Author Archives: Valerie J. Patterson

The Art of Baking by Valerie J. Patterson

Tis the season, which means shopping, decorating, and loads of baking!  I used to have time to bake.  I’m not entirely certain when that changed or even HOW that changed, but each Christmas I bake less and less.

When my nieces were younger, my sister and her daughters would come to our house on Christmas Eve and we would spend the day baking and the evening eating and chatting and laughing and opening gifts.  When it came time for them to head home, they had a wide assortment of baked goodies to take home with them, and we all had a host of new memories!

This year, I contemplated baking Christmas cookies, but had the task all to myself.  My sisters are grandmas now, and are enjoying all of the experiences having grandkids at Christmastime brings.  I didn’t feel much like dragging out all of the old recipes.  Too many cookies for two people.  Too much time as well.  One evening, I was scanning through my newsfeed on social media and stumbled across the most amazing cookie recipe.

I say amazing because it has 3 ingredients!

Yep, I said THREE!

So, on the way home from work last Friday I stopped and picked up enough ingredients to make 2 batches of cookies.  I mixed one up on Saturday morning and was amazed at the ease, the appearance of the baked product, and the flavor!

Here’s the recipe:

Cool Whip Cookies  [yes, it reads COOL WHIP]

1 box of cake mix [any flavor]

1 eight-ounce tub of Cool Whip [whipped cream]

1 egg.

Preparation:  Add powdered cake mix to mixing bowl.  Add one egg–yoke broken–and Cool Whip.  Fold gently to incorporate cake mix into cool whip, then mix thoroughly.  Drop by teaspoonfuls into confectioners sugar and coat evenly.  Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes depending upon your oven.  For larger cookies, drop by tablespoonfuls.

Enjoy!

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I have made devils food cookies and orange cookies.  Up next are spice cake cookies.

Until next time, may your home be full of family and friends, may your greatest gift be love, and may your Christmas be blessed!

Thankful by Valerie J. Patterson

It’s that time of year when people everywhere seem to take more than a glance at their lives and count their blessings.  While I think that is important every day of our lives, I, too, find that I reflect more at this time of year.

Of course, I am thankful for the big things: my husband, my family, my job, a roof over my head, food on the table, and money in the bank.  But I am also thankful for the trees in our backyard and the beauty they add to my day.  I’m thankful that I have a garage to park my car in, and that it is always either warm or cool depending on the season.  I’m thankful for lunches with friends, warm hugs on Sundays after services, kind words from strangers, and the cool gel pillow top of our bed–I love a cold bed as opposed to a warm one!

I give thanks for slippers, robes, cold glasses of milk and homemade cookies.  Brilliant sunshine streaming into the living room, full moons in the evening sky, and salty, buttered popcorn.

I am incredibly thankful for each and every morning my feet hit the floor!

I’m sure my list could go on…and I hope while you read you are compiling a list of your own list.  It’s important that we give thanks for large and small blessings, not just now, but always.  We have so many good things in our lives, don’t we?

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The following is my very favorite fruit dip.  I promised to share it this summer, but only just remembered I had not done that.  It is very simple and so very good!  Enjoy!

8 ounces of Cool Whip

one 7 ounce jar of Marshmallow Creme

one 3 ounce package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Blend all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and silky.  Chill an hour and serve with fresh fruit of your choice.

This dip is incredibly easy, and so very delicious!  The perfect light appetizer, evening snack, or treat for work.

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I have been absent from Over the Backyard Fence for a little while, and I apologize for not being here to read and comment the past month.  I hope to return in a more regular way very soon.

Until next time, may your turkey be moist, your pies spicy, and your family gathered around you!  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Two Buddies, a Russian Spy, and an Intern Walk Into a Bar In Transylvania by Valerie J. Patterson

Two buddies, a Russian spy, and an intern walk into a bar in Transylvania.  Sounds like the start to a good joke, right?  It could have been if I was a comedian and wrote my own material.  Instead, I offer you a couple movie reviews.

A Walk In The Woods stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, and was a very entertaining movie.  It was good to see these two men on the big screen again, too.  Barely recognized Nick Nolte, but without him the movie wouldn’t have been as good as it was.  His and Redford’s characters are as opposite as any two humans could be.  One is refined, the other not so much.  But, opposites often make the best pairs.  Redford plays a character who has spent his whole life in the career/family lane of the road of life.  He’s been successful in writing and in love, and everything about his life speaks fulfillment…until his friends begin dying and there’s one funeral too many, causing him to take stock in his life and what became of his dreams.  One night he makes the life-changing decision to hike the Appalachian Trail–the entire trail.  He goes through his phone book of friends and colleagues and invites each of them to accompany him.  One by one, they all turn him down, and he’s beginning to think he’ll have to do it alone.  One last call comes in.  Nolte’s character–whom Redford never called–asks if he can go on the trip.  This pleases Redford’s character’s wife and the two set of on an unforgettable adventure that resonates with any person at any stage of their life.  If you missed this one in the theaters, it’s worth the rental price.

The Intern stars Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro, and the two have exceptional chemistry and comedic timing.  Hathaway plays an over-stressed work-aholic who started her own Internet company that exploded into a huge success that leaves her reeling between work life and home life.  Enter DeNiro’s character as an intern in the company’s new initiative “Senior Interns”.  DeNiro’s character is living life after retirement and the death of his wife.  After traveling everywhere he’s ever wanted to go, he finds himself with wide open days and tons of time on his hands.  Boss and intern need one another–even if they don’t see it, don’t want it, and don’t accept it, which leads to laughs and lessons learned.  Again, if this is not still playing–as it is here in one or two theaters–it’s worth the rental price.

Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an American insurance attorney who’s chosen to represent a Russian spy arrested on American soil.  Donovan takes the case, and Hanks shines!  Donovan takes his job seriously and Russian spy or not, his client deserves a fair trial.  Too bad the judge and the jury don’t share the same thought process.  This true story shows humanity at its best and its worst.  When Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “The true greatness of a person…is evident in the way he or she treats those with whom courtesy and kindness are not required.” he was not speaking of James Donovan, but it certainly applies to him.  Catch this one in the theater or via rental, but catch it nonetheless!

And finally, Hotel Transylvania 2, the second installment written by and starring Adam Sandler.  The first movie was adorable and appealed to adults and children alike.  This offering–in my humble opinion–was just disappointing.  Steve and I actually apologized to the couple we had with us!  Dracula is waiting to see if his grandson is a vampire or–gasp–a mere mortal like the baby’s father.  The first movie was all about acceptance of those different from ourselves.  This offering seemed less so, though Dracula does become more accepting in the end, but only after…well, I won’t post a spoiler here on the off chance you have a burning desire to see Hotel Transylvania 2.

So, two buddies, a Russian spy, and an intern walk into a bar in Transylvania…

Until next time, may the movies you chose to see entertain you, warm your heart, and tickle your funny bone.

I’m Late! I’m Late for a Very Important Date! by Valerie J. Patterson

Good Saturday morning to you!  As you can tell by the title, I’m late…with this blog article!  Thursday evening as I began to head here to type in my article, the Internet went out and stayed out until sometime Friday afternoon.  Friday evening–after a stressful week–I couldn’t muster the energy to type in my article.  Very sorry if you came and saw NOTHING from me!

The article I was going to post will wait for another day.  Instead, I’ve been inspired by my laziness to offer up something thought-provoking and perhaps memory-recalling!

Last month, Steve and I took our annual wedding anniversary trip, which was quite lovely, very relaxing, and extremely revitalizing!  As is our normal habit, we take one route to our destination and another route back home.  It was on the route back home that brought the only sad note to the entire trip.

While I was growing up, my family practically spent the entire summer camping/living in a very rustic, deep in the heart of nature resort in Deep Creek, Maryland.  Those summers were some of the best times of my youth.  Every trip, we stopped at a restaurant called the Lone Star.   We were such regulars, the waitresses would recite our beverages as we were seated at a table!  This place had the best fried chicken!

There was nothing special about the place.  It was a large diner along the highway, but the food was good, affordable, and the place was clean, the waitresses friendly, and it was a staple in our summer lives.

It’s been years since I last ate there.  In fact, I don’t think I could tell you when it was that I was last a patron there, but in my mind, it remained the same: same waitresses, same food, same decor.  That is until Steve and I happened to pass it on our way home from vacation.  We passed it and my eyes flew to the giant FOR SALE sign in the parking lot.

I made Steve turn around and go back.  I snapped a few pictures, sighed some heavy sighs, and shed a tear or two.  It sounds silly, I know, but my life has changed so much since the death of my dad that I simply wasn’t prepared to see one more casualty of my childhood.

Life is meant to be ever changing as opposed to stagnant.  It’s meant to be a journey of new places, people, and memories created.  You’re intended to go through it as an ever changing being as well.  However, as we age and lose people in our lives it sometimes becomes difficult to let go of “things” that remind us of simpler times or loved ones.

As I said, it’s not like I frequented the Lone Star, but the loss of it means I can never go back!  Perhaps this is also a good thing.  Everything changes with time.  Perhaps being able to go back…and actually going back…would have been harder.  New waitresses.  New menu items.  New cook.  New tastes.

There’s a saying that you can’t go back home again.  I think this is true.  I think it’s a bittersweet “good” thing that you can’t go back.  Not being able to go back keeps our memories pristine and unchanged by time.  While it is hard to let go of the past–be it people, places, or objects–let go we must.

Until next time, as the weather turns cooler, may you have many memories to wrap around you and leave you with a warmth that touches your heart!

The Art of Doing Nothing, by Valerie J. Patterson

Life’s been hectic for a long time, but I’ve been doing my best to just keep moving and get things done as I can.  August 9th was our anniversary and Steve and I took a few days off and allowed no grass to grow beneath our feet as we headed out of town, away from obligations, away from phones and computers, and into the heart of nature.

Oh, and a spa and resort!

In the middle of a state park in Flintstone, Maryland is the Rocky Gap Spa and Golf Resort.  The resort is surrounded on two sides by a 243-acre lake that is a slice of heaven.  There are multiple public beaches along the banks of the lake.  There are plenty of docks for getting a boat in the water, fishing, camping, picnic areas galore, and absolutely gorgeous scenery to help a person forget their cares and leave the work place behind them.

Our room was a lake front room, and the view was stunning.  Steve and I spent long, lazy hours on a blanket on the beach.  We spent evenings ensconced in Adirondack chairs sipping beverages and enjoying quiet conversations, giggles, and memories as we allowed the sun to set around us.  We did nothing we didn’t want to do.  We chased no schedule.  Kept no itinerary.  Barely paid attention to a watch!  Cell phone?  What’s that?  We simply enjoyed one another, our surroundings, and the gorgeous weather.  We took naps and moved relaxation to new heights.

We came back home refreshed, recharged, and rejuvenated.  Every once in a while you need to slow down, take a seat in the grass–or the sand–and soak in the beauty God has given us, has placed all around us.

Until next time, may your next meeting be with a loved one, in the heart of nature with no phones, no noise, and no schedules!

The Beauty in the Rain by Valerie J. Patterson

I don’t know about where you live, but here in beautiful Pennsylvania it’s been raining and raining and raining with one or two dry days thrown in the mix.  I don’t normally mind rain, but when the meteorologist comes on the TV and says that had the rain in June been snow, we’d have had 48 inches of the fluffy white stuff, it kind of gets your attention!

About the biggest complaint I have about rain is walking to and from work in it.  The back splash of heels in water on dress trousers is a bit of a drag, not to mention the fact that wearing open-toed shoes is not a good idea.  But it’s summer, and your toes are all dressed up for show and you just don’t want to hide them inside shoes.

Aside from that, rain is beautiful.  I was standing at the kitchen window staring out at my Red Sweet Gum tree, marveling at the variety of shades of green that seemed sharper and brighter and more vivid in the rain.  For those unfamiliar with Red Sweet Gum trees, the leaves are star shaped and absolutely wonderfully aromatic.  I stood admiring my tree–the setting sun glistened off the rain water settling on the leaf stars.  I was amazed at how vastly different the tree looked in the aftermath of a summer storm.  I grabbed my camera and headed outside to attempt to gain a few frames of the beauty.  I snapped several pictures from several spots in the yard and at varying angles, but I simply could not capture what I’d seen from the kitchen window.  It was that “once and but for a moment” beauty where the setting is perfect–the sunshine was in the perfect degree of brightness, the rain water was in its early stages of dropping off the tree leaves–the setting was perfect.  By the time I’d attempted to capture it, the moment had passed.  It’s true, I have some nice photos, but none of them are THE one photo I wanted.

I’ve been enjoying the summer rains, tolerating the thunder storms, and keeping my pretty toes tucked inside shoes–nice and dry.  Thanks to a tree full of star-shaped leaves I’ve grown to appreciate even more the beauty in the rain.  It’s more than nature’s way of watering the gardens, making plants and grass grow, and keeping things somewhat cleaner than without the rain.  It’s about seeing the mist of a shower, hearing the rhythm of a storm, and admiring the rainbow at the end.  It’s noticing how the rain enhances the colors of the world around us.

Until next time, may the rain in your life bring beauty and inspiration.

Hello Again by Valerie J. Patterson

Last week, my cousin Bill and his wife, Cindy came for a visit from Kansas.  They were taking a 2-week holiday to a couple of cities and to visit various family as well as some new sight-seeing excursions.  I was beyond delighted when they included my hometown and my home on their itinerary.

It’s been a few years since Steve and I have last seen them.  In fact, the last time it was one of those, “We only get together for funerals or weddings” type of visits.  Thankfully, that was a wedding–always a joyous occasion!  This trip, however, was neither a wedding nor a funeral–it was pure enjoyment, and it was long overdue!

I sat patiently–okay not so patiently–on the sofa and awaited their arrival all the while sitting with my nose practically stuck to the glass of our picture window!  Finally, I caught sight of their truck and–more importantly–their two familiar faces and I was off the sofa in a shot and out the front door.

“They’re here!” I yelled to Steve and he soon was behind me out the front door.  I barely allowed them to exit the vehicle before I was dishing out hugs with a massive smile on my face.

Once inside, I was offering food and beverages and seats.  We sat for hours and talked and laughed and even shed a few tears before the luggage was even out of the back of the truck!  Then we were off to dinner where more laughter and talking ensued.  Oh!  The time passed way too quickly!

After dinner, we went back to the house and out to the gazebo with a bottle of wine and stories from our childhood mixed with updates on their lives and their children.  We talked about all those loved ones who were now missing from our lives.  We shared funny episodes from family gatherings, we made several trips through the family tree, and our tongues never tired and the stories never ceased and none were repeated!

The following morning, Bill and I were the first to rise.  It was so good to sit in the living room with him and talk quietly.  It had been so long since that had last happened.  I savored the time that seemed but a moment to get personally reacquainted with my cousin.  I felt selfish wanting to keep him there as long as possible, all the while knowing he had other family to see in other cities, other states.  For that time, he was a willful captive and it is time I will cherish.

Over breakfast, more talking, more laughing, and a few more tears.  When the visit came to a close, and they packed up the back of the truck, hugs went around quite a few times.  It was hard to let them leave knowing it would be a while before hugs came around again, but it was a wonderful visit–one filled with love and sweet, sweet memories.  One that created new sweet memories!

Family is indeed a precious blessing from God.  Every visit should be such a joyous occasion whether the family lives around the corner or half a country away.  Time passes too quickly, and life is way too short not to make time to visit and reminisce, relive old memories, and create beautiful new ones.

Until next time, may there be warm hugs, boisterous laughter, and even a tear or two whenever your family gathers!

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar…Part Deux by Valerie J. Patterson

You might recall that back in 2012 I regaled you with a tale about using power tools, namely the power washer.  I’m sure it was one of those purely unforgettable stories that you then repeated many times around a campfire, the dinner table, and at the office water cooler!

When you’re done either laughing at my recollection or scratching your head while trying to recall what I am talking about, let’s move on to today’s “Roar”.

I am woman hear me roar…with a mower too big to ignore!

Steve and I bought a new lawn tractor and I am the operator of said tractor.  My first ride, I could feel the power as I zoomed up the driveway toward the front lawn.  I turned toward the lawn, lowered the blades, and smiled as thousands of pieces of grass confetti shot out the right side of the cutting deck.  My hair was pulled back, the wind was blowing across my face…and so was the grass I had just cut!

Note to self:  never mow into the wind unless you LIKE the taste of cut grass!

These days, I whip around the yard and zoom up and down the driveway.  It’s fun!

I’ve made good use of that power washer, too.  My porch furniture never looks better than after a fresh power washing!  It has a way of making everything shiny and new!

Plus, I can also add the snow blower to the list of power tools I have mastered.  Had plenty of opportunity to use that baby this past winter.  Kind of glad it’s been exchanged for the lawn tractor, though!

Until next time, may there be power tools in your life that make your life easier, comfier, and more beautiful!  Happy Spring, Y’all!!

Showing Your True Colors by Valerie J. Patterson

I’m certain we’ve all heard the saying, “She’s showing her true colors“.  And I’m also certain we all know that it means to show one’s true self.  But did you know that this saying originally referred to ships in the heat of battle?  Warships would often fly multiple flags, each a different color, hoping to confuse their enemies.  However, rules of wartime dictated that prior to firing, the ship had to hoist its real country flag, hence showing its true colors.

I was thinking about the phrases and sayings we have grown up with and how each generation–it seems–has their own sayings, but that there are phrases that remain regardless of the passage of time.  I decided to look into the origins of some of the sayings and phrases I have always heard, and I was shocked by some, grossed out by others, and somewhat surprised to realize that I knew more about some than I would have thought.  Not sure what that says, but…here are some sayings and their origins.  Enjoy!

Spill the beans–of course, this means to tell a secret.  In ancient Greece, voting for candidates was conducted by depositing either a white bean (voting yes) or a black bean (voting no) into a container.  The candidate never knew who voted which way nor did they know the outcome until the beans were counted.  Occasionally, a clumsy voter would knock the container over and reveal the votes to the candidate, thus spilling the beans.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed–of course this is often said of a grumpy person.  However, in “old times” the left side of the body and anything dealing with the left side was considered evil.  In order to ward off evil spirits, innkeepers would push the left side of the bed against a wall, giving guests only one option: to wake up on the right side of the bed!  As a left-handed person, I find this idea offensive! (wink)

No spring chicken–refers to someone past their prime, but it actually does refer to old chickens.  New England farmers got more money for chicks born in the spring rather than those born in the wintertime.  When times were lean, they attempted to pass wintertime chicks off as spring chicks and the wise buyer would reply, “That is no spring chicken!”.

Here’s one that surprised me:  Rule of Thumb–this means a benchmark, a go by.  It is said to have originated in England when 17th century judge, Sir Francis Buller ruled that husbands could beat their wives with a stick providing the stick were no wider than his thumb!  [Someone should have beat Sir Buller!]

Go the whole 9 yards–means to give it your best, your all, and try your hardest.  Fighter pilots of WWII were issued a 9-yard ammunition chain.  When a pilot used the entire chain on one target, he was said to have given it the whole 9 yards.

Here’s one that simply grossed me out: Cat got your tongue–obviously this means someone is at a loss for words.  But it actually originated from the practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and feeding them to cats!  Yick!!!!

So as not to leave you with that image, here’s one more.  I just found this one very odd:  Butter someone up–we take this to mean flattery, but it’s actually an ancient Indian custom of throwing balls of clarified butter at statues of gods to gain their favor.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt I will ever use the phrase cat got your tongue again!

Until next time, have a great weekend, and may your blessings always be more than you can shake a stick at!!!!

Spring Has Sprung…Babies are in Bloom!! by Valerie J. Patterson

I guess a long winter can be good for many things.  When the weather is harsh, the wind is stinging, and roads are icy there are so many activities you can get caught up on.

There’s knitting or crocheting a blanket.  Making your way through your To Be Read pile.  Shampooing your carpets.  Sorting through your closets.  And, of course, shoveling all that fluffy snow!

Oh, and there’s building snowmen or snowwomen or snowbears!

You can settle in for some serious movie watching–the classics or new releases.  Your pick.  How about making those fabulous recipes you’ve clipped from magazines or newspapers and stored in your recipe file just knowing you’d eventually make them and wow the family with your gourmet finesse?

Of course, there’s also cuddle time on the sofa with the love of your life.  There’re lazy naps on winter-gray weekend afternoons.  And there’s making a pot of your favorite soup and enjoying it with a freshly baked loaf of bread.  A kettle of tea.  A mug of hot cocoa.

Or, you could be like two of my nieces and participate in an activity that will bless our family with two beautiful wee ones just in time for Thanksgiving!!  Two of my little sister’s girls will give her grandbabies this November!  Who said nothing good comes from 14 inches of snow?

From now until Thanksgiving, I expect that I will be busy shopping!

Until next time, may the flowers that bloom in your garden color your life with joy!

At long last, below is a picture of my Paint & Praise painting.  It’s called The Spirit Tree, and I so enjoyed painting it!

At long last, here is a picture of my Paint & Praise Painting!!  It's called the "Spirit Tree", and I so enjoyed painting it!!