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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The allure of puppy breath

What has four legs, a lot of fuzz, and the power to melt your heart in a matter of seconds? I’ll give you a clue. It’s also the same thing that has a wet nose and the ability to say “take me home I promise to love you and will try not to hardly ever pee on your carpet” without even being able to speak anything besides a high-pitched “arf.”

Man’s best friend is a curious creature, and as much as I will deny it, my whole body turned to lovey dovey goo when we walked in to the pet store and she and I locked our dark brown eyes.

I tried to look away, and in fact I did. I walked around and looked at the other dogs and I laughed at the bitty puppy treats that looked fancier than anything I would serve myself and the jeweled collars and gold studded doggie attire. As a person used to large outside dogs, a little fluffy foo-foo pup was uncharted territory. So it was rather odd that I found myself pining for that little puff of a mutt who must have hypnotized me with her puppy stare.

Like most people, we were not intending on buying a dog that day. In the future, yes. Near future, even, once the weather warmed a bit and we were past the chores of spring. We knew it was time for us to get a second dog for many reasons. For one, our other girl tends to act her elderly age, the most “running” and “playing” she does is wag her tail while getting up to mosey to her food dish. But mostly we thought our kids are just about the right age for a puppy, being capable of letting it out and keeping its dish full. In exchange for their hard work, they’d get the pleasure of teeth sinking into their hands and the smell of puppy breath up against their noses while the softest fur in the world rubbed against their cheeks.

But I’m not that na├»ve to think that my children will be the sole caretakers of this new puppy who has entered our lives. I know full well that this mama has taken on the raising of yet another child, all three or so pounds of her little Lucy Brown self. (My kids love with the song “Mack the Knife” and while they don’t really understand the gruesome lyrics, they love to sing “…and old Luuuucy Brown…” at top decibels.)

And even though she weighs barely anything and is so small you’re libel to step on her or mistake her for a lone slipper, Lucy has been using her power to take over my life as if she were a real baby instead of just a puppy.

My husband takes the late night potty break, and I take the early morning shift. I carefully measure and mix her tiny puppy food and keep all of her toys lined up and ready for our playtime. I even went as far as to buy her a teeny sweater because, as I defended to my husband, “there’s still just a bit of chill in the air.” His reply was the largest eye roll known to mankind. And probably dogkind, too.

This mini furball has naptime, bedtime, and has gotten more potty training attention than my own human children ever did, although my kids never had the nerve to squat in the middle of the carpet while looking directly at me as if to say “you took me home and I love you but I’m so cute you won’t hate me for stinking up your family room.”

Because really, she is that cute. And if I can potty train three humans, surely I can handle a little puff of fluff and have a stern hand even if my heart is just a melty pile of goo.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Springing to Spring Clean

When spring starts springing, we humans start cleaning. Or at least we’re supposed to—that’s what history, biology, and society has taught us over the last few thousand years.

But if you really want to know why we get a little crazy with the rags and buckets come these first few mildly warmer days, you have to look deep into the encyclopedias. You know, they’re there on the shelf with all of the other books collecting dust.

Back in the way long ago, people warmed their homes with wood and coal heat. Their only light source was candle or fuel lamp. And certainly they didn’t have air filters and those handy quick mops that squirt out their own cleaning liquid.

Traditionally on the first warm, dry day, furniture was moved outside and a brigade of scrubbers went to town on walls, floors, and everything in between, scrubbing off a measurable reside of ash, wax, and filth.

Religiously, the preparations for the Easter season required getting ready for guests to arrive. (For some, this might mean finally taking down the Christmas lights or sweeping up the vicious needles from the tree that still linger in the most inconvenient places.)

Biologically, some say that the concept of spring cleaning is based on the extended hours of daylight. If we as animals are directly impressionable by the nature around us, the lack of sunlight makes us produce less of some fancy chemical which puts us into what I like to call “the winter slumber” and makes me really wish we did a little hibernating instead of spending months being grumpy and shoveling driveways.

But apparently some people believe that because we are so sleepy we actually don’t care about the pitiful, dirty state of our house. All we want to do is take a nap, read books, and eat soup, which makes perfect sense to me.

And then, once real daylight hits and we can walk outside without being bundled in fourteen layers and slipping on ice or frozen mud, suddenly our life awakens! We start caring about the way everything looks and feels and realize that our family has been making bodily odors inside the confines of our houses for literally months with no way for the vapors to escape.

And that’s why I spring clean.

Granted, it takes a little more than a bucket of Murphy’s Oil Soap to wash away the damage done by even one of my children after a season of calling cauliflower their favorite vegetable. But in due time, even the last of it will be released from this stink of a jail.

It goes beyond just that. There is a layer of road salt and cinders that starts at our garage door in an uncalled for thickness that then dissipates to every corner of the house. There’s also a huge pile of snow clothes that extends equally as far, consisting of musty smelling mismatched gloves and a few socks that have become so stiff you could use them to scrape up some of the cinders that have embedded themselves into our floors. There are boots and jackets all stained from leaning against a car and random snowman decorations that have been overlooked, and enough dust covering everything to make you wonder where it all really comes from.

That leads us up to this week, the beginning of a season and the most perfect time for opening the windows and blowing out the stench of root vegetables and moldy socks because before we know it, we’ll be complaining about summer heat and letting in the flies.

So raise your mops, your rags, your dusters, in honor of another year of spring cleaning. No matter your reasons for letting out the old and wiping down the new, I leave you with this new snazzy and much-needed proverb:

May your bucket be full,

Your floors spic and span,

And don’t fall off the ladder

While you’re dusting the fan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Dangers of a Mom-Mobile

I would be smarter than to stick my hand in the crack of the seat of my car. I am fully aware of the myriad of mysteries that end up in that section where the horizontal and the vertical part meet, where everything that was once on the top of the seat gets pushed to or creeps along by its own will.

My husband, not so much. Which was why it I could barely drive for laughing so hard at what took place when he slid into the passenger seat.

I’m not sure what inspired him to reach in there blindly in the first place, but when he cried out in pain I bet he rethought his action.

“Ouch! Something sharp is in here!” he said, clasping his finger, which was cut so much that it was bleeding a bit.

He was probably thinking it was a decorative pin from a bag or a defunct paperclip. It might even be a sharpened pencil. That would make sense to the average person. However, to a mom, these would be anything but reasonable. So when he reached back in to fish out the dangerous culprit, I was not surprised to find out it was the crusty end of a granola bar.

Yes. A dehydrated healthy snack cut my husband’s finger.

I was laughing for a number of reasons. First of all, he stuck his hand in the black hole of a mom-mobile, something I wouldn’t do if my life depended on it. Secondly, of all the things on which to cut yourself, it was a granola bar and not one of the forty-five thousand French fry tips that are splayed in every crevice of my vehicle. (Those things are pretty dangerous, too. Beware.)

But the funniest thing about the entire episode was that he couldn’t understand how I could let my car get so dirty.

As if I really have a choice.

As if I really enjoy opening the door on a warm day and curling up my nose and wrinkling my lips at the fragrance wafting out, a sweet combination of spilled milk and wet dog with just a hint of sweaty kid who really should have had a bath last night.

As if I really like it when we swing through a fast food restaurant on a busy night and have to eat en route to the next event of the day. As if I encourage them to get the little vats of ranch dressing and fling those treacherous little sharp ends of fries around the car.

As if I really like it when we need to sit in the car for hours on end during one child’s practice and emit odors and create a ridiculous amount of trash that appears out of nowhere.

Because really, I’m here to tell you, I don’t like it.

I’d love to have a car like my husband, a nice clean car that compared to the real world would appear as a four star restaurant with linen tablecloths and fragile glass sculptures and open flames on every table. His car is neat, organized, and his seats don’t have layers of stains that could be potentially be used for radioactive dating, should we ever have the need. It always has a pleasant odor and never ever have I opened the door and thought I was sticking my face directly into a gym shoe of a Saint Bernard.

My car, on the other hand, wouldn’t be a restaurant at all because the health department would surely shut it down. There is trash on the floor and something sticky on the back of the seats. But for all the filth, the seats are well broken in and it is truly a home away from home for my kids. There are books and games in every possible compartment, a week’s worth of food cached away, and a large supply of hand sanitizer. This car is comfy and most definitely lived-in. Not only that, but it also is well-stocked with everything we could ever possibly need.

If you get hungry, there is bound to be something better than the granola bar in the passenger seat. But if that’s all you find, there are Band-Aids in the glove box.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Two good rules of life

Today I’d like to add two rules to my ever-growing list of life lessons.

One: You can never have enough tote bags.

Two: You can never have enough cook books.

In a life of general chaos, I like to convince myself that I can compartmentalize things if I store them all in their own separate bags. This is sometimes handy, but sometimes just means that 90% of my possessions are at the bottom of a big canvas tote with a mess of crumbs and randomness. (Today I found my measuring cup in a bag with vinegar and six pairs of scissors.)

And while I stand by my fetish for tote bags, I admit they sometimes can be excessive and unreliable.

This all leads me to rule number two, which unfortunately comes with a caveat. There is definitely an excess of unreliable cookbooks out there. I should know- I’ve got a tote bag full of lousy ones clogging up the basement. But there is one special type of cookbook that never fails, and you can rarely have too many of. I’m speaking of none other than the infamous fund-raising church cookbook.

For decades if not centuries, men and women have gathered their most beloved recipes and assembled them in generic categories. Between each section is a page of quips or tips to entertain the reader as they pour through the recipes, each hand-typed (at some point) and bound together by a plastic spiral that seems to stand the test of time, rolling pins, and hot stoves.

Submitters offer their old favorites with new and enticing names. Clever and quick-witted, a brief flip through a church cookbook might reveal Sombrero Party Dip (microwave) or Mom’s Fresh Dressing. These are not to be outdone by such specialties as Delores’ Cheesecake or Dreamy Pudding Pillows, something that makes me both hungry and sleepy all at the same time.

Ingredients are listed, often with side notes put in like, “I use oleo” or “This is great for leftover turkey!” and directions that sound like your neighbor down the street is explaining it over the phone.

And there, in plain ink at the bottom of the recipe, is a name. It’s the name of a person willing to claim the results of whatever came before it, good or bad. It’s the name of a person willing to share a potentially secret family recipe, and put out there, in black and white, their eating habits. And some of them aren’t the prettiest, I must say. Thankfully you have options. Take for example, beef strognanoff, listed on pages 41 through 43 of a favorite cookbook. Not only is there Beef Stroganoff, there’s also Tasty Beef Stroganoff and Easy Beef Strognanoff. So many choices, there’s surely something to please everyone’s palate.

The favorite cookbook that I speak of is one that has been in my family for generations. I was never sure what the cover looked like because while the plastic spiral binding was intact, the heavy card stock was long gone. It contains recipes from my great aunt’s church in a suburb of Cleveland where I grew up. Half of the names on the pages end in “-ski” or have an 8:1 consonant to vowel ratio, and a good number of the recipes I can’t quite pronounce.

My great aunt gave me one of her copies when my husband and I were first married. Inside, she has checked off some of her favorite recipes, and whether they are marked because of the actual food or the person who submitted it, I may never know. I’m not sure of when the book was actually distributed, but I have a sinking feeling that so many of those people are no longer with us. Delores may be serving her cheesecake in a better place, for all I know.

What I do know is that in the front cover, my great aunt wrote the following: “Family fun, good times in store. And so much to be thankful for.” Those words are most definitely reliable, not remotely excessive, and will never, in a million cookbooks, end up in a tote bag.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Creole chicken = Fattest Tuesday ever.

This year because life with involved children is absolutely nutso, we celebrated Fat Tuesday on Monday. I made a dash for king cake and paczkis after dropping the kids off at school, and then between everything else ran to the grocery store to buy ingredients for what has become my FAVORITE SLOW COOKER DISH IN THE WORLD.
Probably the universe.
(I have thrown out slow cooker meals because congealed yuck makes me want to congeal yuck of my own.)

It just so happens that it's a perfect dish for celebrating Mardi Gras, or really anything. Next week I might just celebrate Thursday. Or sunshine. Or waking up.

Paired with plastic beads, zydeco music, and king cake (the paczkis are for breakfast tomorrow!), this has been the best Fat Tuesday on a Monday I've ever had.

And so, I urge you all to celebrate something, sometime soon. This rocks.

Fat Monday Creole Chicken

1 pack boneless, skinless chicken thigs
1 pound polish kielbasa, cut into bite sized pieces
5-6 green onions, chopped
1 can (6oz.) tomato paste
1 can petite diced tomatoes (14 oz)
pinch of salt
pepper to taste
a few dashes of Tobasco
cajun seasoning (such as Luzianne)

In a slow cooker, place chicken thighs. Sprinkle with cajun seasoning. Dump in the kielbasa, the green onions, tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, Tobasco. Cook on low for 4-5 hours, or high for less time. (You know your slow cooker better than I do.)

Prepare rice as you normally do. Serve the creole chicken over the rice.

From the taste testers:
"This is the best Mardi Gras in the entire world."
"Do I have to eat the tomatoes?"
"I ate so much I think I'm going to blow up, but I'll have just a little more." (This was me, groaning in delight.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Enter: The Twid

It used to be simple, but long gone are those days, and now seems to be the time for dividing children into elaborately named age groups. From baby to toddler, and then it’s off to being an actual “kid” before morphing into the awkward and frustrating world teenagers.

The latest addition to the age division is the “tween,” an appropriately named stage that falls between being a kid and a teenager. The Tween of today is caught in a world of frustration, somewhere in a gray area where his or her body, brain, and emotions just aren’t quite sure where they should be. But Tweens have their own music and television genre, so it’s not all bad.

Being a parent of younger children, I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between the transitional stage of the Tween and the generally stressful life of a three year old. And so, it is with great pride that I coin my own new stage of life.

The Twid.

Not quite Toddler, not quite Kid, the Twid is the in between time when your brain and body might be in communication, but neither of them is in touch with the outside world.

The Twid evolves from the Toddler, a lovely small person who enjoys simple things like dinosaurs and dolls without names and clothes that cost more than mine do. Toddlers won’t eat a variety of foods, but their brains are still fuzzy and warm enough to not really know the difference. Parents can dress their Toddlers in whimsical clothes and take them out. If Toddlers have observations, they aren’t quite articulate enough to get them out.

All of this starts to change when the child becomes a full-blown Twid.

Twids are easy to spot. They exhibit some very specific characteristics, making them tug on your heartstrings and make your blood pressure rise all in the same breath. One of the most common characteristics is something called Dress Yourself Thursday (or Friday, or any other day of the week). Fashion is not a naturally occurring talent, and Twids are not yet ready to face that fact. They operate on the assumption that green is green and therefore matches anything green (or blue, rainbow, or hot pink) and if they can successfully put it on, it’s a great outfit. Look for Twids wearing Halloween costumes in the Spring, snow boots in the summer, and four layers of shorts and tank tops come Winter.

Twids are also exceptionally picky eaters, mostly because they have now become quite skilled in expressing how they feel about certain foods, and have the ability to keep expressing how they feel until the weary parent gives in.

Their decision-making skills don’t stop at clothes or food, they also project their newly formed and nonsensical opinions into every part of their day, because this is what their Twid brains are telling them to do. Confused and determined, the Twid has been known to call siblings such things as “big doo-doo head” and wave his or her hands with great expression saying things that make so sense whatsoever before storming off in a huff, only to return in thirty seconds and ask for a glass of milk.

They also use their ability to speak to make observations in public, pointing out every embarrassing flaw in you or anyone else you happen to meet. Proud of their thoughts and memory, Twids will gladly tell a stranger your worst habits and then point out that their eyebrows are reeeeeealllly big.

All of these traits leave the parents of a Twid wondering a few things. When will this stage of Twid end? When will this child understand reason and tact? Were the terrible two’s really that bad? And how could the Tween years be any worse than dragging a sobbing child who wanted candy for dinner out of a public place while wearing sparkly shoes, camouflage clothes, and a tutu?

Ask any parent who has survived raising a Twid and they’ll tell you that this too shall pass. And when it does, you’ll hold up that tiny tutu and smile, and a part of you will really miss those twerrible and tworturing days of Twid.

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