Monday, April 30, 2012

Back to Teacher Appreciation Day ... (and other stuff from today's adventures)

... um, yeah.  I was so focused on the room mom duties, I didn't remember that CAM's class was supposed to send in two flowers per kid today.  Of course, we didn't get a reminder email, either, but shame on me for just dropping the ball on that one.  Tomorrow we're supposed to send in fruit. At least I can do that without messing up.

Also, for the first time EVER, I got a phone call today to come pick up CAM at school.  She was running a fever.  We went to a birthday party Saturday and when we got home she said she was "party sick," and put herself to bed around 7.  All day yesterday she said she was freezing and couldn't get warm, and she took a nap.  But this morning she bounded into our room bright and early as usual, happy as can be, so I didn't think anything of it.  She didn't have a fever, and although she did complain of being frozen at breakfast, our downstairs was actually pretty chilly so I just thought she was being dramatic.


So now WHM has his Target-brand Zyrtec so he can breathe (and let me tell you, that stuff worked miracles last night, WOW), and CAM's taking Tylenol.

Poor kiddo. I'm supposed to be her "mystery reader" tomorrow for one of the last days of school, and she's only been begging me to be the mystery reader since the last time I did it, and now we're looking like she may not go to school at all. Oh, and tomorrow's her last ballet class before her recital on Friday.

Timing's sure everything, huh?

Oh well.  Better today and tomorrow than Friday.

In the meantime, CAM and I brought a Teacher Appreciation gift to Miss Dana, our Kindermusik teacher, although we didn't stay for musik class.  And then she and I went to The Container Store, Barnes and Noble, and picked up an awesome little Craigslist score for WHM.  She napped in the car, which I had really kind-of planned on by taking her with me.  But when she was awake, it was clear that the Tylenol was working.  She was her typical, happy-go-lucky self, and when we got home we played in the yard with a kickball for a good while.

Life is good.


Holy Pioneer Woman Dinner, Batman!

So, today being the last day in April, we still had to make the Pistachio Cake and the bonus recipe for the month, cheesy olive bread.  Of course, tomorrow is May and one of May's recipes is Chicken Parmesan, so I contemplated holding off on the bread 'til later this week to make it with the chicken.  Then I decided what the heck, and I just made it and the cake today. 

That meant that for dinner we had:

1. Leftover Spicy Pulled Pork.  Yum.

2.  Pasta Salad with Feta and Tomatoes and No Zucchini. Meh.  The flavors marinated, all right. It was WAY too parsleyed, and very dry.  Kristin was right, it needs a dressing.  Since I have other pasta salads I can whip up, this isn't my favorite -- but neither is it tragically bad.  The parsley miscalculation is really what killed it. Easy enough to fix.

3.  Cheesy Olive Bread.  Holy cow is this good, as is the mix before you make it into bread.  But be aware: it makes A LOT.  More than even I could eat, and if there were only one food left on earth I might seriously consider praying for it to be olives, so that's saying something if I say this is too much.  If you make this recipe and you've got a family with small kids and/or non-olive-eaters, you should definitely halve it. 

4.  And for dessert, Pistachio Cake.  I took only a tiny bite -- CAM didn't like it, but WHM and Mick both said, and I quote WHM here, "It's AWEsome." BONUS:  I also got to cross of one of my cake pans!  Of course, it's one I've already used, but since I promised myself to start over, it's as good as any!

Photos and dedicated posts to come.  I've got TWO sick kids now and I've got to go tuck them into bed.


Teacher Appreciation Week: Day 1

I'm the room mom for WHM's class.  He has a small class.  There is a teacher (Miss Edna) and an assistant (Miss Stephanie, or as WHM calls her, Miss Step-anie).  The rule is that parents may send in no more than $10 per teacher, or $20 total, for Teacher Appreciation Week gifts.  Because the class is so small, I didn't quite get tons of money, and so I've had to be creative.

Thank goodness for Pinterest and Michael's coupons.  I've managed to do alright. 

I had hoped to surprise the teachers with breakfast from Chick-fil-A this morning, but I realized based on how much money we raised that it was going to be teas instead.  (I could have done breakfast, but I wanted to reserve some funds to get the teachers flowers and modest little gift cards -- but more on those later.) 

I sent my friend Maci -- who is rapidly turning into a Photoshop whiz -- the slogan I thought of for the teas, and I told her I wanted something to wrap around or hang from a CFA Sweet Tea.  She made me the awesome little medallion.  (And she dashed it off in about ten seconds, I might add.  Need to learn me some Photoshop.  First, of course, I need to buy me some Photoshop.  Until then, thank goodness for Maci's awesomeness!)  

Anyway, I printed it, cut it out, mounted it to card stock, and punched a few holes that I then laced and tied to the Chick-fil-A cups.  Mick was gracious enough to go get two teas early this morning -- gotta give the guy some credit, too, because he was a big help!

What do you think?  I was pretty pleased with finding a way to turn "no, we didn't get you breakfast" into something so stinkin' cute!

This afternoon, I'm dropping off cute little bowls that we'll fill with the fruits the kids (theoretically) all brought in for the teachers today, too.  Not a bad start to the week!  Hooray!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

PW: Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

Full disclosure:

1.  We made this recipe in January, right as the Sweet as Pie Cooking Club was starting.  I had just told Mick that I'd joined and needed a blog, and only a few days later we woke up on a lazy Sunday morning to PW cooking on Food Network.  As we tend to do on the very best Sunday mornings like that, we committed to cooking that meal.  So we actually cooked this before we even had the cookbook or made our first cooking club recipe.  It was spicy then, almost too spicy, and I have since figured out why.

2.  I need to get movin'!  There are only a few days left in April and I still need to make the pistachio cake, the olive cheese bread, and the pasta salad!  Yikes!

Okay, so onto the recipe.

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

Verdict: Good for the grown-ups.  The kids passed. And it makes a LOT.
Cook it Again:  Well, duh, since this is round two already! 
Cost Factor:  The canned chipotles are a few dollars and of course pork varies widely,  but that's it. 

I didn't take many photos.  Truth?  I was lazy.  I took a few with my cell phone and that's it, so forgive this wordy, not-too-colorful post.

The recipe is super, super easy.  You take two whole onions, quarter them, and put them on the bottom of a Dutch oven.  You take a Boston Butt, season it with salt and pepper, and throw it in the dutch oven.  Top it with 11 ounces of the chipotle peppers, then pour 28 ounces of Dr. Pepper over it. put the lid on it, and bake at 300 for six hours.

Pork all seasoned and sitting on the onions waiting for the peppers and Dr. Pepper.  Note:  these are not Boston Butts.  Whoops.
You're supposed to turn it every two hours, but I kinda forgot.

Also, you're supposed to use 11 ounces of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Now, the chipotles come in an 11-ounce can, but when Mick and I made this in January they didn't have the 11-ounce can, and I don't know why, but whatever we did then made the pork WAY spicier than whatever I did this time.

I used the same brand of peppers.

PW shows the blue can.  We used the blue can, both times -- but only one can in this round, versus two the last time we made this.  Still have to try the red can.  It's on hand for round 3.
I used the same amount of Dr. Pepper.  (By the way, I hate that I need Dr. Pepper, because we don't typically drink it, and I seem unable to buy it in small enough quantities to not waste it.  I end up giving my sister free Dr. Pepper, which seems to work for her and makes me feel less guilty!)

But thinking back, I wonder if Mick and I didn't just use TWO 7-ounce cans of peppers, and this time I used only ONE.  So maybe it's that last time, we over-spiced and this time under-spiced?  No idea.

Either way, it was very yummy, and last time I wasn't quite sure I could eat too much and the kids didn't eat much at all (especially CAM, who didn't eat ANY), because it was so spicy.  This time it was really just right with a nice amount of kick -- enough that you knew it wasn't just regular old pulled pork, but not so much that it was spicy.

I even got CAM to eat some, by mixing hers with ranch instead of the juices from the pot.

I originally intended to serve this with the Pasta Salad, but when I was at Publix getting the chipotles, corn on the cob was on sale and manohman do I love corn on the cob.  Especially with bbq!  So the corn trumped.  Tomorrow we're having chicken and I've already made the pasta salad to go with it.

Two more things:

First, I knew I was going to cook this on Thursday and I was already at Costco, so I picked up a pork roast without paying attention (are you noticing this theme with my cooking this week?) to the fact that it was pork loin, as opposed to Boston Butt.  It didn't make a difference.  Still cooked up nice and tender and pulled apart easily. 

Second, my GOODNESS does this make the house smell AWESOME.  Wow!!!  I was tutoring while this was cooking and every single kid said they wished they could stay for dinner!

Pioneer Woman: Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini and Feta

I meant to serve this with the Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork, but corn on the cob was on sale and calling my name, so I skipped this and made the corn with the pork. That means this is being served with chicken tomorrow night.  Here's the preview before the actual meal.

PW Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Feta

Verdict: easy, pretty, and decently flavorful as I write this -- update to come
Cook it again:  sure.  It's nice to throw together as a quick side.
Cost factor:  $7-ish, but I got the feta half price at Publix, and already had the lemon and tomatoes, so probably closer to $12 if you have to buy everything.

This is a basic, simple (SIMPLE!) recipe.

I still managed to mess it up.

Here's what you do:

Cook up some farfalle pasta.  It's supposed to be 12 ounces.  I paid no attention to how many ounces I cooked.  16?  No idea.

Drain it, rinse it until it's cool, then drizzle with 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and the juice of a whole lemon.

Well, I kinda forgot to rinse it -- because I never, ever rinse my pasta -- and added the "EVOO," as Rachael Ray calls it.

So, then I rinsed it.

I'm pretty sure that the water didn't wash off the oil, but still.  Duh.

(Side note:  I'm a little tired of all the EVOO in recipes everywhere.  I don't always think whatever it is you're cooking needs the strong EVOO flavor compared to just using regular olive oil, or even a lighter oil.  But I went with it in the spirit of trying to not take too many liberties with this recipe, because ...)

...I knew I wasn't going to add the Zucchini (yes, despite the fact that it's in the very title of the recipe).  I'm pretty sure everyone but Mick would pick it out.  For future reference, not that you necessarily care, I don't eat anything in the squash family.  Not pumpkin, not squash, not zucchini, not eggplant.  I don't like the texture or the taste.  One time at the Marriott at Logan Airport, Mick and I had a nice gourmet dinner before we flew out the next morning, and what I thought were potatoes were some sort of mini squash and they were delicious, but other than that, I don't like them. Not in casseroles, not in mashed form, not in spaghetti form, not camoflaged in baked goods a la Jessica Seinfeld, not at all.  So, no zucchini. No soup for you!

Other than that, you take a tub of grape tomatoes, try to not eat too many of them, slice them long-ways and put them in.

Then the same with some crumbled feta.  I used the entire little tub.

Then -- mistake number two -- you're supposed to add half a cup of freshly chopped parsley.  I didn't have any on hand and I completely forgot that when you substitute dried herbs you don't use nearly as much as the recipe calls for.  Or more accurately, I didn't forget, but I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing at all, and I read half cup, and measured half a cup without so much as thinking about the fact that I was making a substitution.  So, more like space-cadeted rather than forgot.


As I type this, our zucchini-less, over-parsleyed pasta salad sits in the fridge getting ready for tomorrow night's dinner.

Mick and I tasted it, of course.  It's not all marinated yet and the flavors haven't quite married the way they will overnight, but it's decent and it's barely been done five minutes.  Certainly quick and easy and looks oh-so-pretty with our multi-colored bow ties.  I'm actually pretty excited to see how it all comes together tomorrow.

I'll update this after our dinner tomorrow, and at that point I'll throw in some photos, too.


Friday, April 27, 2012

God Bless Tuscaloosa

I debated about writing this, because there is so much out there that is so much more eloquent than I am sure I will ever be.  In the end, I am writing not to be an artist (or to be preachy, and I hope I don't come off that way), but to simply say that one year ago today, my beloved adopted home town, the place where my kids were born, was forever changed, and so was I.

One year ago today, after spending the previous eight months doing everything I could to find a way back to Tuscaloosa, a good friend sent me a text message.

Put on the tv.  Tuscaloosa got hit by a tornado.  Looks like it hit the university.  Please tell me you're in GA.

It had been gray and awful all day.  We knew storms were coming in from the midwest, and we knew they were bad.  I also knew -- because I still read the Tuscaloosa News online most of the time, and because I "liked" the City Schools on Facebook -- that school had been cancelled that day.

Not released early.  Cancelled.  That had never happened the entire time we lived there.  This was a big deal and everyone knew it, but tornadoes touch down, cause a little damage, and are over.  This can't be as bad as tearing up the entire university.

It was afternoon, and for a change, Mick was home.  (I don't mean to make light of this, but the surest way for there to be tornado weather is for Mick to be out of town, so for him to be home was strange.)  All day, we had the living room tv on the weather radar.  I called for Mick.

"Hey!  M--- says that Alabama got hit by a tornado.  On campus!  Come upstairs and watch the news!"

In Alabama, they have James Spann at ABC 33/40, and he is by far the best weatherman ever to walk this earth, and I don't say that now because of everything that happened a year ago. I said it then, and I said it before then.  He is amazing.  He keeps us company at night when the weather is bad.  He tells us what to do.  He is on our televisions, saying "This is serious.  Get to your safe spot and take cover."  He is omnipresent, and he takes seriously what so many people don't (or didn't), and impresses upon us to do the same.  It's not just a rainy day.  Pay attention.  Don't be stupid.  Those sirens mean something.  And you won't necessarily get sirens in time.  I'm here.  Your show is interrupted.  Pay attention.  Don't be stupid.  Stay off the roads.  Get inside.  Be ready to get to your safe place.  

We knew there were storms -- severe storms -- because we saw they'd hit Mississippi.  The thing in metro Atlanta is, if you look to your west, it's coming to you.  It's not as crazy as New England, with the lakes and the Atlantic and twenty-seven different weather patterns based on where in-between the two you fall.  If it's in Mississippi, it's coming to Alabama, and if it's in Alabama, it's coming to Atlanta.

We don't have James Spann, or anyone remotely close, in metro Atlanta, and we don't even have tornado sirens.  So we were watching the Weather Channel.

And then we saw the initial reports from Tuscaloosa, and my friend, who knew how desperately I wanted to go back to Tuscaloosa permanently, sent another message that stays with me to this day:

Don't you sometimes feel like you weren't meant to be somewhere?  God meant for you to be someplace else this time.

I did feel that, but I also felt a terrible sense of survivor's guilt, in a sense.  I wanted to be there.  I wanted to help.  I wanted to see it, because the devastation was so immense on the news, it couldn't possibly be real, right?  We couldn't get enough news footage.  We learned pretty quickly that the tornado actually spared the university.  But it tore out six miles of Tuscaloosa, a mile wide on the ground in some parts.  It was unreal, and we needed to feel a part of it, to find a way to make sense of it, to make it real.  We wanted to reach through the tv and be there.

It took us a few weeks to be able to get to Tuscaloosa after the tornado.  They had no power, they had so many unpassable roads, we couldn't go help and labor with two kids.  We could sign up to volunteer, but to do what?  We'd be in the way.  That's not helping.  The way we helped was to collect donations here, and we collected a LOT.

Two weeks later my sister and I loaded up the kids and a ton of donations and went over.  We could see the damage as far West as Birmingham, and we followed the reverse path of the storm all the way into Tuscaloosa.  I wrote an email to a friend about that, and about cresting that first hill on 15th Street as we came into town from Hillsboro St., but I'll spare you the details here.

It looked like the footage you see on tv -- footage of war zones, that is.  The skyline was bizarre and we could see far.  Too far.  Through places where there used to be neighborhoods, and which now looked like the surface of the moon.  We tried to remember what was in certain places.

Was this Hokkaido?  Or this?  What used to be here?  

At one point, we pulled over to the mall parking lot and sat and cried.

I still cry.  I trembled when I saw the footage last April 27, and more on April 28 and in the days following, and I cried two nights ago when I saw a special about the tornadoes that touched down everywhere across the country last April.  And I didn't lose anybody, but I still feel a sadness I can't explain.  I hate how melodramatic that sounds -- like the people you see on tv who sob uncontrollably about some celebrity they never met and who, I admit, I chalk up as losers.  Shame on me.  Tuscaloosa was my make-me-sob-like-a-baby-when-they-die celebrity, I suppose, and I cry for the people who did everything right and it wasn't enough, and I cry for the people who lost family, and I cry for the devastation, and I cry because I wasn't there, as selfish as that is.

Let me say two things.

First, I pray for everyone that Tide Loads of Hope never has to come to anyplace you hold dear.  Because it means things are badder than you want to know.

Second, God bless the people of Tuscaloosa -- those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones, those who lost their stuff, and those who did everything they could to help.  And God bless the people of Alabama, who rose together to help their own.  It's been amazing to live here and to live through and witness the strength, and generosity, and kindness of so many people helping just because it's what you do.  It reminds me how much good there is in this world.

There's still a long road ahead.  Tuscaloosa will never be the same.  I will never be the same.  My kids will never be the same.  (CAM still prays at night for Jesus to "help fix Alabama where it ripped.")  But through it all, yes, we're strangely stronger.

God truly has blessed Tuscaloosa.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WWAW (What I Am Wearing)

I just saw a blog post elsewhere about fashion.  Specifically, it was a short and sweet (and intentionally lighthearted) post about what one very popular craft blogger was wearing at a very popular craft-blogging conference. 

She looked cute and casual, and I was reminded that not only have I not yet showered today (yikes, better get going, have to pick up the kids in 30 minutes!) but that I am not by any stretch a fashion icon.

At this moment I am wearing:
  • A crimson long-sleeve t-shirt that commemorates UA Law's Homecoming 2008.
  • Black Gap Body capri workout pants.  These are not yoga pants, they are tight.
  • White "Champion" brand ankle gym socks.
  • Asics running shoes.
My hair is down but pulled back by my sunglasses, which are propped on my head.  I am wearing my omnipresent jewelry -- earrings, pendant, three rings, watch.  I'll save details for another day.

And I am chewing my gum like a cow.

Ain't I purdy?!

(In my defense, I did plan to either go to the gym or clean the basement today, activities for which my outfit is appropriate, and I did in fact work in the basement.  But I am clearly not dressed to, you know, GO anywhere!)


Better Mommy, One Step at a Time

I am not sure where to start with this one.  I don't know how to say some of it without seeming like a jerk, but let me just say that I always did well in school. It came easy to me, and I never really had to work hard until I chose a ridiculously hard major.  Even then, I didn't work that hard, because I didn't know how to work that hard.  I did okay, I complain but really I shouldn't and life is fine. And most people consider me to be among their smarter friends, and please don't condemn me as cocky for saying that.

I attribute much of this not to some innate ability -- although my almost-photographic memory does help -- but to my parents, who always read to me, encouraged me to read, and always modeled reading.  Seriously, you can go to my parents' house today and you'll still find piles of books in the bathrooms, nevermind the overflowing wall of gorgeous bookcases in the den.

I always thought I would do that with my kids, but I've been realizing lately that I just don't.  I was reading at age 4; CAM has no interest to even practice sight words.

My parents always read to me before bed.  I probably read to the kids about every other night.

But what they do see is that Mommy and Daddy are always attached to our phones (well, for Mick, it's more his iPad than his phone, and for me it's the other way around). Mick and I had an argument about that a few months ago, where I said that it's not engaging with the kids to be in the same room with them but playing on the iPad ... and for a while, he was much better about it. But we all fade away, right?  The fact is we're both pretty intent on constantly checking email.  He's always researching something for his business, or watching videos -- many of them valid reasons to be on the iPad, not just playing around -- but we're doing that stuff and letting the kids just play with each other.  I'm all for parent time, but we also need to play with our kids, not just let them play.  I have struggled to find this balance.  I read, about half the time on my nookColor and other times magazines, etc., but it's not the same as always having a book in my hand the way I used to -- the way I thought I would when I had kids, so they would see what it is like to love to read.  I don't read as much as I used to, and I find myself playing Scrabble on the iPad more than reading novels lately.  (Which is something that also makes me quite sad for myself, and which I've been trying to remedy on a personal level.)

A while ago -- six months ago, maybe longer, it's been that long -- I decided that I would try to do one "thing" with the kids each day above and beyond what we'd normally do.  I was tutoring and that was taking a big chunk of time away from our evenings and family time, and I thought that every day after school, we'd do a craft, or play a game, or do something other than run errands and put on the tv.  (I have said this before: I really try to NOT let the tv watch my kids, but if Mick's not home and I am tutoring, I have to give somewhere and it is more often than not, there.)  I still try to do this, but I'm not always diligent about it.

So yesterday, CAM was in school and WHM and I went to Target, and I bought a new game for the kids.  You know, because what they need is a new game:

See those baskets?  Each one of those is the largest size they sell at Pottery Barn.  The two on the ends are filled with games and the middle one is filled with instruments and Kindermusik stuff.  As you can tell, we've flowed over to the floor and the shelves.  And the bedrooms.  We seriously have games everywhere.  I LOVE games, but Mick doesn't enjoy them quite as much, so I try to play with the kids -- but again, I'm not as good about it as I want to be. 

It's called S'Match! and I love it, and so did they!

It's very similar to the traditional Memory game, and comes with 30 cards. Each card is either red, blue, green, purple, or orange, and has either one or two items on it, from the categories of transportation, musical instruments, animals or ... I can't remember.  In any case, you spin a giant spinner

with a big old stopper that you push down, and it will land on "category, color," or "number."  Then you play Memory the way you know, but you have to match based on what you landed on.  So you might match one orange guitar with one red boat, if you land on number; or one orange bunny with two orange monkeys, for animal.

I really love this game.  It's good for critical thinking and of course all of the countless other skills Memory helps to grow.  Even WHM, who won't be three until June, was able to figure out from the stopper what he needed to match, and the stopper kept his attention (whereas regular Memory is not as exciting for him).

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I'm trying.  This is a real goal for me and something I have been working on -- with highs and lows, for sure.  It can be frustrating (I have friends whose kids are reading and CAM has no real desire; for now she enjoys being read to and making up stories to go with her books) ... but I am going to be modeling more reading, and less "tech-ing" from now on, and we're going to keep practicing our sight words and playing games and making crafts, and next time I check in like this, hopefully I'll have something more awesome to say.


MIA? That's me!

Sorry, folks!  It's been strangely busy and not busy here at the same time.  Both kids are in school and Mick's not home, so I am sitting here listening to the washing machine whirr and thought I'd fill you in on my absence.  Prepare to be mesmerized bored to tears.  Maybe I'll play with fonts or something to keep you awake.

First, Mick went out of town last Friday early, early, early, so I've been on my own since then.  Thank goodness he'll be home in a few hours.  We redheads miss him.  But when he's gone I really try to NOT spend all my time in front of my computer (since I spend enough time at my desk when I tutor, anyway ... but more on that in a sec).

Second, since we're essentially committed to moving this summer, I've been trying to organize/sort/purge. There's also a neighborhood yard sale this coming Friday and Saturday, and if I can capitalize on that traffic and sit in my garage with some unwanted stuff for a few hours each day, I would like to, so that's been a good motivator.  (Personally, I like yard sales.  I don't know why, but I do.  My sister and I try to have one every summer if we can swing it.  It's not a lot of work and gives us an excuse to sit outside in the warmth, chat all day, people watch, and then it usually buys us dinner.)  So I've been sort-of packing and sort-of sorting, and sort-of checking out what's going to the sale ... nothing's priced, of course, but I can do that as the sale happens. Not worried about little details like that!  Nothing some masking tape and a Sharpie can't fix!

I have also had -- yet again, I feel like -- an unusual number of tutoring cancellations and yesterday was especially frustrating.  Three kids cancelled or just flat-out didn't show up, in a span of two hours.  That's a serious chunk of change, and since I don't work outside the home and the school year ends in about two weeks, I was ... hmmm ... stressed?  Freaking?  SERIOUSLY annoyed?  All of the above, really.  Anyway, that's been a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because I've been able to take that time to play with the kids (have you seen our living room?  We add on every day!) But a curse because, as I said, this is my mini-livelihood.  We have made a lot of sacrifices for me to stay at home and the tutoring I do really helps!

Okay, no one really cares about that.  What else has been going on?

I haven't been cooking much.  I've been making the PW chicken breasts from her Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe* and just using them with pasta and rice.  I went on a serious chicken kick this week and really need to scale it back.

Also, I was craving tuna salad, so I opened a GIANT can of tuna we had in our pantry.

Big mistake.

I thought it was about 4 times the size of a regular can.  Umm, no.  I don't know what made me think that, looking back on it.  But that was a grave mistake. 

You see, it's more ten times the size of a regular can, if not bigger.  Normally when we make tuna, we make two cans and there's leftover for a Scooby Snack.  This, my friends, is not leftovers.  This is enough to feed a marching band. 

I seriously have a lifetime supply of tuna salad.  I love tuna, but even I can only eat so much.  I hope Mick's in the mood for tuna, because I hate to throw it away, but unless I drive over to the local high school and serve it in the lunch line, it's looking like we're throwing away food this week.  Whoops.

What else ... well, CAM and I finally sat down and did all her thank you notes from her birthday party.  They came out super cute, and I wrote the message and she signed her name.  What a blessing to have a hand cramp from all the thank-you's we had to write!  

And I applied for that job, so now I am just trying to revise my resume to apply for a few more where there's not such a time crunch.  Wish me luck!


*My simplified recipe:  take boneless, skinless chicken breasts and put them on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.  Brush them with oil.  (I use light olive oil so it's not got a very strong taste of its own.)  Mix together 2 parts cumin, 2 parts chili powder, 1 part garlic powder, and 1 part salt and sprinkle all over the chicken.  Go heavier on any of the four you think you want to stand out.  Bake at 375 20-40 minutes until the chicken is done.  Seriously it is the juciest, most flavorful chicken, EVERY time!  And so easy to clean up -- one pan and one small bowl to mix your seasonings!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kid quotes

Tonight's just been rich.  These were all from the past hour:

CAM to me, as both kids are doing my hair with spray bottles and claw-clips* and barrettes and headbands and whatever else they can find, to make me vaguely represent a Frankenstein-ish robot alien monster:  "Mommy, we'll get you pretty in no time."


WHM: Mommy, I have lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of boogers.
ME:  You have lots and lots of boogers?
WHM: Yes, and they are all coming out and out and out!
WHM:  And on my fingers!


WHM:  Mommy, I want regular milk.  [This is after ten minutes of begging for chocolate milk or strawberry milk and I have said no every time.]
ME:  No, honey, it will make your teeth yucky.  It's bedtime.  I'll get you water, if you want.
WHM:  Water makes me sick.

* Or, as WHM calls them, "the up and down thingies."

(insert DAWN pun here)

Okay, by now you know I love coupons.

No, not like the bat-#@$#!!-crazy people that are on TV.  Those crazies are actually hoarders, if you ask me.  More like, I love the game of it.  I only buy what we use, etc. etc. etc.  We've been over this before.

What you might not know is that my youngest sister and I have this stupid little joke about Dawn dish soap, because a few years ago when she was living with us, every time it went on sale at CVS or Publix, I ended up getting it free.

Side note:  this is one of those instances where the "regular person" can score coupon deals the way the people on TV do.  If you're not familiar with those shows, the couponcrazies have coupons that the regular person doesn't get by just clipping coupons from the Sunday paper.  And they have tens of thousands of coupons, to boot, which is a whole different issue.  But in the real world, to be able to get anything free at all is usually a little coup.

Back to my story: although we do not hoard, we do have a "stuff" pantry.  Since soap doesn't expire, I'd say that at one point, I probably had about 20 bottles.   We'd joke that my sister was eventually moving out and she'd need her own supply, and poof, ours would deplete by half.  I told you, it was a stupid little joke between us, these soap deals.  And then it got to where it wasn't even fun anymore and how much soap do you need, really, anyway?, so I stopped buying it, coupons or not.

Well, fast forward a few years and the soap supply's in the single digits (gasp!) and ohmygoodness, Kroger has it on rock-star sale this week, for the first time in ages!

This is such a good sale that there is apparently a run on Dawn, because the sale started yesterday and I had to go to two different stores to find any today at 1pm --  and the second store didn't have all that many.

Enough, enough.  What's the deal I got?

Regular price:  $1.49 a bottle plus tax.  Sale price:  $1/bottle.  (Sure, it's "only" 50 cents, but with doubling coupons, getting the price down to the dollar mark is huge.  And besides, it's a 33% reduction, if you're counting.)

I bought six bottles and paid a total of $1.24 after tax!


And that, my friends, is my kicking-the-world's-tail story for the day.  


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Island of Sodor

Last Christmas (2010), one of my sisters gave WHM a wooden Melissa and Doug train set.  He was still too young for it at the time, but by March we opened it up and he loved it.  Couldn't get enough.  To the point where for his birthday last year, I wanted to get him a train cake.

WHM had a mild understanding of who Thomas the Tank Engine was, but wasn't really into it.  It airs here on our local PBS at too-early-for-Sunday morning, but every once in a while we'd catch it, so he knew who Thomas was but didn't really ask for Thomas.  Of course, if you buy your birthday cakes at the grocery store and you want a train cake, you get Thomas the Tank Engine, even if your kid isn't necessarily super into Thomas the Tank Engine. 

But when you get a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake, be prepared.  Because your little boy will get hooked, and you will end up with a living room that looks like this:

Don't judge me for my nasty carpet!  Someone else's problem in a few months, anyway.

If you're wondering, this took me about 2 hours, with "help" from the little people.  We didn't use all of our track, but we ran out of ways to make the rest fit without re-doing entire sections, so we called it a day.


p.s.  Many thanks go to my in-laws for buying Tidmouth Sheds, Toby's Windmill, and Knapford Station this past Christmas.  WHM's collection went from mostly generic scenery with Thomas trains, to mostly Thomas scenery, with Thomas trains, and he's beyond thrilled!

p.p.s. WHM has a train table in his room, but this is way more fun, don't you agree?

Saturday, April 21, 2012


WHM is upstairs napping (yes, napping, and that sound you hear is the angels singing in heaven).

CAM is at the kitchen table playing with play-doh, her single favorite WHM-is-napping activity.

I came in my office to check email and grab some more papers to sort and file, and I just heard CAM say, "She's still alive, but we had to chop her head off."

I am so very afraid to ask.


Gardening (and A Guest)

Two weeks ago (maybe three, even) Mick and I planned to take some time and plant our potted garden with the kids.  Well, CAM and I went and bought a bunch of tomatoes and peppers and other veggies, but then time got away from us, the weather didn't cooperate, Mick went out of town, we had a weekend full of birthdays, and lo and behold here we are today, and the plants were all still in their original pots.

So today, CAM and I (and theoretically, WHM) took it upon ourselves to start our garden while Mick was out.

Here are some photos -- it was hard to snap pictures and get dirty, so they are from the beginning and the end, and not too many along the way.  We ran out of pots pretty promptly -- I thought we had a lot more than we actually had -- and I had what I hope turns out to be a great idea:  use the recycling bins (which we still had in our basement) from a few houses ago.  They have holes on the bottom, they're plastic just like the pots are, and they hold enough that we could do miniature row gardens, but not so much that they are obscenely heavy.  The first one holds two Anaheim peppers and two Poblanos.  The second one holds six strawberry plants.

I'm sure you're wondering what we planted, right?!  So glad you asked.  There's one pot of tomatoes that came with its own cage.  Then we planted a Talladega tomato plant (because I wanted to be able to say I planted a Talladega tomato plant.  There is no other reason), a Roma tomato plant, and three Serrano pepper plants.  The serranos were crazy hard to find!  But we need them for salsa.  We need to go back out and get some more planters, though, because we still have to plant two cucumber plants, one eggplant, three different bell peppers, and a cherry tomato.  We didn't even go down the squash or watermelon roads!  Also, I stayed away from herbs this go-round, but we'll likely add some parsley and other stuff in as well.  I'd really like to add chives, parsley, basil, and mint, at a minimum. 

Hopefully you can start to see my photography skills improving, too.  When I took these, I fooled around with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and some came out better than others, but that's kind-of the point.  


So, I totally know this is redneck. But look:  they are portable, they are big, they have handles, and they have drains.  What's not to love?!

I was watering the plants with two watering cans.  As I finished the second can, this guy jumped out from it.  And I, of course, jumped out from my skin. 

Our humble garden, so far.

Check out the frog on the right.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Okay, Now my Pinterest Button is Gone??

Jackie pointed out that she couldn't see it.

I could see it and I told her where it was, thinking maybe she was just looking in the wrong spot.

Now, a mere one day later, it's gone.

I'm telling you, there is a serious learning curve to this stuff!  I'll figure it out, I promise!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things That Are Much Overdue

No, not my library books, but that's definitely true.  I seriously have library books in my basement that date back to when I first moved to Atlanta.  I'd better never move back to DeKalb County, that's for sure!   In high school, I worked at our local public library and my friends joked that I worked there just to avoid my copious fines.  

I took a photography class today, to learn how to use my DSLR camera.  I am so excited.  Mick got me ("us") the camera as a gift, and with the camera came a gift of a photography magazine subscription and photography classes.  Well, it's been about 100 years, give or take, and I finally just took my first class today.

I loved it!

So, more on that to come.  The photos I took aren't amazing, but what I learned had me feeling great.

And since I thought I'd post about stuff that's been a long time coming, I also have this for you:  Photos of the project I teased way back in February.  Yes, I finished it long before April. 

Here's what happened. I saw a pin of a wine-corks letter cork board.  I thought to myself, self, I can do that.  First, we have an ample supply of corks that we have been saving for goodness-knows-why. Second, I have everything I need except the letter.

So, I took my little self to Hobby Lobby and bought a pressboard letter.  Given that I had the glue, corks, and paint, and the letter was 40% off with my coupon, I think I paid about $2 for this project.  Love it!

I introduced the pressboard letter to my good buddy Krylon, not because it needed it, but because if there would be any background visible, I wanted it to be harder to distinguish.  You know, what with putting round corks on a squared letter and all.

Then I broke out my good buddy Gorilla Glue, and started at it.  These three are just the tester area to make sure the glue would work according to plan.  It did.  As I added more corks, I glued not just the cork to the letter, but also put a drop of glue from cork to cork, for added stability.  None of the glue is visible.  I did about 5-6 corks at a time, waited ten minutes, and did more. I'd say this took me a few nights, because I did a handful of corks at a time basically during commercials after tutoring and dinner and before bed.  I wasn't exactly in a hurry.

Would you believe we ran out of corks?  Apparently we don't drink as much save as many as we used to, so I actually had to buy more wine to complete this project.  I also was surprised by just how much wine comes with manufactured cork these days.  I'd say that for about half the wine we bought, we couldn't use the cork!  It was tragic, let me tell you.  (But seriously. Count how many corks are in this letter.  Even if you drank a bottle of wine a day, which we don't, you'd take a long time to get all these corks!)

Here's the finished product:

Now I'll add this little tidbit -- since I took on this project, I've seen tutorials on how to do this and they're all very similar to what I did. But mine was inspired not by a tutorial, but by a pin linking to a place to buy the corkboards, and I'm pretty pleased with how it came out! 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And then, there was the COVER LETTER

I am good at a lot of things.  I am passionate about a lot of things.  I am NOT, however, good at writing cover letters, even if the job is for something about which I am passionate.

A few months ago, I had an opportunity to interview for a job I desperately wanted.  In Tuscaloosa, no less!  All the stars were (finally) aligning!  I was on Cloud 9.

Well, except that two stars didn't feel like aligning:  the star that aligned to allow me to get back to Tuscaloosa for the interview, and the star that allowed for childcare while I interviewed.  I ended up doing a phone interview and -- well, it wasn't my best.  I didn't get the job, which always stings a little, but it was one of those situations where I replayed it over and over in my head, and every time I replayed it, I felt like I did just a little worse.  Chalk it up, brush yourself off, I didn't give my A game that day.  Gotcha.  Moving on.

Then a similar job opened in another school system.  Applied.  Still waiting to hear about that one.

Then my DREAM version of this job opened up with a major education/testing company whose name rhymes with Bollege Coard.  Yes, my friends, I am the math geek gal who would love, love, LOVE to work for this company!  I got the notification of the position in my email -- as luck would have it, the week of CAM and Mick's birthday.

Desperate for my resume to be amazing (and racing the clock), I did something I have never done: I put out an all-call on my personal Facebook page (side note:  now that I have a blog Facebook page, I get to make this distinction!  How cool is that?!  And by the way, I am working on a way to have Facebook automatically update when I post here.  It's taking me some time, though, so bear with me) asking for resume help.

I got some wonderful advice.  Sure, some of it contradicts, but when more than one person said the same thing, I went with it.  I am pleased with the result, and since I doubt I'll ever think my resume is perfect, I am content to feel much better today than I did even two days ago.  I will continue to improve the old resume, I hope, but I think it was professional and got the scaling back it so very much needed.

(Side note #2: If you've never written a resume for a federal job, it requires every last piece of information you can think of, and strategic specific words, and there is no length limit.  99% of the advice you receive will say to make it as long as possible and/or necessary to say everything you've ever done, using the specific vocabulary of the federal job posting.  So, when you've got one of those and you have to scale it back for a "regular" resume, it can be mind-numbing.  I was at that stage where I could no longer decipher what I needed to cut.  I needed fresh, critical eyes to help me see what was, in fact, ridiculous to include on a regular resume.)

But the cover letter?  Let me let you in on a little secret:  I have in the past skipped applying for jobs because I did not want to write the cover letters. No, they weren't my dream jobs, but still.  You get the idea.  I hate cover letters.  I feel as though I inevitably write something stilted, cliched, or waaaay too long.  Or, in my finer moments, I write something that is stilted, cliched AND waaaay too long.

And when I seek advice, it's all over the map and essentially useless.

But my goodness, do I want this job.  Which meant that tonight, I sat at my computer and just banged out a cover letter.

It's probably awful.

So, if you're reading this, HR, please know that I am a much, much better writer if it's about something other than, well, the introduction to my resume.

See?!  You read this far, didn't you?! Now imagine if you brought me in for an interview.  I'd be great. You'd love me.  I already love you.  We'd be a perfect team, we would. 


Things I Can't Stand

# 10,467,213:  People who turn out in front of you on a road when there is NO ONE behind you, and then proceed to go at least 15 mph slower than you were going.

# 10,467,214: When those same people then only go 1/4 mile and then slow down even more to turn off onto a side street.  Because, you know, that stretch just could NOT wait for you to pass them.

# 10,467,215: Packing.

# 10,467,216:  Packing books.

# 10,467,217: Lifting boxes packed full of books.

Things I Love:

# 567,785,243,321:  Rediscovering all the great books I own.

# 567,785,243,322:  Ditalini Al La Nonna  (By the way: I don't know if that's spelled correctly, but that's how it appears on the menu.)

# 567,785,243,323: Taking myself for ditalini al la nonna for lunch, all my myself, and sitting there and reading a great book on my nookColor for 45 minutes.

# 567,785,243,323:  Rainy days without a giant to-do list.

#567,785,243,323:  Silly signs that I spot along the road, especially when the signs makes me smile so much I have to turn around and go take a photo:

In case Shel Silverstein is wondering, it's right here, apparently.

Looks like we break even today, kids.  Stay tuned for more!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Facebook and Stuff

Hello, my dear readers!  So, have you noticed I added a "Pin it" button to the  bottom of my posts?  No, I haven't suddenly gone all DIY-homemaker-crafting-blog on you, but I saw a blog post a few weeks ago that talked about if you're blogging, do it right.  One of the tips was that you should add the Facebook and Pinterest buttons before you think you need them, so that the one day you go viral and wish you'd had them, they will already be there. That's wisdom, if you ask me, so I'm acting on it.

That being said, I don't exactly anticipate going viral anytime soon.  But that's kind-of the point, right?  And I thought the blogging advice was dead-on everywhere else, so I've been gradually learning how to do the buttons.  (Word of advice:  it's not hard, but it is a pain and thank goodness there are blogs out there to teach non-programming bloggers what the heck to do.  If I didn't still remember how much I hated computer programming in college, this kind of stuff would make me wish I'd been a comp sci person.)

I also started a blog Facebook page!  (It's so exciting! It already has one post.  Contain yourselves, I know this is earth-shattering.)  So hopefully in the next few days, I'll also be adding a follow-me/like-me/whatever-it's-called-today Facebook button.  Facebook doesn't make anything easy, either, so that's an after-the-kids-go-to-bed project.  If I go viral and end up on the Today Show, I promise to thank my first ten followers. 

Oh -- if you're wondering where I learned about the button adding stuff, it's from this Web page:
Blogger Sentral

And that excellent blogging advice?  From one of the funniest bloggers in the history of, well, ever:
People I Want to Punch in the Throat


Monday, April 16, 2012

Firehouse Birthday Party

CAM was invited to a really cool birthday party yesterday.  It started at one of our local fire stations, and the kids got to see firefighters and see the bunk room and climb around a firetruck -- apparently, this is a community service the station is glad to provide. Of course, if a call comes in, the party ends.  Likewise, once the demonstration and tour are over, you have to do your actual celebrating elsewhere.  So, after our party at the station, we all went back to Nathan's house for cake and gifts and games.   (They played bucket brigade, and CAM was the ringer for her team.  She really was fantastic!)

The guys (and gal) were fantastic.  No, not all of them talk with preschoolers all the time, but they were funny and engaging and very sweet.  And between them and the kids, it was pretty hilarious.

At one point, they asked the kids if they had any questions.  Here are some of the highlights of the kids' "questions" for the firefighters:

"One time, I was in the ocean and a wave knocked me down."

"I'm scared of ants."

"I have gills on my fingertips, and one time when my house burned down [it did not] in the fire the gills helped me breathe."

Anyway, the kids had a great time, even if they didn't quite get the idea of questions.  Then it was the firefighters' turn to ask questions.  My favorite, which completely stumped the kids:

"What's the number to 911?"

Seriously, they did a great job of explaining what they do, and showing off some of their equipment.  They talked with the kids about what to do if they see a fire or if their house is on fire, and how they shouldn't be scared of the firemen, and if they see a fireman, to go TO him, not to run away, and so on.

I took a ton of photos, and I'm sharing some of my favorites here.

Thanks, Gwinnett County Emergency Services!  This was an awesome party!

(WHM also went to a party yesterday, but Mick didn't take any photos.  Apparently the party was much smaller, and Mick said it was nice -- but I had the camera!)

Firefighter Corey pulling on his suit.

Party guest CAM paying rapt attention.

continuing to suit up ...

Once Firefighter Corey was all suited up, the kids got to come listen to him talk through his mask and feel his suit and stuff.  This is CAM ("Hipppity") hopping back to her chair after she talked with Firefighter Corey.

Getting the tour of the bunk room, and listening to the alarm that they use to wake sleeping firefighters.

Paying attention ...

I just love this one.

The whole party gang!

Bucket Brigade Blue Team's Ringer, Miss CAM!

Corn Hole with water balloons.  Awesome!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Birthday Girl...

... on her actual birthday:

Eating a marshmallow.  Check out the dining room table covered in party stuff!

I call this, Mouthful of Marshmallow.  But it makes me smile.