Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oz

Some time ago, the kids discovered the Wizard of Oz. And they fell in love with it. The characters, the story and the lessons that it teaches. I have to confess that it is one of my all time favorite movies. I love it. Always have. When I was a kid, it was only on a couple times a year, and I tried to make sure that I watched it.

A few months ago, we started talking about Halloween costumes. Halloween, like just about every other holiday on the calendar, is a big deal around here. Costume planning starts early. I've not once found myself trolling the aisles at the store the day before. By then, we've been planning for weeks if not months.

At first, the kids wanted to do a Harry Potter theme. Tom was opposed to it for whatever reason, and the girls kept arguing about which one of them would get to be Hermione. Tom pushed pretty hard for Star Wars, but the girls didn't seem too enamored with the idea. Then he tried to convince me that the kids were getting too old to do themed costumes. Just one more year, I begged. One night, in the middle of a heated discussion about costumes, we stumbled upon the movie. On TV just then, like it was a sign. My mind was made up.

Ally picked Dorothy early on in the process, and Ashley initially wanted to be Glinda the Good Witch. We tried to convince Tom to be the Scarecrow, but he dug in his heels, refusing to play along. Fine, we said. Ash volunteered to be the Scarecrow. Aidan was crazy excited about being the Tin Man. And AJ was anointed the Lion, though he really could care less. The kids all decided that I should be the Wicked Witch of the West.

For weeks, Aidan asked me every day after school if we could go to the store. He wanted to start on his costume. Problem was, I needed to figure out how to make it first. We ended up constructing the Tin Man for less than $10. Shiny silver duct tape, posterboard and a funnel. Aidan is now the biggest fan of duct tape.

Grandma Kathi got roped in to help, and she did a fantastic job on Dorothy's dress. Really, she is the one that helped start the whole thing when she bought Ally a pair of red glittery shoes. I found a basket we had and Ash dug out a tiny little stuffed Toto from the mountain of stuffed animals in her closet.

The Scarecrow took a bit of forethought as well, mostly because finding denim overalls isn't as easy as it should be. I had to buy them used online. After looking at every store in town, we found a green plaid shirt. The patches and her hat I made out of burlap, and the straw is made from Aidan's old valence in his room.

I lucked out completely with the Lion. I found it on sale, and had a coupon, so it ended up costing me less than $10. Plus, it was one less costume that had to be made. Mine was easy too. I already had a witch costume, and just needed some green face paint.

And then there was the matter of what to do with Tom. He lost his chance to be the Scarecrow, since that roll had been assumed by Ashley. The kids really, really wanted him to dress up too, but what was left? The Wizard, but he didn't want to be the Wizard. One mention of a flying monkey, and the kids unanimously agreed that was what he needed to be. Of course, it took weeks to wear him down. The kids practically begged. And finally, he caved.

His costume took me about a week to put together, but it will be one that everyone will always remember. There isn't anymore gold rick rack in town, I think I bought all of it. At school last night and at the parade today, I can't even tell you how many people would stop and realize what we had done. Usually, they saw Aidan first, since he's kinda hard to miss being a huge shiny silver can. Then they'd notice the other kids. And then they would see us. The parents. The one with a tail and a mohawk and wings. And they would laugh. And my dear husband, embarrassed at first, seemed to grow to like his costume. He learned to embrace the monkey. And he took one for the team.

If I'm ever going to top this year, I'm going to have to start planning a whole lot earlier next year. Here's to hoping for willing participants, ample time for construction and a great idea. There are only 364 days until the next Halloween.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Martha

I just about lost it last night when we were carving pumpkins. Somehow I had not noticed that Tom cut the bottoms off of them instead of the tops when he was cleaning them out. I was probably busy doing something else and not entirely paying attention. It wasn't until I started helping Ally carve hers that I realized the difference. And he excitedly asked me if I thought it was a great idea. You can put the candle on the bottom, then replace the pumpkin on top instead of trying to cram your arm inside with a lit candle from the top. Okay, I thought. Makes sense, I guess. And then he confessed where he got the idea from. Martha. As in Stewart.

He's been home a little more than normal lately, between taking a random day off and the weather. Not that I am complaining. But he watches some funky stuff on TV. He loves Let's Make a Deal and The Price is Right. I forsee watching a tremendous amount of game shows when we are retired. And, apparently, he likes Martha. Not that there is anything wrong with that. After all, I was watching it with him yesterday morning, in awe of some of the costumes she had on the show. But then he fessed up. It wasn't on yesterday's show. It was from a few days ago. He was watching it when I wasn't even around.

As it turns out, it is a pretty good idea. The pumpkins came out good, and it is a whole lot easier to light the candles this way. That Martha....she knows her stuff. And I never would have guessed that my husband is a fan. ;)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lick

My dear husband got another year older yesterday. It's an inevitable part of life, and not always a pleasant one. But, at least it's one that comes with cake. So, it's not all bad. He knows all too well that he got to pick what I made for dinner and the kind of cake that was made. Considering the amount of plate scraping and spoon licking that occurred yesterday, I'd have to say that they both were enjoyed.

Tom has a short list of things that he will always choose if we are at a restaurant or if he gets to pick what it being made for dinner. Last night, his choice was a predictable one. Chicken parmigiana. He should have been Italian. I've made it for him many times before, but I changed how I cooked it last night and it turned out better than ever before. It's even better than I've ever had at an Italian restaurant.

For his cake, there really was no question. The man loves all that is chocolate. He wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I found a recipe that uses buttermilk, and decided to give it a shot. The frosting was a huge hit, as you can see from the pictures below. Warning: Do not make this cake unless you really, really, really love chocolate.


Happy Birthday honey. I love you.


Chicken Parmigiana
  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put butter in 13X9 baking dish, melt in the oven. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Combine dry ingredients in a shallow flat dish. Using tongs, dip chicken in melted butter, then coat with crumb mixture. Place back in baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

I serve with cooked pasta and sauce. My personal favorite is the quattro formagio sauce from the Archer Farms brand at Target. I should get money for plugging this sauce as much as I do. It's that good. I add a can of drained finely diced tomatoes to the sauce and heat.

Chocolate Overload Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (can make it with 1 tbsp vinegar, then add milk to make desired amount, let set for a few minutes to thicken)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Combine all ingredients. Mix on low for one minute, then on high for 5 minutes. Pour batter into two 9 inch round, greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Assemble and frost when cooled.

Spoon-licking chocolate frosting

  • 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk

Melt chocolate chips and shortening together. (Using double boiler or microwave) Do not overheat. Add sugar and milk, stirring until fully combined and fluffy. Use to fill and frost cake. Make sure you leave some in the bowl. Let the spoon fighting begin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stuffed

I really don't mean to boast, but I happen to make the best stuffing in the known world. It's really nothing fancy. There isn't anything even remotely gourmet about it. It's not a recipe that has ever been featured in a cookbook or magazine. It's one that has been passed down for generations and still uses all the same ingredients today as it probably did a century ago.

I don't particularly like stuffing. Well, I should rephrase that. I don't much like other stuffing. I adore mine though. Have never found anything else that anyone else has ever made that is anywhere near as good. It's that good.

If you are stressed about having a house full of people for the holidays and need another dish, try this one. The best part about it is that you make it ahead. I make mine the night before I serve it, and reheat it before dinner. It's even better after it sits for a couple days.

I apologize if the recipe isn't perfect. Trouble is that I've made it for so many years that I don't use a recipe at all. Quite frankly, I could make it in my sleep. And it took a bit for me to think about what goes into it. I have a team of designated taste testers, and we rely on our senses to tell us when it's done. It's not a science. There is room to fudge it. And really, if you feel compelled to modify it, go right ahead. I won't be offended.

The Best Stuffing in the Universe
  • 2 loaves of cheap store brand white bread, a few days old
  • 6-8 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 containers of fresh button mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
  • 2-3 onions, diced
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  • sea salt
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • sage
  • poultry seasoning

Place bread on large cookie sheets and dry out in oven until edges are crisp. It takes about an hour with the oven between 225-250 to do this. Rotate and flip to get all the edges crisp. Combine mushrooms, celery and onions in butter in a large saucepan, uncovered. Simmer on low for about an hour, until all vegetables are quite soft.

Tear dried bread into pieces, about 1-2 inches. You want some bigger and some smaller. Put into a very large bowl. I only start out using about a loaf and a half, saving the rest for later if I need more bread. Add butter and vegetables, mixing thoroughly. Add 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp sage and 1 tsp poultry seasoning. Combine, and taste. Chances are that you will want to add more salt than anything else. If it is too wet, add more dried bread. If it is too dry (and it will soak up the butter as it refrigerates), add either melted butter or chicken stock by the tablespoon until it has the consistency you desire.

Cover finished stuffing and refrigerate overnight. Place desired amount in a covered shallow baking dish and heat in the oven at 350 for about an hour prior to serving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Envy

Though it is not something I am proud of, there have been times in my life that I have been envious of others. The girls with clear skin. The ones with naturally curly beautiful hair. The women with uncomplicated, easy pregnancies. And her. The mom.

When Aidan first started going to preschool, he was barely two. It was a city sponsored program, and the enrollment in the class seemed to change every single session. There were never the same group of kids, though there were always a few that stuck around each time. There was a little boy in his class, and for the life of me I can't remember what his name was. The only thing I can remember for sure was that his name had to have started with an A. He had three siblings, and they all had A names.

At the time, Ashley was a baby. I was going to school three nights a week, dealing with a colicky baby, and completing my training to become a doula. I was tired and overwhelmed and more than a little frustrated most of the time. Aidan was a runner, Ashley was a crier. And I was constantly chasing one or quieting the other. Or both.

Then I saw her. This kid's mom. She had one older daughter, the boy in Aidan's class and two younger kids. And she was so calm. And peaceful. And nurturing. Rather than get frustrated with the messes her kids made, she would lovingly teach them how to use the broom and dustpan. How to work together. They sang while they cleaned up. It was nauseating, really. But I was envious of her. She was "just" a stay at home mom, and she really seemed to love it. I, on the other hand, was chasing a career I knew was slipping away and trying to squeeze too much into every day while simultaneously raising two babies.

Fast forward a few years, to about this time last year. AJ was teeny tiny still, in the sling one morning at drop-off at school. And one of the moms at school made a comment to me, one that I really hadn't thought much about. She said that I was so calm. I was so peaceful. I wasn't frazzled and rushed. I really knew my kids, and I dealt with them in a gentle and loving way. And she wanted to know how I managed to do that with four kids. Then it dawned on me. I had become that mom.

It's not something that I think happened overnight. A large part of it had to do with me and my stubbornness. Though being at home might not have been where I ever envisioned myself, and it might not be where I will stay forever, it is where I am now. And I had to make my peace with that. I had to stop trying to do everything, holding on to the delusion that I was ever going to be what I thought I was going to be and be a mom at the same time. It just isn't possible. I can't do everything. And what I am doing now, with my children, is far more important than any job ever could be. I've learned to embrace domesticity. I've learned to love it.

A big part of the change also, I think, has to do with the reality of having more than a couple of kids. I can't micromanage every little detail about their lives. It just can't happen. I can't spend time worrying about the little stuff. There is a lot of knowledge that comes from having a lot of kids. For instance, I know already that if AJ becomes a biter, like his big brother did, that it will just be a phase. He will outgrow it, it has nothing to do with my abilities as a mother, and he will be fine. I won't bother preoccupying myself with worry about it, like I did when I only had Aidan to think about. I've got too much else going on, and I've been through it before. It's easier to over analyze everything when you only have one or two kids.

I've learned to effectively multitask. I've learned that kids are messy, and to some degree, my house won't stay clean for many years to come. I've learned that it is easier to help them do something than to insist that they do it alone. And I've realized how fast they grow up, how quickly they change. And I have realized that I need to stop and enjoy every second that I can, no matter how much else there is to do. I've learned to help them grab that broom and learn how to clean up their messes together.

I am that mom. And I'm just fine with it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pondering

I am currently pondering many things on this Monday morning. Not all good, not all bad. Not all are things I wish to ponder. Some I have no choice but to.

I am trying to devise a more efficient way to do laundry. I loathe doing it every single day, but if I wait more than two or three days, I have mountains and mountains of it. As I write this, there is a pile spilling out into the family room. Last week was busier than usual, and I have a lot of catching up to do. Before it takes over then entire downstairs, anyway.

I am trying to figure out how to finish the last of the greatest Halloween costumes of all time. I think I know how I am going to do it, now I am just hoping that it works. We'll see.

I am debating whether AJ needs to go back to the doctor. He had the flu and has been coughing for weeks. But it's not just a dry hacking cough, it's got gusto. A little more than I like. I wish he would just get better. Then I wouldn't have to be worrying so much all the time about the little guy. If it wasn't for the fact that he loves to smear me with snot and pull my hair almost constantly, I'd be more concerned. But he's acting exactly the way that a gross 14 month old boy should. So, I'm not too worried.

I can't help but sit and think about what I was doing exactly 10 years ago today. I was sitting in a waiting room, my husband's ring on my necklace, feeling all too suddenly grown-up and vulnerable. Cancer had invaded my life, and from that point forward things would never be the same.

And I can't help but sit here and wait again today. I am trying so desperately to keep myself busy, to stay occupied with other things. It's all I can do to not worry about that which I cannot control.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lucky

As hard of a time as I may give my husband sometimes, he is really a great guy. He's a wonderful father. And he's being a really good sport this year. You will all understand exactly what I mean in a week or so. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Busy

I'm busy today, so this is going to be short. I'm drowning in burlap and duct tape and puffy paint. Halloween is coming, and it's going to be good. Just wait. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ocean

across an ocean today

a little girl opens her eyes

to see the world

for the very first time

happy birthday macy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cider

There are certainly several ways that one can enjoy the deliciousness of apple cider. My personal favorite is hot, infused with cinnamon and spiked with spiced rum. Warm happiness. Plus, you get the added benefit of warming up the house with the sweet smell of apples.

Though it was far from a hit with my husband and children, I recently made a soup that uses apple cider as one of it's ingredients. I thought it was fantastic, but the kids thought it was weird to have soup that tasted sweet. Tom took fault with the consistency of it - he likes his soup thick and chunky. You know, like in the commercials. Smooth and refined don't interest him. He could care less about teasing out the flavors of intertwined goodness. Mostly though, he's just tired of soup right now.

So, here it is. Only bother with it if you aren't opposed to a soup with a hint of sweetness. If you need chunks in your soup, give it a pass. But if you are looking for something new and different, try it out.

Apple Cider Soup
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • medium onion, finely diced
  • one butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of ground cloves

In a shallow pan, boil the cider. Cook until it reduces to about one cup. While the cider is reducing, saute onions in butter in large stockpot until transparent. Add squash, apples, broth, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until squash is tender. Remove bay leaves, then scoop out the squash and apples. Run through a blender or food processor (not too much at a time, remember it's hot!). Return to pot and add cider, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Heat through.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Equal

One of the most amazing things about this great nation of ours is that we were founded by people who were wise. They eloquently wrote about concepts like freedom and equality and liberty and justice. They shaped the foundation of our laws to hold these virtues among the highest, those worth fighting to defend.

These virtues, after all, are what brought people here. Immigrants crossed oceans for them. People left everything they knew behind for them. They came here for hope. For promise. For fairness. And yet, if you take a look around you now, my friends, what they came here in search of is missing somehow. This great nation of ours isn't as great as it was intended to be.

The freedom of religion that brought those first settlers here is missing. Sure you can choose what religion you wish to practice. But that choice often comes with a price. If you are a high school basketball player and your team makes it to the state tournament here, you'd better hope you aren't Jewish. The games are on Saturday. It troubled me greatly that those involved with the tournament planning breathed a collective sigh of relief when the team didn't advance and they didn't have to confront the issue. It troubled me even more that if the games were on Sunday, and Christian teams cited a conflict, the games would have been moved. That conflict couldn't arise though, they don't play on Sunday. Perhaps for that very reason.

Justice is an elusive concept to a great many people here as well. One example of the failure of our system follows. There are thousands of children in this country today, full blooded American citizens, forced to choose a life here without their deported parents, or a life elsewhere with an intact family. The parents might not be entitled to the full protections of our Constitution, and they might not be able to escape accountability for coming here illegally. But what about the children? I dare you to make an argument to me that an American child, born here, has all the same opportunities in life without their parents. It's preposterous. And yet, our system routinely deports them. And the children must go or stay here, with a tangential family member or be thrust into the foster care system. Who's interpretation of justice are we using?

And then there is the notion of equality. That notion that has been abused and disgraced by many in the past. Those who pushed for segregation, under the guise of equality. Separate but equal was anything but. As much as we may want to believe in racial equality today, the truth tells another story. Just last week, a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple. In the year 2009. Racists still very much walk among us.

As much as a person cannot choose the color of their skin or what country their parents are from, they cannot choose their sexual orientation. I've yet to meet someone who just woke up one morning and decided to be gay. Quite the opposite, I have many more friends who I knew were gay long before they were able to admit it even to themselves. I have friends that I have known were gay since childhood. It is not a choice. I have friends who have been with their partners for years. Who have good jobs, nice homes and have raised well adjusted children. But who cannot be wed in the eyes of the law because they are gay. Because it would deface the idea of marriage, so say some. To them, I ask this: When exactly did straight people figure it out in the first place? I'm pretty sure the divorce rate alone signals that we can't claim success in the area. We sure haven't perfected it. Those with glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

They can't automatically visit their partners in the hospital. They don't automatically get to inherit property. There is a long list of things that you can contract for in a relationship, yes. But there is a list of things that you cannot contract for as well. And even if it was possible to contract for everything in a relationship, so that a union of gay partners could have all the rights and responsibilities as a straight married couple, it would still not be equal. Because one is marriage, the other is not. And you can't compare and apple with an orange and say they are the same.

I have friends in the military, stuck in the middle of a political debate. Should they abolish the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Absolutely. There is no reason that people, those people who serve and defend our nation, should have to hide who they are for fear of institutional repercussions. There needs to be a thorough reexamination of homophobia in the military, starting at the top.

I love my country, don't get me wrong. I just believe that we have moved too far away from what we were supposed to be. What we were intended to be. What could have made us even greater as a people. And we can choose to change that. Or we can choose not to. We can choose to let high school basketball players be excluded from tournaments. We can choose to let children grow up without their parents. We can choose to let racism and homophobia continue. Or we can stand up and say no.

Be a source of change, not someone who perpetuates the status quo. Teach your children what justice, freedom and equality really mean, not just how they manifest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meant

I have a friend who needs a little support these days. She's doubting herself right about now, feeling like she isn't cut out for the work ahead. Life is more complicated for her than it is for most of her cohorts and she's dealing with more than just the task at hand. She's feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.

This is someone that I have known for what seems like forever. We met about twenty years ago and became good friends. We were lab partners and spent a ridiculous amount of time together as a result. And we will always be able to laugh about things that aren't funny to anyone else. Things that would most certainly offend the good sense of most people. Really, you had to be there. KBF forever!

It's been a long, hard road for her to get to where she is today. She's moved cross country to pursue her dreams. She's overcome countless struggles in this life, and she's done so keeping her sense of humor fully intact. She isn't jaded and cynical. She's quite the opposite in fact.

I know it's not easy right now. And it's not going to get easier. If anything, it will only get harder. But you can do this. And you should. If there is anything I can say with certainty this morning, it is this:

This is what you are meant to do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Requirements

I've been to the doctor a lot in the last month. For myself once, but for the kids far more frequently. I've seen every doctor in the practice by now. As much as I love my current pediatrician, she is a part timer. And as much as I totally respect the fact that she truly has a work/life balance and appreciate the value she places on her life away from being a doctor, her availability isn't the greatest. And my kids always seem to get sick on her days off. It's just one of those inevitabilites.

As a result, we are often forced to see whoever is the designated doctor on call for the day. Most of the time, it's okay. Though the other doctors don't know everything about my kids, most of them are fairly capable of figuring it out. And most of them actually listen to me. Most of them realize that I just might know more then anyone else about them because I spend more time with them than anyone else does. Most of them.

There is one doctor in the practice that does none of these things. He's one of those who just knows. And being the lowly parent that I am, lacking in formal medical training of any kind, I am supposed to accept whatever it is that he says as gospel truth. There is no possible way that I could know more than he does about these children. You know, the ones that he has spent less than twenty minutes with cumulatively. Sure, he knows better. Right.

When I called this morning, I expected to be squeezed in with our regular pediatrician. She's normally there Mondays. But not today. Great for her, not so great for me. They aren't taking any chances with pneumonia right now and didn't want to wait until Wednesday to see Ashley. And wouldn't you know it, the doctor I can't stand just had an appointment open up! Talk about luck. Reluctantly I took it. And then I called back. Is there any way I could see the doctor on call? Yes, I will drive 20 minutes to avoid this guy. I've had to see him a few times. But I won't again unless there really and truly isn't another option. I dislike him that much.

You'd think that there should be certain requirements for a pediatrician. Liking children would rank pretty high on the list. And I'm not convinced that he likes them at all. Maybe he just doesn't like mine. Though my kids are always well behaved at the office, he thinks I have too many of them. We don't all fit nicely into his tiny exam rooms. And he audibly sighs at the cramped space he needs to work in. It's not my fault he has tiny exam rooms.

You'd think that pediatricians would be better at listening than he is. That they would realize that mothers in particular know their kids. After all, we spend more time with them than anyone else. We have known their personalities, their quirks since birth. We know what they are like when they feel good and how to tell when they don't. We know that one kid is a faker, and that another might have a high pain tolerance. We know these things. And they don't. You'd think they would drill that into their heads in medical school. Most pediatricians get that. He doesn't.

Knowing this guy and knowing my daughter, I know that seeing him today would be an utter waste of time. He doesn't know that her current level of activity is much reduced, and he wouldn't care to listen to me telling him that. He'd see her, a child acting otherwise totally normal, and deem her to be well. He wouldn't realize that her normal activity level is a million times higher, and that her acting normal isn't normal at all. I would hope his nurse would check vitals and use the pulse oximeter to see what Ashley's lungs are doing. And I would hope that those tools would help him understand the full picture of what is happening. But the trouble is that I don't know that they will do those things. And those things need to be done. Though she might not seem it to the casual observer, she is a very sick little girl right now. And I have a feeling they would just dismiss it because of her behavior.

And so this afternoon, I am driving twenty minutes to see someone else. A pediatrician I've seen before. One who listened to the lessons on listening to parents. And one who will listen to me. I just wish they all did. I sure would make life easier on my regular doctor's days off.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

List

There are 73 shopping days until Christmas. Normally, I'd be halfway done shopping by now. But this year, for whatever reason, I haven't even started. A few weeks back, I asked the kids what they were going to put on their lists this year. They are being surprisingly practical and realistic this year, which is nice. Usually, Ashley asks for things like a pony. Aidan wanted a $300 remote controlled Dinosaur robot last year....and clearly that didn't happen.

In the spirit of the season, I decided yesterday that I would write my own list this year. Last year, I only asked for things that I really needed. Things that were practical. Unexciting things. Things like vacuum cleaners and dining room tables. Mom things.

Here is my Christmas list. Some of the things on it are impractical. Some are necessities. Some are straight out of my fantasies. A girl can dream, right?

1. I'd like a pair of pants that fits. A pair that neither falls down constantly or showcases the muffin top. Yes, this is on the top of my list.

2. I'd like a pair of scissors and a roll of tape that stays in the place where I put it. That doesn't get relocated to a desk in someones room. That isn't rendered useless because the blades are stuck together.

3. I'd like a pedicure more often than once every three years.

4. I'd like to outgrow acne before the wrinkles really take hold.

5. I'd like hair color that actually covers gray hair.

6. I'd like a sock fairy. I loathe folding socks, and if someone could just magically do that, my life would be that much improved.

7. I'd like a self cleaning toilet.

8. I'd like to be able to keep a pack of gum in my purse without it being discovered by children.

9. I'd like a Coach purse. But considering I've never in my life spent more than $14.99 on a purse, that's not bound to happen any time soon. I could totally not ever justify that.

10. I'd like a place in my home that I can sit to relax and be left alone. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day.

11. I'd like a silver mommy bracelet for AJ. I have them for all the other kids, but didn't get one for AJ yet. Maybe before he goes to college.

12. I'd like a nap.

13. I'd like a pony. But I'd like a pony that I don't have to clean up after and that I don't have to take care of every day. (Hey, I never said this was a realistic list!)

14. I'd like a houseplant. One that doesn't die if I forget to water it for a few days.

15. I'd like a tropical fish tank.

16. I'd like a bra that fits, doesn't need constant adjustment and doesn't look like a mom bra.

17. I'd like to be able to wear a black shirt for longer than 15 minutes without being slimed by one of the kids.

18. I'd like a really big, really fancy Christmas tree, covered with thousands of tiny lights. But I want someone else to put it up, clean up after it and take it down.

19. I'd like to forever escape the responsibility of cooking turkey. Though I like roasted turkey as much as the next person, I hate the whole preparation process. Smells like a wet dog.

20. And I'd like a family vacation to somewhere far away and tropical. I'd like to sit with my toes in the sand and watch my children play close by in shallow safe water. I'd like a trashy novel and a tan. And I'd like someone to bring me drinks with tiny umbrellas in them.

C'mon Santa. You can do it, right?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Magic Box

Since the kids have been home sick, I have spent much more time than normal letting them watch TV. As a direct corollary, I have spent more time watching TV than usual. And most of that time has been spent on kid's programming. Occasionally, I'll get to peek at the news for a little bit, and every so often we pick a movie. But, mostly, they want to watch Nick Jr. At least the girls do.

If Aidan had his way, we'd be watching something entirely different. Aidan would rather watch Ben 10 and Pokemon and Goosebumps and I Carly. He wants boy shows, scary shows and preteen shows. Things that the girls have no interest in. And every time he manages to snag the remote, he changes it. The whining ensues, and I am forced to negotiate. One of his shows, then you can go back to Nick Jr.

Formerly the station known as Noggin, Nick Jr. is probably the least offensive of the children's channels. The shows are directed mostly towards preschoolers and they don't run commercial after commercial after commercial. Like the Disney channel used to be, they don't run them at all. All the other kids channels seem to have commercials on more frequently than actual shows. And the commercials aren't even all for things that kids would normally be in the market for, but they are effective nonetheless. I didn't even know what Big City Sliders were until Aidan told me he saw the coolest thing ever on TV. Little burgers! Is there anything better in the entire universe??? We have a Bake and Fill for a reason, one which has nothing to do with me ever wanting it.

But I digress. Marketing to kids is a thorn in my side if you couldn't tell.

Anyway, back to Nick Jr. We have watched so much of it in the past two weeks that the girls know all the words to all the Nick Jr. songs. Even Aidan is singing them. And I confess, that I am too. I am pretty sure I have seen every episode of the Wonder Pets, and I still love the show. I heart Yo Gabba Gabba. If you've not had the chance to see it, you must. It's a totally ridiculous show, with dancing and singing and stories about brushing your teeth. But there is just something about it that makes you want to watch. And once those songs get in your head, they stay for a while.

Tom changed our cable package a few months ago, and we lost Nick Jr. I told him we needed it back. I needed it back. As much as I hate to admit it, there are times that I need to park the kids in front of the magic box for a few minutes. And there are times like now, times that I need that magic box to work overtime. And I need to have a safe place for them to watch. Without being subjected to sales pitches. Without wondering what the heck they are watching. Without worrying about the message being sent through the programs.

And really, I do love the Wonder Pets and Yo Gabba Gabba. Really.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stunt

I spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday riveted to the television. It seems that many people nationwide, even worldwide, did the same. We were all captivated by the story of a little boy, trapped in a balloon and floating away from home.

It happened not too far from here, and practically every helicopter, reporter and emergency worker was following the balloon, waiting to see how it would all play out. Would he be safe? How long would it take to land? Could the structure withstand the crash? Had he fallen out? How thin is the air up at that altitude? A million questions running through the heads of everyone who was watching, caught up in the fear.

After the balloon landed and was found to be empty, a whole new set of questions began. Searches of fields were conducted. Then came the strange news. He had been found. Apparently, he hid in the family's garage attic the entire time and was never in the balloon at all.

Waking up this morning, there are an entirely different set of questions. Questions about his parents. Questions about their hobbies. Questions about their ability to parent. Questions about whether this was all, as some suspect, a hoax. The father seems one bent on publicity. They've been on a tv reality show. He posted an atrocious video of his boys on youtube. Even the possibility that it was all done on purpose is disturbing. The fact that it's believable that it was is worse. The idea that people would go to those extreme lengths for attention is just sick. And the fact that they would take their kids along for the ride is reprehensible.

I hope that a full investigation into the events of the day is done. And I hope that they are held fully responsible for their actions. Having a six year old myself, I was worried. I'd like a refund.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Down

Fall seems to have been cut short this year. We've already had snow and the temperature got down to 16 degrees over this past weekend. Temperatures like that happening so early do more than just shock you into winter mode. I found myself frantically dragging out the snow pants and boots last week, far earlier than I had to last year. They shock the trees too.

My trees, my beautiful trees. Colors of amber and burnt sienna and brick red. Gone. Over the course of the last few days, many of the trees around here dropped all their leaves. Not because it was time. Not because the transformation was complete. Not even because of a huge windstorm as has happened before. They dropped the leaves because it got too cold too fast too early.

Between myself and the kids, someone has been sick for almost a month. And we haven't been able to make the annual trip up to the mountains. I haven't taken those pictures I look forward to every year. We've been stuck here in the house. Most of my excursions into the world lately have been for soup and medicine. Fall was short this year, and I missed it.

Oh well, there's always next year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Absence

For reasons that I am sure are valid in the eyes of the officials, the school district made some changes this year. One of which has to do with attendance. The new, stricter policy, dictates that kids can miss up to 13 days a year, after which they need a doctor's note excusing every single day of absence.

As I said before, I am sure that there are valid reasons for the change. Particularly in middle and high school, kids start to miss days intentionally. They find ways to avoid going to school, and they skip out on it entirely sometimes. Elementary school kids, however, don't. They don't ditch class. They don't wander off to the bowling alley or corner store. There might be parents that are a little too lax when it comes to absences, sure. But the kids aren't the cause of that.

Little kids get sick. They share germs. It's part of life. It's far more important to keep them home when they are ill than to worry about attendance. Education is important, don't get me wrong, but health is more important. Sorry. The biggest problem I have with the change is the requirement of a doctor's note. Just because a child is sick does not mean that they always need to go to the doctor. And there is no valid reason for the rule, at least not for elementary school kids. Besides, with the insurance plan that we have, it costs us over $100 to see a doctor every single time I take them. Does the district really think I will pay that much for a slip of paper? If they do, they are sorely mistaken.

So far this year, Ashley has missed seven days already thanks to the H1N1 virus and complications. She will most likely miss at least two more days because of the pneumonia. For the rest of the year, she's down to only four days before I'm on the hook for every absence.

Way to go bureaucrats. Had to do this the year of a major pandemic virus, didn't you? Great timing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pocket

As the mother of a small herd of children, I have gotten used to a lot of things. I don't get to go to the bathroom alone. I rarely get to go to the grocery store without a tag along. I can't make a meal without a chair being shoved up to the counter and someone asking to help. And I can't go anywhere or do anything without someone touching me. Constantly.

It's like this all the time, really. I dare not sit on the couch, or someone is right there, glued to me. Occasionally, a child will be content to just sit beside me, but that is rarely the case. They have to be right next to me or sitting on my lap. I think that if I just had bigger pockets, I'd be able to tuck them inside.

Since the H1N1 has been making it's way through the house, the clinginess has increased dramatically. First was Ashley, which wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that the child is wholly incapable of sitting still. She wants to sit with me, but she can't just sit either. Constantly fidgeting, arms flailing, sometimes without warning. You always have to be ready to defend yourself when she's nearby. Those knees and elbows can do some damage.

Ally generally spends more time touching me than her siblings. She's more compact than Ashley and less prone to flailing, but she's always there. And she is always jockeying for position, fighting off anyone who dares to claim her spot by mom. Every night at dinner is a competition, who gets to sit next to me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined being this popular.

AJ woke up sick this morning, and he is the all time king of cling. When he isn't feeling good, he makes no attempt to hide it. He will let everyone know that he is miserable. From the time he's been up today, he has wanted me. He needs me to hold him, all the time. And after all, that's my job, right?

I need some bigger pockets.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Teach

There are a great many things about the elementary school here that frustrate me. As much as I love the teachers (well, most of them anyway), and as great of a community it is, there are the things about it that make me want to bang my head on the wall.

Most of those things, of course, have to do with the adults, not the kids. Kids are kids. It's been that way forever before and will continue to be that way forever in the future. Some things have changed in the years since I started working with school aged kids almost 20 years ago, but most things are exactly the same. What has changed more in my eyes is the parents.

There seem to be more spoiled kids, a greater sense of entitlement these days. More kids catered to, more parents oblivious to the behavior of their kids. There was once a time when if a child was in trouble at school, the child was at fault. Parents didn't question the motives of the teacher, they didn't shift blame to other kids and other parents, they didn't make excuses and lash out at the system for demeaning their child. The kid was just in trouble. That is rarely the case anymore it seems. At the same time, parents are less and less interested in working with their children. They are too busy, life is too complicated. They don't have time. Or they don't make time.

I taught an after school art program here briefly a few years ago. I had a situation with a child once, a child who clearly could have cared less about creating art. He didn't much want to be there, but there he was because his parents thought it would be a good idea. He was rude. He talked constantly. He interrupted me. He distracted the other kids in the class, those who really wanted to be there. And he was certainly old enough to know better. Finally, after asking him over and over and over again to please stop, I moved his seat. I put him at another table. You would have thought that the world came crashing down. He actually knocked off his bad behavior, and he sat and he listened and he did his work. Until the class was over, that is. And then he told his mom what I had done. And his mom complained to the office, told them all that I was just being mean to her son. And the office told the principal. And the principal called my boss. And I got in trouble. Really.

Before we left San Diego, I was already enrolled in a credential program. I had completed all the prerequisite courses and done some of my student teaching already. It was hard, to be sure. I was placed in a first grade classroom, one capped at twenty students, but one with six special needs kids, four of which were also English language learners. No aide. No help. Nothing. There were kids with parents in jail. Many more kids with absent fathers. Kids who wore the same pair of shoes to school every day, those which were obviously too small. It was hard. But they were good kids. There were some that were challenging, to be sure, but they were good kids. I never ever had any issues with the parents in that classroom. No one called and complained. And while that might sound like a better situation, it wasn't. The parents didn't complain because most of them had no idea what was going on at school.

The school my kids go to is pretty much the polar opposite of the one I taught at back then. Parents are everywhere. All the time. Peeking their heads in. Hanging out after school to grab the teachers for impromptu conferences all the time. They care about the education of their children. But that comes with a price. They interfere. They second guess. They judge. And they complain.

The vast majority of them have no experience in education. They don't know how to teach. They don't know the struggles day to day in a classroom. They see one thing - their child. And they can't see past that. And while I am certainly all in favor of advocating for the best interests of your child, there is a point at which to stop. You can't hold their hands forever. Life isn't fair, and they need to learn that. And yes, some parents can be so blinded by their love of their children that they cannot see what is really going on. Unable to see that it really is their child who provides the distraction. Who interrupts. Who hurts others. The rest of the world really isn't out to get them, but they can't see that. Or they don't want to.

The school where the kids go is an infamous one in the district. It's got a bit of a reputation. And that reputation has more to do with the parents than with the kids. And it's a well-deserved reputation. I try pretty hard not to feed into that. I try to respect the abilities of the teachers. I don't second guess what they do. When my kids are in trouble, I want to know what they did, and what the consequence was. I don't look for another place to shift the blame to. And I won't let them do it either. I try to stay involved and know what is happening at school without hovering. And I try to help without being too helpful. I wish more people were like that. I've been on the other side, and I know how frustrating it is.

If only being a teacher was just about teaching, if they could just focus on the kids, think how much more our children would be learning.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unsolicited

It will never cease to amaze me how many people lack an off switch. Who can't help but run their mouths. Who believe that whatever they are thinking needs to be magically converted into spoken words. Who have no qualms about speaking those words. Who love to give unsolicited advice.

I suppose that for the most part, they think they are being helpful. They may have the best of intentions, if they actually think that they are providing some kind of service to others. That they have some special kind of insight to give. That they know more about something than you do. That they can tell you how to do better. How to fix something. How to prevent something. What to do.

There are people like this everywhere for sure. In almost ever facet of life, they are there. Always. But it seems like they multiply when you have a child for the first time. It's entirely possible that it is just the heightened awareness and sensitivity of a new parent, yes. But I think that most people would tend to agree with me. You will get more unsolicited advice in those years of your life than any other. Those years which start running the second that other people know you are trying to get pregnant. And it never really ends. At some point, most people begin to back off as your kids get older. Or maybe you just figure out that they don't really know better and stop listening. Nodding your head, pretending to listen, totally disregarding everything they say the instant it passes their lips.

One thing that I was completely unprepared for when we got married was the fact that trying to get pregnant would be one of the most difficult times in my life. No one ever tells young couples, newly married and looking forward to the future, that it might not be as easy as they think to have a baby. And no one ever tell you that one of the hardest things in the world is not being pregnant when you want to be. And, unfortunately, people say a lot of stupid things when you are in that place. Things that they intend to be helpful, but hurt. People tell you what to eat, what not to eat. People tell you not to exercise, or to do certain things. And some people are even crazy enough to tell you how to do it. As if the simple mechanics of it all were hard to understand, and you needed a little help there.

Then when you do get pregnant, the advice multiplies overnight. People want to tell you everything about everything. Where to have the baby. Some tell you to go natural. Others tell you that drugs are great. They tell you that you have to this, you have to do that. That if you do anything else, somehow you are shortchanging your child. This is best.

Once the baby shows up, you are literally assaulted with a barrage of advice. Bottles, pacifiers, crib bumpers, breastfeeding. Everyone has an opinion about all of it. And half of them contradict the other half. But everyone knows best. What it seems that no one ever tells you during this time is that as a mother, you automatically have instinct. And that instinct is almost always going to be right. And that this child is different than any other child ever born to any of the advice givers. And that, by extension, they really aren't qualified to give you any advice about this kid.

Even now, there are times. After four kids and years of experience parenting my own vastly different children, there are still people who presume to tell me that they know better. Who must possess some magic powers that bestow upon them the ability to know my kids better than I do. Who are sorely mistaken.

I am always amused by people who give out advice, and do so convincingly. Who manage to sway other mothers. Who conjure up doubt in the heads of those who really should know better. Who pass on incorrect information. Who scare other people into thinking they are right. Please, everyone, do us all a favor. Wait for us to ask your opinion. If we don't ask, we don't need it. And if we don't need it, we sure don't want it. Really.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inferno

In the last few weeks, more than one of us has been hit with the H1N1 virus. I'm fairly sure that Ally and AJ had it first, then I got it. Ashley has been stricken with it, and for her it is lasting longer and more severe than it was for the rest of us. She crawled into bed with us this morning at 6:00 a.m., and when I felt her, I immediately told Tom to get downstairs and grab the thermometer.

She was hot. Really hot. I checked her with both the thermometers. 105 degrees. When this kid runs a fever, she runs a fever. Back in February, she had the seasonal flu, and spiked 105 then too. That gets into the scary range. When treating the fever is no longer an option, but a necessity. When lukewarm bathtubs and stacked medications are required.

As I write this, she is crashed on the couch. Though she's been home sick all week, she hasn't really been acting too sick. Until now. Feel better, sweetheart.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gross, but good!

Yesterday we got snow for the first time this year. Not much, and not even close to enough to stick, but there were most definitely white flakes falling from the sky. We are supposed to get more this weekend, and the temperatures are predicted to get into the 20's. As a result, I've planned most of the meals this week and weekend to go along with the weather. Stuff that warms you up. Stuff that sticks with you. Good stuff.

Last night I perfected my split pea soup. It's funny, because I would never touch the stuff as a kid. My parents used to always want to stop at Pea Soup Anderson's on the way to Solvang. No matter what they tried, I would never eat the soup. I'd get grilled cheese or something else. Anything else. They loved the stuff. So did my brother. But just looking at it made me want to throw up. I couldn't imagine eating something that looked so disgusting.

I can honestly say that I had never eaten it, not even once, until last winter. I reluctantly made it for Tom, since it's his all-time favorite kind of soup. It didn't come out great, the consistency was weird and it wasn't thick enough. But it tasted okay, all things considered. I guess since I invested so much time and energy in making it, I should try it. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, it had some potential.

After refining my cooking skills more over the last year, I decided to try it again. I changed a lot of the things in the original recipe I used, and it made all the difference. It was good. Really good. Even Ashley ate it, reluctantly at first. Her immediate comment was that it was funny soup. It looks really gross, but tastes really good. And she's right.

To go with the soup, I made homemade cornbread for the first time too. Goodbye to the packets and boxes of cornbread mix. Mine is better. Served with a slathering of honey butter, yum. Food doesn't get much better than that.

Split Pea Soup
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 ham hocks (can use ham bone or any meaty part of the ham)
  • 2 cups of dried split peas
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and finely diced

Place broth, water, ham hocks, peas, marjoram, bay leaves and pepper in large stockpot. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat and cover. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables and bring to a boil. Again, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Soup is done when the peas have disintegrated and the other vegetables are all tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Homemade Cornbread and Honey Butter

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Beat eggs in a second bowl, then add milk and oil. Pour the eggs mixture into the dry ingredient bowl and stir only until combined. Pour into greased 9x9 pan and bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Check it with a toothpick inserted in the middle. If clean, it's done. If not, bake for a few more minutes. Serve with honey butter.

Honey Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey

Stir together until smooth, this makes enough for one pan of cornbread.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rolls

I noticed something about my little girl a few days ago, and it made me a bit sad. Ally was getting ready for soccer and put on her teeny little soccer shorts and I saw it. They are gone. Her rolls are finally gone.

Little tiny baby fat rolls. Soft and squishy and cuddly. You take any baby and add a few rolls, instantly they are just that much cuter. It's about the only time in your life that carrying a few extra pounds garners compliments and admiration.

We used to joke that she'd go to college with her little chubby rolls. She was born the same length as Aidan, just weighed a pound and a half more. He looked like a scrawny chicken, she looked like a butterball turkey. As she got a little older, she filled out even more. By the time she was about six months old, she had fully blossomed. She had rolls on top of her rolls. She even had rolls on her forearms. It was adorable. There was just more of her to love.

As she turned into toddler, she started to thin out a little. She had lost the forearm rolls by the time she was two, but the thigh ones looked pretty content. They were happy there. She was just thicker as a baby and a toddler. She learned to love stretchy pants, since she couldn't sit up in her jeans. They were always too tight.

In the last year or so, she has grown taller, but not put on any weight. Add that to a nasty stomach virus earlier this year, and she has thinned out quite a bit. But the rolls were still there. Seemed like they were here to stay. She started preschool with hers, keeping them far longer than her older siblings. Aidan had his until about 3, and Ashley hardly had any at all. But Ally still had them. Until one day, just last week, when they were gone.

Babies turn into toddlers and toddlers turn into kids. And just like the smell of a newborn's head and the softness of their brand new skin, the rolls eventually disappear. Gone forever. I'm going to miss them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vanilla

One of the benefits of having kids in the house is that I don't have to make fancy things all the time. I have never held my breath in anticipation of a souffle falling. I've never used a kitchen torch for creme brulee. I've never once constructed a torte. Cupcakes, cookies and brownies are just fine.

Though I generally like a little more flavor to the things in my life, I am surrounded by people who love all that is vanilla. Who will only buy vanilla ice cream. Who actually request white cake. I don't really have anything against plain vanilla, don't get me wrong. It's just not what I would ever choose given other options.

Ally brought me a page from a magazine last week and asked if I could make the cupcakes in the picture. Mostly they drew her attention because they were topped with fluffy pink frosting. I laughed when I saw the title. Vanilla cupcakes. Sure, I'll make them. But I'm going to change a few things first. ;)

Never content to leave a recipe alone, I tweaked it a bit. I made them last night. I accidentally overfilled the cupcake pan and they overflowed a little. AJ was pretty happy about it though, since he got the pieces of the cupcakes that didn't survive the extraction process. I have to say that even though these are just plain old vanilla cupcakes, they are the best ones you've ever tasted.

Vanilla Cupcakes
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, plus 2 more egg yolks
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk (If you don't have buttermilk, you can make it. Put 1 tbsp white vinegar in a measuring cup and add milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit a few minutes before using.

Beat butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then buttermilk. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Fill lined cupcake pan 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen cupcakes.

While the cupcakes are in the oven, I make the frosting. I'd like to tell you that there is a real recipe, but it's not that simple. You just make it.

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar

To make it, you start but combining the butter and vanilla. Add 2 tbsp milk, then start adding sugar a little at a time. Stir until smooth, then see if you need to add more. If it gets too thick, add a tiny bit more milk. Too thin, add more sugar. It's not an exact science. You want it just a little on the thinner side since it will set a bit. Let it sit for about 15 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally. By the time the cupcakes have cooled it should be a good consistency to frost with. Frost cupcakes, then let sit at room temperature until frosting sets.

The cupcakes I made last night had orange frosting, done just by adding red and yellow food coloring until the desired color was achieved. Again, it's not a science. But, it's so worth it to make your own frosting.

Make, bake, frost and share. They're pretty good, even if they are just vanilla.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Walls

I am sitting now in the room that was once my formal living room, recently converted into the man-cave. I think we'll call it the media room, though. Sounds better. Big TV, recliner, all that loveliness. There are a few traces of the old room left here though, mostly on the walls. But I love these walls.

When we bought this house, we tried to devise themes for each space. Our room is a chocolate brown and aqua retreat. I tried to make it like a spa, at least as much as possible anyway. The colors are warm, but crisp. The wall decor in there is inspired by the places that we dream of visiting one day. The places we haven't yet been, since life got too harried, complicated and full of other things to do. Paris. Venice. Long angled lens pictures of the Seine and the canals of Italy. A bedroom is a good place to be filled with dreams.

The former office is filled with pieces of the places we loved the most in California. Old postcards I collected, all with artistic renderings of the locations. PCH highway, the Coliseum, Balboa Park and more. I found copies of the plat maps from the city of San Diego and hung them in there. Reminders of the places we had been and loved.

The formal living room turned media room has another theme. Our past. Our families. I filled picture frame after picture frame with some of the most cherished family photographs. Some date back to the 1940s. We had been given boxes of old pictures for safe keeping, and I knew that I could do more than that.

There are pictures of our parents as precocious children. Pictures of our grandparents, young and full of life. Probably my favorite picture is of my Grandma Doll throwing back a flask, posing with her hand on her hip. She looks to be about 20. There is a picture of Grandma Kathi as an infant, looking at the camera between her legs, just like AJ does now. A series of photographs with Tom. First with his father and grandfather as a baby, wedged between them, then cutting down a Christmas tree with Papa, then cutting down a tree with Aidan. Wedding pictures, some with crushed velvet tuxedos. Grandma Judy and Grandpa's prom picture. Senior pictures. Pictures of family trips. Pictures of leisure suits and platform boots, neatly lined up along Grandma Helen and Grandpa's ivy wall. Pictures my grandfather took at sea in the Navy.

This is our family. This is our history. Some are faded. Some are torn. But they belong on a wall, not in a box. They should be admired. They should be remembered. And even though this room has changed, those pictures aren't going anywhere.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Code

Sometime last week I wrote about neighbors and I alluded to the fact that we have a very bad relationship with one of them in particular. Well, let's just say that things have gone from bad to worse.

Now, I really do try to see the best in people. And I really and truly do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But once they use that up, it's hard to get it back from me. And once you get on my bad side, there's not much hope of ever returning to the good one without drastic measures.

This particular neighbor tried so desperately to be friendly with us when we first moved in. Mostly, I think, it was a desperate ploy for attention. And it failed. Things came to a head one morning with a screaming confrontation over something our cat may or may not have done. And then that cat mysteriously disappeared shortly thereafter, and I will always suspect there was a little foul play involved. Can't prove anything of course, so there is no point accusing. We just mostly try to avoid this particular neighbor whenever possible. Which is damn near close to impossible because of the proximity to our house.

During the last month, we've been moving the kids rooms around, and there is one piece of furniture, a chair, that doesn't fit anywhere anymore. It needs to go. But we have no way to move it, and it is currently sitting on the front porch awaiting a trip somewhere else. I knew the instant we put it out there that it would infuriate the neighbor, which made it a little more fun. I have to say, one of my bad personality traits has always been that I love to antagonize people.

No surprise we got a letter from the management company this weekend. You see, our neighbor is on the board, and has nothing else to do than nitpick about other people's houses. And we knew the chair would grate on his nerves. And it did. He took the occasion to find other nagging things wrong with the house that we now are forced to fix or be fined for. How could he possibly think that there might be a valid reason that we have a chair sitting on the front porch? Does he really think we are intending to leave it there permanently?

So, today, I waged war. I phoned in a little complaint to the city. His yard has never been in compliance with the city landscaping codes. He never planted the trees he was supposed to. I just thought the code enforcement division might like to know that. Assuming that he is forced to do what he was supposed to and plant trees, it will literally be the end of his universe. He loves his grass. He nurtures it, almost like it was his child. And the day he is forced to dig a hole in it, I'll be sitting on my front porch, drink in hand, watching and laughing.

Don't piss me off.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wings

At some point, I got a cookbook as a gift that we just recently started using. I'm not even sure how long I have had it, but it's a shame it went unused for as long as it did. It's a book that has tons of recipes for things you love already. Things you pay good money for. Things places are famous for. It's a restaurant recipe stealing book. And it is awesome.

We've only tried a few things out of there so far, but I have to say that they are pretty right on with the recipes. Now, I don't know if these are actually the recipes the restaurants use, but they are pretty darn close if they aren't. I can take no credit for this one I am sharing today. It's not my recipe. I didn't even make it. Tom did. He spent a good while last night making these bad boys for the first time. And he's kicking himself for it now, because he just lost an excuse to visit the place that is known for them.

They are just about exactly like you get in the restaurant, minus the jiggling delivery girls.

Hooters Hot Wings
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot sauce
  • dash ground pepper
  • dash garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 chicken wing pieces (can use other portions of chicken, or boneless, just adjust cooking time)

Combine flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt in a small bowl. Coat wings evenly. Put in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set.

Combine butter, red hot, pepper and garlic powder in saucepan, heat thoroughly.

Use a deep fryer or very large pot and heat oil to 375. You need enough to cover all pieces. Fry wings 10-15 minutes, making sure that they aren't touching, until edges turn dark brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Put in large bowl and toss with butter sauce. Serve with blue cheese and celery pieces.

Feel free to jiggle if you think it makes them taste better. ;)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Only

One of my very best friends is currently very pregnant for the second time. Soon she will be welcoming into her family a little girl. And her only son will no longer be an only. He will be instantly transformed into a big brother. And life as they know it will change. Again.

Parenthood is an interesting experience. It doesn't matter how many people tell you how hard it is. It doesn't matter how many times you are warned. It doesn't matter how much time you have spent with other people's children. How much you think you are prepared. It's harder than you could have ever imagined. Every single facet of your life is affected, irreversibly and immediately. It's no less dramatic the second time around than the first.

She's worried about a lot of things right now. Things that every mother entering that home stretch of pregnancy worry about. Things that other people are supposed to reassure you about, not feed into. Things that other people are supposed to be supportive about, but aren't always. Will she love this child as much? Will her only child be okay? How will they all handle the transition? How can she try to do things different this time around?

The anxiety that comes with those last days of pregnancy is bad enough. The anticipation leading up to delivery. The little voice in the back of your head, always a little leery. Is the baby going to be healthy? Will there be any complications? But when you are already thinking about all those things, having doubt embedded in your head by others serves no good purpose. Are you doing the right thing by having another baby?

I've tried as best I can to reassure her that things will be okay. That even though she is now questioning if she can love this baby as much as her first, that she will. I've tried explaining to her that it's not a matter of sharing a smaller piece of your love - it's that your heart seems to grow. You aren't giving any less to any one. You give more to more. But as with most things involved with parenting, she won't know that herself until she experiences it.

I've tried to reassure her that by having another baby, she isn't harming her son. That he will learn things like waiting his turn, sharing, patience. Important lessons that he will carry through his life, and be a better person for having learned them. That she will soon see sides of him that would never be seen if not for the addition of a sibling. Compassion, protection, teaching. There will be challenges. There will be arguments. There will inevitably be conflict. There will be times that she questions how she can fill the needs of both her children simultaneously. But she will. And the good will always outweigh the bad.

I say these things to her, but I don't know that she truly believes them. She's been told otherwise by someone else. But that someone doesn't know these things. That someone only has an only. And there are some things that you can't possibly be qualified to judge about until you've been there. And there are some things that you should never, ever say to a pregnant woman.

She is as close to being my sister as a person could be without any genetic ties. And she is about to be the mother of two children. And she is about to know exactly what I mean. Love you!

Friday, October 2, 2009

32 years

I had to admit something today that I have fought for a long time. Something that I didn't want to accept. Something that I thought I could ignore. No longer could I pretend that there wasn't really a problem. I couldn't shrug it off anymore. It's getting worse with age and my ability to recover is less than it used to be. I have asthma.

When Ally was diagnosed a few weeks ago, I started to accept my reality. I didn't want her to have it, in fact I wished that the doctor was mistaken. If the inhaler did nothing, she was wrong. But it helped. And she was right. Ally has it.

It's not something that should come as a surprise. My dad has it. My brother has it. I have allergies, as do my kids. I guess I just hoped I could wish it away. But when Ally was hit, I had no choice but to confront it. I had to admit what I had known for years and years.

As a kid, I struggled with it. I played soccer for only one season, quitting halfway through. I blamed my knees, said that they hurt. And they did. I had just been diagnosed with chondra malacia. But it wasn't just my knees. I couldn't run because I couldn't breathe. And somehow I managed to hide it. I managed to hide it from my parents, from my doctors and from my teachers for all those years. I had a great scapegoat. I could quit anything when I got winded and blame it on my knees and no one ever questioned it.

As a teenager, after struggling for years with my weight, I decided to take charge of it. I began a crash diet and rigorous exercise regimen, sometimes working out twice a day. I lost weight. I lost a lot of weight. I built muscle. But I still had no endurance no matter what I did. I have never in my life been able to run more than 1/8 th of a mile. Not even back then, when I was working out twice a day.

Around that time, another symptom started to give me more and more trouble. Every time I got sick or my allergies kicked into full gear, I started coughing. At night especially. I'd have a cold for two days and cough for two weeks or more. The coughing fits turned into hours of hacking. I've coughed so much I've thrown up many times. I've woken up my roommates, then my husband, and now my kids with my coughing fits.

There are times that I would try anything to sleep. Humidifiers blowing right on my face. Vicks on my feet. Cough suppressant. Sleeping with a throat lozenge in my mouth. (Which I am sure has done wonders for my teeth!) There are times I've done all those things and still been up half the night.

The breaking point for me wasn't Aidan being diagnosed at 2. It wasn't Ally being diagnosed a few weeks ago. It was a conversation I had with Aidan this morning. On the way to school, we were talking about volcanoes for some reason. Then he told me that he remembered climbing up to the top of a volcano. And he remembered that I wasn't with him. And he was right.

When he was almost 3, we went to Hawaii for Blythe's wedding. And we planned to hike Diamond Head. I got about a third of the way up and had to turn back. Tom and Blythe took the kids up without me. It bothered me then, for sure. But as with many things before, I blamed my knees. Sure they were sore, but they weren't what prevented me from finishing that hike.

My son remembers that I couldn't do it. He knows I wasn't up there. And, today, I told him why. I called the doctor when I got home and they squeezed me in. After listening to everything I had to say, the doctor had one question for me. Why had I waited 32 years to get help for something I knew was wrong? Trouble is, there is no good answer.

It was easier to blame my knees. I didn't want anything else to be wrong. I learned to deal with it, as much as I could. And I resigned myself to the idea that I'd never be able to exercise like a normal person could. I let myself stop climbing up that volcano ridge. And in doing so, I let my son down. I never want that to happen again.

The moral of the story is that it's better to deal with the things that make you uncomfortable than to let yourself be miserable. It's better to be labeled and be helped than suffer in the quiet. I don't ask for help easily. And I don't admit weakness easily. But it was time. It's long past time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Soothe

Since I've been sick, just about the only thing I want to eat is soup. And though I could open a can easily, I decided to make some homemade broccoli soup last night. You can always tell when something is good around here when Ashley asks if she can take it for lunch the next day.

It's not hard to make and it's so much better than anything you get out of a can. And if you aren't feeling so great, it makes you almost forget that for a few minutes. If you make it for yourself, you'll be glad. If you're lucky enough to convince someone else to make it for you when you are sick, sit back and enjoy the aroma. And if you happen to know someone who needs a little TLC in a warm bowl, bring it over. They'll thank you for it, I assure you.

Broccoli Soup
  • 3-4 fresh broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • one diced onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup half and half (can use cream if you want it thicker)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 8 oz diced ham
  • shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Put the broccoli, broth, onion, bay leaves and salt and pepper in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and process soup in a blender or food processor. (Make sure to do it a little at a time and remember it's hot! Only use a blender if you have a heat proof canister.)

Return soup to pot. In a bowl, stir together the half and half and flour until smooth. Add to soup and whisk to make sure there aren't any lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce and heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Add ham and heat thoroughly.

Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.

Some of My Most Popular Posts