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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another case of a focus-free afternoon

This is exactly what happened, without exaggeration. And while reading it, some of you might recall a similar email funny that has circulated, and then some of you might think twice about email forwards and think maybe they are absolutely true and that maybe that check from Microsoft is on its way right now?
In any case, after hosting a family gathering one cold Sunday afternoon, I began to clean up the kitchen only to realize that the rest of my immediate family was fast asleep to the hum of a random afternoon movie. Including my husband.
I didn’t want to wake them with the clanging of dishes, so I snuck upstairs to put away some laundry. But in my room I found a paper that belonged in my office which is really less of an office and more like the black hole of everything that doesn’t have a real place. So I ventured down to the office with socks still strewn all over my bed and realized that while the rest of the gang was sleeping, it’d be a good time to tackle this project.
Sifting through papers and odds and ends and scraps of fabric, I found expired gift cards and recipes I’d been looking for for months. I wanted to put one of those recipes right in my kitchen so I wouldn’t lose it again, so I walked out of the black hole, past the sleeping family, and put it on the baker’s rack.
Which also held a library book that I needed to return.
So I went out to my car to put it in and while out there saw that I didn’t bring in my purse, which I normally keep in the mudroom. Walking into the mudroom, I noticed that the lightbulb was out and I needed to change it. The lightbulbs are kept in the laundry room.
To the laundry room I went. I didn’t find any lightbulbs, but I found the new 2010 calendar I had been looking for forever which would come in handy while sorting through papers in the black hole. I started to walk it back over to my office when I noticed that the family was starting to wake up.
“Aha! A chance to finish the dishes!” I thought.
Once again loading the dishwasher and clearing the counters, a rumble in someone’s tummy definitely sounded like “we should order pizza.” And so we did.
Where were the coupons? On my desk. In the office. Yikes.
But back in the kitchen, I might as well keep cleaning so we have a place to actually eat. Sitting while eating, I’ve heard, is quite nice.
I decided that there was so much going on that we’d use some of the leftover paper plates from the party, but since we didn’t need all of them, I would put the rest away in the pantry where I keep them all in a large plastic tote. The tote, however, was unorganized thanks to my lovely children.
“If I don’t get this done now, I’ll never do it,” I said, and there, in the middle of the messy kitchen with the messier office and the dark mudroom and the laundry explosion, I re-organized the paper plates tote.
And with the click of the lid, I had finally accomplished one thing, start to finish, that evening.
With just a few minutes before the pizza arrived, I started to wipe down the kitchen counters and happened to pass the coffee maker. Dirty rag still stationed next to the filters, I had just put a pot on when the doorbell rang.
After dinner and with coffee in hand, I went back to the office only to find my computer sitting there, pretty much telling me not to clean, but that I had to write down the evening’s turn of events. And maybe forward a few emails.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's for dinner? Meatless Monday (Baked spinach risotto with asparagus)

Because our eating schedule in this house is as random and varied as I could ever imagine, with running from here and there to a dairy allergy, there's just no way we could give up one single item for Lent.
If I gave up coffee, I would probably die. Literally.
And if the kids gave up candy, what would I feed them when they're really tired but we just need to press through a couple of more hours?
If we gave up fast food, we'd starve. I can't deny this.
So using this Lenten season as a time of sacrifice is really, really hard for us. This year, to make things attempt to go smoother, I decided that we, as a family, are going to eat our normal meatless meals on Fridays (fish allowed), and for the next 6 weeks are going to subscribe to Meatless Mondays. Heard of this movement? You can check it out for yourself at www.meatlessmonday.com, but essentially the thinking behind it all is that if we ate meat one less day a week, we could not only improve our health, but also reduce our carbon footprint and general environmental impact.
For us, it's a simple way to do our part to better ourselves and our natural world. And we like our natural world. And cow farts smell bad. :)
Normally on this blog I like to post a new recipe I've tried and enjoyed one day a week. In honor of Meatless Monday, I'll share my recipes on Mondays. If just one person tried it, that would be better than if no one tried it at all. Just the simplest steps can add up if we all do what we can to make ourselves and our world a better place.

This dish was so good it will become a staple in our house. I did use chicken stock so I suppose it's not completely meatless, but it's a step in the right direction. Veggie broth could easily be substituted. I should note too, that I left out the Parmesan and just stirred in some dairy-free cream cheese. Parm would taste much better, but my way was still delicious!

Baked Spinach Risotto with Asparagus (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 tbl olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
4 oz. spinach leaves (fresh)
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) diagonally sliced asparagus

Preheat oven to 400.
In a dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until nearly translucent. Add garlic, cook 60 seconds more. Stir in rice. Then stir in spinach, broth, salt, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and cook 7 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese.
Cover and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Stir in asparagus and top with remaining cheese. Cover and bake an additional 15 minutes. * I added a bit more liquid with the asparagus. use your judgement.

And while eating this, I have to share the world most hilarious dinner question...
Me to my daughter: Eat your spinach. It's good for you. It's full of iron.
Daughter: Blech.
Son: Why is iron good for you?
Husband: It's good for your bones and your muscles and your blood.
Son: Will it make my wiener grow longer?

We should have said 'yes!' but were instead laughing too hard to even control ourselves.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snowblowing the Martha MacGyver way


I have a friend whose husband actually turned my name into a verb. As in, “just go Karrie McAllister the thing, already!” For some reason, this family was under the impression that I was the one female that they’d met who knew no boundary when it came to what was “woman’s work.”
I think it was probably because at a playdate I randomly fixed their toilet or their garage door or something, really impressing the husband with my handy skills.
It didn’t help them to know that while she grew up in a feminine way, I took the tomboy route. I got knives and GPS’s as presents, and by the time I was in middle school I already had my own four-wheeler and rifle. My first job out of collage brought field mice, coal dust, and dynamite. Grrrrr.
So feeling like an empowered woman is just a way of life for me. I pull start my own lawn mower, for Pete’s sake. But there has always been one area where I have lacked: the snowblower.
Over the years it’s become an ominous beast, sitting serenely and untouched most of the year on the side of the garage. It’s only when my husband takes a rare trip out of town that we get blasted with the world’s worst snowstorm that the thing would really come in handy.
Knowing that he’d be gone and knowing that the storm was coming, I requested specific directions. Choke, yes. Plug, yes. Rabbit, yes. Button, yes. Good. Got it.
And away he went to warmer weather while we watched the world silently disappear under a blanket of white.
“Today’s the day!” I said to the kids! “I’m going to snowblow the driveway!” I cheered in a way that those words have probably never been cheered before. I stuck my camera in my pocket to record the entire event and headed out into the garage.
I went through the steps and without blinking twice the machine started up and growled its empowered growl.
I growled back. I was going to “Karrie McAllister” this thing! My name did deserve to be a verb!
Making my way to the driveway, I squeezed the throttle handle only to find that nothing happened. Quickly reviewing the directions, I was sure I was doing everything correctly, so I must just not be as strong as my husband.
So I squeezed a little harder. And harder still, until, with the strength of my own left hand I completely bent the metal arm which holds the cable and ZING! an end cap went flying off somewhere in the 47 feet of snow we had.
I was not snowblowing. Instead, I was somewhere between curse words and tears sitting right on the edge of determination.
Apparently it’s harder to bend steel back the way it came, but with the fiery feeling that my husband was going to wring my neck, I somehow managed to semi-return the handle to its semi-original position. I just needed to replace that end cap. Tearing through every nut and handy-dandy-doo-dad we had, I found absolutely nothing that would fit.
Think, think, think. A little lightbulb went off in my head. I dried my eyes and rushed to my craft supplies to find exactly the wire I needed, the kind that I normally use to embellish silverware with colorful glass beads. Whudda thunk that the same wire could repair a snowblower? I have pictures to prove it.

So with the grace and craftiness of Martha Stewart and the handiness of MacGyver, I pieced the machine back together and slowly but surely cleared my driveway of snow, stopping only for the occasional snapshot to prove to any disbelievers that I indeed conquered my fear. I indeed “Karrie McAllistered” the driveway.
My friend will be so proud. My husband...not so much.


Monday, February 15, 2010

When nature calls, bring a friend

I pretty much have a love/hate relationship when it comes to public restrooms. Over the years I have been through a roller coaster of emotions that all pretty much lead to one thing: I don’t think I will ever be able to go to the bathroom alone ever again.
It really all started when I was quite young at our neighborhood Big Wheel. I will never forget telling my mom that I had to use the restroom and after going, the stall door became stuck such that I thought I would be locked in that bathroom for the rest of my life, or at least until I turned five. My mother jiggled from the outside handle. I jiggled from the inside handle. We pushed, we pulled, and when it was all said and done, my mother said the most haunting words.
“You’re just going to have to crawl out on the floor under the door.”
Well. Having spent my entire life until that point being schooled in the way of germs and don’t-touch-that’s, I was pretty sure I would pick up some awful deforming disease from the floor of that bathroom.
Turns out there was no disease, just a burning memory.
But then I got a little older and entered the years of the grown-up world, where I would find myself in a situation at a table with a group of people. And we all know that when another woman says she needs to use the restroom, you just go along with her. We don’t know why we do it, it’s practically an instinct. It’s not as if we are incapable of going to the bathroom alone, we are just better at it in pairs or small groups.
If there’s no toilet paper in stall one, or if the sinks or wet or the towels are scratchy, we’ve just got to tell somebody. And the friend is there. Men, did you know that in some women’s bathrooms there are actually little couches? A couch, as in a seating arrangement for more than one. You won’t find a single chair in a nice ladies’ restroom. No way. If that tagalong friend doesn’t really have to go, she (or they, depending) needs a place to sit while a conversation of utmost importance is happening. Because yes, we talk the entire time we’re in the bathroom. Instinct. Can’t help it. It’s actually fun.
Nowadays I don’t find myself with the luxury of fancy bathrooms with couches. Mostly I’m dragging around my children through a store or family restaurants when one of them announces that the bathroom must be our next stop.
Anyone with small children know that when someone says “potty” you hit light speed overtaking old ladies and Girl Scout troops on your way there. And once you’re inside, the following things happen:
1. You inform everyone to not touch anything, and I mean anything.
2. Someone inevitably asks what the little trash cans are for.
3. There is no soap.
4. You remind everyone to not touch anything.
5. You accidentally spill your entire purse on the floor while looking for a bottle of hand sanitzer you have with 3 drops left in it.
6. And don’t touch the door on the way out.
All of this naturally takes a lot of talking, a lot of noise. After nearly 9 years of restrooming it this way, it’s for this very noisy reason I have come to the conclusion that am not humanly capable of going to the bathroom alone because I will a) get stuck in a stall, b) lose self-esteem from being lonely, or most likely c) talk to myself incessantly about the towels and the broken doors and make the other patrons inch away and wash their hands twice.
Even if there is no soap.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mommy meltdown

In the midst of a major mommy meltdown this week (snowblower, kids, dogs, mess, little Valentine's all over durn house), I got this email from my 8 year old daughter that she typed on my husband's phone.
And within a few seconds, my mommy meltdown turned into a mommy HEART meltdown...

Dear Mommy
I think you are very very very cool,EVAN when you tell to us to do something we do not do it so you yell at us.
People at school like you,*Bob, Laura, and Peter and more people too think you are AWESOME!!!! I LOVE you so so so so so much that I can not even say how much!!!!
One question :What is your favortive type of coffee?
Your favortive daughter, Ellie Ellen F. McAllister
P.S. You are very very very SWEET !!!
You are also very very very NICE!!!

*names changed... :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Hall of Crazed Animals

My youngest daughter has just entered the age when she is now able to attend the local story hour that involves making a craft. Week after week we will attend until the amount of painted and glued projects she has creatively designed rival that of the most prolific artist and, of course, her siblings.
Even without her new additions, I have accumulated more pieces than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined with two older children who are story hour and preschool graduates. And each piece of art is something special, something unique, and something truly and honestly kid produced. With their own tiny hands, they have concocted some of the world’s most disturbed art and not wanting to throw anything away, I have turned to slathering the walls of my basement stairs with their projects.
We’ve got pumpkins with more glitter than pumpkin. There’s a cutout of one of the kids (not sure which one) that has one giant eye and one tiny one, like it’s winking at me each time I go downstairs. There are owls and flowers that strangely look identical, and a few that look like owls and flowers and are definitely not.
My most favorite piece of art, however, is one that my two older children worked on together, as a team. They were given shapes of construction paper and glue sticks and I gave them basic instructions on how to assemble a beaver. Chubby cheeks, buck teeth, and cartoonish eyes, the beaver should have been adorable.
Should have.
It’s amazing how placing pieces off-center can really change the look of an animal, losing the all important laws of symmetry. This poor beaver had eyes at two different levels and eyeballs pointing in very unnatural directions. Its mouth was way too high and its teeth way too long. From any angle you looked at the critter, you swore it was going to come to life, chew off your nose, and give you rabies.
And it was beautiful. Because they made them themselves.
I have since come to call it the Crazy Beaver Rule when attending any kind of art class with my children. Because guaranteed, there’s at least one overzealous parent who wants to make sure their kids’ art is better than the rabid one my kid is making. I watch out of the corner of my crazy beaver eye at the mom who squeezes the child’s hand as she writes his name. She readjusts the pieces he glues and go as far as to add doodles and embellishments of her own. Then the coup de grace, she’ll hold it up and say “Daddy is going to love this! You did a great job!”
And I tuck my buck teeth back into my lip because yeah, if I made a piece of art designed for the ability of a two-year-old, it’d be pretty awesome, too.
Instead, I stand back and proudly let my children scribble their names backwards if at all, and have their way with their art.
My daughter’s first art project at the library is a fish. The tail is glued together completely wrong and is positioned more like a dorsal fin. The fish itself, fashioned from a small paper plate, looks like it swam through a body of water recovering from an oil spill. Blue paint is involved, but not in any way that it really was intended, and what was once an eye has now been replaced by a big blob of dried glitter.
And it is beautiful.
It goes without saying that our blind, oily, propellerless fish now hangs proudly in the hall of crazed animals, front and center, just as it should be. Only this one doesn’t wink at me when I go downstairs, and I’m quite thankful that fish can’t have rabies.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Shoveling snow, oatmeal bread, and the white chili of the day

There are few things better than waking up to 17" of snow like we did on Saturday. In fact, the only better thing would have been waking up to 17" of snow on a weekday, and wondering if the snow day dance really did work.
But when you are snowed in, you naturally turn to homey warm things. I know this because it seems all of my facebook friends were making soup, taking naps, cuddling in with a good book, or for the unfortunate few, shoveling out their driveways.
I figured if we were going to be in all day, the house better smell good, and at the first chance I had I whipped out one of my favorite recipes, Oatmeal Bread. (recipe follows.)
The house was smelling sweet, we all ate enough warm bread and butter to overbloat our stomachs, and I thought chili would be the perfect end to a long play session out in the snow. And there was no way we could not go in the snow-- it was a picture perfect afternoon.

When the forts were all built, the sledding hill completely tuckered us out, and the sun took its last look at the winter wonderland for the day, we all came inside. The children at something boxed and gross, but the rest of us dined on a concoction that I totally threw together with ingredients on hand (normally the best recipes!) because there was no way in the world anyone was going to brave going to the store.

Did I mention a city plow/salt truck got stuck in front of our house?
And with the drying clanging dry the coats, pants, hats, gloves, and socks, we ate chicken chili...

In a dutch oven, heat a little oil and cook together:
1.5 pounds diced chicken breasts
1 big ol' onion
a few jalepeno rings
2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2- 1 cup salsa
2-3 gloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
cumin, to taste
chili powder, to taste.
Put the lid on, turn it on low, and head out in the snow. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a box of tissues because depending on how many jalapenos you put it, this stuff will clean out your nose!
A rather fiery way to end a cold day with the warmth of a homey house.

Oatmeal Bread

1 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
5 cups Bread Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the oats, butter, salt, molasses, brown sugar and boiling water, and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. Mix in 2 cups of the flour and the yeast, and beat for 2 minutes, by electric mixer. Gradually add the remaining 3 cups of flour, mixing all the while, till a cohesive dough forms.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured or lightly greased work surface, and knead to form a smooth, elastic dough, adding flour only as necessary to prevent unbearable sticking. Place the dough in lightly greased bowl, cover with damp towel, and let it rise till doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough, divide it in half, and shape each half into a log. Place the logs in two lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans, cover the pans, and let rise till doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Bob Evans Rap

I can't tell you exactly why, but the kids and I love to eat at Bob Evans. My husband does not. So any chance we have to dine out when he's not around, it's where we go.
Tonight was one such occasion and we all had a little case of the sillies. The result is below. Note that the "K" stands for me, the "T" for my son (6), and the "E" for my daughter (8).

And Mr. Evans, if you're out there and want us to rap this for your commercial, we'd be happy to.

The Bob Evans Rap
by Karrie and Co.

K: I was feeling kind of hungry with my family,
So we made a beeline for the B-O-B.

T: The what?
E: The what?
K: The B-O-B. 'Cause we like to eat at the B-O-B.
T: The Bob
E: The Bob
K: At the Bob Evans

K: We pulled into the lot and to tell the truth,
They seated us right at our favorite booth.
Lemonade with curly straws is their favorite thing,
And Bob's hot fresh coffee makes my heart sing!

T: It's time
E: It's time
K: It's time to place our order

K: Chicken strips and french fries are the same old ballad,
E: I'll take the turkey lurkey and a SIDE OF SALAD!!
K: Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, any time of day,
It's the best restaurant in the U.S.A!

T: The what?
E: The what?
K: The B-O-B
T: The Bob
E: The Bob
K: Bob Evans!

T: [closes out beat boxing, "ba-ba-ba-ba Bob Evans..."]

Alright, Bob, do we have a deal? :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Last-minute Groundhog Day treat

Yep, it's as easy as a craft stick, some clipart, and a doughnut.
The good part is that my kid has kindergarten snack on Groundhog Day, and I'm sending in enough giant doughnuts (and groundhogs) for everyone.
The even better part is that they are going to have a sub. Haha! Nothing better than subbing a class full of sugar-high kindergartners!

C'mon, shadow!
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