Wednesday, October 30, 2013

DIY: Seventh Heaven Cookie Bars Recipe

Hi Kids!

I'm guest posting over at my friend Jennifer's blog today - Jennifer P. Williams, that is!

She is almost at the end of her 31 Days of Cookies blogging marathon that involved her baking a different kind of cookie (or asking friends to contribute) every day for the month of October.  I can't decide if she is a genius or completely crazy.

Because: COOKIES EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH!!!!!

And: Cookies.... every....... day.......... for.............. a........................... month.

On a totally related bright side, her blog has provided me with so many delicious cookie recipes that my Pinterest page is exploding. Yours will too, after you've seen what she's posted.

You can stop laughing now, everyone.  I know - I have like five pins on there.  I'm a little late to the party.

You should poke around her blog once you get there - she is fun and sassy and tells it like it is in a way that is charming and heartfelt.  She posts tons of recipes and DIY project tutorials and talks about her family and gives great advice.  Plus she takes awesome photos that put my skills to shame.  I just love her.

Anyway, she is sharing my recipe for Seventh Heaven Cookie Bars, which you will love, I'm sure of it.

Maybe you'll even love them so much that you will make them every day for a month.

See you there!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Meltdown

The other day I had a meltdown in front of my husband.  They usually happen on a Friday.  I say “usually” because Friday is when my last few meltdowns occurred.  My husband works from home on Fridays.  He’s pretty lucky.

The meltdown had been building up in my throat for a few days and culminated in a sobbing jag, ending with hiccups and tears that I wiped away with a used tissue from my pocket.  Then I had a headache that lasted the remainder of the day.

I was feeling sorry for myself.  The week went by, chores and tasks piling up daily, our household calendar filling, the list of to-dos growing and growing.  Tasks never end, leaving time for other things.

What I wanted to do all week – for weeks now – was to write.  And that wasn’t even happening, not as much as I’d like.  My desire, what I wanted to make a priority – to write, to do it full time – was getting pushed further and further down the list, behind thankless tasks like cleaning toilets and mopping floors, doing dishes, helping kids with homework, running them all over town for their activities.

I was mad at myself for being ineffective in nearly every area of this life that I’ve created – the house was only half clean, I hadn’t made dinner in days, my son was spending too much time on video games and not enough on math homework.  All of these things pointed to me – I wasn’t prioritizing the things I had built my life around.  I was letting them slide for this one other thing that I wanted so badly, and it wasn’t even being accomplished.

The truth in my mind – “this is the life you signed up for” – stung.  It says that I need to get it together and take care of the things I said I would.  But I want more, and the life I’ve made simply doesn’t allow for more, and it made me sad, and then mad at myself for wanting it.

My husband listened, and watched me cry.  He offered solutions.  He advised me to talk to him more.  He said all the right things.  But I was still sad.

My woefulness had a source, and that source was fear.  I’m afraid of not getting things done, of the house and the kids and our calendar and our lives going right into the (not clean) toilet.  I’m afraid of changing the life that I have so carefully tuned to run smoothly.  I’m afraid that I’ll fail.  I’m not afraid of what I know.  I’m afraid of what I don’t know.

So I do both only halfway, and both suffer.  I’m not writing much, and we’re eating meatloaf for dinner for the third (fifth?) night in a row, and my son is bringing less-than-adequate math grades home.

Everyone knows that fear + anger = meltdown.  Seems that I have to learn it over and over again.

And usually on Fridays.  My poor husband.

*******

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween Visits

When I was a kid, we lived in the country.

Rural America.  We lived by a state road with no street name.  Our address was “Rural Delivery 3.”  Then it changed to Rural Delivery 1.  But everybody knew that if you addressed the envelope to us and put RD 3 on it, we’d still get it, the same way you address a letter to “Santa Claus – North Pole” and everyone knows he gets it just in time for Christmas.

We had two neighbors.  One was a family whose house sat on top of the hill behind us, and another family whose house sat an acre away.  We knew our neighbors well.  In the summers, I’d climb the hill and read the books that our neighbors kept in a small bookcase in their family room, and in the winters, our other neighbors sometimes kept me after school while my mom and dad finished up their workday.  Both families had children who were older than me, some who were old enough to be our babysitters, and some who were practically grown by the time I was old enough to be babysat.

My parents grew up in the area, and their parents, high school friends, and aunts and uncles and cousins lived nearby.  It was a good childhood, one filled with people whom we loved and trusted and knew all our lives.

And we visited them on Halloween.

We’d dress up in costumes made of cast-offs and whatever we could find in our parents’ closets some years, while other years we demanded a character and dressed up in the five-and-dime costumes which were little more than stitched felt and a plastic mask.  Trick-or-treating had a goal: to get our neighbors and extended family to guess who we were.

Faces were covered, as were any telling traits about who we might be; our mother would drive us from house to house, and we’d stand outside giggling, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors that we’d normally just open and walk through unannounced.  Keeping silent was key; we were not to blow our cover.  Mom was instructed to stay hidden until they guessed who we were.  Some years she would don her own costume and join us, staying just as quiet until we’d all be identified.

Of course, they always guessed who we were; we never had to stand shivering in our hobo rags or cheap Scooby-Doo costume for long before they guessed and invited us in for candy or cookies and hot chocolate and my mom for a cup of coffee and a visit.

We’d stay for a bit while we warmed our hands and feet – the end of October was always cold, and the idea of putting a winter coat on over our costume was the kiss of death – but then got antsy as we knew there were only a few places we could visit before the night got too long and we’d have to return home.  We tucked the treats inside our bags, straighten out our disguises, and jump in the car to the next house.

Our loot was varied: cookies and wrapped chocolates, candy bars and popcorn balls.  Gum and hard candy would sometimes be given, as not everyone expected trick-or-treaters on the night we’d visit.  We didn’t mind when our relatives and neighbors gave us those things; the treat ended up being the visit, the thrill of being a witch or an old man or Captain America for one night.

These days, Halloween looks different.  We don’t live in the country.  My kids don’t always wear masks.  They trick-or-treat in our neighborhood with friends and parents, visiting most of the hundred or so houses for chocolate and lollipops. When the night is over, after they divide up their candy, they talk about the costumes they saw on their journey, the houses that were decorated the spookiest, the neighbors they visited, and the spirit that electrifies the air when families come together on one night to do something fun.

And I know that their Halloween is not all that different from when I was a kid.


*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #5: Who had the good candy?  Share what Halloween was like for you as a child.

Monday, October 21, 2013

DIY: The Very Best Banana Bread Recipe

There’s just something about fall that makes me want to bake cookies and stuff.

I don’t even know why I wrote that.  I am terrible at baking cookies.  Give me a cake or a pie and I’m on it.  Cookies make me sad.  So many failed attempts.

Anyway, there’s also just something about the fall that makes me not want to eat bananas.  Maybe it’s because I feel less like eating healthy in the fall – putting on the winter layer and all that.  YES.  That’s totally a thing.  Maybe it’s because I’ve eaten bananas all summer and I’m not really feeling them anymore.  Maybe it’s because bananas are sort of a tropical fruit, and I don’t feel so tropical when it’s forty and drizzling outside.  Or maybe it’s because I’m not a gorilla.

So on any given day we have all these bananas that I buy at the store and two days later I haven’t eaten them and it’s way too much to ask anyone in my home to eat something that they might have to work a little for, like peeling a banana is sooooo hard you guys, and the bananas are already over-ripe and I need to do something with them because it is a sin to waste good food.  There are starving children in China, you know.  And just down the road, too.  Ahem.

So guess what I do with these bananas, in the fall?  You got it: I transform them into The Very Best Banana Bread.  I’ve done it twice already this week.  You’d think I’d learn to stop buying bananas.

But I haven’t.  So I make banana bread.  And right now you’re going to join me.

So gather your ingredients, monkeys, and get on it.  After one bite of this banana bread, you will start buying bananas to rot on your counter too, just like me.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ c. flour.  This is not a precious measurement.  In Home Ec you learned how to scoop a heaping cup of flour and scrape off the top to get a good measurement.  This is not how things are done in the real world.  Just scoop it, shake off the excess, and forget about being perfect for once.

2/3 c. sugar.  White, addicting, refined-beyond-all-nutritional value sugar.  Why a person would bake without sugar is beyond me.  If I couldn’t have sugar I’d die.  Coincidentally, I’ll probably die because of all the sugar I eat. 

2 t. baking powder.  It’s the stuff in the canister.  Get it straight, quick, because pretty soon you’re going to need its cousin.

½ t. baking soda.  It’s in the orange box!  Or if you’re me, and buy all generic ingredients, it has your store logo on it.  What?  Generic is the new black.

¼ t. salt.  Regular salt, people.  Stay with me.

1 c. ripe banana.  This is about 2 or 3 regular sized bananas.  Truthfully, once I used four, and no one was the wiser.  I’m not sure that banana bread cares about how banana-y it tastes.

1/3 c. butter.  You can use margarine for this, but who would do such a thing?  My rule is: if you have butter, use butter.  Or, more to the point: Use butter if you’re not a jerk.

2 T. milk.  I know, this ingredients list is getting long.  It’s really not that much stuff.  You probably have all these ingredients at home anyway, so stop complaining.  We’re almost done.

2 eggs.  Just borrow them from your neighbor.

Optional: ¼ c. chopped nuts.  If you use nuts I’m not eating it.  Also optional: ¼ to ½ c. chocolate chips.  If you use chocolate chips you are my hero.  I usually use chocolate chips; that means that I am my own hero.

Got ‘em all, right?  Had ‘em all in your cupboard, right?  I’m telling you, you may never eat a banana on its own again.  Keep reading and you’ll see why:

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a loaf pan.  A regular one, okay?  Like 8x4x2.  Go the extra mile and sprinkle some sugar to coat the greased pan.  I always grease with butter, even though I hate the mess of it.  Adding the sugar makes up for it.  I lie.  It totally doesn’t.  But I like to sugar coat my loaf.  Yeah.  That’s what *I* said.

In a big mixing bowl combine 1 c. of the flour, the rest of your dry ingredients, the banana, butter, and milk.  Go ahead and mix that up with your mixer on low until it’s blended, and then shoot it up to high speed for a couple of minutes.  Add the eggs and the remaining flour and beat that until it’s all blended.  Don’t be a chump; scrape the sides of the bowl.  After you’ve licked the beaters (salmonella be damned), stir in the nuts if you don’t know what’s good or chocolate chips if you do.  Refrain from eating the whole bowl of batter with a spoon.  Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan before you lose your resolve.

This picture is the grossest.  Did you know too-ripe bananas were so disgusting?
Oh, you did?
Yeah.  Me too.
So this is how I measure chocolate chips.  I put two handfuls like this in the batter.
It's times like these that I wish someone were around to say:
"I'll give you fifty bucks if you stuff all those chocolate chips in your mouth at once."
I would be a billionaire.

Look how the sugar sparkles.  That's some magic right there.

Bake it in the oven for one hour or until a toothpick stuck in near the center comes out clean.  That’s 60 minutes for all you international bakers.  Cool on a wire rack.  When it’s almost cool, flip the bread out of the pan and onto the rack (about twenty minutes).  Cool completely, and wrap it in plastic to store for a few hours or overnight before you slice it.  I don’t know what happens if you don’t wrap it up before you slice it.  Does it fall apart like a meat loaf?  Does it taste nasty?  Does it slap you in the face for omitting this step?  I don’t know.  But I always wrap my loaf before I slice it, and it’s never let me down.  Do you know what else?  I also store it in the fridge.  Crazy!

If you don't think that's glorious then I don't know you.

The next morning, you will have fantastic banana bread that you can serve for breakfast instead of the pop tarts that have become a staple in your home.  Your family will hail your baking expertise.  Why, Martha Stewart herself might even call you up and ask you to do a segment on an upcoming show about different ways to cook with bananas.

Probably not.  Martha is pretty choosy with her baking experts, and this is just banana bread.  But you will know that you have accomplished greatness.  And as long as there are rotting bananas on your counter, you can repeat this particular success until your last day on earth.

But seriously: why isn’t anyone eating these bananas?  And why do I keep buying them?

I KNOW.  We don't even keep gorillas.


(I adapted this recipe from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that my mother-in-law gave to me.  I also have one from the 50s, inherited from my great-great aunt.  That version has some of the grossest recipes and pictures on earth.  Sometimes, just for kicks, I tell my kids that I'm making select recipes from it for dinner.  Man, I love having kids.)

*******

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Super

I freaking love Halloween.

I love the cool fall weather, colorful fallen leaves, pumpkins carved into wide-toothed, smiling faces, witches and ghosts and goblins decorating homes, and as always, the huge baskets of candy around every corner, individually wrapped for ease of snacking and giving out as treats on that one night a year where it is perfectly acceptable for people of every age and socioeconomic status to walk around neighborhoods and beg for food.

It’s pretty much all about the candy.

Every year at Halloween my husband and I dress up.  We come up with a costume idea and run with it, scouring thrift stores for those just-right pieces that typify the theme, amassing each part of the costume over the weeks before Halloween until the day arrives that we can triumphantly wear it.

Okay.  I do this all by myself.  My husband has no say and is almost no help in any of it.  What a slacker.

But he is a good sport and never balks at anything I ask him to wear, whether a wig or a bald cap or a pair of my shorts.

We’ve been Popeye and Olive Oyl, Black Widow and Nick Fury, Michael Jackson and Boy George, an awkward hooker and Lieutenant Dangle, punk rockers.

This year, we are called to be Superheroes.

Now, most Superhero costumes have at their core a bodysuit and leggings.  Now, look.  I am not against wearing leggings for any occasion, but I kind of want something to cover up all that I am and all that I have.  My husband would agree, I think.  We’ve seen each other in snug-fitting underthings and I think a measure of modesty would be good for everyone involved.  So I think we will make up our own Superheroes and dress the part.  Most of the fun about Halloween costumes is that you can do anything you want.  Costumes are bound only by your imagination and creativity.

And time.  It is October 17, and I haven’t come up with a good idea yet.

So I am going to bring it to the blog, in the hope that someone out there can help me.  Help me, please?

So far, here are my not-so-good ideas:

Super Models.  So easy!  It gives me a chance to go shopping for something fabulous.  And we could wear capes.

Captain Underpants.  Hilarious for my husband, who would wear a pair of tightie-whities over pants.  Not so funny for me.  Is there a female counterpart?

Super Tampons.  I’ve seen this costume before.  Next.

Super Stars.  Brangelina?  Are they even relevant anymore?

Super Mario Brothers.  It’s been done, people.  And I can’t grow a mustache between now and Halloween.

Super 8.  This is a type of video camera.  And a pretty awesome movie.  Clearly I’m grasping here.

You see my dilemma.  If you can think of some type of Superhero costume that my husband and I could do that doesn’t involve head-to-toe spandex, please let me know in the comments section below and I will do my best to create your idea.  And if your idea is chosen, YOU WIN!

What do you win?  My gratitude.  And if you’re lucky, I will post a picture of us in a later post.

Just know that you are trying to top this:

We won best costume that year.  Aren't we the dorkiest cutest?

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #2: 
If you were dressing up for Halloween this year, 
what would you be going as, and why?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When they said I should help my children succeed in school, I didn’t think that they expected ME to be a straight-A student

This year is the first year since second grade my son has had any serious amount of homework.  Over the years, he’s brought home a math sheet, a book to read, a spelling list to peruse once or twice a month.  The odd project came home, but not every year. Last year he brought so little work home that I imagined he was skipping school altogether, and I entertained the idea of following him to the bus stop ninja style to see if he was in fact making it there.

He was.  His report card said so.  Plus, no truancy notices were sent home.

This fall, he entered seventh grade, that first year of secondary education every parent of older teens warns you about.

Seventh grade is hard, they say.  Harder than sixth, when the difficulty was social, when every kid in my son’s circle came home the first day paired with a girlfriend or boyfriend, as if they were assigned for the year?  I can’t be sure, but the following announcement must have been made on that day:  Males and females are to be paired according to their endurance level of text messaging, tolerance of drama over mixed signals, and the nuances of physical interaction according to age and onset of pubescence.

Yes, they say.  Seventh grade is when the work gets hard.  Your child will bring work home to do that will take him hours to do every night.

Huh.  Well, that’s what they said about third grade, and he had the least amount of homework ever that year.  We’ll see.

Since the onset of a child’s school years, parents are advised to take part in their children’s education to help them succeed.  Work on flash cards.  Go over numbers and letters.  Read to them at night.  Count objects in the grocery store, at home, in the car.  Encourage them.  Pound learning into their brains so that in school, THEY WILL SUCCEED.

I did my part.  We read Goodnight, Moon until I lost my voice and practically gagged on the word mush.  We colored books full of pictures, naming each color.  How proud I was when my toddler pointed out the correct spice on the shelf when I told her that we were looking for something that started with “P.”  We did shapes and animal noises and sorted blocks into categories and built towers out of Legos and volcanoes out of baking soda and vinegar and recited poems and songs.  Later when my kids entered school, I listened as they read street signs and talked about Van Gogh and spelled “interesting” and fired off multiplication tables and explained who Martin Luther King, Jr. was and all the different types of landforms that are found in our country.

It is my job to do all this.  I take my job seriously.  More importantly, I hung with my kids through this part of their education.  Spelling and math and reading and famous figures; I got this.

The math got harder, as was expected; but so did the hoops they had to jump through to do a grammar assignment.  My daughter is now doing something called “Word Work” that should be called “Advanced Orthography.”  I’m not sure how spelling got so complex, but it has.  Deciphering the work she is expected to do with these words takes me a good portion of the evening.  My son is doing a combined Language Arts/Science unit that I have deduced to be a study of butterfly personalities.

As predicted by the well-meaning mass of parents who came before, my son is bringing work home.  True to my calling, I will help him succeed.  I sit next to him as he opens his algebra book.  It appears to be at a college level.  The lesson in the book is short.  I don’t have enough information to understand.  Desperate, I open my laptop and search YouTube: DIY Algebra.  I am no help.

I consider obtaining a Master’s Degree in education or at least study a list of educational jargon to more effectively help my kids in school.  Parents who are teachers have a definite upper hand here.  Terms and acronyms like “rubric” and “AYP” are tossed around and I am expected to understand. 

Each teacher in my son’s school has his or her own website; to stay in the loop, parents should keep up with them as much as the students.  To help our children succeed, I need to be successful at navigating their education.  Success is less about their intelligence and more about my ability to push my kids to learn more, do more, work more.  For me to understand and process the volume of information that comes home each day, I need to take notes.  I need my own assignment book.  I consider attending school with my children. 

But of course I can’t. 

My children are now in fifth and seventh grades.  I am lost in their sea of learning.  They ask me to check their work and to do this it takes me as long as it did for them to do the work.  I have to figure out what subject they are working on (it’s not always clear), then learn the lesson, understand the assignment, work out the answers, and check to see if their work is correct.  It frustrates them.  They want a stamp of approval so they can get on with their lives, so they can be free to be kids.

I can’t even figure out where to put the stamp.




*******

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Three Hellos

Say hi to three people you don’t know before you leave today, the pastor said.  The words were familiar.  So was my reaction. 

No.  I won’t do it – I feel so fake.  It’s not my style to talk up strangers, even after church when everyone is in a good mood, when people have had their spirits and souls filled and are uplifted and ready to take on their week no matter how hard it might be. 

I smile vaguely at a few people as my husband disappears, off to mingle and to put the pastor’s words in action.  I am grateful for my son, who shares my unease in a crowd; he stays at my elbow.  He’s in that middle stage of growing up where he can almost look me in the eye, yet he feels no need to break off from me.  We held our hands palm to palm during the service to compare their sizes.  His hands, while still round and soft like a child’s, are almost as big as mine.  He is 28 years younger than me.

A young father walks by, balancing a baby on his shoulder.  She is dressed all in pink: pink dress, pink socks, pink headband with a large pink flower off to one side.  The shock of dark long hair on the top of her head belies her age.  Dad is holding her upright with his hand; she is not old enough to support herself.  Her tiny face swivels around at the throng.  Mom trails behind, infant seat slung over the crook of her elbow, bulging diaper bag over her other shoulder.  She looks tired.  I am familiar with the feeling that she wears on her face.    

She’s got a pretty good seat up there, I say to the mother as she passes us.  I nod in the direction of her daughter, leading the little parade that is her family.

I’ve taken this mom by surprise.  She was not going to be stopping three strangers to say hello today.  There was a feeding, a diaper change, and a nap for the baby (and maybe even her) in her near future.  Her day, like all before it and all after it for a time, is going to look just like this one.

She smiles and agrees.  Yeah, she says generously.  She sure does.   Have a good day, I said.  I watch them escape.

One down, two to go, says my son.  He enjoyed watching this interchange between this mother and me.  He interrupts my internal assessment of my own awkward attempt at normal interaction.  If there’s one thing that my children are good at, it is to untangle me from my thoughts.

Two more.  I’m going to look for the family that was sitting behind us during service, I said.  They always do; I don’t even know them.  I listened to their baby gurgle and babble directly behind me throughout the quiet parts of the service.  I wanted to tell them that I enjoyed her contented song, even when she squealed out once or twice.  My babies don’t make those noises anymore.  I miss those noises more and more as they grow older.

There they are, I said.  My son followed my eyes in the direction of the family I was talking about, engaged in a conversation with some others.  Feeling conspicuous, I agreed to go outside with my son and wait for my husband there.  On our way out, I said hello and smiled at an elderly woman standing alone, probably waiting for her own social butterfly to wrap things up.  She smiled and greeted me back.  Two down.  One to go.

As we went outside, we picked our way through the mulch in the front of our church, where there is a small goldfish pond hiding just behind the landscaping.  It’s a magnet for kids, who flock to this little pool to see the dozen or so goldfish swim around and around.  My kids have been watching these fish swim here every Sunday morning of their lives. 

A young family I knew was there, the boy and girl stooping down to point at the fish, the mom and dad trying to stay close enough so they could grab an arm if one of the kids got too close to the water.  Do you see any frogs?  I said.  There used to be a frog that lived here.

I remember, said my son.  The pastor reached in to touch it and it jumped.  We all jumped!  We laughed at this story.

As we parted ways, we saw the family who sat behind us during service walking our way.  There they are, mom, said my son.  Are you going to say hi?

Yeah, I replied.  As they passed, we smiled and greeted each other.  We introduced ourselves and I said to them, Your baby is adorable.  I love listening to her during church.  My babies don’t make those noises anymore, and I miss them.  As I said this, the baby smiled at me, just like mine used to.  

Not my baby.  But I can almost hear her giggle.


*******

Friday, October 11, 2013

How the Week Looks From Here

My husband and I went away last weekend with friends for an adults-only retreat from regular life, to be recharged and refreshed and ready to hit the ground running upon re-entry.  We need this kind of time as a couple without the kids, to remind ourselves of who we are without them.  When we spend that time with people who have become so loved that they are like family, so much the better.

Monday morning, the laundry was in piles, the kids were kissed and off to school, my husband was long gone to work, and I determined to return to the land of the living once more.

I sputtered and coughed and plowed through the mud of my day.  And the rest of the week.

I got stuff done.  I did chores, and food shopped, and made dinner for my family.  I shuttled kids back and forth to their activities.  I opened mail and watered plants.  I wrote and I read.

But, still.  It takes me so long to get back in to the swing of things.  I wanted to do more, wanted to get all the things accomplished that floated in my head, wanted to transform the to-do list into a have-done list.

The list takes up its space on my desk, as perfect and unmarked as the day I made it.  Not one thing got crossed off.  I feel lazy.

I argue with myself: You want too much right now.  All things cannot be done at once.

Is this the influence of the society we live in?  I am a patient person.  Having children develops that attribute in a person.  I am the Scarlett O’Hara of procrastination, the Little Orphan Annie of optimistic putting off.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another day.  I love you, tomorrow – you’re always a day away.

A friend of mine just posted this subject on her blog recently, that her life was so busy.  She lamented that she had to cut some things out of her schedule that she loves to do.  It hurt her to know that this life that she filled with good things was keeping her from doing some of the things she really enjoys doing.  She is learning to give up the guilt of not doing all she wants - there are just so many hours in the day, in the week.

I can relate, yet one thing still bugs me: how can I be productive in the things I must do if I can’t do any of the things I want to do?  It’s a delicate balance, one for which I haven’t yet found the correct measurements.  I’ve never been able to juggle.

Maybe I need to be less hard on myself.  This feeling of not getting enough done is a mind game I play alone. I cooked.  I wrote and I read.  I took the kids to their activities and back.  I got the laundry done.  I am not Supermom or Superwife.  I’m just Not Quite Super.  But even that implies that I’m Almost There.

Maybe I need a change of perspective.  Maybe I need to see that I did the things I wanted to do – I had that weekend with my husband and our friends.  I want more time to jerk around on the internet or read a magazine or watch TV so I’m going to blame the to-do list for keeping me from it, even though we have clean clothes to wear and the toilets are sparkling AND I spent an inordinate amount of time this week looking at pictures of funny animals on the internet.  Okay, the toilets aren’t sparkling.

One of these days I’ll stop complaining about my life and what it has become.  Maybe that day is today.  If not, there’s always tomorrow.




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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

DIY: The Most Delicious Quickie Lasagna

The other night my kids had an activity early-ish in the evening and I wanted to make them something to eat for dinner that didn’t require me to use the telephone and did not involve breaded coating, my goodness WHY do these kids have an activity every single night?  Don’t the people who run these things know that evenings are reserved for families!?!?  Never mind that I signed them up for these activities, and also volunteered to help out.  Okay.

The kids would be home by 4 and I wanted to eat at 5, so I reached for my tried and true lasagna recipe, the one that I raised my husband on. 

What?  You say?  Lasagna for dinner?  On a weeknight?  All the trouble!  The mess!  The boiling!  The sauce!  It’s MADNESS!!!  And to that I say, pipe down, Edith.  You too can make quickie lasagna and still get your kids to church on time.  Or band practice.

First, throw away your romantic dreams of cooking this dish under the Tuscan sun and luring beautiful Italian men into your sensual clutches.  This lasagna is amazing, but it might make any Italian food purist weep.  The ingredients I use here are not fresh, or from scratch, and the assembly procedure is a little unconventional of Nonni’s lasagna recipe.  But the recipe was passed to me from my mother, so it’s got history, and it is ho-made, because I made it and you can, too.

So get your stuff ready, and let’s make some Quickie Lasagna, girl.  The kids are on their way.

Ingredients:

(All measurements are eyeballed and approximated.  Stay calm; this is lasagna, not soufflĂ©.)

1 ½ pounds ground beef.  This is about a softball-sized hunk of raw meat.  Yeah, you can use turkey.  Go on, get weird.

3 c. cottage cheese, small curd.  My recipe says small curd.  I have used large curd, and nobody was the wiser.  I hate the word and the idea of curd, though, so I stick with small.

2 eggs, beaten.  Poor, abused eggs.

2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese.  Just use plain old grocery store, in-the-bag mozzarella cheese.  I cannot guarantee the results if you use fresh mozz.  Why don’t you join me in the middle class while you’re at it, fancypants?

½ c. Parmesan cheese.  Again, I use the kind in the green cylinder.  You can use fresh here if you want.  But look – grinding up cheese is not really what quickie lasagna is all about.  I can’t make you love me.

Oven-ready lasagna noodles.  That means no cooking beforehand.  You could try regular noodles and not boil them ahead of time, like I claim to have done but I’m not sure that I did.  Better be safe and use the ready-to-go ones, especially if you don’t have a back-up plan for dinner.  I don’t even know what would happen if the noodles wouldn’t cook.  It sounds like it might be chewy, which might be awesome.

This, my friends, is the name of the game.

Spaghetti sauce.  This is the part where you can get fancy and use the sauce that you made at the end of the summer from your bumper crop of tomatoes.  That’s what I use.  OMG hahaha, totally joking.  I use any of a variety of canned and jarred sauces.  Sometimes I mix several half-full jars of sauce together. My taste combinations have proven legendary among those who have eaten this dish.  Even among Italians.

2 T. parsley flakes.  You can use fresh here.  Parsley is my absolute favorite, and I put it in everything.  I use fresh parsley in this recipe sometimes to torture my kids because they hate its strong smell and taste.  I did not choose to torture them on this go ‘round.  Amazingly, you don’t even notice the difference once the lasagna is cooked, which begs the question: why are you using fresh anyway?

Salt and pepper.  I do use sea salt and fresh ground pepper here, okay?  Do me a solid and pick me up an application to the country club on your way to your Botox appointment.

Got all your ingredients?  Okay!  Let’s start cooking.

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  I always forget that step, then when I’m all ready to go the oven isn’t, and I punch myself in the face because now I have to wait and how could I be so stupid AGAIN?

Brown your beef in a pan.  Drain the fat.  Return to the stove and stir in the spaghetti sauce and simmer that up until it is hot, like ten minutes.  Put the lid on!  PUT THE LID ON!  Make sure you wear the apron that your husband weirdly brought you home from one of his work trips, because you know that because you are cooking something with grease and red sauce that you will be wearing a white shirt.  Why does this always happen to me?  A psychiatrist would tell me that I have issues with self-sabotage.  She would be correct. 

Meat sauce, waiting to splash all over my shirt.

Mix the cheeses, the eggs, the parsley, and some salt and pepper together in a large bowl.  Yes.  I said the cheeses.  I mix the cottage, parm, AND mozz all together.  Makes layering easy.  If you cringe at the thought of not having a mozz-only layer, keep that one separate when you mix.  Just know that I am judging you.

Without mozzarella. 
With mozzarella: the way nature intended.

When your sauce is heated up and the cheeses are all mixed together, get out your lasagna pan (or any old 13 x 9 baking pan will do) and do this little trick:  pour a tablespoon or two of sauce in the pan and spread it around so the bottom of the pan is coated with a thin layer of sauce.  I do it for no good reason other than I feel like the noodles will stick to the bottom if I don’t.  I don’t actually know if they would or not because I am not a risk-taker like that.

The secret to this lasagna may or may not be this step.
I don't really know.

Now comes the fun part, if fun to you is making layers out of sauce, noodles, and cheese.  Whatever.  I don’t judge.  I know I said before that I do.  Don’t judge me.

Your layering goes like this: Noodles. Cheese mixture. Mozzarella (if you kept it separate). Meat sauce. Repeat forever and ever or until you run out of ingredients.  The sauce should be your last (top) layer.  This recipe is good for two layers of noodles/cheese/sauce.  You could do more if you like to spread things around, but I make it easy on myself and only do two layers because the name of this recipe is Quickie Lasagna, not Labor Intensive Lasagna.

I like to include a wide shot so
you get the full effect of my cooking genius.

Cheeses layer.  It goes over the noodles!

Sauce and noodle layer.  They go over the cheeses!
This is so exciting.
Ready to go in the oven.  It already looks delizioso.
That's Italian for delicious.  Yes.  I speak Italian.

I started this particular lasagna at 3:17 and the time was 3:38 when I put the pan in the oven.  It takes about an hour to cook, and give that baby time to rest before you eat, I’d say another ten-to-fifteen.  It’s done when it looks a little bubbly and the edges are brown.  Take the time to clean up your pots and pans, honey, because you just earned yourself an hour to do whatever you want, whether you pour yourself a bottle of wine or write a hilarious blog post that will win some sort of awesome blogging award.  Or probably not.  Most likely not.

Guess what time we ate this the other night.  GUESS.  Five-oh-two, suckers.  We had
lasagna piping hot from the oven and fresh bread and butter ready to go on an early Tuesday evening.  BOOM.  I had salad ready too but on this particular evening I didn’t feel like hearing whining and gnashing of teeth from the kids about eating salad, so I left it in the fridge.  Little compromises.

And maybe you’re thinking to yourself, hey man, what’s so quick about this dish?  It took you an hour and a half from beginning to end.  And to that I say, look lady, I can’t help it if you don’t like to wait for things to cook.  This thing only took twenty minutes to throw together.  And this is what you’re eating:

My goodness, that is beautiful.

And if you don’t think that’s worth it on a Tuesday night when you have to be out the door at 5:45, then I can’t help you anymore.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Black Cat

Things surprise you when you become a mom, like the amount of love your heart can hold, or how much poop a baby can produce.  Sometimes the job stretches existing talents, which is also surprising. For example, I can cook, but I found out that I was a pretty good short-order cook, as evidenced by the days and nights I found myself preparing separate meals for my children and one for my husband and I.  And all of us sat down at the exact same time for dinner.

When Halloween rolls around every year, I look forward to my kids wearing amazing costumes that make the neighbors swoon and load up my their treat bags with the choicest of Trick-or-Treat offerings like Snickers and Butterfinger, saving disgusting chocolate coins and severed finger gummies for the costumed-challenged.

And because pre-made Halloween costumes cost on average between thirty and a hundred thousand dollars, man what a racket, I have been forced to dig deep into my talents over the years, managing to expand my button-sewing skills into creating most of our Halloween costumes. 

Who knew that the most awkward 13-year-old in my 8th grade Home Ec class, the one who sewed the front fabric piece of her required class Jams project upside down, would be a Halloween costume-making master fifteen years later?

Once upon a time, jams were everything.

I drag out my sewing machine only a few times a year, and one of these times is Halloween.  I have made a witch and some ghosts, Popeye and punk rockers, but one costume is my crowning jewel: my daughter’s Little Black Cat costume, worn two years in a row when she was so small.

Costumes for toddlers are notoriously cute, but most leave room for improvement.  Bulkiness and warmth are a factor in our climate, as are comfort and fit.  It’s difficult to reach the neighbor at the bottom of the development who hands out full-sized Hershey bars for the kids and beers for parents if you have a two-year-old who quits at the end of your street because her fairy princess costume has the insulation factor of a piece of tissue paper, or if your little green dinosaur is swallowed by his costume that seems to be made from throw pillows.  That’s why I like to adapt actual clothing into costumes, so my children feel like they’re wearing regular clothes and will get me to the chocolate promised land to fully enjoy their trick-or-treating experience in comfort and ease.

The little black cat costume is so easy.  You can do it, too! 

You will need:

Black hoodie and black stretchy pants
Black fake fur
Pink felt
Stuffing material
Black thread
Stick-on Velcro (optional)

Instructions:

Cut four triangles from the black fur (about 4 inches long on each side) – these will be the ears

Cut two triangles out of the felt for the insides of the ears (about 2-3 inches each side)

Center a felt triangle on the fur side of one of the fur triangles.  With needle and black thread, sew the felt onto the fur by hand, using large stitches ½ an inch along the sides of the felt triangle.  Repeat with other fur/felt triangle.

Pair a fur/felt triangle and a plain fur triangle together, fur sides facing.  Sew them together about ½ an inch around, leaving about an inch opening on the third side (I used my machine for this part).  Repeat with other triangles.

Turn each fur triangle right side out and stuff with stuffing.  Stitch opening closed by hand.



Sew each ear on to the hood of the hoodie so that they look like cat ears, pink felt side facing front.

Cut two long rectangles from the black fur (16 inches long and 4 inches wide) – these will be the tail.

Face them together, fur side in. Sew them together about ½ an inch around, leaving about an inch opening on the fourth side (I used my machine for this part, too).

Turn the tail right side out, stitch opening closed by hand, and sew it onto the back of the pants at the waistband.  No need to stuff.



Cut a large oval out of a piece of felt for the belly accent.  You want it to cover most of the front of the hoodie.  I used a zip-up hoodie and the oval approached the top of the zipper and extended to the bottom of the cuff.

If you are using a zip-up hoodie like I did, make large decorative stitches with black thread about ½ inch around the oval to mimic the stitches you made on the pink ear felt.  Tack it with several stitches spaced evenly around the oval so you can still zip it up.  You can use squares of Velcro to fix it to the hoodie if you don’t mind sewing Velcro.  The sticky back of most Velcro might not be strong enough to keep the felt oval on during your trip around the neighborhood, and you don’t want to waste a single second of candy foraging to mess with a costume. 

If you are using a pullover hoodie, stitch the felt oval onto the hoodie using large stitches to mimic the stitches on the pink ear felt.  Boom.

I know, it's disgusting.  This costume is eight years old.  Much candy eating was done wearing it.

Dress your little black cat in this outfit and paint whiskers and a cute little kitty nose on her sweet face using black eyeliner and pink lipstick.  Buy her some black or white or even pink stretchy gloves to wear for the full effect and cut the fingers off if you want to.  Or use mittens for your kitten.  You can even safety-pin or stitch some leftover fur to the cuffs of the hoodie for extra cuteness like I did.



I almost cried myself to death getting this costume out of storage for this post.  My little baby is ten now.  This costume even has some slobber stains on it from when she wore this on trick or treat so many years ago  - I don't know why I never washed it.  Last year we used the tail and the ears for a Puss in Boots costume that was not as good as the original, even though she was still cute.  Here is the original:

So sweet it makes my teeth hurt.  And it's not even Halloween yet.

Is it any wonder she wore this costume two years in a row?  Where are my tissues?

*******
This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #1: Tell us about a favorite Halloween costume.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How To Get Through A Difficult Week: Tips From Kids

It’s no secret that some weeks are harder to get through than others.  On-the-job obstacles range from a tough meeting at work, a difficult project, having too many tasks and not enough time.

A difficult week for a kid might mean tests at school, losing homework, a fight with a friend, losing screen privileges for sassing your mom, having to do extra chores.

If you’re a stay at home mom, MY GOD there is no such thing as a difficult week because you have every day to fill with whatever you fancy, whether it’s getting caught up on your favorite reality TV show or spending the day getting your hair and nails done.

Ha ha ha.  My last haircut was in the middle of summer, and the last coloring job I had is grown out 6 inches at least.  And just yesterday I cleaned bathrooms and had my hands in two toilets, one of which had not been flushed in some time.   

It was… stinky.

Anyway, the kids and I were sitting at the table Monday evening for dinner, and they were in pretty good moods because Mondays at our house mean soup for dinner, their favorite.  My kids love Soup For Dinner Monday because it’s simple and simple dinners mean minimal clean up, and because I expect help when it’s time to clean up, having minimal clean up means they have more time to do other things they love.

I know.  I’m the meanest.

So they were talking about how easy dinners like soup make Monday more fun for them, because they know that they will have an easy night which makes Monday less of  a party-pooper than it already is.

(and now I will reflect on my own feelings about Monday, which is the first of five days in a row that I get to spend at home, all by myself)

***

The kids felt that every day should have its own thing to look forward to, in case you have a crappy day and need to daydream your way through it just to keep your head from exploding. 

It’s funny how my kids are so like me.  I’ve been employing this technique for years, and they came up with it all on their own.  Note that their fantasies do not involve Adam Levine but are instead appropriately-aged, not to mention realistic and easily adapted to any person. 

Although I would argue that thinking about Adam Levine while scrubbing toilets is not a bad way to get through that particular chore.


The following is what my children came up with:

Tips for Getting Through a Difficult Week

On Monday, plan on doing something fun in the evening.  Don’t schedule anything on Monday evenings – ease into your week.  Have soup for dinner so you can spend extra time playing video games and watching Disney channel shows on a loop.

On Tuesday, just do your regular thing.  Nobody really minds Tuesdays. (I would add that Tuesday is thought to be the most productive day of the week.  Try not to plan too much, and watch as your to-do list is completed in record time.  Then take a nap.)  Alternately, eat tacos on Tuesday.  Everyone loves Taco Tuesday.

Wednesday is Hump Day.  Yell out Hump Daaaaay! every chance you get.  Delight in the potential annoyance factor of this activity.  Play this commercial every hour on the hour until you’re asked to stop, which won’t happen because everyone still loves it, because it’s genius.



Everybody loves Thursday.   Like Tuesday, nobody really minds Thursday.  Technically the day before the weekend officially starts, you can use Thursday as a springboard for planning the weekend.   Personally, I think the love of Thursday comes from Must-See TV in the 80s and 90s.


Fridays can be awesome, but they can also be terrible.  According to my kids, most tests occur on Friday, which sucks (yes, my kids say sucks.  I’m only an average-to-bad mom when it comes to language).  Most firings occur on Fridays, too.  And Friday is the last day of freedom for stay-at-home moms.  So Friday can be good because Friday = weekend = staying up late, sleeping in, all-around party time, but it can also be bad because Friday = failure and job loss = destroyed dreams and general devastation.   Basically Friday is the guy in high school you had a crush on and who asked you out, thus making your life awesome, but he was probably going to dump you before prom.

My daughter says that the best way to get through a tough week is to be positive every single day and to see everything as fun because it will make the week go faster, because haven’t you ever heard of the saying “Time flies when you’re having fun?”

And despite my son’s and my sort of combined general dreariness, we had to admit that she might be onto something.

That and soup for dinner.  You really can’t go wrong with soup for dinner, any day of the week.