Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a Trader Joes Christmas.

Christmas is wonderful, if you like that sort of thing.

Last year, I didn't.

I more than didn't. A bunch of things piled up to make it a really tough holiday. Living room clutter. Sleep disturbances. News of a friend's divorce. Kitchen clutter. Five holiday gatherings. The movie Waitress (don't ever watch this if your husband is relaxing. So what if he really deserves a break after working so hard and doing so great and growing his choir program and waking up at 5 in the morning and working so hard. The movie will turn you against him.) Pine needles underfoot. More clutter. Dishes to pass (wait, that part was okay).

Yes, I realize that the True Meaning of Christmas is the birthday of our Lord, but I find it way easier to concentrate on that when I'm not hyperventilating, sobbing, or picking fights with my lounging husband.

So I vowed to get a head start on Christmas this year. But here it is December, the holidays are upon us, and I haven't done a thing. I haven't frozen dozens of homemade meatballs made from Grandpa Bud's secret recipe (you only get the laminated copy of the recipe if you are a male grandchild of his who apprentices him). I haven't used all of our extra candy to make tubs of delicious treats to pass to relatives. I haven't started making the woolen slippers I promised my younger daughter. I haven't even started wishing for things for myself. Honestly I was hoping to go to bed and wake up, oh, around January 5th, when Christmas can legally all be put away, vacuumed up, and held in our little memories till next year.

Then I remembered Trader Joes. And gift cards. Trader Joes and gift cards may save my sanity this year. Not many of the people on my gift list live near a Trader Joes. And this compact, intriguing grocery store has so many fun bottled and/or boxed treats like salsas, chutneys, olive oils, funky spreads, chunky breads. Not to mention the frozen food section. I think I'll just stop in there on the way to every gathering to pick up my dish to pass.

So, if you are on my gift list this year, expect something yummy from Trader Joes. Or a gift card. If you are high on my list, you may actually get a gift card to Trader Joes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

so much candy, so little _____

So much candy, so little . . .


Really, who wants to eat all that candy? Darel came home with two large boxes of leftover fundraiser candy bars. Sounds fun, but we really, really do not need to eat all of that candy.

So I did what any other rational, healthful mother would do. I made other people eat it.

I was assigned DESSERT to bring for the family Thanksgiving dinner. So I thumbed through my Frango cookbook.

I found these.

Because I have never had Frango chocolates in the house, and because I had an, ahem, excess of Caramellos, I decided to use the fundraising candy.

They were not too difficult and not too sweet. I loved the nuts but not the crumbliness.

And, for the pure buttery, cinnamony, heck of it, I also brought Monkey Bread.

And it was a happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

define perseverance

per·se·ver·ance (pûrs-vîrns)
n. Actually finishing the painting project that you start.

Oh, boy. What a job.
4 walls
2 strips of crown molding
2 doorways
1 actual door
3 gigantic windows
1 baby grand piano
7 happy goldfish
1 fireplace
2 ceiling overhangs
2 bookcase/shelf/cupboard things
1 built-in mirror
1 recessed lighting cabinet

Here are some 'before' and 'after' shots, except that I'm never disciplined enough to take the 'before' pictures. So here are some 'during' and 'after' shots.


Did I ever mention that my high school classmates voted me Most Likely To Use Scaffolding?


Note Darel's impressive biceps are partially visible here. Let it be known that while he is strong-muscled, he is equally strong-willed and did not move the piano during this paint project.






Have you heard that love covers a multitude of sins? I'm grateful for this. But in my living room, it was my beloved tub of spackle that covered a multitude of imperfections.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

what IS that thing?

It was very solemnly given to me by one of my husband's ancestors. The ancient's eyes locked with mine. "I know you'll use it," he uttered.

All I could do was nod.

But what the flip IS this thing, I thought.

Come to find out, if used improperly, that is, with other people in the house who could possibly come within 20 feet of you, it's a knuckle slicer.

This device is to be used ALONE. Under the influence of no substance stronger than a multi-vitamin. With no distracting ambient noise.

But used properly, this other blast from the past slices the thinnest onions for caramelizing, the fastest carrots for simmering, the neatest potatoes for windowpaning.

In my house you must be 12 months old to stir batter, 4 years old to crack an egg, and 3 decades old to try your hand at this thing.

Oh, yeah, the thing has a name. It's some type of mandoline.

Thank you, Grandpa Bud.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mom Interrupted

Mom interrupted, painting interrupted, cold/flu interrupted, kitchen interrupted.

We had quite a weekend around here. Both girls were slightly sickly, but hanging in there. My living room painting project was sailing along nicely (2 walls down, 2 to go!). We even baked some scrumptious cinnamon rolls

and took a stroll around the neighborhood.

Then, after the girls' bath on Saturday night, I walked into my kitchen. You know, my favorite room of the house, my vice. And it was raining in there. Yes, water falling from the cupboards, ceiling, and light fixture. You can imagine the hollering that followed.

It took us 2 hours to clean up the soggy mess (picture a salt shaker filled with water, a waterlogged roll of paper towel, my various to-do lists illegible, and a recipe or two gone forever).

I don't have pictures of the fiasco because I was too busy hollering (see above) to grab the camera.

I can only write rationally about it now because the plumber fairy came today and made it all better.

And life continues as usual.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lasagna Garden: It's not what you plant, it's how you plant it.

When I first heard of the Lasagna Garden, I pictured rows of ricotta, tubs of tomatoes, bins of basil. But the idea of the lasagna garden is not what you plant, but how you plant it. The idea is layers. The goal is rich, weed-free soil. That, I need.

Our yard already had a defined garden space when we moved in, but it had been left unattended for some time and was a bit of a weed jungle. Seriously, the weeds were as tall as me. We cleared it out, tilled it, and planted vegetables. Oh, the abundance! Was not there. I think we had 3 main problems. Lingering weeds, lots of them. Soil that wasn't very rich (note to self: compost really is black gold). And The Great Muncher.

I swear this groundhog is of either Mexican or Thai decent because she chewed the cilantro to the ground DAILY. Now, I'm willing to share what I've grown (have you read the strange and sweet children's book Rabbit Hill?), but not all of it. My children get hungry too.

So this fall we're starting the lasagna garden. We (I'm using the 'royal we' here) laid down a layer of cardboard, then the raised beds, then compost*, then leaves. We hope to layer more compost still this fall or early next spring.

*a few weeks ago, I harvested 16 5-gallon bucketsful of compost from our compost bin in the backyard. Our kitchen scraps and leaves had been cooking in there for up to a year, and I was utterly shocked that it had indeed turned into usable dirt. I only found a few banana stickers in there, and one ballpoint pen. Most everything else was unidentifiable, having become rich, black soil. The one exception was the mound of cornhusks from my recent corn escapade.

Anyway, here's what the garden is looking like these days.

Plan for the spring: another box of cedar to make the beds taller, and MORE COMPOST. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I *heart* birthdays.

Actually, I don't. But helping a kid celebrate is way more fun that attempting to celebrate your own. And it's not like I'm afraid of getting older (some days I long for an empty nest), it's just that it's kinda annoying to be the center of attention for more than 4 seconds.

This was our first year to have a birthday party with actual children. Usually we opt for a family-only birthday dinner, but now that my children have been to, oh, 800 birthday parties in their (combined) 9 years on earth, they got a clue that they could have one too.

So Abi chose a heart theme and 6 friends to invite (I like that one-friend-for-every-year-you-are rule). Josi cut out most of the hearts, and Darel and I hung them from everywhere during the night. Our invitations included a suggestion for each guest to bring one present, from which Abi would choose one to open, and each guest would choose one to take home. The idea was to eliminate loads of presents, the need for goody bags, and the idea that lots of stuff equals happiness. And surprisingly enough, both the kids and the parents seemed to like the idea. I know I did. (Thanks to Merrie S. W. for passing me this idea!) Other activities included playing with stethoscopes (thanks to Mieke for loaning them to us), taking our heartrates before and after dancing all crazy to Heart and Soul, and playing Hide and Seek.

With mac 'n' cheese, apples, and cupcakes for lunch, we sent everyone home happy, and promptly headed upstairs for a nap.