn't really go together well, but I did like what the cheese did to the liquid I had in my bowl (I almost always serve my dinner into a bowl.  true story).

Obviously we had leftovers of the roast & veggies because 2 people aren't going to eat the whole thing!  I sliced up more of the roast and fished out the veggies, and put it into a container and filling it with liquid from the crock pot.  I also put about a third of the roast into a freezer bag and popped it into the freezer.  I have plans for that!  Oh, I need to add Ritz crackers to my shopping list...

And today is Thursday.  I didn't make dinner last night.  I thought we had fish or burritos in the freezer so I figured Jeff wouldn't starve.  Ooops.  We didn't have either one.  I guess I should have made dinner.  So today I took that left over roast & veggies and turned it in to stew!  (Don't worry, Jeff ended up having meatballs for dinner)

I stared with the juice.  I had kept a mason jar of it before I emptied the crock pot.  I used it to make a gravy.

1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
8 ounces broth/stock

First melt the butter.  Then whisk in the flour, cooking for 2 minutes while you whisk.  Add in the liquid, all while continuing to whisk.  Yes, it's difficult to do both things at once.  But you can do it!

Once you get it all whisked together and heated through, you have gravy!  Mine ended up being very thick, but that was okay, because I wasn't going to use it as gravy.  I put most of that gravy into another container so I could use the same sauce pan for the stew.

I then grabbed that moose roast & veggies in liquid.  I used my Ulu to cut everything to small chunks.

you caught me mid-cut...
I put the meat, veggies, and some liquid into the little bit of gravy that I left in the sauce pan.  Mixed it all around.  Then I added a big more liquid and the rest of the gravy to get it to the consistency that I like my stews to be.  When Jeff gets home I will make either mashed potatoes or rice to serve it with.

Look at me, a real Alaska housewife, making moose for dinner multiple nights in one week...  And Jeff's been have snacks of caribou sausage every once in a while...  You should come visit!

The Copper River

When we went to church on Sunday (in a little Lutheran church in our "subdivision"), Jeff pointed to the edge of the parking lot and said, "That's the river."
Trees on the south edge of the church parking lot.
So of course I had to make my back there with the camera!
These pictures were taken on Wednesday, November 20, 2014, just before 11AM.

See the steam coming off the river?  It was about 19 degrees out when I took these photos.
Do you see how low the sun is in the sky?!?!  
It's almost noon, and the sun is just getting above the tree line.

I only stood outside taking pictures for about 6 minutes - it was kinda chilly...
Don't worry, I wasn't too close to the river.  It's down probably 15 feet below the "bluff."

Facing North, where the Copper River is coming from.  Mt. Drum is behind the bluffs on the other side of the river.
And while there is a lot of ice on the river, frozen on the edges and then "slushy" in the channel, it's still a very loud river, flowing fast!

Now if I could only get another beautiful pink sunset, I could run down and take some really amazing shots of the Copper River!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mailbag - answering a couple questions about moving to and living in Alaska

I received a comment on the post with the

Whew, where was I?  Oh, yes, the comment.  It had questions:

My husband and I are looking into moving to AK from CT. We have been talking about it for years! I am glad I came across your blog, every other one I read is old. I like that yours is current. What does your husband do that you can afford to not work? We would love to have that same situation but always find we cant afford to live on one income. Any advice on housing and making that huge of a move? 

Okay, well, first of all, Thanks!  I love to find out that someone's reading my blog, especially someone I'm not related to or friends with and therefore "forced" to read it.  Welcome!

Your first question was about what my husband does for work that means I don't have to.  Jeff works for the phone company.  That fact isn't all encompassing of why we don't monetarily need income from me.  We live modestly.  We always have.  We were each raised in families that had to watch their budgets.  To quote an awesome movie* "We don't go to Europe.  We don't own fancy cars.  I don't own expensive jewelry."  So we don't have that expensive lifestyle to have to try to keep up.

Plus, we left a lot of expenses behind.  I was driving 200 miles a week, just to and from work.  Not including any little side trips.  I would go to the store just to go.  I ate out for lunch almost every day.  We ate out as a family entirely too often.  All expenses we don't incur anymore.  Plus, Alaska doesn't have any state sales tax (but some cities do), or individual income tax, and where we live there's no property tax.

Now, If I drive to town, it's less than 25 miles round trip, and it's not every day, more like 2-3 times a week.  I never eat lunch out.  I don't go to the store just cuz I'm bored (oh, Target, Hobby Lobby, Michael's, how I miss you...).  And we go out to eat together once a week, max.

My degree and background are in Human Resources.  To take a job up here, I'd probably be an administrative assistant or bank teller or grocery clerk, which would be great because, you know, less stress, but also, less income.  And if/when I decide to go back to work, I will be spending less time cooking, which means more "easy" meals, which means more processed stuff, convenience foods, which are more expensive.  Or more days when we say "Let's go to the Fireweed" (which costs $25+ for the two of us).  For us, for right now, this works.  Luckily there are enough employers around here that there would be employment opportunities.

Moving on...

You also asked:  Any advice on housing and making that huge of a move?

Wow, that's a big question.

And I've only lived here for less than 2 months.

But here goes.

First off, you really need to get a better idea of what part of the state you want to live in, what kind of a lifestyle you want to have.  Alaska is huge!  You've got the populated areas like Anchorage/Wasilla/etc.  The populated but colder Fairbanks.  The populated but can't drive there from anywhere Juneau.  You've got tons of small towns.  For the small towns, you probably have to figure out how far or how long of a drive you want to be from, well, WalMart.  Girdwood (not that far) or Seward (2.5 hours)?  You've also got the parts of the state where you can't drive, like all those cute little towns on the Inside Passage, or the western part of the state, including Nome, Alakanuk, Unakleet where you have to fly out.

You can also decide on your location based on geographic features.  Live in the rain forest that is the Inside Passage.  Live where temps pretty much stay between 0 and 60 degrees throughout the year down in Homer.  Live in Whittier, where everyone lives in the same building and it rains 187% of the time (slight exaggeration).  Live where there are plenty of mountains and trees, or where there are none.  Lots to choose from.  I moved here from the Midwest where it's flat.  Now, well, you've seen the pictures.

Before May 17, I hadn't even heard of this town Jeff works in.  I always figured we would live somewhere much closer to Anchorage or the MatSu Valley; I was checking out houses in Eagle River.  Somewhere I could run to the drug store, or Target, or whatnot whenever I wanted to.  But we had to consider employment, and this is where the work was, and a good job at that.  We came up for the interview, and it's beautiful.  It took me a while to see the beauty, because people up here live differently than what I was used to.  My eyes have stopped seeing all the abandoned/disabled vehicles and junk in peoples' yards.  I've stopped really seeing that you can have a nice house next to one that looks like it belongs to a hoarder.  Maybe the the early snow this year was God's gift to me to help me get over the difference in lifestyle up here...

Also, when deciding where you want to live, you have to also think about how you want to live.  Many people live just like they would anywhere else in the US, with regular utilities and running water, like we do.  You could decide you want to live very far away from other people, or right in town in an apartment complex.  You could decide you want to live in a dry cabin (no running water, no way Jose!).  Or maybe you want to be so remote you can't even drive anywhere close to your humble little abode, with no neighbors for miles and miles.

So, you know, lots to think about.

As far as housing goes, in our neck of the woods, one of the pieces of advice Jeff heard from many many people during the trip up here for the interview was to rent for the first year.  And that's what we're doing.  What's nice is that we're in a house without a commitment.  We can explore and figure out what our needs and wants are up here.  What different areas there are to live in.  Where we can be on the town water or at least have potable water from a well so we don't have to go and get water.  We can see what the winter driving conditions are on different roads, and get a better feel of how far of a commute we are willing to take on.

This next idea is not for me, as I am not a camper, but I think is probably the best idea for a couple that likes camping.  Sell all your crap, except what you can comfortably live with in a camper or RV.  Selling all your stuff gives you money to live off of.  And then drive up here and explore.  Maybe drive up here, get a job, and explore.  Whatever you're comfortable with.  Up here you can pretty much pull off and camp almost anywhere.  There was a couple who were camped out in their camper in the scenic lookout when we were up for the interview.  Of course they were camped out there because they had mechanical problems on their way south for the summer to see family, but you get the idea.  Also, selling all your stuff means you don't have to either hire a moving company or drive a UHaul up the ALCAN.  Which Jeff did.  He did not enjoy it.  Maybe if he'd had enough time to drive at a leisurely pace...

Which really brings me to the next thing:  The cost of moving to Alaska.

Let's face it, there is always going to be expenses when you move, even when you are lucky enough to have relocation paid by your employer.  If nothing else, you know you're going to have to buy a new toilet bowl brush and plunger.  Because, really, don't move those, that's gross.  And when you're making this big of a move, you're going to have to buy new kitchen stuff like salad dressing.  Do you have any idea how much salad dressing got thrown out when I finally made the move up here?  It was a lot.  And window coverings.  And maybe a new bookshelf.  And oh, wouldn't that be a nice (fill in the blank) to put on the wall in the living room?  And utilities and phone service and satellite TV, all have "connection fees."  So, you know, moving expenses.

If you wait to make the move until you can afford it, you might never move.  Earlier this year I had told Jeff that we could financially afford to move to Alaska in 5 years.  And I'm so happy that we took the opportunity that presented itself, even if we hadn't hit what I would consider being "financially ready."

But how do you really actually physically move to Alaska?

Well, that depends on the part of Alaska you're moving to.  If you can drive to where you're moving to, do the RV thing like I wrote about above.  Or drive a UHaul like my husband did.  Or hire a moving company (which apparently takes a month or more to get your stuff).
If you're going to live somewhere you have to fly to (the entire Western half of the state, basically), you don't have those options.  I've read blogs (from a lot of teachers & their families) who have moved via the USPS.  That's right, the post office.  Someone has to move your stuff, so why not trust the people who have been moving stuff for pretty much ever?  I have mailed my share of Priority Mail boxes, and I also mailed a tote.  In fact, I raced my tote up here.  I took it to the post office in Illinois right before my sister and I took off to drive to Seattle (here, here, and here).  I then picked it up about two weeks later at the post office, somewhat worse for wear, but intact.
I also read a blog from someone who moved to Juneau to teach.  She sold almost all her stuff, packed her car as full as possible, and drove to the west coast.  She caught the ferry from Bellingham WA up to Juneau.  And she also had some stuff mailed to her.

So, what else do you want to know?  I'd love to try to help out if you have questions, even though I am by no means an expert.  I just have recent experience.

And if you're looking for other Alaska blogs, I read:
Alaskan at Heart
At Home on the Last Frontier
Our Wild and Precious Life
The Cunningham Family in Bush Alaska

Hopefully that helps.

*Have you figured out what movie?  Father of the Bride.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

pictures at the airport ~ squirrel! ~ trees & clouds

It was another beautiful day on Thursday.  And I knew exactly where I wanted to go to take a few pictures - the airport!

Unfortunately, with this camera I'm using, I don't really know the camera yet.  So I started off in Panoramic mode, without realizing it...  Yikes!

I love this photo, but I wished that the red on the plane stood out more.  So I doctored it up in Google photos to give you this:
And I love it!

Next time I'm going to be a little more brave as I take photos.  But I was not sure if I was allowed to be where I was, and I didn't want to get in trouble.  Plus, I didn't want to walk too far because I had left the car running.  I like the fact that we still have the Wisconsin plates on the car, so if someone asks what I'm doing or why I'm somewhere I'm not supposed to be, and I just feign ignorance.  :-)

I also stopped off at the little spot just north of where the Old Rich veers off of the Richardson Highway.  I was so happy to see a couple of little squirrels playing!  I wasn't able to get this guy's friend - a ginger - but this guy was quite the little model.

And when I got home, the trees and the clouds looked so cool, I just couldn't resist.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yesterday's sunset

November 13, 2014 4:15 PM

November 13, 2014 4:16 PM

November 13, 2014 4:17 PM
November 13, 2014 4:20 PM

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pinterest Review: The Best Cheesy Potato Casserole (made with frozen hashbrowns!)

With the sun being so far south in the sky, we sometimes get very interesting lighting.
These photos are from October 31, 2014.  It was sunny to the south, but looked stormy to the northwest.
Richardson Highway
Looking at these pictures again, I almost wish I had taken more that day...

As I said a few posts ago, I think I'm becoming a better cook.  I'm sure the fact that I'm not getting home at almost dinner time stressed out from work helps...  That and the fact that we can't just run to the fast food restaurant and buy dinner when we don't want to cook, so I've been trying some new recipes that I've found, where else, on Pinterest.

The Best Cheesy Potato Casserole (made with frozen hashbrowns!)

  • 1 package of frozen hashbrowns (they can be shredded, the can be diced, they have have the peppers in them... any kind you want)
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can of milk (just fill up the canned soup with milk)
  • 1/2 onion chopped (this is optional) - you can add anything from bacon to bell peppers
  • 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream (I have even used a half of container and it is good)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray.
  3. Take your frozen hashbrowns and break them up in the bag.
  4. In a large bowl combine the onion (or whatever else you want to include), 1 cup of cheese, the milk, and the cream of chicken soup. Stir to combine.  (edited to add:  this is the time to also add in your sour cream.)
  5. Mix in the hasbhrowns and stir to coat.
  6. Pour into a 9x13 pan. Top with the remaining cheese.
  7. Bake covered in preheated oven for 40 -50 minutes. I take the foil off the last 10 to 15 minutes so the cheese gets nice and brown.


So yummy, we've had it twice now!  And now I'm out of frozen hashbrown...  The one thing I would say is that I would saute any veggies ahead of time.  Both times I've made it I've thought, "I really should have sauteed the onions..."
On her blog she forgot to put "add sour cream" to the instructions.  And I have a tendency to forget the ingredient list when following the instructions.  The first time I made this, I had to take the casserole out of the oven, back into the bowl, and add the sour cream.  I kept thinking "Why is it so dry?", looked at the recipe, and figured it out.  D'oh!

This recipe makes a large amount, so we had it as our meal, but it's a great addition to a meal as a side dish, when you're cooking for much more than 2 people.  :-)
Also, the leftovers are delicious!

What recipes have you been busy making?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Slim Jim - Salute the Troops

Hey everyone, just a quick note to tell you about something Slim Jim is doing.

click here!

Their website says:
"Slim Jim is one of the most requested snacks by our troops.
Because for them, it isn't just delicious, portable, and high in protein, it's a taste of home.
That's why Slim Jim makes a donation of sticks to the USO every year.
And in 2013, we made this gift even more special by including your personal messages of support.
Over 100,000 proud Americans rose to the occasion with words of comfort, encouragement, and kindness.
These messages were then printed on sleeves, stuffed with sticks, and shipped to troops around the world.
This year, it's our mission to collect 1 million unique messages to send along with our 1-million stick donation.
With your help, we'll salute the troops and show just how much we care."

I really wish I had seen this before today.  This would have been a great thing for EVERYONE to have done yesterday, Veteran's Day, to help increase the number of unique salutes that Slim Jim is sending out.

Now, I'm not a fan of jerky, but if this company is doing something special for the men & women serving in the Armed Forces, I'm going to support them.  How about you?  It didn't cost me anything, so just go to their website and type something in.  It's easy.

After you've done it, leave a comment here on my blog, just because it would be so cool to see how much support we can all give.  What do you say, are you in?

Our weather is better than your weather!

Remember that storm the size of Alaska that was set to hit Alaska?  Good news for us is that it brought us warmer weather!  Bad news for the Lower 48 (or at least much of is), it brought you cold weather!  You're welcome!

Here are a few screen shots I've taken of our weather lately:

Look at that!  At 9:00 AM on Monday, Nov 10, it was 39F out!  It was windy though - whew, the trees were really swaying that day!

And the temps climbed up to 41F at 3:44 PM that day.  Crazy!  I drove in to town to run some errands.  Even though I took my coat with me, I sure didn't use it that day...

8:53 AM on Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Ah, yes, my favorite of them all!  Look at that!  My family in Illinois is experiencing the same weather I am!  So exciting!  And my former co-workers, well, according to the weather on my phone, they got some snow yesterday - yeay them!

And the other thing I like is since we'd been experiencing highs in the teens, this feels like a freaking heat wave for us!  The snow is feeling it too though.  It'd been more than a month since I'd seen the trees without snow on them.  It kinda looks like March in the MidWest out there.  Dark trees, kinda soggy snow, dirty roads, etc.

Well, I guess I'll go out there and enjoy the "warm" temps - our temps are supposed to drop this weekend back to what we'd been having, in the teens.

Stay warm, my friends!

Oh, and sorry for the over-use of the exclamation mark...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank you for your service!

Today is Veteran's Day, so I would like to say, to all who served:

Thank you for your service!
We appreciate all you did for your country.

Grampa Betz
Grampa Betz served in WWII in Europe as a cook.  As the story goes, he was marching, saw a truck drive past with people in it, and asked who they were.  When he found out they were the cooks, and that the cooks get to ride to the next location, he said he volunteered to be a cook.  I don't know if that's really how it went, but it cracks me up.

Grampa Schrock served in WWII in the Pacific as a medic (sorry, no photo).  Grampa was raised Mennonite, and was therefore a Conscientious Objector (CO) for religious reasons.  I've learned more in the past decade about COs, and have found out that they were very poorly treated in the first part of the war, including being sent to internment camps, or to work in mental hospitals where they were badly abused.  However, eventually the military stopped requiring non-combat positions to carry weapons if they were CO.  I don't know if that's why Grampa was a medic, but I'm proud he was able to serve while upholding his beliefs.

Dad was in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  I learned this summer that when he went to enlist, both the Navy and the Army were interested in him based on the testing he took at that time.  Dad's cruises took him to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

my handsome husband is in the lower left.
Jeff was in the Army in the 80s-90s, stationed at various locations in the US as well as serving a year in Korea.  There's a long line of military service in Jeff's family also.  His dad, who I never had the honor of meeting, was career Army, which is how Jeff spent a few of his childhood years in Alaska.

Other members of my family are also veterans, including my Uncle Andy and cousin Daniel.

Again, to all who served, we Thank You!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Man's work

"Honey, I'm standing in the basement.  I might be too tall."
 Jeff went under the house to work on something.  There's access in the living room closet.

I was laying on the living room floor hanging down through the hole, taking photos hoping that I was actually capturing stuff.

Jeff was very dirty when he got back up in the house.  He had to shake his sweatshirt off outside when he was done!

I think I'm becoming a better cook

I don't know if I'm actually becoming a better cook, or if it just tastes better now that there aren't many other options.

McDonald's is 150 miles from here, but I had the closest equivalent to the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal for lunch the other day:

Oatmeal with craisens, apples, and maple syrup.  Yummy!

And I think that I found a good option for making Chinese food:

It comes with crunchy stuff to coat your meat of choice, and a sauce packet.  I cut up onion, pepper, and carrots, sauteed, and added the sauce packet to them, and I made rice. It had a good flavor, but I wished there was more sauce with it.  But it sure looked like real Chinese takeout:

And tonight for dinner I grabbed the leftover chicken from that dish, leftover baked garlic fries, some onion, and the rest of the sharp cheddar cheese, and made this awesome dinner for myself:

Don't worry about Jeff though, he had left over pasta salad and made himself some tuna salad with saltines.  So he didn't go hungry...   :-)

And some big news!  Our dining options have DOUBLED!  That's right, another restaurant opened, so now we have a choice of 2 places to go!  The Fireweed has pizza, sandwiches, appetizers, burgers, and Tok Thai is a buffet.  Imagine - 2 restaurants!  We are living the good life out here...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The storm that's hitting Alaska

When you're from the MidWest, and you hear that a bad storm is going to hit your state, you assume you'll be affected.  Like, "Do we have enough food in the house?" affected.  (or is it effected?  I never did fully understand that one)  That's because the states only take a few hours to drive across, and you can get from one to the next fairly quickly, which means storms can too.

Which is why my sister sent me a link to a story about the storm hitting Alaska and told me to "stay warm."

When we're kids, we see maps with a small Alaska and Hawaii shown below California.  So the majority of us who weren't schooled in Alaska have no idea how huge the place actually is.  Jeff tells a story about how when they moved from Alaska to Wisconsin, the whole class thought that Texas was the largest state; he was the only kid with the right answer in class.

The map above is Alaska transposed over the Lower 48.  The Aleutian Islands are going to be taking the brunt of this storm.  So, "California, Nevada, Arizona", etc.

The pink dot just East of St. Louis is approximately where we live.  So, luckily, this storm is way far away from us.  And all of the weather mapping I've seen show that this affects of this storm are going South of us, and have shown that our temps are going to increase!  *happy dance*

On Tuesday I am so going outside without a coat!  Look how warm it's going to be!  37 degrees above zero!

As for you, MidWest, well...

It's not looking good, my friends.

The moral of the story is:  It's freaking November.  Get a coat; it's going to get cold outside.

Have a great day!  I'm off to the post office...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

8 hours & 6 minutes of sunlight today

And boy was it glorious!  I knew I was headed to town today because it'd been a few days since we checked the mail.  By the way the sun was hitting the trees I thought maybe the mountains would be out.

And they were!

Oh, such a beautiful day, I was just smiling to myself as I drove around.

I swear it's been so cold out that the snow is growing frost...

I took pictures at a few different locations, all different from where I've been before.

I was wishing I'd worn my boots because where I walked the snow was up to my mid-calf.

But my Keens kept my feet dry, even though my jeans were snowy.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life (sometimes) Below Zero

Jeff and I like to watch shows about Alaska.  We started watching them before we went on our honeymoon in 2012, and pretty much never stopped watching them.  We don't watch all of them, but we do watch "Life Below Zero" (even though I can't stand a couple of the guys on there).

Well, guess what?
Thursday, Oct 30, 7:23 AM
Yep, we've already experienced below zero temps here.  The forecast is ranging in the "Lows near zero" and "Highs around 20" lately.  Not the best, but maybe normal for around here?  I don't know.  I just want to get acclimated to it.  Jeff is outside enough with work that he's gotten used to it.  Plus it's been long-sleeve shirt weather for him since August.

We got this new new thermometer at Fred Meyer a few weeks ago.  We had one, an older model, when we lived in Wisconsin, but the portion to put outside had died, so it didn't travel to the Great White North with either of us.  Jeff put the outside portion of this new one in a place that won't be affected by the sun, so hopefully we will actually know what the weather is.  So far it looks like it's warmer at our house than the AccuWeather on my phone lists.  So that's good!

There's not a ton of stuff going on around here.  I've gotten very much into popcorn lately.  I guess I just need that crunch.  I had heard of the concern over what's in the microwave popcorn, plus that stuff is super expensive, so I had bought a bag of popcorn kernels.  I pop them in a pan on the stove and then add flavoring.  It's actually what I had for lunch today...

Mom & Dad had sent us a puzzle for our wedding anniversary.  We started on it together, but it's not exactly the kind of puzzle you can work on at the same time.  I pretty much did the outside (with Jeff's help), the field, and the top down to the stadium seating.  Jeff did almost all of the fans.  Jeff also said to tell Mom "no more puzzles!"  We're going to frame this one and put it up, and I'm very much looking forward to getting the coffee table back...
Jeff spent at least 3 full evenings (5+ hours) staring at and finding where the pieces go.
He was using his glasses plus a magnifying glass to complete it.

Jeff was quite happy to place the last piece!  Finally!

Rylee snapchatted me a pretty sunset picture yesterday (around 6PM).  I, in turn, sent her this:
3:05PM Sunday Nov 2, 2014
Only 3PM, and only the beginning of November, and the sun was down the top of the ridge line that's just to the west of us.  Maybe next time we shouldn't live in a house just east of a ridgeline...

The sun is very definitely in the south.  Luckily any light that we have bounces around on the white snow.  The moon, which was only a half moon, was so bright the other night that we thought there were lights on outside.

So, what have you been up to?