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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.
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.

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

(**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


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.
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