Sunday, November 17, 2013

Laundry Epiphany

I know, I know.  I disappear for weeks on end, and I owe you so many stories, and I come back and I write about laundry?  Laundry?!


You see, in my epic failures with everything lately, I have made one life-saving, life-changing discovery.  And it has to do with laundry.  And as pitiful as that is, it makes me happy and I am running with it!

Because as you know, I'm not keeping up very well with anything these days, laundry most certainly included.

Earlier this school year, I had Epiphany Numero Uno:  A school uniform hamper.  After school, all uniform-related stuff (tights, pants, skirts, socks, shirts, gym pants, sweaters, whatever) goes into one hamper, separate from the "regular" hamper.  (Undies can land wherever, but the rest goes in one bin or the other.)  Then, if I decide to take the week off from laundry, or if I don't get to it until Sunday night, I have one load -- one load -- that must get done, and that's it.  One load, no regard for colors, brights, whites, etc.  One load, some Tide and a Shout Color Catcher, and I am ready for the week.  I can manage putting away one load of laundry, especially when I can bribe myself with the fact that one entire outfit for each kid can get set out on the ironing board to be worn on Monday.  At least twenty percent of that one load of laundry doesn't even have to get put away?!  WIN!

That system has been working like a champ.

And then -- then, my friends, I had Epiphany Numero Two-o.

This one requires a little background.

You see, I long ago gave up on trying to stay on top of laundry during the week.  First of all, our evenings are way too short, and by the time I have time to deal with laundry, I want to go to bed.  Since I wake up at 5:15 every morning and seem to get a headache a day lately, I'm pretty adamant that if I'm tired, I go to bed (well, within reason).  Second of all, it's too much, and it is not efficient to do half-loads of colors, darks, lights, whites, towels each night, which means by default that I wait for some magical threshold of laundry accumulation ... and the result is that laundry time is the weekendThe trouble is that I don't always make it to laundry day on the weekend, and when I don't do laundry frequently enough, I end up with piles you can climb with a sherpa.  That happens a lot, and in Georgia it would mean that I folded laundry while I did marathon tv sessions in the afternoon while WHM napped, or while my sister Courtney and I watched Dexter on Sunday nights.  I don't have that luxury anymore, so something had to give.

Let me explain one more thing: the hard part for me is not "doing laundry," per se.  I am really good at sorting and washing -- except for the occasional last load I forget to rotate from washer to dryer and end up re-washing two days later.  I consider doing the laundry to be something I can have running in the background while I do other stuff.  I have no trouble any day of the week having a load going while I cook, clean, do homework, whatever.  Truly, I am pretty darn good at barreling through the laundry piles.  The trouble comes with folding, because not only do I despise it, and not only do I do it alone, but it takes so. much. time.  And so if I've let it all accumulate enough to where I find myself doing laundry during the week, the folding doesn't happen and I get that sherpa-worthy pile. 

OKay, okay.  You get it.  So what, Jen?

Yes, yes, yes.  My Epiphany.

Sheesh -- I've built it up so much now I'm sure it's anti-climactic.  Oh well.  Here goes:  I alternate what I wash based on speediness of folding!  I know it sounds ridiculous.  And yet, this little (likely obvious) gimmick has changed my life.  I do a load of tedious whites and socks and nonsense, and I follow that with an easy-to-fold load of towels.  I follow that with lights or colors or what-have-you -- a load of laundry with lots of sorting and folding --  and then follow that with sheets.  In short, I'm never still folding one outrageous load when the other comes out of the dryer ... and the alternating two-seconds-worth-of-towel-folding make it feel like I'm making serious progress.

Now you know.

And not just about my laundry epiphany, but about how my life is so sad that this is what excites me!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween.  Mick?  Not so much.  So, for the first few years of our marriage, we didn't do much Halloween celebrating -- except maybe having some beers with neighbors and handing out candy.  Or going to a hockey game.  But then CAM came along, and although Mick wasn't able to celebrate her first Halloween, CAM, my sister, and I all did a "family" costume.  By the time CAM was a year old, Mick was sucked into my world.  We've done a family costume every year.  We've done lobsters and lobstermen (twice, once for each of CAM and WHM's first Halloweens), the Flintstones (twice-- and NAILED it -- as in, could have won serious contests had we entered!), Gru and his minions, Brave (Merida, the king, queen, and triplets), and now this year, we put together a football ensemble.  

It's cold here in Maine.  Check that: it's cold and RAINY here in Maine, so we had to sacrifice some authenticity for warmth.  But here are a few snapshots to whet your appetite.

We've had a very busy few weeks, and I'll be posting more photos this weekend, when I can use blogging as a prize for checking piles of grading off my to-do list.


Mick was going to go as an official as well, but decided to go as a coach instead.  I had a Nick-Saban-esque straw hat in my hand last night and didn't buy it, so I was a bit disappointed.  But it works!  And be sure to check out my awesome yellow penalty flag Mick made me while I was at work today.

I took a few of these, but in this one, WHM's eyes stole the show.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Matching Socks

I hate matching up socks, because it seems to me inevitable that they are spread among various loads of laundry.  Then you get the issues where some socks are just similar enough to be confusing, but not so similar that you wouldn't know you were wearing mis-matched socks.  Or you sent your kids to school with mismatched socks.

So I usually throw all the socks in a big L.L. Bean Boat-and-Tote, and when I get to the point of desperation, I force Mick to dig through for matches.

As you know, CAM goes to private school, and that means knee socks.  Which means that phenomenon of almost-matches.

I'm over it.  Between her knee socks and my trouser socks, it has been a sock nightmare, especially in the dark early-morning hours up here in Maine where we get dressed and head to school in the dark.

But then, I determined a solution.

I took every single pair of socks we own that might be confusing (the ones with a pink or blue HANES stripe on the bottom, or with obvious-to-match ruffles not included), and flattened them out and painted patterns on the feet.

I started with a trip to our local craft store and picked up two of these.  

I folded all the socks over, and in the middles by the arch, I painted.

These are all my trouser socks.  I tried to make the designs less obtrusive, just in case I end up in my stocking feet at work one day.  God help us all if that happens, though!
This is a trial-run pair of CAM's socks.  You can see they are (a) clean-but-dirty, and (b) marked with a Sharpie.  That was my first attempt at sock-matching technique, but the sharpie both looked ugly and faded.  I switched to the paint with great success.

We have polka dots and squigglies and hearts and stars and stripes and zig-zags ... some socks are more like slippers with lots of grippies on the bottom, and others just have little designs for the sake of finding a match more easily.  Either way, now all I need to do to match socks is check that the patterns are the same color and design.

I can do it in poor lighting while I watch tv.  I can ask WHM to do it as a sorting/matching project.  It's mindless for me, but a fun game for the kids.

And now, we have sock-match assurance.

Who's brilliant*?  This kid, that's who!


*Brilliant, anal, it's all the same

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweet As Pie: Strawberry Cupcakes

I'm late.  These are more from Trisha.

Seven (!!) years ago, I was invited to my friend Maci's baby shower.  She knew she was having a girl and this was a proper Southern shower with plenty of pink and, although it was before the days of Pinterest, all the Pinterest-esque things you can imagine.

My life was changed that day, because served at this shower was a strawberry cake.

You see, I had never had a strawberry cake before -- never, ever in my life.

And I LOVE strawberries.

This was some grave egregious oversight, but it was made up immediately with that most amazing, sweet, light, delicious, beautiful cake.

From then on, I was on a quest to make a strawberry cake.

And so I did, a few times, and I eventually found a Paula Deen recipe that was just about perfect.

(I mean, really.  If you need something Southern and decadent, Paula's usually dead-on.)

But last month CAM and I were picking recipes for Sweet As Pie, and we'd seen Trisha's episode where she also makes strawberry (cupcakes, this time) cake for a shower, and we decided we'd try it.

Verdict: Sweet, but not overly so.  Light.  Moist.  Easy to make.
Cook it again:  Absolutely.
Cost Factor: less than $5.

Mick and WHM went on an errand to South Portland today, and CAM and I decided to make these cupcakes, at long last.  The hardest part about this recipe was finding frozen strawberries in syrup.  Who knew that they were so difficult to find?!  Apparently frozen without syrup is what's popular right now ... so the real reason for the delay in making this was laziness in scouting out five -- wait, six, if you count BJ's Club -- different stores until I found the strawberries.

This recipe is very similar to the one I used from Paula, which makes me wonder if it wasn't the kind of thing that was published ages ago in some magazine and then gradually adapted and tweaked by people until they felt it was their own.

It takes a regular box of white cake mix, and a small box of strawberry Jello.  You mix them with some water, oil, and eggs and half a cup of the thawed strawberries, and there's your cake mix.

I used the whisk attachment on my stand mixer, which worked well.  For some reason I almost always use the paddle -- which is totally wrong for a cake, unless the recipe says otherwise.


The batter was really liquid-y and I had all sorts of struggles getting the batter NEATLY into the cupcake pan.  But we worked it out.

They baked up in exactly the 20 minutes the recipe said, which is unusual around here.

These little cupcakes are so simple, so easy, and they are absolutely divine.  Just sweet enough, but not overly so.  Light, but not flaky.  Moist.  Flavorful without being overpowering, which is tricky to do with strawberries.


And best of all?  Easy enough to eat plain.

The recipe called for a glaze that we were supposed to pour over the cupcakes after we stuck holes in them.  That's fine and all, but I wasn't in the mood for sticky.  So I tweaked it to be more of a strawberry buttercream, but it looked gross.  It tasted "meh," but looked awful, so I pitched it.

So far all afternoon we've been devouring the cupcakes just straight up.  You don't even need milk!

I suppose I could pretty them up with some powdered sugar on top, but I'm not sure they will last that long.

This recipe was easy -- literally 40 minutes start to finish, and that's only because I was sloooooow in the kitchen getting ready -- and well worth it in the end.  I'm glad we tried this one, and happy to report it was a success.


Shredded Chicken

Did you know that you can boil up chicken -- boneless, skinless chicken breast, I mean --

and put it in one of these ....

like this, the paddle attachment ...

... and let it go and then end up with this?

I didn't know that until recently.  And look!

I am overjoyed at the thought of never having to pull chicken or pork with two forks again.

This is life changing, y'all.

No more will I buy bone-in chicken and have to pull it apart by hand.  Unless I need to make a broth, I'm all about BSCB.

Life. Changing.


Columbus Day Weekend

I grew up on the eastern end of Long Island, which my brother-in-law has coined "upstate Long Island."  If you know anything about NY's Long Island, you know that as you get out towards the end of the Expressway, it's suburban and then very quickly rural -- all within 90 minutes of The City.

And if you know NOTHING of Long Island, then you more than likely think it's all duplexes like you see on King of Queens, and everyone grew up bffs with Amy Fisher.

While that sounds fascinating, it's wrong.

The East End is also home to the Hamptons -- some of the most expensive real estate on this planet.  And it's worth it, because it's beautiful and quaint and beautiful.  And historic.  And on the ocean.  And beautiful.

Seriously: if I ever am wildly successful (time's running out!) or strike it rich, I will move "right back home."

I put that in quotes because I grew up in one of the last towns before you "hit a Hampton."  And if I strike it rich, I'm moving to an actual Hampton.  Actually, scratch that, I'm moving out past the Hamptons, towards Montauk.  Robert Redford went to my church,* but we were actually not wealthy.  In fact, our exit off the LIE was the "alternate route to the Hamptons," as the digital signs used to say every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

In any event, because we lived out where suburbia met rural farmland, we had a wonderful family tradition of going pumpkin picking every Columbus Day weekend.  I don't mean going to some "pumpkin patch" where they've trucked in pumpkins and laid them out in rows.  I mean going to a farm, and walking the rows upon rows, acre after acre, and picking our own pumpkins off the vines.  (And then piling them all on my dad, because it was one price for as many pumpkins as your dad could hold.  I'm not sure, but I think the signs actually said that.)

Two years ago, we were able to tie pumpkin picking in with Mick's cousin Travis' wedding, and the kids got to go pumpkin picking for the first time.  Last year, we were so excited to be in Maine, and thus so much closer to NY and pumpkin picking, but our budget and schedule didn't coincide with heading to NY for that weekend.  And this year, we were going to surprise my parents and come down, but they made plans to go to Florida to visit my sister Courtney.  And then my grandmother had her stroke, and that trip got cancelled ... and so did ours.

All this is to say that instead of going pumpkin picking, we took the weekend to do nothing.  We had grand plans to take the kids apple picking or to go to "pumpkinland" up here, but instead we decided to pretty much do, well, nothing.  Saturday I took the kids to make their craft at Lowe's, and yesterday we took a friend's Flat Stanley around Maine.   We made hot chocolate and strawberry cupcakes and stayed in jammies way too long, and just relaxed all weekend.

It has been glorious!  Today, I graded just enough to get me through tomorrow, and tomorrow I'll grade just enough to get me through Wednesday.

Sometimes, it's nice to just let the world wait.


* at least once, on Christmas Eve.  And he actually talked to my mom.  That's what we get for being chronically late and standing in the back!  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sweet As Pie: Brunswick Stew

You know you're busy when it's your month to pick recipes and you don't even cook those!

We are catching up, though -- slowly -- and first up is Brunswick Stew from September's recipes.

I've shared in the past how CAM and I are huge fans of Trisha Yearwood and her cooking show on Food Network, and the recipes we picked this month came straight from that show.

Jennifer sent out the request for recipes in August, and suggested we try to stick with football-ish/tailgating food for the September menu.  Although Brunswick Stew is definitely not something you can cook while you're tailgating, it's absolutely the kind of thing you can keep on a warmer, and, like chili, come back to all day long.  Mick and I are both self-declared connoisseurs of Brunswick Stew, and thus far Trisha's recipes have been good to us, so this seemed like a natural pick as we entered the glorious time of year known as Football Season.

Jack's Brunswick Stew

Verdict: Not bad!  It makes a lot, and it is a good stew, but it's missing something.
Cook it again:  Yes, but we will probably tinker a bit.
Cost factor:  It's Brunswick Stew, which means pounds of beef, pork, and chicken.  It's not inexpensive, but it makes a good bit.  I'd say $30-ish; but keep in mind that we doubled the recipe and used San Marzano tomatoes, which are costly on their own.

First of all, I have no idea on this earth why I made the decision to double the recipe.  That made an absolute ton of stew.  We have the biggest Dutch oven Le Creuset sells, and we filled it to the top.  Thank goodness we liked the stew!

Second of all, I took absolutely no photos of this.  So please forgive me.  For that error, I will make this post a bit less wordy.

As with most Brunswick stews, there is an abundance of meat.  This recipe called for pork, chicken, and beef.  We boiled those up and then shredded them.  The recipe suggested a food processor, but I actually put it all in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it shredded it perfectly -- as if I had pulled it with a fork.

If you're not familiar with Brunswick Stew, it's not really a chili, but that's probably the closest description to it.  There's a strong tomato base, and in this case we achieved that with canned whole san marzano tomatoes and some ketchup.  I have to say: the addition of the ketchup in this recipe really made the stew tangier than Mick and I prefer, so if I make this again I'd likely half the ketchup and fill the balance with tomato paste.

Another thing we didn't realize was that we actually essentially pureed the potatoes as a thickening agent.  What a cool trick!  It worked well.

The stew was good -- and we've had our occasional bad ones, so we don't say that lightly.  However, it was missing something.  Here's what we settled on:

1.  In the past, the best stews we've had have used smoked meats.  We think some of the undertones of flavor were missing here because the meats were boiled.

2.  There was also some crunch missing.  We think the stew needed more corn, but also we know that other recipes that call for lima beans and okra.  We didn't want to deal with okra, so we went with lima beans.  That helped -- but we used the large ones.  I think the smaller ones -- or butter beans -- would have been a better addition.

3.  Mick prefers his Brunswick Stew a bit spicier.  I don't; I don't want it to be like a chili.  So I thought the spice level was just right on this one, but Mick wanted it to have a little more kick.  I'd say that's a season-to-taste issue, and fixable, to an extent, with adding more black pepper when it's served.  Otherwise, throw in some more spice when you're cooking.

We liked this enough to eat it for four consecutive days ... but we still had gallons we were able to freeze!  That's good news, though, because Brunswick Stew is a big project, and having some available  "on demand" up here in Central Maine where people hear "Brunswick" and think "Naval Base," is not such a bad thing.  We're still on a quest for decent barbecue up here, and having a taste of it in our freezer is a comforting thought.

(Side Note: the idea of a Sonny's in Maine makes my heart stop for a moment every time I think of it.  Alas, the nearest Sonny's is a thousand miles away.  We've found a few mom-and-pops that try (and claim) to be authentic, but even the best local place can't touch Sonny's -- and it's a chain!  There's amaaaaazing local flavor all over the place down South that I won't even get into right now.  Point is, even chain bbq is better than what we've been able to find up here... so the idea of having some Stew in our freezer is a nice comfort!)

Would we make this again?  Yes, but we'd probably research some other recipes and add additional corn and beans and okra; we'd also like to try it again when we can smoke the meats.  But overall, for a relatively quick stew that you can cook entirely in your kitchen, this recipe was definitely a tasty success.


p.s.  I did a quick Google search of "brunswick stew," and came upon this post.  The photo is exactly what a good stew should look like.  I can't attest to the recipe, but check out the pic.

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is a Test Post ... about my HoverCam Presentation

... to see if anyone is actually able to view the HoverCam presentation I gave today.

As I said, please disregard my whininess in the video part.

But otherwise, I'd love your comments and thoughts!

This image is a stock photo from  I'll post my own image asap.

{{{ Update }}}  

The file size is so big, I can't seem to find a (free) third-party site to host it.  We're talking 360 MB.  I'm open to suggestions.  Scribd won't take such a big file, and slideshare is expensive.  

If I use Dropbox here can you get to it?


Hello? Anyone Still Out There?

Hello, dear friends -- if you're still checking in.

I am finally sitting down to blog and am having one of those moments where I have so much to do -- so much to tell you -- that I don't even know where to start.  So, I'm going to be all over the place here, and please bear with me.


First of all -- Mick just came in the room and told me that Adrian Peterson's son just died.  He was essentially beaten to death by another man.  Now, two minutes ago when I sat down to write this, I had no intention of ranting about anything.  But this is bothering me. Until I had kids, I never understood anything about -- or had any tolerance for -- shaken babies and parents who couldn't be parents.  But after two infants, I "understood" -- to use the term loosely -- how it could happen.  The combination of lack of sleep and lack of control and an inability to communicate, and I could "see" how a person could have that primal switch flip and lose it.  By the grace of God, we were not raised that way, that behavior was not what was modeled for us, we are educated enough to know that we can hit a point of pseudo-rage and know we need to back away -- and how to back away, and how to cool off.  And we're not single parents trying to do it all on our own.  But I can, in a very loose sense, understand frustrations and so forth.  I suppose I can understand the triggers and circumstances that could allow for someone to lose it, even if I've never been there.  And let me be clear:  I AM NOT DEFENDING IT.  I am merely saying that I can see how a person not equipped to handle that perfect storm of stress could lose control.

But a two-year-old?  A two-year-old is not an infant.  I think of WHM, who's barely four, and who is so tiny in every way and yet definitely still a little person -- and I do. not. understand.  A two-year-old can walk and talk (at least a little) and is still so helpless!  So fragile!  So innocent and defenseless.

So I am sitting here, and I don't know Adrian Peterson, and there are surely kids all over the place who are sick and dying, but my heart is broken.  Little guy, I will be praying for you tonight.  You didn't deserve that fate.  And Adrian Peterson, you, too.  I can't imagine your heartbreak.


Now, while I'm on that subject, I may as well stick with the sad.  My grandmother, who is 99, had a stroke two weeks ago.  Although she has sort-of recovered, things don't look good.  She's 99, and she's had a long, healthy, good life -- and she has spent nearly 20 years without my grandfather.  I don't harbor some naive view that things will get better.  But at the same time, I look at my parents and cannot imagine one without the other.  And I look and Mick and I think the same thing.  It's a lonely life to spend 20 years without your husband, with grown kids living far away.  So, in some weird way, I am excited for my grandmother.  She's earned this.  I'm glad that it won't be long before she gets to be with Grandpa again.  Remember above, when I said hate wasn't what was modeled for us?  My grandparents were married over 50 years.  My grandfather bought my grandmother this (hideous, we all thought) gold and turquoise (?) pendant of love-birds on a swing, and she wore it every day.  I don't know what they were like with my dad and Aunt growing up, but I know that what I saw as a kid was two people who adored each other.  And I adored them.  I am not ready for my grandmother to go, but I realize -- or so I tell myself -- it's imminent.  And in my own little way, I'm happy for Grandma.  Grandpa's waiting, and I bet he's humming a little song just loud enough to make everyone else a bit crazy, cracking his gum, and getting pretty impatient right about now.  I'm focusing on the happy.

Ugh.  Have to wipe some tears away.


In the meantime, while THAT's been happening in my world, I've been busier at work than I have ever been anywhere, ever.  It's a strange thing to explain, and harder still to explain it without seeming like I am complaining.  And while I have some complaints, there are also some good things.  So, I will save all that for another day, when I can articulate it all a little better.

Today, however, was a professional work day, and for the first time in ages, I have to say it was both useful and cool.  We have a new (interim) principal, and we followed a format where teachers and staff hosted workshops and people got to attend three of their choosing.  I presented two different workshops.  The first I did with my "work bff" Victoria, and we had a pretty great session about Interactive Student Notebooks and Pinterest.  Later in the day, I presented a session about the HoverCam.  If you don't know what a HoverCam is (and why would you, really?!), it's a document camera.  Remember overhead projectors, with the box and the mirror and the big arm and the bulbs that died?  This is an uber-high-tech version of that; it's a video camera, essentially, that runs through your computer and displays in real time.

I'm going to post another post with the video I made for today's session.... other than the fact that my voice is crazy whiny in it, I'd love your thoughts.

And ... that's about it.  I barely scratched the surface of all the news I need to share, but I'm going to commit to coming back and writing more this weekend.


p.s.  We made the brunswick stew from last month's cooking club selection.  I foolishly decided to double the recipe.  I'll post about the recipe separately, but let me say: we'll be eating stew for a while!  :)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First of ALL ...

First of all, I am clearly still working out the kinks of my wacky new work schedule.  Taking over the world takes more time than I realized.  Who knew?!

And then, FIRST OF ALL, I have been -- HAVE BEEN I ASSURE YOU! -- taking countless photos.  And not just selfies.  I've committed to sitting down this weekend and posting like a madwoman.

And then B, I started something kinda cool a few weeks ago.  By pure coincidence, I happened to post pics of CAM and WHM in the morning before I dropped them off at school two mornings in a row.  That got interpreted as "you do this all the time and I love it," so I decided to make that my happy thing, and now every morning I take a picture and share it to Facebook when I leave.  It posts somewhere between the kids' school and my own, and inevitably by lunch I have 15-20 likes.  It makes me smile, this new little "thing," but the best part of all is that it is apparently making a bunch of other folks smile, too.  Even work friends have stopped me in the hallway to comment.  It's fun, and it makes my heart happy.  I'm sticking with it ...

And then B again, work is going well, if remarkably busy.  I'm on new committees this year, I'm teaching an additional class, and I lost my "study hall," which although a duty, really meant an extra period to get stuff done (often enough, anyway).  It's a double-whammy and I'm adjusting.  In the meantime, my students are pretty great for the most part and I'm teaching classes I enjoy.

Before I go, though: is anyone missing any laundry?  I seem to have all of it.

Oh well.  If you're searching for anything, it's all in a big pile in the basement right in front of the dryer. Well, okay, next to it.  But it's all clean and smells pretty.  And might be as tall as I am.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not. Enough. Hours.

Seriously,  I'm contemplating renaming this blog "Failing at Everything."

Okay, maybe not everything ... but it sure feels that way.  I'm about 18 months behind in my cooking club, and I've not posted here in two weeks again ... I don't even know where to carve out the time to get back into the groove.  I'm hoping that it will come -- but I'm going to be honest, friends: for the time being, I just don't see that light at the end of the tunnel.  Of course I know it's there, but I am running crazy at the moment and haven't even really stopped to think about it!

But the important stuff:
the light has been perfect every morning and afternoon for me to really just fall in love with my kids every moment all over again.

I tried to capture some of that today and (shocker--failed!) didn't quite get it, but I did get some snapshots -- inside, of course.

Enjoy.  I can't promise more soon, but I can promise I'm trying.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Tuesday Monday!

Oh my goodness!  Three weeks since I've been here -- that will not do.  We have been even busier than normal in these parts, but it's also been the weird end-of-summer wind-down with bizarre schedules.  Even my best efforts to say on top of things have been trumped by things that had to get done before school started, in between meetings at school and a mini vacation to my parents' -- a vacation whose pictures I hope to share here soon.  In any case, I am back and hoping to get into a better routine now that we're officially in our second week of school.

But before I do any of that, let me tell you about my day today. Normally, this would be a Facebook post, but this is just too much for a status update.

Mick was up and out early, which meant I had the morning by myself.  If you don't already know, WHM now goes to the pre-k at CAM's school, which means I bring them both together in the mornings.

Also, if you don't already know, WHM likes sleep even more much than I do!


Let's start with last night.  Naturally, WHM had not slept through the night last night, so he was in our bed.  I slept on approximately 6 inches of bed and at one point almost fell off.  I separately saw 11:30, 1:28, 2:40, and 3:48 and then 4:45 and then Mick got up at 5.

Mick left at 5:30 and I got up and in the shower.  Got out and started ironing the kids' outfits and my own dress, all of which I had set out last night in an effort to be especially organized this morning.

My dress was stained.  Picked out and ironed a new one and figured out what shoes to wear.  I mean, it's after Labor Day, but our school has no central air and is typically a sweltering oppressive sweatbox. It's awful this time of year, so I picked out some high heel sandals.

I got the kids up and despite getting nearly 11 hours of sleep, all WHM wanted to do was sleep on the couch.  NO breakfast.  NO brushing teeth.  NO getting dressed.

So I got CAM dressed.  Perfectly pressed and ready to go was her uniform jumper for mass.

Despite the fact that it 100% fit when I had her try it on two months ago (I had purchased it big last Fall, so it was just right this Spring), the jumper was a micro-mini this morning.  Not that it mattered; her black school shoes were also too small, and I couldn't send her in the jumper with tennis shoes.  So ... off with the getup, and I went to find and iron a new outfit.

In the meantime, both kids are finally eating and I set out to make the only parts of their lunches that I couldn't pre-make last night: their sandwiches and their drinks.  (Proofing note: I realized here that I am changing tenses in this post.  I'm sorry. Bear with me.)

Bread's moldy.


Fortunately, we had a bag of hot dog buns on the counter.  Guess what, kids?! Fun sandwiches today!

We get to school, finally, and I make it through the day.  It was miserably humid in the building, but the day was pretty decent... except for not being able to log in to the network to use my document camera in the classrooms I float into.  Yet another joy of pushing a cart: technology has to reliably work in five different classrooms, not just one.

I pick up the kids, and what are the first words out of CAM's mouth as she is exiting the building with her class and sees me waiting?  She yells, "I LOST MY CUP!"

It's okay.  It was only a $15 thermos and with a custom name band that I can only buy in batches of four for $20, plus shipping.  And oh, right, today's the first day you've used it.

This is karma -- or some sort of limit on possessions CAM can have at one time -- because the headband my parents gave her for Christmas, the houndstooth one my mom paid more than anyone should ever pay for a headband, and which CAM lost promptly in January?  Yeah, we found that last night.

Also missing from CAM's person:  her hair clip.

The kid looks like a disaster.

Naturally, we head to run some errands.  Because I mean, if you're going, go big.

First, we stopped at the Post Office.  We were greeted by a scribbed sign on the locked door: "Be right back."  Have you ever watched My Cousin Vinny, where the "whole store gets the flu?"  Well, the whole staff of the post office would be right back.  Thing was, I needed to send something Priority Mail, and there were no Priority Mail envelopes in the lobby.  So, seeing only me in the lobby and finishing with the one customer, the clerk let me in.  At first, the kids wanted to stay in the lobby, but I insisted they come in with me.  I started to address the envelope and the clerk disappeared into the back to "load the truck."  As you can imagine, the lobby started to fill.  The "be right back" sign was still there, the door was still locked, but there we were -- three sweaty redheads, behind glass doors, clearly IN the post office.  The lobby crowd grew, and grew, and eventually the entirety of GrumpyTown was out there shooting me death stares.  Sheesh, people!  As if I locked MYSELF in the post office?!  (I'd at least have left the two hyper kids in the lobby!)

So we left, and off we went to Shaw's.  We were the loudest family there by far.  And by far, I mean they probably heard us at the next closest Shaw's.  Also, CAM was walking around with messy disaster hair, chocolate pudding on her face, and both shoes untied.

Lovely mess we were.

On our way home, CAM's dance studio called to say they have had to close the Monday class that we need to be able to juggle my own meetings and CAM's baton twirling.  The only other appropriate sessions are ones we absolutely cannot make work with my schedule.  CAM loves dance more than anything, so I've now got to find a new studio, which I think is probably a blessing and a curse.

But finally, we got home.  I had promised the kids we'd make tacos for Taco Tuesday.  Despite taking the meat from the freezer and putting it in the fridge yesterday MORNING, it's still frozen solid.

At least we have groceries.

Tonight's delightful, healthy, you-can-totally-tell-we-just-bought-all-sorts-of-real-food-at-Shaw's meal?

Microwaved hot dogs and Kraft mac and cheese with a side of bbq potato chips.  At least they will eat dinner!

I was going to make some waffles tonight so that we could throw them in the toaster and take them with us in the car tomorrow, but you know what?  I'm putting on jammies and cracking a cold one.

And I'd say we have our health, but both WHM and I are sounding ... well, somewhat less than healthy.

Tomorrow will be better!


p.s.  if you think I'm complaining, I'm really not ... if I couldn't laugh at this comedy of errors, I'd be in a world of hurt!

Friday, August 9, 2013


Remember when I said I was a wee bit behind all year?  Well file this under that.

Back in December, Mick was traveling a bit for work and in order to make it work out with my own work schedule and CAM's school schedule, my parents took WHM for a week.

Around that time, it was all the rage at my own school for the students to make paper snowflakes.

What was cool about them was they weren't the folded-and-cut paper that make beautiful lace patterns -- these were three-dimensional!

Naturally, I had to have a student show me what to do, and one night CAM and I stayed up and made a whole bunch of them for the house.

We kept them up until St. Patrick's Day (I mean, it snowed in April here in Maine, so snowflakes were allowed!) and I kept telling myself I'd make a tutorial for the blog for Pinterest so I wouldn't forget how to make them next year.

It only took me 'til mid-August.

But I did it -- and here you go!

Keep in mind this example is just made with computer paper.  It makes a giant snowflake (perfect for hanging in windows), but you could also make smaller ones for a tree, and certainly you could use prettier paper.

If you make these, let me know what you think!


Be sure you don't go all the way across!  
Tip:  If you're not good at eyeballing this, break out a ruler or at least draw yourself a guide so that you stop cutting in roughly the same place each time, and so your strips are roughly the same widths.

Now, pinch together the two cut parts of the center ... 

Tape them together ...

... and turn your square over and repeat with the next set.

 Keep going ...

I used a stapler here and stapled the outsides to each other, but you could also use double-sided tape to make it prettier.


Aren't they pretty in a window?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Food Network, I love you

When I was a kid, before most of my extended family moved to Florida (as all good new Yorkers eventually do, it seems), we used to visit my mom's Aunt Lily and Uncle Joe pretty regularly.  Aunt Lily always had pickles and olives for me, a fabulous doll collection in china cabinets -- I could look, but not touch -- and pound cake.  We never could visit without Aunt Lily having a freshly baked pound cake at the ready.

As you can imagine, there's a soft spot in my heart for pound cake.

Well, Uncle Joe left us a few years ago, but Aunt Lily is still doing great down in Florida, and my sister Courtney had a chance to visit her a few weeks ago.  For some reason, we texted instead of just calling, but in any case, I got to "talk" to Aunt Lily.  I asked Courtney if she'd had any pound cake, and Aunt Lily couldn't believe I remembered it.  (As if it would be possible to forget?!)

Ever since, I've had a hankerin' for some homemade pound cake.

I had no real reference to go on (and why I didn't just ask Aunt Lily, I have no idea ...) so I went to and searched.  I settled on this recipe from Paula Deen.  When in doubt, if you want a good old-fashioned Southern recipe, Paula never fails.  Also it helped that it had 500-something ratings and was still 5 stars. I figured this was pretty well vetted.

The recipe, like a lot of older recipes, calls for vegetable shortening.  I decided to use the equivalent in butter and take my chances.  So, instead of two sticks of butter and a stick of shortening, I used three sticks of butter.  It seemed to bake fine, and it is not overly buttery.  (I don't know if that makes sense, but you know how sometimes you can have a "butter pound cake" and really taste the butter?  Lord only knows how much butter that must take -- because here with three sticks, it's just a moist, dense pound cake but distinctly not a "buttery" cake.)

Even so, with three sticks of butter let the record show that I never said this cake was good for you!

We have been enjoying that for two days now (well, three, now that today's Wednesday), and yesterday CAM and I were watching Food Network (shocking, I know) and Trisha's Southern Kitchen ... and she and her college roommate made a chocolate gravy.

You read that right.  C-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e g-r-a-v-y.

They were serving it over fresh, hot biscuits but mentioned how it would also be good on ice cream or pound cake.


Guess what we had for breakfast today, my friends.

Go ahead and be jealous -- it was totally worth it!

Don't judge my decorating skills.  Also, I took this picture about 30 minutes after we'd all eaten, so the gravy was even thicker and drizzling it all pretty-like was all not-happening-like (mostly because I was too impatient to reheat it).    

But don't be jealous of my food styling.  It looks awful, I know.  But trust me:  deeeeelicious.

I followed the (very simple) recipe and made it with the plain old Nestle baking cocoa I had on hand, but I imagine you could dress it up with a darker chocolate cocoa, or add in some raspberry ... I can think of a bunch of ways to start with this and keep going, but the truth is that it was absolutely delicious just the way I made it -- not too rich, not too sweet -- and I might not change a thing.

Whenever I read a recipe that says calls for "good cocoa," I feel guilty that this is what I have in my pantry.  I am sure need to get whatever the good stuff is ... but in the meantime, this has never failed me.

Not a bad way to start a summer morning!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sweet As Pie: A February Recipe

So ... I'm a bit late.  Wait 'til the next post, though, where I make a recipe from last August!

This was our bonus February recipe, so I'm only six months late.  It's Betty Crocker's Chocolate Raspberry Cobbler.

Hold the phones, because whatever I'm doing, it's not important.

This was two important things:




Now yes, it comes from boxes and cans, and so it's not technically from scratch, but it took almost no time at all to cook.  It's one of those things that would impress a crowd at a cookout or that you could whip up if you had unexpected dinner company, and no one would know just how easy it was.  Either way, I've had the ingredients* on hand, minus the raspberry pie filling, since February.  Our grocery stores are just weird around here, though, and I couldn't find the raspberry pie filling -- and I try at all costs to avoid our local WalMart, which I knew was the one place I was likely to find it.

Finally the other day, I just broke down and was craving something rich.

Something like chocolate.

But not just chocolate.  Something even richer, preferably with a sauce or compote.  Something decadent and unhealthy and that I was not likely to find in the fridge or a local restaurant.

And because Mick loves me, he obliged my otherwise random request to go to WalMart, and he kindly went with my tiny shopping list and found me (as I suspected would happen) the raspberry pie filling.

This was what we had for dinner that night.  (We eat healthy in these parts, I know.  But it's summertime!  We also stay up way too late and sleep equally late and who cares?!)

So, here's the deal:

Raspberry Chocolate Cobbler

Verdict: Oh, so very delicious -- and rich.  Oh, so very rich.
Cook it again:  In a heartbeat.  IF my heart still beats!
Cost factor:  $10, give or take

This recipe is very similar to another one I have from my friend Jenn.  Hers is a cherry crunch that is simple and divine -- and I don't even like cherry stuff, unless they are actual cherries.  I'll share her recipe in another post, but this one is similar in the sense that it's easy and has only a few ingredients.

You need the following:

That's Betty Crocker cookie mix, melted butter, and the elusive raspberry pie filling.  White bread is not part of the recipe... whoops!And the bottle caps are for a craft with CAM.  Sorry for the bizarre extras in this pic!

Not the brand I'm accustomed to, but very tasty.  We had to use two small cans, because they didn't have the larger size the recipe calls for.

You put the raspberry pie filling on the bottom of a baking pan, and cover it with the dry cookie mix.  On top of it, pour melted butter and spread it around.  In retrospect, you could probably use less than the full packet of cookie mix, but we had no complaints. 

Throw it in the oven and bake until it's ready.

That's it.

If I were a food stylist I'd probably add a mint leaf or something, or a raspberry drizzle in that open space on the left.  But I'm not, so I didn't.  Didn't affect the taste one bit!

We served ours with ice cream and every one of us went back for seconds.  We had a tiny bit left over, and it reheated really well and was just as delicious on day 2.  It didn't make it to Day 3.


* You know, the cookie mix and a stick of butter.  It was tough, I tell ya.

Sweet As Pie: Pork Chops with Garlic and Wine

When we moved last year, it was almost immediately after we got here that I started work.  As you all know, the entire year I felt behind the 8-ball and never caught up with anything.  (Case in point: the kids still don't have a playroom.  That's my project in the coming days!)  Anyway, it didn't take long for me to also fall behind in my cooking club responsibilities.  I'm trying to make up for that now that the bar exam is over, and I don't have to tell myself that I'm procrastinating if I spend the afternoon cooking.  It feels so good to be back cooking -- and eating!

This was a recipe that actually wasn't too delinquent.  It's from July, and it is a Pioneer Woman recipe from her blog.

Here you go ...

Pioneer Woman Pork Chops with Garlic and Wine

Verdict:  Very good, but not quite what I expected.
Cook it again: Probably ... it would have to be a weekend or an "open" weeknight without activities
Cost factor: Pork chops typically go on sale.  The rest of it all we keep on hand.

This is an easy recipe, but it was surprisingly time consuming.  Be prepared to stand at the stove for about an hour.  Actually, that's not that time consuming.  But you can't really multitask very well with this one, so it wouldn't be an ideal weeknight recipe for us.

First, peel 18 garlic cloves.

Do you see the size of these cloves?  Monstrous!
For some reason we had the biggest non-elephant garlic I've ever seen, so I counted a few double and didn't peel 18 cloves.

Also, if you don't have one of these and you cook with garlic a lot, you need one.  It's a stainless steel "bar of soap," and you wash your hands with it.  The smell of garlic magically disappears.  It's amazing.

But back to the recipe.  Then you sear your salted-and-peppered pork chops.  Thank goodness for Bobby Flay -- because of him, I know that your food will tell you when it's done.  The hardest part of cooking is waiting, and the more you mess with it, the worse it is.  I think I've grown a lot in terms of being patient and letting the food cook without checking it 99 times.  (Wow!  There's a teaching analogy there!  Let's let our kids learn instead of testing them 99 times.  Not to turn a food post into an education rant, of course ...)

See?!  What a pretty sear.  Thanks, Bobby Flay.

Point of fact: I realized after the fact that PW used tenderloin center-cut chops, so hers were boneless.  And hers also were much thinner cuts than ours.  I was very pleased with our chops, but I think if we'd used boneless chops, they'd have all fit in the pan at one time ... which became important at the end of the recipe.
Anyway.  Once all the chops (we had six, and could fit three in the pan at one time) are seared, you set them to the side and brown your garlic and then add your wine.  I think I used a touch too much oil for the searing, so it was a little more liquid-y than I expected at this stage.  Of course you reduce down the wine.  Once it's nice and thick and sauce-y the recipe says to add beef broth and set the pork chops all back in the pan so they are "swimming" in the sauce.

Again, so pretty!

I hate this part about recipes.  It took me two full pan-fuls to get all the pork seared.  How am I supposed to get the pork chops all in the pan swimming in a half cup of sauce?  The chops are supposed to finish cooking at this point, so I was afraid that if I didn't have them "swimming," they'd dry out and be undercooked.  So I said "oh well," poured in about a cup and a half of the beef broth, which meant that the chops were swimming, but my sauce just never thickened back up the way it was supposed to.

No worries.  It wasn't the prettiest plate ever, but it was a really tasty meal -- especially so since it's been about a week since I cooked a real meal, and I miss that.  I think if the sauce had been thicker, it might have been richer (it was diluted by the beef broth, of course).  But the pork stayed moist, the sauce was flavorful, the whole garlic cloves were tasty and not overpowering, and the wine had cooked off nicely -- something that always worries me.

I paired it with potatoes I'd tossed in light olive oil and then roasted with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and grape tomatoes I roasted with salt and pepper.  They don't much go together (or, for that matter, make a pretty plate photo), but man -- they were delicious!  In retrospect, I think the plate would have benefitted from a green -- maybe, as Pioneer Woman suggests, a crispy green salad.