Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Make your own Silly Bandz...again

AGAIN?!? Yes. This is a take two version of the Halloween ghost silly band project I did here. Check it out if you wish to see some clear and more simple silly bands. Continue reading on if you're up for a challenge... and a week of green thumbs.

First, a disclaimer. This is not the easiest of projects. It's a bit of of a novelty, being able to create a piece of rubbery plastic in any shape you like, but at some point you may yell out loud "I can buy these for two dollars! What am I doing?!?" That said, it's still quite impressive. And relatively simple.

You will need:
-100% Silicone. Note the color: we first bought "almond" by mistake and they were pretty ugly! Go with "clear" unless you want something else. And make sure it's 100% silicone. If you've got an Ace Hardware, find the matching tube in the photo so you don't look like a dork standing there in the aisle with men making fun of you.
-A design. For size, look at a similar shaped bracelet you have. I printed off clipart.
-Clipboard and waxed paper. Works great for holding the pattern down, and you can do a few on every sheet without having to reposition patterns. Clip your pattern down and then cover it with waxed paper.
-If you are brave and want color: food coloring, a decorating tip (that you will forever have to give up) and a heavy plastic bag. And a toothpick to stir in the color. And gloves would be handy if you don't want to look like the Jolly Green Giant.

The procedure:

FOR CLEAR SILLY BANDS, just cut a small bit off the end of the tube of silicone and trace over. Make sure you cut the tip straight across, not at an angle.

FOR COLORED BANDS:

-Cut a small corner off the plastic bag and put in the decorating tip.
-Squeeze a fair amount into the corner of a plastic bag. Put in a few drops of your desired food coloring and stir like mad with the toothpick (or other disposable stirring device.) It will be hard to get it all mixed in, and some of the dye will leak out, so make sure you've got your counters covered.

TO ACTUALLY FORM THE BANDS:

-Squeeze the tube/bag so that the silicone comes out solid and round, and fairly thick. Think of how thick an actual rubber bracelet it-- that will help. Make a continuous trace around your pattern, watching your connection. If there is a thin spot, it will break.

Some tips:
*DON'T "WIPE" with the tube. Keep it up off of the waxed paper.
*Watch your little doo-hickeys. I loved the recycling bracelet we did (Hello, Earth Day project!) but the arrows were less than perfect.
*Keep your designs simple, but don't be afraid to add some detail. My oak leaf looks like a blob, the maple is super duper.




And finally, let your silly bands dry for at least 4 hours. Gently peel them off, crossing your fingers that your connections are all solid, and make your children very cool.


And if you have questions, feel free to email me. Address is in the sidebar on the left.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Enjoying Christmas present and presents

There’s a certain magic of Christmas that isn’t much talked about, mostly because not many take the time to notice. It’s not their fault, though, because this magic is easy to miss because you’re too glazed over with Scotch Tape and curling ribbon.
It starts much earlier in the season, when we first start getting a taste for the holiday ho ho ho’s and we spend every waking moment living in a winter wonderland of cheer and candy canes. Even the stop lights blink in bright red and green; it’s everywhere. We eat, sleep, breathe, and shop Christmas until we have exhausted ourselves.
It’s all pretty much a giant build up to Christmas Eve night when the world is truly glimmering with excitement and anticipation. A last push before the big day finishing odds and ends, or if you’re like some, it’s the day you rush the stores for any last minute gifts, no matter how inappropriate they are. (My parents will remember the year of the potato chip maker, a gift of desperation and unfortunate drug store quality which didn’t matter because as usual, my mom was on some diet.)
The absolute culmination of it all is the last few minutes before bed, when letters are written, cookie plates are made up, milk is poured and carrots are left out. Children everywhere listen to their fathers read “The Night Before Christmas” and then, as they lay nestled snug in their beds, time drags on like you wouldn’t believe. Childhood insomnia attacks every kid who lays there with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to trick his brain into falling asleep, while his ears remain wide open and listening for the slightest and distant jingle bell. It’s nearly impossible to fall asleep, but eventually probable.
The secret magic of the season, however, explodes the very instant every child’s eyes open. There is a mad rush to wake parents who are groggy and trying to ward off the paper-tearing fury until they’ve found the cameras and at least started the coffee. From there it’s a frenzy of happiness: surprises, rewards, thoughtfulness.
And then, right then, time stops.
Save for the scurry of battery installation, there is nothing better than Christmas morning when you’re a kid or someone who has one. Time doesn’t matter. Work/school doesn’t matter. The upcoming bills certainly don’t matter. We personally have gone hours before realizing that we’ve eaten nothing but cookies all day and we just don’t care.
There are few things as blissful as that time by the light of the Christmas tree. It’s the reward for all of the planning and effort we put into office parties, waiting in line for Santa, and the fourteen paper cuts we got while wrapping when we were very tired late at night.
I wouldn’t trade those few hours we spend in our PJ’s tearing through packaging, cutting twisty ties, and playing the latest and greatest board game for anything.
Sadly enough, even the greatest mornings come to an end. Eventually there is a family gathering to attend or someone realizes that they need to consume real food and as fast as it all started, it’s over. Another year done in the blink of an eye, which suddenly notices the knick-knacks that need to be put away and the pine needles in every corner of the house.
And while my own eyes start to see the Christmas clean-up to be done, my heart truly hangs onto that magic bit of time when the world stops. My feet are covered in scraps of wrapping paper, my hands hold that cup of coffee I finally got around to, and somehow, in some way, my mouth waters a bit for a homemade potato chip.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The spirit of Christmas future: going paperless

It’s a rather bleak future, I’m afraid. I think it all started with the invention of the “gift bag” which was the first step in lazy holiday goers to forego the daunting task of paper, scissors, and tape. From there came the fancy and convenient “pre-lit” tree which is great for saving men and women from cursing knotted light strands during such a religious season, but also takes away the fun of getting tiny cuts and sap all over your arms from trying to string the lights just perfectly among the boughs.
The coup de grace, however, was the invention of the e-card.
To date, we have received six measly Christmas cards in the mailbox. Normally I’d have a complex about people not really caring to send their very best, but I know it’s not really our fault. It’s a change of the times, the rising cost of postage, and the fact that people just don’t want to send Christmas cards anymore. The world is going paperless, stampless, and cardless, which leaves my designated card hanging area cheerless and just plain bah humbug glum.
Of the ones we have received, only one was signed by hand. At the rate this is going, pens are going to be obsolete before we know it.
The history of the Christmas card is short but rich. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole decided it would be a nice idea to send a specially designed form of greeting to his pals at Christmas. So his buddy, John Callcott Horsley, got it all worked out and the very first Christmas card was born. They were approximately 5x3 inches and were on stiff cardboard in sepia tones. Lithographed, they were something special and they read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Only 1,000 of these were made, but the popularity of it all boomed.
According to their Web site, Hallmark estimates that approximately 1.5 billion cards will be sent this holiday season, and that 85% of people send greetings. Couple that with the U.S. Postal Service’s analysis that from 2007 to 2009 there was a 7.5% decrease in the number of cards sent by Americans, and you’re looking at a future where we might be down to those meager 1,000 cards.
It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that it’s too easy and cheap to send electronic cards to inboxes rather than real cards to mailboxes.
E-cards, though flashy, just aren’t the same to me. I can’t hang an e-card on my wall and I certainly can’t cut up the pictures and put them in a book after the holiday is over. Call me old-fashioned (and I’m OK with that!) but I like to see an envelope with my address scribbled across it. To me it means that someone did more than hit “select all” and “send” after choosing a little cartoon and a few family photos to appear in my inbox.
If the past few years are any prediction to the future, we’ll soon have to put the Christmas card in the same list as the dodo bird and the triceratops: Extinct.
Gone with the paintings of snowy landscapes and gold embossed stars are the Christmas letters, the sugar coating of everyone’s lives for all to read. Without the cards, how else can you send out a year’s worth of everything good (and not at all exaggerated) that has happened to your family? How else can you tell everyone you really care about that your kid is multi-talented and surpassing genius levels, that your pet is of model quality, and that your life should be embossed with gold to match the card because it’s so perfect? How else can you put directly in the hands of all you know a staged photo of clean, well-dressed and well-mannered children?
I certainly can’t think of a better way than breaking out the envelopes, the phone book, and a good sturdy pen. And while your hand is cramping, be thankful for the traditional joy you are spreading and the invention of stamps that don’t require you to lick them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The spirit of Christmas Past

As if Jiminy Cricket himself floated down on his tiny umbrella, I can’t help but think about the Christmases of my own childhood past. In my mind I hold dozens of snapshots of memories, each one prized and in perfect form. A single moment in time, preserved in color so rich that if I close my eyes I can still smell the sauerkraut served at every Christmas Eve meal. They are beautiful pictures, all of them.
But unfortunately, like the snapshots in real life, they lay completely unorganized and without order, tossed in a box marked “Christmas” and all turned upside down, backwards, and without a single date to be found. It’s not as bad as you’d think, though. The mind works in mysterious ways, and my Christmas memories can all come together to make for one glorious story…
It was yet another Christmas Eve. We all sat in my Grandmother’s dining room which for some reason had one wall that was completely mirrors. This made for an entertaining meal for myself, as I would make faces and watch myself chew when no one was watching. Chewing was more of a task than you’d think, because this was our annual Polish meal and when my Great Grandmother came, she brought along very traditional (read: tasteless, gross) foods that I had to mentally will myself to eat with gagging.
After dinner it was dishes and everyone piling in the car for midnight mass. Living in Cleveland, there was at least a foot of snow and we all put on our snow boots over our hose. Someone would make a comment about how silly we looked with our bare legs hanging out between the woolen coats and plastic footwear, but off we’d got. I’d people watch during the service and make funny faces at my neighbor who was sitting two rows ahead of me and get dizzy from the smell of a millions old ladies’ perfume.
We’d ride home singing Silver Bells with comically inserted sound effects and then it was time for me to open one single present – a gift of pajamas. Once when my mother couldn’t remember which box they were in, I had the pleasure of opening almost all of my presents a day early just to find those pajamas.
Come Christmas morning, I’m somewhere in my late teens home on a college break and caught between the life of a child and one of an adult. The point when you start drinking serious coffee with your parents is a tough one, and after we opened our presents and drank our second cup, my parents and I decided to go ice skating on the pond out front. It was a perfectly sunny and freezing day and we skated for hours, gliding away the tension of being and having children growing up. Peaceful and fleeting as a stable day of weather in Northeast Ohio.
The next snapshot is of extended family gatherings, for after we had our fun of the visit from Santa, dozens of people would start lining their cars down the street and haul in casserole dishes and garbage bags full of presents. There’d be a card table full of two liter bottles and an ice bucket, and the one grouchy uncle would sit on the staircase just far enough away from everyone to avoid conversation. The party would go into the night and I would eventually be put to bed. I’d lay and stare out my bedroom window, past the plastic candle lights that were unnaturally red, green, and blue. Full of cookies, pop, and kielbasa and snuggling the Cabbage Patch doll that I forever wanted and would always love, I’d fall asleep having had yet another wonderful holiday, no matter which year it was.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas carols ring true

Any major retailer will tell you that the Christmas season starts in September, when they start taking down the racks of seeds and put up the giant inflatable Santas on top of every aisle. The radio stations will tell you that the holiday season is upon us sometime around Veteran’s Day. My husband is adamant about not celebrating anything Christmassy until the day after Thanksgiving, while I crank up my favorite Willie Nelson holiday album the minute the Macy’s Day Parade features good ol’ Santa coming down the street.
Whenever you started or think you should start, the holiday season is now full on. The entire month of December is just week after week of wild preparation, celebration, anticipation, and decoration. Each of our senses is attacked by the spirit of Christmas in one form or another, from the prickle of the evergreen needles, to the taste of frosted cookies, the vision of sugarplums, the smell of the dust that comes out of the boxes of ornaments.
But for all of the sensory attacks, nothing does it for me like the sense of hearing. Christmas carols are everywhere you turn. On every commercial, on every station, and certainly humming in my home.
I grew up with Christmas carols but like most things, I never took the time to listen to what they were about. Certainly the hymns and religious songs tell stories of the night of Christ’s birth. But there are other carols, and I think they have a story to tell, too.
Take “Frosty the Snowman,” for instance. It’s just a song about a bunch of kids who build a snowman who takes them on a crazy adventure thanks to his fancy hat, right? Or is it a glimpse into the magic of the season, into the faith of the imagination of children? For just once I wish I could have a sliver of that, and I think we all feel a glimmer of it when we hear the jingle bells of Santa’s sleigh.
And speaking of “Jingle Bells,” is it more than the most well-known winter song of all time? Set the stage for the story: riding in the snow in a sleigh pulled by horses. There is no motor running, no DVD player reciting Finding Nemo in the backseat. No cell phones ringing, no nothing. The silence is broken by two things (maybe three if that one horse has recently eaten), the singing of the song and the jingle of the bells. Two lovely things that take the riders out of the silence of the cold night and bring them closer together, where we all want to be.
But if there was any song that brings people truly together, it’s got to be “Home for the Holidays.” I never quite understood this one until my own family moved away and the only contact I have with them on those special days is via a phone call. There is no place like home for the holidays, and if you want to be happy in a million ways, you just can’t beat home sweet home. It’s true, and I know this because every holiday, no matter what it is, I couldn’t imagine it without being surrounded by the rest of my family.
What are those million ways? Mostly it’s stuff that means something to you and your own. It’s the traditions that have been built up over the years, of the same person falling asleep after the meal. It’s the comfort of knowing that one relative is going to be secretly fighting with another one and that so-and-so’s kid made the cookies so don’t eat them unless you want to eat dirt and boogers. It’s the kids running to tell their Grandparents about what they did in school and trying to hold off that one person who always like to sneak a look at the presents.
Mostly it’s the good stuff that makes a family, and a family a home, and a home for the holidays. And stuff that fantastic shouldn’t go in one ear and out the other.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The cher-pump-my-stomach-ple

The picture says it all...DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EAT MORE THAN ONE PIECE (OR EVEN ONE PIECE AT ALL) IF YOU ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL EATER! IT WILL RUIN YOUR APPETITE FOR HOURS AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PARTAKE IN THE OTHER DELICIOUS NON-OBNOXIOUS PIES AND CERTAINLY NOT A TURKEY SANDWICH.


This warning has been brought to you by yours truly, who had to wait until the next morning to eat apple pie.



But boy, I was one proud baker! Massive and gluttonous, long live the Cherpumple.
At someone else's house.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Diary of a Cherpumple: the assembly!

Admittedly I had my doubts, but after having completed the Cherpumple, I now pretty much glow with pride.
Three glorious layers waited in the freezer for a quick few hour chill so they would be easier to frost. I whipped up the frosting, using a minimum of 2 pounds of powdered sugar (who really counts at this point?) and began the layering process...


I am fully aware that I am a terrible cake baker and even worse at frosting. But I'm thinking when it comes to the cherpumple, beauty is on the inside. The baby sized in at 6 inches tall and 9 inches round. And weighed in at...
...OVER 13 POUNDS!!!! Granted, there's a plate there, but still, it's huge. We read somewhere that there is 1800 calories in one slice of this monstrosity, and I fully believe it. But does it taste as good as it looks? Time will tell.




Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Cherpumple

"You've got to remember the number one rule of baking a cherpumple: never fret. Things will be OK."
This coming from my husband who previously asked me if we needed to grease the cake pan...
The evening was not without its difficulty, but in any case, should you want to try this at home, follow along and learn from our experience.

First, bake your pies. I opted for the cheater version because I didn't want to encase the fruit of my labor in cake. Make sure that your pies are a maximum of 8". (This is important, but I can tell you that crust covered in cake batter is a treat all its own.)
Once your pies are baked and cooled, assemble your remaining ingredients. You can see that I included a sample of holiday beverages. These are not for the cherpumple, but for the cherpumple bakers. (And no, no one is getting any of my Christmas Ale.)
Mix your cake batter to box directions. Grease and flour a 9" cake pan. Pour 1 to 1.5 cups of batter in the bottom of the pan and plop in the pie. If you didn't listen and get a small pie, you'll kick yourself and then have to cut the crusts off like we did. (See above note about crust in batter...yum.) Put more batter on the pie and around the pie. Keep in mind that cake batter rises and DO NOT fill it to the top. Chances are it'll bake over, so put it a on a foil-covered sheet unless you're the kind of person who loves to scrub an oven, in which case I have a filthy one that is need of some TLC.
Bake it at 350 for a long time. At least 30 minutes.
...and when you pull it out you'll notice that the top doesn't bake very well. The pie must not transfer heat well or something. Says brilliant husband: stick it under the broiler. And while that did work on layer #2, layer #1 was scorched because I was busy making layer #3. When I started smelling smoke, I ran to the broiler and opened it to find what must be the Cajun version of the Cherpumple. I whisked it outside and there we let it cool down a bit.

From there, we baked two other layers.

Did it work? Check back and find out.









Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The year of the Cherpumple

There’s a new level of gluttony that we’re about to achieve, and I for one cannot wait. As if the holiday season wasn’t hoggish enough with its gigantic turkeys and heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, there’s a new dessert making news that will send us all over the top.
Bulging over the top that is, spilling out the sides, and probably busting zippers and buttons across the nation.
The dessert was first introduced to me by my husband (proud follower of the Turduckhen craze) in a simple email. “Saw this in the paper. We’re making it.” I clicked on the link to find the most outrageous, obnoxious, and fantastic dessert I have ever seen. Enter the “cherpumple.”
Haven’t heard of this thing? Pronounced “chair-pump-pull” it’s the epitome of holiday desserts all rolled into one frosted mass. A slick combination of a cherry pie, a pumpkin pie, and an apple pie, encased in a blanket of cake and slathered with icing, the cherpumple is quickly catching on as the latest and greatest dessert of the year.
And who wouldn’t want to jump on the cherpumple wagon? Any bakery this extraordinary is worth the calories and the extra minutes at the gym, I’m sure.
But it’s more than just a fun thing to say. There’s a science behind the cherpumple and a specific method that I’m sure no one really tested but rather threw together as a collegiate prank at a family meal. It is indeed a three-layer cake with an entire pie baked into each layer. The bottom layer is a completely baked apple pie engulfed in a spice cake. That’s right, an entire, fully baked apple pie, totally cooled and de-tinned. After the spice cake mix is prepared following box directions, a small amount of batter is spread in the bottom of a 9” round cake pan. Then the pie is carefully placed on top of the batter, and then covered over in additional spice cake batter. (The remaining box mix I’m assuming you are supposed to make cupcakes with, although you’ll never have the stomach for eating them after you dance with the mighty cherpumple.)
From there, the cake/pie/cake is baked in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cake has baked and set.
The same procedure is repeated for each of the two remaining layers. The second layer consists of an entirely baked pumpkin pie baked inside a yellow cake, and the third and top layer of the cherpumple is a cherry pie inside of a white cake.
Once all three are baked and cooled well, the directions say to “frost heavily and to not skimp.” Apparently there aren’t enough calories in a slice of cherpumple, we also need to smear frosting between each layer and around the entire mass of sugary goodness.
I tell you, just thinking about it makes me want to throw on a bib and some sweatpants.
Our family is one that cherishes tradition, and Thanksgiving is no stranger to our annual rituals. We wake up every year and watch the parade on TV while finally being allowed to listen to Christmas music. We bake bread and take turns shaking the jar full of cream as we make butter. We prep our plastic containers in anticipation of the leftovers to come, and fight off each other as we try to snitch a piece of the turkey. But this year, we’re going off script and adding something new to our list of to-do’s.
Wish us luck as we venture into the world of food fads and tackle the cherpumple, layer by layer, cake by cake, pound after pound of frosting. Be sure to check back here on my blog for a Cherpumple play-by-play, with photos, stories, and family reviews. Friends are invited to check my fridge for leftovers. Chances are we’ll have a slice or two extra.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Make your own marshmallow shooter!

If ever there was fun to be found in the hardware store, this is surely it.
With just a few pieces of PVC pipe and fittings, you can whip up you're very own marshmallow shooter. And if you shop correctly, your bag of ammo will cost more than the gun itself!

The completed marshmallow shooter:

And now, how to make it!
You'll need:
22 inches of 1/2 inch PVC pipe
2 1/2 inch end caps
2 1/2 inch elbows
2 1/2 inch T's

Either con the nice man at the hardware store to cut up the PVC pipe or use a handy hacksaw to saw that 22" into:
1 7" piece
5 3" pieces

Then, assemble as follows. You don't need any glue-- just push the pieces together.

To shoot, put a mini marshmallow into the long end. Blow a puff of air (with pursed lips) into the mouthpiece in the open elbow. It'll take some practice, but it's great fun!

A word of warning: If you have kids breathing into it too much, it'll get wet and gummy. Disassemble and clean/dry.

A word of education: Have your little engineers rearrange the pieces to come up with other ways to shoot. (Wow, guns make you smart?!?)

Have fun, shoot straight, eat s'mores.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shopping solo is the way to go

It started with garbanzo beans, which is not something that has probably ever been said before. Call them chickpeas or ceci beans if you wish, but they were on my husband’s salad and he scarfed them down.
“You like those things?” I asked, never having seen him eat a legume with such gusto.
“Of course. I always eat them on my salad. You just don’t buy them at home.”
I personally don’t like the garbanzo type, so naturally since I’m the one doing the grocery shopping they don’t end up in my cart. But I started to wonder, just how much is my husband doing without because I have no idea what he likes to eat?
I came up with a brilliant idea. “Dear, I think we should go grocery shopping together. You can help pick things out that you like to eat that maybe I didn’t know you wanted.”
He chuckled and made cracks about the two of us having a romantic date at the grocery store. “Maybe we could sample lunch meat in the deli for a main course and then go to the bakery for a cookie dessert before we get the cart and stroll through the aisles, smelling fresh bread and testing produce for freshness.”
Because, of course, that’s how I always do it.
But sure enough, that evening as I had found an hour gap of time between kid activities and had my list organized, he surprisingly said that he would join me for my weekly shopping trip. With only an hour, I told him it would not be pleasurable at all, and it would be even worse because we would have some of our kids with us and we’d be at the Mega Mart.
He assured me that all was fine and list in hand, off we went.
Although we had an hour, we weren’t five minutes into the venture when I realized that I would never take him shopping again. Shopping is WORK, especially given child and time restraints. It’s not relaxing at all, instead it’s a mad dash from milk to bread to chips to veggies, where all along the way you do your best to keep your kid from chewing on the cart and keep the cart from running over someone else. It’s a constant battle with germs, toys, candy, and a sea of people who obviously don’t organize their lists as well as I do.
I left him in the pharmacy, lolly-gagging around. Five minutes later my cell phone rings and I tell him I’ve moved on to the beverages.
Five minutes later he’s still not there, and I imagine him walking in circles, completely lost, so I send him a text message: In dairy.
Five minutes later he finally shows up, toting along a brand new electric blanket (not on the list) because apparently we needed one. And I know well enough after all of these years of marriage that I need to pick my battles and a fleece electric blanket was not worthy of even an eye roll, especially since I’m the freeze baby of the family.
In the cart it went and I sped off, zooming with great intent through the aisles from destination to destination. Bargain shopping and talking children out of the latest fruit snack craze, keeping close watch of my list and leaving my husband in the dust.
It was produce before he actually caught up.
“Do you always have this much fun shopping? Is it always this hectic? Can’t you just slow down for a minute?”
I would have answered him except that I had to run back to get a forgotten item and left him with a plastic bag, a fruity assignment, and the uncertainty of how a mom’s life really goes because the truth is, it’s not always fun. It’s a challenge to shop, keep on budget, and keep your kids from leaving the store with pink eye. We do it because we have to, not because we like to.
There ain’t no [garbanzo] beans about it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The curse of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle

To begin, let me tell you why I love the library so much. For one, it’s full of books and music, two wonderful forms of art that in some way appeal to everyone. They have all of the latest newspapers and magazines, movies, and a dusty set of encyclopedias that apparently you can now actually check out without being thrown in prison. It’s also got nice people, the smell of old paper, and has literally any information you want to read and learn.
And all of it is free. Absolutely free.
Of course we all pay taxes that contribute to the success of our own public libraries, but for the most part when we stand at the check-out counter, the only thing we’re whipping out of our wallet is our library card. In essence, it’s almost as if one of those mega big bookstores with their fancy escalators and people walking around with lanyard nametags and Bluetooth ear pieces decided to trade the cash registers for a nifty bar code system.
In fact, my children often get confused between the book store and library and switch the terms “borrow” and “pay.” They have realized one thing, though. When we leave mega bookstores, they’re lucky to have a single book in their hand. When we leave the library, I sometimes have to enlist the help of others to help tote the gargantuan pile of literature out the door.
I, too, throw multiple books in my bag that I know I’ll never have time to read (case in point: Indian Mythology, October 2010) but somehow it just makes me feel better to have it in my hands.
But seeing as though we are library regulars, our stash of books at home tends to pile up. Because, hey, it’s free. Right?
Wrong. And thus is the curse of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a lovely little book by Beatrix Potter, made its way into our home a few years ago and unfortunately never made it out. I was aware that I needed to return it to avoid the overdue fines, but with each Tiggy-Winkle-free day, she continued to be in hiding. So I renewed, and searched. And I renewed and searched again, tearing apart every room in the house, every inch of my car, every couch cushion and purse that we owned. But eventually, the day had arrived.
I hung my sorrowful head and walked up to the counter.
“I lost Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle,” I said in hushed tones. “I can’t find her anywhere. She’s MIA, AWOL, gone, astray, utterly vanished into thin air.”
“Tsk tsk,” and I filled out a little card and paid the fee for the entire book, which was more a crush on my soul than my wallet, but still. I had lost a piece of literature that no other child would ever have the pleasure of reading, and everyone deserves a little Tiggy-Winkle, who if you’re wondering, is a sweet little hedgehog who works as a washwoman.
I know about her because the very day after I shelled out my pride and a few bucks, I found her smiling little hairy face poking out from behind my own bed. How the book ended up there I’ll never know, but to this day I can see those beady little washwoman eyes staring me down and saying, “tsk tsk. Always remember to keep tabs on your library books before it’s too late.”
Generally speaking, I can always gauge my state of well-being on my library fines. When I’ve got too much on my plate, it never fails that I’ll get a notification of something overdue. The more on my plate, the higher the fines, and the stronger the reminder that life is cheap, but it’s not always free. It’s my universe’s way of telling me to slow down, organize, and clean behind my bed before Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle shows her fat little face again.
And when she does, she’ll probably also tell me to do the laundry instead of spending so much time at the library.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Super Mom!

Author's note: It's not often I make myself cry, but reading this when it appeared in the paper this morning left my coffee tasting a little salty. I dedicate it to every Super Mom out there!

There’s been a lot of hype lately in the mom world about this so-called “Super Mom” nomenclature. From what I gather, a Super Mom is a mother who goes above and beyond the call of duty which means that she probably bathes her kids on a regular basis, dresses them in matching coordinating outfits, always has a full cookie jar (homemade, of course), and still looks like a million bucks when she wakes up in the morning.
Yep, I kind of want to punch her, too.
But I’ve decided that since that woman is non-existent, I’d come up with my own definition of a Super Mom. Something that is more realistic and attainable for those of us who have dreams of one day owning our own cape.
So show me a mom who has gone through even the easiest of pregnancies and labor, and I’ll show you a Super Mom. Anyone that can endure that amount of swelling and stretching is something special.
Show me a mom who has walked a hallway with a crying infant, or sat up late watching infomercials while the rest of the house slept peacefully, and I’ll show you a Super Mom. (She probably has purchased at least one of those items as well, if not out of curiosity, then out of weary delusion.)
Show me a mom who has potty trained a child, who has sat on the bathroom floor and read a stack of books four feet high and dished out single candies with every success and taken a few for herself, and I’ll show you a Super Mom.
Show me a mom who has walked away from her child’s first day of school with tears welling up in her eyes until the moment she closed the car door and the flood gates opened, and I’ll show you a Super Mom.
Show me a mom who has made an entire meal out of the leftover bites in the bottom of her kids’ lunch bowls of macaroni and cheese, and I’ll show you a Super Mom. (Also not to be outdone by the mom who eats the meal consisting of bologna sandwich crusts, hot dog buns, or apple skins.)
Show me a mom who hasn’t seen her refrigerator door since the day her first kid was old enough to hold a crayon, and I’ll show you a Super Mom. This is probably the same mom who has colored more pictures in her adult life than she ever did as a child.
Show me a mom who saves more than she should—art projects, doodles, tests, crafts, special drawings that say “I lov U mAmA” where the people have no bodies, just heads with arms and legs coming out of them, and I’ll show you a Super Mom with a priceless fire hazard.
Show me a mom who remembers to turn in permission slips most of the time, and I’ll show you a Super Mom. (Show me one that never forgets, and I’ll show you a robot.)
Show me a mom who feeds her kids cereal for dinner because, hey, it’s fortified! And quick to serve! And if you hurry up we can still make it to the meeting/practice/rehearsal/game on time! And I’ll show you a Super Mom.
Show me a mom who can only peacefully rest until all of her children are all safe and sound and tucked into bed, and I’ll show you a mom. Show me a mom who can’t help but watch them sleep for a few seconds when she walks past their rooms, who listens for their soft breaths and re-covers them when they turn sideways and fling covers ten feet away, who kisses them on their foreheads even though she knows the risk of waking them up, and I’ll show you a mom. A real mom. A Super Mom.
She probably just took off her cape before going to bed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to make your own silly bandz

You know, those ridiculous rubber bracelets that you find all over your house? That come in every shape, color, and size so that your kids just HAVE to have them? Fear no more-- I can share with you how to make your very own. It only takes a trip to the hardware store and the guts to tell the assistant there that the reason you're lingering in the glue and sealant aisle is because you're making silly bandz and he looks at you like you are a lunatic.

Because you kinda are, but hey, nothing is cooler than homemade junk.

After one failed attempt, here's what we did:

1. Assemble materials, including waxed paper, plain paper for drawing your design, clipboard is handy dandy, food coloring (if you want colored bands), cake decorator tip and bag, silicone sealant (see below), and ice for your hand because it will shake with pain after making a bunch of these.
The silicone sealant must read 100% Silicone. I took the idiot way out and bought the bottle that actually said "100% Silicone." ALSO MAKE SURE IT IS CLEAR. Our first attempt was not only the wrong stuff (even though the bottle read "silicone sealant" it didn't say "100% silicone") but it was also almond color. Gross. It was thick and nasty and looked like dried up mucus.
2. Draw your design on a piece of paper. Put the paper in a clipboard and then put a piece of waxed paper on top of it so that you can see your design. A tip for making your design: keep it simple. And measure off an old silly band so that you get a handle on what size it should be.
3. Cut the tip off of the silicone and trace your design. If you're going to use color you'll have to put it in a piping bag with a cake decorating tip. I used clear for my ghost so I didn't have to do that. If you want to add color, simply squirt in some food coloring and mix it up with a toothpick.
Tips here are: make it fairly thick. Use the photo below as an example. Also make sure your connections are solid-- if it's a thin piece of silicone the bracelet will just break and your kids will cry and you will feel terrible that you embarrassed yourself at the hardware store for nothing.

4 Let dry for at least 4 hours. 5 is better. Overnight is splendid.

5. Gently, oh so gently, peel them off.

6. Pass them out to your kids' friends.

7. Accept copious hugs and comments such as "you're the coolest mom ever."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No basements in Florida/The Seasonal Changeover

It was there, sitting among a sea of shoes and being rained upon by hundreds of mismatching gloves that I figured out why there are not basements in Florida.
Of course I realize that the fact that the water table sits so close to the surface and the giant sinkholes have something to do with it, but really there must have been an underlying factor when that part of the world was cosmically being designed.
Water table or not, they just don’t need basements down there because they don’t have to endure the endless and daunting task of The Seasonal Changeover.
The Seasonal Changeover happens every spring and every fall and unless you’ve got a shoe closet that rivals the size of New Jersey and a clothes closet that could swallow Canada, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Out go the attire of the day, in goes the one for tomorrow. In this case, I spent hours packing up sandals and rain boots and hauled out the leather and snow boots which were still caked with last spring’s mud because I was too lazy to clean the melt off of them. I sorted through a massive bin of gloves and mittens, some with matches, some without, and daydreamed about how the average Floridian couldn’t handle anything so taxing because they just have no idea of how much work it is to separate the hand coverings for five people.
Just think – for every sun visor you’ve packed away, they’ve been able to sit for an extra minute soaking up the sunshine. And while they’re out there plucking an orange from their backyard tree, you’re plucking a sweater out of a box and wondering how something that was once clean and neatly packed away can come out looking like the sweater gnomes got a hold of it. You know, when it’s all wadded up and smashed flat, full of wrinkles and lint and smells slightly of a wet dog? I’m convinced those are the sweater gnomes. Must be.
Not only that, but I’m pretty sure the shorts gnomes attack the summer clothes during the winter months when I’m not looking. I know this because the very shorts that fit just fine at the end of a long summer suddenly have shrunk a size when I pull them out in the spring. Surely it must be gnomes, for I certainly can’t possibly think of another explanation.
And so time and time again, we suffer through the Seasonal Changeover like good little people, reminding ourselves that we are anxious to snuggle up in a thick woolen sweater in the dead of winter and that we enjoy the feel of fleece socks when the mercury drops and the first smell of the heater kicks in. We pack up the shorts and t-shirts, baseball caps and flip flops in oversized boxes and haul them down the basement, where we find the boxes of turtlenecks, wool garments, hats and boots have been residing (and keeping the gnomes happy) while the weather was warm.
Oh, the boxes, and for some of us with multiple children, even more boxes, all gently stacked on shelves and in rows below the surface where it belongs because realistically, there’s no other place in the house that could handle this substantial seasonal storage. And that is why it makes total and complete sense that people in Florida don’t have basements.
They just don’t need the space.
So this year as I organize sandals and fold the shorts that will be oh so disappointing come June and I wash and freshen the mangled sweaters just reeking of snow boots and gnome, I will think of my friends in Florida who might have their share of orange trees and one set of footwear and remember just how lucky I am.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin black bean soup - perfect for Halloween!

I was never quite sure why the colors of Halloween were orange and black. Is it the pumpkin that eventually rots on your front porch? Is it the orange teeth of the witch dressed in black?
In any case, we're stuck with the color theme which is unfortunate for me because I just bought "rust" colored shoes with black soles that make me look extremely festive in October, but rather goofy the rest of the year.

Oh well.

If there's one good thing that comes out of this orange-and-black thing we've got going on, it's got to be this: my new favorite soup.

Many thanks to my friend, Jennifer, for serving me her leftovers for lunch a few weeks ago. I am a changed woman!


The results are in:

Says my husband to the kids, "next time mommy gets grumpy, let's make her a pot of this soup because she can't stop smiling when she's eating it."


I don't really care what the rest of the family thinks...


Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

(You can make this vegetarian if you want, by subbing out the chicken stock for vegetable broth. Otherwise, bring on the flavor!)


1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin

1/2 cup red onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

olive oil

4 cups chicken stock (or veggie if you want)

1 Tbl cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 big dash nutmeg

1/2 tsp pepper

balsamic vinegar for serving


1. In a large pot, saute onion, garlic, and seasonings in olive oil. (Best to wait to throw the garlic in right at the end so it doesn't burn.)

2. Dump in everything else. (Don't you love these dump recipes?)

3. Puree and heat until warm. (I have a stick blender that works so well for these types of soups. In fact, if you don't have one, this is a good excuse to go get one or put it on your Christmas list.)

4. Serve with balsamic vinegar drizzled on the top, unless you're my mother who apparently doesn't like vinegar. I for one think it makes the world a better place to live.

5. Invite me over for leftovers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

There was a time I would have given anything for a refrigerator box. They were worth their weight in gold, and whenever someone in the neighborhood got a new appliance they were quickly snatched up by imaginative children and moms desperate to contain those same kids. My containment unit was none other than a fully equipped boat with a high-powered motor, CB radio, ropes, maps, and a hook for my Smokey the Bear hat.
It was my park ranger boat. And against the will of my parents, it lived for many months in the middle of our family room, where I sat daily and discovered unchartered wild waters and forests, and wrote tickets for people who cut down trees.
Besides the boat-box, I also spent many hours toiling behind the secretary desk of my father’s work. I had an old broken (and gigantic) calculator that used to ring up prices and an inoperable rotary dial phone that rang constantly and at times I was scheduling appointments and adding numbers. Life was busy, but it was just so much fun to play pretend job.
Why ever did we as children think it would was fun to work? Instead of playing games and coloring pictures, I spent my hours on boat patrol and getting paper cuts. I think society in general tried to brainwash across the span of generations because I grew up thinking work was fun. Even our toys became work items—a tiny light-bulb powered oven to do the baking, a vacuum cleaner, a lawn mower. We grew up pretending to work and actually liking it. I sometimes wonder if it was subliminal messaging done in the cartoons to improve the overall work ethic of our nation because I wasn’t alone, either.
A quick survey of friends shows that most of us had dream jobs that we imitated when we were young. A dolphin expert, a teacher, a banker, a feed-mill operator, cashier, veterinarian, pirate, and even someone who wanted their job to be naming the color of nail polish. All wonderful and exciting jobs when you’re a kid. (Although I admit that training dolphins and being a pirate sound pretty exciting even as an adult.) And of all of us, not many of us made our dreams come true. The occasional teacher, the waitress, maybe even the writer. So what happened? When did reality finally hit and we give up our dreams of being a secretary in a high-rise building on 5th Avenue?
Maybe it was the discovery that training dolphins would take us far away from our home or the possibility of spending years in a wet suit, but probably not. Maybe it was the realization that naming nail polish wasn’t something to make a career out of. Maybe it was the pay scale of a cashier vs. a veterinarian or figuring out that while being a pirate might look really cool on TV, the thought of wearing balloon pants and an eye patch didn’t quite match your mature personality.
As for me, I’m not really sure why my dreams of being a park ranger didn’t outlast my refrigerator box, but I do know that I’m so glad that no one ever burst that bubble. I won’t say the dream is gone, more like it just moved over and made room for other dreams along the way to adulthood. So when I see my own children hard at “play” emailing potential clients or stacking firewood for their guided hunting expeditions, I shake my head and wonder how long they’ll hold on to those dreams.
I hope forever.
Or at least long enough to earn lots of money and buy refrigerator boxes for every kid on the block.
**Note: I realize that the picture of me in my coal mining days has nothing to do with this column directly, but starting in about 3rd grade, I knew I wanted to be a geologist. So I might not have lived out the park ranger dream, but for sure got my kicks in a coal mine.**

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Raising a pack of dogs

If you’re out running errands or at the park or library, and you hear someone saying “coyote!” repeatedly in increasing volume and intensity, don’t panic. Chances are there is no coyote running wild among the aisles of the supermarket or stalking the teeter totter.
It’s just me, telling my kids to be a coyote for once.
Not that it’s a standard thing for a mother of three to do, but an introductory class to basic animal tracking has opened up my eyes to a new and exciting hobby. A single footprint in a muddy or snowy area is a natural mark of what was once there when I was not, something so simply poetic I can’t help but immediately squat down and stick my nose in this beautiful trace.
From a set of tracks, one can not only determine the animal, but whether it was male or female, its mood, where it was going and why, and if you’re really, really good, even if it had a full belly.
Mostly I’m happy knowing what kind of stuff ate my garbage and walked through my flowerbeds.
One special thing I learned was to how to tell the difference between a dog and a coyote track.
Not native to Ohio, coyotes are now present in all 88 counties. Quite beautiful but considered dangerous by many, the footprint of this wily creature looks a lot like the kind of canine beasts that distribute dog hair in every corner of my life. So how can you tell them apart?
For one, coyote are usually running or jogging, so that only the two center claws show up in the track, as compared to a dog’s print that tends to consistently show all four claw marks.
Secondly, the coyote tends to know where it is going. It makes a decision, and acts upon it in with great intent. Compare this to a dog, who in walking from point A to point B might sniff around to every other letter of the alphabet before actually getting to where it is going.
Compare all of that to my children and I realized that I am raising a pack of dogs.
For example, a simple command such as “please go upstairs and get ready for bed” to a coyote would mean to actually go upstairs, put on pajamas, brush teeth, get a book, and climb in bed. But to my pack of dogs? Not so much.
They walk towards the stairs but get distracted by a toy they may have left under the couch, so they crawl under to get it. From there they may again venture in the correct direction, but suddenly find themselves trying on old Halloween costumes instead of getting their PJ’s. Eventually they come around and each are donning the correct clothing, but we lose them again with the whole teeth brushing. I swear, you give a kid a mirror and all purpose disappears and they magically turn into movie stars. Singing, dancing, staring up their noses, putting in hair clips, sometimes just standing there making faces. All of it a fantastic time waster to a coyote, but par for the course for our sweet doggies.
With teeth finally brushed, they settle into where they should be, but not before zig-zagging around the entire house, leaving invisible dog tracks in every direction, none with reason or purpose.
Truthfully I can expect no other. Children by nature must be doglike, for I don’t think I’ve ever met one who isn’t. Sadly, becoming a coyote must happen with age, because I know when I get a chance to head to bed, I make a direct beeline. Perhaps I’m just exhausted from an entire day of running and yelling out the names of carnivorous, non-native animals at my children, trying to get them to move with intent and break the obvious laws of nature.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Easy (and easily eaten) roasted chicken and potatoes

I knew this recipe was definitely worth sharing when I found myself drooling all morning at the prospect of a leftover lunch. But if that doesn't convince you to try this one, let my kids tell you their reviews.

"Wow, I'm super picky and actually like this!" (I'll take it!)

"I can't speak-- I think I've died and gone to chicken heaven." (Literally, this is what he said. Goofball.)

"Can I have some noodles?" (She's two and 80% of her diet consists of pasta.)

Says husband, "it's a keeper!"

And says I, "holy moly, if this was any easier someone would have had to drop it off at my doorstep."

Without further adieu:

Easy roasted chicken and potatoes

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1.5 pounds redskin potatoes, cut into medium chunks
1/3 cup mayo
3 Tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (we looooove garlic. I load it up but not everyone likes it as much as we do!)

Arrange chicken and potatoes in a sprayed jelly roll pan. Blend mayo and remaining ingredients in a small bowl and brush or spread over chicken and potatoes. Bake uncovered at 400 F for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are soft and chicken juices run clear.

I would have included a photograph, but in the time it took me to type this out I have since eaten the rest of the leftovers because it's just. that. good.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sing, sing, sing

Many years ago while visiting church with a friend, she leaned over and told me to sing louder. “But I don’t have that great a church voice,” I reminded her.
“Well then, give it back to God for not blessing you with that talent and belt it out!” she replied.
From that moment on, I have made a conscience effort to thank God for the alto voice He has given me, even when straining up to those high notes.
The truth is that I love to sing. Always have, always will. My parents have plenty of VHS tapes to prove it, including one especially embarrassing dance program where my feet didn’t move but my vocal chords got a real workout.
I grew up with a singing family, and not so much a professional or choir-type family. More of a belt-it-out-in-the-car or around-a-campfire family. I don’t think we could have a car trip without the accompaniment of Merle Haggard or a fire without the accompaniment of my dad’s guitar.
And it must be true, that what you are exposed to as a child makes you into your adult self, because singing and music is a huge part of my life. it pains me, though, that not enough people do it. I know people don’t do it, because when I am stopped at a light in my car, I specifically watch people drive by and the only mouths I see moving are the ones that have a cell phone attached to their ear.
I wish I could say the same for myself and my kids, who seem to rip out a full blown karaoke party every time we buckle up. Even when I’m all alone, I find myself filling the car with enough sound waves to shake the steering wheel. Sometimes when I’m stopped or there are people around, I totally admit to pretend I’m talking on the phone while I’m really singing, hoping to fool passersby to my goofy habits. This is not something I’m proud about, because there should be no shame in singing. Out loud. With emotion. Whenever you want.
I have the utmost honor of working as a music teacher for small children. A few days a week I gather together with toddlers and preschoolers and sit in a circle on the floor and sing folk songs. It is a most fun and challenging profession, filled with wooden rhythm sticks, finger plays, and my own voice doing the best I can to encourage these kids to sing, sing, sing, for the good of themselves and of others.
Historically speaking, these old songs are the ones that belong to our American heritage. Ask an adult to sing a song from childhood and they’ll give you Twinkle, Twinkle. (Ask me and I might give you a Merle Haggard tune.) But there’s so many more, and we’re sadly losing our classics.
Educationally speaking, children these days are not exposed to real sounds anymore. We have music on the radio which has all been digitally altered and television and movies with no real sound direction. Teachers use microphones and video games, well, I’m not even going to go there. The point is that all of these sound waves that our children hear aren’t real sound waves. They’re different, somehow, and when kids are constantly surrounded by electronic background noise, it’s absolutely amazing how the strum of one single guitar string or a single sung note can catch their attention.
I know it for a fact.
Which is why I always try to have a kazoo handy. No lie. There’s usually one in my car, in case I need to break into a super rockin’ solo during my favorite song and while hopefully no one is looking, maybe it would be better if instead they rolled down their window and joined in. They may not have a kazoo, but you always have your voice and can sing along – with whatever you’ve got -- and make this world a little better place.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall brings out our true colors

Thirty days has September, April, May, and November. All the rest have thirty-one [except Februrary] but if I truly had my way, the month of October would be 300 days long.
If there was ever a time of the year that I would want to bottle up and have to myself all year long, it’s the month of October when nature puts on its finest show for all of the senses. The smell of the leaves, the sight of the first frost on the pumpkin, the taste of hot mulled cider, the sound of bare trees blowing in the wind, and of course the feel of stick jabbing you in the leg when you jump into the leaf pile.
Honestly, I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it, even the stick. When October rolls around, I morph into some other person, a person who lives and breathes to embrace every aspect of the season. Like most of us who are tired of painting our toenails and shaving our legs, I welcome the return of long pants and closed toed shoes quite happily. Not only that, but I like to pretend I’m a fashion model for one of those hip stores where everyone is strangely warm wearing only a flannel shirt and a vest, even though 99% of the time my body is comfortable but my arms feel like they’re going to snap off like icicles when a stiff wind blows by.
My kids are suddenly forced to wear hats and gloves out of nowhere because maybe at some point their mother will be cold and which automatically means they should don extra gear regardless of their own temperature.
Soup becomes a staple in our house like none other, and as head chef everything that comes out of my kitchen errors on the side of “comfort food” because when the temperature first starts to drop, we collectively as a society shun the grilled hot dog and coleslaw, having eaten one too many. We fill our bellies with stick-to-your-ribs dinner and desserts, operating under the assumption that more pumpkin is obviously better.
Come October, we drink more hot beverages, we make more campfires. With all of the early darkness, we start hunkering down for the winter like bears slipping into hibernation before their time. Knitting needles and thick novels comes out because what else does one do with all that free time now that the lawn no longer needs mowed so often?
All of this inside warmth and comfy coziness does one thing: It makes us feel good and feel whole. It makes me feel true and real, which is, I think, the way it was truly intended to be if we look to the reason for the season.
Fall is fall because of the crazy Earth tilt thingy, but most of us know it as the time of year when the leaves change color and fall off the trees. But most people don’t know why the leaves change color. Technically, they don’t change color, they just show their true color. Overtaken by the greenness of chlorophyll all spring and summer long, it’s not until the temperatures drop and the sun goes down that the tree cuts off all of the extra chlorophyll that it needs when it’s making food during the summer. Once the powerful green goes away, what’s left is what color it was all along, underneath.
Sure, it dries up, dies and falls off, but for those few beautiful days in the month of October, the bright showy colors of fall dance for us in all of their glory, waving around in the angled sunlight before their final plummet.
And I for one, will be wearing my own true colors, cuddling my kids in fleece blankets by a campfire, watching them fall with rake primed and ready, surely to have a pot of chicken soup on the stove to warm my freezing, yet trendy, arms.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There’s something rotten in the state of my garage

If you follow this column, you might remember that last week I wrote a lovely philosophical story about the lessons I’ve learned from my garden. After contemplating how an ignored garden was really a message of personal revival in disguise, I concluded with myself slowing down, taking time to enjoy life and weeding out the unnecessary extras that keep me from living the life I want to live.
And then, since then, I’ve spent an entire week sniffing around my garage. Literally.
It started the very day my husband said, “you won’t see me much this week.” With meetings and conflicting appointments, our paths didn’t cross long enough for me to force him to remedy the stinky situation: the smell of death looming in the garage. Somewhere, some sort of critter had met his or her doom, and what was left was beginning the all-important job of decomposing and releasing of gases and other such unpleasantries.
I opened the door from our house to a wall of odor. Granted, I have a nose so super sensitive that it’s earned me the nickname of “bloodhound” from my husband, who apparently didn’t catch the stench as he zoomed in and out of his car. Basically I knew I was left alone to tackle the smell that I found so offensive, which is probably what would have happened anyway because I’m just that strong a smeller.
Science tells us that women are better smellers than men, meaning that our sense of smell is much stronger (and not that we are generally more stinky.) Most likely this is due to some instinctive mate-finding principle, but I think it’s more likely because we don’t like smelly things like dirty diapers, diesel fuel, and football jerseys and have to sniff them out to clean them. Regardless, we women in our child-bearing years are faced with the plague of strong noses, and I myself have been cursed with trying to determine the source of the previously mentioned rotting creature that was hiding among the scooters and jump ropes.
We have had many dead things in our garage over the years, which is par for the course when you live in the woods. There has been more than our fair share of mice and “kamikaze toads” which seem to line themselves up perfectly for death by garage door/car wheel/recycling bin.
I was convinced that I would find some helpless little animal who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I began my sniff search.
They say that a dog’s sense of smell is 50 to 100 times stronger than a human’s, but I beg to differ. I had the odor narrowed down to a small segment of the garage, all by taking the time to sniff around like an actual bloodhound. Nose pointed in the air, nostrils flaring, I was committed to finding out where this was coming from.
I lifted shelving with adrenaline strength. I moved benches and rocks. I sifted through sand toys, yard toys, balls, bats, clubs, and enough sidewalk chalk to literally paint the town red. I climbed ladders and even examined the entire workings of the garage door for the departed offender. Then I called on my mother to come and stand in my garage with her own nose and sniff around.
“Something, I think. Somewhere,” she said, nonchalantly.
Apparently, the more we age, the more our sense of smell deteriorates. It follows that the pitiful dead animal couldn’t smell itself rotting up our toy storage area. I never did find the culprit, although my bottom dollar is placed on something up in the wall.
But as the circle of life goes, after a few days the smell has started to dissipate. Thankfully I can now exit my own home without holding my breath and curling my nose, whether it be to block out the odor or to hunt it down with the finely honed skill set of a hound dog.

Note: My husband finally found the source of the stink-- a dead mouse under the shelf. The same shelf I lifted with all my might and had my son look under to search for dead things. Can't trust a 6 year old for everything, I guess.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Zucchini Tomato Pie - the way to send out the summer

I don't know about anyone else, but my zucchini plants were a major bummer this year.
Sure, I didn't give them the normally needed TLC, and sure I did find the world's largest weed (see photo) planted right next to them, but when it comes to zucchini, I always thought that you shouldn't take care of them because if you do, you'll be swimming in them for a month.


But there I was, a failure of a garden year, and left with one gigantic zucchini, and a major hankering for a garden full of them. So I swallowed my pride and went to the store and actually bought zucchini in the months of August and September.

It was a sad and sorrowful day.

But it was so very worth it.

When it comes to zucchini recipes, there are thousands. This one is my new favorite savory dish because a)it's super simple and b) my son's exact words were, "gee, mom, I thought it was going to be really gross but it's actually pretty good. Can I have some more?" And really, you can't make that stuff up.

Zucchini Tomato Pie
2 cups chopped zucchini
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (or other - be creative!) cheese
3/4 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a deep dish pie plate with cooking spray.
Right in the pie dish, mix up the zucchini, tomato, and onion. In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs and add everything else (cheese through the seasoning.)
Pour the mixture over the zucchini and stick it in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Check the center with a knife to make sure it's set.

Then go out and stake out next year's zucchini plot. Of course.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Learning from the WMNG

It was a sunny late summer day when I ambled over to what I now refer to as the “WMNG.” Within seconds my expression went from cheery yard work smiles to a scowl of disappointment, because right there, in plain view all summer long, my small plot of plants had morphed into the World’s Most Neglected Garden.
The beans, now four feet long and as wide as Popeye’s forearms, grew down to the dirt, their woody seeds pushing through the dehydrated skin. What was left of the tomatoes drooped rotten over their cages, spreading seeds that I’ll surely have to pull as weeds the next year. The broccoli and lettuce had all gone to seed, reaching world record heights, as if lettuce should ever be three feet tall.
And the list goes on, from hidden monster zucchini to a few dozen gnarled up carrots, none more than an inch and a half long. I stood there with my wheelbarrow full of greenery gone bad and realized that the WMNG was trying to teach me something. If I listened very carefully to the rustle of the pepper plants, they were whispering their withered up wisdom.
“Slow down, step back, take care of what really matters to you. And me oh my oh, put those beans out of their misery.”
Sometimes it takes something as tangible and visible as a pathetic garden square to make you take a moment of pause and re-think things. Whoever said that gardening isn’t mentally therapeutic has never had fingernails full of dirt. Not only is it good for the body, it’s good for the soul. For me, it’s what makes the summer really the summer, although this year’s garden was anything but worthy. Looking at the WMNG it was perfectly clear that I overloaded myself and went in too many directions, said “yes” to too many things and neglected one of my most favorite chores.
My mom used to have a poster that hung in her garden shed which she has since framed and given to me. It reads, “All I need to know I learned from gardening.” It has a list of clever phrases and puns including “We’ve all got our own rows to hoe” and “Stay away from seedy characters.” One of my favorites is, “A little manure goes a long way” but there’s one that seems to jump out from behind the glass.
“Weed out all the annoyances in your life.”
I’m not sure why it’s so hard to do, to simple down a life that goes in so many directions. Maybe it’s what parenthood is all about, juggling lessons and practices, homework and healthy eating habits. Multi-tasking is an understatement. Anyone who has filled out school paperwork while talking on the cell phone in the cereal aisle while feeding your kid bologna samples for lunch knows exactly what I’m talking about. On days when I am lucky enough to lay and read to my children at naptime, nine out of ten times I fall fast asleep and the next thing I know someone’s poking me in my eye and asking me to keep reading.
There’s only so much one person can do, and when that pile becomes too overgrown, you’ve just got to weed out those annoyances. Not that my children are my annoyances (although they are plenty annoying sometimes), but it’s the tacked on things here and there that I now know has kept me from the little things that make me happy from the inside out.
“Take time to smell the roses” is one man’s saying. I would rather take time to snap off a fresh bean or squirt a ripe tomato seed across the yard, although not this season. The first thing I plan to do is take time hang that poster from my mom. It’s been sitting in the corner on the floor for months.

***Note: 2010's pathetic sunflower house with sunflowers that barely crested my 2 year old's head (and were supposed to be 10 feet tall.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not Penicillin, Momicillin

Many do not know, but I have a pretty substantial relationship with antibiotics. Coined "the queen of strep throat" over the past few years, I actually walk into the doctor and they look at me and say: Oh no, not again.
So me and penicillin, we go way back.
And now, I've got a new "cillin" to claim: Momicillin.
A regular writer on there, it's the bare bones of motherhood and womanhood, often not the prettiest of pictures (but hopefully one that will be the medicine you need for a chuckle or two.)
Because they have rights to the work, I can't post them anywhere else but can certainly direct readers there.

So without further adieu, here's the latest installment. Or should I say...

Great Shel Silverstein in the morning with cabbage soup for breakfast!

ps. Gerturde Hurlbutt was the woman who won the contest and gave the name "skeet" the the sport of skeet shooting. She also won $100 for her fancy idea. Thought you should know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Letters and laughs are a lost art

At the risk of sounding too old fashioned, I would like to throw in my two cents when it comes to lost art forms. ­(Picture, if you will, me sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch, rubbing my aching knee and starting this next sentence…)
“Back when I was little, we didn’t have those fancy email forwards. If we had something funny to say, we actually had to say it. Out loud. In front of people. Over time, sure there were those blue ditto machines and eventually the fax, but still. If you had a joke, you told it, not read it.”
Because really, when it comes to jokes, when is the last time you’ve heard one delivered with poise and timing? People just don’t tell jokes anymore. We just forward them, some of us with fourteen pages of past recipients situated right at the top to really kill the moment.
My grandparents had a friend who was large, loud, and Hungarian which meant nothing except that his family served chicken paprikash a different way than we Polish folk did. But this guy, with his booming voice, could tell a joke like none other. Even as a small child I remember sitting in his basement, drinking my ginger ale when Mr. S. belted out a side-splitter. He could hold it together through the whole thing, even through the punch line, while the rest of us (even those who didn’t understand what he was talking about) slapped our knees at the very delivery.
Mr. S. isn’t with us anymore, and I’d bet my bottom paprikash that neither is the way he could pull a joke out of nowhere and perform it with the grace of Bob Hope and the nose of Jimmy Durante. Somehow as a society we’ve lost that talent, so much that I’d go as far as to say telling good jokes is a lost art. If three guys walk into a bar and one ducks, is anyone there to laugh?
I don’t understand how, but I can tell you the “why” of the answer. It’s the rotten and oh-so-convenient thing called e-mail. Instantly we can send something to one friend or many. With the click of a button, we transfer doctored-up images of billboards and old ladies not to mention a long scrolling story with a killer punch line that gets lost in translation until you re-read it three times.
Because not only is the art of telling jokes long gone, so is the art of writing letters.
I’m talking about actual pieces of paper with actual pens, complete with smudges. These are the correspondences that honestly prove that someone cares about you enough to force them to not only cramp up their hand (because no one actually writes anymore) but also shell out the big bucks for a stamp.
There’s patience involved, and a thought process that doesn’t include a simple backspace. There’s the meaning that someone took the time to say what really matters and had to really think about spelling and punctuation because there’s nothing automatic about a sheet of paper.
My oldest daughter has a pen pal in Virginia. The two of them write back and forth, send rubber bracelets and post cards from vacations. Nothing exchanged is very exciting; there are no deep secrets or outpouring of souls. But still, every single day my kid asks me if she got anything in the mail, even if she just sent her friend a letter the day before.
Maybe it’s the tangible feel of the paper in your hands, the sound of the envelope ripping, the knowing that what’s inside isn’t a bill or an application for an obscure credit card. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful thing that is fading away a little more with every @ and .com.
Back on that rocking chair I go, creaking away and complaining about the weather and the youngsters of the day, with their fancy electronics and all that. Wouldn’t it just be something if the mailman came up and delivered a hand-addressed envelope and told me a belly-splitting joke at the same time?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bed jumper learns a lesson

Let’s just say this: I was a bed jumper all of my childhood. I did it whenever I could get away with it, and even when I couldn’t because the sweet feeling of springs popping beneath my feet was worth any punishment anyone could give.
And life could get no better when my new furniture suite arrived and I was awarded with a four-poster bed (with removable spindle tops that so awesomely could double as microphones). I was around eight, and when the put the dresser with the large mirror was placed directly across from my new bed, a star was born.
I sang every Beach Boys song there was into those wooden bed parts while I danced and jumped and watched my talent blossom in the opposing mirror. Someday, I would be famous, I thought.
Instead, someday is today, and that bed isn’t gold-plated in a museum, it was instead passed down to my daughter. Along with the bed jumping gene. It didn’t last but a few years before the cracks got too big for comfort and we had to purchase a new bed.
After much thought and too little measurement, we settled on a trundle bed so that visitors (and siblings) could easily share the room with her. It was near perfect until we realized that pulling out the trundle wouldn’t work with the existing wall-to-wall furniture we had packed in to her room.
And so, for over a month, her brand-new bed has sat stagnant in the center of her room, whilst the perimeter of it piled up and became impassable.
It is a well-known fact that people in this house don’t have the greatest git-r-dun track record, so after sneaking into the room to give the kids a kiss goodnight and stepping on a poorly placed flatulent noise maker toy, I decided that enough was enough, and I was going to take matters into my own tiny hands. I would get this room in order, no matter what.
Armed with a tape measure, I knew I would have to remove one piece of furniture from my daughter’s room, and removing the large mirror would be too devastating. I would need to take out a bureau, meaning I would have to find somewhere else to stick the clothes.
After a fast contemplation of whether I could get all of this done before my husband came home from work, surely to be astonished and amazed at my handyman progress, I rushed off to purchase a closet unit for my kid. This was happening! A girl with a screwdriver, I assembled the gigantic unit all by myself, only saying a few choice words at mislabeled parts and cutting myself only once.
When it was all finished, I lumbered it into the closet, only to realize that a) there was a bookshelf full of books in the way, and then, after moving the bookshelf, b) the closet unit did not fit. (So much for that measuring tape, eh?)
Glancing at my watch, I saw how much time I had left in my day to remedy this situation before my husband came home with enough ammunition to make fun of me for days. I had just a few hours, after much thought, to rearrange the furniture in two other bedrooms to make this one measly closet unit fit.
Weary, bleeding, and sore from hauling 60 pound bookshelves around my house, I ended up with everything in its place, except that now three bedrooms were covered in books and my own closet was completely torn apart because, in the end, it was the only place that the new closet unit would actually fit.
I may have looked like I had weathered the tornado that had blown through our second level, but I had semi-accomplished something, all by myself. Not only that, but standing there rubbing my sore muscles I re-learned the importance of “measure twice.”
But really, there’s a much more important lesson to learn from my chaotic afternoon of furniture: don’t jump on the bed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Detoxify your life with fancy skin products that bring on snazzy new expletives

We have this unwritten reward system in our house. Whenever life really starts wearing me out and I work super hard not to end up yelling at stuffed animals and throwing meatloaf, my husband says to me, “why don’t you take a bath?”
And I do. Because I love baths. Sylvia Plath wrote, “There must be a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know any of them.” Amen, sister.
A hot bath, coupled with locked doors, a humming fan, a good book and a glass of wine are just the things I need to de-stress and de- freak and relax. Coincidentally, it’s also a good time to slather my face in mud to de-tox my skin and fight with tooth and nail the inevitable wrinkles. (I’m no girly-girl, but having a face that looks like my old leather hiking boots is just plain wrong.)
And so, after a long day of sifting through not one, not two, but three people’s clothes and rearranging one entire bedroom (see upcoming column on Thursday for full explanation), when he told me to take a bath, I sprinted up the steps, wine in one hand, book in the other.
It had been literally months since I’d last let the hum of the faucet drown out background children noise, a seemingly perfect decibel for ignoring the turn of the locked door, the argument over pajamas and toothpaste going on in the other bathroom. Stepping into the steaming water, I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten a chance like this to unwind.
Settled in, and face prepped, I applied the detoxifying facial mask I paid too much money for. Sitting back against a moldy bath pillow, I rested in and cracked open my book while the heat from the water began to release every tension from my body.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, my face which is supposed to be resting and releasing the toxins starting burning like I had razor burn from my forehead to my chin and someone pushed me into a pool of rubbing alcohol. I started saying things like, “Good Charlie Brown in the morning with turkey for breakfast!” (OK, I really didn’t say that, but what I was honestly thinking isn’t proper lady talk. And yes, I just made up that entire expletive phrase. And yes, feel free to use it next time you stub your toe or see your second cousin from Wisconsin at the gas station.)
My face was on detoxifying fire. Apparently a summer of sun and wear and tear without any proper care was too much for this special European formula. I quickly grabbed the bottle. Nowhere did it say, “the tingle means it’s working!” It just told me to keep it out of my eyes, and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
Reeeeeellllllllaxxxxxxxxxx I told myself. The tingle means it’s working, I lied to myself. I pretended to read a chapter in my book while every so often glancing into the reflective drain to make sure my face hadn’t combusted.
When I could take it no longer, I plunged my whole head into the water and held my breath while I submerged myself, attempting to relieve the stinging sensation that had ruined my entire restful, rejuvenating, and rewarding experience.
Of course the first thing I did upon exiting was to check the condition of my face. Mostly I wanted to make sure I still had eyebrows and that my special freckle on the tip of my nose hadn’t been burned off in the escape of the obvious tons of toxins that were being harbored in the flesh of my cheeks.
Surprisingly enough, they were all still there, intact, and after a quick fingertip test, feeling smoother than ever.
Charlie Brown in the morning with turkey for breakfast, that stuff really worked! No pain, no gain!
Face smooth and book still in hand, I’m looking forward to my next chance to do it all again. In another four months.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer report cards

It’s late August, which means a few very standard things. For one, tomatoes are at an all-time abundance and there’s a good chance only three people are actually reading this column because the rest of them are toiling away over a giant pot of spaghetti sauce, wondering just why in the world they put in so many tomato plants. Secondly, parents of school-aged children everywhere are riding the roller coaster of emotion now that school is back in session. (Just how does it happen that the very people that nearly drove us to the edge disappear for a few days and already we’re moping around and missing them?) August also means that the stores start putting their Halloween stuff in the sale bins to make room for the ultra-early Christmas decorations.
But finally, late August means the end of summer.
I know what you’re thinking, that the season of summer officially ends somewhere around the third week of September, when the Earth does its fancy tilting thing and we have the vernal equinox. While that’s technically true, I have to think that the physics of space and time got it just a bit off because, for all intents and purposes, the end of summer occurs at the very second your child laces up the new shoes you’ve been saving, straps on the backpack, and we take that ceremonial back-to-school picture by the front door.
Bam. Welcome, fall.
For me, at least, I spent the last two weeks rushing around to make sure that my kids enjoyed their summer to the very fullest. Even in elementary school – yes, even kindergarten – school means that a carefree life of playtime is nearly non-existent. There are homework and afterschool activities to be shuttled to and from. We’ve got book reports and concerts and early bedtimes to contend with. My son said it all best when we asked if he wanted to play a sport. “But mom, then I won’t have any time to just play.”
Too true, the wisdom of a six year old.
Knowing that our school-year future was going to kick us where the sun don’t shine, we packed in as much fun as we could this summer before their youth as we know it melts away like a Push-Up in the midday sun. Someday, as awesome as I think I am, it won’t be cool to hang with mom anymore.
And now, as they are safely back in their desks with their freshly sharpened pencils and pristine notebooks and folders, I take out a sheet of paper and an old chewed up pencil of my own. No homework for me. Instead, it’s time to make out our own summer report card.


Did we set up the sprinkler more times than I can remember? And did set it up anyway even though I whined incessantly about dragging out the hose? Yep. Score: A
Did we go more than three days without bathing because surely a swim in a chlorinated pool killed all evil stink germs? And then some. Score: A
Did we go to bed smelling like a campfire as much as we could? Probably, but we’re campfire junkies and probably could have had more. Score: A-
Did we make at least one entire meal out of junk food bought at a concession stand? Indeed. Score: A
Did we have adventures that left us standing by the car, covered in mud and mosquito bites, and left me wondering why I didn’t pack towels or a change of clothes? Unfortunately yes. Score: A
Are my kids thoroughly bruised and cut from head to toe from climbing, running, falling, playing, sliding, and scratching? Two boxes of Band-Aids, baby. Score: A
Finally, did I fall asleep exhausted every night and count down the days until the kids went back to school, secretly knowing that I’d miss them the second the first bell rang? Absolutely. Score: A very tired and affectionate A+.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A philosophical look at motherhood

Forget the age old question about the tree falling in the forest. There’s a more relevant query to ponder: If a mother isn’t around to hear her children whine/fight/ask for snacks, do they ever really make a noise?
I believe I have the answer to this philosophical question using no philosophy at all.
But before I reveal the answer, let us first determine that for this whole transaction to take place, we need to have a) children making noise, b) air for the soundwaves to travel through, and c) a mother’s ears that are not automatically programmed to shut out the sound of her children’s voices when they start sentences with “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” If any one part of these things do not exist, the question is moot.
But in reality, we do normally have these things. At the end of a wonderful, loving, and did I mention long summer with my young children forever underfoot and overhead, I, for one, know that there is a constant hum of chatter that comes out of their mouths, among other parts. Not a minute goes by when one of them isn’t following me around, a small shadow tracing my steps and asking the most ridiculous requests like, “can we wash the house with bubble soap?”
We also typically have plenty of air in our house. The only thing that would remove air in a physics class sort of way would be to have a vacuum, and I know mine is too busy gathering its own layer of dust. In fact, the amount of air in our house has increased exponentially in the form of hot air, specifically the stuff that comes out of my children’s mouths.
And finally, we require a mother’s ears to be open. And willing to listen. I will be the first to admit that I don’t listen to 87% of the noise my children make. I frequently say things like “uh huh” and “okay” and “that’s great, dear!” without having a clue what is going on. But that other 13% and in particular the comments that require bandages or “what I did to the dog” stories, my ears are perked up like a bunny.
So speaking barely scientifically, all three pieces of the question are present. But philosophically, well, that’s a whole other story. And one that I have the answer to.
There is a family of wrens that have nested in the box that we hung directly next to the back patio where I like to sit in peaceful morning silence until anyone realizes that I am awake. The wren has two broods over the season, and I was lucky enough to witness both.
After the eggs hatch, the mother (or father—they both look the same), fly back and forth non-stop, feeding their hungry babies. And I do mean non-stop. Sometimes the round trip takes only 30 seconds.
But here’s the funny thing about the little baby wrens: they are totally silent the entire time the parent is out of the nest. Dead silent. But the very millisecond that mom or dad peeks into the house with a speck of food, they chatter and sing like nobody’s business.
(Wrens have a very complex song, and while the adult tune is quite pleasing to the ear, a bunch of babies sound as cacophonous as my own children when it’s lunch time.)
The parent wren drops off the food, and once again, the instant the parent is gone, the babies are completely silent.
Processing this birdie behavior returns us to the original question. If a child is whining and there’s not a mom around to hear it, does it make noise? The answer is simple if you look to our friend the house wren:
A child only makes whiny noise when their mother is around to be annoyed by it.
Case closed.
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