Snow Dove

Time is getting away from me in a hurry this year, so I will bid all of you nice friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year at this time. May this be a meaningful season for you, filled with joy and gratitude for this precious gift that has been given to us all! — D

Animal Wonder

For my final post of 2014 here at Animal Wonder, I would like to share one of my favorite photos.  I am quite partial to this particular photo because it is one of two photos of mine that have been awarded first place ribbons in local competition.  The actual award-winning photo was a black and white version of this photo that still hangs in our home today in a simple black frame with a white mat.

Snow Dove

I enjoy watching and photographing our backyard birds at the bird bath and the feeders so much, but some photos are just more memorable than others.  This lovely White-winged Dove posed beautifully during a surprise snow storm in March 2010, and it sat there for the longest time, seemingly just relaxing and enjoying the scenery in the yard.

I gave this photo to friends and family on our Christmas cards the next year, the…

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Christmas Bird Count

I won’t often reblog posts from Animal Wonder here, but this is one that some of you fellow RVers and other friends, especially photographers, might be interested in, if you are not already aware of this project. I would love to do this in the future, even though it won’t happen this year. Photography is optional on this project, as the main purpose is just the count. This is the 115th yearly count! — D

Animal Wonder

Did you know that starting December 14, and going through January 5, the yearly Christmas Bird Count will take place?  Did you know that such a thing even existed?

I first learned about this project a few months ago through one of our local state parks that participates in the project.  It is a long-time project that has apparently spanned over 100 years and is also a holiday tradition for many people and families.  It is the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, and I have enjoyed learning more about it.  While I will not be able to participate in a nearby project this year, it is something that I am going to explore further in future years.

The National Audubon Society has a great page on this project, so I will just happily link to it here, for anyone else that might be interested in participating this…

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Pistachio Brittle

I started off my holiday baking escapades this week with a new twist on a favorite recipe.  I have always liked peanut brittle, even though I will confess that I am really not a fan of the peanuts, per se.  The buttery and sweet brittle is what I love the most.  As I have dieted over the past year, one food that I have enjoyed almost daily for a little snack is pistachio nuts.  Costco sells a big bag of the shelled nuts at a good price, and I have been so grateful to keep a bag of these healthy nuts on my kitchen counter over the past year when a snack attack hits me.

Hubby and I discussed some of the sweets that we would like to have and give this year during the holidays, and we both agreed that substituting pistachios for the peanuts might be worth a try, as we both love to eat them.  I have also had a slightly spicy pistachio brittle in the past (similar to the recipe at that link), and it was very good.  However, for this first attempt, I opted to use a more traditional recipe and substitute the nuts as the only change.

Pistachio Brittle
Lovely Pistachio Brittle!

This was definitely a successful modification, and I seriously doubt that I will ever make regular peanut brittle again, unless I make it for someone who prefers it over this kind.  The wonderful green color from the pistachios even makes the brittle more festive for the holidays, too.

I used a recipe from Land O Lakes, with only two slight changes, in addition to substituting the nuts in equal amounts.  After adding the baking soda, I also added one teaspoon of Watkins vanilla extract, and I also turned the entire recipe out into just one buttered pan instead of dividing it between two pans.  In my opinion, it came out great!  Using a candy thermometer makes this a simple recipe to prepare, too.

Candy Thermometer
This candy thermometer belonged to my mother-in-law, and I treasure using it every year when preparing holiday treats. What a story it could tell over the decades!
Pistachio Brittle 2
Brittle in a buttered pan

I buttered the baking pan well, turned out the hot brittle mixture into the pan, spread it to the edges with a buttered spatula, then let it sit for about an hour until it was completely cooled.  Once it was cooled, I then turned the pan upside down over a large cookie sheet and gently tapped the bottom of the pan with a hammer (that I only use in the kitchen) until the brittle fell loose.  While the brittle was upside down on the cookie sheet, I used the clean hammer to gently break the pieces apart, using only the edge of the hammer when tapping.  There is no need to line the pan with foil or parchment, as the brittle slides out quite easily after it is allowed to completely cool in the well-buttered pan.

I also experimented with another new recipe that has pistachios, too.

Cranberry Pistachio Bark
Cranberry Pistachio White Chocolate Bark

I found this simple recipe for Cranberry Pistachio White Chocolate Bark online from Brown-Eyed Baker.  This took about five minutes to make, using the microwave to melt the white chocolate morsels, and it will be a regular holiday sweet treat for us.  What a pretty addition it will be to my Christmas food gifts this year!  (12/13/14 Update: Just saw where Ina Garten also adds some diced dried apricots to hers, too!)

After the holidays, I will go back to just snacking on my lovely pistachio nuts, sans all the extra calories, but I will certainly have fond memories of these tasty treats!

D Reindeer_smAll Original Content — © — All Rights Reserved

Holiday Survival Kit

I made a little gift to take to our yearly Christmas party with some dear friends on Sunday evening, and I wanted to share it here.  Blame it on Pinterest.

Holiday Survival Kit
Holiday Survival Kit

Here is the list of items that I included, and I also included a separate printout of the legend of the Candy Cane story.  I only buy Bob’s Candy Canes at Christmas, and I did not include any homemade treats, as these friends will soon receive one of my cookies platters, too.

Holiday Survival Kit Text
I made a kit for each of my special friends, and they both loved their little surprise, in addition to their “real” gift.  The total cost, including the gingerbread box, was less than $10, and I used clear snack sized bags to hold each of the items on the list.  If you want to include more items, there are several good ones listed online.  Just search for “holiday survival kit,” and you’ll see some of them.

One friend keeps her little grandchildren after school each day, and they are going to explore the items in order by taking an item out each day in the order listed.  I never even thought of that possibility, but what a cute idea that is.  The kit could certainly include a few more kid-friendly items for that purpose, too.

This was such a fun little project and took less than an hour to put together after purchasing the necessary items.  Let’s just say while it not definitely not diet friendly, it is a fun little gift to make and give! 😉

D Reindeer_smAll Original Content — © — All Rights Reserved

Autumn in Big Country

We made a long weekend trip in the RV after lunch on Thanksgiving Day, and it was our first time to be in lovely Abilene State Park in the month of November.  What a treat we found there as the leaves were changing color.  Even though we were just a bit past the prime fall colors, it was still a treat for us to see the vibrant red oaks, as well as the many beautiful live oak trees, too.  While we have visited the park in other seasons, all pictures in this post are from our most recent November trip.

Elm Creek Trail Head parking area
Gorgeous red oaks turning
Elm Creek Nature Trail Head
Elm Creek Nature Trail is a great walking trail around the park
Elm Creek Nature Trail (The best night geocache ever is on this trail, too.)
Elm Creek Nature Trail Bench
One of several nice benches on Elm Creek Trail
Elm Creek Nature Trail Marker
A marker on Elm Creek Trail
Beautiful park road near Brushy Trail Campground
Hiking path to the bird blind
Bird blind
Information sign at the bird blind
Brushy Trail Campground ahead
Brushy Trail is gorgeous when all of the trees are leafed out
Brushy Trail Campground is gorgeous when all of the trees are out in non-winter months
Screened shelters sites are still very popular here in warmer weather months
The restroom / shower building in the large trailer area is very nice!
The new yurts are nice, and the group building is just across from these.
Entering Oak Grove Campground
Prickly Pear Cactus
Campsite in Oak Grove Campground
Road between Oak Grove and Pecan Grove Campgrounds
Near Pecan Grove Campground
Fall colors
Campsite in Pecan Grove Campground – smaller trailers only
Pecan Grove Campground, smaller trailers only

The photos above primarily show the trailer camping areas in the park, except for Wagon Wheel Campground that is also nearby.  Wagon Wheel is a large grassy common area with nice trees and restrooms that is surrounded by large trailer water and electric hookups that is more suitable to group and open camping needs.  For those wanting to spend time at the pool area in summer months, Wagon Wheel is a perfect choice because it is the closest trailer campground to the pool and concession area.  There is also a nice tent campground with large trees in a different part of the park, too.

The beautiful day use area in the park has many large trees, picnic tables and restrooms, and the CCC era buildings, including the newly renovated swimming pools that are so popular in the summer months, are an outstanding and popular feature.  The old buildings are beautiful and add so much character to the park that is now celebrating its 80th year.

CCC Pool House and Observation Deck
CCC Pool House and Observation Deck
CCC Pool House and Pools
CCC Pool House and Pools, taken from the Observation Deck

We first discovered this park in February 2012, and we return fairly often for long weekends away in the RV.  We also overnighted here on two occasions in route to state parks further away.  This is an extremely popular park for RVers, and most weekends tend to be booked up in advance for the large trailer sites.  However, sites are usually available in Wagon Wheel at the last-minute, if needed.

Geocaching is a great family friendly activity at this park, and in my opinion, it is the best state park for geocaching that we have visited to date.  My goodness, what fun we had when we visited here with some family members in April 2013 and found so many great geocaches.  We also embarked on the Elm Creek Trail at night with the teenagers and our flashlights to find the epic night cache.  We found the cache, but we also got lost in the dark trying to find our way back to camp.  All eventually turned out well, but we learned to set “markers” on our GPS unit when attempting a feat like this in the future.

The quaint and historic town of Buffalo Gap is only five miles from the park, and we always enjoy visiting the town on each visit.  If time permits, pay a small fee to see the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, and check out several interesting gift shops in town.  While there are a few small restaurants in Buffalo Gap (not on the main road), Perini Ranch Steakhouse sits between the park entrance and Buffalo Gap, and I would encourage any first-time visitors to plan to dine there for lunch or dinner while in the area.  Reservations might be needed, as it is a legendary Texas steakhouse and will not disappoint.  For a quick trip into Abilene, just drive fifteen minutes on Buffalo Gap Road to visit the mall and many restaurants and stores nearby, including two large grocery stores, Albertson’s and United.

On a different note, my holiday baking escapades will be happening once again this week, and I am ready to get started.  A few new recipes will hopefully make it into the preparation schedule, along with our regular favorites.  As things progress, I will share some photos and recipes here.

Also, my mother once again took a nasty fall in her apartment on Sunday, but thankfully, she did not break anything this time.  Just to be on the safe side, the ambulance carried her to the ER so that she could be checked out thoroughly and make sure she did not break her pelvis once again that she fractured back in January.  We were there about four hours before they finally sent her back home, and I still made it to a scheduled Christmas party on Sunday night.  All is fine today, and she will take things very easy this week as she recovers from the trauma of the fall.

D Reindeer_smAll Original Content — © — All Rights Reserved
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