Oct 21, 2014

Nice Rack...

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I may despise a lot of things about moving, but one GREAT result is the streamlining and organizing of stuff. I love the idea of being active outside, and we are pretty good at it, but the reality of taking the kids out and saying "look at all this beautiful nature; go play" is greatly helped when there are plenty of modes available to facilitate movement. So we have bikes, trikes, big wheels, the jogger, and so on.  And they all make a big, glorious mess in the garage. Fantastic for contemplating life and family and health. Not so great for parking the car in the winter.

The before--sort of. Pay no attention to the X'd out finished rack. You'll see it soon enough.
Of course, you can get hooks and straps and stuff to hang bikes in a garage, but the kids can't work those very well except to rip them out, and that would be counterproductive. And you can buy actual bike racks like they have in schools, except those get heavy and pricey pretty quickly.

So through a series of Pinterest click-throughs I came upon an article from Kids Activities Blog and said "That's it!" Out loud, for all to hear. This thing could be adjusted in size to fit our specific needs, disassembled for moving, AND the cost of materials was under $60.  Badda boom, badda bing. I pinned it, and told the Cat Daddy about it, and bided my time because we were just getting ready to move and it seemed wiser to hold off until we were in place.


The Cat Daddy was skeptical, as usual. But I forged ahead, as usual. Now, I will tell you every time to do your due diligence on any DIY project. You need to go through and consider if you will alter the plans for your situation, make sure all the math is correct, and perform an overall sanity-check. 

I will also tell you that I chose to do none of that this time around, and it cost me two extra 10' PVC rods and two extra trips to the home improvement store. Not too big a deal really, but depending on your distance from said store it could spell disaster, so just make sure you consider the variables here.

I printed out two articles: the original article on Kids Activities Blog, and its source article from the Utah Mountain Biking club, which had some really good diagrams and clarification (I'll link both at the bottom of this post for easy reference).

The plans given will build a 6-bike rack out of 1" PVC pipe and associated parts. You CAN cement the pieces together with pipe dope, but I found that using a rubber mallet to seat them was plenty sturdy for our purposes.

There was a small debate about which tool to use for cutting the pipe. The Cat Daddy recommended our little jigsaw, which I used for a PVC baby gate a couple years ago, but I remembered stability had been an issue. Which is bound to happen when one is using a weight bench for a workbench, but whatevs. The point is, we have a mitre saw with a frickin' laser beam, and why should the Cat Daddy be the only one to use the cool power tools?

I did not account for blade thickness in my measurements, which for the most part wasn't a problem. As long as you're within 1/8" or so you should be good. I had a couple pieces that were off by more than 1/4" (measure twice cut once, people), so I recut them using excess pipe scraps.

Cutting PVC makes you think about a delicious mess of shredded coconut.
My total needed pipe length was on the order of 44'-ish, so I purchased 5 10-foot pipes and cut as follows:
            • 12      18" long pieces
            • 12      10" long pieces
            • 27      8" long pieces
            • 18      1.75" long pieces (connectors)
            • 42      tees
            • 6        elbows 
The supply list with my edits. Source: here.

Actually, first I cut according to the original dimensions given in the picture, where I should have seen that the original 13" dimension was wrong.  I mean, clearly the longest pieces are way more than 3" longer than the 10" pieces.  I noticed the number discrepancy in the Utah article, then I looked back at the above picture and whacked myself on the forehead for not seeing it sooner. DIY projects give me tunnel vision. 

So I headed off to the store and grabbed two more 10' pipes, and went home & cut them into 18" pieces. And then, finally, I was done cutting.

Done cutting, including the original, now-useless, 13" pieces. 
As I moved on to the assembly phase, I soon realized that the measuring-and-cutting phase was by far the longest and most tedious, because the rack came together super-quick. Neither article exactly gave a specific procedure, so feel free to switch things up if you're feeling all crazy and non-conformist.

I went with the main frame first, and did the vertical members. Each rod is an 18" piece and a 10" piece, joined by a tee, with tees added at the top & bottom. Except for the end rods, which have elbows instead of tees at the top & bottom.

You may be able to see in the picture that I lined up the pieces so the red pipe printing is all facing the same way.  You don't have to take the time to do that, obvs, but if you're a bit of a control freak and like your PVC items to look more polished than average, it's worth the effort.

Rods made of 18"s, 10"s, tees, and elbows.
Next I used the little 1.75" connectors to make 6 pairs of rods. Here's where I added gentle taps with the rubber mallet to get things lined up properly. If you don't have a rubber mallet a regular hammer will work fine, as long as you add cushioning (phone book, folded towel, etc) so you don't bust the pipes.

Connectors joined the rods into pairs.
From here I joined each pair with 8" pieces at the tops & bottoms. I got a little excited and moved onto the support arms before I took a picture of just the main frame, but you get the idea. Rubber mallet taps as needed.

8" pieces joined pairs into the frame. I got a little excited and started on the support arms.
Each support arm pair was made of 2 8" pieces, a tee on each end, and a connector between the tees. Except of course for the end pairs which used an elbow in place of one tee.  Tap-tap-tap, went the rubber mallet.

Support arms from 8" pieces, connectors, and tees/elbows

"...38, 39, 40 tees. Hmmmm..."
Here is where I blamed my children for stealing 2 tees before I counted and realized the original list was wrong, and the little thieves hadn't swiped any tees after all. After 40 tees I was short, so I ran and bought 2 more, garnering quizzical looks from the Home Depot staff. 

"Is this all for you today?" 

"Yep. I was two short." 

"Ah."

Done! Thank you, rubber mallet. Note the well-worn printouts, as well.
This was a surprisingly good project to do with the kiddos, or at least with kiddos in the vicinity. His Highness and the Littler One helped with the measuring and marking. I offered to let His Highness do a couple of cuts, but he opted out this time around. Both boys functioned as sawhorses, supporting the long ends of pipe during cuts. And when they got bored with the actual work of it, they took turns with Tiny E, rolling objects down pipe ramps and so forth. Physics!

The Utah article quoted about an hour to build their 3-bike rack, so I estimated this would take about 2 hours. This is accurate in the same way that "30-Minute Meals" with Rachael Ray is accurate, meaning the time required is going to be highly variable. If you work with tools regularly and don't have to make extra store trips, 2-3 hours is probably about right. If you have extra trips, and have little helpers in & out along the way, and break in the middle to make lunch and put the baby down to nap, and take time to shop vac all the little bits when you're done, expect closer to 4-6 hours. 

So organized you could park a car in there.
Once I placed the rack and bikes, I was pleased as punch. Even the Cat Daddy said, "It's not too bad," which in everyday speak translates, "Wow, great job Skerrib! You are a woman of noble character. Eshet Chayil!"

And of course now that I have a baseline from which to deviate, I'm thinking about changes I might make, such as adding more sections and/or spacing out the current sections to leave more room for trikes and sundries between the bikes.

Take a look, and go forth...

Kids Activities Blog post

Utah Mountain Biking post

Oct 15, 2014

Therapeutic Seasons...

I’m a firm believer in seasons of life. While much of it is messy and overlapping, if I step back and sort of relax my eyes a little, I can see lots of time periods that for me have been about focusing on specific themes: learning big lessons, meeting special friends, passing milestones, or whatever. I tend to think of seasons in terms of places we’ve lived, so we have our Ohio season, Massachusetts season, and so on. Our pastor in Wyoming would always talk about God’s ‘assignments’ for us, meaning whatever He had for us where we were, no matter how strange or un-fun it seemed in the moment. As time goes on and we move to each new place, I've come to wonder what is in store for me there, what assignments God has for me, and what chapters that new place will write in my life story.

Most recently I’d been in a season of baby-rearing and back-healing/strengthening, and while I sensed I maybe needed a little help emotionally, I wasn’t in crisis enough to spend the time, money, & effort needed to do counseling/therapy properly, which is to say actually show up regularly and engage, and not blow off the homework.

Well, I factored all the factors and was able to tie up some loose ends, and decided that this is a good season to jump in and do some self-work in the form of counseling. I may have phrased it differently and implied that certain unnamed partners maybe could use some guidance as well…to the extent that such is true of all of us…but certain unnamed partners instead chose things like work, and parenting, and would-rather-an-icepick-to-the-eye-than-therapy-except-in-a-crisis, and we aren't in crisis, so I had to respect that choice.

Besides, within a couple sessions, my therapist and I determined that I had plenty of issues of my own to work on without bringing certain partners into things, anyway. And I may have had to apologize to certain partners for projecting my own issues and putting undue pressure on certain marriages. Or something. Because what I discovered was that, even with meds and healthy habits and stuff, it turns out that I still carry around a great deal of anxiety.

I know. I’ll wait while you sit down and absorb the shock.

Moving forward, instead of “The Cat Daddy needs to be nicer to Skerrib” (which I still contend is a valid and useful life goal), we have steered the focus more toward “Skerrib is a nervous-type and a perfectionist, but there are tools to help with those.”  

Thus I'm expanding my toolkit a little and learning a TON about feelings and stuff that I already like learning about, so it's working out well. As with most things in life, while I've come a long way in a lot of areas, I still have blind spots and/or areas where I'm in denial or fooling myself. So, you know, it's helpful (though not always pleasant of course) to have someone to help me sort thru it all. 

As with any season this too will come to a close in time, but for now I kind of want to go to therapy forever... 

Oct 8, 2014

An Open Letter to My Family, or Why I Hate Granola Bars...

Dear Family,

I want you to know that I love you all with the smoldering intensity of a distant sun. One that is neither exploding into existence nor burning out in one big gigantic supernova.  It is just blazing consistently, happy to illuminate and warm those in its orbit, and maybe do the eensiest bit of damage if proper precautions aren't taken. Nothing could ever change this warm, fiery, fusion-y love I have for you.

And I love treats. By now we have all known each other long enough that you have seen me tear into ice cream with great abandon, or stuff my face with Boston Kremes, or swipe your Halloween candy in the name of a "snack tax."

And I love getting you treats. I know it doesn't always seem that way. I don't always get as excited or eager about things as some folks do, and I'm probably the humbuggiest person in the family. I feel like I say no a lot, because sometimes it's right before a meal, or we've already had a lot of treats that day, or I feel it's a good moment for learning that you don't get a treat every time (hence the term 'treat'), or I know that there's some issue hiding behind the treat, and saying yes to the treat might actually make things worse rather than better. But I love the occasions where the time and circumstance are right and I can say yes to the treats.

And in the general scheme of things, I love granola bars. They are junky enough to be delicious and desired, and just healthy enough to be preferred--perhaps very slightly--over a candy bar.  Every week in the grocery store I walk past the shelf of Sunbelt granola bars, and in my mind I am forcibly restraining myself in order to prevent grabbing a box or three, because they are so yummy, but we would each eat 5 in one sitting and then feel sick & gross, and gain nothing from the experience. I totally get it about granola bars, believe me.

And I know that you are still learning the food-stays-in-the-kitchen rule. I know it's difficult because it's a new rule in this house. I know you see Mom & Dad eat food on the couch (while you are supposed to be in bed, thankyouverymuch), and it's hard that we have a different expectation for you.

But here's the thing: 3 of you are still very...crumbly...when you eat granola bars. Don't get me wrong, this is totally age appropriate for all of you. I don't yet expect you to be pristine about the granola bits. But being crumbly, and still working on keeping food in the kitchen, means that we get granola bar crumbs on the carpet. And the sensible--if worn-out--carpet hides the crumbs well. And maybe this particular time I did a lazy half-vacuum job over some of the affected areas, but I didn't get them all.

And here is how I know I didn't get all the granola bits, family: ANTS. I am so awesome and can handle so many things (poo, for starters...), but ants drive me bonkers.  I found them in the bathroom, and traced their teeny little steps, and what do you suppose I found? Yep. Granola crumbs. And ants on the granola crumbs, making it look like the granola crumbs themselves were crawling off somewhere.

And even this is perhaps forgivable. I threw all the bathroom rugs in the wash, and gave the place a couple good vacuumings, and looked up natural ant remedies just in case clean rugs don't do the trick (hello vinegar, I love you and buy you by the gallon).

But there is a deal breaker, and it is this. There was an ant in my bra. And it was wriggling around just enough that I thought it was a weird stray hair that had shed from my head and was just kind of taunting my skin until I found and grabbed it. And thank GOD the not-a-stray-hair-ANT didn't bite me or this whole post would be in shouty caps.

Now, 3 of the 4 of you will never use a bra (I assume), and the one of you who will is decidedly several years away from that reality, so I don't expect you to grasp the entire magnitude of the reality of finding a living creature in such a personal space. But trust me, it is full of magnitude, and highly unpleasant, and all the other things you might imagine about finding a living ant in your underthings.

And so next time we are in the store and you are asking for granola bars and I'm responding, "Heavens NO!" with that weird tone I use for awkward emphasis, or we are at home and I am vetoing Daddy's promise of granola bars, or one day out of nowhere I suddenly shudder and chant "NOOOOO granola bars!!" and you ask why not, the reason--whether or not I say it aloud--will be "ANTS (in my bra)" and there will be nothing said to change my mind. Because my mind will not be changed until you have demonstrated to me that you have all grown out of the "crumbly" phase.

Love you all so much, and please get that snack back into the kitchen.

--Mom

Sep 29, 2014

Emergency Planning...

The thing about anxiety is that it isn't always about BIG things. In fact, I would venture to guess that in my case it's more often little, ridiculous things that add up & make adrenaline and who knows what else accumulate in my system and mess with my sensibilities.

Case in point: I recently found myself the recipient of a massage. I'm not much of a spa & pampering type of person, but given my history with back stuff, a good massage can be quite therapeutic.

I was lying on the glorious heated table, under a sheet and lovely purple plush blanket, making pleasant conversation and contemplating my life. My wandering mind was brought back a couple times by my un-silenced phone dinging with texts, but I decided it wouldn't be anything that couldn't wait until later. The Cat Daddy had all the kids and all the carseats, and is quite capable in a crisis and besides, if it were truly urgent he would have called instead of texting.

Well, that got me to thinking about if there were some sort of crisis at the massage place, which got me to thinking about my, um, minimally-clothed situation, and what would I do if the fire alarm went off RIGHT THEN and we had to evacuate?

In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer to fashion a toga from the sheet, but keep in mind I was under the influence of calming music and pleasant aromas wafting about, so my mental acuity was less than optimal.

My penchant for finding things to freak out about, however, was fully intact. It really depended on what sort of lead-time we'd be talking about. I mean, I could dress & be out of there in under 30 seconds, but maybe we wouldn't have 30 seconds. Maybe the aromatherapy scents would make the air more combustible or something and the massage therapist would say, "We need to go NOW," and bolt without a second look. What then?

Well. One of the things about being a nervous-type is that while I can't pre-think my way out of every possible contingency, having a general plan of action goes a long way. So here's what I decided. The room was situated such that if I hopped down on the left side of the table, I'd pass right by my belongings on the way out, giving me about 2 seconds to grab everything and get out of there. If we were in a real pinch, I could leave my shoes and even my shorts behind, but the shirt was coming with me no matter what.  If it was more of a smolder I could take the 30 seconds to dress, but if it was more like Die Hard, with doors exploding open right & left, I could deal with the self-consciousness long enough to get to safety and then put my shirt on. I mean, given the situation, a handful of half-naked people would probably not be the most conspicuous thing that day (or maybe they would...).

I was pretty proud of my careful planning, so I shared it with the Cat Daddy. In case, you know, he ever finds himself nearly-nekkid in the middle of a massage parlor fire. He was less impressed than I had hoped. I blame it on his sound reasoning skills--he mentioned that even if I had been absolutely nude and could take nothing, once the fire dept got there they would give me a blanket or something to cover up with. Honestly though, I'm not sure what the hierarchy is on priorities. Like, do they get the fire out and then worry about covering the uncovered, or do they sort of divide and conquer the responsibilities ("OK Smith, and Taylor, you get the fire out. Jennings, go find some blankets for these scandalous individuals, and then pick up a section of hose")? It's a good backup plan, but I think I'd still prefer my own soft cotton tee.

And thankfully, I made it through the entire massage with nary a fire in sight (Or smell. Or earshot. There was no fire.), so I didn't even have to test my plan.



Now, you might be thinking "What on EARTH, Skerrib??" Because seriously, what is the likelihood of needing to evacuate the building during a massage? And normally I'd hang my head sheepishly and tell you you're exactly right...

...Except that this one time back around 2007 or so where I was having my annual well-woman check and the building was put into lock-down. And not just a "oh, lock the outside doors" lock-down. It was a "remain in your current room and lock the door" sort of lock-down. That's right--paper gown. Stirrups. Mid-Exam. Full-on lockdown.

This is possibly the only time in my life I've thought "Thank God I'm being examined in a military treatment facility," for two reasons:

1) I knew it was part of a base exercise and there was therefore no need to worry. Most likely, anyway.
2) In (most?) military exam rooms they have hospital-style curtains.

So in this instance, the doc finished the exam and pulled the curtain, I re-robed, and then he & I chatted about our young kids until the lockdown was lifted. I have to say that I had never once considered what I would do if the building was put into lock-down while I was in the middle of a medical exam. Thankfully he was super-professional, and calm about the whole thing, and my guess is he'd considered the possibility in some sort of pre-exercise briefing or something, because while he looked a little annoyed by the exercise, he was mostly nonplussed and knew exactly how to handle things as un-awkwardly as possible. Thank the Lord.

Anyway, my point is that it just goes to show you--worrying yourself silly is unhealthy, but a little advance planning is probably not a bad idea. Just in case.

You're welcome...

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.

Win-win-win...

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...