Dec 31, 2014

Act: A Year In Review...

My feelings about New Years have been decidedly mixed, but this time I find myself feeling reflective and appreciative.  I chose the word "Act" for 2014, and as I look back over the year, I have indeed acted.

Some of my acts have been fairly minimal and extremely practical, such as keeping a daily to-do list, getting my workout & back exercises done first thing so I have the rest of the day for other tasks, that sort of thing. 

Others have been a team effort, such as being super-proactive about our moving tasks so that we could settle in as quickly as possible for our year-long extravaganza here in Alabama. We are experts at setting up utilities, finding the best local eateries, and wondering aloud how it is that Baby Jesus's arm could break amid all that bubble wrap and packing paper. 

Some have been social, such as staying in a conversation instead of trying to end the agony that is small talk. Engaging and listening more, instead of staying only in my own brain. Taking the risk to be less "generically nice" and more "specifically me" as I get to know people.

And some have been at once so simple and incredibly difficult. Making the calls...again...for help with my weaker areas...again. Like therapy and back care and stuff. Signing on, knowing that each would require a certain commitment of time and effort. Coming to the realization that, at least for now, ongoing help for both is necessary. 

Lastly, my favorite act of 2014 ties into my goals for 2015. I found that while I've been getting help for my back (and probably will for-maybe-ever), I'm also to a point of decent enough strength to pull the trigger on my first half-marathon.  I signed up for the Montgomery Half, scheduled for March, and downloaded a training plan, and started racking up more miles than usual. If all goes well, it will be a nice segue into reaching my marathon-before-age-40 goal. 

I think it's important to note that in keeping this Act resolution, I haven't been any busier than normal. In some cases I've even taken more deliberate rest than I would normally allow myself. I think what it did was to help me be more intentional about which actions were most important to me, so that I did those, instead of my normal anesthetizing patterns of busy-ness. Sometimes, anyway. I mean, I'm still busy...but I feel a little more peaceful about it these days. 

I also think it's important to note the "little" in "a little more peaceful." I haven't overhauled my entire life, or somehow made my kids stop messing up the house (heaven help us all), or anything like that. In fact, I'm probably the only one who notices any sort of difference in myself over the previous year, but even though it's little, I'm really proud of that little step. We can all be proud of our little steps, I think. 

Except with regard to therapy and back care--the results of both of those have been feeling a LOT better. So it's, like, a greater-sum-game, or whatever you call it when you take a little step and end up running down the road with a big grin on your face like you just don't care. Seriously. Go get your help, people.

I'm still mulling over what I might choose for 2015. I could just say "Half-Marathon," but that feels like cheating, both because it's a hyphenated word and because I actually made the goal a while back and the timing just worked itself out this way. Possible contenders are "healing," "kindness," and "don't-assume-intent," but the jury is still out.

Therefore, I wish you a year full of life and love, mostly because that's my own desire, and whether or not you choose a word, or resolutions, or anything at all to accomplish in 2015, it is a good and worthy desire. 

Happy New Year!

Nov 23, 2014

Sunday Cinnamon Rolls...

I feel I need to offer a disclaimer: this post is in direct opposition to the healthier eating goals I've been working on for myself lately. If I had followed my own rules I'd have...well, I'd have done pretty much everything at least a little differently. If you're going to make and eat something like this I think the best thing is to call it what it is, which is a treat for Cheat Day, and remember that we have freedom in Christ. Because you're gonna need it for these.

So let's get on with our cheat treat, yes?  First go read the Farmer's Wife's post for the original recipe. If you do everything she said all your wildest cinnamon dreams will come true.  For our family of five I chose to cut the recipe in half because I didn't want an extra pan of cinnamon rolls trying to intimidate me all week. So here is my ingredient list:

Frozen bread dough--1 loaf
Cinnamon--roughly 2 Tbsp
Butter--1 1/2 sticks
Brown sugar--1 cup total
White sugar--1/2 cup
Vanilla ice cream--roughly 3/4 cup

  • First, thaw your bread dough. This is mostly straightforward, but keep an eye on it and don't leave it so long that it starts rising and getting too big too soon. Then roll it out to about 1/4" on a floured surface.  Get it as much like a rectangle as you can, but don't freak out because it's highly unlikely that it will be perfect. That's called 'character,' folks.

**In my ideal world I would make the bread dough from scratch, but thus far in my life, yeast doughs are sort of an unconquered frontier for me. I haven't worked with them enough to be confident that they will rise the way I hope. So I winced only minimally at buying the ready-made frozen loaves, complete with bleached flour and HFCS (Cheat Day treat!)**

  • Cover the dough with 1/2 stick butter somehow.  The Farmer's Wife said to smear softened butter over it. I chose to melt the butter and pour/spread it.  Potato, Potahto.  

  • Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the butter, and 1/2 cup brown sugar over that. 

**The Farmer's Wife says to "lightly" sprinkle the brown sugar, which I found curious because on my rolled-out loaf, 1/2 cup brown sugar was more like a heavy layer. But whatevs. Again, potato potahto.

  • Next, make it a cinnamon ROLL--roll the dough into a long tube, and then cut the rolls so they are about 3/4" thick. The Farmer's Wife says you'll get about a dozen rolls per loaf. I got more like 16-18, but the ends were smaller due to my dough being not quite a rectangle; this is how I roll. Character.

  • Lovingly place the rolls in a greased 9"x13" pan. You will notice they don't come anywhere close to taking up the whole pan. This is where the magic of yeast comes into play, so arrange them in such a way that they have a little space but also butt up against one another (heh) so as not to come unrolled.

  • Next, put the remaining stick of butter, 1/2 cup each of brown & white sugar, and 3/4 cup ice cream into a saucepan. I added the teensiest bit of salt (1/2 tsp?), but I'm not sure it was necessary. Melt, mix, stir, and bring to a boil for one minute before pouring over the rolls.  Licking the saucepan remnants is optional, but recommended for quality control purposes.

  • If you are baking them that day, let them rise at room temp until they are almost double in size. If not, cover them with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray (or not; I didn't find the cooking spray necessary) and place in the fridge overnight. They'll still rise, just much slower.

  • When you're ready, preheat the oven to 350F, then bake for 25-30 min. When done, let them cool a little, then flip them out onto a cookie sheet to cool the rest of the way before eating. 

**I pulled mine from the fridge around 5:45 to warm up a bit (I was up momentarily anyway; long story), and then put them in a cold oven at 6:30 and set it for 350F. I checked them at 7 and they were done, so I pulled them and let them cool 10 min or so.  I never did use a cookie sheet; we just flipped them straight from the pan onto our plates.

Obviously there are numerous tweaks and adjustments to be tried, depending on your dietary needs and preferences. But if you need a sure thing, this is it. I recommend a glass of milk or some eggs for some protein alongside these so you don't go into a sugar coma. And I would classify these on the smaller(ish) end in the big scheme of cinnamon rolls, so go easy on yourself if you end up eating, say, three.

These were universally liked among the Skerrib family, although the Littler One said he still prefers the iced Pillsbury ones from the tube. So take that for what it's worth--the rest of us LOVED them.

Go forth, give them a try, and let me know how they turned out...

**UPDATED 12/29/14**  OK I've tried some tweaks on this and found I could cut out a bunch of the sugar. Like, in the first round, cut it from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup.  For the caramel sauce you can cut a little of the sugar, but if you cut too much the sauce will be too buttery, and not in a good way. I also tried whipping cream instead of ice cream and it was maybe not quite as good, but still sufficient enough that I can suggest you use whatever you have on hand. Also, don't add any salt to the caramel sauce. It's just not necessary.  Happy rolling!

Nov 21, 2014

Overarching Rules and Thinking In Speeches...

One of the ways the Littler One makes sense of his world is by making overarching rules and decrees upon finding new knowledge. That boy can bend & break the rules like no other, to a point that he appears to have a complete and utter disregard for them. But the truth is he craves and asks for the structure. He wants to know all about the rules...I suspect because he wants to know exactly how far he is bending and breaking them. He was home sick one day a couple weeks ago, and asked how he would put away his laundry since he didn’t feel well, and I said I’d do it for him as a favor. He then sort of straightened a little—in his tiny sweet languishing on the couch way—and solemnly said, “So, whenever I’m home sick, you will put my laundry away; that’s the rule.” To which I replied, “I’m making no commitment beyond today.” 

He’ll do similar things with his friends and siblings. As they work out/fight over a toy he will then declare the conditions and circumstances under which the toy will go to whom, and so on. 

From a grown-up perspective it’s adorable to watch his gears turning as he is finding how things work and making his own categories and framework of the world around him. I was struck today, though, by how similar it is to when I speak and think in speeches. Hence, example #347 of why grown-ups are just giant little kids.

As I’ve done my self-work over these past few months, the cacophony in my brain has quieted quite a bit. I’m simplifying my daily routine and focus, and practicing being in the moment more, and learning how to direct my thoughts better when they try to bombard me. Still, when I’m out jogging or even folding laundry on the bed, I’m continually forming little blog posts in my mind. In the Hispanic foods aisle at the store I had some sort of salsa-based wisdom going. It was brilliant, I tell you. And I think probably at my core I am—much like the Littler One—forming and revising my own structure, trying to make sense of the world around me. 

This is mostly harmless, except that it does keep a sort of white noise going in the back of my mind, and I wonder if in a way it can keep me from being in the moment. Also, I think it actually hinders me from putting anything down in writing because, like anyone, my structure of daily experience is constantly revising, and I think I might’ve convinced myself that I can’t write down anything I’m unsure of, because then if I contradict myself or change my mind it will be too messy to sort it out, and then how will I ever become a real blogger who is able to manage a speaking schedule????

(I’m not quite sure how I always end up worrying about that)

So for today I am learning to see it when it happens and take a breath, and remind myself that right now my goal is a little more structure to my thoughts. They’re going to come no matter what—that’s what thoughts do—but I can learn to handle them and put up limits when needed. And even send them on their way, because that is actually possible (I’m told). And when I have an experience that makes an impression or otherwise moves me, yes it is part of the bigger picture, but maybe some(most)times it is OK to see it for that moment’s lesson and nothing more. To keep it to a sentence or two and step off the soapbox. 

Much like putting away the Littler One's Laundry--making no commitment beyond that day…

Oct 27, 2014

Curious and Open...

On good days, I ask and listen before I throw down the gauntlet of consequences and lectures. No, I'm not talking about time-ins, necessarily. I'm talking about being curious and open.

My therapist and I were talking about curiosity and openness as a way of minimizing anxiety, and the areas where I could practice it. 

The tricky thing about being curious and open is that it's really hard to fake. It doesn't work very well if you tell yourself to ask a question, and even succeed at asking, but then instead of listening to the answer you're plotting your response and how you will SMASH the other person's viewpoint, and possibly the other person entirely. I sometimes have to give myself a little time-out to allow for a perspective-change, and then I can come back and be ready to listen before responding.  But when I can do it, I am sometimes surprised at the answers I get, and how different reality can be from my perceptions and assumptions.

Case in point, and one of my favorite surprising stories about His Highness--

Once when he was about 5, I was putting some laundry away for His Highness. As I opened his drawer I saw that he had dumped the entire contents of his dinosaur bucket inside. Dinos, little plastic boulders, and even some fake vegetation. He was at school, so I couldn't yell for him to "Come here right NOW!!" and he was old enough that I wasn't about to clean out the drawer myself, so I left it for the time being. I didn't know if he was hiding them for some reason, or just being lazy (in a really strange way) about putting them away, so by the time he got home I was genuinely curious as to why...on earth...he had done that. I asked him, "Your Highness, why did you choose to put your dinosaurs in with your socks and unders?" 

He responded, "I thought it would be really cool to open my drawer and have it be like a prehistoric land." 

And then my entire view of the world shifted within about a half second, and of course I replied, "Oh! That's a good idea. I was just wondering." Then I seriously considered borrowing some of the dinosaurs so I could create my own prehistoric sock drawer.

I didn't though, and I didn't ask him about it anymore, and eventually he wanted to play with the dinos and cleared them out of the drawer himself. 

When you think about it, his motivation isn't all that remarkable for a five-year-old, but it was so far removed from my parent-putting-away-laundry motivation that it took me by surprise. And I was really glad that I asked before correcting him, because as I thought better of it, it was very much along the lines of a desk chair on a bed

I think the point is that these kinds of things can happen with anyone, and not just little kids. Perhaps the answer won't be quite as cute so as to make one melt into a puddle of goo over their children's adorable brilliance, but maybe it will be endearing. Or at least, um, not hostile?

It sure seems to work for me. When I remember to ask first and be curious & open...

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." 


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.


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.


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...