Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Zambonis

WHM and I watch PBS kids in the mornings. I'm a little off my game this morning, and he's watching Caillou right now.  (I say I am off my game because although WHM and CAM love Caillou, Mick and I have been over him for quite some time.  Caillou whines like nothing you've ever heard, and he is afraid of stuff that our kids were never afraid of.  When CAM started emulating the whining and complaining she was afraid of monsters and shadows, we knew Caillou was done in our house.  But this morning I wasn't quick enough to turn it, and rather than have WHM feel as though I was taking something away from him, I let him watch it.)


In any case, Caillou was at a skating rink, and I started singing, "I Want to Drive A Zamboni" to WHM.  Everytime I got to the word, "Zamboni," he couldn't stop giggling.  If you've ever heard the song, you know that's a LOT of giggling!

So here, for your enjoyment, is a link to a simple YouTube video of the song.  Try to not have it in your head all day.  Let me know if you succeed.  I'm quite sure I'll be humming this 'til I go to bed tonight, and quite possibly will wake up still singing it tomorrow!



--Jen

p.s. if you happen to not know what a Zamboni is, they are ice-resurfacing machines.  If you've ever watched skating or hockey, you've seen them come out and drive on the ice -- that's a Zamboni (well, more often than not, it's a Zamboni.  Sometimes it's a competitor's product, but Zamboni is kind-of the generic name for it now, kind-of like BandAid is trademarked but really refers to all small bandages ... but I digress).  Anyway, if you'd like more info and trivia and everything Zamboni, check out zamboni.com.

CAM's First Braid

I've been getting my hair done (by CAM) every night lately, and it's so much fun for the two of us.  Mostly she just does my hair, but the other night, we traded spots.  

The next thing you know, this is what we had.  I didn't set out to braid her hair, so it's a little loose, but I think it came out alright.  But the best part was CAM.  She was beside herself thrilled -- so much so, that she had to sleep in it AND insisted on keeping what was left of it for most of the next day!

The Braid!  Not bad, huh?


Admiring it ... she was downright giddy.   

 --Jen

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicken McWhat-its?

We are all snuggled in and watching some game show on NBC. 

A recent answer was just "Chicken McNuggets," and WHM said, "Chicken McGunnets?!  I wuuuv Chicken McGunnets!"

Aw, my sweet little guy.  He makes me smile about 10,000,000 times a day. 

--Jen

Calendar Wisdom

I held off on posting this yesterday (it was the weekend's calendar wisdom) for two reasons.  First, I'd already posted a gazillion times yesterday, and second -- well, because I thought the quote kind-of lent itself to putting it on today's to-do list. 

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the year.
                                             (Spanish Proverb)

See why I waited?!

--Jen

Sunday, January 29, 2012

CAM's House

CAM is doing my hair right now, and in the spirit and style of Food Network shows, she is talking to an imaginary audience about everything she is doing. 

She just told everyone, "My house is FILLED with Diet Coke and Sweet Tea."

Yes.  Yes, it is!  Hahahaha!!!

--Jen

CVS and Pampers

OKay, so here's one way I plan to use coupons this week:

CVS has a sale going where Pampers packs are 2/$19.  This is an okay price -- I think it's the same as Target's regular price -- and there are, of course, Pampers coupons in the paper today.  (Actually, there are GREAT Pampers coupons in the paper today; the past few months, the Pampers coupons have been $1 off a purchase of 2 packs. Today, it's $1.50 off a single pack.  And I got the double paper, so I have two copies of the coupon.  Score!)

In addition, if you spend $30 on a certain group of items*, you get back $10 in ExtraBucks.

So, here's what I plan to do:

Buy four packs of Pampers.  (Yes, I could buy three packs of Pampers and a less-expensive filler item to get as close to the $30 as possible, but I don't need any of the other items that are included in this promo, so I'm okay with adding the fourth pack of diapers.)  I have three $1.50 off coupons, because I can grub a neighbor's Pampers coupon, so the total will be $33.50 plus tax, or $35.78.  (Calculating 6% tax on the full price of $38, and then subtracting the $4.50 in coupons.  They are not a store discount, so at least where I live, we pay sales tax on the pre-coupon price.)  My coupon savings on this transaction will be $4.50, as far as my spreadsheet goes.

I'll get back $10 in ExtraBucks, and I will use that in another transaction later in the week to buy another two packs of diapers, which will then cost me $9.  (If I am lucky, I will find another coupon or two, but I don't rely on that.)  My coupon savings on this second transaction will be $10, plus whatever coupon I might have, if I can find any.

Total spending at CVS this week will be $45.32, total coupons will be at least $14.50, and that's not only a 24% savings, but it's also essentially a pack-and-a-half of free diapers.  I am never one to turn away free diapers!

*If you don't use Pampers, there are other items to try a similar scheme.  I'm not writing this as a "couponing" tutorial with all sorts of different scenarios, as much as I am simply writing every so often to explain what I do to get good deals, because I was asked to show how I am able to get my coupon savings as I do.   I am not a coupon freak show, and although I posted about coupons a few times today and yesterday, I don't intend to turn this into a "coupon queen" blog, not by any stretch.  I spend a little bit of time each week with the Sunday paper and I make my weekly "sale/coupon" lists.  Some weeks, there's nothing fantastic out there, and some weeks there are one or two deals where I have to be sure to go on Monday to get it done, and to make sure I don't forget.  This is what I consider this week's "don't forget" deal -- the one sale where if I miss it, I will be upset with myself.  So, in the spirit of every so often talking about coupon scores and deals, I thought I'd post this here.  If you're interested in this idea but not necessarily Pampers, check out the site SouthernSavers.com, where the owner puts together a bunch of different CVS scenarios each week to maximize savings on the sale deals.  Her stuff is relevant even if you're not in the South.  :)

--Jen

Things I Want to Buy ... Soon

Posting this, well, just because.  :)

1.  A cake-decorating turntable.  (Michael's with 50% off coupon)
2.  A cake decorating kit.  (Michael's with 50% off coupon)

(Both of these items are already picked out ... just haven't bought them yet.)

3.  A new teakettle.  Ours is about 12 years old and finally starting to look it. (Le Creuset, perhaps?  I think I want enamel, the stainless is getting old to me.)
4.  An electric blanket.  My in-laws spoiled me with one at the house in Maine this Christmas, and it's been all I can think of ever since!  I also want one for CAM's bed, because her room gets so cold at night.  (Kohl's, Macy's, Belk, wherever.  I suspect they'll go on mega sale in a few weeks...)
5.  A nice, offset spatula.   (Williams-Sonoma)

That's it for now.  I mean, sure, there are other things I want -- new clothes, new shoes, dinners out, etc., but these are the things I've been thinking of for a while.   And they're perfectly attainable, but they are also little indulgences -- the kinds of things I could just go out and get, generally speaking, but I've not been tutoring enough lately to justify going out and getting yet.  And no, this isn't meant as a shopping list!  I just decided to post it here because I thought it would be fun to share.  What things are on your wish lists right now?


--Jen

How, Exactly, Does One Live IN an Island?

The other night CAM and I were snuggled in for Thursday night tv.... but it was all re-runs.  So we watched Chopped.  After Chopped came a new show on Food Network, called Fat Chef.  (Sounds obnoxious, right?  It wasn't.  They followed two chefs whose jobs are basically killing them, and without being overly "Biggest Loser"-ish and with only the drama that the chefs made themselves, profiled their weight loss efforts over 16 weeks.  Wow, I just made it sound boring.  It was really a good show, I promise.)

Well, one chef was in Harlem.  Can't mess up Harlem.  The other chef owned a bakery in Port Washington, NY, and lived in Bayport, NY.  Both of those towns happen to be ON Long Island.  ON it.  The narrator could not get that right to save her life.  For every transition to the Long Island chef, she'd say something like, "Meanwhile, back in Long Island ..."

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!!!!!!!!!

No!  NO!  NOOOOOO!!!!

You don't live IN Long Island!  You live IN Bayport, which happens to be ON Long Island!  On it!  Not in it!  ONNNNN an island!

Please, pray tell, how does one live IN an Island?!

Image from http://mapsof.net/map/new-york-long-island, last viewed 1/29/2012.

Dear Food Network, please get this right next time.  PLEASE.  Go back and re-edit, because this is killing me.

Here's how it should go:


"Meanwhile, back in Port Washington out on Long Island ..."  or, since in fairness, Port Washington really isn't all that far out on the Island, how about "Meanwhile, back in Port Washington, on Long Island," or if you want to be fancy, "...on New York's Long Island ..."  I mean, c'mon.  Really.  Food Network is headquartered in the City, and I'm willing to bet a fair number of their employees hail from good old LI.  Surely they can get this right.

(And while we're at it, there are no freeways ON Long Island.  There are parkways and the Expressway. And a few highways.  But no freeways. 'K? Thanks.)

--Jen


p.s.  yes, I am completely aware that while you don't live in Long Island, you do live in Manhattan, which of course is also the name of an island ... but it's also the name of the borough (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island make up the five boroughs of New York City).  So, one lives IN Manhattan, which happens to be ON the island of Manhattan, which is IN New York City, IN the State of New York, ON the planet Earth ...

If you Clip Coupons ...

... or if you don't, but want to get started, today is your day!  The last Sunday of the month is usually a great one for coupons, especially Proctor and Gamble ones.   Here in our area, our newspaper offers the "Double Paper" (the early and late editions bundled together) for $1 less than the price of purchasing two papers, and I try to always get the double paper on these Sundays.

I know I promised I'd write a little about how I "do" my coupon clipping and savings, and this post isn't quite it, but I thought I'd remind everyone that it's P&G Day!  (My sister Courtney and I often remind each other of P&G Day, especially when one of us is traveling or otherwise has an off-schedule, because we're pretty loyal to a bunch of P&G products.  When we miss a week of P&G coupons we get so frustrated!   We're so conditioned to having them, that we'd rather not buy the stuff that month, than to buy it without a coupon. I'm not sure if that's sad, but I'm going with practical.  It's like buying something full-price at Michael's craft stores.  Can't do it!  It hurts! Because I KNOW there's a 40% off coupon every single week!)

A friend of mine from high school recently posted on her Facebook page that she needed to start to learn how to use coupons, and a bunch of people commented with all level of tips and advice.  The one that stood out to me was the one comment that simply said, "Buy the Sunday paper," because it was such a great reminder to start at the beginning.

Anyway -- without sounding like a coupon-manic nutcase, it's Sunday, which means it is coupon day.   So, if you're starting with coupons, start there.  :)

--Jen

Movie Night!

Yesterday was a busy day in our house. First, I ran to our local "teacher supply store" to get a book for CAM to practice handwriting and some manual dexterity drills.  They were having their "everyone's an educator" sale and earlier in the week I had spotted a book there that I wanted to get, and the cashier whispered to me, "Come back Saturday!"  So I did.  The book was $18.99, but I had a 40% off coupon and then was able to reach into a bucket and draw another discount -- and I drew 25% off my total purchase!  So I got the original book and two other smaller workbooks for CAM, plus a goodie bag and some candy, all for less than the original price of the first book.  Rock Star!

(Side note -- the store opened at 10am.  I got to the parking lot at 9:55 and it was almost completely full and there were people waiting outside the door to the store!  Who knew a school supply store's sale would generate such buzz?!  Although I don't blame the teachers one bit -- anything that you purchased yesterday you could get laminated immediately -- at no cost, which is a pretty big deal. Then for every $50 you spent you got a $10 coupon, AND everyone got to reach in and draw their discount, which ranged from 10% to 40% off your entire purchase.  Pretty great deals if you need some big-ticket classroom items, or even just a lot of little stuff.)  

Okay, so I got home at 10:17 (yes, exactly 10:17 and I noted it because the store only opened at 10 and I was already home that soon!) and Mick took the kids with him to the office and an errand for a little while.  I was hosting a "National Meeting Day" for Initials, Inc., and he was helping me to have the time before the shindig to get ready. If you're not familiar with Initials, Inc., it's a catalog company that sells purses, totes, and other gifts.  The party was basically a new catalog celebration kick-off, and it was short, sweet, and simple -- but it meant that the downstairs had to be more than the usual casual level of clean but messy (if that makes sense), especially because some of the ladies who were coming were not people I already knew.  If you care to hear more of how I got into the whole catalog party thing to begin with, leave a comment and I am happy to share!  (And no, I don't drink the KoolAid, don't worry.)

So the moral of the story is that Mick was awesome and took the kids out in the morning so I could put the finishing touches on the food and the cleaning, and then when party time rolled around, he and WHM went to lunch and CAM stayed with me for the "party."  (Really, she stayed to eat about 10,000 mini cupcakes, but it's not as if I was counting...)

The party was a success, and as soon as everyone left I was back in comfy-cozy pants and a t-shirt and fleece hoodie.  (My fabulous Christmas gift from my sister, if you've been reading the posts all month!)  I had a headache that had been with me since I woke up, and the call to do absolutely nothing but rest on the couch was compelling. 

And then the icing on the cake and the point of this entire post: after dinner and once it got dark out, we all snuggled together on the couch, under a super-warm blanket, and turned out all the lights and watched Cars 2.  It was fabulous and the perfect end to a busy day, headache and all. 

--Jen
p.s.  There's one more thing.  I got to come downstairs this morning to an unusually-clean living room.  I mean, it actually looks nice, and presentable, and nice and presentable!  That was about as good as Christmas morning for me!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

February Recipes are Here!

Yesterday's post about high school dropouts was a bit serious, I realize.  So, although I promised to write more about my proposed solution (and yes, I have one!), I decided to break up the posts with something fun -- our Pioneer Woman February Menu!

I'm so excited.  First, this month our little old family got to pick something.  And I tried to be nice, really I did, and let Mick pick.  And he tried to do it, really he did.  One morning, he sat on the couch while the rest of us slept and he read through started to read the Pioneer Woman cookbook.  He made it to page 46.  (Sounds pretty good, except he started on the breakfasts, and that's only the third breakfast in!) Then he started cooking.  So much for that!  (For those of you following along, we had the birds in a nest that morning!)

Anyway, I picked.  And I picked Chicken Fried Steak (or Country Fried Steak, if you prefer).  Of course, I wanted to do one almost everything in the cookbook, so it wasn't that hard to find something I wanted to try.  It was just hard to narrow it down!

Okay, okay, stop talking, Jen, what does the rest of the month hold for us?

Awesome-est Blueberry Muffins (from the PW blog)
Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich (cookbook, page 88)
Ravioli Three Ways (also from the blog)
Corn and Cheese Chowder (also from the blog)

Yipee!  It's almost a week too early, but I'm excited to get started! 

Oh yeah, almost forgot.  In law school we were constantly reminded to use parallel structure in our writings.  Since I said, "First," then clearly, I can't end this without a "Second."  Here you are, writing enthusiasts:  Second, I love learning what the new recipes are, because that means more test kitchen fun!

--Jen

Bedtime

I love sleep.  Looooove sleep.  There are entire college classes where I only attended on exam days because I so preferred my sleep.  (Don't worry, Mom, I got As in them.   Yes, really.)  I haven't gotten consecutive good nights of sleep since 2005, but I loooooooove sleep.

CAM is my daughter.  My perfect, beautiful, smart, kindhearted daughter that I adore.

CAM doesn't need sleep.

She wakes up by 8 every day, bounding into our room, slamming open the door and carrying Bea and whatever/whomever else with a cheery, energetic, "Good Morning, Mommy!  Good Morning, Daddy!"

She almost never wakes up grumpy. 

She goes to bed usually by 8 -- but she goes to sleep usually by 11.

When she was 18 months old and still napping once a day, she used to watch Craig Ferguson with us.  She'd ASK for Letterman at 10 in the morning.  Granted, we were in the central time zone, but we're still talking about a two-year-old whose favorite television personalities were Drew Carey, Craig Ferguson, and David Letterman.  (As she got older we started not allowing her to watch Fergy Craig ... not that she would understand it, necessarily, but sometimes he's a little raunchy and we didn't want her repeating it!)

CAM gave up naps before she turned 4.  We still try to get her to nap once in a while when she clearly needs it (she IS only 4, after all), but most of the time our efforts fail.

Mick's out of town for a few nights, and when that happens the kids are allowed to snuggle in my bed.  WHM falls asleep, like his Mommy, almost as soon as his head hits his pillow.  CAM stays awake watching TV, reading, doing my hair ... and eventually, when she's done, she rolls over and goes to bed around 10:30.  Or I give up, roll over and fall asleep myself, and I just assume she eventually follows suit!

Tonight, we all came up to my room to watch Wednesday night TV.  (The Middle, Suburbagatory, Modern Family ...) We were all tucked in and comfy-cozy by 8:10.  WHM was asleep by 8:30.  By 9, he was sleeping so well that I was able to scoop him up and bring him to his own room and tuck him in with blankets and stuffed animals.  We've been listening to him snore through the baby monitor ever since.  It's 10:41 and CAM only just rolled over to snuggle in.  But once she does that, she's out.

My sweet, perfect, beautiful little girl is snuggled up beside me, sleeping soundly and looking like an angel. 

Life is great right now....

Even if I am sure to be tired in the morning.

--Jen


p.s.  This post is actually from a while ago, but I don't like to let people know when we're home alone, so I scheduled this to post to the blog well after Mick got home.  Cool, huh?!

Friday, January 27, 2012

High School Dropouts, Part I

I was going to hold off on posting this until I could dig up something I'd written on this about a year ago, but it's been gnawing at me.  So, I'm posting this now, and I may update it or add another post when I find my other essay, if there's more I decide I need to say.  

The other night, President Obama gave his State of the Union address.  I didn't watch it; I never watch them.  I can't stand the politicking.  Instead, I usually read the transcript when it's released, and there's always enough commentary everywhere else for me to know if there were any flubs or dramatic moments.

In his speech the other night, the President made this comment:

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.  (Applause.) 

Well, Mr. President, I respectfully-but-vehemently disagree, and I am happy to come to Washington to explain why.  (Since that's not likely to happen, I'll explain it here, instead.) 

I don't have metrics to argue that your claim that when students are "not allowed to drop out, they do better," is inaccurate, but I'm willing to guess that you mean to say that students who complete high school do better, on average.  I don't disagree with that. But to say that we are going to force students to stay in high school until 18 is a dangerous and ignorant idea.

What?  How can I say that?  Simple.

When students who don't want to be in school are forced to stay, they become a cancer on everyone and everything, and a drain on resources.  Any teacher who has taught a high schooler whose sole focus was on counting the days 'til he (or she) could drop out, understands this.  In some cases it's easy enough to let the kid sleep, praying that the class disruptions are minimized, and receive the grades he (I'm going with "he" here, for the ease of reading, but substitute "she" if you prefer) earns.  But nowadays let an administrator walk into your classroom and see a kid sleeping in the back corner, and your job is on the line!  They won't even ask you what your professional judgment was to allow that to happen; you let someone choose to not participate?!  You must be the worst teacher in the history of the universe known, and universes as yet unknown.  Judge first, get information later.

Side note:  I once had a kid who had had a very rough night the night before, and of course he came to school the next day.  This kid had a terrible -- well beyond what I think I can even imagine -- home life, and asked me if he could just close his eyes for the day.  Without a millisecond of doubt, I said, "absolutely," and let him rest in the corner.  That was my judgment and my discretion, and it meant the kid was safe, not embarrassed, and for 50 minutes he knew he could at least close his eyes without fear of what might happen at home, or a teacher rapping on his desk to wake him up.  That he even felt comfortable asking me was a testament to the fact that I was doing a good job as a teacher and had reached him, at least in some small way.  That teachers have had even the smallest bits of professional discretion stripped from them and something like this likely couldn't happen anymore, hurts my heart.

The problem is that most of the time when you have a student who doesn't want to be there, it's not just the matter of letting him "chill" in the corner and worrying only that he sets a poor example.  Most of the time, that student takes an active role in setting a bad example and being disruptive.   This wastes everyone's time.  As I have heard, and often repeated, "You have a right to choose to fail.  You don't have a right to affect everyone else's ability to pass."  When you take a belligerent student who doesn't want to be there and force him not only to be there, but to "participate," what you get is one angry student who is now empowered to negatively affect everyone else in that classroom.  Why should the good kids -- and when I say that, I don't necessarily mean the earnest kids, but just any and every kid at any and every level who doesn't plan to drop out, and so by default, wants to be there -- be punished because some educrat or politician decided that no one can drop out?  What benefit does that hold?

In any event, anyone who has ever been a teenager knows that there's no forcing teenagers to do what they don't want to do.  Sure, we can say they can't drop out, but we can't force them to pass their classes, or to learn. Seriously, Mr. President, haven't you ever heard of leading a horse to water?  You can lead the entire corral to the creek, Sir, but you can't make even one of 'em take even a sip if they don't want to.  One of my favorite colleagues ever -- he's now retired, but as luck would have it also happened to be CAM's godfather's favorite teacher ever (small world that I ended up teaching where he went to high school) wanted to drop out.  He ended up being a Marine and doing great things in the world as a Marine, as a businessman, and as a teacher.  But he tells the story of how he wanted to drop out, and nothing anyone said or did was going to change that.  It was only when he was allowed to leave that he decided he wanted to go back, and he was only ever going to figure that out on his own.  After a year away, he realized that for him, school was important.  He went back, and went on to great things.

But now our politicians (who've never taught, mind you, and have only ever been in schools as good students; they draw on the experience of the middle and top to form their opinions and policies, when we're talking here about the bottom) want us to say that you can't drop out until you're 18.  That won't make it wine and roses, Mr. President.  We'll have these kids who don't want to be there, who make it their business to let everyone know they don't want to be there and in doing so, punish the teachers and other students for the fact that the want-to-be-dropout is forced to be there.  Yep, that's great logic.  There's an alternative ...

I know, I know.  What happens to the kids when they do drop out?

Well, I have a solution for this, and I think that for the sake of essay length, I will post that in a separate post later today.  I don't mean to sound like I am avoiding the question, but I have to break this topic up a little.  I've already written a lot, and this type of post doesn't lend itself to photos!

A few years ago, I taught with a lady who taught the lowest possible math class offered at our school.  She was the only one who taught it, and she had the same student three years in a row.  Three years in a row! The kid was -- yep, you got it -- counting the days until he could drop out, and in the meantime he did everything possible short of physically assaulting the teacher, but including verbal abuse, and yet was back in her room, day after day, with only minor reprimands.   The law said he had to be in school, right? BUT WHY?  What benefit did that serve?  What example did it set for the other students?  This kid was as disruptive as the day is long, and the other kids in the class lost value in their own educations for the time wasted on that idiot.  Those kids were being robbed of the education they actually wanted, and desperately needed. Worse, this was a good teacher with potential to become a great teacher, but she eventually left the school because "it wasn't worth it."  The three-peat kid walked away scott-free ... into the world of drop-outs, once he was allowed to do exactly what he wanted to do and said he was going to do to begin with.  Stupid doesn't begin to describe it.  He was a drain on tangible resources and man-hours for processing all his disciplinary paperwork, to be sure; but more importantly he was a drain on the emotional resources of the teacher and took precious class time away from the other kids in the class, who needed every minute of teaching and learning resources they could possible have.

No, Mr. President, ask anyone who has ever taught high school. We don't want the kids who actively don't want to be there.  Let them go.  Please, I implore you, let us let them go.  

--Jen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On the Subject of Couponing ...

... starting yesterday and continuing through Saturday, Kroger has Tyson split chicken breasts for 99 cents a pound.  This is my "purchase now" price, particularly because it's Tyson chicken and not Kroger or another store brand. 

If you're thinking, "fine, but I have no intention of eating that much chicken right now," buy a few pounds and boil up the chicken with some basic seasoning (salt, pepper, a bay leaf).  When it cools, pull it off the bones, shred it if you like, and then freeze it.  Ready-to-go chicken for quesadillas, soups, casseroles, and whatever other chicken receipe you decide you want to try! It's also just great to throw in some spaghetti sauce and serve over pasta, and a boring dinner gets a little protein and a little dressed up.  Having chicken like this on hand is one of my staples and ensures that we don't eat like college kids even when we really feel like, well, eating like college kids.

--Jen



Snacks Conversation

Actual conversation just now:

CAM (as I am clearing the table from lunch): Mommy, I'm hungry.

ME (exasperated):  You just said you didn't want any lunch!

CAM:  I know.  Can I have a snack?

ME:  What would you like?

CAM:  Candy.

ME:  No.


(five minutes go by...)


ME:  CAM, would you like me to make you a sandwich like the one you had at school?

CAM:  No, I think I want a snack. 

ME: What would you like?

CAM:  Candy.

ME:  No candy.  Would you like a banana?

CAM:  No.  May I have an apple?

ME:  Oh, honey, those apples are for a recipe we're going to make later.

CAM:  May I have some candy?

ME:  No.

CAM:  May I have a banana?

ME:  Yes.

Mommy wins!  Mommy wins!  And the crowd goes wild!

How to Get An Immaculately Clean Oven

We have a gas range with a black glass/enamel top and a stainless front.  I love my stove and oven, and when we've lived elsewhere I have specifically missed the oven/range from THIS house.  But we've been in this house twelve years now, on and off, and it has been impossible for me to clean the burnt-on stuff from my stove-top*, and the truth is that I've not really worried too much about the oven.

But, the stove-top definitely did drive me batty, and I really thought I'd tried everything.  Boiling water, soapy Brillo pads, dry steel wool, Windex and elbow grease, you name it.  I could wipe down and clean up the stove top, but I couldn't CLEAN it.  Likewise for the grates.

Until recently.

I saw a pin (you knew this was coming!) about how to clean the cooked-on grease from the grates and catch-plates (we don't have catch plates though, which is part of the stove-top problem).  You put the catch plates and grates in a zip-top bag with just about an inch of ammonia -- not enough to cover, just enough to generate fumes.  Then you seal the bag and leave the grates in overnight.  The next day when you open the bags and go to clean the grates, the gunk comes right off with minimal work.

I tried this with our grates and it worked like a champ.  Our grates fit across two burners, so I bought a box of two-gallon Ziploc bags and put the grate in with ammonia, then stood it up in our sink and put another bag over the top.  It wasn't a perfect seal, but it worked well enough and I was amazed by how it changed the appearance of our stove top.

That made me think about how I could emulate this effect for my actual stove-top.  What I decided to do was to put ammonia in the four "burner wells," so to speak, and then cover my entire stove-top with Saran Wrap, sealing it at the edges where it is glass.  (Our stove-top itself is glass, but the wells are enamel.  I'll update this post with a photo asap.)

IT WORKED LIKE A CHAMP!  Our stove hasn't looked this good since the day we installed it in the house -- although I do regret all my steel wool use now, because although I managed to not be able to clean the stove, I did manage to scratch it.  (I know.  How can it scratch if it can't get through the gunk, right?  Your guess is as good as mine.)  Anyway, it's like making your bed -- I never realized how crummy it looked (okay, that's as lie, I knew it looked wretched, but over time the effect dulled enough to where it failed to bother me), but now that it's incredibly clean -- pristine, if you will, and I think you should -- it makes the entire kitchen look better.



Great, so what does this do for me if it's my oven that's a mess?

Well, I always kept my oven decently clean, but never fussed with the grates or really scrubbed the inside, because it's a self-cleaning oven. But a few weekends ago, we had a little mishap with au gratin potatoes overflowing and burning onto the bottom of the oven, and they literally went on fire. 

Oops.

Oh, you read that right.  They went on fire.  (Okay, well not the potatoes, we saved those, of course, duh, we're talking food here -- but the spilled part?  Fire.  With flames.  Big ones.)  Mick panicked like I've never seen, really.  The man does not like fire.  Poor guy, he married a pyro.  I could watch and play with fires forever, and he freaks if I light a match.  Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean ...

So just imagine the two of us -- oh yeah, with friends over for dinner, watching all this unfold! -- in the kitchen when the oven is on fire.  AWESOME.  Next time, we'll YouTube it.  I bet it would go viral.

That meant, of course, that I really had to reckon with scrubbing the oven so that anything I'd missed in cleaning that mess wouldn't light up again. This was particularly important because about a year ago our heating element died, and I didn't want to have to replace it again.  They are not cheap, and the appliance companies and their affiliates won't sell them to mere civilians.  Last time, we were fortunate enough to have a friend in town who is actually an appliance person, so he was able to use his "industry credentials" to get the element at his cost.  Believe it or not, he paid about half of what we'd have been charged for the part, plus we didn't have to pay labor costs because he and Mick did it themselves. (Neither did we have to wait a week for a repairman to come out and pay a general service fee.  You know. $75 because we took your phone call.  Those charges.)    And besides, if I needed to replace the element because of this fire issue, it 100% would have been because I was too lazy to clean the oven, and that kind of stuff I can't stand.

So anyway, I took some ammonia and put it on the floor of the oven.  Kept the racks in there, closed the door and -- here's the important part -- put a sticky note on the oven controls to remind me to NOT turn the oven on until I cleaned it!  (If you're wondering, ammonia is not flammable.  Even the bottle of ammonia recommended using it to clean an oven.  Just goes to show I could read my cleaning product bottles every once in a while, huh?!  But I am uber-conservative and didn't want to have the one bottle of ammonia that defied chemistry and caused my house to explode.  Really, I know it's ridiculous, but this is how my brain works.)

The next morning, it was amazing how the racks came out sparking like they were new, and the oven floor was almost perfect!  Now, our oven floor is not perfectly flat, and there are a few spots in the corners where I think I could put more ammonia to really finish this project, but the oven is in pretty amazingly great shape.

So, there you have it.  How to Get An Immaculately Clean Oven.  All you need are zip-top bags, saran wrap, ammonia and time. 

Easy-peasy!

--Jen


*spell check is contradicting itself on whether it is correctly, "stove-top," "stovetop," or "stove top".  I give up on trying to eliminate the little red squigglies.  But you may see some inconsistent use of the three in this post.  Sorry.

Good Moms

Good moms have
Sticky floors
Messy kitchens
Laundry piles
Dirty ovens
and
Happy kids.

I saw that on Pinterest (of course!) and I love it.  I happen to have an immaculately clean oven*, but there is enough laundry piled on my bedroom floor to mooooore than make up for it.  I'd post a photo, but there's a distinct possibility someone would call the producers of the TV show Hoarders to try to get me booked for an episode.  (Okay, maybe not that bad, but until I fold and put away all this stuff, it's pretty close!)

--Jen

*How to get an Immaculately Clean Oven, coming soon as a blog post right here!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kindness Counter

I saw something on another blog, and I'm sure I found my way there through something that started somewhere on Pinterest. This something was a super-cute little jar where kids (with their parents) write down every time they do something kind, and put their note in the jar.  It's their "kindness counter," and there are a few variations out there.  This particular version was meant for toddlers and pre-schoolers to keep track of all the nice things they do.  The idea was that they should be doing nice things for others and the goal was to teach the kids about kindness and to get them to consciously do at least one kind thing a day.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this, but I am pretty sure that I come down on the side of "bad idea," even though as I am re-reading this post, I realize I am not doing a good job of articulating why I feel that way. I just don't think that we ought to teach our kids that kind acts are countable -- or more importantly, that they are supposed to be counted.   I much prefer to teach CAM and WHM (and to model for them) that being kind and doing kind things is really our moral obligation as good people (and also as Christians, generally, and as Catholics, specifically).  We're supposed to be kind because it's the right thing to do, and there's no need to keep track of how many kind things we do.  I like pointing out to the kids when they do things that are particularly thoughtful or kind, recognizing them with positive comments or a hug -- but something about tallying them like this rests uneasy with me.  What happens when we fill the jar?  Are we done being kind?  Do we win a prize? 

I think it would be a nicer idea to record all the little things that people do along the way for us, sort-of a thankfulness journal or thankfulness counter.  I know, I know -- it is better to give than receive, so keeping a tally of all that we receive is probably counterintuitive, and I am not doing a very good job of explaining why I think it's different; but I do think it's different.  There's just something about recording your own good deeds that strikes me as though it's keeping score, and even though the motive might be genuine I just can't get my head or my heart around it.  On the other hand, recognizing when someone was kind to you, and consciously noting that you're thankful for that act or gesture -- or non-action or gesture, which is sometimes just as important -- I think is a good lesson on gratefulness and humbleness.  It also models for the kids what kindness is and means.  And I definitely think that my little two-year-old and four-year-old are old enough to answer the question, "What is one nice thing that someone did for you today?"  Even on the crummiest of days I try to do this for myself; why not for and with the kids?  It's a good reminder that even on the worst of days we have something to be thankful for.

Am I making sense? 

Or am I over-thinking this?

Do any of you keep thankfulness journals or kindness counters?  What are your thoughts?

--Jen

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some of My Favorite "Tools"

I am crafty.

I am handy.

I am crafty and handy.

And yet, I had to chuckle earlier today, because here are some of my all-time favorite tools, and they were all in use this morning:


Gorilla Glue; a Fisher-Price toy level that works great, is super light, and fits in my back pocket; and Elmer's Rubber Cement.

I've got paper, everything-that's-not-paper, and level/square-ness all covered here, folks.  What's not to love?!

--Jen

House Projects

Pantry

Not quite perfect, but a whoooole lot better.  Checked off the list, with a caveat that if I find more of the Rubbermaid canisters that I like, I can make a few more tweaks.


Powder Room Towel Rack

A few months ago, CAM and WHM decided to try to do chin-ups with the towel rack in the powder room.  Problem is, it was a builder grade towel rack installed without even the most primitive of wall anchors.  So they ripped it right out of the sheet-rock.  I'm amazingly handy, but there were two issues.


 First, the new builder-grade towel rack that I went and bought at Home Depot had brackets that were oriented perpendicular to the original ones.  What the heck?!  It meant I had to line the brackets up super close to the original ones to be able to cover the nasty holes ... And second, the sheet-rock was so weakened -- and of course there were no studs -- that it was soon a lost cause trying to do this the "quick" way.


Of course, I could have patched it using a screen and then used no-stud-required wall anchors, and that would have been easy enough, but there were two problems.  (Are you drawing a tree diagram here yet?  These are the last branches, I promise.)

First, that required time.  And second, that meant I would then have to PAINT the powder room.  And there were two problems with that, in turn. (Oops, I lied.  THESE are the last tree-diagram branches.  No, really, I mean it this time.)  First, I love to paint but didn't have it in me, because second, there is another weakened wall spot adjacent to the shower, and that wall problem's been there since the house was built, and if I was going to patch and paint I was going to PATCH AND PAINT, and suddenly this stupid towel rack was turning into a major project in a house we don't even want, and I didn't really feel like spending $50 for the paint and some primer all because of a stupid towel rack! 

So ... this went very quickly down the slippery slope from an easy project to one that I didn't care to tackle whatsoever, and the result was that the bathroom sat looking like a crackhouse mess for months -- until today, that is.  I've been so sick of living like this and having to chuckle away at "Oh!  Don't mind the kids doing chin-ups and ripping out the towel rack!" whenever anyone came by (and then, when they continue to visit over the months, that gets old ..."Hi, yes, we are really lazy and don't care if we look and live like slobs...").


I finally had a brilliant idea.  I could attach the towel-rack brackets to wooden medallions, and attach the medallions to the wall.  With glue.  Because I don't care.  If we stay in this house long enough to want to to this right, well, we can rip the medallions off the wall, patch and spackle the spots we need to patch and spackle anyway, and move right along.


Hobby Lobby had medallions for FIFTY CENTS each!  I painted them with some white gloss paint I already had, and voila!  Towel rack, hung back up.  Looks decent enough to get by, and it cost me $1.06 plus the cost of the rack.  I call this a success.  I am having an Initials party here this weekend, and now I don't have to be embarrassed.  Phew.


--Jen

Oh, My! Projects!

You're probably wondering why I've not been updating about all the countless things I'm crossing off my 101 Things list, left and right.  Right?  You are keeping tabs, aren't you?

And you're probably thinking to yourself, "Sheesh, she stays at home with the kids, and for at least eight hours a week they're both in school ... she's not working except tutoring in the evenings ... What the heck does she do with her time?"

Well, first of all, I am very glad that you've kept those judgmental thoughts to yourself, thankyouverymuch.

And second of all, I probably ought to explain a little about this house of ours, and how we never really unpacked to LIVE here, and how I've been slowly working on that.  But that's really for another day, when I have time to write a novella.

And third of all, how I actually have another list I've been working through on the side.  And roughly 19,000 loads of laundry per day.  And about 19 balls in the air at once, really -- which is how I like to juggle things, but it keeps me busy, and not always in ways that are productive as far as my project lists go.  (I do cross tons of stuff off my daily to-do lists, though!)

So, here's the other list that's taken semi-priority over the 101 Things, at least as far as day-to-day business goes.  


I did a major one today, and I'll write about that in a separate post.

--Jen

Debating ...

Most of you who read this know me, and if you know me you mostly know my resume, so I'll skip that.  You also know that despite feeling guilty all the time that I didn't go to med school when I could have, and lately feeling a little like a failure (I am most certainly NOT in the position I hoped to be in at this stage of my life, and these feelings are only exacerbated lately by my upcoming 20th high school reunion), I am pretty happy and have done a variety of things that might seem like floundering but were each rewarding and (hopefully) in their own ways, steps forward.

Thing is, I keep getting emails inviting me to enroll in various professional development classes for teachers.  I've not kept my New Hampshire or Georgia certification.  I only have Alabama at the moment.  And if you know me, you know how much I absolutely LOVE teaching.  But I've been (and continue to be) so discouraged by the state of public education, that I've left it -- and here's the quandary:  I am not sure if this is, or if I even want it to be, a permanent decision. 

I certainly have no desire to go back and teach the behavior problem kids or deal with the piles of paperwork or the constant worry of on whose Web site I will appear ... but on the other hand, the good classes, and the good kids (not always the "honors" kids, mind you, but the kids who care, and they come at every level and in every color), and the personal satisfaction of really making a difference -- I love that.  I miss that.  I still, two years removed from the classroom, find myself looking at stuff thinking, "what a great lesson that would be," or, "what a wonderful example this would be!" to teach various concepts.  But if you gave me a public school teaching job tomorrow, I wouldn't take it.  And yet when I look at the want ads, I always look to see who needs a math teacher.  I'm just a bucket full of contradictions and conflicting emotions, huh?

So, what do I do?  Do I take the PD classes and pay the money to keep my certificate active, just in case?  Or do I make a conscious decision to let it go, and move on to focusing on building some education policy practice or consulting business?  Normally for me, Planner and Back-Up Planner Extraordinaire as I am, I would think it's a no-brainer to get the certificate -- even if all I did was have it in my back pocket.  But now I'm starting to think it might be time to walk away; to force the issue that I have to move on, to put myself in the position where I can't teach even if I want to.

But what if I wake up and decide I really want to?

Sigh.  This is a tougher question for me than it should be.

--Jen

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Friendship Quote

We have a Page-A-Day Notepad calendar.  I picked it up at the Auburn Mall in Maine (half price, of course!) and wasn't sure if I would like it, but we keep it on the corner of the kitchen counter and I absolutely LOVE it.  It has quotes, "on this day," a new word, and other fun stuff on the left side.  Today's quote made me think of my friend Tara, and although I shared it with her, it's too good to not share here, too:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, "What!  You too?  I thought I was the only one!"  -- C.S. Lewis

Tara and I met in organic chemistry lab when we were sophomores in college.  We went to a competitive college and were in a competitive major, and if you're not familiar with organic chemistry, we additionally had a four-hour LAB per week (nevermind the prep for it) and it was graded on a curve -- again, competitive.  (At our school, labs were separate classes from lectures.  Separate registrations, separate teachers, separate grades.)  To make matters worse, orgo lab was micro-scale, and a fair part of our grade was how much product we could correctly make and present!  My sophomore year, I had more LAB hours (orgo wasn't the only class with a required lab) than my roommate had total CLASS hours.  It was crazy.

In any event, Tara and I had the same lab section and our assigned stations had our backs to each other at adjacent benches.  (Orgo lab was torturous in many ways.  When I went to turn in my lab report one week, it literally took me fifteen minutes and probably some tears to figure out that the TA was telling me I needed a STAPLE.  It was brutal.)  During one particularly heinous lab (the very first lab of the semester, to boot) we had to isolate the analgesic from common pain killers -- Advil, Tylenol, Bayer Aspirin, etc. Sounds fun, eh?  Keep in mind that (a) no one would talk to you, (b) even fewer people wanted to help you, and (c) most people didn't speak English, anyway -- including the TA. 

What felt like 99 hours into our 4-hour lab, Tara turned to me and asked, "Um, is yours pink?"  No.  I had to isolate aspirin, and it most certainly was not pink.  I actually managed to do ok on this lab, so far ... and then I managed to knock over my little metal tray, and so there we were:  with pink aspirin and mostly missing aspirin, wondering what on earth we were going to do to pass this class that had only just started.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, and we've been in each others' weddings, and planned each others' showers, been to concerts and St. Patrick's Day parties and on wild road trips and missed more flights than we can count because we've been having too much fun, and done all the gazillion things best friends do, including keep each other grounded and happy on even the worst of days.

I love my friend Tara and only get to see her about twice a year.  We used to get to each others' places more often, but law school and work and kids and LIFE have made it more and more difficult, and now we mostly see each other at Christmas and summertime.  I miss her terribly.

But we still joke about the organic chemistry lab and the pink aspirin.  Yes, that was definitely our "What?  You too!" moment.

Big Cheesy Grin to you, Tara!!!

--Jen

Oh, and yes -- we both eventually passed orgo just fine!  


My now-very-old isolated analgesic.  Yep, I saved it all these years.  I keep it with my stray buttons in my sewing kit, and it makes me smile every time I look at it.

Football Funny

Right before the start of the Pats/Ravens game, CAM and I went to the Goodwill store to see if we could find any rainy-day treasures.  (We did -- CAM got a Disney Beauty and the Beast book for eighty cents.) 

We got back in the car only a few minutes into the game, and listened to it on our ten-minute drive home.  Right as we pulled into the garage, Tom Brady was sacked. 

As I frantically unbuckled CAM to run in the house to watch the game, I told CAM we needed to hurry because our quarterback, Tom Brady, was just sacked, and that's not a good thing. 

She ran into the house and told Mick, "Daddy!  We need to watch the game!!  Some big important football guy just got kacked!"




Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tacos and Costco

I knew it was bound to happen, but I wasn't quite ready for it to be today.  In fact, earlier today -- in the car so I could do nothing about it -- I was thinking how I needed to record this before it was too late.

WHM loves Costo.  LOVES it.  I mean, he's two and will specifically request to go there.  Some kids recognize the McDonald's golden arches before they can read; WHM would scream "COCOS" at the top of his lungs.  (Cocos.  Rhymes with "tacos," in case you were wondering.  Hence my title.)

Well, today we were on our way home from our mad quest for a straw dispenser (long story, will share later) and all of us (and by "all of us," I mean Mick and I) were starving. We were talking about whether we would go home, or run our errands at Costco and grab lunch, or what.  WHM had been crying and moping that he just wanted to go home, but upon hearing us talk about Costco, he latched onto that.  He wouldn't let it go and was so overtired and grumpy that he pitched a minor fit in the backseat.

After a few minutes of driving us all crazy, CAM about exploded:

"WHM, FIRST of all, it's COST-co.  And second of all, we're not going there, we're going to the Border.  And third of all ..." ("The Border" is On the Border restaurant, and I don't remember what her third point was, but I think she repeated point number one.)

And then, much to my dismay, WHM changed his tune:

"I GO COSSSSST-co.  I go COSSSST-co."

I went from laughing at CAM's outburst to crying about WHM in the span of about 15 seconds.

Sad day for me.  Sad, sad day.  My little guy is saying Cocos right.  What's next?!

--Jen

My Slice of Happy

Even on a rainy, dreay day, what's not to love?!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Pioneer Woman: Twice-Baked Potatoes

Hi everyone,  I know this has been a busy day for blog posts, but for dinner tonight we (finally) made the twice-baked potatoes from the Pioneer Woman cookbook (page 152 if you're following along).

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Verdict: Easy and delicious, but definitely not quick. You can freeze them, though -- who knew?!
Cook it Again:  Maybe
Cost Factor: We usually have all the ingredients on hand, so this isn't too bad. Potatoes, cheese, and bacon are the biggest expenses.

I've made twice-baked potatoes before and there's really not much complicated to these, but I'd seen some of my fellow cooking club members comment that they like their potatoes extra creamy, so I was a little apprehensive that these would be too dry.  Totally not the case!  The recipe calls for 8 strips of bacon, which I didn't feel like making tonight so I used the crumpled bacon (real bacon) from Costco.  That was my only "cheat."  It also is heavy on the butter again -- two entire sticks, if you're counting. You could probably scale back, but as Emeril says, "Doesn't it taste good?!  It tastes good because it has butter in it!"  (...or some such thing.  I assure you I've heard him express this sentiment, over and over!)

About the only thing I noticed with this recipe is that, similar to the quiche, my cooking time for the actual initial baking of the potatoes was at least ten minutes longer than the cookbook said it would be.  I'm pretty confident that our oven temp is correct, so for future recipes I'm going to build in a little buffer compared to what Ree's suggested time is.  As it was tonight, I forgot to start on these early enough in the day, and we ended up eating at 8.  It wasn't bad -- we'd had a late lunch, too, and it is Friday, after all -- but it definitely was kind-of late for the kiddos.  We generally try to eat closer to 6 and if we have to, because of tutoring, 7.  So, this was a late dinner for our family by any standard.

I did some simple breaded pork chops in the oven to go with these, and we also had the requisite apple sauce.  Also, because I was cooking the pork chops at 425, I held the potatoes out of the oven until the last ten minutes and then put them in for the cheese to melt.  Ree's recipe calls for putting them in the oven at 300 to melt the cheese, but I figured if the 400 crisped up the sides and tops, that wouldn't hurt, either.

I didn't take step-by-step photos, but did take this one snapshot of everything happily baking in the oven.
Do the pork chops look like they are seasoned with Shake-n-Bake?*

I know you're impressed by the sparkling clean oven racks.  Seriously, my entire kitchen is sparkling clean, and if you want to know how I got the oven to look brand new -- and it wasn't elbow grease, I assure you -- leave a comment and I will happily share!  We've had the oven/range twelve years next month, and I promise you that this is the cleanest it has EVER been, other than the day it was installed!

So, why did I only rate this a "maybe" for cooking it again?  Well, this is the kind of recipe that I just do by eye.  I add milk, or heavy cream, I add butter, I add whatever toppings I want, and when I'm happy with what I have, we're done.  It's like mashing potatoes -- adding milk, cream, etc., until it's the right texture and creaminess.  While these are definitely delicious, I'm not convinced that I necessarily need to follow this specific recipe to make twice-baked potatoes.  They're very good, and I am glad we made them, and I will surely make twice-baked potatoes many more times in the future, but whether I attribute the recipe to PW or just knowing how to make TBP, I'm not sure.  That's all. Nothing serious -- the recipe is fine, and if you need a starting point for making TBP, this is a great one!


--Jen

*  Yes, these are Shake-n-Bake pork chops.  I probably make Shake-n-Bake once every other year, but every time I do, I am reminded of just how stinking good it is!  

I FOUND MICK's CHRISTMAS PRESENTS!!!

Or, more accurately, I was downstairs cleaning a section of the basement (part of my 101 Things ...) and WHM opened a box of my old classroom posters -- and there they were! 

I would have NEVER found them but for WHM ... and I still to this day have no recollection of putting them there.

But who cares?!  I am so relieved.  So incredibly relieved!  And even better, Mick loves them!  (Or he's faking it really well.  That's okay, too.)

This is turning out to be the best day in a long while.  

First, it is a rainy Friday, and since the kids don't have school on Fridays, we got to sleep in a little.  

Second, the kids and I stayed in our jammies and made waffles for breakfast, and I happen to have the easiest, best, waffle-iron-waffles recipe.  

Third, I was able to steal some time to blog just a little (and take all those cake-pan photos), and then Mick called and took us all to lunch, and that was a nice treat to a place we don't typically go, and lunch was delicious.  

Fourth, someone I am Facebook friends with posted something earlier that I thought was offensive (and I am NOT easily offended), so I told him so.  One of his friends quickly jumped in with something even MORE offensive, so I deleted my first comment and posted a comment to essentially say, "nevermind, I'm not going to play this little game."  My Facebook friend whose post it originally was commented in my defense, sort-of.  Now this sounds silly, but from this particular person, that was quite unexpected and a pleasant surprise, and it made me smile.  (If you're reading this, MRK, thank you for that gesture, even if we are on opposite sides of the original argument.)

Fifth, as we arrived at lunch, there were police officers standing and talking in the parking lot and a police officer just visited CAM's school yesterday, so she was excited to go and talk with them -- and that absolutely made their day and the kids' day, but it also was nice for Mick, because one of the officers happened to be a client of his (although Mick didn't know that he was a police officer).  They were able to chat for a while and it was nice to see connections fall into place and perhaps both of them will have more business for each other.  

Sixth, when we got home from lunch, WHM napped and CAM and I snuggled on the couch and watched one of my all-time favorite movies, The Rescuers.  

Seventh, I found a not-too-far Williams Sonoma that has the quiche pan and it's on hold for me 'til tomorrow.  

And Eighth, I found Mick's Christmas presents.

Tonight, we're making Twice-Baked Potatoes and Pork Chops for dinner (the potatoes are the final PW receipe for this month) and watching The Help and doing a whole lot of nothing.

Really, today was a jackpot of days.  I hope everyone else had a FABULOUS FRIDAY, too!

-- Jen

Look What I Found!

My visit to Williams-Sonoma was fruitless, as was my first search online, but it's because I was looking for tart pans when, apparently, I should have been looking for quiche pans!  Who knew?!  Mick and I were all set to hit the restaurant-supply stores tomorrow, too ... because he simply can't stop raving about the quiche and we definitely plan to make more. 

This little number will live in my house before the end of this weekend.  I feel it.

Quiche problem, solved!

www.williams-sonoma.com  This is the Gobel Standard Nonstick Round Quiche Pan, and sells for $26.


--Jen

Update:  Although this is not an online-only item, the two W-S stores nearest me did not have it.  (Also, there are two other super-fancy-schmancy malls not too far from me, that I thought for SURE had Williams Sonoma stores, and they don't.)  So we ended up trekking almost 90 minutes each way in a monsoon this morning to go get the one pan like this in our entire state.  Glad I put it on hold yesterday!  More importantly, this means more quiche is on its way.  Mick and I finished the last of it this morning and in between bites commented on how we need to have this on our counter at all times.
 

Coupons Tally 2011

If you know me, you know I have been a coupon clipper all my life.  My mom did it, and we were raised to do it.  Neither of us is like the nutcases on "Extreme Couponing," though, and we have some basic "rules" we follow.  Back in 2007, I started keeping a simple tally of how much I saved with my coupons, and every January I tell my friends and family what it was for the previous year.  I am happy to say that my official total for 2011 is $1279!

Now for some of my friends and readers who think that's not a lot, let me explain how I use coupons:

First, I only clip and use coupons for products we use.  If there is something I wanted to try, I will clip and use that coupon, but I do not buy something merely because there is an available coupon.  (In rare cases if I know of a wonderful deal, I may do it to be able to donate my purchases to a local food bank or other charity, but generally speaking, I do not do any crazy "deals" just because they are out there.  To my mind, that's wasteful -- and greedy, because there are people out there who use those products.)

Second, I do my best to match coupons with sales, and to use store and manufacturer coupons together.  This actually reduces my percent savings, though, because ...

Third, I do not count my savings as compared to the regular, full-price ticket.  So, for example, when I leave Kroger and they tell me I saved $x.xx with my Kroger Plus Card, that's not the amount I record on my little spreadsheet.  Why, you ask?  Simple:  Because 99% of the time, I would not have purchased those products at full price.  For me, the sale price is the regular price.  I look at it this way:  I was already in the store making this particular purchase.  If I left my coupons on the kitchen table, I would not suddenly be paying full price for the items in my cart; I just wouldn't have the benefit of the coupons.  So I don't count sales, just coupons.

Also -- and this is where I differ from most people in how I record my total savings -- to be recorded on my spreadsheet, the coupon has to be something that I physically had to bring or mention.  For example, at Barnes & Noble, I get a teacher discount, but only if I mention it and show my ID.  That counts.  But using my Kroger Plus card does not count, because that only gets me to the sale prices.  Getting buy-one-get-ones does not count at Publix, but any additional savings because I had a coupon does count.  I do use Extra Bucks at CVS (I've been doing this for as long as they've been around!) but I don't "net out" my purchase by subtracting the value of the Extra Bucks I receive.  I strictly consider the money I had to pay, and when I subsequently use the Extra Bucks on another purchase, I consider them as I would a coupon.  (Likewise, if I get any rebate money, I don't go back and reduce the dollar amount on my receipt.  I consider what I paid at the time of purchase to be my purchase price.  This year, however, I do plan to add a separate tally of how much rebate money I receive.) 

The moral of the story is that what I record on my spreadsheet takes into account only what my total purchase price was and the discount I received for coupons.  Sales do not count, and that makes my totals look weak in comparison to some of the "pros" out there, but it is the way I'm comfortable recording my totals.    I have friends who record their savings as compared to the original full-price value, including sale price, and they get a kick out of seeing the full savings.  So please know that I am not saying all this in judgment, just to explain how I arrive at my calculations.

If you're wondering just how much time all this takes, it's really not bad, and when I say that I genuinely mean that it took me longer to write this post than it takes me to worry about coupons each week.  Whenever I talk with friends who don't clip coupons, their number one reason is that it is too time-consuming.  I think I might write more about my "couponing" techniques in another post, because I've actually had a handful of friends ask me about it.  But that's for another day. ;)

Anyway, the $1279 for 2011 represents a 20% savings on purchases made with coupons, and in some cases as much as 100% savings from full price costs!  Truly!  This is actually down by about $800 from our 2010 coupon savings, but that's got two primary causes.  First, we certainly had a more restrictive budget last year, but second, for the entirety of 2011 we were living in one place and not splitting our time between two states -- so I wasn't shopping for two complete and separate households. 

I know there are a few readers out there (Mom and Meredith, I'm talking to you!) who enjoy hearing how much I've saved.  I thought you'd like to know my 2011 total.  And if I find any stray receipts in the coming days, I'll let you know!


--Jen

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pioneer Woman: Quiche and Scampi Part II

So, the quiche was in the oven for an hour and I had to tutor for an hour.  Worked out well.  While I was tutoring, Mick did the dishes.  Then when I was done, I came back to the kitchen to make the scampi. It's really easy to make, so it was pretty much a one-person job.  Mick ran interference (also known as keeping the kids busy and out of the kitchen) while I whipped this little number up.

Let me say this little bit here:  Mick is absolutely wonderful in the kitchen, and for him to do the dishes is not at all unusual.  I cooked the quiche and we knew we were having scampi, so he took the lead on transitioning from kitchen prep 1 to kitchen prep 2.  He's awesome about stuff like that, and I am not just saying that because he reads this blog.  When we first got married, one of the things I wished we did more of was to cook together.  Now it's ten years later, and cooking together has actually become one of our favorite things to do together. He's also a great wingman when you need the kids distracted but feel a little guilty tying them to their chairs sending them to play by themselves in the playroom when two perfectly play-with-able parents are home.  (Side-side note:  most of the time, I let the kids cook with me, aprons and all, but because the quiche had just come out of the oven, there was too much "hot stuff" going on for me to feel like it was safe.  And that's our number one concern.)

Shrimp Scampi

Verdict: Very yummy and a nice twist on what we usually do
Cook it Again:  yes, but double the recipe
Cost Factor: if you have lemons on hand, the only other big expense is the shrimp (and wine, if you don't have any).   You'll notice that we had a large bottle.  Don't judge us.

I've mentioned in other posts that I cook scampi a fair bit, and we always have the ingredients in the house.  (Well, what's to have, really?  Shrimp, angel hair, garlic, lemons and butter.)  But precisely because I cook scampi often enough, I wanted to stay as true as possible to the Pioneer Woman recipe.

Here are the ingredients.  See if you can figure out what I left out of this photo (because you know I left something out!)
They look like oranges, but they are Meyer lemons.

The recipe starts out calling for sauteeing the garlic and onions in butter and a little oil.  I am of the mind that good scampi = lots of butter, so I didn't worry too much about how much butter it called for, but some of my cooking club friends have noticed (correctly) that Ree's recipes are butter-heavy.  I'll probably talk more about that in future posts, but for the scampi, at least, I was okay with the butter content.  

Mick and I both enjoyed the little punch of Tabasco -- I didn't overdo it, because although WHM could drink Tabasco straight out of the bottle, CAM balks at the mention of pepper.  She told us recently that her milk was too spicy.  So I added some Tabasco, but not as much as I might have.  Sorry I didn't snap a photo for you to see how much.  In any case, everyone at the table was happy, because even CAM ate all her dinner, and Mick and I could taste enough of the Tabasco to not need more.

We/I also don't generally make scampi with wine (because we don't usually have white wine in the house, first of all, and because when we do, it is because we bought it specifically to drink, right then, second of all.)  That was a nice, different touch as well.   I have to say that I much preferred the wine in the scampi to the wine in my glass.  I'm just not a chardonnay girl, but for some reason we happened to have this giant bottle in the house, so that's what we used.

Anyway, the scampi was delicious -- and nice and light, and the sauce was perfect to cover the angel hair without needing any reserved pasta water to thin it out.  But, for a hungry family of four, this simply wouldn't be enough.  As it was, all four of us ate everything, plus dessert, and if we'd not polished off an entire bag of Lay's BBQ potato chips while we were cooking snacked a little before hand, we would have been left hungry. 

My plate.


Speaking of the dessert, it was actually brought to us, still warm from the oven, by my lovely, sweet tutoring girl.  Cinnamon Apple Pie Cupcake Strudel Thingies from a Pinterest Recipe!  Thank you, Miss A!  They were amazing!

WHM enjoying his warm, fabulous dessert!


--Jen



Pioneer Woman: Quiche and Scampi Part I

I know what you're thinking, and no, we did not eat them together!  I had not gotten to either dish earlier in the week as I had planned, and I had all the fresh ingredients going bad.  I decided that yesterday was as light a tutoring day as I would have and it was just as easy to cook both recipes as to cook only one.  Besides, having the quiche ready for breakfast this morning would be a nice treat. 

Quiche 

Verdict:  Delicious.  A big hit.
Cook it again:  Absolutely, but with some minor modifications
Cost factor:  A little high, but that's the nature of quiche.  Heavy cream, almost a pound of bacon, 7 eggs, cheese and artichoke hearts made this a costly little dish, but a wonderful treat.


The ingredients.  As with all my ingredient photos, I left a few things out.  In this case, it was the garlic and onion.
I hardly made any revisions to the PW recipe, because this was my first quiche.  But I did make a few revisions:
  • I didn't have as much swiss cheese defrosted as I thought, because I may or may not have eaten some this weekend as a snack.  I admit to nothing.  But I ended up with only about a cup of swiss ready to use, so I added about a cup of cheddar.  (I say about because I didn't measure it, just scooped based on eye.)
  • I didn't have the time or inclination to make a pie crust yesterday, so I used a Pillsbury crust.  We actually use them pretty regularly here, and I think they're pretty good -- flaky, flavorful, and what's not to love about pie-crust-in-as-fast-as-you-can-open-the-box?!  In the future I plan to try Ree's pie crust from the cookbook, but yesterday wasn't the day.  Plus I'd seen some of my cooking club compatriots say that they used two pie dishes, and this allowed me to have a spare crust on hand just in case.
  • I was also too lazy to take out the mandoline.  The recipe calls for thinly-sliced onions, and this is as good as I got by hand:

  • The recipe says to cook up the onions, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, etc. and let them cool for 20 minutes, but I started this quiche with exactly 50 minutes before I had to tutor, so in an effort to get everything mixed and in the oven on time, I took the veggies from the saute pan to a plate.   When I absolutely had to move along, I just mixed them into the egg mixture slowly to temper it.
The veggies cooling on a plate. 
 Overall, this recipe is very easy to make, but we didn't have a deep tart pan, and even an "emergency" Williams-Sonoma run was fruitless, so I ended up using the deepest pie dish we own.  As you can tell from the photo below, it wasn't quite deep enough!  Because there are so many goodies in the mix, it was hard to separate it "fairly" into two pie pans, so we just spooned out a little of the liquid, cleaned the dish and baking sheet, and threw it all in the oven.



I said in the summary that I would absolutely make this again, but with some modifications.  What are they?  Great question!

First, I don't generally cook bacon in a skillet anymore -- I almost always cook it in the oven.  Now that I saved the bacon fat from this recipe, I'd just use some bacon fat to flavor the veggies I was sauteing, and cook the bacon in the oven. It gets more evenly crispy and my entire stove and counters don't have splatter everywhere.
My unused bacon press.  Seriously, we cook in a skillet so infrequently these days, I forgot about this until it was too late.

Second, I definitely plan to find a deep tart pan, and might even try to hit the commercial cooking shops in Atlanta this weekend.  I felt awfully wasteful draining away the cream/egg mixture, and I don't think that I could evenly distribute the veggies between two pie dishes, so a bigger dish (or reducing the recipe to 3/4 of its current measurements) is going to be my solution.

But otherwise, this is downright delicious and Mick and I are quite thrilled with the tasty (and filling) product!

Sorry for the downright terrible lighting in this photo.

--Jen


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goals and Accountability and Birthday Cakes

I saw this (naturally) on Pinterest, and was just talking with CAM earlier today about how she'd like to have a Strawberry Shortcake birthday party.  Planning ahead means I can work on favors and decorations and actually have her party resemble, at least vaguely, the beautiful stagings we see all time on Pinterest.



One of my 101 Goals is to work with fondant, and here's a cake for inspiration.  This is now my goal. Make "this" cake for CAM's birthday party.

Mark this down, and check in with me to make sure I'm practicing, ok?  :)

--Jen