Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And the cartoon bubble says...


"Me no wanna go sledding no more." But that's what to be expected when we push our 2 year old down a giant hill. Go ahead and pin the 'parent of the year' award right here on my snowcoat.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I’ll be home [after] Christmas

December is quickly coming to a close, which means mostly one thing: I have watched the same Christmas specials so many times that not only can I recite them, but act them out from start to finish. And yes, this includes my impression of the Grinch’s dog, Max, when he falls over with that giant antler on his head and the entire scene from The Christmas Story when the Bumpus’ hounds barge in and eat the turkey off the table.
Normally we don’t watch so much television around our house, but it seems that during December the ratio of screen to mommy time is completely out of whack because mommy has been running frantically and has not sat down since Thanksgiving dinner.
I do it because I love the end of December. Mostly that bit of time right after the holiday when the hoopla is over and I can finally breathe again.
It all starts with Thanksgiving, when we gorge ourselves to the point where we think we don’t want to see another piece of turkey for an entire year. (And we usually don’t.) After that begins the rush of the holiday season when, no matter what you do, you’ve always got a friend who says “I finished all my shopping weeks ago and the freezer’s been full of cookies since October” and as much as you love her you secretly want to jingle her bells and deck her halls.
By mid-December, the parties are in full swing. You think if you see another plate of cookies your head is going to fall off and dunk itself in a glass of milk, but still you don your gay apparel eat cheese and crackers because when it comes down to it, it’s nice to see people you don’t normally see. When we see people on these rare occasions, we hear the good things, the good news, which is what we all need.
Slightly rejuvenated from the gingerbread and eggnog coffee craze, we round into the big week of December. You put on your holster that is equipped with tape, scissors, and ribbon and transform into the Quick Draw McGraw of gift wrap. Pure adrenaline kicks in and suddenly you’re preparing eleven course meals in one single bound.
And Christmas Eve night, no matter how old you are, you can’t deny that feeling that reindeer are headed for your rooftop. The night is as silent as the song and by the glow of the Christmas tree, that whole “peace on Earth” idea seems absolutely tangible…and the polar opposite of the wild fun that in Christmas morning.
Paper flying and someone gets stuck untwisting the wires that hold every toy in its packaging, and just when the batteries have been installed, it’s time to pack up and go. Making the rounds, eating multiple dinners, the holly jolly holiday is finally over and you all hit the pillow knowing that the next day starts the real vacation.
Nothing productive gets done between December 25 and January 1. In any business or in any home. It’s the Friday afternoon of the year and everyone knocks off a little early and all for good reason.
We deserve it.
We deserve to stay in our pajamas until noon and eat those cookies (one last time) for lunch while we play the new games and read new books. Build a fire in the fireplace, snuggle up and settle in, perhaps even pretending that the white Christmas we asked for hit so hard that it’s impossible to even step out our door, so our only option is to convert our family room into a wonderland of toys and forts built completely of blankets. We deserve to capitalize on the magic of the holidays before our kids get too old and only ask for gift cards and text their friends during Christmas dinner.
So don’t expect to see me out and about during this week of respite. I’ll be at home in my PJ’s, still attempting to free toys from their packaging, from the depths of a blanket fort, and savoring every last minute of it.

Don’t Leave the House Potato Soup
A big pot of this and you’ll be happy not to go anywhere. Or share.

6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp salt
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup frozen corn
parsley and pepper to taste

In stock pot, cook bacon. When browned, remove bacon and sauté onion and celery in bacon fat until translucent. Add garlic, cook for one more minute. Add potatoes to pot and just enough water to cover, and cook until potatoes are soft. Using a potato masher (or just a big fork), mash up the potatoes. Add salt, soup, milk, and corn. Cook thoroughly until hot, but not boiling. Top with fresh chopped parsley, pepper, and reserved bacon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Fever! (A 2008 classic)

In case someone missed last year's poem...

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the dwelling,
My poor back was aching
And my ankles were swelling.

Motherly duties are
Never quite done.
At this time of year
We provide all the fun.

Who does all the shopping?
Who does all the baking?
Who wraps the presents
And keeps kiddies from shaking?

Who hangs the stockings?
Who strings all the lights?
Who fills Advent calendars
For twenty-four nights?

Who decks the halls?
Who keeps the tree wet?
Who helps make the presents that
The grandparents get?

In our home, it’s me.
The mother, the wife,
Who runs herself ragged
With holiday strife.

And yet for the sweating
And weariness, I fear
I do the same thing
Again every year.

What keeps me returning
To this disorderly place?
It’s not the gray hairs
Nor wrinkles on face.

It’s not the fruitcake
Or a great love of shopping,
No, instead it’s something
Else that keeps me hopping.

It’s that little feeling
That glows and that gleams.
It’s the reason for Christmas
And what it all means.

It’s hearing the stories
Of angels and kings,
Of candles and babies
And more yuletide things.

It’s stirring and mixing
And licking the beater.
It’s decorating with frosting
That can’t get much sweeter.

It’s teaching my kids
To wrap any shape,
And how to seal packages
Without five rolls of tape.

It’s singing of Bethlehem
And singing of snow,
As off to the church
As a family we go.

It’s leaving cookies and lists
And first morning squints
As we all run outside
To check for hoofprints.

It’s celebrating the day
That Jesus was born,
And waking up super early
On Christmas morn.

It’s watching kids’ faces
As I reach under the tree
And pull out the presents
That they each made for me.
It’s trying out the new bike
No matter the weather.
It’s dinner with family
All coming together.

It’s warm and it’s fuzzy,
And the cliché is just tragic,
But it’s real and wonderful
And honestly magic.

Despite all the hassle
The push and the shove,
The true feeling of Christmas
Is whole-hearted love.

I just can’t deny it.
I am a believer.
I’ve got a very bad case
Of Holiday Fever!
So gladly I prep
For this holiday season,
Remembering to celebrate
The real Christmas reason.

And when it’s all over
And the race has been run,
I’ll turn to my family
And kiss everyone,

“What a fine Christmas
It surely has been.
And only twelve months
‘Til we do it again!”

And as through tired eyes
I turn off the tree lights,
A blessed Christmas to all,
And to all, GOODNIGHT!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The perpetual present peeker

I’m trusting all of you to never, ever tell my parents, even though they could probably guess. I was a perpetual peeker when it came to Christmas presents.
It wasn’t very hard in the little house I grew up in. Especially when they would say things like, “don’t go in dad’s workshop or in the blue bedroom.” The blue bedroom was the family catch-all. It contained everything from mom’s dusty sewing table, to the accordion I painfully tried to lift as a child (and have the neck brace to prove it), to dad’s giant salon-style hair dryer that sat near his stack of Popular Mechanics.
In December, though, the blue bedroom was also home to the presents that would grace our tree come Christmas and was strictly off limits.
But just like telling someone “not to think about an elephant” (you just did, didn’t you?) telling an inquisitive kid not to look at her presents and telling her exactly where they were, was practically a waste of breath.
Of course I looked. Every year.
And one year I really wanted a typewriter. Really. Really really. All I wanted to do was sit in an old cardboard box that I had converted into a makeshift forest ranger office and type out tickets for people who cut down trees. That was my dream, and all of December I waited and waited until that fateful day when I would unwrap that beautiful brown and white typewriter that I naturally knew I was getting because I saw it in the blue bedroom closet, behind the accordion.
Come Christmas morning, present after present, I tore them open. No typewriter. Nowhere. Anywhere. I wondered what was happening—had they figured me out? Maybe I had not perfected the silent door maneuver or had slipped up when I thought I had replaced every piece of closet exactly where I had found it. Where was that typewriter?
And then, when it was all over, I sat there sad and disappointed that all of those people would have to go without tree chopping tickets, and my mom says “there’s one left here, behind the dining room table.”
The Red Rider BB Gun had nothing on me and my typewriter. I ran and ripped open the package and I remember that the world seemed like it was going in slow motion and I was sure that somewhere, some inspirational background music should have been playing.
There it was, in all of its glory. With paper. A holiday miracle.
Fast forward about 25 years and find myself trying to think of ways to outwit my children. I have no proof, but I’d bet that present peeking is genetically passed on which means that I’ve got to be smarter than the average kid.
I turned to the only person I know who could help: my own mom.
I ask her, “what did you do when I was little and used to look at all of my Christmas presents? What were your good hiding ideas? What was your plan?”
Baffled look on her face she says, “you used to look at your Christmas presents?!?”
“Um, no?” I awkwardly answered, thinking that my stealth was as elusive as that giant hairdryer and as mysterious as the sewing table I never saw being used.
And with that response, I quickly stashed all of my children’s presents deep in the depths of the basement, and immediately closed the spare bedroom door.
“Do NOT go into that bedroom,” I warned. “All of your presents are in there.”

Break out the Accordion Barley Pilaf
One of my favorite Polish Christmas recipes. Goes well with background polkas.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pearl barley
2 shallots, minced
one-third pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
one-half teaspoon salt
pepper

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add barley and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the barley starts to turn brown and smell a bit nutty.Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another 2 minutes. Add stock and salt and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Read this (and eat this) before you pucker up this holiday season (All about mistletoe!)

Among many other odd traditions that don’t make sense, I find myself scrambling to find a tiny and mostly fake sprig of mistletoe to hang every year. When I do finally hang it, I end up kissing my kids as they run around the house, back and forth underneath, all the live long day.
It goes without saying, then, as curious minds tend to do, I have recently overloaded my brain with as much knowledge of mistletoe that I could find.
And wow, who knew that such a small little plant that I have thumbtacked into my molding could hold such a myriad of stories…
First of all, the name itself. According to a USGS web page, the name mistletoe (from mistletan) is derived from early Anglo-Saxon words of mistle, meaning “dung,” and tan, meaning “twig” because it was thought that bird droppings were the cause of the growth of this mysterious plant. So literally, well, you can figure that out for yourself.
Scientifically the plant’s name is a little cleaner: Phoradendron, meaning “thief of the tree” in Greek, because mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant. Basically, the seed of the plant is transported to another tree and hooks itself on and sucks the nutrients from its host while it grows. Some scientists now recognize that it is only semi-parasitic, because it has green leaves (and can make its own food), but that just leads to more questions…
Such as, the leaves stay green in the winter, which is kind of neat and apparently people hundreds and hundreds of years ago thought so too, which leads to more questions…
Such as, why in the world would we hang a plant that literally means, well, you know, in our homes with the hopes of kissing under it?
Which brings us to ancient Scandinavia and Viking lore, which I know has nothing to do with Christmas, but hang in there.
Despite numerous conflicting histories online, the best I can figure is that some Goddess, Frigga, had a son who had a run in with a jealous God who did him in with some sort of dart made of mistletoe. I personally think the thumbtack is a better choice of weapon, but in any case, mama Frigga wept tears that turned into white berries, and decreed that the mistletoe should be a symbol of love from here on out.
Combine that with the fact that the plant is also a symbol of fertility in some cultures, and you’ve got a recipe for smooches galore over the holiday season. Some folklore believes that for every kiss, a berry should be plucked. Other traditions think that if a single woman doesn’t receive a kiss under the mistletoe, she will not marry in the next year.
Whatever you believe, the next time someone meets you under the mistletoe and puckers up, instead of closing your eyes, look up and take note of an interesting plant with an interesting history, and an even more interesting name.


MINTY FRESH FOR THE MISTLETOE


OK, so these won’t really improve your breath, but they are still delicious!
Ingredients:
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2cups brown sugar
2 Tbl. water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 1/2cups flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 (4.5 oz.) packages chocolate covered mint candies (such as Andes)

Combine sugar, butter, and water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until melted. Remove from heat and stir n the chocolate chips until melted. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.In a large bowl, beat the chocolate mixture and eggs. Add the baking soda and salt and mix. Then add the flour and mix until the dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Scoop dough with a tablespoon onto greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, careful not to overbake.
When cookies come out of the oven, immediately place a mint candy (or half a candy, depending on the size of your cookies) and let it get soft. Then swirl the candy with a toothpick to make a green and brown pattern pretty and tasty enough to get anyone you want under the mistletoe.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

To the guy who cut me off and then bought my coffee...

Anyone who has visited the Starbuck's in Wooster knows that there is an entrance and an exit. The exit is conveniently close to the drive thru lane, but, we also all know that coming in through the exit makes you a big, fat, cheater.
Especially when someone takes her time and drives all the way around.
Especially when that someone is a girl who literally lives on coffee. (I used to be blond...)
:)
Such was the case this evening, when driving around, the couple in the black little car tore in through the exit, nearly hit me, and continued to speed into the drive thru lane.
Being a world traveler and knowing how much the horn is underused in these United States, I gave him a quick few honks to let him know that I was not happy.
And I got nothing.
Not a courtesy wave.
Not a I'm-sorry-I'm-an-idiot/jerk wave.
Not even a measly glance in the rear view mirror.
So I did what any red-blooded girl who really needed a caffeine fix and had her children in the back seat would do-- we called him every name in the book.
These include, but are not limited to:
Big butt
Poop head
Doo doo ball
Butt face
Butt head
Dummy dumb dumb
Stupid head
Stinky poo
And at one point, my daughter even made the biggest threat of all:
"Smell my morning breath, you dummy!" And anyone who has ever smelled the stench that comes out of that sweet girl's mouth in the morning knows that that must have been a serious offense to warrant that kind of torture.
We waved our arms. We pointed. I used that moment as a teaching tool as to why you should be a courteous driver (and not a stupidhead) and that doing the right thing would have not made us nearly crash.
But pretty much, we let that dude have it within the confines of our vehicle.
I stared him down in his rearview mirror as he paid for his coffee and cookie (!) and as he drove away, still thinking about the lack of courtesy wave, I laid on the bright lights and blinded the poopface as he drove out of sight.
And then I pulled up to the window.
"The guy in front of you paid for your coffee. He said 'Merry Christmas'," said the employee.
"Really? Was that because he cut us off and nearly hit us and totally cheated?"
"You mean, you don't know him?" she asked.
"Nope. But Merry Christmas to him, too," I said, and drove away, laughing so hard I almost squirted soy latte out of my nose.

So to that man and his wife, let this be a lesson to you. Holiday or no holiday, a simple wave could have saved you over three bucks.

Merry Christmas, buddy.

When personal cakes seem the right thing to do


Thankfully it was just our little family sharing these pristine birthday cakes, which really weren't all that pristine after all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

All I want for Christmas is a long, white beard

I’ve always been pretty happy being a female. Not only have I gotten to experience the wonderment that is childbirth and motherhood, but I also have the privilege to cry during greeting card commercials and at my children’s choir concerts.
There is one thing that rolls around every year that reminds me that being a gal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I may be able to wear cookie-scented lotion and own multitudes of shoes, but never, ever will I be able to be a member of AORBS.
You know, the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.
I didn’t know that this prestigious group existed until a recent news article caught my attention. The AORBS group was commenting that they should be right up in the front of the line with the given shortage of flu vaccines. Their argument was that part of their holiday cheer is being sneezed and coughed on by millions of children asking for shiny new bicycles and video games, while they themselves were just wishing to spend their Christmas surrounded by reindeer that flew as opposed to the swine variety.
Regardless of the outcome of the issue, it got me thinking about this group and after a little researched I realized just how special this group of bearded men are.
The group started way back in 1994 when a group of 10 real-bearded Santas were working on a project together. In their down time they decided to create an organization, and AORBS was born.
As with most groups, there were ups and downs, changes of power and politics. But just like the magic of Christmas itself, AORBS lives on. Their membership is constantly growing, despite the strict requirements it takes to join. To be a member, you must have played Santa at one point in your life, and (here’s the tough one for me) have a real beard that you grew yourself—“no substitutions or otherwise.”
And so, with that single line, I am crushed that I can never be a part of such an impressive group. Because they are impressive, these men with their big, itchy gray beards, who probably spend 11 months out of the year with people snickering and children pointing and most likely some smarty pants asking where the sleigh is parked. But they probably just smile and nod and go on their merry ways because they know deep down they are doing something really very important.
They’re helping out the main elf, the big guy in red with the jiggling belly.
Not only do they endure crowded malls and mothers with digital cameras, but they give the gift of magic to each and every person that passes their way. While some children may cry (for example, mine) or others may freeze in the sheer terror that someone so mysterious could be there with an open lap, listening to their heart’s desire, they make so many of us think twice about someone, somewhere, checking a list just as many times. And we see that beard and after close examination discover that it’s not the kind that Santa pulls down when he eats his cookies and even for a second, we wonder if maybe, just maybe, this guy’s the real deal.
And I don’t know about you all, but I don’t take any chances when it comes to being naughty or nice. Which is why I’ll follow the rules and sadly, very sadly, never even attempt to apply to be a member of AORBS even though it remains on my Christmas list.


HOLLY COOKIES


If I did ever get a chance to grow a beard and be a member, I would take my fingers off the side of my nose and cross them in hopes that children everywhere would leave me these sweet and festive treats.


1 stick butter

40 large marshmallows

½ tsp vanilla

green food coloring

4-4 ½ cups corn flakes

Red Hots (cinnamon candies)


Melt the butter and marshmallows in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. When melted, remove from heat and stir in vanilla and as much green food coloring as you’d like. Quickly stir in the corn flakes and once combined, put spoonfuls of the gooey mess on pieces of foil sprayed with cooking spray. Before the cookies are set, add a cinnamon candy or two in each cookie, giving the holly a few berries. Store these in the refrigerator and if you’re smart, hide them from your children and certain bloggers...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Try this at home, if you're in good with the cops

Flipping through the latest issue of Family Fun Magazine, I spotted a nifty little article teaching how to do rather clever Christmas decorations. And since we were last on the block to get ours up, I figured I needed to do something a little extra. A little special. A little morbid.

And so, sans hubby's help, I concocted this:

(A lousy photo, but you get the drift. Legs sticking out of the bushes, lights hanging down from the roof, a mysteriously placed ladder. HILARIOUS.)

So very proud of my outdoor artwork, and running late to get the kids from school, I set our house alarm and ran out the door. But, whoopsie, I didn't shut the door all the way, which means as I was driving down the road and chatting with my friend on the phone, and while I was waiting for eons in the pick up line at school, the sirens at my house were blaring and the police men were on their way.

My husband calls me and tells me to hurry home because the alarm had gone off and I needed to check things out. And although we literally live minutes from the school, I was stuck behind every large moving vehicle known to man, including old people, semi's driving through town, and a giant piece of farm equipment that takes up 3/4 of the road.

By the time I arrived home, there were two police cars pulled wildly in my driveway, as if they had screeched in instead of leisurely answering an alarm call. I had to park in the street, and once I was there, I ran out apologizing that I must have left the door ajar and I'm so sorry they came out there and in a frantic frenzy I just kept babbling.

And then I realized, they were standing right next to my front door. And right next to the legs hanging out of the bush.

*blush*

"Do you like my crazy Christmas decorations?"

And they chuckled.

We've got an awesome police department around here, and if I was a betting woman I'd put $10 down on them pulling wildly into the driveway after a quick glimpse of my top-notch holiday decor.

I'm just glad they didn't call the squad. How embarrassing would that be?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moms who need wine!

A brutally honest piece of my literature featured today at Moms Who Need Wine. Visit and learn all about the term "Coat Rack." You just might know one yourself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh, Christmas tree, Ohhhh, Christmas tree

We all dream of that storybook day, when the snow is glistening and the temperatures just cold enough to frost your breath and just warm enough so that you can feel the tips of your fingers. You pack up the family, all dressed in coordinating thermal gear, and set out on an adventure to find that one, glorious evergreen. Perfect from every angle, needles strong and intact, strong spire to support a family heirloom star, and just enough clearance on the bottom to hold the dozens of perfectly wrapped presents from Santa.
There are quiet, peaceful moments of stringing popcorn by a roaring fire and then carefully hanging every safely wrapped precious ornament, and with each returns a flood of heart-warming memories. Choral music from a famous European choir plays softly, accented by the giggle of happy children and the crackle of the fire.
But then, reality hits.
And last year, for us, reality hit rock bottom.
Due to a Thanksgiving away visiting relatives, we started off two steps behind in our holiday cheer. Couple that with a child’s birthday in early December, and I think there were still some rotting pumpkins on the front porch on that very snowy Saturday when I said to my husband five Grinch-like, bah-humbug words.
“We need a tree. Now.”
Late in the afternoon and roads reaching treacherous condition, I called every tree farm in the book. The next day we were hosting a very important first birthday party for our daughter and I was determined to have the twinkle of lights offering ambiance to the occasion, not to mention the holiday scent of freshly cut pine.
Turned out there was one tree farm still open, and if we left just that minute we might barely make it.
“Kids, grab a coat and some gloves or something and don’t forget shoes and a hat and get in the car right now!” I yelled in one breath, which means that they all pretty much had practical clothing on. I, however, managed to grab none of the above and was unprepared for the sleigh ride through the snow.
Over the river and through the woods, slipping and sliding and thankful for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, we arrived, knuckles as white as the snow around us, in the St. Nick of time.
With another deep breath, “kids, find a tree that doesn’t have the sharp needles that slice your hands when you hang stuff and that one looks fine let’s just buy it and it’s cold and how much does it cost oh my oh wow well just have ‘em strap it to the top so we can sled on home.”
And before the boughs fell, we filled every hole and gap with four thousand ornaments including the 10 pound lump of dough from my husband’s childhood and the subsequent lumps of dough each of my children have made.
Lights in clumps and star supported by some twisties from the bread, we crammed a storybook family event into a short, pathetic paragraph. The tree was beautiful, but we were exhausted.
This year we’re hoping to do it the right way. Take our time, and our gloves. We’ll sing carols and make sure that star on the top stands straight, and we’ll realize, sadly, that fond memories are sometimes made in the most unfondest of times. Christmas happens, and even the sloppiest of trees make storybook dreams pale in comparison to the way dried dough sparkles in the glimmer of 300 tiny lights.

CROOKED-STAR WASSAIL
Get some ready for when the tree comes home!

2 quarts apple cider
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup honey
3 sticks cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 whole orange, cut in rings

Place everything in a slow-cooker. Cook on high for 2 hours, low for 4, until the punch is warm and the flavors have blended. Serve in mugs and sip while you toss the tinsel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving '09: 2 great recipes and a verse or two

Every year I have my children write out their own recipes for "How to cook a turkey." Giggles never fail. Every year I have my children write out their own recipes for "How to cook a turkey." Giggles never fail.


Toby, Age 6


Ellen, Age 8 (And really, CHEESE? Whose kid is this?)


And finally, a profession of why this is the greatest holiday. And another reason why I shouldn't try to write anything at 11:30PM. It would be worse though, if it was after eating the turkey.

Thanksgiving is for me
Easter has its chocolate
Brought by the Easter Bunny,
Summer holidays have their BBQ's
And the weather's always sunny.

Christmas keeps us hopping
With the lights and gifts and tree,
But for all the year's holidays,
Thanksgiving is for me.

The entire day is based around
A table full of food.
The turkey roasting in the morning
Puts us all in a spirited mood.

Parades and pies and pumpkins,
And football on TV,
I've got dibs on that there turkey leg
Because Thanksgiving is for me.

We gather with our family,
WIth our neighbors and our friends.
We eat until we're overstuffed...
And then we eat again.

We laze around and all play games
And the dishes we let be,
Because today's about togetherness
And Thanksgiving is for me.

There's no fancy decorations,
No special clothes or flowered hats,
There's no exchange of anything
Except saturated fats.

Instead we get together
And celebrate with company
The great food and love that we all share.
Thanksgiving is for me.

So keep your Labor and Memorial Days,
Your St. Patrick's and Valentines, too.
I'll be on the couch with leftovers,
And I'll save a spot for you.

Because just as the Pilgrims and Indians
Shared with all their hearts,
I give you the peace of Thanksgiving...
Before the rush of Christmas starts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wedding crier gets the job done

There are two sorts of criers. There are the type that release the most delicate tears that peacefully roll down their cheeks in a quiet and dignified sort of way, and then there is me.
I am a quivering, snotting, can’t-catch-my-breath sort of crier which works quite well for watching chic flicks at home alone, but isn’t great when I am standing up for a friend at her wedding.
I recently had my first ever duty as bridesmaid, a job that most girls loathe. Having never had the opportunity to wear an ugly dress, I was doubly elated when asked to be a matron of honor. Sure, I’d been a junior bridesmaid as a ‘tween and a bestman for a best friend in college, but never once had the opportunity to adjust a flowing train or carry a supply of lipstick.
My dress was my own choice, and at the store I knew I needed something practical, mostly floor-length to cover my pasty legs, all bruised up from soccer balls and toddlers. The dress itself was gorgeous, but it had one downfall: no pockets.
Not that fancy dresses normally have pockets, but my job description included holding the ring. I really needed a place to store not only the ring, but also the tissues that I knew I was going to need during the ceremony. Thankfully, the “bridesmaid” standing next to me was a “bridesman” whose suit had plenty of pockets, and it was decided that he would hold the ring. The two of us would make a stealthy spy-type handoff during the vows.
I was thinking that I could hold the tissues I knew I would need around the flowers, but, just my luck, no flowers for the bridesmaids. I felt like a soldier going into battle without a weapon. But desperate times called for desperate measures and I carefully folded two tissues into flat little squares and put them, well, um, in a place where I didn’t really want extra padding but didn’t have any other options.
As the ceremony began and the bride’s father escorted her down the aisle, I felt my chin begin to shake and I had to stare off into space and think about odd things like cheese and sweaters to keep from losing it at that precious moment when the father hands his daughter off to the groom. When I made it through that most difficult part, I thought I was good for the rest of the ceremony.
But then the vows began. The bride handed me her bouquet, a beautiful bunch of blue flowers, only about the size of a volleyball.
And as the words of love flowed from the couple, I felt that unmistakable lump in my throat and I knew I was going to lose it.
Doing my very best to be one of those quiet drippy criers, I reached back, as planned, for our secret handoff of the ring. Instead I was handed a gigantic wad of tissues that I promptly filled with my own tears etc. and reached back again for the ring.
The service continued and after the lighting of the unity candle the bride, who apparently is one of those lucky peaceful criers, turns to me and asks for a tissue, which is a problem because the 15 of them in my hand are now full of less-than-pleasant materials.
Knowing that a matron of honor is there to serve the bride on her very important day no matter what, I attempted to move the flowers in front of my chest, and I reached down and in and pulled out a neatly folded tissue and handed it to my friend. Mission accomplished.
Later I polled the audience and the groomsmen. “Did anyone see my pull a tissue out of my dress and hand it to the bride?”
“No,” answered the best man. “But we were all taking bets on how long through the service you would make it until you cried. I thought you’d make it through the whole thing.”
And at that point I knew deep down I had not only won, but prevailed. I smiled, and then ran off to pin up a bustle.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Italian steak sandwiches on an American night

My husband said he had a taste for "American beef" tonight, not surprisingly. Men love beef. It's carnal, red, bloody, chewy.
Women love salad. It's fresh, crunchy, low in calories.
But women also love their men, and sometimes we just give in and whip up a beefy meal for dinner, and such is the case tonight.
I will, however, be serving this dish with salad and some roasted sweet potato 'fries,' although I'm fairly certain the children will scoff at how I am trying to pull one over on them by calling something that doesn't come in a paper bag with an "M" on it as "fries." More for me, I suppose.
In any case, my family loves these sandwiches. Packed with fat, carbs, and sodium, there couldn't be anything more american than these easy-peasy Italian steak sandwiches.
Go figure.

Italian Steak Sandwiches
A great weeknight meal!
(serves 4)

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbl olive oil
1 pound deli roast beef, shaved
1/2 - 3/4 cup beef broth
3 tsp italian seasoning
sandwich rolls
provolone cheese, optional

In large frying pan, heat oil. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Add everything else (except rolls and cheese) and heat through.
Serve beef on rolls and immediately add cheese if you want, so that it will melt.

Eat up and drink a big glass of water-- your tastebuds will be satisfied, but your thrist won't.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How I first earned the name "machine gun Karrie"

Basically, while in 10th grade doing environmental research in a river, I stumbled upon a stolen WWI machine gun. My 15 minutes of fame, used up when I was 15.
(You can click on the article to blow it up and actually read it.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

A quest for knowledge leads to old, dusty books

Like most good children of the 1980’s, I thought we were practically Daddy Warbucks when my parents took the leap and purchased our own set of encyclopedias.
No more trips to the library where you had to wait in line until someone done was pouring over volume X, only to have your turn and try to copy down, by hand, everything about your subject. Once we got those encyclopedias, I thought, my school reports would be astronomically better. I was elated at the opportunity to peruse anything I wanted, from hamsters to the North Pole, at my leisure.
My parents opted for the silver set, which looking back I’m pretty sure was the same old set of encyclopedias with sliver around the edges, but back then made me feel even more proud of the thousand pounds of books that happily warped our family room bookshelves.
Not only that, but there must have been a deal involved in there somewhere because we ended up with an entirely other set of books, all labeled with a famous philosopher or scientist. Back then I was determined to read each and every one, ready to drink in the wealth of knowledge that my parents provided me with, all because it was there and available.
I was convinced that everything I needed to know in the entire world lay on those shelves, and by ingesting those books I would be the smartest person in the world (surely smart enough to merit my own volume one day) not to mention win every game of Trivial Pursuit that ever there was.
But instead, like most kids, I just went out to play. I don’t even think I made it through the first page of Nietzsche. That same wealth of knowledge still sits in my parent’s basement, untouched and unopened since the final report on Diplodocus that capped my senior year in highschool.
Flash forward a few years, and my own children are about at that age when the school reports are beginning to trickle home. Couple that with their natural curiosity and my inability to answer their questions (because I never read those encyclopedias like I wanted to), and we are starting to find ourselves looking up the answers to life’s greatest questions.
For example, “what’s a sun dog?” or “can kangaroos swim?”
We logically go to the fastest place to find answers: the internet. And anyone who has recently gotten an email stating that Bill Gates is going to send you one million dollars if you forward the email onto 25 people in the next four minutes knows that a) the money never shows up and b) your friends can’t believe you fell for that scam again and c) the Internet is both a valuable tool and a bunch of bologna.
Any quick search of a subject (i.e. sundog) will take you to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Anyone. Even you or I. About anything. (I am secretly thinking of writing up a glorious and flattering article on myself.) While most of the information on there is probably correct, there’s no proof that any of it is real, and it certainly doesn’t have the same feel as a twenty-pound book laying on your lap while your hand cramps up from copying every last known detail about the Diplodocus.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m thinking of digging up our old set of encyclopedias and letting them warp my own shelves for a while. Some of the information might be a little outdated, but I’m pretty sure that hamster research hasn’t skyrocketed in the last two dozen years, and I’m even surer that Nietzsche hasn’t written anything of late. We will display them proudly, and the kids can research to their heart’s content.
And then we’ll probably end up googling it just to be sure. Even Daddy Warbucks would rather hit “print” than copy an encyclopedia by hand.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Me-oh-my-oh mushrooms

My husband and i have this thing we do without even knowing that we do it. Whenever we eat out at a restaurant, each of us automatically orders the one food the other person doesn't like.
I do not eat fish, and every time we eat out, he orders fish.
He does not eat mushrooms, so I'm the one usually ordering the extra large side of them whenever I get the chance.
I like to attribute it to my polish heritage, my love of mushrooms. In every Polish cookbook I've ever seen there are countless mushroom dishes, all equally wonderful because I like to live by the rule that anything with mushrooms makes it better. This rule generally applies to other things as well, such as garlic, salt, and any processed pork product. (Can I get an 'amen' for the bacon?)
Growing up, on special occasions my dad would make his famous mushrooms. We'd clean and slice them and lay them out on a plate. Dotted with butter and sprinkled with Lowry Seasoning Salt, they cooked in the microwave until tender.
Then we'd stand at the counter, he and I, and eat them with toothpicks.
Thanks to the laziness of consumers, I can now buy mushrooms already cleaned and sliced. I now drizzle with olive oil instead of butter, but our spice shelf always has a giant bottle of Lowry's on hand.

Last Thanksgiving, while visiting my parents, I made this green bean dish instead of the old standard "can of this, can of that, frozen bean" casserole that our non-dairy family. It's full of the good strong flavors that my parents and I love. My husband, not so much. He didn't even get past the mushrooms. I suppose if I make it again this year I'll have to have some fish sticks on hand in the freezer.

GREEN BEANS WITH MUSHROOMS

1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
4 tbl olive oil
2 lemons
2 large shallots, sliced
10 ounces mushrooms (fancy if you like, plain if you don't), sliced verrrry thin
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Cook the beans until crisp-tender, any way you like. Drain and put them in a large bowl. Drizzle on the olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt. Let cool.
Zest one lemon and mix the zest with the sliced shallots. Then juice both lemons and add the juice to the shallot mixture. Add another teaspoon of salt and the mushrooms. Set aside.
Sweeten up those walnuts by toasting them in a dry skillet over medium heat until you start to smell them. Then toss in the sugar and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts. Remove from heat immediately and let cool.
Once everything is cool, mix it gently together, including the parsley. (You might want to save some nuts for the top. Presentation counts, you know!) Add any more olive oil you might think it needs. Serve at room temperature.
This recipe is supposed to serve 8, but I could pretty much eat the entire bowl myself.
With my dad.
And a toothpick.
Standing at the kitchen counter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day to a 5 year old





If the hand on your heart doesn't break yours just a little, you need a lesson in patriotism.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An open letter to the mega media

Dear Mega Media,

Just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks for turning me into a raging lunatic these last few weeks. I honestly feel like I have been walking through a minefield, tiptoeing through my entire life and practically drowning my family in hand sanitizer. I have even have gone as far as giving my children money to hold in every public place we enter with the strict rule that if they touch anything, anything, they will lose the money. Hands-off everything, they keep it.
I’m down at least eighteen dollars already.
You’ve done a fabulous job scaring the pants off of all of us. Or most of us. Some of us can see through your hype and just change the channel. Of course, every channel that doesn’t contain sporting events, cartoons, or classic TV re-runs has the ticker running across the bottom that spells out in scrolling letters that we’re all going to fall victim to the flu de jour and spend the next two weeks of our lives practically on our death beds and don’t even bother walking out the front door because the germs are waiting there for you and the instant they see you they’ll jump into your nose and begin infecting you, everyone you love, and even those you’ve never met.
Or something like that.
The rest of us are just trying to take it all in and do the best we can to protect our families. I know personally that in my family of five, if we all contracted the H1N1 virus I would just stand outside with the white flag and a mask. Down and out for a month at least, and someone would have to drop ginger ale and chicken noodle soup at the end of the driveway for us to pick up once they are clear and gone.
So while you’re sitting behind your news desks with your camera men and your ticker tape along the bottom, we’re all at home wondering if the very people we love are harboring this disease which you told us would shut down our lives. I personally have trained my children to cover their hands with so much sanitizer that I’m thinking of buying stock in the stuff. We’ve got it in every room, in every car. In bookbags and purses and everywhere in between, along with lotion because even their soft child hands are starting to get wrinkles from the amount of drying out that has been going on.
We don’t shake hands, we don’t hold hands. We don’t share snacks, and we don’t even kiss each other on the face before bed. At this rate we’re going to start giving air high-fives as the highest form of affection.
You’ve even managed to get your scare tactics into the heads of my children, too. One child comes home complaining that she’s surely going to get sick because their school bathrooms don’t have hot enough water for washing hands. The other gives me an entire detailed report of every ailing child in the school, complete with symptoms and predictions on who is next to get it.
“So-and-so picks his nose allllll the time. So I just know he’s going to get the swine flu.”
I have reminded him to call it the more politically correct “H1N1” but it matters not, you’ve done such a tremendous job of informing us to no end about the sheer horror that is this flu season, you’ve absolutely outdone yourselves and put the coverage of the bird flu, SARS, and MRSA to shame.
Kudos to you and yours for giving parents like me, who send their children off into germ warfare each and every day, sleepless night, dry hands, and empty wallets. I figure at the very least, you owe me eighteen bucks.

Sanitizingly yours,
Karrie McAllister

Friday, November 6, 2009

A good woman's chicken

I had dinner last night with a bunch of people who are waaaay smarter than I am.
Well, this is a lie. I actually ate dinner, the first time, with my family. A pulled pork sandwich and a bottle of Budweiser, which was absolutely delicious and absolutely grounding.
Later on, I ate dinner (yet again) with my college roommate who went on to earn a few degrees while I got married and had a few children. The purpose of the meal was to introduce the wedding party to each other.
Come tomorrow I will be, for the first time ever, a bridesmaid. For this I am excited beyond belief. The chance to stand up for someone special and be there when she ties the knot and makes the promise is an absolute honor. I've got my toast all ready (stay tuned, I'm sure some sort of column will appear) and my duties of flower carrying and dress bundling all scheduled.
But back to my dinner.
We ate at a fancy restaurant where I felt completely under dressed. "Casual" she said, and apparently small-town Ohio casual and college-town casual are two different things. But alas, that was fine.
We chatted and laughed and I listened for a good portion of the evening at discussion that I couldn't contribute to because a)I am not a college professor and b)there's no news ticker on the bottom of cartoon channels. I dined on a delicious fancy soup-- sherry, onion, and chestnut, with truffeled creme fresh.
I can't tell you the last time, if ever, I've eaten a chestnut, especially in soup form.
But the meal was delightful, and so was the company. Both a little out of the ordinary for this bbq-loving un-collegiate gal.
If there's one thing I can't stress enough to my kids, it's to live in their own skin. Be yourself, and you can never blame yourself for anything. You can take your skin to other places, but don't ever step out of it.
I went to bed that night feeling that my evening was a poetic version of my life. Even though I sat up straight and talked about things I don't normally and ate soup with nuts, I felt confident that tomorrow I would go back to my bbq.
You can take the girl out of the small-town, but you can't take the small-town...

I'd be crazy if I gave away my bbq pulled pork recipe. When it comes to pulled pork, we tend toward the mustard-vinegar sauce, and that's all I'll give you. If you really want it, you'll just have to invite us over for a potluck.
Instead, here's my recipe for "a good woman's chicken," one that I tend to pass out when giving my talk "10 things every good woman should know." The philosophy is that a good woman knows how to roast a chicken. It's as simple as that.

A Good Woman's Chicken
Roasting chicken

Spice mix: 3 tbl paprika, 1 ½ tsp coarse salt, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, 1 ½ tsp dried thyme

Rinse and dry chicken. Rub with olive oil. Sprinkle spice mix all over chicken, covering completely. Bake uncovered at 375 for 30 minutes. Then cover (or tent with foil) and bake until thermometer in thigh reads 165°. Serve with strained juices and a smile.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A hunting we will go


My neighbors will have to pardon the nerdiness (you know who you are!), but this is a rather addicting fall habit and a fun game to play with your kids outside:
Who can find the most nests in the bare trees?

Monday, November 2, 2009

A cut above: Historic season ends in a win

Although I’m not sure how many times the turf saw action, it seems that the average record for the year was about an even tie. The playoffs, however, were not a match up to be missed. Both teams put in a full blown effort both offensively and defensively.
I am, of course, speaking about mowing the lawn.
With the exception of my sister-in-law’s father who prides himself on mowing the lawn ten months out of the year, we are all just about done with arduous task that is keeping the yard neat and tidy. This was indeed a season that saw great action.
I am probably an oddity, but I genuinely love to mow the lawn. Perhaps it is seeing the lines and the instant gratification of a clean-cut surface, or maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment knowing that I am strong enough to pull start the machine. Or really, maybe it’s just the fact that when the mower is running the sound of the children playing/fighting/asking for juice is completely drowned out and oddly enough, even at 90 decibels, mowing is sometimes the only minutes of peace this mother gets.
This season, my mower and I had our battles. It started off early on when I was informed by my loving husband that I “mowed the lawn like a 9-year-old, just back and forth” and “why don’t you go diagonally for a change and please, watch your lines. They’re crooked.” Such words of encouragement from a coach, right? Score one for the other team.
I took that constructive criticism and swallowed my pride and bit my tongue and went to work on straight, diagonal lines. Once approved, I happily gave myself a mark in the win column.
Then there was the time I hit the rock. And the tree stump. And a few sand toys. Score a few for the other team.
But back in the saddle, I managed to not shred a single garden hose and became quite proficient in unclogging the mower. Tally on my side.
The lawn mower and I in a dead tie, we both headed this week for the World Series Supermow: The last cut of the year.
In one corner, the mower. Facing a variety of injuries which included something broken that wouldn’t let it propel itself more than 25 feet without needing adjusting. Its cover had been torn off in attempts to piece it back together, and after a few months of me slicing up tree stumps, the blade could barely cut butter.
In the other corner, a weary me. I had an exhausting day and had to give myself pep talk and a double espresso just to get the mower out of the garage. The children were busy playing and not watching their youngest sister, who, at 28 pounds ended up riding in a backpack for the majority of the competition. I also had a time constraint, wanting to get the job of mowing straight and diagonal lines done before my husband arrived home from work.
Game on, mower, game on.
Row by row, squatting down with a 3,000 pound backpack every few feet to adjust the throttle, I played the game. When the mower didn’t stop completely, it ran at turtle speed (literally, the little turtle guy was the only setting that worked) and I had to push the thing up and over every stump, rock, and toy. It was fierce combat with much sweat and noise, right down to the last minute and the last square inch of long blades of grass.
When it was over, I wheeled it back into its locker room and looked around at what was essentially my victory, albeit one that came with a broken back, green-stained hands, and the lovely odor of grass and gasoline.
“What’s for dinner?” someone asked.
My only reply was, “I’m going to Disneyworld.”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saving Isabella: A wooly bear for the winter

We own a fun nature book for children (which I would credit but I loaned it to a friend and don't have the name on hand), and there's a page that gives directions for keeping a wooly bear catapillar over the winter.
What fun!So we're giving it a try.
The wooly bear is the fun fall version of the Isabella Tiger Moth which emerges in the spring. For years I've never taken the time to know this. For me, the wooly bear meant one thing: how hard of a winter we were going to have.
I remember as a kid seeng how many I could collect and making my own predictions about the winter-- long before we had the power of the internet and computer forecasters to tell us all in detail and in every form of media.
But now, they are just catapillars that we can hold. Fuzzy and non-poisonous, after reading the how-to in our book, we kept one this year.
Here's the basic how-to...
1. Find a wooly bear in the fall. That's RIGHT NOW!!
2. Store it in a plastic jar with a top that you've drilled holes in, and keep the jar outside and out of direct weather. Ours sits right out our back door under the covered part of our porch.
3. Put in a few twigs and a few blades of grass.
4. Change the grass every day, and as we've found, dump out the catapillar poo. (You'll be amazed-- trust me.)
5. Eventually the little critter will appear to die and curl up on the bottom. He's sleepng. Shhhh!
6. Wait until spring when you see some action from your awakening wooly bear. Continue to feed it fresh grass.
That's our plan. Stay tuned for updates on our little friend!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What's for dinner? A giant pot of what's for lunch tomorrow (drum roll for beef barley...)

I spent last night in a doctor's office, holding a sick 22-month old. Out in the waiting room we were banished to the "sick" section where people sat with masks and coughs.
"But I'm not sick," I said, so instead of sitting I stood in the middle of the room, pointing my head towards the well side and my ailing daughter's toward the sick side and rocking my poor child like she was once again a fussy infant.
(Yes, this is the same kid who is dressed as a pig in the previous post, thank you karma, which I wrote about in the post before that...)
Eventually we were shuttled into the exam room where my kid turned into a the limpest rag doll I have ever seen. A quick forehead temperature reading of 104.5 and the nurse swiftly took her other vitals and scribbled them down. She left, only to emerge a minute later and tell me that the doctor wanted to do a flu test on her because she was so lethargic and her fever so high.
The test took 10 minutes to run, so during that time I sat in the exam room with my kid fading in and out. Eyes open, eyes closed.
And I lost it.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? Well, if a mother is crying in fear and no one is there to hear it, does it do her any good to get those tears out?
I wasn't able to make the choice to stop or not. There's no controlling emotion when you're feeling so helpless and your worst fears are going through your head.
I knew it was [possibly] only the flu, but seeing your child so weak and lifeless seems like the end of the world.
Soon enough the doctor came in and told me the news, that she did not have the flu. A quick check of her ears pointed us in the direction of ear infections and possibly strep.
"Should I be happy it's not the flu?" I asked.
"Elated."
Her tiny mask still draped over her face, we were the last to leave the office that evening. The waiting room lights were dimmed and the faint smell of sanitizing spray lingered in the air. A direct beeline for the only open pharmacy in our small town and a filled antibiotic prescription later, we were home and relieved.
The dinner that I had prepared early on in the day still sat in the crock pot. With the popularity of neti pots these days, my first thought was to heat up a bowl and stick my head over it and breathe in the comforting smell of beef barley soup until my nasal passages were clear of germs and full of the essence of that single and important bay leaf and stewed tomatoes.
Admittedly I just poured myself a glass of apricot brandy, a cure all that my great grandmother swore by, and tried to unwind from the emotions of the day, my eye makeup still smudged down my cheek and tomorrow's lunch waiting for me in the big refrigerator. I would be too busy holding my baby and nursing her small and rambunctious self back to health, the most important job of the day.



Beef Barley Vegetable
Get this one going this weekend.

1 3-pound beef chuck roast, cubed
2/3 cup quick barley
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 (16oz) package frozen green beans
4-5 cups beef broth or stock
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 (28oz) can chopped stewed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

In a slow cooker, add everything except for barley and salt. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Turn to high and add barley and salt and cook an additional 30 minutes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thanks for the [Halloween/Pandemic] memories

Here we are, in the midst of the swine flu pandemic, and I dress her as a pig for Halloween. Niiiiice.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Giving karma the upper hand

There’s nothing like karma to make you run out and buy lotion and a nail file.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of chatting with three family friends late into the evening. All much younger men, they hold a special place in my heart, perhaps filling the void of the little brother that I have always wanted.
And because I care about these guys as if we’ve shared family meals and taken turns taking out the trash, I somehow feel that I need to share my elderly wisdom with them when I get a chance. In the past I have given them countless tips on finding a good girlfriend and provided them with my short list of criteria that their girlfriends have to meet in order to pass my elite standards. These criteria are very simple, and include such things as, a. she needs to be able to cook a decent breakfast and b. when wearing long pants, she can’t get worried about whether or not her socks match.
Little things, all because these are really great guys who deserve really great girls.
Honestly, it’s all in the best interest of my friends, which is why I don’t quite understand why my latest last bit of advice seems to have come back to haunt me.
The recent guidance came in the form of a question. “Tell me, boys, what is the most important part to ‘check out’ on a girl?”
And while you can imagine the answers they gave, I quickly cut them off and told them they were all wrong.
“Hands. You’ve got to check out her hands.”
Before my husband and I got married we were required by our church to attend a marriage weekend where we given a whirlwind course in the holy sacrament and what lay in store. The thing from those two days that I remember most, however, is nothing about the church stuff. What I remember was receiving a poem about hands, and how the hands that you marry not only carry the ring that you present, but will also someday hold your children. Those hands will work together to build a home. They will hold each other until the very end, until one hand goes cold.
It was all very moving and still brings tears to my eyes, which is why I told these young fellows to check out the girl’s hands.
“They’ve got to be soft, but not too soft or you know she can’t scrub a dish or a bathroom floor,” I proclaimed. “They’ve got to show that they’ve seen the tests of time, but are still feminine and attractive. They’ve got to say that they are strong but still need to be held.”
Naturally, they all laughed at the crazy old lady.
The day after our conversation I looked down at my own hands. They had spent the last few days elbow deep in pumpkin goo, pulling out the rest of the garden, changing diapers and bathing children. They hauled firewood, knitted a scarf, and roasted a chicken.
And they looked terrible.
The top of both of my hands are speckled with scars from poison ivy. On my right hand my pinkie nail is deformed because I nearly sliced off the whole finger while making pickles. My nails are cut down to nothing on the left to accommodate guitar playing, and on my right are abnormally long because I’m always forgetting to trim them. There are two fresh cuts on my fingers, both received while trying to rush through life. They are dry, calloused, veiny, and I swear there is a part of my third finger that has been stained brown for a number of days and I’m not sure what caused it although I can guess what the average passerby might assume it could be. (It’s not.)
It got me wondering if my alleged advice to my friends was a call to the universe to send me a message to schedule a manicure, and then wondering what the manicurist would think.
If she was smart, she’d say “wow, those are some good-looking hands.”
“I know,” I would answer. “But try telling that to a bunch of crazy kids.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

My quest for October and pumpkin muffns

October is, hands down without a doubt in the great green world, my favorite month of the year. There are colors in every direction, even though some of them are gray sky gray and mud brown. The weather is outstanding and it seems that in a one month span you can taste all four seasons-- the first crispness of fall, the wetness of spring, a hard frost or a snowflake or two, and of course Indian Summer.
It is splendid and a gift worth being thankful for.
But instead, my stupid self booked the month of October so full that I've barely gotten a chance to capture one day of it all.
I should have been taking walks outside and collecting colorful leaves, but instead I was stuck inside doing something I didn't want to do and looking longingly outside and wishing I was wearing a turtleneck sweater and a vest because those are, for me, the essence of October wear.
So next year you can count me out and write me off for my favorite month, unless what you're asking for has to do with listening to the crunch of the leaves under my feet or watching the steam rise up off my mug of hot apple cider. I'll even bring along the muffins.

So easy you won't believe 'em...
Pumpkin Muffins
I like these as mini muffins. Bake this in whatever size or shape you want, just adjust your baking time accordingly. I am lucky enough to have the cutest acorn baking pan that fits these just perfectly.
Give the dough a chance. If you don't mind slightly lumpy cupcakes, leave it as is. If you are determined for super smooth ones, add a bit of water to loosen up the batter.

1 package yellow cake mix
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

Mix it all together-- no need to add anything else. For regular sized muffins, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. For smaller muffins, just cut the baking time and check regularly with the toothpick test.

Says one muffin tester, "I'm sorry. I think I just ate about 12 of those things."
Yes, they're that good!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blowing the day to take a walk in the sun

Thank you,

Indian Summer,

for this afternoon.





Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yes, mam, you are a bit like a zoo exhibit

There’s something to be said for the coati. It’s not every day that we can learn so very much about ourselves when we go to the zoo and stare into an exhibit of obscure animals.
My first introduction to this magnificent mammal happened a few years ago while visiting our favorite little zoo. An enclosure full of these critters that look like a raccoon that stuck its nose into a vacuum hose completely fascinated me.
The first thing I learned that day was that “coati” is not pronounced “coat-ee” but instead “co-AH-tee,” not because the sign clarified that, but because my daughter, then age 5, corrected me and told me I should watch more animal TV shows so I can learn as much as she does.
Beyond that embarrassment, I discovered that coatis are pretty smart animals. They have, I’m assuming, over many generations, learned how to get things done and thrive as a species. They have figured out how to best increase their populations and grow in strength and numbers. They have determined how to feed and raise their young and all the while live in a happy-go-lucky (or as happy-go-lucky a coati can be) social setting.
They kicked out the guys.
Coatis live in groups consisting of only females and immature males. Once the boys hit coati puberty, they leave the group until mating season and live a solitary life like the other older men, who I’d bet sit around and watch coati football games and work on coati cars.
Female coatis take excellent care of each other and each other’s young, babysitting and even sometimes nursing each other’s babies. They are chatty animals, and spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other.
And if I was a betting woman, I’d also guess that they get a heap of stuff done and have a great time. I’m sure there’s the occasional coati bickering session and most likely little fights over the latest kill or fruit, but all in all, I think we can learn from these girls who really know how to band together and get the job done.
I say this with such certainty only because I recently spent my very own weekend with all women. It was my annual trip to the Becoming an Ohio Outdoorswoman event hosted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Besides a few instructors and a couple of cafeteria workers, it was all girls girls girls.
And boy oh boy, did we have a great time.
This event, held annually, provides women the opportunity to step into a so-called man’s world for a few days and try their hands at everything from candle making to muzzleloading. I personally spent my weekend laughing, dancing, and gabbing, not to mention kayaking, shooting trap, and learning to hunt ducks and geese.
I also spent a windy Saturday afternoon climbing a 50-foot wooden structure. Let me rephrase that. I monkeyed myself up a 50-foot tower, contorting myself into positions that I haven’t seen since I had to buckle an infant into the back middle seat of an SUV. Only instead of being hunched over in a car, I was dangling 40 feet off the ground, totally relying on the woman holding my safety belay rope and the cheers of the other women watching.
If it weren’t for the cheers, I would have never made it to the top. If it weren’t for the applause while sitting on the top of the tower, I would have frozen up there. And if it weren’t for the high fives and hugs, I would have never climbed it again.
There’s just something empowering about getting a big group of women together. Almost as instinctively as our dear friend the coati, something deep inside of us knows to take care of each other, to help each other and how to sweeten our days.
Women know our strength in numbers, yet to the onlooker it might seem puzzling and almost enigmatic.
Unless, of course, the onlooker is a coati, in which case she might just join in.

Check out the Becoming an Ohio Outdoorswoman here!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Of love and lard

Normally, our anniversary celebrations range from slim to none. Our fifth year we spent apart-- he at a wedding and I at home with a baby that was not invited to attend. Others have been spent wishing we had the money to do something more extravagant than grilling out a nice steak and baking up some potatoes. And others have been spent like this year's-- tending to the needs of others; mainly the three little people that mess up our house and eat all of our food.
And today is no different. He will go to work, I will drive the kids around and try to squeeze in a few minutes of work at home in between restarting Yo Gabba Gabba and stuffing the baby with graham crackers so she'll hopefully take a nap. In the evening we'll all drive to a local nursing home where my kids will partake in a piano recital for the residents, as planned by their piano teacher.
But this is my 10th anniversary. Tenth! And it should be special, right?
Last night, after struggling to get those messy, hungry people to bed, my husband said from across the room over the shows that we had been TiVo-ing all week, "take yourself back ten years...and look at us now."
And then he added, "you didn't get me anything big, did you?"
"Heck no," I said. "Like I have time to shop. And you don't either, so I'm guessing you didn't get me anything big, right?"
He smiled. "Nothing."
And I smiled back.
That's how we work, he and I. Our wedding bands we bought wholesale from a jeweler's supply catalog. My engagement ring is safely put away because it doesn't suit my daily grind. We're not flashy, we not commercial. We just love each other and understand each other and couldn't imagine life any other way.
Because it is such a milestone (and quite an accomplishment these days, thankyouverymuch) we hope to sneak away for a dinner at a restaurant that doesn't include chicken fingers and fries on the menu. In the mean time, we'll come home from the piano fest at the nursing home and I fully plan on him grilling out that steak, no matter what the wicked fall weather has in store.
I'll be inside with the kids, cooking potatoes.


Happy Anniversary Potatoes

We've kind of upgraded from those early days of jabbing a 'tater with a fork and sticking it in the microwave. Or rather, on special occasions we break out the cast iron skillet and the lard.

Potatoes
Vidalia onion, rough chopped
Garlic
Lard or canola/olive oil and butter
Kosher salt
Pepper

(**To cheat, precook your potatoes in the microwave halfway.**)
Wash the potatoes and cut into thick slices, but no thicker than 1/4".
Heat the skillet on med-hi heat and add your fat of choice. (really, try lard. sure it's disgusting, but man is it good! Personal suggestion: wash it down with a glass of heart-healthy red wine. Voila, balance has been achieved!)
Toss in your potatoes-- they will take the longest to cook.
A few minutes later, add the onions.
Continue to cook and stir so that the potatoes all get a little crusty brown goodness on them.
When the taters are mostly done and the onion is mostly soft, toss in the garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring so that the garlic doesn't burn.
Season it up with a nice coarse salt and some fresh ground pepper.

Nothing like celebrating your love with a pan full of lard and starch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One-liner for the season


Dropping temperatures and leaves aside, Fall is pretty darn fun.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Computer literate babes to start Jr. networking sites?

I have one of those computer mice that doesn’t actually move. It’s just a base with a little red ball that sits on top that I roll around with my right hand while my left hand does coffee curls or is forever holding one of those super hard sourdough pretzels that leaves little crumbs all over the place.
In any case, that little red ball must have some sort of attraction that I’m unaware of, because at every turn my toddler sneaks into my office and climbs up on my chair, pounds away at the keyboard (as evidenced by the occasional skejdjfdsrlkj that shows up on the screen), pulls that red mouse ball out and runs away laughing hysterically.
As if she holds the key to my happiness or something, which she sort of does, but not really.
Her fascination with these electronic things, and the fact that she has somehow managed to reprogram our TV recorder by randomly pushing buttons makes me wonder that she’s a few spelling lessons away from actually doing real things on the computer.
At only 22 months, I do believe she would be capable of not only retouching the fat rolls out of her baby pictures, but also having a quite active Facebook account. Same as all of her other new-age baby friends, of course. And they would all sneak onto the family’s computers when mommy was off changing laundry or cooking dinner. With the roar of Sesame Street to drown out the bleeping and clicking noises of the computer, I can only imagine what sort of things would be on Facebook Jr.
(For those of you who don’t know what Facebook is, it’s a social networking site that allows friends to share things with each other, such as constant status updates, photos, games, groups, links, etc. Mostly, it’s a way to check up on old friends and see what your neighbors are up to next weekend.)
6:00 AM Up early again. Mommy’s grumpy and almost put coffee in my sippy cup.
8:30 AM Oatmeal is seriously delish! Try crying and see if your mom puts sprinkles in it. Works for me. Hahaha!
11:50 AM Elmo’s got Dorothy on! Love that fish. I soooo want one!
11:55 AM An invitation to join the group “I want a goldfish and am going to name it ‘Dorothy.’”
12:00 PM Dude, if my mom thinks I’m going to eat that dish of peas, she’s cuh-ray-zee.
12:30 PM I’m still not eating those things.
1:00 PM Ate 4 peas. Time for books (yay!) and nap (boo.)
4:00 PM What goes in must come out. ; )
4:10 PM Toddler22 just scored a 793 on the stink scale. How do you match up?
5:00 PM Is it just me, or are plastic containers the best toy ever? Why did our parents buy us all that fancy expensive stuff? Give me some measuring spoons and I’m good for like, 20 minutes.
6:00 PM PEAS AGAIN. When will the woman learn?
6:35 PM Toddler22 just added “Do NOT give peas a chance” button to her flair collection.
7:00 PM Much needed bath. I don’t think I should have squished those peas behind my ears. Crossing my fingers for bubbles.
8:30 PM Good night, all! Planning on waking up my mom for fun around 2:30, but don’t think I’ll sign on so don’t chat me up. Peace out…

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kielbasa-garlic-bean-potato-spinach soup, I tell you!

This morning I reached out to grab the latest bottle of shampoo to grace its way to my shower. A new product for me, I admit I was drawn to it in the store by the hip color and style of bottle. I should also mention that I gave it a the whiff test-- you know, where you open the bottle and blow a puff of air towards your nose to smell it and hopefully not a plug of shampoo comes out and lands on your upper lip-- and liked what I smelled.
Fruity, yet it didn't make me hungry.
I was sold. I really don't like beauty products that make me hungry, and just thinking about that takes me back to the vanilla sugar cookie phase a few years back where every woman I knew was walking around smelling like a giant delicious dessert. Even myself. And at times I had to stop myself from sniffing my arm just so I wouldn't have the urge to grab a Lorna Doone or whip up a batch of shortbread.
But I digress...
My new shampoo, along with its flashy color and what not, advertises that it has nectarine and some coral flower that I'm not even sure exists. While sudsing up I started thinking about this shampoo, and wondering if they really use nectarines when they make it.
I imagined a giant vat of shampoo with a massive arm in the middle, stirring stirring stirring as a little man in a white lab coat drops in his nectarine pit.
"HAHAHA! Nectarine shampoo!" and he's still got juice dripping down his chin.
I ask you, what's wrong with soap? Real soap? Do we really need snacks in our shampoo? And is it false advertising if they say it's nectarine shampoo and it doesn't really have nectarines in it?
Which brings me to soup.
This week, as the weather gets even colder yet and here in these parts we're gearing up for peak fall season, you just can't help but make a giant pot of soup. Have it simmering on the stove and your entire house will smell as warm as the liquid in the pot. And man, is it good stuff.
In honor of the annoying shampoo that I'll be stuck with for a while, I am appropriately naming this soup based on all of its major ingredients.

Kielbasa-garlic-bean-potato-spinach Soup

1 pound Polish kielbasa, cut into little slices
6-7 cloves garlic, chopped
1 16-20 ounce can cannelini beans
7-8 cups chicken broth
1 pound redskin potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 ounces fresh spinach
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste (although you won't need salt at all!)

In a big soup pot, cook the kielbasa slices until they are brown. Add a little oil if need be.
Remove the kielbasa and in the remaining fat, cook the garlic about 30-60 seconds.
Add beans, broth, and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are soft.
Add the spinach and stir stir stir. Cook until it is tender, but not mushy.
Stir in the vinegar, season to taste.

Soup like this just craves a crusty bread. I'm just telling it like it is.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wheeeeeee!


You too can become an [Ohio] Outdoorswoman, and find yourself swinging and screaming and loving every second of it, even though your arms are sore from shooting for 3 hours.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Should he stay or should he go?

Here we are, just a few weeks into his entire educational career, and I’ve already blown his chance at a wooden plaque at senior assembly.
This is because I, in all of my great wisdom and thoughtfulness, kept my kindergartner home from school one day this week. He spent the weekend on the couch, feeling the wrath of some stomach bug that not only made his tummy hurt, but his forehead a little warm for my lips’ taste.
And yet, bright and early on that Monday morning, he seemed well enough to complain about the clothes we had laid out for him. He ate his breakfast and peeked in his lunchbox. But a last minute check of the thermometer gave me the news I didn’t want to see. 100.4.
At this point I had two choices. I could a) give him some fever-reducing medicine and send him off to school where he’d be falsely healthy and have a fairly normal day, or b) keep him home because I knew it was the right thing to do although I knew quite well that he’d refuse to lay on the couch and beg and plead to ride his bike and I’d have to yell and remind him that he is sick and he’ll argue back that he’s of course not because he feels just fine and can he please have more ginger ale with a fancy bendy straw.
I knew in my gut that I should keep him home, so I did. I didn’t want the guilt of the possibility of him infecting his classmates with some unknown farm animal flu or something, all because I didn’t want to have to listen to seven straight hours of cartoons. Not only that, but because I recently came up with what I call the Golden Rule of Staying Home From School: “Forehead’s not hot? Not living by the pot? Then it’s off to school you go.”
But his forehead was hot, or at least just on the edge of a textbook mild fever, which means that I got the chance to pamper my nearly healthy boy the same way my family took care of me when I was sick as a child.
In no particular order, these were the things that made being sick absolutely wonderful: A sheet tucked over the couch and a bed pillow. Ginger ale and peanut butter crackers. Watching The Price is Right. The TV Guide crossword puzzle. The smell of my mom’s chicken noodle soup.
Being sick isn’t fun, but when someone that really loves you takes such good care of you? It transforms into something wonderful. Not that I’m implying that I faked being sick as a kid, because I only tried once and failed miserable. (That Golden Rule is nothing all that original.)
But I did spend my fair share of time healing on the coolness of the bedsheet with a full dose of caregiver’s love, which makes it perfectly fine with me that I never got a perfect attendance award, not a single one.
For this, my mother is entirely too proud, and I completely understand. I too am proud of my children’s absences. To me it says that I have the decency to keep misty coughs, flying sneezes and other such infectious bodily fluids out of the reach of my children’s peers. Call me selfish, but I keep them all at home for myself to enjoy.
My kids will never get that piece of paper awarding them with perfect attendance, an honor that makes no sense to me. Congratulations! Either you were miraculously lucky enough to only get sick on weekends or else managed to come to school every day, not only packing your bookbag, but also the communicable diseases that you gifted to my child that allowed him to miss school and eat his weight in peanut butter crackers and kluski noodle soup.
And the crowd goes wild.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

34 on 10/1


Nothing says Happy October like a frosty mum.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Feeling the chill, heating the pot

Many thanks go out to the cold front that came crashing through and provided constant thunder from 4:12 - 4:48 AM. I didn't really need to sleep anymore, really.
But making lemon out of cranky and sleepy lemonade, I will say that I love the drop in temperatures that we're feeling here today. There are many reasons, but mostly because I get to dig out the sweaters that all smell like the cedar chest and pretty much live on soup and stew from now until March.
I love soup. It's genetic. My grandfather says he could eat it every day, and I agree. It is comforting for the mind and body, and who doesn't eating out of a giant bowl?
Today in the spirit of the chilly and blustery air, I'm sharing two things. For one, a family favorite of Chicken Stew with pasta, that even my picky kids eat. It is simple to make and already comes cut up for little people. I usually double the recipe because it goes fast, and it makes terrific leftovers for lunch the next day.
Chicken Stew with Pasta

1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl cold water
oil
1 pound chicken breast (boneless) cut into small cubes
2 cups frozen mixed veggies of your choice (carrots, peas, beans, corn, etc)
3/4 cup chopped onion
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked small pasta
Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat a bit of oil in a big pot over med-hi heat and add chicken, cooking until browned. Remove chicken, set aside.
Add a bit more oil if necessary and add veggies and onion. Cook until crisp tender.
Deglaze pot with the broth, and then heat to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, time depending on your pasta directions. Return chicken to the pot and heat through.
Stir the cornstarch slurry into the pot. Cook and stir until it boils and thickens.

Serve this with a fat hunk of crusty bread and some sliced apples. One dish to cook in, one dish to eat out of. I love those minimal dish dinners!
And secondly...
I crafted it up this weekend and thought this came out better than I expected. I can't claim this idea-- I saw it somewhere on line that I can't remember, so apologies to whomever came up with this festive decoration:


Very simple. Just some templates from clipart and stiff foam. A lot of cutting, and then I let my kids put them "in order" while I sewed straight across. I gave them the rule that no two colors or shapes could touch, and they did a great job. Best part? We can pack it away and hang it again next year, when the temperatures drop and the soup pot finds its semi-permanent home on the stove top.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

The allure of the lunchbox and all its fillings

Many moons ago when my daughter started kindergarten, she asked me if I was a buyer or a packer. In all honesty, I had to tell her that my mother packed my lunch every day. For my entire school career. Yes, even in high school.
“I think I’m going to be a packer, too,” was her response, and I immediately felt tired for the years of getting up early to pack tiny sandwiches that I knew were in store.
Sure enough, I found myself setting my alarm clock earlier and earlier to wake up and concoct a smorgasbord of edible delights, somehow packed with as much love as I would give her at home, if not more. There were days when I thought I would need a bigger lunchbox because I missed her so much. As if packing it full of her favorite things would somehow make me miss her less as she because her educational career and I sat home and dreamed up creative ways to make peanut butter and jelly.
“I like peanut butter and jelly” she told me after just a week or two of school, but I, in my ate-out-of-a-brown-bag-for-13-years wisdom, thought that she would like something else.
So I set to challenge the lunchbox, to shake things up and serve my kid a variety of vittles.
I created my own lunch-snacker, where I meticulously cut up cheese, trail bologna and neatly packed it with crackers.
I sent cold pizza when the leftovers were just right and no one got to them for a midnight snack.
I even created this great noodle meets chicken meets broccoli dish that I would heat to near vaporization and pack in her cute thermos so that by the time she cracked it open it would be mildly tepid.
There was the infamous wrap, which I thought allowed me to sneak in really obscure foods like lettuce and cheese and maybe a bit of meat.
“But I like peanut butter and jelly. Can’t you just make me that?”
So I tried again.
I tried nuking macaroni and cheese and putting that in her thermos, again proving the well-known fact that it is absolutely impossible to reheat that stuff without it going through a state of matter metamorphosis, congealing to itself while creating a most powerful glue. “It’s got to be better than PBJ day after day,” I convinced myself.
I went the sweet route, serving up raisin bread with jam and cream cheese.
And the savory route, thinking that if I eat cold chicken nuggets standing up while washing the kids’ dishes and call that a decent lunch, she might too. Especially when served with ranch dressing, aka the stuff that kids are truly made of.
“Hey, tomorrow, can you make me peanut butter and jelly?” she asked.
It took nearly a year, but I realized that as much as we foodie parents like a change of menu, kids don’t. Aren’t these the same little people we literally trained to go to bed at the same time each night? It actually makes sense that they find something they like and stick with it.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to throw in something new and crazy every now and then, but I know that when it comes down to it, it’s the routine and the normalness of her lunch that she needs, even now that she’s in second grade. She’s still stuck on her one, single favorite dish.
And for my daughter, it is obviously the good ol’ PBJ. So to satisfy my own selfish needs to serve something different, I get up extra early every Friday morning and cut the sandwich with mini cookie cutters until she’s got a little container filled with tiny tea-sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The rest of the lunchbox? Love, love, love. And you know, a few more snacks. And hopefully I remember the juice box.
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