Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's Time for Some Poetry: The Plan

The Plan

Next year is high school
SNAP and college credit
Business track or tech?

Only three more years of math to go.

Then on to college
For two years or four years
What’s the difference?

I want to have a job like Dad has.

He throws the yo-yo
It moves along the string
Where did he learn this?

You can learn anything on Youtube.

The conversation shifts
A story about possessed dolls
We all laugh about them.

Do you remember the Chucky movies?

Those people are so dumb
All they really need to do
Is cut off Chucky’s head

If he got close to me that’s what I’d do.

We laugh again.
I am thankful that
He has a plan.





*******

This post inspired by:


Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #2: Write a poem inspired by the last conversation you had with your child.




Monday, January 26, 2015

Seventy-Nine Photos



There weren’t many photos of just her. The snapshots were on display on an easel at the funeral home for family members and friends to look at and remember while they mourned her passing from this life into the next.  Most of the photos were of her standing next to loved ones, holding a baby on her lap, arm around her husband of over seven decades.

I had pulled 79 photos of Grandma from the books and bins that we store at our house, and taped them all to a huge posterboard. My cousins made additional posters from the photos they store at their houses, from the photos she still kept at hers.

There were way more than seventy-nine photos of her to mark her presence in this world, in our lives.

Once again our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends gathered to remember and cry on each others’ shoulders.  The tears we shed were over memories, the knew-it-would-come-but-never-quite-ready realization that she was gone, during a spring of sorrow that hit each of us at different times.  We moved through the funeral home to greet old friends and rarely seen family members, and whispered questions to each other about who this person is and who that person was.  I tried to keep my mind from dwelling on the sweetest memories of my dear grandmother, that there would be no more new ones.

It’s always hard being left.

Fifteen months ago we cried from a loss, but also because she would be left; Granddad died on Halloween and we all shared a portion of her grief, of continuing on without him.  I numbered the photos I found to display on his posterboard, just as I had for hers.  Most of the photos I pulled for her funeral already had a number scrawled on the back.

Their lives, intertwined.  Their days, weeks, years - numbered together.

We gathered at their house and ate food that caring people prepared.  We failed to keep teeny fingers out of candy dishes and laughed at little faces covered in powdered sugar and donut crumbs.  We ate off of Styrofoam plates in the living room and on the floor of their bedroom.  My dad said that he thought the walls of the little house would bow out from all the people stuffed inside. 

We opened dresser drawers and found more photos, and tucked a few into our pockets to take home.  We pulled photo albums out of end tables and and paged through them.  We laughed at old hairdos and fashion misses, named babies and remembered past events.

When dinner was over we sifted through piles of boots and shoes that littered the kitchen floor, as they always had when we were there.  We found our vehicles in their driveway, closely and randomly parked.  We picked our way out carefully through the snow, and drove over the hill and through the field to get back to the funeral home to greet more guests that would be coming to see her, to see us, to offer condolences and support, to remember.

And to see her face smiling through those more than seventy-nine photos.




*******

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Then and Now: 10 Years


             
  





I was 31 years old.

I am 41.




My husband and I had been married for five years, and I was a new(ish) mom with a 3-year-old son and a 20-month-old daughter.  
 We also had a little dog.

My husband and I have been married for a hundred and eighty years.  It feels like a billion.  The kids are 11 and 13.  
I don’t remember life without any of them.
 We have no pets, after years of trying out other pets and realizing that we are not actually pet people.  
Sometimes we keep my parents’ cat and I am reminded why we do not have pets anymore.




I was at the end of my job working as an analyst/proofreader/Girl Friday for a marketing research firm located in Charlotte.  My work-from-home position was rare then; no one understood yet how difficult it was to get work done with toddlers underfoot.  Daycare was out of the question, so I decided to quit.  My husband and I agreed to forgo any unnecessary expenses until we figured out how we could survive on his salary.  
We ate a lot of spaghetti that year.


I am a full-time mom and wife, completely institutionalized.  I cannot fathom being on the outside.  
My kids are past the ages of daycare.  
 Sometimes I wonder why on earth I chose a profession for which I will never be paid.  
We eat a lot of pizza and Oreos.



I didn’t have good enough friends yet to tell me that short hair was not my best look.

My good friends warn me that if I try to get my hair cut short they will hold me against my will until the desire to get my hair cut short has passed.



My hair was “red.”  
I colored it myself, just for the fun of it.

My hair is “brown.”  
I get it done professionally because its natural condition requires this.



Our house was new(ish).  
I spent a lot of time cleaning, painting it a rainbow of cheerful colors, and decorating.  
I scrubbed grout.

Our house is almost at that age where it requires replacement on all the big things.  
I expect my family to help with housework and I spend the least amount of time possible cleaning it myself.  
I only scrub things if necessary.  
I painted the walls in our house one color in a rage against the paint colors I had picked out when I was 31.  
I dream about living in a minimalist apartment with a doorman.




One child was in two half-days of preschool a week and I would soon enroll the other one in a playgroup once a week.  Any feelings of sorrow or wistfulness that my babies were growing up were squashed by excitement at being one step closer to having an hour or so of “me time” once a week.

The kids are in school all day five days a week.
 Sometimes I miss them even when they’re here.
I contemplate keeping them home forever. 




I lamented that I still carried some baby weight.

I absorbed the baby weight and added another few pounds to seal it in forever.




I pretended like I didn’t care about fashion and wore jeans and sneakers every day.  Secretly I wished to do better.


I OWN wearing jeans and sneakers every day.  It’s my favorite uniform.



I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life after this phase was over.

I realize that this phase of life is a blink, a breath, a moment.  
I’d love to do it all over again.
Maybe more slowly.


*******

This post inspired by:


Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #1: Find a photo of yourself taken 10 years ago and display it on your blog along with a current photo. How have you changed since the day that photo was taken?



Monday, January 12, 2015

DIY: Forget-Her-Love-Of-Horses Pepperoni Rolls

When I was a girl I was into horses, like every other American girl.  I talked about horses, read books about horses, watched movies about horses, asked to look at horses, pet horses, ride horses, keep horses, and so on and so forth.  We lived in the country and knew people who owned horses.  I couldn’t figure out why our family didn’t have at least one measly horse to keep around.  My own dad had a pony growing up.  Why can’t I?

I don't have a picture of my dad as a kid with his pony.
I do, however, have a picture of our family with a small white cow.

I was into horses so much that my parents sent me away to horse camp for a whole summer1, at which I was assigned a horse to take care of the entire time.

It turned out to be a genius move, because after that much time2 taking care of a horse, I no longer wanted anything to do with horses and stopped talking about them.

Did you know that taking care of a horse is like a million times more work than taking care of a dog?  And nothing like taking care of stuffed animals, or say, keeping your room clean, or unloading the dishwasher or folding a load of towels, or even making your bed every day?

Did you also know that if a horse steps on the toe of your boot, you cannot pull your boot out from under the horse’s foot?  You most likely will stand there in paralyzed fear until the horse moves its foot.

Fun fact #1: Horses don’t typically move their feet when they stop to pee.

Fun fact #2: The phrase “I peed like a race horse” that people use after a vigorous bladder-emptying session is a very accurate description.

Fun fact #3:  When a horse pees, it’s very splashy.

Like I said, no more horse talk from me.

To drive home the horror truth about keeping horses as pets, several months later my dad took a friend and me to a local horse arena to watch horses oh, I don’t know, run around?  Look.  I was a small child.  Okay, I was about 10 or 11.  I don’t know what we were there to see.  Anyway, my friend and I watched the horses run around the arena and It. Was. So. Boring.  And it was cold and smelled like – you got it.  Horses.

But my friend brought a treat for us.  It was pepperoni bread that someone in her family had made: a loaf of bread swirled with pepperoni and cheese and deliciousness and love.  After one bite I found that I loved pepperoni bread almost as much as I thought I loved horses.  More, even.

Thus began my personal quest to eat dough and pepperoni as frequently as possible for the rest of my life.  I’ve been a #1 fan of pepperoni pizza forever, but at that tender age I realized that sometimes I just want my pepperoni and dough in a swirl.

I’m thrilled to share my recipe for Pepperoni Rolls that our family eats pretty often.  Got a tween who whines about horses?  Serve this up and skip the expensive camp experience.  My parents were always over-achievers anyway.

Forget-Her-Love-Of-Horses Pepperoni Rolls



Ingredients:

1 tube of pizza dough.  I KNOW.  Many of my recipes contain this ingredient.  It’s because a) it’s inexpensive, b) it’s delicious, c) it stores easily, d) it’s easy to have on hand, and e) IT’S DOUGH.

Olive oil.  Not the cartoon character, silly.  Don’t have olive oil?  You won’t really miss it.  Shhhh.  Don’t tell Popeye.



Green sprinkles.  You know, oregano, parsley, basil, or the mysterious Italian seasoning.  Just a little, now.  You’re not really Italian.

Shredded mozzarella cheese.  In the bag.  Don’t you even think of using the fancy kind.  That kind is best saved for slow afternoons when you’re watching Orange is the New Black on a tear and you need something to munch on and you grab the container of mozz balls instead of the chip dip.  Mozz balls in the container have saved me from a lifetime of eating too much chip dip more times than I can count.

Parmesan cheese.  Shake cheese is where it’s at.

Sliced pepperoni.  You know, in the zip-top bag?  When I was a kid I loved when my mom would buy sliced pepperoni in the yellow shrink-wrapped package.  It was perfectly lined up in little rows just waiting to be peeled off and slid down your gullet.  My brothers and I would mow down a package of those as soon as my mom came home from the store.

Warmed marinara sauce (optional).  To dip.  Use only if you have it – don’t make a special trip!  That’s what “optional” means.  Like wearing a dress to church, or pants on the weekend.

Only some of the ingredients you'll need.  Also note that I used fancy parm.
Fancy parm is sometimes okay.  But don't go thinking that it's the norm, Betty.  Know your place.

That’s it!  SO EASY.  You prob have all those ingredients already.  Especially the pizza dough.  Because DOUGH.

So here’s whatcha do:

Instructions:

A. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Whoa, that’s hot.  Just like Grandma.

1. POP!  the dough out of its cardboard prison.  Cover your eyes so you don’t lose one – everybody knows that they put fireworks in those tubes to make them pop like that.  Cut the Box-Tops off of the packaging to give to your kids’ school.  Unless you use the store brand, which doesn’t offer them.  What, are you against education or something?

2. Stretch out the dough to make a perfect rectangle, about 20 inches long and 8 inches wide.  These measures are approximate.  I’m just giving you an idea so you do it right, instead of wrong, like everything else you do.  Push together the holes you made when you ripped the dough out of its packaging.  You’re so careless!

3. Spread a little bit of olive oil over the surface of the dough.  I said you wouldn’t miss it if you don’t have olive oil, and you might not, but it really does give it a good flavor.  Reminder:  you are using tube dough.  You can use all the flavor you can get here.



4. Sprinkle the dough with seasonings.  Just a little, though.  You want to let the flavor of the smoked and heavily processed meat shine through on this dish.

5. Sprinkle the dough with shredded cheese.  You don’t want to be too heavy handed with the cheese here.  You want some cheese, not all cheese.  Have you ever had pizza that was too cheesy?  I know, it sounds impossible.  But it's no good, and it can and will happen if you don’t tone it down a bit.  I’d say a good rule of thumb is to use maybe a cup or a cup and a half.  You want to see through the cheese to the dough here.  You just want to see it.  Don’t be a fool.



6. Place the pepperoni slices evenly on the cheese.  Not shoulder to shoulder; give them space to breathe a little.  It’s not a pepperoni rave; think of it as a classy pepperoni cocktail party.

Don't forget to test your ingredients for poison.

7. Sprinkle with parmesan.  Just a little!  Jeez, Martha.  Ease up already.

8. Roll the dough into a log shape, starting with one of the long edges.  Be careful.  It’s not as easy as it seems.  The pepperoni will slide around and you will reconsider your life on this planet.  Stay with it.  You are almost there.


9. Slice the dough log into sixteen equal parts, each about an inch wide.  I just slice each section in half until I can’t slice no mo’.  I also like to say Log.

Look how pretty.

10. Place the slices cut side up on your favorite baking surface, either a greased cookie sheet or ungreased stoneware.  Make sure you leave an inch or two between the rolls so they have room to mingle.  Remember: cocktail party.  And for the love of Mike, use a baking surface with sides, unless you like grease to drip all over your oven and smoke you out of your own house.  Look.  You are cooking pepperoni, the greasiest food since lard.  Mike will thank you later.

Almost a rave.  Do as I say, not as I do.

11. Bake in the oven for twenty minutes.  Check them towards the end, because no one likes a burnt bottom.

12. Remove from the pan with a spatula and place on a plate lined with paper towels to keep up the fa├žade that you insist on serving healthful meals to your family.  

Serve the pepperoni rolls to your hog family who will eat them all in five minutes flat.  Remember the bowl of marinara for dipping – you left it in the micro, and they will complain about what a horrible person you are if you forget.  Trust.  Something fun I like to do with my family is insist that they each eat a large portion of salad before they touch the pepperoni rolls.  Or make them pay for their meals like you’re at a restaurant.  It’s a good way to make a little extra cash, really.

Cash that you definitely WON’T be saving to buy a horse.  Those things are highly overrated.  If you find yourself nostalgic for horses again, just watch The Black Stallion or something.




1It was three days.  Not even full days, either.  More like one full day and two half days.

2Three days, people.  THREE.


*******

Thursday, January 8, 2015

This is How 2014 Looked

Hey!

So… it’s January.

Eight days in.

A whole week and a day.

Life looks… pretty much the same as it did in November.  I say November because that was like the last time we had a normal day, because once Thanksgiving hits it’s pretty much all over for the year as far as normalcy is concerned.  In contrast, not much feels like the holidays around here anymore.

Except for the Christmas tree in my living room, which will reside there until I’m over it.

It takes me a while to get over it.

Can I get an Amen for fake Christmas trees?  I just love them.  Except when you have a pre-lit one and half the lights go out and you decide (because you’re a touch compulsive) that all the lights must GO, and you spend six hours unlighting your pre-lit tree.  It takes that long because there are 1,000 lights on said tree, each wire full of lights wound tightly multiple times around each branch on the tree.  The tree that is nine feet tall.

. . .

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you my top twelve favorite photos of 2014.  I know, I know, I’m a little late for year in review posts.  Everyone’s been doing them lately.  In fact, everyone already has.  I haven’t, because in spite of my love of nostalgia I don’t like to reflect on a previous year and wax poetic about all that I did (or didn’t do).  Because it would look like this:

Housework.  Raising kids.  Crying over the last vestiges of my youth.

And that is just sad.

So I haven’t done it yet.  But I am now.  I contemplated only posting the best pictures of myself from the year, but I thought that might be a little narcissistic of me.  

You know, more narcissistic than having two blogs that pretty much showcase my own thoughts about everything.  

Also, there are only about two or three good pictures of me from last year.  Sigh.  You know what they need in high school?  A class that teaches young ladies how to take decent pictures.  I could have used it.  All you beauty queens would have gotten an easy A.  Seriously.  Watching me take a passable selfie costs a good twenty or thirty minutes of your life.

Here are 12 favorite pictures from the year.  I did one a month, because I'm not that creative.  


In January I didn't take many pictures, because I likely was enjoying not having Christmas loom over my head - just like I am now.  I took some pictures of my then-12 year old sitting at his then-new laptop.  He looked so grown to me and this was about the time I started thinking about how old I really am.  Also, my kids aren't little anymore.  They're humans now.



In February THIS one took her dad to a Someone Special dance at school and looked like a teenager and I wept.  Not really.  I high-fived myself because I did her hair and you can't tell in this picture but it looked Gorgeous.



March he turned thirteen and got Pop-Tarts for his birthday.  He was happy with them, too.  To all you over-achieving parents out there, here's a pro tip: as long as you keep expectations low for your children, they will be happy with junk food as a gift, even for a milestone birthday.  In other words, stop trying so hard to do AMAZING THINGS for your kids.

He also got thirteen packs of gum that day, and my job was done.



In April we visited my parents at their home and took a ride down by the creek (or "crick," if you're from Pennsyltucky).  The kids asked to be let off so they could skip stones while we rode along, and when we came back to retrieve them we couldn't see them.  This picture was snapped about thirty seconds into my total panic at not seeing them by the creek.  They were face down in the mud, hiding like escaped convicts.  Little jerks.

We retaliated / taught them a lesson for hiding beside a body of water by making them bathe in the creek.  Then we hosed them off before allowing them inside to shower.  It was about 50 degrees that day.



In May my mom and dad and grandmother visited us for Mother's Day.  This is my mom.  Also what I will look like in about 20 years.  I'm okay with this.  My mom and I look alike, act alike, and sound alike.  If you call my mom's house you might think I am the one answering the phone and vice versa. That made it so much fun to be a teenager, especially when my dad's business contacts would think I was my mom on the phone and they'd say all kinds of lewd things to be hilarious.  TEENAGE ME: "Uh, this is Andrea." DIRTY OLD BUSINESS MAN: ::clears throat:: "Oh, heh heh... er, is your mom or dad there?"  TEENAGE ME: :: rolls eyes, hands phone to mom, contemplates circus life::



One weekend in June some of our family members visited for our son's confirmation and our daughter's dance recital. It was one crazy weekend.  She decided to blow off steam by shooting hoops in her church dress. Also her Someone Special dance dress.  When you're 11 you have one dress that you wear to everything.



July - Each of our kids took a friend on vacation to the beach this summer.  It's always a good idea to invite friends who get along on your family vacation, because when you're punishing your kids for fighting with each other at least the friends don't feel like they're being punished too.  These four were almost inseparable the entire week.  I love this picture so much - it's so Jersey Shore: The Wonder Years.



This was in August, when we realized that we had about six days to cram all the activities in that we had planned for the summer.  This picture was taken in Hershey Park, where we got rained out of the park and chose to ride the (indoor) Chocolate World tour along with the rest of the park's guests.  It was very claustrophobic.  What you don't see in this picture is the surly teenager who "just wanted to go home already."

And yes.  Chocolate World is as terrific as you think.



September.  My husband went to Penn State and loves it more than he loves me and our children combined.  I'm not kidding about this at all.  He gets so janked up about attending these football games every fall that he talks about almost nothing for four months every year but Penn State football and going to a Penn State football game and where he is going to get his Penn State football tickets.  I thank God every day that he has a son who is willing to go to these games with him, because I've been to my share of Penn State football games, and I can tell you that I have already attended my last one.



We went with friends to Costa Rica in October and it was the best family vacation we've taken and our kids did not drink beer but I love this picture.  Even more than the one of me doing "superman" with the zip line guide which is quite possibly the most inappropriate thing I've done with a stranger in 20 years.



In November we visited my brother and his girlfriend in Arizona for Thanksgiving and after we ate our turkey dinner outside (because, Hello! Arizona!) they posed with our kids for this classic picture where it looks like the subjects are looking at something interesting just out of the frame but in actuality they are staring at the corner of the ceiling and trying not to giggle as the people in the room laugh because a) it's just silly and b) everyone drank wine all day.


December. This photo marks the beginning of the Close! You're Too Close! season, otherwise known as Christmas Vacation.

  
*******

This post inspired by:


Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #5: Share your top 12 photos from 2014.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Seven Activities to Keep Your Family Reasonably Occupied Over Winter Break

Happy 2015, poops!

I meant to say peeps.  But my fingers typed poops instead.  I'm leaving it there.

Because poops.  And yes.  I'm still twelve.


*******

After making the decision to stay home together this week, it became readily apparent that we needed something to do to keep from killing each other.

Because we all are at home.  Together, people.  And togetherness begets ennui, bickering, and strife.

Oh, it’s all fun and games and loving and caring at your house, huh?  Isn’t that nice for you.  Now go away.

After cornering my husband and instructing him to put away the mopey face he wears at home because he’s never home and he doesn’t know what to do when he’s home except mope around, we discussed the things we will do this week to head off the inevitable storm of smart talk, bad behavior, crying, and feelings of boredom and hopelessness that the rest of my family will have to deal with when I lose my mind from having them all home with me for a week.

Here’s what we came up with:

1. Go to the movies.  About ten movies came out around Christmas, and we are going to see them.  Well, maybe not all of them.  So far we’ve seen two.  We don’t go to the movies often, so we blow our movie budget for the year even before the new year starts.  Who cares?  No one’s yelling or crying while you’re inside the movie theater.  Except for the toddler that is in every movie theater these days WHY DO PEOPLE INSIST ON BRINGING BABIES TO THE MOVIES?

2. Go “shopping.”  If you are like us, money is tight at the holidays because you spent it all on presents, food, and booze, and because you are going to the movies every day.  So you return duplicate gifts and get store credit or exchange for the right size or a different item and pretend that you are shopping for yourself when actually you are just recycling money that has already been spent.  Or you’re my husband and just go to the mall and drop another hundred bucks on yourself because why not?  You don’t pay the bills.

3. Exercise.  Look.  You just spent the last week eating and drinking your weight or more in desserts and dips, meats and potatoes, pastas, and eggnog.  You have to work it off.  Just do it, and try not to cry openly at your lack of will.

4. Clean your filthy house.  People have been in and out of the house for weeks and you’ve neglected even swiping the counter with a Clorox wipe because you’ve been so busy.  Your house is a pit.  Put the holiday decorations away and start the new year afresh.  Or at least less sticky.  Seriously.  Would it kill anyone to wipe the counter?

5. Have your kids’ friends over.  The tween in our house sees a week of nothing to do and screams “SLEEPOVER!”  Do it.  Order pizza or feed Sarah Elizabeth your Christmas dinner leftovers.  Then do the same tomorrow when Logan and Jimmy come over.  Double bonus on this one: the kids are occupied and mom and dad can curl up on the couch and binge watch all the shows they missed last year.

6. Have your own friends over.  Inviting friends over the break is a great way to a) get rid of even more food, b) see what they got for Christmas so you can borrow it later, c) have an excuse to day drink, d) be around normal people after spending so much time with your family.

7. Hide.  In our house, we each have our favorite spot.  Mine is at my desk where I can look busy while I peer into the neighbor’s windows.  My husband likes to hole up in his office and stare at the wall while he pretends to work.  Our son finds the basement to his liking, where he can get sucked into playing video games.  Our daughter lies on the floor of her room, making crafts and watching pranking videos on YouTube.

All of these activities are surefire ways to sail through the holidays with a minimum of turmoil, and before you know it, the break will be over and everyone will be off to their rightful places in the universe.  With any luck you’ll all start the new year unscathed, just like I am hoping for our family.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I think the neighbors just got home.

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #2: 7 best ways to spend winter break.