Sep 17, 2014

Nighty Night...

I started making my bed recently.

It's been gradual, and it still isn't all that consistent, but I'd venture to guess I make it more days than I don't.

Growing up we had to make our beds, and I didn't think all that much of it. In college my friend Mrs. B. showed me how to do hospital corners. I thought they were pretty slick, and a useful skill, but I only used them when I changed the sheets.

The Cat Daddy and I have never been in the habit of making the bed. It's mostly an issue of practicality--we usually get up at different times, and there are plenty of other things to spend our energy on, and king-sized beds are fantastic for co-sleeping but kind of tedious for bed-making. And neither of us has ever cared all that much. I mean, we appreciate it, but not enough to do anything about it.

Once, during one of our in-town moves before the Air Force, a friend remarked how much she loved pulling back the sheets after a long and tiring day, and climbing into her bed. And I thought that sounded really nice. But again, not nice enough to put the effort in to making it every day.

Plus I have this weird mental block about doing certain things just to do them, and somehow I found it unjust that I should take responsibility for making the bed without any help from the Cat Daddy, who occupies half or more of it (depending on how he is lying).

I'm still not quite sure what happened, but I think the laundry was part of it. As part of our ongoing negotiation over the division of labor, the bulk of the laundry folding was transferred to me, and I found it helpful to pull up the quilt and fold the laundry on top so as not to lose or entangle little shirts or socks.

And the KIDS. Those kids come in and pretend all sorts of stories, and mess the whole thing up. Left unchecked they would burrow under the mattress pad like little tail-less moles scurrying along the TempurPedic top layer. Then at night I am rummaging for the stinkin' covers so I can hunker down and snuggle up.  For some reason when I make the bed they are less likely to pull it all apart. That's not to say they won't still do it, but somehow they don't do it quite as often.

Plus we have low-maintenance covers. A top sheet and quilt, plus a blanket in the winter. And pillows with regular pillowcases. No shams or piles of decorative pillows. Piles of decorative pillows are just fodder for my burrowing tail-less moles, and they stress me out.

But as I said, somehow along the way I made the bed a few times, and I realized that with low-maintenance covers and pillows it's not a big deal. And I also found it fairly calming, to walk into my room and see a nice smooth bed instead of one all rumpled and askew.  And in this season of scaling back and simplifying (if only in my mind), investing a minute or two to spread a little calm throughout my day is time well-spent.

And now at nighttime, after a long day of whatever, it does indeed feel glorious to pull back my low-maintenance covers and slide in all comfy and cozy.

Sweet dreams for me...

Sep 11, 2014

The Great Cookie Test...

Needs more chips. But not too many more.
I have a lifelong love of the chocolate chip cookie. Growing up my mom used the Tollhouse recipe, except with margarine instead of butter, and sans nuts, thank you very much.

Except somewhere along the line I decided margarine was lame (because it is), and started using butter instead. While I have a slightly clearer conscience about the quality of the obscene amount of junk I'm shoveling into my body with butter ones, I've spent years tweaking the recipe to get it to turn out closer to my cookies of long ago (i.e., not greasy flat discs). In recovery circles they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results. Using this reasoning I should be very, very sane from trying so many different things over the years, but unfortunately I have never achieved the same result as my childhood cookies. Because, trans fats. The closest I've come is the fabled Neiman-Marcus recipe, which I do enjoy, but requires special treatment so I'm not inclined to count it as equivalent to the old stand-by.

Well, this lady did a parametric study on Tollhouse tweaks, resulting in a handy-dandy chart of cookie goodness, which you might've seen making its way around Facebook and Pinterest as of late. And while I loved the IDEA of embarking on my own study, I understood the reality of time and ingredients and suddenly felt very tired and sluggish.

And then there's the Cat Daddy, who feels that the cookies I make are "just fine the way they are," and doesn't understand why I would want to re-invent this particular wheel. He also may or may not realize that, at least in my eyes, they turn out differently every single time. I don't think we have the same goals and desires for our cookies.

Well after a 4-year stint at high altitude, which brought its own set of gifts and problems, I finally just kind of threw my hands up at the whole situation. I mean, I do still bake cookies occasionally, but let's be honest, the kids care about (1) getting as much cookie dough into themselves as I will allow/not notice, and (2) getting as many cookies into themselves as I will allow/not know about because I'm sleeping and they woke up at 3 AM to sneak them (lots of sneakery at my house), and I found the empty bowl and slice of bread the next morning, but at least the Cat Daddy will usually put the bowl in the sink, Littler One.

I digress.

That's all to say I sometimes bother to make dough from scratch, but other times I pick up the ready-made packs from the store. But no Pillsbury chocolate chip dough rolls, because come on, those cannot compare with the little Tollhouse pull-apart pucks.

So the last couple months have found me on an unexpected journey. Unexpected in that I wasn't planning on studying cookies, and also in that I didn't expect cookie-related adversity, mostly in the form of guff from the Cat Daddy.

It started with my online friend Emily. I read her post about what might be the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, which of course I took as a personal challenge, because who wouldn't want to be in possession of the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever? I told her that I would be trying the recipe soon, probably in the next week, and I'd let her know how they turned out.

About six weeks later I found that we had both the ingredients and required block of time, so my sous chef and I commenced with the cookie baking. We assembled our ingredients:

  • One pound salted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 cups + 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds dark chocolate chunks

From here it's basic cookie protocol:

  • Combine the dry things
  • Combine the wet things (sugars count as wet here, as many Good Eats aficionados will know) 
  • Gradually add the dry to the wet, finishing off with the chocolate pieces at the end
  • Exercise great restraint, cover the dough, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour

Then, and only then:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment
  • Roll the cookies into balls, place on parchment, and bake until done (10-15 min. Ish.)
Good for developing fine motor skills in sous chefs
  • Don't even think of removing them from the pan until they've cooled a bit. I rotated between two pans, placing the one from the oven onto a wire rack for a few minutes before I removed the cookies to another wire rack and re-loaded the pan. Emily says let the pan return to room temp, and while I don't know if I waited that long, it was at least close.
  • Enjoy the cookies. Share if you want. Don't listen to the naysayers who are anti-progress when it comes to cookies.

And now for some discussion and tips...

--I read several years ago that for chocolate chip cookies, the vanilla should be at least tripled to a Tablespoon, so this is my general practice. I have never been disappointed.

--The commissary didn't have dark chocolate chunks, but they did have Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, so I went with those. Honestly, I'm not sure if I would have tasted the difference between those and the Tollhouse ones, but Emily said to trust her that Ghirardelli would be good and she certainly was correct on that point. If you know about my mild addiction to Nestle dark chocolate chips, you might wonder why I wouldn't use those here, and the answer is that I love them so much I wouldn't want to taint their complexity with any other ingredients. The right tool for the job, and all that.

As to the quantity of chips, this is highly subjective. I realize this will sound heretical to some, but I generally go with about half what the recipe calls for. Here I started with a full 12-oz bag of chips and that seemed a little sparse, even for me, so I added another half a bag, but that seemed a little much. So, use your judgement on the chocolate chips/chunks. 

--The dough will be really thick. Even my Kitchenaid Pro was whining at me, and it took everything in me not to yell, "Suck it up, this is what you were made for!" It got the job done, but you may want to keep an eye on your mixer just to make sure it doesn't suddenly go kaput. Not that I would know about that sort of thing.

--Keep an eye on the cookies! That line between "ew, too doughy" and "ugh, too crunchy" is mighty fine. My best pans came out just before I thought they were done. If you can, stick with using the oven light and opening the oven as little as possible. We want to bake the cookies, not fan them indulgently with an oven door.

--I have found out that life goes better for many reasons when we do baked goods in smaller batches, so I baked a third of the batch, split the remainder into two little batches, wrapped each in wax paper, and froze both in a freezer bag. A week later when I needed something dessert-ish for a gathering, badda-boom, badda-bing.

I will caution you about this method though. You may or may not find yourself sawing off corners of frozen dough to sneak when the kids aren't around (I know. Sneakery...), or eating tiny little slabs of frozen dough for breakfast, or something. Discipline, people. This is all I am saying.

--The cold dough is tough to work with, but I found it really does produce the best result. If it gets too squishy, of course just stick it back in the fridge for a while and resume.

Also, keep an eye on your sous chef. Some are known, under the guise of ball-rolling, to actually perform chip removal (via SNEAKERY), which may or may not be desirable...

"I'm just tasting, Mom."
--And as many people like to do, try tweaking the recipe for your particular equipment and tastes. I tried smushing the balls just a touch and found I preferred them un-smushed. The next time I plan to try a smidgen less flour, just to see what happens, and try maybe one bag plus just a few extra chocolate chips, to see if the balance is better.

--My household is a tough crowd. Certain cookie conservatives were upset--nay, OFFENDED--at the mere mention of my trying a new cookie recipe (and also with 'way too much chocolate,' as they put it. Which was true, but a confusing way to phrase it because how can one ever have too much chocolate??). While I appreciate their love of cookies past, I found this a worthy endeavor. The recipe as-is turned out wonderfully, and I received high praise from credible cookie lovers, so I feel confident recommending it.

Now go forth! And bake cookies! And let me know how it goes...

Aug 27, 2014

Bubble Burst...

I've learned to try not to get too smug about much of anything. Smugness is like a bubble, and I cannot think of a single smug-bubble in my life that hasn't burst (some more gently than others).

This year both boys are in school all day (Amen, and Amen), and both ride the bus. This is a new adventure, as His Highness was a walker the last two years, and the Littler One had a personal car service (me) to preschool. It has gone well overall (i.e. hiccups, but no deal breakers) except that riding the bus extends their day quite a bit. In the mornings this is actually a good deal because Montgomery schools provide breakfast for everyone, so I can shove them out the door send them on their way and know they'll have time to eat before class. Win-win-win I say, and the boys would agree, at least on cereal days.

The afternoons are a bit of a different story. Their particular bus leaves later than the rest, so they don't get home until a full hour after school lets out. In our case this feels really late to me, since I could pick them up and have them home 30 minutes earlier than that. So, being a caring parent and all, my plan has been to wait until the beginning-of-school-traffic-nightmare eases up, and then start picking them up in the afternoons. Since they are SPIRITED I am sensitive to their having plenty of playtime, and I figure that even an extra half hour in the afternoons will do them some good. But I will confess that slivers of smugness have crept in, as I try to shield my precious snowflakes from the tyranny of bus riding tedium.

Last week I had a meeting with the Littler One's teacher, so I thought it the perfect opportunity to time our ride home and compare it with the bus timing. I coordinated between teachers so that His Highness met up with us and I could easily take them both home from there. I was awesome and responsible. It felt fabulous. I met with the teacher and gathered the materials I needed. I was a quality individual and a helper of mankind.

Just before we left, the school announced the boys' bus, and they went to head down the hallway to catch it. I said, "Boys, you're coming home with me today. Since I'm here, I can just drive you."

They protested. They cried. They said,"You're the worst mom ever!"

Even with the teacher meeting and school traffic, we beat the bus by a good 20 minutes. I said, "Look, you can go play now! You have extra time!" But they weren't buying it. I said, "Why would you want to ride the bus that takes so much longer?" The Littler One said, "Because it doesn't have seat belts!" (Good grief, but of course) They both said, "We like to sit with our friends!" (Ah. I get it now)

I said, "I was planning to start picking you up in the afternoons so you could get home sooner," but I reassured them that they could go back to riding the bus the next time (today). They wanted an immediate and long-term commitment that I would let them ride the bus home every day, forever. So we compromised. I assured them they could remain bus riders as long as it was working well for all parties involved and I didn't have to get them for an appointment or something. No forever-guarantees, and no assurances on the next school, because it all just depends.

But in the end I learned that sometimes my ideas of protecting them aren't all I think they are, even when I am thinking of their health and overall well-being. I thought I was protecting their need to run around and be rowdy, and have a good time with their friends, when it turns out they were having a good time with their friends all along, and that certainly counts for something.

And on the upside, it gives E and me a little more downtime in the afternoons, which anyone with a 2 year old knows isn't the truest downtime, but it's at least a quieter storm. And now I fully know that I don't have to feel guilty about enjoying it, because the boys are enjoying their mom-free time just as much.


Aug 25, 2014

Embrace the Shake...

Some nights, as a reward for getting into bed at a reasonable hour, I scroll through and watch TED talks. It didn't take me too terribly long to find that they are not foolproof--even in the TED universe there are some where the speaker isn't that great, or is boring, or maybe is speaking about something that is boring to me.

This one is a good one though. I would LOVE to compose a well-thought-out response, but I really think the video speaks for itself. I mean, Phil Hansen is an artist, and I don't consider myself an artist, yet this talk really inspired me in my own non-artsy circumstances. And he doesn't talk about faith one bit, but somehow it made me think a lot about God and His story for me.

I dare say it might have changed my life a little bit. You'll see what I mean. If you want, let me know what you thought...

Jul 26, 2014

No Question...

Balance is important, and as a mom it can feel tricky to know what the right course of (non?)action is for any given moment.

Whether it's a time to hold firm and and let the consequences flow, or give in a little for some greater good or teachable instant.

Whether it's a time to intervene and advocate, or to step back and let external forces work themselves out and shape the results and learning.

Whether to prevent two brothers from pummeling each other into silence (as the screaming and tears began before the hits) and practice using their words instead, or to keep track of time and see if it is quicker to let them duke it out and be done.

Whether it's a time to eat the junk food meal, or eat the growing food and save the junk for dessert.

Whether it's a time for structure or spontaneity.

Whether it's a time for work or for play.

Whether to speak explanation and clarification and pontification, or to hold back the words, save for the listening responses of "Wow," and "That sounds hard/good/funny," and let them find the lesson themselves.

Daily, I wrestle with any number of these questions. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting it right, and occasionally I even feel like I hit the home run, but more often it feels like I'm throwing a fistful of grass into the breeze and seeing where it goes...not to mention those times the grass comes right back into my face, and I know I really biffed it.

Of one thing I am certain, however. When dinner and baths are done early, and there's still plenty to do around the house with unpacking and organizing...ditching the chores and playing a Super Mario game on the Wii with His Highness is the best possible choice there is. Saving each other's lives, giving high fives, and yelling "Dang it!" at the screen when we die.

"I LOVED playing the Wii with you, kiddo. Now go to sleep."

Home Run...

Jul 24, 2014

Summer Activities...

Well, a lot has happened since my Brussels sprouts post, and I find myself, as usual, with so much to tell but somehow either too many or too few words to tell it with. I read an article that the online "brain-candy" type articles (BuzzFeed, etc) are decreasing our ability to stick with longer plot lines and more complex stories, and I wonder if they are somehow decreasing my personal ability to stick with telling my stories, because all I can seem to muster are bullet lists of half-thoughts in multiple categories. That, or it's the reality that my children steal my mental bandwidth, and that I've always had a short attention span. So whatevs. Here, for your short-term reading pleasure are some bullet points of my last month and a half (or so)--

--Movers came and packed us up one week in mid-June. I was nervous and angry because our last experience, while not horrendous, messed with my organizational sensibilities, and I wondered if all movers just did things...very differently...than we had done when moving ourselves.  BUT this time around I am pleased to say we had a great crew. They arrived a couple hours later than expected the first day, but it turned out that's because they were located a couple hours away, so after adjusting timing expectations we were very pleased all around. Part of my challenge is the social awkwardness of having other people in my space, handling my stuff. And indeed, it was a little awkward, but their leader was funny, and a talker (but not an over-talker), so that made it a little better since we could make silly comments and move on.

--I've never had professional cleaners, partly because of said social awkwardness, but we spent the money for a move-out clean, and holy smokes I can see what the big deal is because the ladies did a spectacular job shining up the place. Seriously, if you are in the Northern VA area, I wholeheartedly recommend R&A Professional House Cleaners. The Cat Daddy said "How did the sink get so shiny??" Well, it turns out I've read a little of the FlyLady and know there's a way to shine a sink, but have never pursued it. Now that he knows what's possible, I kind of feel like I should give it a try, even if it's just for special occasions. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't hire them, because they will raise your standards, and you will become aware of what is possible in home cleanliness. Thanks for nothing, R & A House Cleaners.

--After getting everything ship-shape we spent the better part of a week getting from Ashburn to Montgomery. The original plan was to take 4 days (2 more than necessary) so we could spend some time with friends along the way. Well, a little car trouble added a day on the front end, but it was an otherwise smooth trip. And thankfully the Pilot is fine now.

--Asheville NC is the East Coast's equivalent of Portland OR. If you find yourself there around lunchtime, do yourself a favor and eat at the Jamaican place called Nine Mile. I had never had Jamaican food before, and I am wary of a lot of spices and stuff, but I'm 98% certain there is something on the menu for everyone. It was so fresh and healthy...and yet flavorful and delicious too. They totally would've won Chopped. Our friend Pastor T convinced me I might be Anglican, but not the high-church-type Anglican. More like the grace-based, "When in Rome..." sort of Anglican. Or something.  It was late at night, but it sounded very reasonable.

--Lookout Mountain is in both Tennessee and Georgia, and it is beautiful. On the GA side lives a family we've known since their three kids were a few years older than our three kids are now, and we immensely enjoyed catching up with all of them (now expanded to include a marriage and grandchild) and finding we have been (mostly) unintentionally imitating them all along. Same dishes and everything, folks. We didn't think we were creepy stalkers, but then again maybe we are.

--The (almost) final stretch brought us into Montgomery and the local Drury Inn for 6 days.  We found the Drury on our last move and really enjoy them for a lot of reasons. They are all the same (no 'character' to speak of, which is normally a bad thing in my mind, but with hotels I think maybe it's preferable), they provide breakfast and a light dinner, they have an indoor/outdoor pool (where no germs will survive because there is PLENTY of chlorine), they are pet-friendly, and in our experience they have always been great to deal with. On this particular trip our check-in lady noticed we had a lot of family members and a lot of spirit, and she upgraded us to a suite free of charge. It had been unavailable when I booked, but had opened up. I said "Yes please, that would be awesome!" and cried tiny tears of joy.

The thing about the (almost) final stretch is that even though we gained stability in a consistent interim home base, we still had to watch our volume and occupy the loud children, and the feeling of being displaced--and not just on vacation--was definitely kicking in. And by that time we'd all been together for so long we were getting a little punchy, so we made up challenges along the way, like doing separate errands with different combinations of children, and eating way too many treats each day, and such. But six days is a huge improvement over the last move, where we spent 2 1/2 weeks in the receiving-end hotel, AND had to secure housing in that time. This time we had the house; we just had to wait for it to empty out.

--And finally we moved in. Overall the process was fairly smooth, although it would be a lie to say there have been no hiccups or deep breaths along the way. Two days later three guys arrived with two big trucks carrying 10 cartons of our stuff, resulting in a maze of boxes and whatnot.

My friend Elizabeth advises folks to provide their movers with food and drinks every day they are there, and I have to say I wish I'd taken this advice sooner. Nothing cuts down on social awkwardness more than saying "Help yourself to the cold water and Gatorade in the fridge," and "Hey we're ordering food, what kind of pizza do you like?" Even if one of the movers is, say, lactose intolerant and you have to ask what alternative would be suitable. And let's be honest--the cost to feed us and three extra big guys pizza (and a sandwich sans cheese) was not much more than our family of 5 eating at a sit-down restaurant, so really the expense is minimal. And even if it weren't, I'd say it's still well worth the cost. And then somehow instead of weird strangers asking where to plop the boxes, you begin to see the real people who happen to be schlepping your stuff throughout the house. I'm now a firm believer in feeding your crews.

--We have set a personal best for speed in unpacking and situating the house. Our last two houses have gone down in size, rather than up. Part of this is the reality of living in different regions with different economies and housing allowances, and part of this is my own leaning toward a bit more simplicity in life, and a personal challenge to the Cat Daddy to see if a smaller place might help me us feel a bit less overwhelmed by all the things. It's just for a year, after all, so there's not much to lose if we end up hating it. I call it a grand experiment and love it so far, but I'm not sure the Cat Daddy would use any of those words in that order.

This is our first move where I have been both not-pregnant AND properly medicated, so I had high hopes going in. And I have to say I've been pleased. Moving is hard work, and stressful, and wearying, and sometimes overwhelming, but I don't feel destroyed (probably too strong a word here, but not by much) by it, like I have in the past.

--So now we are evening out. We are down to a minimum of boxes remaining, and we actually have many of the pictures on the walls. We've visited one church and liked it so much we went back twice so far. We are working on thinning the crap, weeding out, eBaying, and donating where appropriate. The new silverware basket for the dishwasher arrived, so I don't have to hand-wash my spoons anymore (#fwp). I have become some kind of person who socializes at events where I don't know anyone (hello, spouses' orientation) without freaking out. Afterward I want to go home and sleep, but again I don't feel as though simply attending is sucking my will to live. Also, as I determined 10 years ago, having people you know in your new place makes a huge difference. Bonus points if they tell funny stories.

--HELLO, Command Products. His Highness has been bugging me to try them out since he saw them in a Halloween-themed commercial at age 2. I've hemmed and hawed, and procrastinated, but in this house the rules are pretty strict about amount and type of wall hanging materials, so after a short trial run I went for it full-force. His Highness was greatly pleased to see me come home with a bag full of them, and we are crazy Command people, hanging nearly everything with those glorious sticky tabs that don't damage flat paint (a rant for another time), and which stick to stuff you can't put a nail in (thank you, ceramic tile backsplash). I rue my stubbornness at waiting so long. Who would've thought wall adhesive would be such a life changer??

In conclusion, the thing about moving is, while lots (and lots...and lots...) of things change, eventually you find yourself right back where you started. For us that means my children still want to eat every time I turn around ("You're bored; have a glass of water and go play"), and my to-do list really has 123 items, but I can only reasonably accomplish 2 or so per day, I'm a calmer nervous-type, but I'm still a nervous-type, and I still freak out on Thursdays. And while it's frustrating to experience frustrations, it is calming to realize you are reaching the new normal, thinking "THIS I can deal with; it's (I'm) gonna be OK."

Which is good, because we get to do the whole thing again next summer. Goody, goody gumdrops...

Jun 6, 2014

Cooking Healthy With Skerrib...

Today I would like to talk about rice and brussels sprouts, because in the past several months I have had life changing breakthroughs with both.

I do not come from a line of chefs. My people are respectable down-home cooks, but professional-type chefs we are not. I think possibly that buried deep somewhere in the human genome is the culinary gene, and that there are those on God’s green earth fortunate enough to get it, and those of us who either have to pick up strategies and tactics, or be content with lots of take-out and/or Ramen.

My history with cooking is varied and at times painful. There are nasty persistent rumors out there involving opened pasta sauce being stored in a college apartment pantry for two weeks, instead of the fridge. While I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of, or my involvement in said events, I will say that the Cat Daddy sometimes needs to let things GO already and admit where drastic improvements have been made.

I like to think I've been fairly effective at picking up strategies and tactics over the years, by way of friends, family, the Internet, the Food Network (Alton Brown in particular), and these days Pinterest. But two of my biggest weaknesses have been making vegetables in a way that people actually want to eat, and getting my rice just right.  My Puerto Rican friend makes some of the best sticky rice I've ever had--in the microwave no less--but try as I might I could never duplicate it.

This changed somewhat when I made the switch from long grain white to short/medium grain brown rice. We were at Pei Wei with my folks, and my mom ordered the brown rice, and I was all "The woman is mad," but then I tasted it and thought, "Sweet sassafras, that's really good!" Sort of like the rice version of steel cut oats. It wasn't long before I got up the courage to buy a small bag of brown rice at the store and give it a whirl. And pretty much instantly, we switched over to brown as our household rice of choice. Even the Cat Daddy was convinced, and that's saying something.

But it still didn't change the fact that rice is tricky. Much like pasta, it has that narrow window of delicious doneness. Too short and you're crunching your way through the meal, and not in a good way; too long and it's like bad oatmeal where you're left ruing that 3 minutes you spent wiping up spilled Gatorade or some such nonsense instead of watching the rice.  And much like oatmeal, there's the issue of water quantity. Bottom line, if you get that wrong there is no way to achieve optimum sticky texture, Mister.

Well. A little Yahoo article changed all that for me. Basically, the secret is to treat the rice like pasta. Badda boom, badda bing, and done. You can click over there to read the whole thing but I will share the steps here:
--Boil a big pot of water, as if you were getting ready to make spaghetti.

--**The article says to rinse your rice in a strainer until the water runs clear, but I am quite lazy want maximum nutrient retention so I don't do that. My water ends up with foamy bits in it, but whatevs.**

--Put your rice in the boiling water. It doesn't matter anymore how much rice you use, so go nuts with as much or as little as you like.  Add salt, oil, seasonings, etc., stir once, and cook uncovered for 30 min.

--Kill the heat, strain the rice (use common sense on which strainer, please), and put it back in the pot. Cover and let it steam in its own residual water for 10 minutes.

--They say, as always, to fluff with a fork, but does anyone really do that? I give it a good stir and plop it on the plate. Fork-fluffing sounds pretentious to me.

--Eat the best, most foolproof brown rice ever. Top it with things if you must...

...And secondly, let's talk about Brussels sprouts. I don't recall ever eating them growing up, so they must have been mutually hated by my parents. Frankly, I didn't even care to try them at all until this vegetable roasting craze popped up some years ago, and even then my entire immediate family declared "NEVER AGAIN!" on the way to deal with their, um, digestive issues.

I actually did throw in the towel on Brussels sprouts, until a few weeks ago when Jen Hatmaker posted a blurb on her Facebook page about doing the sprouts with bacon and a balsamic reduction. That was enough to pique my curiosity at least, and THEN my hippie friend Sarita made them for Tiny E and me when we were visiting and I just about died to discover how delicious they could be.

There's one caveat that we must get out of the way, and that is that one way or the other, the kitchen will smell like farts at some point during the cooking process. I don't think there's any way around this with cruciferous veggies, but in this case we get most of the fart smell over with early on, and move onto the much preferred bacon and balsamic smell, so that seems to work OK. Or at least better than average.

So combining many tips I've collected over the past several years, here's how I accomplished Brussels Nirvana--
--For inspiration, go look at Ina Garten's Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe. Don't be intimidated by her pancetta and fancy ways, as you will only pay attention to about half of the recipe.

--Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

--Rinse, trim and halve your sprouts. Keep the loose leaves that come off during the trimming.

--Steam the sprouts. My hippie friend Sarita does hers in a microwave steamer for a minute or two; I don't have a microwave steamer, so I did mine on the stovetop until they started turning bright green. This is, in my opinion, the biggest key step I was missing in my past experiences.  Just as you are about ready to give up because your whole kitchen smells like a stink bomb, remember that it only gets better from here.

--Dice up a bunch of bacon. I used about half of the sprouts Ina called for, and twice the bacon. I felt it was a little too much bacon, but most of the world will disagree with me on that.
**My bacon came out a little chewy, so I plan to see if precooking it is worth the effort. Probably not.

--Dice some onion and/or bell pepper to add color & flavor.

--Toss the veggies with the bacon, salt & pepper, and a good dose of oil and spread on a sheet pan.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, tossing once during the roasting.

--Ina says to use a really nice, syrupy balsamic vinegar. I used my fancy Wegman's store-brand balsamic vinegar and reduced it a little to make it nice & syrupy. When the sprouts are done roasting (brown & tender, and bacon is cooked thru), toss everything in the balsamic and serve.
**The little loose leaves also came out a little chewy. I plan to see if leaving them out of the steaming process helps them crisp up during the roasting. 
These are so good that when your family makes mock-gagging sounds, you won't even care.  You'll just think "Ah well, more for me."

Now I understand that there are those who have thrown in the towel on Brussels sprouts and are thinking "Skerrib you are absolutely nuts. There's no way I'm using my good bacon on fart-smelling tiny green cabbages." I understand that. Sometimes, there's no redeeming certain foods.

But it's like when I make them for my family. That just means there's more for me...

May 25, 2014

"Happy" Memorial Day??

While I’m no stranger to opinions, there’s a difference between opinions and OPINIONS. And OPINIONS are a little scary and shaming sometimes, and I’m not a big fan of shaming. It’s become kind of a bummer to me as I have noticed the seasons and cycles of shaming as they correlate to the seasons and cycles of life. For every holiday, event, or opinion, someone will find a way to throw some shame around, and I think that’s a bummer because holidays are to be felt by each one individually, and if it brings pain, well, we certainly don’t need it amplified by OPINIONS on the internet.

Therefore I particularly enjoyed my friend Mark’s take on Memorial day. You should go read his stuff here; it’s really good. And a big debt of gratitude to those who have died so that we can enjoy our time together with love and freedom.
Tomorrow, Memorial Day, is never about sales of T-shirts, ball games, a day off work, or coupons. Yet, it’s about all those things.

It is a day of deep deep love. A day when a group of people, most by their own choosing, stood up and said, "Send me." Then, in that choice, they wrote their epitaph. Today, if asked, they would not have it any other way, because they know. They know what they bought for the rest of us.

So, enjoy what you have. Enjoy the weather, the barbecue, the laughter, the sleeping in. It was purchased by a few, a happy few, a band of brothers and sisters, who now simply smile at their check writing skills.

May 23, 2014

Gummy Bear?

There's a saying that goes around in the moms-of-young-kids crowd. Something to the effect of "the days are long but the weeks are short," or "the days are long but the years are short," or something like that.  Obviously this is a nice way of imploring parents to look up for a moment and be aware of where they are, and take it in, even the gross/difficult/painful/maddening/eyeball-poking parts, because way too soon it will be memories. I talk with moms of grown kids often and without exception they say it flies by.

I just want to go on record and say that my days are not long, and it is all flying by. Every single day.  Now I assume this doesn't feel true for everyone, but I also know I'm not the only one. Perhaps it is some sort of supernatural mercy from God because he knows there is only a certain amount of poo I can handle in a single day, and if my days were any longer there would be a serious breach of the poo quota, and the household would dissolve into poo anarchy or something; I dunno.  He also sees how we handle the witching hour, and I think maybe he knows that once the children start screaming the only answer is to bathe them and send them to bed, so I would be gratefully unsurprised if he were shaving a few minutes off somewhere in there, because from 3 pm on it is a break-neck pace around the Skerrib house.

Every week I sit with my calendar for a few minutes and write down the major activities of each day. This is to avoid missing appointments and such, and is about 80% effective (but not foolproof, as I've found a few times). Sunday evenings I will look toward Friday and think it is Sooooo far away, but like 10 minutes later here I am late Thursday evening wondering where the week went.

I mean, I know where it went--I can break each day into 1-2 hour blocks and tell you pretty much what I was doing during each one, and which ones I used to preserve mental health instead of tackling another task.  Which ones I did what I planned or at least "should have done," and which ones went a little wonky due to outside forces (poo or otherwise).

This is all to say, I know. I see it. My crazies are shooting up out of the ground like little dandelions, way too fast. His Highness is getting all leggy and moving toward bigger boy-ness, and the Littler One scales shelves like Spiderman. As for Tiny E, somehow she picked up complete sentences from her brothers and enjoys informing me how things are going to be: "No mom, I wanna sit here," and so on.

I find myself thinking about Ferris Bueller's advice--"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it," and I think he was definitely onto something, even (or maybe especially) for those of us in the young kids season.

Heck, who am I kidding. Just because I deal with poo more than average doesn't give me some sort of special life standing or unique insight (except for the poo itself--I really do have a lot of knowledge and experience with it).  Ferris's advice is good for everyone, at any stage.

It's Friday, kids. Take a look around and see where you are. Make note of it. Then go forth and do something (or maybe nothing? On purpose?) to mark it somehow...

May 14, 2014

So Many Things, So Little Time...

In the past, oh, 6 months or so I’ve been loosely following Shauna Niequist. Daughter of Bill & Lynne Hybels, and a contributor to Donald Miller’s Storyline blog, she’s talked a lot of late about passion, and squeezing in passion amid even the busy young childhood years.  This really speaks to me as I continue to sort out life, and kids, and family, and such.

Well, today she posted here about how one goes about finding passion. While I have baggage about the word 'passion,' I think the process she wrote about is a really good idea, because while there are lots of things I enjoy dabbling in, I am acutely aware that each day has a limited time, and if I go chase rabbit trails it’s much harder than in the pre-kid years to go back and make up the missed things later. So some of what I’ve been mulling over lately is what are the things that I really love and really don’t want to do without, and what are the rabbit trails that can be put away, even if only for a while. And right away, I crossed off Jesus, which sounds horrible and anti-Christian, but it’s like asking people what books they would take on a desert island, and having everyone answer “Bible.” Yes, it’s probably the truth, but it doesn’t necessarily speak into the finer points of one’s personality.

So, to be clear: I love Jesus the most, and count on him for all things identity, salvation, and overall guidance in life and beyond. And thankfully he (or at least the Holy Spirit; I’m not fully clear on the mechanics of the Trinity) is with me no matter what I’m doing, so we’ll leave him as a very important assumed priority. Good? Good. 

Beyond that? Elizabeth Gilbert gave a really cool little TED talk, which made me think back to a conversation I had with my friend Weezer a few years ago, when she asked me what was the one thing in life that made me feel most alive and like myself (everyone should have a friend like Weezer who asks questions like that). And like I said, there are lots of things I enjoy dabbling in. I have a bit of a fear of missing out, so I’ll try most anything at least once, and I usually find something skillful or enjoyable about most things (among notable exceptions for me are knitting and sales; trust me on this, the entire world is better off when Skerrib is doing most anything other than those things). 

But as I said before, my list of “musts” has been whittled away over the years. I don’t read much grown-up fiction these days; not necessarily because I don’t enjoy it, but because when forced to choose I prefer non-fiction for myself, and I adore exploring kid-lit of all types with my crazies. Check. Music is really important to me, but outside of practicing for drumming, I don’t do much new cultivation of my listening repertoire (which makes me a little sad, but thankfully I can live somewhat vicariously through the Cat Daddy’s musical wanderings). Check.

Drumming itself has stayed on the list, as has writing, even though the frequency is greatly diminished. And back in the conversation with Weezer, I very nearly said “drumming” as my number one thing. But I didn’t, because there is one thing that edges out drumming (and writing), and that is running.

In the talk above, Gilbert talks about the one thing you would do, no matter what. No matter if anyone was watching, or even knew that you did it. And just to clarify, I love drumming and writing almost as much as running. Depending on the day it really can be a tough call. But when I think about bad days, where I am getting a lot of guff from my minions and am maybe even in a little pain from my back stuff, and probably overall just feeling like poo, nothing makes it better like pounding out a few miles. And on good days, nothing makes me a ball of cheesy grinning goo more than a good run. Writing is awesome for getting my thoughts out, but running helps me form the thoughts into something comprehensible; otherwise I'd sit down to write and come up with one word sentences and a lot of unfocused whining. So I guess running helps me whine with purpose. Or something.

Anyway, you likely already knew that about me and the running. So as it turns out, without meaning to, I've kind of followed Shauna's process for fitting it in, so perhaps I get a gold star or something. It seems like many of my thoughts these days are simply the sifting through things I know are already true, and deepening them somehow. Or rather maybe seeing my same old life expressed in new ways, or even just realizing that professionals like Donald Miller and Shauna Niequist are regular people too, trying to find their way and live a good story (TOTALLY swiped that from Donald Miller).

I suppose my encouragement to you today is to look at what is already in your life, and see what you are fitting in without necessarily realizing it.  There is SO MUCH I want to do and try, but when I look around and take stock a little, I see those things I've managed to squeeze in, and it both reassures me and helps me be deliberate about the things and people I love. 

And when in doubt, the pace isn't important. Just put one foot in front of the other and go...