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Monday, December 17, 2018

Cookie Day - My Most Favorite Day of the Year~

I was so excited for Saturday to come around. It is truly my most favorite day of the year! On Friday I got all prepared..... hauling out all of my baking supplies. I did up a triple batch of cut-out sugar Christmas cookies.

While I baked, I had a smile on my face as I opened up Mom's old red Betty Crocker cookbook for the recipe.  I recalled many childhood times of baking cookies and decorating with my own brothers and sister.  I rolled out hunks of dough, baked on my parchment lined cookie sheets (the BEST way to bake cookies!) I ended up with 18 dozen cookies and only one broken one. Steve took care of that one, even without any frosting on it.

Saturday morning, I was up early and "de-kidderized" the house. I remove all of my sharp scissors, needles and fiber tools and put them out of reach of the wee ones.  Most of the knickknacks are pretty kid-proof and I encourage them to look and explore.  I just don't want anyone to get hurt.

I think what I like best about this day is that I get all seven grandkids ALL TO MYSELF!  That sounds kinda selfish, I know. But I don't have to share them like at Xmas the competition of Christmas presents, or with other grandparents, or the ex's, or even their friends at their birthday parties.  I get all of their attention at my own home stomping grounds. It's a day for me to watch, interact, relate and enjoy each of them as they play together, help me, or just hang out.

I flustered and blustered around the house getting ready for this Big Day.  I prepared in advance by buying a whole bunch of funny shaped Christmas holiday mugs and lined them up on the buffet in the dining room...

Added to each mug is a little mini wire whisk. I have laughingly renamed these "The Best Little Invention in the World". I have a few in the house and the camper that I have used with the grandkids. They are just the right size for whisking up hot cocoa mix in a cup. This year, I ordered a batch of a dozen online so each grandkid could go home with one of their own with their mugs.

Of course, once the hot cocoa mix with marshmallows is all mixed up, you need a stir stick. What's better than a peppermint candy cane as a stir stick?

Everything was set by 9 a.m.  We told the dogs "The childrenz are coming, the childrenz are coming"  (kinda like the Paul Revere alert about the Red Coats).  The dogs were waiting at the window to watch for the big surprise.

Binney still gets a little shy when there are so many grandkids at once. She's better with only one or two kids at a time. When we first got her, she used to hide in the bedroom closet or a corner, but has gotten better over the years.  Finnegan was eager because he knows that when the grandkids come, that means spilled food on the floor. That's a delight for any dog, especially when it's multiplied times seven grandchildren coming at once!


They trooped on into the house and shed their winter jackets, hats, mittens and boots. It was time for this Grandmother to have some fun.

Here is the cast of characters:

These are the three boys. Left to right they are Jameson age 10, Mason age 6, and Clayton age 6. They all play together so well as cousins.  I love it that they play on the staircase in the sunshine and rainbows from the leaded glass windows.  They had matchbox cars, trucks and building blocks all over the place.

Next in the cast of characters are the two oldest girls: This is Chelsea and Allegra. Chelsea is 8, and Allegra just turned 9.  Chelsea will catch up to her early in January in age. They are best buddies and do sleepovers at each other's houses. I can always count on them to help out or get creative with craft projects and be my buddies.

Here are the two smallest ones, the littlest girls Claire and Whitney. Claire is 2 and Whitney is 3. They are learning to play together well and share (sometimes) and socialize.

As soon as little Claire got here, she made a beeline for the toy closet under the stairs. She knew right where the little Fisher-Price farm & silo were. She grabbed both in her tiny arms and waddled on over into the living room to plunk them down and start to play.

All of the grandchildren have played lovingly with this Fisher-Price farm over the years. It is from my own Grandma Kafehl. That would make her their great great grandmother. I know she's smiling down from Heaven to see her great-great-grandchildren all together, and playing with this toy that she's so lovingly kept all of those years. We played with it as kids in the 1960's. My kids played with it when we would visit in the 1980's.  When she passed away in 1996, I was the lucky one to inherit it and it is one of my prized possessions. Some things are more valuable than diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls. The look on that little face says it all!

Once everyone was here, we had a quick little breakfast of fruit and those little boxes of cereal. I always have those on hand for the grandkids, just like Grandma Kafehl had for us when we were kids.  We needed to fill their bellies with good stuff because once they started decorating I knew how many would be sneaking bits of frosting, snacking on the decorations, and even eating a cookie or two along the way.


(we were so anxious to get started,
we forgot to put on our Xmas Aprons from last year!)

I had pre-made up tubs of colorful frosting and I was in charge of getting the frosting spread on each cookie. From there we passed them around the table on paper plates to be decorated by the waiting kids.  I had assorted sprinkles, sugars and chocolate chips to adorn as they pleased.

The mommies and Grandpa helped to decorate and also to take all the finished cookies back into the kitchen a tray full at a time to lay them out on the island and countertops to dry.

We had Christmas music playing on the stereo, and there was a lot of laughter and silliness going on. The kids especially loved hearing stories about their own parents when they were little. Sometimes it's the littlest things that can emit gales of laughter.

This is known as a "Party Cookie" by the kids. Erin invented the name last year. It's when they have so many decorations on their little paper plate, they just take a frosted cookie and flip it over upside down to absorb the leftovers.

This little lady definitely got into the cookie decorating, especially the blue frosting. Can't you tell? Her mommy had to remove the shirt before it got ruined by all of the blue food coloring.  I was told she "ate a Smurf"  Ack!

Here is a You Tube video clip we made
from a few of the segments taken during the morning,
along with a photo montage at the end of all the pics.

Once all of the cookies were decorated and everything was cleaned up, the mommies took a break in the living room by the tree. This is our daughter Erin on the left (with goofy Claire on her lap) and our daughter Heather on the right. Our daughter-in-law Heather had to work for the day so Erin brought those kids along to take part with all of the others.

Grandpa had cleaned up the kitchen for me and put away everything that was not needed, and he washed up all of the breakfast dishes as well. It was time for him to take a little break too.

I chased the kids around the house and got some activities going. The two littlest girls adore playing "Tea Party" so we set up the small white table and brought out Grandma's tea set. The older kids were involved in a very active game of hide-and-seek, as well as some kind of ghost hunting where they were taking photo images with a camera of the supposed spirits that they were doing paranormal research on.  It was fun to listen to them make up scenarios, and work with their imaginations to create some fun topics to play together.  I love the inventiveness and talent they have to share, make up and create.

Now it was getting close to lunchtime, so I enlisted the help of all of the munchkin kids to cooperate in preparing our lunch. We took 3 packs of hot dogs and cut each of them into thirds. Then we took a big pack of raw spaghetti noodles and put the kids to work.  They stuck about 8, sometimes 9, sometimes 10, sometimes 6, who knows how many, noodles lengthwise through the raw hot dogs. I had a big pot of water boiling in the kitchen to submerge them into. (the process is on the You Tube video clip that I posted above)

Once the noodles were cooked up, 
the bundles were carefully removed from the hot pot. 
then cut each of the 1/3 hot dogs into half.

 From just one hot dog, 
you can get six little octopuses!!!
We made 72 little octopus? octopii?

Wow, talk about lunchtime fun!
They could eat them with their fingers,
dip them into ketchup,
and play with their food.

Imagine that, Grandma's house has NO rules about playing with their food?? 

The silliness and laughter continues, 
even with something as simple as a grandchildren lunch party.

We added trays of fresh vegetables and dip along with an ample supply of pickles and olives to go along with our meal. These kids absolutely love olives and pickles, including the oldest granddaughter Allegra craves black olives.  Also the oldest grandson Jameson enjoys sweet gherkins. Have to have a bunch on hand when they come.  He even brought the rest of the jar home with him as a special treat.   I remember my Grandma Kafehl who always had spaghettios in the large cans on hand for when we came over, and always sent us home with boxes of our most favorite breakfast cereals.

It warms my heart to see all of the grandkids around my dining room table. When I bought this table 6 years ago I had no idea there would be this many sweet little grandchildren gathered around it. These are the things that I live for.

Also around the diningroom are plate rails that encircle the room. Instead of plates I have many photo frames of all the different photos of the grandkids throughout the years. They really like seeing their images and how they change. I tell them when they are not here, Grandpa and I sit here and gaze upon all of their faces and remember them and love them and miss them so much.

Once the lunch was done, 
again Grandpa took care of the kitchen cleanup
and all of the dishes.

I appreciate that so I can spend more time with the grandkids.

Then this grandma headed up our yearly tradition 
of writing letters to Santa Claus!

We also took out the Christmas mugs and little world's best little invention and packets of hot cocoa with marshmallows. What a wonderful thing to sip on their cocoa while they work on their Christmas letters to Santa.

I love seeing how much the children change every year in their abilities to write and spell and use larger and larger words in their letters. It was so cute to see them help each other and give each other ideas of things to ask from Santa. I even wrote a letter myself telling Santa that I've been a good grandma I think and that all I want for Christmas is "Good Grandkids" ! (I think I already got that wish)  The kids take turns reading their letters also in the YouTube clip I posted above.

I took about a zillion pictures and Steve took a probably a zillion more. These are two of my favorites. Daughter Erin is helping her son Clayton (a first grader) while he uses some really huge words like "electric", and littlest granddaughter Claire is giving Finnegan a wonderful hug in the rays of afternoon sunshine.

Before the kids are ready to head out, I tried, and failed, to get all seven of them to sit around the tree and face forward. It really doesn't work. I don't know how my friend Sarah does it at her photography studio. Maybe someday that will work. I don't know. So finally, since none of them were having it, I told them all to pick their noses! That got their attention. But there was still a couple grumps in the group. Yep, a typical family photo of my grandchildren.

I can't wait to see them all again at our Family Christmas Celebration together in two weeks!!!


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Let There Be Light - and HEAT!

Steve and I both appreciate old antique light fixtures and lamps. We have quite a few interesting ones around the house, here and there. But we also know it's important to rewire them with up-to-code power cords, plugs and sockets.

Since we rearranged our livingroom to make room for the Christmas tree, Steve noticed the corner over my chair was lacking in any good lighting source.  Since I read, knit, spin or sew from my little chair, it would be a good idea to get another tall standing lamp. Steve has one over his chair, and we started to hunt for one for over mine. We wanted an old tarnished brass or bronze type on a base that hangs over and down. Not upwards or just a shade on a pole. I think they call them "Bridge Lamps" in some cases.

He found one in Fond du lac that a woman was selling on Facebook Marketplace.  We made arrangements to go and see it, 25 miles away.  She wrote back right before we were to meet up with bad news.  She went to get the lamp out of the basement and it was gone!  She didn't know that daughter had taken it!  We said we understood, we have grown kids too.  Sooooo back to searching.  This time we found one up in Appleton for sale in a cute little resale shop.  I had to run some errands, so I stopped by and picked it up. It had an ugly shade, that I left behind so they could resell that. LOL

Steve wired up a new socket, with a retaining screw on ring that could hold on a stained glass lampshade that we had in mind.  He put in new wiring in as well and shortened up the length of cord. It is going to be placed right near an outlet, so we didn't need six feet of cord sticking out around the base.

He was able to make it work again, and retain that original beauty.  
I love it when he makes things not only work, 
but work BETTER than we originally planned.

The little plastic knob turn switch was too modern, so we ordered some "socket keys" from Amazon.  They add that old fashioned flair and replace the modern plastic turning knob.  They only had them in bright brass, but a few dabs of deep gold magic marker and some dabs of brown varnish stain, they looks authentically OLD. We even put one on Steve's lamp instead the modern one he had on his.  

Now... for the shade! 

Five years ago we installed some lovely stained glass shades on our ceiling fan, and shades for 2 matching table lamps, then some matching pendants in the kitchen and a light fixture over the sink. They were all from Menards and were called "Belle" as the design name.   I looked at Menards online to order one more replacement lamp shade.  We robbed the one from the kitchen fixture to go on Steve's light, and we put an original copper one back in the kitchen.  It was okay to sacrifice one for his lamp. But we still needed to locate one more shade for mine.... and being the OCD quirky matchy-matchy person that I am, I wanted one that matched! 

Menards website didn't have them. 
I called the store. 
They told me to call Patriot lighting.  
I called them.
They said no, they can not sell me just a shade.

They said that I have to go to the store and custom order it (to the tune of $32 plus shipping)   ....  off to the store I went.   I showed the clerk what shade I wanted, like this fixture in the store in Appleton.  But this fixture has larger 10" shades. Ouch.. They wanted $55 plus shipping to order one replacement shade in that size. I had only paid $20 for the whole lamp and $8 for the socket.  This was getting expensive. $$$$

All I really needed was one smaller 7" shade....

The nice clerk looked on her computer.  Then she called the supplier. Sadly, they no longer carry the 7" pendants or 7" wall sconces with the size I need that match, they have been discontinued.  Dang! 

I went home.  On a whim, I called the other Menards store in Fond du Lac.  Just asking if they had one of the discontinued Belle fixtures that I could buy the whole thing...  well.....  that clerk said no more fixtures.  But ... but ... but...  he had ONE shade in the back that had been ordered for someone or their store display or whatever and it had been sitting in the back for over a year!  He said I could have it for the mere price of FIVE DOLLARS!!!!     I said please hold it for me, and I drove on down to nab that shade as quick as a wink! I also got groceries and a treat from Festival Foods that I will talk about later on down in the blog. 

Steve screwed it onto the new socket and fixture....


Now each of our recliner chairs has a stained glass lamp (that match!) over each seating area.  It is so nice to have these smaller lights over the chair than using the big overhead light at night.  Especially if he is watching a movie and I am knitting or sewing something, or even typing a blog! 

Let There Be Light! 


Now we need to talk about the other part of my blog title, the HEAT!

In our vintage home, we have a much older furnace. It was installed in 1986.  We know it can be considered as "on borrowed time", but it's very efficient and operates well.  Our most expensive heat bill to date for natural gas was $86.54 and that includes the gas for our water heater and gas fireplace as well.

We had the furnace inspected last fall and they said it was a very high end furnace at it's time and the longer we can keep it running, we are better off keeping it than replacing it.  That sounds good to us. As long as the heat exchanger is fine, keep it going.

We noticed three times this year (and once last year) it would shut down for no reason at all.  To reset it, we would pull the thermostat off the wall, turn off the furnace, reinstall the thermostat and it would fire back up and work just fine.

Since it only happened a few times, we were considering it might be the WIFI thermostat which was only a few years old.  The thermostat readout says the furnace is functioning just fine, but the furnace is actually shut down.  So we replaced the thermostat.  Nope... .didn't help. It still shut down once again.  This isn't a problem if we are home. But... if we leave for more than one day, like weeks on end for a vacation, this is going to be a problem!

Steve figured, the next step would be to throw in a new control board. Sounds good. But... these boards are discontinued, and the new replacement boards need a retrofit kit and a lot of wiring changes.  These newer style boards are in the $400-500 range from a furnace repair company, plus the labor to put one in.  ACK!

Here is the old board.....

Steve found one with the retrofit kit on Ebay that was used for diagnostic purposes from a furnace repair place in Illinois... someone bought up all their gear when they closed and were selling it on Ebay.  We bought it for only $39 and free shipping.  Sounded good to us.

We set to work on replacing the board ourselves.  And yes... Steve even read the instructions, because there were 12 pages on how to do it!   We carefully tagged each wire and plug before removing them, and taking good close up pics with my cell phone to boot.  Steve was the master wire guy, and I was reading the instructions, making tape tags, and handing him tools.

We had our Supervisors on site as well.
They never like going in the basement, 
but since we were down there,
 they decided it was better to be with us than upstairs alone. 

After about half an hour, and 37 wires later, 
the new board was totally in place! 

Rut Roh....  no go!   We tried to fire it up, and only the inducer motor would work, spinning wayyy too fast and not firing up the furnace.  We shut it down and bit the bullet and called a furnace guy.

He couldn't come that afternoon, but said he would be there the next day before noon. Since we have a gas fireplace and electric space heaters, we COULD make it through the night and not have to pay emergency service fees to them come the same day.  So that was fine with us.

Steve and I decided that since it was getting down to about 5 degrees overnight, perhaps we should just yank out the new board and re-install the old one.  Yup... made sense.  So 15 minutes later (takes less time the second time you do something)  we had the old board back into place. Fired up right away and we had heat overnight!  YAYYYYYYYYY

The next day, the nice service guy came by.  He said first of all, putting the old board back in is a good idea.  And before he would even think of swapping the board, he had a hint for us.

He showed us the end of the plastic drain pipe for the condensation had not been cleaned in a long long long time.  There was gunk coming out the end of it.  He stuck his finger in the end and said this is the problem.

He said the furnace shuts down to protect us because that pipe and housing is clogged up with gunk from years of use.  (we never cleaned it in 6 years because we never had this kind of furnace before and didn't know it needed to be done)   I am pretty sure the elderly widow never cleaned it either.

When it's clogged up, the two pressure switches will fail to operate, the inducer motor will spin faster trying to get the pressure switches to work, and the whole system shuts down to save the furnace. (thus our DEAD furnace every once in a while)

He showed us what to do, but to get the pipe and housing out, it involved dropping the whole control panel box, removing some clamps and hoses, just to get the housing and pipes free to clean them.  Instead of charging us for all that labor, he said he was pretty confident that we could do it ourselves.

He only charged us a small diagnostic fee... and said he would waive the fee if he had to come back within 30 days.  So if our cleaning out the housing and pipe doesn't work and if it still continues to shut down we can call him back. 

He left and we went to work dismantling things to get that big black plastic housing out and the pipe connected to it.  Yup.....  just look at all the crap that was in there!

We put it all back together and lo and behold... it works!  The old board, the old thermostat and the cleaned out pipe and housing!  The inducer motor sounds slower, the furnace sounds quieter and it is functioning just fine now for the last five days.  Keeping the fingers crossed that we solved the problem.  We have HEAT.  Let's hope it's reliable.  We will see.  If not, we know who to call.


I stopped at Festival Foods in Fond du Lac on my errand running and picked up a seasonal treat. They only carry this during the holiday season. It's Tom and Jerry Batter.  You heat up a mug of water in the microwave (the mug is from my friend Vicky)  then you add a few scoops of the batter, a shot of brandy or whiskey and sprinkle some nutmeg on top. It's a thick frothy eggnogish drink that is perfect in the winter months.  Some people add a stick of cinnamon or a peppermint stick to stir it with.

Here is the label from the container: 

This one is in a mug from 
my friend Juanita.

by the end of the week, I will need to get another container of batter!