It’s been a travelin’ kind of May!

I have been on the road, so to speak, for almost the entire month of May! Sorry for the lack of updates, as I haven’t really figured out how to post through the app. It is on my to-do list to learn at some point. I had so many pictures (too many pictures!), and I kept putting this off until I get them organized…but I have given up and since I am about to leave on ANOTHER adventure, I figured I better get this one caught up!

I’m going to break this down by destination, and just do some short snippets. The entire experience has been amazing, and I hope it gives you some ideas for traveling, as well! Links to the pictures are in each title. Feel free to poke around the album to see other pictures, too.

Plus, I get back, and everything is green!

May 20, 2015

May 20, 2015

ATHENS – aka “AthensFest 2015”

As mentioned before, my mom runs a cooking forum on DelphiForums, and within the group that posts there, they organize these ‘fests’, a gathering of three or more members in some locale. This time around, dear Evelyn organized one in her hometown of Athens, Greece. Mom asked me if I would like to go…haha, she didn’t have to ask the AntiCook twice!

With her usual flair, Mom booked us into a brothel. And you think I might be kidding? No, it has a reputation among the cab drivers! Even so, the rooms are cheap (and they do rent by something other than the hour), relatively clean, and breakfast is included in the low, low price. I think during the summer they cater more to tour groups rather than their ‘other’ clientele, but we still go to sit on the gold couch and watch the women hawk their wares.

TRAVEL TIP: We used a service called “WelcomePickUps” for Athens. They are only available in Athens and Istanbul, but I can’t recommend them enough. Spiro was my driver from the airport, and then we hired him for the day to take us to Delphi and Thermopalyae. It was great having a ‘private’ driver to wait on us as we climbed the ruins, to drive us to lunch and through the crazy Athens traffic. The pick up from the airport was sooooo nice, as well, and the company was fantastic in every respect. Very reasonable rates, too.

Pictures from AthensFest 2015

SANTORINI

Oh wow! This place is as beautiful as the pictures! I have always imagined visiting Santorini, with the white buildings and blue domed roofs, and when I did, it was just as I had imagined! Our rental through Kastro Suites, was perfectly situated. It was a bit large for just the three of us, but the location was perfect (at least for me). Our patio opened on to the public path, and while I wouldn’t want to LIVE there, having the tourists and the donkeys climbing past us was all part of the charm.

My husband and I went to the Akrotiri ruins, and from there, we attempted to break our necks climbing up and then down to the red beach. I think we were climbing on goat paths that even goats weren’t dumb enough to utilize, all so I could get some red volcanic sand for my collection. 🙂

Pictures from Santorini

ATHENS – redux

We’re back at the brothel…it feels just like home. This is the one time we got a ‘bad’ room: the ac wasn’t working, nor the fridge. Went downstairs to let them know, and by the time we got back from our tours that day, we had a new room with working items. It may not be the prettiest place in town, but the customer service is great (and I’m trying to say that without it being an innuendo…) 🙂

ABRUZZO REGION, Italy aka “Cooking school”

We arrived at the Rome airport, but because we were coming from within the EU, the directions from the cooking school weren’t accurate (they were for the US/Canada guests), and a fire in the Rome airport a few days previously had rerouted things. But it all worked out, and soon we were picked up on and on the bus to Abruzzo, an approximately 4 hour ride, in which we were consistently terrified by our driver, who texted while driving the bus, drifting into the oncoming lane and shoulder, and who didn’t understand English. But, that aside, we made it alive and were ready to go.

The place where we stayed and where the school was is beautiful.  It was rather cold up in the mountains, but the views were amazing. All of us in the class were there on the Groupon deal (essentially a BOGO deal). We met some amazing travelers, mostly older women and couples, who have been on adventures all over the world! Everyone seemed to get along quite well, and I even found two other women who didn’t drink wine there. We were the popular ones to sit next to.

In a nutshell, we went on some amazing tours, fixed some amazing food, and ate even better. I know I gained weight in Greece, and I know I added to it in Italy. Everything is fixed with fresh ingredients, full fat, and lots of olive oil, of course!

Pictures from Abruzzo

BALTIC CRUISE – STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

This was the first stop on the 3 day Baltic cruise aboard the St. Peter Line’s Princess Anastasia ship. The ship looks like a throwback to the 80’s, which it probably is, but overall, and for the price, the cruise isn’t a bad deal. I’ve done it once before, but it was in March, very cold and wet. This time around was late May, and it was just cold. Well, chilly. We hardly spent any time on the decks, but that was alright, as we spent our days out sightseeing.

In Stockholm, there are a couple of must-see places. Definitely the Vasa Museum. It was still interesting my second time there, and I think the girls enjoyed it, too. In a nutshell, the museum houses a ship that went down in the harbor on its maiden voyage, due to poor design.

BALTIC CRUISE – TALLINN, ESTONIA

Ah, Tallinn. My hubby met us here, having come in on the Eckerd Line ferry, just to see us. We went and ate at Old Hansa House, dropped Mom off at a wine shop, then walked around and toured the old city while he gave his history report. We had a “bowl of decent elk soup”, which is always very good, and the girls tried moose sausage and a wild game meat pie.

BALTIC CRUISE – ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

MeetMeTaxi was amazing for this. If you have a group together (4-6 people), skip the ferry bus and use these folks. Our driver, Vladimir, drove us around to see about a dozen landmarks, gave us a running commentary on the history, and sat with my mom while I and the girls went into Hermitage. We were able to stop for pictures, and he waited for us outside the Church on the Spilled Blood while we toured and took pictures there. It was not a bad price at all, the van was comfortable, and it was a lifesaver for those of us who can’t walk far distances any longer.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the cruise, as I had been on it before, and wanted to experience without being behind the camera lens. Most of the pictures I took were with my daughter’s phone, for her, so I don’t have them. We also took the ferry out to Suomenlinna, and the bus to  Korkeasaari Zoo. I’ll post about those trips when I get THOSE pictures organized!

Cooking Adventures

My mom runs a cooking forum called Cook’s Talk. My alias on there is the “AntiCook”, because really, I don’t cook, while my mom is a self-taught chef. So, on this forum, her handle, “Madmom” has become an verb — to “madmom a recipe” is to improvise on it (when you may not have the ingredients called for). Now, I have become an adjective — something can be “Michele easy”, meaning that it is such an easy recipe that it ranks right up there with boiling water.

One of the members posted a video for a dessert and said it was “Michele easy” and looked nice. So, obviously, I had to try to make this and see if it really was worthy of being called “Michele easy”. We might have to change it to “Anticook easy” just because it looks weird to have my name up there.

Because of limited space, the photos are on Flickr, but I’ll give you a running commentary here. In addition, here is a picture of the finished product (spoiler alert! they turned out delicious and pretty!)

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

First off, I unrolled the dough too early, so it thawed a bit crackly. Added some moisture and tried to roll it out. My mother practically wet her pants laughing at all the ways that went wrong.

Eventually got it rolled out in to some semblance of something that I could cut six strips from.

Then, when getting the apricot preserves ready, my mom said it was a cup of water to add to it. So I did. “This doesn’t look right” I says. She double checks the recipe, “Oh, it’s two tablespoons.” Derp. Since you can’t really separate the preserves from the water, we brought in a substitute…strawberry!

Oh, the apples. I butchered those seven ways from Sunday. It was a struggle to find enough halves that would work. But the mandolin functioned beautifully, and I even remembered to wear the protective glove so I didn’t slice my fingers like SOME people tend to do.

I had to put up with my mother chortling through the entire construction process. She’s such an elitist.

I finished making them (a bit sloppily, I’m afraid), and popped them in the oven, and they were very delicious! So nyah.

It’s been sort of dreary here lately, temps in the low single digits, along with rain and some sleet. I did see a rainbow the other day, but the pictures barely came out.

Other than that, life has settled in to a routine, although that’s all about the change – -trips to Greece and Italy are planned, plus my youngest daughter and her friend will be here in about a month! So excited!

February in Helsinki

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It’s all about the slosh. It snowed all freakin’ day…then began to drizzle. Walked Shiva earlier and it was like walking through a frozen drink. The walk tomorrow morning should be interesting, to say the least. It’s been above freezing, so the snow is melting, and there is water everywhere! I can only imagine what a deluge spring is going to be like!

Shiva did well on her overnight stay, so now we have a dogsitter for the trip. One less thing to worry about.

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Tracie is all about snowdicks. So I made a snowgina. She apparently left the phallus at the dog park for me. We should really grow up. But where’s the fun in that?

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I also made lasagna. My mom asked if the noodles were homemade. She’s such a comedian. (Yes, I know how to do it, I’m just too lazy)

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Shiva made dog angels on her walk.

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We are all sorts of creative today. I have class tomorrow. Not feeling the creativity any more.

I’ve really got nothing else. It was a decently lazy Sunday. I’ll try to come up with something more useful tomorrow.

Oh, Tracie…I remember you saying that LOVE Mason jar crafts. This is for you: https://www.yahoo.com/makers/25-amazing-mason-jar-gift-ideas-102975891880.html

 

 

Yucky day!

Today was one of those days that I was warned about. It was cold, wet and sleeting, and to top it all off, the wind was blowing. Taking the Shiva-dog out for a walk this morning was not a pleasant activity.

January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015

It snowed later on this afternoon, then sleeted some more. Dreary. I stayed inside and did a bit of baking and cleaning. Okay, more cleaning than baking, because that’s not my thing.

I made this, though:

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Screwed it up by twisting some of the pieces around the wrong way, but it wouldn’t be an AntiCook masterpiece if I didn’t do something wrong! And at least it tastes good!

Made a vet appointment for the Shiva Dog for next Friday, for her to get checked out and stuff. Just to get her on record here with a vet. Hung some lights up outside to fight the gloom.

Laughed at this:

Because. Love.

Because. Love.

That’s all folks. Not much in the way of words of wisdom. Maybe next week. Moi moi!

Sad face.

My youngest daughter left today, to return to the States (and 74+ degree weather…). I was missing her before we even got off the bus. I think she had a good trip, as she is making plans to find some friend who can scrape up the money for a ticket and come back in May. Found them a really good fare (under $900) through Iceland. We’ll see if it works out.

Gonna make cooking my goal for 2015. Found a list of 26 Foods Everyone Should Know How to Cook in their 20s. I’m a bit older than that (just a tad), but since my nickname is The AntiCook…well, better late than never. And my mom bought me an online cooking course for Christmas…which I need to start doing. Yeah, yeah…plans and all that shit.

Just getting back into a routine and making a list of people I need to call or go see tomorrow and Tuesday to get things moving along. Fuck bureaucracy.

Here’s a picture of my daughter and I to make me feel better. But I miss her, all my girls, so much! Waah. /emotion

VictoriaMom

Classes and more classes!

Today was a hellishly busy day (after my lazy Sunday!), but I did get a lot done, at least.

Here’s this morning’s picture, taken around 9:15am:

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The first order of business today was a stop by the TE office so that I could have my integration interview. That went smoothly, with no real surprises. Apparently, because I quit my job in the U.S. and didn’t move to Finland within the next week, they deemed my job separation as NOT being for the move to Finland, but other personal reasons. It didn’t really matter, because I am still subject to the 21 week waiting period due to not having a degree or certification.

Note to those deciding to move to Finland, even if you marry a Finn and come over based on family connections: If you do not have a degree, then you will have a 21 week (nearly 5 month) waiting period for unemployment benefits. This does have some exceptions, which I am going to go in to next.

Now, since I was already signed up for a Finnish language course that was on the TE list, they will submit to KELA that I am taking a qualified course, and my benefits should start as of the date of the course. Or the date of my integration interview. The response to that question got garbled in translation, and I didn’t clarify it. My bad.

After that visit, I headed over to the K City Market, not to be confused with a K Market, and checked out their abundant supply of goodies. They have an “American Wall”, but it was pretty piss poor, and didn’t really have anything I couldn’t live without. It was mostly things like Paul Newman’s dressings, Hunt’s catsup, Starburst, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Nothing too mind-blowing. Oh, and Ziploc sandwich bags for like six bucks a box. Ugh.

I picked up the Rice Krispies and marshmallows that I needed, and headed over to the KELA office. Got my B certificate put into the ‘Urgent’ queue, and confirmed that I had all the applications in that I needed. Then it was to Sörnäinen to grab some special candy for Wellu’s upcoming trip, and some dog food for the Shiva. Got her a really cool reflective halter, too.

20141215_200036[1]Came home and hung curtains, and then attempted to fix the Rice Krispie treats for the after-school party tomorrow. That is some evil stuff! Sticky and vicious. I had a hell of a time getting that shit in the pan to cool off. It was hardening up like lava even as I was trying to smush it in the corners. My finished product looks like shit, but actually tastes okay. If you can’t tell, I didn’t make Rice Krispie (or is it Krispy) treats as a kid.

Oh, and when I got home, I had a letter saying that I had been accepted in to this other (much, MUCH cheaper) Finnish course, which is approved by TE. So now I need to cancel the first one and put this one in its place. Fun, fun!

Day 15 Challenge Question: What do you and your family like to do on a Saturday morning?

Simple and easy: Sleep in. Nothing more to it. 🙂

#500words. Again. 🙂

Lazy weekend

Not much went on this weekend. There was the big time change, where we got to set the clocks back an hour (woohoo! An extra hour of sleep!). Watched the 1980 version of Flash Gordon last night — still one of my favorite fun movies. Also caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The writing is so much better this season than it was at the last part of the first season. I’m wondering if they’ve added to the scriptwriters or made some other changes. Whatever it is, I am liking it.

I was adding to my photos of the tree outside, and thought I would post the latest, along with the first one.

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September 22, 2014

October 26, 2014

October 26, 2014

I made the Finnish pancakes (crepes) again this morning, and had to sacrifice the first one to the crepe gods, as usual. But they came out pretty good. Mixed up some ligonberry jam with mascarpone cheese, and spread that on mine. Yum! They are also good with ham and cheese rolled up and then melted in them. I’m sure there are a ton of different ways to fix them, and they really are so easy to do.

Finnish Crepes

Finnish Crepes

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1-1/2 cups milk

1 cup flour

1 tsp sugar

Combine the eggs and milk in bowl, make sure to blend well. Add flour, salt and sugar, and then blend until smooth. Cover bowl with cloth and let sit for about a half hour.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, and add butter until sizzling. Scoop or pour about a 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet and tilt the pan to coat the bottom with a thin, even layer. Cook until the top looks dry, maybe about 30 seconds or so. Then slip a spatula under the edge and flip it over carefully and cook on the other side just a few more seconds. Slide the finished crepe on to a plate, and start the next one, adding more butter, and repeating the process.

Fill with just about anything you want. Sprinkle with just sugar and roll up, or jam, add cheese or thin slices of meat (ham and Swiss were particularly good). If you double the recipe, you can store the leftovers in a ziploc in the fridge, and just microwave to warm up.

Tomorrow, I have drama club, plus I need to go gripe at Elisa for charging me for tech support. When I called, I had no idea that it was costing me money — the customer support person gave me the number, but didn’t tell me there was a per minute charge for the assistance! Cost me 25€ to get my phone working. It was a simple fix, too, that should have been done at the store, but alas, was not. We’ll see how far I get.

Oh! Big news for the summer of 2015. My mom and I are going on an epicurean tour of Italy! Seven days and six nights in beautiful Italy, doing tours and learning to cook the Italian way! I am so excited! And this is after a few days spent in Greece at AthensFest 2015! I’ll be taking lots of pictures of all of that!

Wait…she’s cooking?

Moving to a new place, with new experiences, new expectations and new roles…well, one would anticipate there would be changes to the way one views their place in their new life. Such is what I am encountering now. It’s not been a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s actually been a very positive experience thus far.

Right now, I can’t work. Not that I don’t the ability, but I don’t have the legal right to work. So I am now ‘temporarily retired’. While being retired is usually something one looks forward to, I can see why it can be a difficult adjustment. Add to this ‘abundance of time’ on my hands to also being in a strange place, well, you can probably see why I am branching out to try new things.

Like cooking.

Let’s face it. I’m not a cook. My kids will tell you that I rarely cooked a square meal in their life. They didn’t starve, but mealtime was not a ritual in our household. For me, it was something to be dreaded, as my skill never seemed to be up to par, and with the exception of one child, my girls were pretty picky eaters. So it was easier to go the hot dogs and mac/cheese route. And we’re talking the boxed, neon yellow stuff, too. It’s good, but that’s about as complex as my ‘cooking’ got. When they got older, they pretty much fended for themselves (which was fine by all parties involved, given schedules, likes, dislikes, etc).

My mom, on the other hand, is an excellent cook. I have memories of some rather great meals when I was younger, though I have to admit that most of them included the words fried, potatoes, gravy, breading, etc., and rarely a vegetable. But they were very good tasting. Still, my mother says that she enjoys cooking, and always has. Over the last decade or so, especially on her own now, she has branched out into some pretty esoteric stuff (like making her own mascarpone cheese, making her own yogurt, making pasta from scratch, etc). And she is really good at it, too! She even runs a cooking forum on DephiForums called CooksTalk that has a whole passel of people who love to cook, and many who cook for a living. They are artists with food!

My mom and I took a cooking course in Florence, Italy while on my honeymoon (yes, my mom came on my honeymoon with us. Another story for another time! 🙂 ) We enjoyed the heck out of it, and I actually made pasta from scratch. By hand. And it was edible! And easy! No intimidating machinery, no hard to find ingredients. I started to feel this sort of ‘Hmm, I could maybe enjoy this’ kind of feeling. I returned home, but was busy packing for my cross-world trek that there wasn’t time to explore this new thing.

Mom and I at the cooking class in Florence

Mom and I at the cooking class in Florence

Tiramisu--I made it myself!

Tiramisu–I made it myself!

Now, I’m here in Finland, and I have many a daytime to myself. A few days ago, I wanted to make that shepherd’s pie, but couldn’t find pre-made pie crust. So I…made it. I had leftover dough, which stayed in the fridge until today, when I decided to just wing it, and made these magnificent little…pies. I guess that’s what you’d call them. I used glass votive candle holders that I got from IKEA the other day, to put the crust in. I made four strawberry and three lingonberry. Below are some pictures of the process.

Preparing for the oven

Preparing for the oven

In the oven!

In the oven!

Final product, served with vanilla ice cream

Final product, served with vanilla ice cream

I learned a few things from this little experiment that I will do differently next time, but nothing too earth-shattering to call a ‘mistake to be corrected’. I enjoyed the process of asking myself, ‘I wonder if this will this work?’, then trying it, and finding out that it does. I’ve made dinner nearly every night that I’ve been here, be it something simple (steak and fries), or more elaborate (the aforementioned shepherd’s pie). The point is, cooking has always been something I’ve never really enjoyed. Something I considered a chore, a drudgery to get over and done. I’m actually enjoying it now, and feeling like I would like to do more.

I want to take a pause here, to apologize to my kids for not cooking more when they were younger. It seemed like such a pain, and I just didn’t enjoy it. Maybe now that I’m older and have less demands on me, I can focus on it more. At least you weren’t poisoned by my cooking when you were little! I know that all three of you already cook more than I ever did, and I’m so proud of you for the things you create. Each one of you has surprised me with a wonderful dish at one time or another.

To follow through on this new hobby, I’ve looked through the Familia Club pamphlet for the end of the year, and there are a couple of cooking events going on in November. I’m going to sign up for them and go explore. Sure, Finland is not known for their cuisine, but what the heck, cooking is cooking, right? As long as it isn’t pickled herring or something vegetable-centric, then I’ll be fine. 🙂 And as a plug for the Familia Club, for a mere 20€ annual cost, they have a lot of really neat free (and nearly free) classes, excursions and events that they offer. You can check them out at http://www.familiaclub.fi (something I recommend!).

In the meantime, I’ll bore you with my cooking exploits until someone says, ‘Enough already! So you can cook! Tell us about something more interesting!’, in which case, hopefully I will have something more interesting to talk about. 🙂

In other, brief news, it was COLD this morning.

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I was a bit a’feared of going out today, but I really didn’t need to be. In spite of the temperature, it was actually rather nice, if one was dressed appropriately. I actually wore a sweatshirt out to the store later, as my heavy coat had been almost uncomfortably warm. I think it helped that it was dry and calm today. When it’s raining and windy, I’m sure I’ll sing another tune.

I did forget my phone when I went out, so you don’t get any pictures of the landscapes today. Maybe tomorrow!

Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow!

Snow! (and television)

We had our first snow of the season! Well…to be honest, it was only a few flakes for a bit in the morning. Nothing sticking, of course, and it was pretty much a memory by lunchtime. But I saw it! Little flakes of ice water, drifting down to the ground (to melt away). It did break up the slow pace of the morning, though. But that means no pictures are available for viewing, since it doesn’t stick.

I totally forgot to make phone calls this morning, so I need to make lists that I actually look at. I had this long list, but I suppose I can do them tomorrow. At some point. Tomorrow will be pretty busy. We’re going to head to the doctor’s office with my paperwork, to go ahead and get things put in the system, so that it goes more smoothly when I show up in November. Then we are going to head to lunch for Chinese buffet. Then I had planned to do the grocery shopping (because never shop on an empty stomach!). Depending on when I get done with that, maybe THEN I can do the phone calls. Essentially, I am looking to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Family Club in Helsinki have to offer, but I have a few questions. Plus, I saw they were offering another language course that might be more at my level, and I wanted to see if I could switch to it.

I’m going to blame it on going to bed so late last night, and then waking up so late, as well. That’s my excuse story, and I’m sticking to it! Catching up on recorded shows is definitely taking its toll. We’re getting caught up on Big Bang Theory, Agents of SHIELD, The Blacklist, and Castle. I’m going to wait until we’ve recorded a few more episodes of Flash and Gotham before we start watching those. It’s not like we don’t already have enough to watch! I’m excited to hear that House of Cards will be starting back up in February!

I went on a cooking spree this afternoon. I decided to go ahead and cook for the weekend so I don’t have to deal with it. I made some meatloaf, which I will pair with some creamed potatoes later. For dinner, we had rotini and meat sauce. I am still trying to get used to making sauce with powder, water and milk. I’m used to popping open a jar of Ragu and pouring it out. 🙂 But I added some mascarpone cheese to the sauce, and it did add some very nice, rich flavor to it.

Tonight is the Pendragon game, so not going to get much else done for the rest of the evening.

Fall is in the air!

The leaves are changing color and falling to the ground. For a Southern girl who only knows that the seasons come in two colors (green and brown), the landscape is so beautiful. On my walk to the grocery store today, I took these pictures:

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Speaking of taking a walk, I think I’ll take a moment to point out something I have really enjoyed here — the rights of the pedestrian! Long live the pedestrian! 🙂 But seriously, there are walking and biking paths that can get you anywhere you need to go. They are clearly marked and paved, even divided for bikes and walkers.

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Also, the rules are pretty well followed for crossing the street. If you have a light and crosswalk, you just wait your turn. But if there’s a crosswalk and no signal, the vehicle has to stop for you. I’m not used to that. Even if you are just approaching the curb, a car will usually stop and wait for you, as opposed to try and beat you through it!

On a personal note, my cooking skills are starting to really develop. I had gone to the store looking for the canned biscuits and frozen ready-made pie crusts that I am so used to using back home. Well, no luck here, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way. I had to actually make the freaking pie crust for my shepherd’s pie! And on top of that, I had to actually peel, boil and mash potatoes from scratch. This cooking stuff is hard! But in any case, here’s the in-progress and finished product:

Pie crust, rolled out with a glass!

Pie crust, rolled out with a glass!

Ready to put in the oven

Ready to put in the oven

Hot from the oven!

Hot from the oven!

Second night of the theater workshop. Unfortunately, our numbers are dwindling, but we have RSVPs for next week, so hopefully we get more folks in. We managed to pretty much pound out a script and get a plan for the actual play itself. I actually like the way it is coming together. My original plan had been to join this so that I could meet new people, but I’m actually enjoying the process of doing the play from start to finish more than I thought I would.