Sunday, December 30, 2007


Christmas came a day early at our house. We called Santa and asked him to come the night of the 23rd so we could visit family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Santa ate snickerdoodles and chocolate milk Sunday night while he filled the stockings and placed some gifts on the couch since there wasn't a lot of room under the tree.

Watching the kids open their gifts was fun, especially Christopher, who showed a look of utter amazement as he opened each gift.

While at grandma Christensen's, we decorated graham cracker houses. Rachel was so proud of her house. She decorated it all by herself while Ruth was busy with her two-story mansion. Emily obviously couldn't wait to dig into her yummy house. We had to convince her to wait until we took some pictures first.
Ruth tried her hand at some yummy Christmas goodies this year. They included: caramels, fudge, peanut clusters, and peppermints. They were all very tasty and we were lucky to have enough to share with most of our family!

Ruth also made her first pecan pie to contribute to our family Christmas dinner! It' was sooo good! One of her favorites for sure! Of course she had lots of help from the girls! they all love to bake together.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Not long ago I picked up The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for the first time. I have heard of it since elementary school but never before touched it. I've always had an aversion to following the crowd and the crowd seemed to love this book. It is one the first in The Chronicles of Narnia series.

The author, C.S. Lewis, has been quoted here and there by Church leaders, which finally piqued curiosity about the nature of his works. The Lion... happened to be readily available, although I have no idea where it came from. It's possible I stole it from my parents.

So I read the book and was thoroughly delighted with the story, the Christian overtones and allegory. For Christmas we bought Rachel (the family, myself?) a softbound copy of The Chronicles of Narnia. I have now read The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy. I'm still entranced by these stories, mostly with two things:
  1. Aslan's (the Lion) interactions with the characters and the similarities between him and Christ.
  2. The comparison of myself to protagonist and antagonist in each story, which shows how excellent a writer Lewis is.
I'm trying to entice Rachel to start reading the book. I got her to read Fantastic Mr. Fox one day. It took her three hours but she enjoyed it. Unfortunatedly The Chronicles is a little beyond her right now. I'm sure she will be ready for it in a couple years.

Thursday, June 28, 2007



It’s taken me quite a while to become comfortable in front of the grill. I grew up using a gas grill, cooking whatever meat I was told to cook: hamburgers, hot dogs, elk, sometimes some trout. I never really learned anything about grilling when I was young, but I got a lot of practice overcooking meat.

My first barbecue after getting married was a pancake-shaped charcoal grill. I tried but couldn't get things to work out very well with it. I couldn’t seem to get enough heat to cook the food as fast as I wanted.

Then we got a gas grill. Things went a little smoother. I had some experience with one of these. Cheap ($99) gas grills are a little picky. They have hot spots and cold spots. It can be tough to get the burners at the same temperature. The gas tubes below the burners can get full of crud. The grill racks usually don’t sit flat and will rock. One of the biggest problems though is you can’t turn them down low enough.

The biggest problem with a gas grill is flare-ups. Once the grease starts dripping its going to burn no matter what you do. Then you have to move the meat away from the flames. Usually the flare-ups start where your hot spots are, which is where you want the food because it doesn't get cooked over the cold spots. If your grill is covered with chicken then you don't have a place where you can move the meat. No flare-ups with charcoal! It’s so easy!

Summer of 2005 our gas grill developed a leak in the hose because some hot grease dripped on it and melted it. I didn’t realize I could fix it so I bought a new grill. This time I got a charcoal grill with an offset firebox for smoking. I didn’t feel very confident about using charcoal, but I had high hopes. I fixed the gas grill and gave it away.

Food cooked over charcoal tastes better that cooked over gas. There are a couple reasons. The first is the fuel. Burning propane doesn’t have a smell. Charcoal is made from wood. When the charcoal is burned the food absorbs some of the smoke, which is much more fragrant and pleasing than not having it.

I can’t say this without stereotyping so this isn’t totally true, but people who cook over charcoal probably pay better attention to the grill than those who cook over gas. I believe this because #1, they are cooking over charcoal so they really want the food to taste good and the cook’s time investment is bigger when cooking with charcoal. This means that they are going to watch the meat carefully and make sure everything is as close to perfect as possible. I must say that this argument isn’t 100 percent true. I know several people who cook over gas and do a great job with the meat.

I have learned to love the charcoal grill. I’ve picked up some skills from others and from reading on the internet.

  1. Practice. The more you use the charcoal grill the more you will learn from your mistakes and learn how to:
  2. Use the right amount of charcoal and get it burning. Knowing how much will only come from experience and is also determined by the size and shape of you grill. When you are starting the charcoal use a chimney-type starter and don’t be bashful with the lighter fluid. Soak the top coals and make sure some fluid runs down on the coals you can’t see. Then light ‘er up! The lighter fluid will have all burned off by the time the coals are ready.
  3. Turn the meat often! Except for hamburgers, all the meats need to be turned often to keep the juices from boiling/evaporating out the top. Try turning every seven minutes.
  4. Use a thermometer to know when the steak/chops/roast is ready. Some people can tell when a roast/steak is done by pushing on it. Thermometers are for sure. I love reading anyway. Go digital.
  5. Don’t overcook red meat! Don’t undercook white meat! Follow this rule and dinner will turn out great.
  6. Don't put barbecue sauce on until the meat is almost done. If you sauce the meat before you cook it the sauce will burn before the meat is fully cooked.
Our grapes are growing great this year. Maybe double last years yield!