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.”

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