Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Happy Small School Reunion

One huge joy of teaching is being invited to class reunions of my "kids." Saturday night my son and I attended the 40th reunion of the first class I ever sponsored. First of all, we were fortunate to have the reunion in a lovely venue, Coal Miner's Daughter. My dear friend owns this place and caters delicious meals on site or hosts and caters here. I thought I would share a few snaps of the evening.

Senior trip: 1977

Revisited with a stand in for the center gentleman, our coach who is also owner of the building and was busy catering the event!!!

I am not in this photo so don't be looking! Love these "kids" who will forever be 17 to me.

Whimsy and Hugs!

Monday, July 10, 2017

10 Weeks!

Hello, there. Yes, it has come to my attention we have only ten weeks until the Queen of Seasons arrives. And while I am ALWAYS ready for Autumn...

I have quite a bit of fun planned out for Summer...  And when I say "fun," I am talking like "scrub the toilets" kind of fun...  No more lazy...  I have really been procrastinating and really rather spinning in place. I will have to keep you informed because now I have put this out there...

Saturday two friends came to finish helping me celebrate my birthday! Geez, does Queen Elizabeth 2 make any bigger deal of a birthday? I used Pioneer Woman place mats, which were a gift from another dear friend who came to see me on a day I DID NOT take a picture of my table. In fact, my table was so deep we had to dig a few minutes to carve out a spot to balance a coffee cup. !!!!!

The plates and blue bowls are also Pioneer Woman. But the little pink pie plates are my Mom's. Her mother, my Gramma Minnie, bought them for a 12th birthday party for Mom in 1936. Mom gave them to me in 2004 for my 50th birthday, and my son brought them here just a few weeks ago. The goblets were from Dollar Tree! I thought it looked like Summer.

Last week I made Zucchini Boats  ---  They were delish only next time I am just going to slice or chop zucchini. The veggie parts of the boats were too thick and "meaty"

Italian Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time22 minutes
Total Time47 minutes


Share This Recipe:


  • 3 medium, uniformly-sized zucchini
  • 1 (24 to 26 ounce) jar tomato basil marinara, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey or beef
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped brown button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shaved or shredded Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons Italian style panko bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Measure out 1 cup of the marinara sauce and set aside.
  2. Trim ends from zucchini and slice in half, lengthwise. Use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the zucchini flesh (see recipe note), chop it and set it aside. Place the scooped out zucchini boats into a 13" x 9" baking dish and add about 1" of water. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until just slightly fork-tender. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, add olive oil to a 12" skillet and place over MEDIUM heat. Add turkey (or beef), onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring to break up the ground meat as it cooks. Continue to cook and stir until meat is thoroughly cooked and veggies have softened. Drain off as much grease as possible and return the skillet to the heat.
  4. Add the chopped zucchini flesh, mushrooms, remaining marinara in jar (reserve 1 cup for later), parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, fresh ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and allow to simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove partially cooked zucchini from baking dish and pour off water. Pour the 1 cup of reserved marinara sauce into the empty baking dish and place zucchini boats on top of the sauce.
  6. Divide the filling between the zucchini boats. If you have extra filling, spoon it into the dish around the zucchini boats. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for 20 minutes, or until zucchini is fork tender. Remove dish from oven and set oven to BROIL.
  7. Remove foil and sprinkle zucchini boats with mozzarella, Parmesan and the panko bread crumbs. Place dish in oven, watching closely, and cook for just a couple of minutes until cheese has melted and bread crumbs are golden brown.

Recipe Notes

My tip for scraping out zucchini flesh. Use a sharp knife to lightly score the zucchini to outline the area you want to scoop out being very careful not to cut through. You just want an outline. Use the tip of a spoon to scrape the flesh out and on to a cutting board.
© 2017 Valerie's Kitchen. All rights reserved.

We are loving vegetables from the Amish. My son is planning to work on home grown for the future.

Have a good week. My son has a rotten sinus cold, so I am sending him good thoughts and prayers for feeling well again fast!

And as for you know who.....  She did not make the same vow to stop being lazy..... or nosey...

Whimsy and Hugs!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

May All Your Sparklers Be Bright!

Have a wonderful 4th of July with your friends and family. It is the least little bit cloudy here and slight chance for more rain! Planning to grill a little and have an indoor picnic. Then going to a huge fireworks display IF weather holds out and watching  movie if not!

Whimsy and Hugs!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Rainy Birthday!

Beautiful birthday with friends and family! Despite what we might call a downpour, we grilled hamburgers and hotdogs on the new grill my son got me!

Too much fun!

I missed getting a picture of my sister/cousin who fixed me up with wonderful gifts per day! So here she is at Christmas!

Have a wonderful Fourth!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Strength, Spirit, and Sense

Whimsy and Hugs!

My son and I took an amazing happy drive on Saturday. He freed up his day so we could celebrate my upcoming birthday and just enjoy each other's company and the beautiful, almost chilly weather. It might be Blackberry Winter, but I am not sure... We picked up some produce from the Amish and traveled some very familiar roads that reminded me of trips with Mom.

This is our birthday week. Everyone is doing so much to make it special, and I truly appreciate that. Born on my mother's 30th birthday, I have never celebrated one without her (unless you count a really rather distant one I spent living a summer in Chula Vista... where I recall being under the weather, eating tuna helper, and making several phone calls at the steamy corner  phone booth I had to use to call long distance.) However, things are what they are. Certainly 62 birthdays together are a major blessing. I know this year will be sweet.

My son fell in love with this tree. I am rather amazed at the stark contrast of strength conveyed by a dead organism...

Fab flowers from my dear cousin and her family in California. I am loving the berries and buds and bells in this beauty. 

As always equal mountains of cleaning, laundry, and spiffing await my morning. 

However, the week looks promising. My sister/cousin has treated me to a precious stack of "gift a days" for the week...  I snuck in at midnight and opened today's! What a great plan!!!

Thank you to all my readers and friends who have been so kind through the years. Life is all about strength and spirit... and the sense to make the changes when they arrive... with grace. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Kitties

I have two kitties... but one cat. By night she patrols the silent house...

Perhaps "patrols" is the wrong word... She surveys...  Seven foot cabinet...  No problemo....

Her identity is blurred so the FBI will not have to divulge the name of this spy.....

By day she hides in broad daylight... All. Day. Long!!!!

And right now Folks, she is doing more than I am!!!!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day! Enjoy your weekend with your family

Monday, June 5, 2017

And now..... Happy Ever After...

I have mentioned an upcoming special wedding in several posts, and the day finally arrived June 3rd! What a beautiful, beautiful day for my dear friend's daughter and her new groom. I cannot imagine the amount of care and details involved in the brilliant summer party that accompanied this most reverent mass and celebration of vows. First of all, isn't this cathedral simply amazing? It is the tiny Catholic Church in Bevier... from all interior angles, the architecture is glorious. This angle comes from a friend's camera. She sat in the balcony, along with a choir of local talent that simply mesmerized the attendance. We heard such beautiful music, including Ave Maria, The Prayer, and so many more. Featured soloists and choir and pianist...  all worthy of a concert in themselves.

My son joined me for the entire day, and without him... I would have been toast! Literally...  He helped me navigate the uneven terrain and slipped our car as close as possible to make it possible for me to attend. So... I allow him the privilege to photo bomb at least one picture...  He is such a tease!

Cousins of the bride lit the candelabra. Oh, so special to see many members of this family and their friends. And to top it off, of course, almost all were former students. Teaching for a lifetime has its advantages...  but sometimes seeing grandchildren of former students all grown up.....  I have to wonder how all this happened..... while I am pretty sure.... I am still in high school myself.  

The bride and her father entered the church. This beautiful dress was sewn by a magical seamstress who carefully took the bride's mother's dress (a wedding I also attended nearly 25 years ago) and fashioned an entirely different creation. This talented woman also made all the dresses for the bridesmaids and little girls. I have to tell a story I heard about this. During a particularly stormy spring night when tornado warnings came over the radio for our area, the seamstress took all the dresses for bride and brides maids with her when she retreated to the basement for safety. I had to say my heart melted that she was so dedicated to this special time over her own personal treasures. She told my friend, "If I got blown away with the dresses, there was nothing I could do about it, but I sure wasn't going to sit down here and let them disappear in the storm!"  That is what I call going the distance for your customer (and friend.)

After the wedding was over, guests drove to the farmhouse and barn where my friend also celebrated her reception. This year, the little barn was totally renovated and used as the central location for the beautiful party. New cement flooring, new electrical wiring, and yards and yards of gossamer and fairy lights made it a magical venue. A local band played all day, and a DJ came for the evening..  I am not sure of the exact time the wedding was over, but I did hear a bonfire was just beginning at midnight...  I, unfortunately, had ventured home a little before dusk.  The party included dancing and delicious food. Another good friend who runs a catering business cooked those 1500 tortelacci we made earlier in the spring... And there was Italian coleslaw, meatballs, a delicious pasta prepared by the bride's grandmother and family, a wedding cake carefully conveyed from Illinois, created by the father of the bride's sister...  I told you it was a family event. We had fried fish and smoked chicken... and of course, fantastic home-baked bread. My dear friend had baked 56 loaves for her daughter's marriage banquet...  Yep. 56...  

Tradition. It is the stuff our dreams weave through. This carriage ride takes place in a buggy owned by this family for generations. In a beautiful DejaVu I recalled the buggy with the bride's mother and her auntie, years ago...  This year, because the horse was procured from a local Amish family, the buggy had a new driver, the owner who felt he knew his animal best! However, I think... (not verified) the family driver and beloved cousin of yesteryear also rode along...  just for tradition.

All of us who helped were happy to recognize little touches we had offered as small tokens of how much fun we believed (rightfully so) this wedding would be. The barn held a chandelier of paper mache globes, wooden tables several had lent, and little canning jars filled with hydrangeas and bling... and sparkling tea lights... Sweet bird cages graced the tables...  I just loved it all...

Of course, there were hayrides for the kiddos, and a shuttle from a nearby field. That was a given! The humid 90 degree day didn't deter too many activities, but we did see quite a few swift changes from wedding finery to cooler clothes, and the welcomed relief of high heels worn by the bride and her mother, switched to sandals...  Ah....  they deserved the break!

One of my favorite moments was this one. The band began to sing, "We got married in a fever. Hotter than a pepper sprout..."  And boom! my dear friend, the mother of the bride, grabbed her once ago groom and basically schooled us all on how to put on a party like that and have energy to spare. I was not surprised, but I was IMPRESSED!

Later we heard a most tender and beautiful song written by the bride's brother as a surprise. A family member who can quite frankly sing the birds from the trees set it to music and performed it. Most of us cried. The bride was so emotional. Her brother is a absolute gift to us all with his ability to write just what we are all feeling at the moment. This surprise was simply perfect.

Here is the bride and groom, both young teachers at the school where I spent my career. Oh, I wish them so much love, luck, and happiness.

At home, my little kitty was pretty glad to see me motivate into her world again. She spends every evening and early morning dreaming about the birds flying and perching right outside this window. 

So now, you've been to the wedding with me. It was quite a day, and I am sooo happy I was able to attend..... and take you with me...

Whimsy and Hugs!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Memorable Memorial....

Long time tradition for many families.. the annual visit to graves of long ago loved ones and even longer ago ancestors beloved by our grandparents' generation...  I spent all my young days traipsing along with my mother and grandmother in search of graves, placing solemn lovely, tributes... (drooping peonies carefully wrapped in wet paper towels and "tinfoil.") It seemed we had an entire trunk filled with these flowers made early morning and lovingly packed in old aluminum dishpans. As we placed the flowers, the adults would speak of these people either in memory or recited lore, and I learned the story of my past. It was beautiful, and although I was never one to appreciate long days of standing and walking in what usually was pretty strong sunshine and heat by the end of May, I still loved this day. Sometimes we finished by noon and came home to a little lunch made by my mother usually. But sometimes we took a little basket of hot dogs in white bread, wrapped quickly in foil so they would steam and make the bread soft and precious...  long drinks of cold water from a plaid thermos, and if we were super lucky, cookies made from scratch by my gramma...  I loved the cemetery picnics as a little girl.

Flash forward to now, and a new tradition has been in the works for many years. My sister/cousin and I venture forth with pretty silks and a few cut roses to visit the graves of our loved ones. We usually get a little breakfast or lunch (now from a drive through instead of packed at home) and have our own cemetery picnics. One year a well-meaning neighbor spotted our car parked in a rural graveyard and called someone to check us out... There we sat with soft tacos and our colas...  It was a great laugh because the gal who checked on us was a friend...  We wished we'd brought her a taco, too!

We visited the graves last Tuesday a week ago. Dark drizzling morning, but it was indeed a soul-nourishing time.

Our conversation flicked back and forth from old times to now, from loved ones to family legend.

Sweet connections with those who are not with us in the real sense but who will never really travel beyond our hearts' reach.

This past Sunday and yesterday on Memorial Day, my son and I ventured into a time capsule of highest order..  We decided to tackle the two steamer trunks and the cedar hope chest in an attempt to consolidate and eliminate some things, making more storage and finding out if we needed to "keep much" in those things.  Haha...  That determination is still up for grabs. 

First...  we opened the huge trunk with the most messages from the past. Luckily I am familiar with all "historian" handwriting, so I could decipher the many "my mother's baby dress... and my father's work gloves, etc."  All notes fluttered to the ground penned on tiny wisps of check stubs and the backs of grocery receipts. I really wonder at the scarcity and preservation of paper in those days. We could have saved so many trees if we still used every scrap like they did. The steamer trunk, purchased new in 1919 as a wedding necessity for my grandparents, was in great shape. We laughed so hard at the quilt I had always thought my mother embroidered for me, carefully wrapped and marked, "FOR GERRED."  He gave it to me any way since it was covered in autumn leaves and acorns and all things I love.  I gave him all the military items, all the old money, foreign money, and memorabilia from Wars 1 and 2. We marveled that the ones from WW1 simply said, From the War of 1917 or The Great War...  innocent of any succeeding involvements yet to come. 

As you can see, the other trunk was beautiful inside and also filled with family keepsakes. Our stacks of treasures grew alarmingly and our pile of throwaway was just a little sparse. We kept saying, "Well, they kept it this long..." and "It doesn't take up any more room than anything else."  And so it goes. I guess we did manage to get it all condensed into one trunk, and my son is going to take all of it to his house because he likes the trunks!!!  Oh, I have more trunks and I am thrilled. 

The rising sun flags and silk kimonos, the old serge suit shirt and tie worn last by my great grandfather Willard...  "my daddy's second best shirt." --- penned by my gramma.... (Because we all know he was buried in his finest.)----  All looked and felt brand new, thanks to the wonders of cedar. It's a definite thing...  Cedar really preserves the past.

 And in the old foreign money, I spy this bill, signatures faint and proud. We read about the currency and the use of pesos in the Philippines during the war on Wikipedia...  and I search the names for one or two I might recognize. I finally found Norm Helgestad, my dad's war buddy from Wisconsin. I then knew it was a Victory Bill, signed by my dad's unit...  except, of course the one signature I wanted the most...  my dad's. It's understandable he wouldn't sign his own bill...  Here he is in uniform...

The last wearing of the doughboy WW1 uniform from France was by my son many moons ago at a Roaring 20's New Year's Eve party...  Gotta love the addition of the non-standard-issue little red snowboots!  It makes my heart melt to see this from over 30 years ago...  

All in all...  back to the usual today with a visit from a dear friend who lives pretty far away...  Why is she here? Why, she is bringing flowers to her family graves in the area. How appropriately perfect. May we never forget and ever remember....  which on the surface sounds redundant, but based on this weekend...  I see the two as profoundly different.  Happy Summer... it's on the way.