Monday, December 31, 2007

Menu Planning Monday, Because Apparently, All Those Presents Weren't a Personal Chef

I can't believe my last post of the year is probably going to be an MPM, but I suppose it's fitting. What started as a personal challenge to myself turned in to a great habit this year that has saved me money and aggravation without causing too much disruption in the rest of my life. Quelle miracle!

It was a wonderful holiday, though; the idea that Santa left any presents at all (instead of coal; my boy was glumly steeling himself that at least if he got coal, it would have to mean a trip to Strasburg Railroad to give it to the trains who could use it, after all) was a thrill, and that he got The One Thing he wanted more than anything else really sent him over the edge (in a good way). And the two year old, who only wanted turtles, was so thrilled with his brother's toys, we STILL have unopened gifts for the little one on the couch in the living room. Which, I know, is a miracle for the four year old too, that he hasn't ripped them all open himself.

Anyway. A strange menu-planning week but an easy one....

Monday: Finally trying the Lemon Chicken Schnitzel, with cauliflower on the side.

Tuesday: Happy 2008! My father-in-law's birthday; we're hosting the party. An intimate family dinner of 17. Honeybaked ham and turkey; potato salad; green salad; some other veggie (delegated); our favorite crock-pot pork roast; mac and cheese; and more appetizers than any 38 people would eat. I have GOT to clean out my freezer.

Wednesday: Leftovers.

Thursday: Leftovers.

Friday: Might eat out. Might be soup from a ham bone. We'll see how the leftovers go.

Saturday: My husband's boss has his traditional after-holidays open house. I'm not going but I won't have to feed him so that makes it easy.

And HEY, one of the stocking stuffers this year was Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt, which I have always loved with oil and vinegar on a salad or sprinkled on mushrooms broiled with butter. But my sister-in-law discovered it when someone brought it for dinner during her recovery in the following format: Sprinkle on chicken breasts on baking sheet/pan/whatever. Cover in foil. Bake at 350 for 45 mintues. So easy, the boys loved it, and a total godsend as it's a product I always have in the house.

Merry New Year, everyone. Any resolutions? For the most part, we try to make ones that are kind to ourselves, rather than beating ourselves up, but this year, I am going to try very hard to not eat after dinner/dessert. I have gotten in the bad habit of eating when I am tired, confusing one need for another, and need to cut it out. A new year is as good a time as any to start a new habit, right? Now I just need the "kind to ourselves" one too. Our best ever was the "try a new restaurant every month" but with the added babysitter cost that is now prohibitive. I'm thinking "one on-demand movie per month" which would thrill my husband....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Out of Fall Into Reading

So, here we are at the end of fall, approaching solstice. Time to assess the fall challenge...

My original list post is here. Now here's where the list stands.


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden

Three Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Really liked the beginning, except the one gory bit, but once I realized I couldn't make either book group night featuring this book, I moved on to others. Can't wait to finish it though.

Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginnot
I keep flipping through to parts that I hope will help me communicate better with my son. Many of the suggestions work; I love the "reflecting what you hear" rather than "jumping in with advice or reaction" technique. However, this works much better with my even-tempered younger son than my hot-headed older one. Still, instructive.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This is on so many people's "favorite books" list, I've been eager to read it forever. I know that Pi ends up on a boat with a tiger. But despite dutiful reading, I can't even get to the boat.

Excellence Without A Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education by Harry R. Lewis
How can a higher-ed junkie pass up this title?! Only later did I realize I have met his wife several times professionally, and probably him, too. I love his frankness, his historical perspectives and personal beefs, and realizing that many of the things that drive me crazy about the institutions where I've been are just endemic to higher education in general.

Didn't Even Get There:

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
This has to be next on the list since it is the next one my book group is discussing.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
This was added because it was the Fall Reading Project book where I work. However, the program coordinator never gave me a copy. I know, there are libraries, but when I had in hand multiple others, it was hard to not just figure I'd wait until my "official" copy arrived. It may be a while. Since at this point, it already has been.

My Life with the Saints by James Martin
Oh, this makes me sad. He and I were in school together and have friends-of-friends in common. I love hearing him on NPR and got this book last Christmas, so I was hoping to, you know, finish it within the YEAR I got it. Apparently that wasn't meant to be.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This was for one of my book groups. I never read it before, either, so this seemed like as good a time as any. But I suspect somehow it will still be there on my spring list.

Hey, not bad overall. I knew it was ambitious when I listed it. And the challenge was great for keeping me on track and not buying any more books (ok, I bought three books this fall) until I tackled some more of the ones I had. Overall, I have to call it a success; thanks for hosting, Katrina!

Fall Into Reading--Simple Abundance

Ok, theoretically, this is cheating. Since Simple Abundance is a daybook, I had to read ahead almost two whole weeks to finish it in time for it to count for "fall." But that felt authentic to me, so I did it anyway.

I started this in spring, even though the author tsks-tsks at readers who don't start at the new year. I figured if I didn't start Right Then, I never would. And I actually went back and started the readings from the beginning, as she suggested, as well as keeping up with the daily readings day by day.

This book had a real emotional undercurrent for me as the copy I read belonged to my late sister-in-law. Labor Day of 2001, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She went through treatments and was in remission for a time before it finally took her life in 2005. But her transformation in that time was incredible.

She and I were opposites in many ways; she had a "Martha Stewart doesn't live here" plaque in her house. In my house, it would be ironic--to be read with the unprinted "just in case it wasn't BLATANTLY OBVIOUS by the messes and lack of decor!" In her house, it was a point of pride, to be read with the unprinted "all evidence to the contrary." She was a chef extraordinaire, sewed most of her own clothes and lots of the home decor, and was a whiz at decorating. But what we had in common was a tendency to clutter and slobbishness, and we always vied for the "last to dinner" spot at family events.

Well. In between rounds 1 & 2 of her cancer, she had an epiphany. She might die, and if she did, her house and family would fall apart without her. That was clearly unacceptable. So, she up and joined Flylady and another online housekeeping support group, read Sarah Ban Breathnach, feng shui'ed her house, and changed her life. One of her last Christmas gifts to me was a Control Journal, which she beseeched me to use, since I (at that point) had one little boy and the schedules weren't totally out of control yet. She re-did one bathroom and picked all the stuff for another. She painted her office in auspicious colors, and got very friendly with her label maker. She created information centers for both sons and household matters. She trashed or organized just about everything, redecorated the entire downstairs, and built the six raised vegetable gardens she always wanted to thwart the bunnies while she grew her own everything.

And then the cancer came back. The relapse was swift and awful and took her from us in less than four months. But the house stood as a testament to her amazing skills, her love for her family, and the work she had done to prepare them to keep things going in the case of her untimely death.

Where was I? Oh, yes: Simple Abundance. For what turned out to be the last two years of my sister-in-law's life, this was at her bedside. I know it spoke to her in much deeper ways than it is reaching me. It is a guide to "excavating your authentic self," mostly through the pursuit of a more comfortable home (And I mean comfortable, not as a euphemism for "expensive.") but also through the process of changing your thoughts about what "abundance" might mean for you.

Some parts of it were great kick-starts: reminders to go through the closet with more than "have I worn it?" and "does it fit?" in mind, but also "is this who I want to be?" Reminders for me that when I am done with something I need to send it to the universe where it will do more good. Reminders that God or the universe is out there, listening to what I need, and providing, in big and small ways. There were some great quotes ("The goal of all work is to be happy at home") and good sourcebooks quoted (The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, among others).

I couldn't live it, though. Some things just didn't resonate with me. I never take baths, for example, because that would mean cleaning out our tub before and after, at which point the relaxation from the bath would be moot. I don't drink tea as often as the author appears to. Haunting antique shops and second-hand stores is not in my near future, unless it's a consignment shop for kids' stuff. Maybe I'm not ready for the Simple Abundance lifestyle, even though the tea and antiquing and baths are clearly just meant to inspire the reader to figure out her own authentic pleasures within her means.

Or maybe I still see this too much as my sister-in-law's book. It was a teary morning when I reached the page that was the last one she'd marked. But I will definitely be keeping it as a resource, for general inspiration, and to have at hand when I need to be reminded of some of its lessons--or just reminded of my sister-in-law.

Fall Into Reading--Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen

Wow, I really, really needed this book. Parenting was starting to feel like a trudge for me, with two rambunctious boys with interests that often seemed to diverge completely from mine. But "Larry," as he refers to himself throughout the book, reminded me the most critical job of parenting is to "only connect." He provided plenty of examples of how to be silly, which I truly felt like I'd forgotten, tucked away under the "protecting them from themselves" jobs of mothering. Some of the strategies helped diffuse what could have been confrontational situations. (For example: My older son started using a plastic dinosaur to "attack" startled little brother out of the blue. "EEEEK!" Mommy [me] yelled. "It's a dinosaur! Let's get out of here!" and I bolted from the playroom. It was then older son's turn to be startled, then, with a giggle in his voice, saying kindly, "No, no, Mommy, it's just a toy, see? There's nothing to be afraid of." This was nothing short of a miracle.) Others I have a lot of trouble with--especially his "you can't beat them so you might as well join them and redirect when you can" attitude about violence/gun play with boys (or Barbies for girls).

The metaphor he uses most often is that of children as having "emotional cups" that need "filling" with connections with others, mostly through play. When a child's cup is low, they have a harder time behaving well. The cup gets filled by good experiences, fun times, and love. The cup is depleted by disappointment and isolation. It's a powerful image, and something that resonated with me was when he pointed out, "It drives me crazy when people say, 'Oh, he's just doing that because he wants attention. Leave him alone.' Does anyone say, 'Oh, he's just doing that because he's hungry. Don't feed him'?" He gave me tools for hopping in to "bad" play patterns and disrupting them in to more acceptable ones, or steering in to more mutually enjoyable activities (for example, I'm trying to read to the boys more during the day, not just at night).

Other times, he was able to shed light on some patterns; our older son cannot stand to lose anything, plus he turns everything in to a race. But he also whines so much about wanting to win the race-of-the-moment that he ends up handicapping himself--while he is still yelling about needing to put his shoes on, his baby brother is out the door, which ruins his day. Larry writes about what competition and winning might represent to the child, and when and how they might want and need to win, and how to model losing for them. He also gives strategies for figuring out whether a child needs not only to win, but to win easily, or to win by earning it, or whether he might really just want the fun of a game.

But his best chapter, in my book (ha ha), was the last. In the last chapter, Larry gets to the idea that parents have "cups" that need filling too, and unless ours are full, we will struggle to fill our children's. We fill our cups with kid snuggles too, but also by talking with other parents, reconnecting with spouses, and doing things for ourselves. That sounds obvious, and like something I've been doing to some extent, between Mothers & More, the job, etc., but it made a lot of sense to me all of a sudden: I have great friends but few (between jobs, their own kids, and time zones) that I can just call to vent for five minutes as my own "time out." So I need to find some other way to let off some steam and refill my own cup in day to day ways.

I won't pretend it's been easy. And I can't shrug him off, because I realize that where Playful Parenting isn't working is where I am too much of a stiff, no-fun grownup to do the things he suggests that might make a difference. But little by little, his strategies are teaching me new ways to deal with my sons in a happier fashion, which makes a little loss of dignity a fine tradeoff. It's an easy book to read, and a tough one to put in practice. Or at least it is for me--which tells me that I really need it. For anyone who admires those parents who just "get" kids and connect with them easily and wants to nurture that in themselves, I highly recommend this book. It has certainly earned a permanent spot on our shelves.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WFMW--Part 2, As In, Probably Too Late To Be Of Any Use Whatsoever This Year

So, I just had to post this since not one but two friends told me in the last two days about how putting up the outside lights almost ended their marriages, what with contrasting senses of design (ie, what amount of "sag" was appropriate for the lights) and concern on some parts that putting Actual Nails in the outside of the house would lead to rainwater getting in which would lead to rot.

Surely I am not the only one who has discovered the Scotch removable hooks? I love these things all over my house--heaven for the indecisive and decidedly unhandy. You stick 'em on your wall, and when you are tired of them, you slide the hook up, revealing a tab underneath, which you pull, and voila! The thing comes off the wall. I have only had this fail once, and it was when the hook broke off and I couldn't slide it off to get to the tab underneath.

But meanwhile, those ultra-smart people at Scotch came out with these:
and we have used them to put up the lights in the boys' rooms (well, one anyway; the older one has subtle white hooks in his room year-round since we were decorating his room for Christmas before we discovered these) ever since. I also use them in my office at work; especially since my job tenure is tenuous at best, I don't feel right putting holes in the wall. (You know in The Princess Bride when Westley is describing what it's like to work for the Dread Pirate Roberts, who keeps saying, "I'll most likely kill you in the morning"? It's a little like that. I mean, we're planning stuff for February--all of, what, 6-8 weeks away?--and people don't want to put my name on the brochure going out in case I don't work there by then. Come on now, people. You can't tell me that the search committee is going to hire a candidate and have them in place in eight weeks when four of them are winter break!)

But I digress. In my office, I've used these on glass, stone, and plaster, and all have worked fine. Five are holding up some cute ornaments on a mostly-blank wall; the rest are holding little twinkly lights. But I have in fact used them outside as well, though only the bigger ones, so that does work. As a caveat, I would take them down every season since I don't think the weather does the "removability" factor any favors.

That works for me; how about you? Go see Shannon to see what else is working for folks!

WFMW--Heather's List of Stocking Stuffers

This list was given to me one Christmas by my friend Heather. I ran a quick errand for Heather one December, and in return, she brainstormed stocking stuffers for me, with assistance from our other friend Melinda. The original is complete with illustrations for things like "firestarter" and "ear cover band" and the list itself is one of my most treasured gifts! So as a pre-Christmas gift to Blogworld, I share it with all of you. This list isn't that old but already some things are outdated (see #4); I'm leaving them there, however, as part of the tribute to them but also in case they spark some creative idea for you. With continued thanks to my friends Heather and Melinda.

Heather's Stocking Stuffer List
1. Migraine Mask
2. neck support for travel
3. Film
4. Video film for video camera
5. Blockbuster gift certificates
6. razors
7. trial size toiletries
8. McDonald's gift certifiates
9. teas/specialty coffees
10. candies
11. nail file
12. gum/breath mints
13. hair accessories (barrettes, headbands)
14. pocket calendar
15. Christmas ornament
16. socks
17. undershirts
18. Advil/Tylenol
19. cough drops
20. notecards/stationery
21. gloves
22. ear cover band
23. costume jewelry
24. lapel pins
25. magazine subscription (or just one magazine)
26. cologne/perfume
27. photo album page inserts
28. business card holders
29. magnets for fridge
30. coasters
31. scented candles
32. massage oils/lotions
33. backscratcher
34. deck of cards
35. small picture frames
36. key chain
37. small picket knife/key chain--very useful!!
38. pens
39. batteries
40. penlight
41. nightlight
42. shoe polish
43. seeds/garden bulbs
44. jewelry cleaner for rings
45. ice cream scooper
46. tights
47. bagel slicer
48. bottle opener
49. potholder
50. pocket size tissues
51. letter opener
52. cookie cutters
53. mail sorter that sits on desk to hold bills
54. small sewing emergency kit
55. lip gloss/chapstick
56. car ice scraper for windshield
57. blank audio cassette tapes
58. car games (mini backgamon, etc.)
59. Far Side desk calendar
60. prepaid phone card (buy 10 free minutes)
61. stamps
62. scented sachets for drawers
63. scented drawer paper liners
64. boxers
65. scarf
66. car wash gift certificate
67. contact lens solution
68. nail polish & remover
69. coffee travel mug
70. coffee warmer electric plates for desk
71. big chip clip (to keep chips fresh)
72. travel laundry bag
73. mini tote umbrella
74. firestarter
75. golf balls!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Menu Planning Monday--Have a Holly Jolly Edition

Ho Ho Ho! Merry holidays, everyone. My week fell apart dinnerwise last week and I can't even tell you what we ate anymore. This week doesn't have much promise either. But I can tell you this: if you ever get invited to dine chez Lemonade & Kidneys, by all means, GO. While neither lemonade nor kidneys were on the menu, everything we had there, from the avocado creme to the savory-sweet meatballs, was divine. And the company was fantastic. Many thanks, friend!

So, this week. Can't hold a candle to yesterday, but what are you going to do? My pantry is so bulging this week, I'm only purchasing perishables and hopefully few of those. If all goes well, here's the week:

Monday: Dinner By Design pork chops in parmesan, or something like that. Carrots, probably roasted, on the side. Salad, if I buy some today. Otherwise, my favorite frozen creamed spinach.

Tuesday: I have a holiday party. The boys are on their own. Which I'm sure means spaghetti and meatballs for them.

Wednesday: Remember that hot chicken salad? Yeah, never quite made the chicken last week, so it appears again here.

Thursday: Crock pot pork roast, mashed potatoes, something green.

Friday: The lemon gnocchi mentioned at Don't Eat Baby a few weeks ago.

Oh, and somewhere (Saturday?) will be the chicken schnitzel from Don't Eat Baby. I'm wondering why I wandered so far from Rachael Ray. I think she's oversaturated so I'm avoiding her (though I will fiercely defend her choice to make hay while her sun shines in this moment! Rock on, sister friend, and ride this pony as long as you can) but I forget, she really does make some of the best quick, complete dinners out there.

Enough of that. Here we are at Dec. 17 and all we have up at our house is a lame little string of LED lights on our puny azaleas. I have to get going so the boys don't think that Christmas decorations happen to other people only! Oh, and plug in the slow cooker so my chicken actually happens this week. Merry everything, everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fall's Not Over Until Next Week, Baby

Ha! Betcha thought with all that baking and stuff purging I forgot to read! (And, oh, by the way--note the spiffy button from the Organizational Challenge! My husband about expired laughing. And begged me to do more purging to show it wasn't a fluke.) No, I'm just in the last 30 pages of way too many books right now. Last night, I finally finished Eat, Pray, Love.

I don't mean "finally" as in "Thank goodness that trudge through that book is over," but "finally" as in, "I'm so glad I finally had the time to spend with her on her trip around the world." From the time I started the book until I finished it, there was a real groundswell of interest in in, largely due to her appearance on Oprah (followed by her next appearance on Oprah). The story is a memoir, a genre I particularly enjoy, of a woman who, when she was in her mid-30s, left her admittedly good life behind to travel the world to find herself. I hate to write it that way, because it seems to belittle every part of the journey: her agony preceeding her divorce, the horrible divorce itself, and the thoughtful way she went about planning her yearlong trip around the world. But at heart, that's what this memoir is about.

Before her divorce, Liz Gilbert was a journalist and author who had already been around the world for her job, so when she jettisoned the life she had, she knew where she wanted to go. Italy, to learn Italian, the language she always loved and wanted to learn; India, to study and pray at the ashram of her guru; and Indonesia, to return to a mystic old man who had read her palm and foretold that she would return to Bali to live with him and write a book telling his story.

And that's pretty much what she did. I won't go in to what happened in each and every place, but I will mention that one of the most insightful comments I've ever heard about the book was from a friend at my book group who noted that she liked the author more and more as the book went on. I found I did too; not that her personality changed so much, necessarily, but that her attitude did. She had a lot of flippy little jokes in the Italy section that just didn't resonate with my sense of humor. But by the end of the book, she was much more focused on telling the tale. Or maybe it was an accurate reflection of her own attitude and its shift to reflection through her travels. Or maybe it was just her editor. I don't know. But I was glad I stuck with it.

Am I sorry I can't just jet of to Bali for a few months? Sure. But unlike many women who read this book, I don't necessarily feel I need to. She did some great exploring in to areas I'm interested in (meditation, the best pizza in Italy) and I loved being an armchair explorer with her. And even more, I'm glad she did the legwork so I don't have to. (For example, one of my best friends moves to Milan next year, so I know we are Italy-bound in the forseeable future and I am SO There to the pizza place in Naples. I know it's not exactly down the block from Milan, but I'm confident it will happen.)

Having read it, I don't quite understand the hype. Are there that many women in their 30s and 40s who wish they could do or had done what she did? Or just the vicarious thrill? Or just the universality of the quest for a great meal, a great love, and inner peace? Tough to say. But I did enjoy the book quite a bit, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel, memoir, or stories of meditation and healing.

And hey, speaking of healing, if you've stuck with me this long, go give good thoughts or prayers or holding in your heart at i am bossy. This is a family I know tangentially and they have had a roller coaster week with unfortunately the fun part of the ride first. Send healing thoughts for the 11-year-old good Samaritan who is a lovely kid. No one deserves a good deed to end with a dog bite, but her mom is right: especially not this one.

Look for more books to end soon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WFMW--Wireless Mouse and Keyboard.

Last Christmas, about the most ecstatic email I received after the holiday wasn't from any of the computer savvy young cousins, thanking me for the fantastic presents.

It was from my mother's college roommate. And she was SO EXCITED to tell everyone about her new wireless keyboard and mouse. They changed her relationship to her computer. She just loved them. And she highly recommended them as gifts to the geriatric set, since the elimination of the wires was helpful to pre-arthritic hands and easier to deal with.

Well, she had one over on me. I'd never heard of such a thing. But I was certainly intrigued. And as our computer grows wires like our dog grows fur (camera, iPod, Palm Pilot...) I loved the idea of eliminating wires. But I couldn't really get behind throwing money at this since I had a perfectly functional mouse and keyboard.

Sometimes, the universe listens to our innermost desires and provides. Our regular trackball mouse stopped going left. Well, it would go left, but it took about fifty vigorous clunk-and-drags of the mouse to make that happen. We tried everything--cleaned the mouse, cleaned the trackball, got out the qtips and alcohol, pluged it in to a different port...nothing. The mouse had reached the end of its days.

Enter the wireless mouse and keyboard. At first, I was just going to get the new mouse. But when I got to the store, I discovered a huge price range for them...and some of them weren't all that much cheaper than a mouse and keyboard. The Logitech Wave happened to be on sale that day, and I fell in love with how it felt on my hands and that it had a built in wristrest (one more thing off my desk!). So home it came.

I don't want to say it's perfect; there are one or two functionalities I miss or could live without (most notably, I can't click the wheel for faster scrolling, or if I can I haven't figured out how yet). But wow, for this stage in life too, the wireless is great. My boys are fascinated by the computer but can really wreak havoc sometimes by playing around with it. This way, if I'm, you know, going to the bathroom or something inconvenient while they are watching a Playhouse Disney thing, I can take the mouse and keyboard with me so they can only watch. It's been a great quality of life/peace of mind addition for me. And they can play with the old keyboard without harming anything and they like it since it's "real!"

That's what's working for me. How about you? And check out what's working for them at Shannon's blog this week.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Menu Planning Monday

I feel like my kitchen has become the Cookie of the Day department around here. Between the recipes on Two Fat Als that I Just Had to Try, two cookie exchanges this week, the family "November Birthdays" party yesterday, and my resolution to Use What I Have, we are in full kitchen swing this week. While the boys would be ecstatic if we had cookies for dinner, that's not happening, so something else had better come along.

A few notes on last week: The chicken marbella was awesome. I made the "appetizer" version, with 4 boneless chicken breasts cut up in to bite-sized pieces instead, and used lots less brown sugar (due to a mistake in my own reading, not, alas, any wiser instinct.) We loved it. We will definitely make it again, but with fewer prunes and more apricots. Yum. For my vegan friends, try this with tofu. It was amazing, and I think it would totally work with tofu. Not that I am such a tofu expert. I don't know how long the tofu can marinate without falling apart, which is a downer, but really, it's worth experimenting. We served it over rice.

And another kitchen experiment triumph last week was the Rib-Eye Roast. An eye roast was what I always asked my mother to make me for my birthday dinner and this year I felt up to the emotional task of trying it myself. I got out my mother's battered 8-inch square pan, poked holes in the meat and tucked in garlic slices, then slathered the top with minced garlic from the jar. What to do next, though, escaped me completely, so I got out my Joy of Cooking and followed the slow-roast method. This was all on Sunday night, but it became obvious that the troops would need to be fed before the roast was ready. So I did a quick fake with something or another for dinner for us that night, and readjusted the alarm on the roast timer to the high end of rare--which I consider "not done" usually. But that night, I took it out, covered it in foil as suggested, and put it in the fridge. The next night, I got it out earlier (ahem) and did the high-heat roast method, also from Joy of Cooking. I was nervous about this, since the advantage of slow-roast is juicy, but doesn't look great on the outside, and the advantage of high-heat-roast is seared on the outside but can be dry. So I was a little worried that this dual method would leave me with an ugly, dry eye roast--but the opposite happened! I set the alarm for still a little under where I like my meat cooked, but it came out absolutely scumptious. Just pink in the middle, very juicy, lots of garlic and great pan drippings. The dog was going crazy, and I was very pleased too. Here's hoping for more good stuff this week...

Monday: My husband has his office holiday party and poetry class, so it's just boys & me. We will probably eat out. I have Ikea returns anyway and am jonesing for some Swedish meatballs so that may be in our future.

Tuesday: Leftover lasagne from the weekend, salad, good rolls from Cacia's

Wednesday: Defrostarama. There is either a beef stroganoff with our names on it or a Dinners By Design meal somewhere; that's about what I can pull off on a work day.

Thursday: Hot Chicken Salad (with chicken from the freezer), broccoli, salad

Friday: Pork tenderloins that we didn't get to last week (the chicken lasted several nights, as did the rib roast); sweet potatoes, salad

Oh, and don't miss this hot pizza dip recipe either; it was this year's runaway hit at the potluck.

Finally, on the Two Fat Als cookies: The cranberry blondies were excellent, though the Starbucks one is still yummier. (However, for the price, I'm happy to make my own, and it used up the rest of my cranberries.) I also found they needed to cook almost an hour, and next batch I'll use more white chocolate chips. The Toffee Almond Cookies, however, were amazing. I could only find the toffee chips that were an 8 ounce bag (instead of a 10 ounce) and were the smashed-up candy bar, so with chocolate, and I can see where more toffee, like more cowbell, would only improve things. But dang, skippy, this is one fine cookie.

Now I need to go make chocolate chip cookies, which my sons inform me, are the only REAL cookie in the world. But they'll eat the cranberry blondies to be nice.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy Souptacular, Everyone

It's A Soup-Tacular!Oh, this Souptacular warmed my heart. I adore soup but since neither of my boys will eat it, I'm out of practice. There's some hope; the little one tried some of my carrot ginger soup from the Co-Op this week and loved it ("dewishes!"); that would make three of us who'd eat it so maybe I'll keep at it.

My favorite soup recently was one I had at Amada: it was a pumpkin based one served over queso fresco. Heaven. (Hmm. "Recently" might have been last year, come to think of it. Yikes.)

It is perhaps not fair to steal my friend Shelley's soup recipe, but it needs to be shared (though it is a cold soup), so here it is in case she does not participate herself:

1 lb. sliced carrots
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
1 tsp. ginger, chopped
5 c. chicken broth
2-3 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. butter
In 2 tablespoon butter put carrots, onions, ginger and celery. Saute about 5 minutes until soft. Add 5 cups broth, bring to boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Blend in food processor until creamy. Add lime juice and chill.

Want the same kind of thing, but way easier, and hot for the season?

Squash Soup w/Apples & Walnuts
1 tsp butter
3/4 C sliced leeks
1.5 tsp minced garlic
1.5 cups peeled, cored, & diced apples
1 can (14 oz) lowfat butternut squash soup (such as Amy's Organic)
1/4 C chopped candied walnuts

Melt butter in large pot over moderate heat. Saute leeks until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; saute about 1 minute. Add apples, raise heat to high, and stir until apples begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add soup, bring to simmer and cover partially. Cook until apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to pot and reheat to serving temperature. Season w/salt. Sprinkle with walnuts.

When I'm sick, the only thing I want is what my mother used to make for me Campbell's beef broth with Minute Rice cooked in it. And saltines on the side.

And again, I have to link to two other friends' recipes, both from here. One is the winter soup in the post; the other is from Lilian in the comments, where she describes the steps for the "rustic" potato leek from Deborah Madison's amazing vegetarian cookbook.

And if I can get cousin Richard to share his amazing mulligatawny recipe, I'll repost.

Soup's on!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

BooMama's Souptacular Tomorrow

It's A Soup-Tacular!
Hey, in case you don't read BooMama (Anjali and Lauren especially), she's hosting a Souptacular tomorrow. Which fits in great with our weather here--snowy and cold, though the sun shined enough today to melt the snow off most of our front yard. (I forget when leaves are down how much sun we get!) Get your soup posts ready--yum!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

WFMW--What Do You Make for Dinner?

This week is another theme WFMW, asking, What do you make for dinner when it's already dinnertime and you have nothing ready yet? Funny, this was my reverse WFMW request in backwards week a few weeks ago, and I got some great ideas there.

My failsafe? I always have spaghetti and butter in the house. Everyone will eat that. Lame, but there it is. Usually, I also have other things that make me not feel like a terrible mother, like tomato sauce, several varieties of cheese, and herbs for on top. Also, I'm lucky that the one boy adores carrots and dip (any dip) so that's easy for the veggie guilt.

I have also gotten better at not just picking up interesting esoterica at Trader Joe's and actually getting things that can be Dinner in a Pinch--some of their stir fries or gnocci or tortelli go a long way on a bad night.

Finally, if I can get myself to a store before the critical moment, I am a huge fan of rotisserie chickens and a bag of salad. If I'm feeling especially adventuresome, I will do Hurry Curry or something else from The Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook.

I'm sure other people have much better ideas than I do so I can't wait to go read them on Shannon's blog. Have a good week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tackle It Tuesday

I'm finally getting some routines underway--fill the gas tank on Sunday so I'm set for the week; Menu Planning Monday so I can shop once for the week; laundry on weekends with clothes put away...ok, so not all my routines are in place. But it's getting easier as time goes on.

This week's project: I have to get my bills straightened out. Once upon a time, I worked full time and got paid on the last workday of the month. I had all my bills due between the 10th and the 15th of the month so I could write my checks the first and second and get them in on time. Then I stopped working and my neat little system fell by the wayside despite my initial attempts to keep it in place.

Then I tried online banking. Theoretically, this should make it easier. But twice this year, some of my posts have worked and some have not. I'm sure I'm missing some easy thing, like closing a window without saving or sending or confirming or what have you, but I can't figure it out. So now my bills are a mess, and I really need to just take an hour or two this week to sit down with them and figure out what is going on. Who's paid. Who's not. Who's charging me interest. Who's overpaid (I hope no one!). And finally, now that I have the online banking thing set up again, I'll be able to make it work this time.

Online accountability did wonders for me for the org challenge. Here's hoping it works for these weekly projects too!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Menu Planning Monday: Food, Glorious Food Edition

Happy December! Back so soon from my quick time off...because I have come to depnd on Menu Planning Mondays to force me to it for the week!

And a good week I hope it will be, too...the weekend was lovely except that we were all sick so the alluded-to surprise couldn't happen. That was very sad. But the good news was that we were all sick together so we spent lots of time huddled together watching TV...not that this is a great family activity under normal circumstances but with four runny noses and a chilly winter storm outside, it worked for us in a big way this weekend.

We ate out a lot because no one felt like cooking; our big activity was going to the Standard Tap for brunch on Saturday. My husband had been there and loved it, but it was new to me so it counted for my new restaurant for my birthday. We went for brunch because they have live kids' music every first Saturday from 12-3. The brunch menu was awesome; I had an amazing goat cheese and mushroom omelette with a really nice beet salad on the side, plus some of the best home fries I've had in a long long time. The boys split pancakes, and the older one also ate quite a few of Dad's fries from his burger, which was also totally incredibly good. The only bummer--well, two. First, I don't know why I keep living in a fantasy world where my boys like group participation music events. It takes a long time for them to get to that comfort level even in a small class with a teacher who knows their names, let alone in a bar with a bunch of strange kids and their parents. But hey, it got us out. Second, it's in a dodgy area (up and coming, but still a bit touch and go) and someone nicked the registration off my husband's plate. He's totally annoyed not just because now he needs a new one, but because I have kept mine in my glove compartment since I worked in the city. The only two times I've been called on it, I could pull it right out and say where I worked, and the cops completely understood and waved me on without another word. But that has always annoyed my husband, and that he would get caught on it is really just rubbing salt in a wound.

Anyway. Here's a cool find from two college seniors who have their own food blog. I can't imagine trying to be in college and having the time to try to learn to cook (or perfect new techniques) but I'm elated they can pull it off! The cookie recipes look great, and having tried the Starbucks cranberry pastry they refer to in the Cranberry Bliss Bars entry, I'm am very jazzed to get some white chocolate chips and try these!

But, it might have to's a semi-busy week, and I've already done my shopping. We're very meat-heavy this week since I got excited about the first snow and went crazy at the butcher and figured I'd figure it out later. So without further ado, here we go:

Monday: eye roast, tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad, baked sweet potato for me, mashed potatoes for husband. Tomatoes, of course, are thanks to Girlfriend. I can't believe I'm having garden-tomatoes on my birthday. Who says global warming is all bad?!

Tuesday: I am taking these apricot crumbles to a potluck. I'll bet the boys have spaghetti and meatballs.

Wednesday: New recipe: Chicken Marbella, based on the Silver Palate cookbook recipe but adapted, supposedly for appetizers but I also think for small children. Will serve with/over rice, salad on the side. (Note: the addendum wasn't archived on the site, alas. Essentially the same, but with four boneless breasts cut in to bite sized pieces before marinating instead. I loathe cutting raw chicken but otherwise am looking forward to this.)

Thursday: Pork Tenderloin (from City Mouse-Country Mouse's recipe--no apples this time, just the tenderloin recipe) with the pasta with pumpkin sauce on the side. (Guess who has some canned pumpkin left to use! I was going to add it to the heavenly Trader Joe's muffins but this will work too. And the sage smelled great at the store today.)

Friday: Leftovers.

Saturday and Sunday are birthday parties a-go-go so we will let other people feed us for a little while. And in the midst of all this, I'm making lasagnes since I have all the stuff I need for them.

Next week: cookie exchanges. Maybe I'll try some from that blog, though I usually just do 7-layer bars (though usually with 5 layers). Maybe the boys will be up for more helping this year. Ha! Ha! I crack myself up.

And if you got this far, don't forget to wish me a happy birthday today! There's something a little strange about being 39. I just haven't thought at all about what being 40-something will be like. And for people my age, the TV show thirtysomething kindly gave us a template, especially for the Philly suburban dwellers! But 40s? I got nothin'. Well, I have a year to figure it out, apparently! And that is enough for this post. Maybe I do need to go back to posting every day. Ha! Ha! I crack myself up again. 39 is apparently rivaling 14 in the giggle fits. Oy--my husband will leave me if that happens. Enough of that! Off to the kitchen!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Final Post (for the contest) on the Org Challenge

Well, here they are, the final photos for the challenge for this year. I ran in to some slowdowns after some initial good gains. Thanksgiving took more time than I thought. The busy time at my new job was busier than I dreamed and that took a toll on the time I could spend. And I'm willing to wait for the free furniture, which meant I definitely wouldn't finish by the deadline. But overall, I'm really pleased with the progress that was made, and it's easier to keep it clean than to get it there in the first place, so it was totally worth it. Thank you OrgJunkie! And please note the title: this is only the "end" because it's the end of the month. When we get the new shelves, etc., I'll repost for fun (and to keep me honest). Short answer questions below pictures.

Before: Remember the "teetering" shot?

After: No piles! Yay! Lapdesk? Donated. File box? Emptied, purged, recycled, refiled. Shelves? Eh, not perfect, but at least you can reach the books without bumping in to piles now. Toys are off the floor and in or on the bin over by the shelves (see next photo).

After: The shelves here are not terribly different, because the new shelves aren't up yet. But the humongous pile beneath it is much improved. Also, for those who were paying close attention, the sideboard piece is supposed to be gone, replaced by new-to-us shelves. It's still here, but it is totally empty and ready to be picked up by a friend who needs it in her dining room far more than I need it here. And, inspired by this purge, I also sent out that I am giving away a table and chairs and a glider; all will be gone to new homes where they are wanted and needed by next week. Hooray! (And please note door to laundry room is open so you can see I didn't just throw stuff in there either!)

Before: And, of course, my computer desk. Hard to believe I can even find the keyboard.

After: my favorite part, though the hardest to keep after, since I bring a ton of paper down here to transfer info at the computer and then get distracted by other fun stuff in cyberspace. Not terribly different from when my husband and I got the big head start earlier in the month, except our mouse died and so we have new wireless mouse and keyboard, eliminating two more sets of wires. Heaven.

Bonus pictures:
The new, improved file area, where I actually, you know, file things now. I purged about 10 bags of paper recycling from here, archived and coordinated files from consulting projects and volunteer activities, and slowly am purging over a decade of paperwork.

And the shelves. They'll never make House Beautiful, but they make my house useful, and I wanted to keep it real (yo). I still have filing to do. And the stuff on the shelves isn't particularly attractive, but all the games are together, the compuer resources together, the photo albums together, and directories, office supplies and scrapbooking projects all have their own zones now. I'm almost embarrassed to type that. But the room has been through so many changes along with the family that the old zones slowly deteriorated. This system should be one I can keep up with; it's working so far.

1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?

Hardest part? Making the time to do it the way I wanted to do it. But it was a good lesson in transferring what I'm good at in my job (realistically chunking work in to do-able pieces) in to my home life (where I tend to like to do things all at once).

2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area/room to maintain its new order?

Well, the people at Goodwill know my car when it's coming now. Hopefully I'll keep up with them.

I also used to keep a "project bag" for each activity I'm in (alumni interviewing, breastfeeding counseling, consulting project, reunion committee...). I purged all the bags and instead of just leaving them around have filed them away in the drawers so I still have the grab-n-go ability but without the mess.

3. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

Most of it moved on (or is in process of moving on--see below) to somewhere else. Friends took all the extra furniture in this room (and more from elsewhere). The recycling bins at my church are extra full right now. A big box of toys went to the "child free" aunt & uncle to make their house more fun for small visitors. And did I mention the paper recycling?

4. Now that you have completed the challenge, do you think having and keeping your space organized will make a difference in your life?

Yes. My husband is not embarrassed at the way the room looks. I don't have agita when he comes down the steps, and it's less work to get the room ready when his family is coming.

6. Why do you think you should win the challenge?

I hate to shoot myself in the foot, but I don't even care if I win. I needed the push to finally get going on this and get it done, and I was happy to have the excuse. It's not done yet; the "new" shelves are our brother-in-law's old shelves, and they aren't ready yet; for free, I'm willing to wait. There is more purging to be done. I didn't even touch the stuff on the deep shelves since I'm waiting for the new shelves to come to reorganize those. But it was totally inspirational to do this with others in the same boat. I loved seeing others who were willing to let me in on their messes and sucesses. I got some great ideas reading about others. And I got to make my husband very happy in the process. I feel like I already won in the ways that matter most. (Though the prizes look great!)

And can I tell you--I learned a ton of new blogging skills from this too (like how to post pictures, place buttons, etc.) so that was also appreciated!


BONUS: Don’t forget to show me a picture of your purge pile in the trunk of your car on its way out!! Biggest pile wins the awesome bonus prize!

Dude, I wish I'd known about this before! This isn't even my biggest purge pile! Gotta read more carefully.
What you see here in all its glory: six boxes of things that need to be returned to catalogs or mailed to gift recipients; four more bags for Goodwill; three bags of paper recycling from my filing binge; three French Hens (kidding, though who could know?); a tote bag of stuff that can go to my office at work; a bag of candles for Girlfriend to use in Christmas baskets for the church giveaways; and do you recognize the Bombay Company box from the Teetering picture? Say bye-bye! AND what you can't see is a tub full of toys that are going to my sister-in-law's to make her house more kid friendly (and what do you know--mine too, by extension!).

Many, many thanks again to OrgJunkie for hosting (and for the comments on my updates--that was unexpected and very kind!) and to everyone who participated, whether you stopped by or not, and whether I got to comment to you or not. Even typing this now, I'm cheered by the fact that at least 18 of you are so coordinated you were done and ready to post before midnight, and also comforted that I bet I'm not the only one racing the clock. See you next year, everyone!

The End of the Road

I don't know if it was NaBloPoMo, my first November working outside the home in four years, the six books at once that I'm trying to read, the Organizational Challenge (more on that later), or the weather, but I am stunned that it is December tomorrow.

I have learned a ton this month. I am glad I did NaBloPoMo to force me out of my meme-only postings, though I am still far more comfortable within the confines of a stated topic. (Sixth grade freewrites, anyone?)

I have loved reading so many other peoples sites and give special awe to Shelley and Lemonade & Kidneys, who actually posted every day (woo-hoo!) and are eligible for the goodies.

And while I will really miss reading everyone's everyday posts (ahem, Anjali), I certainly understand why they might drop off from here. And I am blinking in bewilderment at Finslippy, who had so much fun with the month that she is continuing daily. Hurray for her and me, her reader, but wow. I'm glad to get a break.

Now excuse me while I go finish cleaning my room. I have six hours to finish posting for OrgJunkie!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seven Things You Might Not Know About Me

Thanks for the tag from Lemonade & Kidneys!

1) The best vacation I've ever taken is to Wyoming's Rodeo Days. It was like a trip to a foreign country for this east-coaster. We rode horses on the plains, had a free pancake breakfast from the local Lions Club attended by thousands, saw Native American dances, a gun fight show (which totally helped me understand why gun issues are different there than where I live), a "Transportation Through the Ages" parade including the real Conestoga wagons that some families' ancestors had taken west with them when they settled, and an Air Force air show. Oh, yeah, and the rodeo and backstage tour--also amazing.

2) I hate the cold but I love the snow.

3) I love the beach but I hate the sun.

4) I was voted "Most Likely to Work at Disneyworld" after our band trip there senior year in high school. (I took it as a compliment.)

5) You know how they say "you never forget how to ride a bicycle?" Not true.

6) I still have my mother's world-class collection of almost 200 beanie babies scattered around the house. (OK, and some were mine too.)

7) I hate the slang words for stuff that comes out of your nose. We use the word "nosedirt" in our house.

Reading this and need a NaBloPoMo topic to tide you over? Consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WFMW--holiday edition--Outdoor Tree

When I was a toddler, my parents made the move from the apartment to the house. And as the story goes, my father drove us to Gaudio's (YES! a real store name! can you imagine?!!? and it was gaudy-oh!) and let me pick any tree I wanted from their display. He paid the guy to throw a box over it and drive it to the house, decor and all, long before this was available standard. So I grew up with a tree that had blue bells, blue and white lights, and blue seals all over it with sparkly blue and white glitter balls for accents.

Eventually, I had been making and receiving so many ornaments they didn't fit on the artifial tree anymore. So my smart parents put a real tree up on the screened in porch off the kitchen. Voila! The professionally decorated tree was in the living room, and the classic family tree was outside where we ate every night.

When we moved out, my husband and I decided to get our own artificial tree (though I still miss the music box tinkling "Silent Night" as it spun the blue bells tree). But by the Christmas when our oldest was 2, it was painfully obvious that This Would Not Work. The boy climbs anything. The tree would be history in a jiffy.

Enter our fire company and our back porch. The fire company sells trees as a fundraiser (which we joke is really like a "make work" scheme for a fire company). If we have it outside, we can have the biggest one we want and not worry about the ceiling. We get outdoor-tested lights, and use all plastic ornaments (thank you, Ikea and Kindy's).

There are so many benefits to us in this system. We can use old items or cheap plastic ornaments that don't break if they fall and that we won't care about if the squirrels carry them off. There are no needles falling in the house, which is good as I am a terrible housekeeper without pine needles piling up. It gets us outside in the winter months, which we sometimes get too lazy to do otherwise--not just for decorating the tree but because the boys always want to play near it so we end up in the yard more. When it's too dark or cold, the tree doesn't take up playspace but is still fully visible from playroom. And if it ever snows, it looks amazing.

That's what works for me. What's working for you? Post it here and enjoy Shannon's blog and all the other posters' ideas. I am really liking Shannon's tax deduction plan--working for me with my final two days of my Organizing Challenge, that's for sure!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Creeping Christmas

For as long as I've known him, my husband's family has gone all-out on Christmas decorations. The hall held the big "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" sign. The garland wound its way up the bannister. The mantel held (some of) the Santa collection. Even the toilet seat had a peekaboo Santa cover. There was not a place in the house to hide from Christmas--it was THERE.

It still is, for the most part, but when my in-laws downsized houses, they also downsized the decor, moving some of it to their children's houses, and keeping a managable amount for themselves. But I remember asking in wonder, "How long does it take to do this?" thinking of my own parents' one day decorating binge. My mother in law replied, "All month!" and so I was introduced to "creeping Christmas." Unlike my family's tradition of tossing on all the lights on the warmest weekend day we could find in December, they planned things out, a little at a time. Thanksgiving slid in to Advent, which bloomed in to full Christmas regalia. But since it came quietly, with a turkey here exchanged for a snowman there, they dubbed it "creeping Christmas."

I always loved that term, I think since the malls, the radio, and the TV won't let the holidays sneak up on anybody anymore. So while Christmas invades the commercial side of life with all the subtlety of a herd of elephants, it's nice to take a breather post-Thanksgiving and let it come more quietly in to the house.

On Friday, as we left our in-laws from a lovely post-Thanksgiving dinner, I saw one lone little tree tucked in a corner by the door. "Oh! Creeping Christmas!" I joked, immediately setting my older son on edge. (I think "creepy" is still too much on his mind from Halloween.) "Why is Christmas creeping?" he demanded to know. So we talked about the difference between creepy and creeping, and read the poem "Fog"(since I incorrectly remembered it including the word "creep," but it was instructive and helpful anyway) and now he's saying it too. "Creeping Christmas, Mama!" he said, pointing to the holiday doormat I pulled out to replace the Thanksgiving one. And so it continues, both the tradition and the holiday's arrival, quietly coming to change our home, piece by piece.

And, just in case he ever decides to read this: Happy birthday to my husband, my love, and the joy of my days. May the next 40 years be as fun as the first!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Menu Planning Monday

Woo-hoo! Last week of November, here we come. My freezer needs defrosting in a big way so there may be some strange meals and a lot of repetition as I try to get this emptied before it's too cold to defrost until spring!

Monday: Leftover pork (from Dinners By Design: best yet from them) and leftover turkey breast. Rice, snap peas, broccoli.

Tuesday: Sssssh...we're going out to dinner for my husband's FORTIETH birthday! Don't tell. We're going here. I'm totally excited. The boys are going here with cousins and cousins-to-be (Girlfriend's kids).

Wednesday: Trader Joe's pre-cooked prime rib, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach. Haven't tried this before except in an in-store taste thingee; am hoping it's good.

Thursday: I really really really hope I'm out to dinner with my book group. We are reading Eat Pray Love and I am desperately heading for the finish line, as much as I've enjoyed it. (Local? Read the book and wanna come? Email me for details!) That means my husband and boys will eat spaghetti and meatballs.

Friday: Who knows? It all depends on the writers' strike. And I will need to leave it at that just in case my husband suddenly starts reading THIS WEEK. Doubt it but will have to leave you in suspense until then. (City Mouse-Country Mouse knows what I mean!)

Happy week, everyone!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Little Bit of Bloghopping

Do you have any interest in the inner workings of the Catholoic church? If so, you must check out Whispers in the Loggia. My friend Rocco is in his glory right now, sending dispatches from The Source--the Vatican during the week of celebration as new cardinals are elevated. Rocco was one of my workstudy students and knows more about the Catholic church than I suspect many seminarians do. (The new ones, at least.) His knowledge comes from a pure love of the institution (which the church would do well to remember is in short supply these days). So for him, this trip is like sending his brain and soul to Disneyworld, and it shows in his posts.

All kinds of holiday fun coming up, from Oh Amanda and Christmas Spirit giveaways to BooMama and her house tours. And I don't know if you'll be able to get to Target's "running guy" as my boys call it for much longer but it's been an absolute hit around here. My little guy, in fact, is calling, "The wunning guy! The wunning guy!" in a very worried tone now that he sees me on this page instead. (You see one of our first journeys posted on the side column. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Kinda like a cyberversion of that, but with the goal of getting to Target's two day sale.)

Finally, on a downer of a note but an important one, especially if you are thinking you need a raise right now: you may be right. One of the women's organizations on campus ran a seminar for junior and senior women entering the workforce on how to negotiate salary. They sent along this link just in case these confident, well-educated women were thinking it wouldn't apply to them, and the already high offers they are receiving were "good enough." Watch the calculator figure out what the difference is between "close" and "negotiated to equal" over a lifetime and see if it helps nudge you to be a little more assertive in your next salary negotiations.

Have you ever negotiated yourself a higher salary? I have and it feels great. Look for that story and more in the meme Lemonade & Kidneys tagged me for last week.

Wishing you a good week out there on the internet and in your real life!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

SHS--Right Habit, Wrong Target

Mixed results for last week's habit--spending 15 minutes a day working on the mudroom. I think I spent 20 minutes total this week, and most of that was to maintain what neatness there was after kids were playing, I was working, etc. However, I did spend about 15-30 minutes a day getting ready for Thanksgiving--everything from finding my favorite turkeys and putting them on disply to cooking one dish at a time so I wasn't doing every single bingle thing on Thanksgiving day. And that worked out great. So I think I will repeat the habit this week with the original intent and see if that goes any better.

Meanwhile, I fell off the early bedtime wagon a bit, though I did eat surprisingly low carb for Thanksgiving week. I took Thursday off and totally enjoyed the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with everything sugary, but with only a few exceptions, have been trying to stick with it. Accountability, even if it's virtual, does seem to help!

Good luck with your Smart Habits this week! Wanna get on board? Visit here to join in!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Perfection is Overrated, Right?

Hey, missing one out of 30 is still an A, right?

I had the computer on and Blogger running all day yesterday...but we were running all day yesterday too and the post never got to the blog.

It was worth it, though; I had a ball trying out new recipes for corn pudding and the All-in-One Cake (which was only ok; next I think I'll try the NYT's apple cake and see how that goes; I will also try toasting the all-in-one for breakfast this morning and see if that helps); we made our "famous" Le Bec-Fin carrot mousse; and I'm very cheery about the remains of the cheese tray in our fridge.

To top it all off, we had three special things happen yesterday. First, our Beloved Babysitter came to join us for the feast, which is making my older son practically dance with joy that she is here with us this morning.

The other two things are more long awaited. For one, we had tomatoes from the garden on the table for a salad. That doesn't sound like much; I mean, who gets excited about the salad on Thanksgiving, right? Well, for my grandfather's entire adult life, he wanted to have a Jersey tomato on Thanksgiving. (For any non-locals: I don't know what's in the soil, but New Jersey tomatoes are truly one of the world's most amazing fruits. The only downside is they have ruined me on almost any other tomatoes in the world.) He tried everything to save those last tomatoes of the year and eke them out to the holiday. Newspaper, Saran Wrap, paper bags, keeping cool, you name it, any tomato-saving trick you can imagine, he did it. It never worked. He lived to 88 and never had it happen for him. Alas, it's just that he died 10 years too soon. Between global warming and an early Thanksgiving, our last tomato harvest happened last week, giving the greenies exactly enough time to turn a beautiful red for dinner last night. I was sorry he wasn't there to enjoy them but it was fun to have them and to think of him and how pleased he would have been to see them on the table.

And how did this miracle come about? Girlfriend, of course--the amazing woman who has been dating our brother-in-law for the last two years. She grew the tomatoes herself and remembered to have them on the Thanksgiving table. (I would love to grow them but we don't have enough sun.) Girlfriend has been my parking lot buddy at my new job (she's part-time, I'm part-time; she got me the duplicate parking sticker and so I can use her spot in the garage on her off days--a HUGE favor making my work life much easier). Girlfriend is always up for a trip to the shore and kindly included me and the boys when she had her week in her brother's shore house, even though it meant a ton more work for her, because she knows that I love the shore like she does. Girlfriend decides when my husband and I need a night off and descends with our brother-in-law and his younger son, who is worshipped by our boys so they don't even notice when we leave and have a night out. Girlfriend singlehandedly keeps three households running and still has a life. I am in awe of her energy and kindness. And I thrilled to say that last night they annouced: Girlfriend and brother-in-law are engaged.

For all of this, I am thankful. Whoever you are reading this, I hope you had much to be thankful for, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

WFMW--writing in my cookbooks

Until I was in middle school, I had never seen a highlighter. Even after my friends had them, they seemed...suspicious, somehow. Who would mark up a book besides a delinquent who hated education? Especially with something that looked like it was really a magic marker in disguise, waiting to actually black out what it was supposed to highlight?

In our kitchen, there was a fantastic lucite cookbook stand, used to protect the cookbooks. Not that they were totally unmarked; my father used to put lipstick on me so I could put kisses in them, and every once in a while, he traced my hands or feet in the covers of the books to personalize them when they were presents for my mother. But the recipes themselves stayed safe behind clear plastic covers, just like the sofas at my great-aunts'.

Once my mother died unexpectedly, I came in to a mountain of cookbooks, all of them used, and every bookmark was a mystery. Was this one of those dishes I liked and just never knew what it was called? Or something my dad wanted my mom to try but since she knew better than he did that he hated candied apples she wisely just kept marked but knew she'd never make? I felt truly lost--I knew the tastes of my childhood were locked in those books, but where?

Well, somewhere after I moved out of the house, my mother either lost her disdain for writing in books, or privately saw it as a secret thrill, or found it more reliable than hoping that bookmarks stayed where they belonged. In some of the books she used more often at the end of her life, there were notes in the margins, ingredients crossed out, directions tweaked, proportions corrected. One recipe noted my boss really liked it when she sent it in with me once for the office--only later to have "WHO CARES?!?!?!" written in big letters with lots of punctuation (after, I suspect, I was passed over for a promotion she--and I--thought I deserved). A recipe for ricotta cake called for some citrus zest. Mom had question marks and the word "never!" written next to that. And so forth and so on.

That was such an unexpected gift and an epiphany for me. Since we assumed we had lots more time together, I never got serious about sitting down with her to ask for specifics of favorite recipes, like "what tomato sauce do you use for the crock pot pork chops?" or "besides the garlic spears, what do you do to your eye roast to make it so good?"

Since then, I have written in ALL of my cookbooks or cooking magazines that I have used more than once. I note when I made a dish ("good, but too rich for summer; make again when weather cools and will be perfect!"), whether it was for an occasion ("served after Christmas Eve Mass when our son was Baby Jesus and we had 15 relatives for dinner"), and any suggestions for next time ("loved the flavor but WAY too hot; skip most of red pepper flakes next time" or "great even without the sausage!"). More important since the sons were born: who liked it, and how. ("wouldn't eat the chicken but the sauce on rice went to thirds before we cut him off.") This way, the record is always there, and someday, if anyone else in this house ever cooks with cookbooks (my husband is amazing at cooking on the fly) and is looking for an old favorite, they'll be able to figure it out. And that works for me! What's working for you? Find out what's working over at Shannon's blog!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Selling Out

Am I this desperate for material, that I'm flacking for the Thomas machine?

Yes, ma'am, I most certainly am.

A proud blogging moment, it is not, but Christmas is coming.

This giveaway site has three Thomas DVDs to give away. In something of a planetary alignment, we have none of them. So to enter the contest, I am to blog about what might happen if my kids met Thomas.

Well, they already have, of course. We head to Strasburg Railroad at the drop of a hat (or "Hatt," as it were). So both my kids have "met" Thomas, several times. My older one asks where Annie and Clarabel are, and whether Gordon is coming, and is in generally good spirits. My younger one is in that complete awe that only toddlers can get, without the full vocabulary--linguistic or emotional--to fully express the enormity of the moment. He is giddy and solemn at the same time, asking just to stare at him, absorb the moment, bask in the nearness, and then wave "Bye, Thomas!" every time he pulls out of the station with another load of passengers from Strollerpalooza.

I am in wonderment at how parenting changed me that these are among my favorite moments of the year. Santa comes but once a year; Thomas, at least three. And then of course, there is the Railroad Museum across the street to complete the joy. We even became members this year so we could go anytime we wanted. (Except, of course, ahem, for Mondays in November, when they are closed. Which I know now.)

So, if you want to see which DVDs our collection lacks, go link to the giveaway site. Heck, you can even register if you want. I have no fear. And apparently they are giving away other stuff too. Good luck!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Menu Planning Monday--Thanksgiving edition

Happy Monday, everyone!

Ah, a short week, and post-mini-vacation to boot. What could be better? Last week went pretty well; we stuck to things for the most part, and the recipes were good, or at least good for using what we had already (ahem, radicchio, ahem). The winner recipe of the week for me was the potato and leek flatbread, but it wasn't as big a hit with the rest of the family, alas. And, we found a half a lasagne in the freezer when looking for the sausages for last Wednesday and my husband asked very nicely if we could substitute. So we did; the sausage dish is on again for this week; and the lasagne was great. (Thank you, Best Babysitter EVER, you know who you are.)

Monday: Leftover smorgasboard. Finish the chicken, finish the lasagne, finish last night's pizza. (Guess who gets what!)

Tuesday: Hoisin pork from Dinner by Design. Have to say, it's been awesome having the half-recipes but I really liked the Super Suppers meals better. With the pork: rice, frozen snap peas. Which my older son enjoys eating by taking out of the shells, but whatever works. Pre-shelled peas are not on his "edible items" list.

Wednesday: Sausage, beans and spinach; rice to augment for boys.

Thursday: Sing along! "It's our turn to gobble gobble gobble!" (Alas, I only know the first two lines of that song and the last one. Gotta google that someday.) Girlfriend is hosting dinner; she's making one turkey, sisters in law and cousins are making the others. We bring cheese & crackers, pumpkin pie (totally buying that today), juice, corn pudding, and pearl onions, my father-in-law's favorite.

Friday: Leftovers, I hope, though I am also getting myself a turkey breast and stuffing mix to make what I like to make. I also might try this cake, whose recipe I found on hunt for Bundt Cake Days recipe. (Don't ask. They should have never, never told me that Martha Stewart's show moved to 2pm when the boys are often napping. I am not in the slightest bit crafty but I am in awe of Martha and her accomplishments.)

There you have it. Some leftovers this weekend, plus visits with family, and all's right with the world. I hope.

Wanna see what others are doing this week? Check out OrgJunkie and find out! Gobble Gobble!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Field Trip

In a fun twist on my usual weekend reality, we buzzed down to DC for a half-weekend trip. My best friend from college, who has lived in California since the mid-1990s, is moving to Milan (yes, as in Italy) next year. Being Supermom, she has systematically planned a crash-course in Touring the US 101 for her boys, ages 9 and 8, giving plenty of first-person material for their American Studies courses in Italy. Happily for us, this included the pre-Turkey-Day visit to the capital and we were included.

Other than poor timing making me whiff on several personal milestones I desperately wish I hadn't (e.g., missing a birthday party for one of my son's friends yesterday, whiffing on the fact that TODAY, not next week was my best friend's anniversary---not that I was maid of honor or anything, sheesh), it was a good trip. We also learned that Son 1 is currently incapable of sleeping in a hotel room. (Hmm. An English teacher might call this "foreshadowing." Stay tuned.)

We also learned that his new favorite song, thanks to their dad getting fed up with kiddie music, and playing Dean Martin at bedtime instead, my oldest's favorite song is "Standing On The Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By)." Which he chose to sing, at volume level 8, as he wandered past the Vietnam Memorial. Probably not very appropriate. But I'll bet a lot of them would have understood. Or at least I'll soothe my mortified mommy soul that way.

All those boys. (And girls, I'm sure, though we only saw boys' names.) All those moms. All those families. All those friends. "Why did they die?" my son asked, and there it was again, one of those questions I have really known they will ask someday, and here's the day and I don't know what to answer. We had already talked about how we were there to say "thank you" to them, and we had talked about respect and honor when explaining that ducks can swim in the water at the new WWII memorial but boys can't...but the "why did they die?" is one I still struggle with. I adore and respect the Quaker tradition I was raised in by dint of my town, and I tend to be right there with them on almost everything. But I can't help but think that we still need someone "on that wall," as Jack Nicholson puts it in A Few Good Men. But the whole idea of war is needlessly wasteful to me that I can't really come up with a good answer for him, my son who is starting to toy with guns.

So we rubbed some names of soldiers we didn't know, and asked God to take care of them, take care of us, and thanked him for allowing us to live in this country. Then we went to play football on the grass of the national Mall, with the rubbings of the names tucked safely in the stroller. I swear some of the ghosts of those soldiers, those boys, were there with us, remembering their own days of playing football with brothers and friends on grassy fields.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Smart Habits Saturday

This week's Smart Habit: Crossing over with my other bloggity project: 15 minutes a day in the mudroom--NOT on the computer, but Going Through Stuff instead. It's not meant to be a forever habit, though I know people do it Every Day (and after that hoarder story on Oprah, I'm good and scared and think maybe I should); but if I can just use this week, with all its extra time at home, to focus on all the unfinished projects in that room--including the room itself--I think I can make a good dent. Wanna join with the Smart Habits crowd? Come here to Lara's blog and tell us what you're practicing!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

An Interesting Note

What is it with all of us women bloggers whose husbands don't read our blogs?

One of my most commented-upon entries was the one where I mentioned I'm glad my husband doesn't read my blog (because he would be mortified I'm sharing our shame with the world, even if it was for the good end of getting it cleaned up). And many of the posters were commenting that their husbands don't read their blogs, either.

What gives? I know my husband's excuse: his work IT people are very strict about allowing non-work-related web access so almost anything with the letter combo "blog" is disallowed. And when he's home, either we're together with the kids, I'm on the computer, or he's sleeping.

I used to want him to read it and felt bad that he didn't. Now, I've sort of made peace with it, and besides, this is an outlet for a lot of the things he doesn't really care about. Dinner next Wednesday holds no interest for him. (Me neither, but as the primary shopper and cooker at this stage of our relationship, it keeps me honest.)

Meanwhile, speaking of our shameful computer room: Anyone catch the compulsive hoarder story on Oprah yesterday? Wow. As I had feared, once we made the big push a few weeks ago, I've been a little um...complacent about the progress in the computer room. I am complacent no more. This poor woman--her poor family--and hooray for them for getting help. It was very motivating in a good way. And also allowed me to send up a few mental apolgies to my mother, who was definitely a compulsive hoarder but not nearly like this woman was. My mother was never a compulsive shopper, but she and my dad did inherit several households of furniture, which were then left to me to clear out. Her parents were pretty financially strapped all their lives, so they kept anything that might possibly have any used, and that habit is hard to shake generationally. It's also hard because I keep feeling like I need to find, to borrow the real estate valuation term, the "highest and best use" of anything, not just chuck it in a landfill. So, do we auction or donate? Precycle or recycle? Find a friend who can use it? Or sell it online?

And I have to admit, I am feeling like a compulsive hoarder this week as I take advantage of all the grocery sales this week, when lots of foods we eat a lot (or would if they weren't so expensive) are going on major pre-Thanksgiving sale. I have to remind myself that some hoarding really is just stocking up. We use butter. The boys eat bread. Cheese goes fast. Spanish olives? Ok, maybe a bit of a splurge, but my older one actually adores them too, so when they go on sale, grab 'em. Things pile. They'll unpile. I just need to remember to count them in to my menu planning to make it truly worthwhile.

Meanwhile, back to the clearout. And I'd tell you all what I got for my husband's upcoming 40th birthday, but I know if I did, TODAY is the day he'd start to read this blog!

Anyone else know why their significant others aren't reading their blogs?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Really Have to Go See This

Especially if you are at all around my age (ahem, late 30s). I got an email with a hilarious (and only slightly inappropriate) commentary on the 1977 J.C. Penney catalog. I found what I think is the original blog spot and am providing for you so you too can get a side ache from the giggles.

In related news, I was equally thrilled and distressed to discover that "The '70s" is an official historic time, if the makers of American Girl dolls are to be believed. Their latest two dolls would now be my age. Apparently, that would be the age of the mommies who have to fork over the cash for these babies, and their lifestyle accoutrements. Makes me glad I have boys who are happy with the 99-cent Hot Wheels from the Acme. (Ok, and several hundred dollars worth of Thomas the Tank Engine wooden railway sets and trains.) The big excitement from the moms I know? Just in case you didn't get it yourself, you can now buy YOUR DAUGHTER'S DOLL the style-able Barbie head that was all the rage in my childhood. Yikes. Toys of toys? This is a little to Escher for me. And a $6 hairbrush for a DOLL? Mine are $3 at the CVS. Only Me, I'm with you on this!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WFMW--Empty Hands

There is a storyteller in Philadelphia who goes by "Joe Bag-of-Donuts." He tells the story about how he had a friend in the hospital once, and when he went to visit him, he was concerned that he had nothing to bring, and in South Philly Italian culture, you really don't go visiting anybody with empty hands. It's considered thoughtless, and almost a little disrespectful. So he went to the hospital with a bag of donuts for his sick friend, and the name stuck.

Of course it always works for me when someone brings me a bag of donuts. But I recently saw where someone said she keeps her house neat by forbidding empty hands. (This was probably her WFMW post, but in case it wasn't, or to back her up, I'm posting my experience with it here too.) She pointed out how in a restaurant, you almost never see someone with empty hands. Servers are bringing food or clearing glasses. Busboys have their tubs. The only ones who move unencumbered are the hosts or hostesses; everyone else has to have full hands at all times to keep the restaurant flowing. This former restaurant employee had brought the idea back to her own house.

Dang, skippy, this works wonders. It had gotten easy for me to look past the things on the steps that needed to go up or down, and who doesn't prefer to bounce around unencumbered? But when I took my cultural "empty hands" dread and applied it to my house, it was like the brownies came and cleaned it all in one night. The stuff that collected on the peninsula went down, things that had been missing turned up, and it was really very few extra steps to my routine. This was a great technique for me and I hope it works for you too! Wanna see what else is working for people? Go check out Shannon's blog and find out!