Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#34 He Deals with Angry Cooking

Looking at the picture below, you might not believe when I tell you that just 20 minutes prior the scene of my stove top was quite different. Extremely different. It was much less serene, the calm glow of the snowman was not present, and most importantly, it was not at all a place of cleanliness.

(Please ignore the water burns that have not been cleaned for weeks....okay, months...)

After having not cooked for four, let's be honest, five days....I figured there was no escaping cooking dinner tonight. Therefore, I was going after a Pioneer Woman recipe that I had been avoiding for weeks due to the length of cook time: 3 1/2 hours.

Ah, Perfect Pot Roast, why must you take so dreadfully long to cook to perfection? Yes, that was the question that plagued my mind every time I thought about how delicious it would be to surprise my husband with a Perfect Pot Roast for supper.

But after days of feeding my face with Christmas cookies, chocolates, and fast food stops here and there, upon returning home from purchasing half-priced wrapping paper for next year, I rushed into my home, headed straight to the kitchen, pulled out the roast to dethaw, and began at it.

In all honesty, it was the simplest recipe possible. So, I truly cannot blame Pioneer Woman for my disastrously angry cooking behavior.

1) Heat oil until extremely hot (that sounds safe enough)
2a) Throw halved onions into the hot mess for a few minutes
2b) Take out onions without burning yourself
3a) Throw tons of carrots into the hot mess for a few minutes
3b) Take carrots out either by burning yourself because there are so many rolly pieces or by moving like a granny in order to not burn yourself. (One look at my singed right hand and I'm sure you know what choice I made).
4a) Take the three pound chuck roast and throw him into the oil.

4b) Oh yeah, then flip him over after a minute or two.

4c) Then take him out of the pot.

Okay, another burn on my wrist later and we're halfway there.

This is the point where my husband heard me screaming and saw the white clouds of flavored smells filling the entire first floor of our house. He came into the kitchen, opened the window, then looked at me and asked the dreaded question, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I proceeded to give him a list of things clearly beyond his human capacity to accomplish. Things that involved going back in time, possessing magic powers, and being an all knowing being.

He did say 'anything'.

The next part of the recipe involved boiling beef stock, then throwing that fat bugger of a pot roast and his vegetable friends back into the pot, covering it all with more beef stock and putting it in the oven to cook for three hours.

(My pot roast waiting patiently to go in the oven).

This is when I realized I had no tin foil to cover the pot. Of course, I wouldn't be in this situation in the first place if I had a proper pot for oven cooking. But, after almost five years of marriage I still haven't become inspired enough to go out and buy a pot truly made, lid and all, for oven cooking.

Fortunately for my husband he was enraptured by 'Call of Duty'. (Occasionally, I do thank God for PS3 games). I'm sure all he heard me say, in my polite Alice in Wonderland type voice, was: "Oh dear, we are out of tin foil. Could you be a darling and run and get some when you have a minute?". When in reality it was much more like a senseless spew of screams much like that of Cruella DeVil when she yells out, "Get me those puppies!". Yet just instead of puppies it was tin foil.

He went out to Acme, I changed into clothes more suitable for angry cooking, and life was beautiful. The lesson? When you haven't cooked in days, don't rush into cooking...and go with cooking something that doesn't involve hot oil, a three pound hunk of beef, and tin foil.

Lucky for me, it came out deliciously. We were rolling out of our chairs when we finished.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

#33 He Loves Christmas for Me

My Top Ten List of Christmas Favorites

It's hard for me to put all my Christmas emotions into words that don't sound like a mushed jumble of children screaming and teenage girlishness. So, I've composed a top ten list of things that make my Christmas complete.


#1. Classic Christmas Movies.

There is something to be said for movies of the past. They just happen to be great. Greater than anything made today, in spite of all our fancy technology and capabilities. The movie industry just cannot seem to top classics like: "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "White Christmas", "A Christmas Carol", and of course, "It's a Wonderful Life". Christmas isn't complete without them. If you haven't seen any of those titles go buy them today and watch them before the Yuletide season is gone.

#2. Teacher Gifts.

Teachers can be big complainers. Last year, I got probably every complaining teacher's dream. For Christmas, the class all chipped in together to get me a gift card. I got one or two little presents, but that was it. And while I was stunned by and greatly appreciated the gift, at the end of the day I missed the wild assortment of typical teacher gifts. So, this year when I received a plethora of gifts of all shapes and sizes from my class, I was overcome with an abundance of joy and happiness that still hasn't gone away.

#3. Nostalgic Decorations

This is a sight that may not be seen for many more Christmases at my mother's house.

Stockings decorated in puffy paint, hand print ornaments, candy canes made into reindeer....bottle it all up. Store it away in your memory bank. Because this Christmas I was informed that when either one of my brothers or I have a baby, all the decorations with our names on them go out the window to be replaced by the grand kids.

I'm just not ready for that.

#4. Giving Gifts

I love to give. There is nothing quite as exciting on Christmas as watching the face of someone you love as they open a gift you know they are going to love. I'll tell you one thing I have grown to hate though. The dreaded Christmas list. I can't stand buying off a dull list. I try my best to find gifts that aren't of the ordinary. Gifts that really are the person I'm giving to, but aren't something they expected.

#5. Christmas Eve.

This is my mom's Christmas tree.

This is what it looks like on Christmas Eve night.

Christmas Eve night is my family's Christmas. That's right. We open every single present on Christmas Eve. It's pretty awesome. I've never known that experience most children have of waking up as early as possible Christmas morning to open presents.

Nope. I've slept in late and enjoyed knowing what my gifts were while the comfort of my bed surrounded me on Christmas morning.

Yes, I truly love my family's traditions.

#6. Revisiting Old Talents

Another tradition of Christmas Eve that I love is shared with my younger brother, Joel. Usually last minute, we throw together a fun variety show to perform for my family on Christmas Eve (before we open our presents). It's just feel good fun that makes Christmas more than just eating and opening gifts. This year, we sang a Frank and Nancy Sinatra song as part of our program. This entailed me picking up my guitar, which I haven't played in ten years, and making it work as our accompaniment.

My finger tips were yelling at me before the night was over.

#7. Christmas Cookies.

What makes a Christmas cookie a Christmas cookie? That it's made at Christmas? I'm not sure, but there is something delightful about Christmas cookies. Even the ones that are dry and taste like cardboard. They decorate a table just like ornaments decorate a Christmas tree. They are a conversation starter and a glimpse into different people's traditions. My husband had me participate in a cookie exchange at his work this year. The above picture was the turnout from the other participants. Not a single duplicate cookie.

#8. Homemade Gifts.

I'm not sure if there is anything that spells love better than a gift that took time, thought, and talent. You can't get a homemade gift off a list, you can't get free shipping on a homemade gift, and you certainly can't just go to the nearest mall for it. The greatest part is that if the receiver is a kindred spirit, you have just warmed their heart with your efforts. Sadly, there are those who will not recognize a homemade gift for it's worth, but me, I treasure them.

#9. My Kissing Ball.

My husband hates Christmas decorating. Hates it. With a passion. Now, he isn't such a Grinch that he won't help me at all. He will help me carry the boxes down from the attic, and he will put the lights on the tree, but that's it.

However, this kissing ball was one decoration that he bought years ago with a passionate "I have to have this" look about him.

And so, I love it too.

#10. The Savior of the World is Here.

Are any more words necessary?

I will just say, Christmas songs are a great way to remind us of this. My favorite is "O Holy Night", specifically this part:

"Fall on your knees,
Oh hear the angel voices,
Oh night, divine,
Oh night, when Christ was born"

Merry Christmas one and all!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

#32 He Doesn't Like Deep Fried Turkey

Our Thanksgiving turkey for quite some time was cooked in the traditional format, in the oven. In those days, our eyes were blinded to the depth of possibilities in goodness that a turkey could have. Now, we feast on two birds.

I said it, two.

The traditional weighs in at at least 22-pounds, and don't get me wrong, I still love it. There is nothing quite like ripping a piece of roasted turkey off the bone as it drips with natural juice sent straight from heaven.

The deep fried turkey weighs in at a measly 13-pounds only because the deep fryer can't hold more. I'll try, but mere words do not work quite as well as the look on one's face and the sounds that are made after sampling a piece of deep fried turkey.

If a deep fried turkey is foreign to you, and the words do not make a symphony begin to instantly play as your heart starts to palpitate, my heart has just broken for you a little.

I'm not quite sure what sight could be lovelier than that.

Our deep fried turkey is Cajun injected. That means that aside from just being deep fried (which honestly, is awesome enough) it is injected (literally, like with a plastic needle and everything) with Cajun seasonings, and then my dad also coats it the night before in a Cajun rub.

Let not this word "Cajun" worry you. While it can be a little on the spicily flavorful side, it is not overpowering at all. In fact, the meat is made juicier than one could imagine possible. As a dark meat lover, I never eat white meat because I find it dry and boring, but from the deep fryer, I allow white meat upon my plate.

And, (hands over your eyes if you are a health freak) the skin is the absolute best part. Perfect crispness with delightful taste oozing from corner to corner.

My dad used to have to go outside to fry our turkey for the dreaded fear of fire. But last year, I found the bargain of all bargains that has made his life, and mine, full of deep fried enchantment.

While at my local Acme, my husband and I stumbled upon an electric turkey deep fryer that could be used indoors. We were stunned, flabbergasted in fact. Of course there are the tiny deep fryers that can be used indoor to fry things like french fries, chicken tenders, onion rings, hot wings....

(Do you think we do this often? Perhaps, every Fry-day? Seriously, we do.)

...but an electric deep fryer big enough to fry a 13-pound turkey and able to be used inside? We thought it was unheard of. Then we looked at the price and thought we were insane. $30.

After pulling my phone out to check the price online we realized that this fryer was going for about $110 everywhere else.

(Fortunately for you, I've found it today on Amazon.com and it is only $84.98:)

The fryer was instantly purchased (instantly, because it was the only one there and clearly anyone who had walked by this deal before us had taken leave of their senses momentarily). Life has not been quite the same since.

At our weekly "Fry-day" my dad will fry up hot wings in this fryer and we will sing praises for the goodness of flavor that fills our mouths.

But Thanksgiving is our deep fryers true time to shine. To those who are leery, you must try it at least once in your life. If for some reason you decide it is not heaven on earth as I claim, you may sit on the side of the table with my husband, otherwise known as the side reserved for wimps and health freaks.

And then that just means there is more deliciousness for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#31 He is Thankful

In the days leading to Thanksgiving excitement begins to burst from within me in such a way that I cannot contain myself from bubbling over in nonsense chatter like a four-year-old excited about being able to spell the word cat. But the question always comes up: Why? Why does a 20-something person get so excited for these holidays...to the point that Christmas music is playing in the beginning of November while claims are still being made that Thanksgiving is the best?

My original answer always sounded something like this: I love Thanksgiving because, it is the start of the holiday season, and because, you know, the parade, the excitement, the turkey, all the other food, getting together with family, being thankful for things, and so on.

Deep down I knew what I was trying to say in my jumble of stereotypical holiday lingo, however, I never really knew how to phrase it.

I have been brought up in very fortunate surroundings. For many, the holidays mean more pressure, more work, fights, spoiled brats, and little or no appreciation. These people have to go into the holidays with a penciled-in-smile on their face and come out of the holidays saying how wonderful everything was when in reality they spent most of the day at odds with those they love.

For others, the holidays are all about one person, ME. All this person cares about is the bottom line—What is in it for ME? What gifts will I be getting? The rest doesn’t matter, they could walk by dozens of manger scenes and hear continuous carols played but the bottom line of the holidays for them is always of selfish concerns.

As I reflect on my life, I remember that the holidays hold many of my treasured memories, and perhaps this is why I hold them so dear.

I used to always claim Christmas as my favorite holiday because, of course---it’s Christmas! But when I really thought about it, I found Thanksgiving to truly be my favorite holiday. It’s like preparing for a wedding. The wedding day isn’t the only exciting thing about a wedding. The engagement, the preparation, the bridal shower, the rehearsal, these things added together brings about the excitement for a wedding.

The ultimate excitement does come to a climax on Christmas day, but the events surrounding Christmas, to me, are full of the most holiday cheer.

If someone were to swipe away all my Thanksgiving traditions and leave me merely with the ability to celebrate with a turkey dinner, but nothing else, the day would be ruined. You see, the day isn’t built around just some meal. My love and excitement for the day goes to times shared and memories made. Sometimes these memories are traditions like eating a breakfast composed of all desserts, or watching the Macy’s parade snuggled up on the couch, or “helping” dad carve the turkey by picking at juicy pieces hanging loose. And then, sometimes these memories are impromptu surprises, like going to the movies after the meal with my older brother, or going out with my dad to look at a Corvette that I desperately wanted to buy. (And I did!) The day is full of excitement and anticipation, and best of all everyone is home and together. And once the day ends, we all know the excitement won’t go away because it has only just begun.

Thanksgiving marks the start of more traditions, more family times, more coziness and comfort. So often we view these holidays as just what they are: Thanksgiving equals turkey, Christmas equals presents. But they are so much more. The holidays are memories waiting to be made. They are times to put this crazy life on hold, times to give rather than to receive, times to snuggle up with ones you love while gazing at a beautifully lit tree with or without presents under it.

So simple, yet, so often we get it all wrong. We allow the holidays to take our spirit rather than to give it to us. We allow the holidays to become an excuse to be ungrateful rather than content. We complain that we have children to shop for, meals to cook, and family to visit.

But what if we didn't? Every complaint we make could become a statement of grief if the things we complain about so often weren't there to complain about.

Think about it.

So here is to starting this holiday season with excitement and hope. Here is to sharing traditions, both old and new, with those you love. And most importantly, here is to holidays that are rich and full of childlike emotions that are hard to express but wonderful to experience and take part in.

For all the things we have, may the Lord make us truly grateful.

Monday, October 31, 2011

#30 He Doesn't Say, "Boo"

I love fall. I love fall with so much of a passion one would think I should actually move somewhere where there is less spring and summer and a whole lot more of fall and winter. But New Jersey beckons and I answer her call.

There is something wonderful that fills the air the minute fall is in season. You may recognize it as the something wonderful of cooler air, colorful leaves, and delicious yummies that can only be enjoyed at this time of year. But I recognize it as the starting point for what I am secretly anticipating with childish giddiness: Christmas.

And while this is my underlying excitement for the season of fall, I still do enjoy all that fall brings and would never wish to rush it past. In fact, Thanksgiving has always been dubbed my favorite holiday (but more to come about that another time).

Yet, with as much as I love the fall, I have never been able to get into Halloween. Perhaps it is because I was raised with Christian values and therefore my family didn't celebrate Halloween, but rather "Harvest". The problem there is that unless you are a farmer, you don't really understand what you are celebrating when the adults tell you, "No, we don't celebrate Halloween, we celebrate Harvest time". So. You're telling me we are celebrating the gathering of crops? But, we're not going to go gather any crops? Okay.

Or perhaps it was just the fact that I look completely ridiculous in any kind of contraption that is composed of 99% spandex, 1% itchy material, a cape, and a few patches randomly sewn on that guise me as whatever is currently "in" to pretend to be for one night.

Needless to say, I still do not celebrate Halloween. In fact, this was my first year even carving a pumpkin.

(My pumpkin: day and night).

For the last two years I managed to find somewhere else that I had to be on Halloween night so that I didn't have to be in the house as the earlier trick-or-treaters (you know, the ones who go out so early that they don't realize your porch light is not on) came to my door and waited in anticipation for no one to greet their knocks. Yet this year, I had no where else to go and needed to start supper for a husband who would be home within an hour or so. Therefore I had to ready myself to ignore. I sat three rooms away as my screen door creaked open and ignored. I heard the pitiful rapping on my door and ignored. As they waited, tried again, and then slowly let the screen door creak back shut, I ignored.

Don't judge me.

When we were married and first moved into a home of our very own, the first Halloween I thought, "Well, perhaps I should try this whole give-out-candy-to-kids-I-don't-know thing."

Once was enough. There are two, nay, three reasons why I could never keep such ridiculousness up every year.

#1. I guess I'm a little lazy, or perhaps I'm worried about my heating bill, but it is a little silly to keep opening and shutting my front door all night long just to toss a few pieces of candy outside.

#2. Kids (and their parents) are darn greedy. They come with high expectations, not a single thank you on their lips, and some come about five or six years too late to still be expecting candy.

#3 Call me a penny pincher (I've been called worse by my brothers) but, why am I buying candy for children I have never seen before in my life and who fall under reason #2? Why? Because it's Halloween?

So, think what you may about me, but more than likely, next Halloween I'll be doing the same thing. Hiding in the most distant room from the front door and ignoring what seems to be a slight tapping in order to protect my heating bill, my food budget, and my peace of mind.

(Hubby carved the whole world.
He is pretty awesome.
This picture is pretty horrible).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

#29 He Hates a Nagging Wife

Unfortunately, the words nag and woman seem to be synonymous. No one ever instantly pictures a man when they reminisce on someone who at some time has persistently nagged them to do something. One might even think that nagging is something all women are born with, an unavoidable part of them, something they are doomed to from the start, similar to the menstrual cycle.

Some men can deal with it, others run from it like the plague, and still others rebel against it. My husband is the latter. I learned within the first few months of our marriage that if I wanted something done or if I felt the need to remind him of something he was supposed to do, nagging would guarantee that it would not happen.

Nagging is a habit that is nurtured. We have the ability to turn it on and to turn it off. I've chosen to leave mine turned off.

In doing so, I myself feel less frustrated because I don't say the same thing over and over and over again, I learn how to creatively ask my husband to do the things I want done, and I learn to express to him that I will not remind him again about doing the things he wants done.

Something I have wanted done for probably two years now, and has been a thorn in my side ever since, lies with a simple, but important, kitchen appliance: the microwave. Our microwave is a mondo microwave. It is the type of microwave you expect to be in an office break room, a coffee house, or in the "19 Kids and Counting" family's home. It is much larger than necessary and only came into our possession because of the stupidity of Lance's first college roommate (not a story worth repeating for the sake of all parties involved).

The trouble that began to occur was that this mondo microwave would blow a circuit no matter what when plugged into the outlet closest to it. It got to the point that we had to pull out this hose sized extension cord and drag it across the room (to the only other outlet) in order to use the microwave. We'd unplug it and roll it up whenever the microwave was not in use to spare any person crossing through the kitchen from the possibility of tripping over it and falling to death by extension cord.

Then I got this thought. Couldn't we put a shelf over the stove (where the other outlet was) and then have the microwave right near the outlet we'd been constantly having to connect it to? It would be a win win situation because not only would the inconvenience of the cord be gone, but also, I'd have about six by three feet of space back.

Original set up of mondo micro:
(I had to use this picture from my last post because I didn't decide to write about this until the original set up had already been dismantled. Therefore, skeleton feet are included.)

Finally, it happened. We went to Lowe's to get a rod so that these cutesy curtains I'd made could be put in place to hide the disgust that is a kitchen trashcan. Then, without any suggestion from me (honestly!) my husband went and also picked up the materials he'd need to make my life in the kitchen heaven.
(Note: He also added a hook so that my awesome apron could hang all by itself looking loverly).

The final product:
I was pretty much in love all over again.

This new wonderfulness brought about another need for me: what to do with that empty space where the microwave once stood. My husband feels that less is more. Without me, he'd be one of those bachelors living in a condo that has two pieces of awesome, yet simple furniture in each room. Minimalism. That's great, but I'm a woman. We like our trinkets, our baskets, and our signs (Yes, in fact, I do want you to 'Always Kiss me Goodnight' in fact, every night.)

The spot where the microwave was:
The yellow mini-hutch (one of my top 3 favorite pieces of furniture we own)
went into the dining room causing the dining room to be completely transformed:
(And, he hung those two stars up for me that night too!)

Without my nagging for something to be done, I feel like he always goes above and beyond whatever it is I want to happen. Maybe the whole nagging thing works for some couples, for men who need their woman to remind them constantly about things, but what I would recommend to all, naggers and non-naggers, is to consider your tone. That's always been the beginning of my downfall. While when you want something done you may consider it to be earth shatteringly important, others will not always recognize it as that. Therefore, don't speak to them as if they should see things like you do. Calm reminders, peaceful observations, and creative conversation are all ways to get what you want done without nagging.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#28 He Doesn't Mind Getting Old

It has finally happened. I celebrated my very last birthday ever. Last year, I was clueless, blinded by the joy that reaching a memorable age like 25 brings.

Okay, that's not true.

I anticipated this birthday even last year, but I pretended that it would never come. It's rather pathetic, I know. It's especially hard to moan and groan about my age when most people I might moan and groan to are older than me. Much older than me.

However, here is the problem: I've been lied to.

Going through high school you're told that all you need to do is go to college and then enjoy life in your field which you spent a mere four years preparing for. The unfortunate thing that they never tell you is that many will not know what they really want to do and may not be able to grasp it instantly. It will take trial and error, and lots and lots of sweat and tears (I left the blood part out on purpose, so far that hasn't happened to me).

You're expected at 17-years-old to make choices that will impact the rest of your life. But, no one ever tells you that you may not fit into the perfect cookie cutter shaped career world that many ease right into.

Turning 26 reminded me that there is a lot that at 17 I expected to have accomplished by now, but haven't.

I walked into my home at midnight on my birthday, overwhelmed with emotion, tired and ready to climb into bed and pull the covers over my head so the next year could just go on and pass me by, when I walked into a surprise left by my little brother (with the assistance of his girlfriend and my older brother):

(Notes leading into my home)

(Not sure the deal with the skeletons, but it made for an interesting picture).

Knowing the anxiety I was feeling, he went to extreme efforts to try and make me feel special. It took a few days for it to sink in, but I realized: maybe I haven't done everything I hoped and dreamed I'd do by 26, but I've done a few things right. I've been a good sister, daughter, wife, and simply put: woman. I've been there for those who needed me. I've done my best at showing love to those who are unlovable. I've been supportive and understanding. I've grown spiritually. I've listened to others. I've built friendships.

I've loved and been loved.

Sappy? Yes. And yes, in some sense I'm not where 17-year-old me thought I'd be by 26, but in many respects, I'm right on track.

Here's to the hope of what good I can continue to do this year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#27 He Realizes We Aren't Prepared

"How is it that we only have one flashlight?"

There lies the thought that passed through my mind two days before Hurricane Irene's arrival as I scoured nooks, crannies, and the depths of my home in search for flashlights I was certain that I owned.

Ordinarily, I could care less to listen to or get worked up over the weather man's predictions. Most times I could look out my window and make a similarly accurate prediction myself, with no meteorological training. But as the Irene warnings began to escalate, I found my own predictive sense working even stronger as I convinced myself that if Irene hit, my house would certainly lose power.

Which it did.

However, today's writing is not about Hurricane Irene, weathermen, or the fact that I was without electricity for 26 hours. It is about one thing: preparedness. Days before there was even a build up of chatter about Irene, a greater portion of the east coast experienced something which I have never once felt in my 20-something years: an earthquake.

(Side note: Why don't we give earthquakes cutesy names like hurricanes? Are they less important? Let's call this one Earthquake Virginia to make her feel good.)

The stories are endless of the reactions of those in areas that hardly ever feel earthquakes, especially those of a 5.8 magnitude. Some thought they were going crazy, some thought it was the wind, some thought their houses were collapsing from age, some thought their cubicle partner was shaking his or her leg, but what many found themselves thinking as they realized that what was occurring was more than any of the above is something like this, "If this is an earthquake, what am I supposed to do?" And after all was said and done, I couldn't get rid of the thought that I had no idea what to do.

As Hurricane Irene approached, there were those who were forced to evacuate from areas that would obviously receive the worst, yet people in areas that would receive less of an impact still worried of what to do. Miles and miles of stores were cleaned out of items ranging from batteries to flashlights to camping lanterns to bottled water to vegetables.

(Pictured: Walmart sold out of fresh vegetables.)

I don't know if I was more shocked in the number of people, myself included, who didn't have things on hand that one might consider a necessary household item (such as a flashlight), or if I was more shocked in how fearful and helpless many became when they realized something damaging may occur.

We take a lot of our daily conveniences for granted to a point that when the possibility of being without them occurs, we panic. Not because we won't survive, but because we will be without something we have trained ourselves to need. I'll often complain about the overload of technology our society has, but after 26 hours without those things I found myself desperate for them.

I guess what it comes down to is this: Are we prepared should we ever have to experience a time where we are stripped of something more than just our electrical power? Are we prepared should natural or unnatural disaster occur leaving us to fend for ourselves permanently without the aide of cellphones, television, a GPS, Google, MapQuest, Facebook, etc.

Just the thought of this might send some into spasms.

(Pictured: A line at my local Dunkin' Donuts the morning following Hurricane Irene.)

I don't know the solution for this. I just know that in our society we have chosen to depend greatly on things that will not protect us should any form of disaster come. We put our trust in things that will fail us and practice poor planning consistently. We fail to learn from the consequences of man's choices made in the past and doom ourselves to repeat them.

I have no bright and cheery ending, only just a warning. Don't fool yourself. Consider what you would truthfully do without our modern conveniences for a day, a week, a month, even longer. While I'm not saying to avoid these things that make our lives so simple and wonderful, I am hoping that we at least stay educated in how to survive without them.

Try one of these:

*Go somewhere you've never been without using your GPS (that means you'll have to use a real map)
*Go a week without social networking and instead call up old friends on the phone (or send them a letter via snail mail!)
*Don't text for a week (instead make a phone call)
*Use a phone book next time you need the number for a food place or professional service (wait, you do still have a phone book, don't you?)

And while I'm no survival expert, some things you certainly could do to practice preparedness include:

*Buy gold (a lot of gold)
*Stock up at least a month's worth of dry foods/canned goods
*Arm yourself
*Educate yourself (that means, read)

Monday, August 22, 2011

#26 He Listens to My Grandmother

My grandmother is famously known to base most of her decisions on either what she sees on TV or hears from someone who appears of a snobbishly rich status. This usually leads to a lot of nonsense and comical conversation which include the eventual realization from her that the famous person she is basing her choice on is in fact not the originator of whatever it is that they are currently promoting.

However, (ah, however) occasionally she makes a decision that proves in the end to be worth all the status quo hullabaloo that my family is forced to listen to quite frequently.

After my grandfather passed away in 2005, my husband and I started to take my grandmother to Atlantic City every so often. She would reminisce about going with my grandfather and how they would always follow the same dining routine: lunch at Pickles in Bally's Casino and then dinner picked up at the Columbus General Store on their way back home. Yet, she would also mention a little restaurant that they always passed, one which he would never take her to. My grandfather was very set in his ways, and unchangeable, unless it was his choice to be changed. Thus, he seldom gave in to such bizarre suggestions as going to a different restaurant.

How my grandmother knew of the restaurant is quite another story. One involving gangsters, a girlfriend, and the desert. Her memory of wanting to go and never being given the chance led us to stop there one night on our way home from Atlantic City.

Thank you Gram.

Without her wacky desires and fantasies of glamour, I never would know the goodness that is Joe Italian's Maplewood Inn. It is quite the opposite of glamour, however, I assume the person who once told her of it must have herself been rather glamorous to have convinced my grandmother to want to go there. Perhaps. The atmosphere and decor produce an instant homey feel with the restaurant seating probably no more than 150 people tops (and that's counting the bar). There are two rooms with sit down tables, however, it is very tight. Arriving exactly at dinner time is not a good choice, unless you like squishing behind those who are sitting comfortably at the bar as you wait for a table to clear.

Personally, I don't mind. I tend to grow extremely tired of only having chain restaurants available as a decent choice for a dinner out. Nothing against them, but I'd much rather have something exclusive to my area, which doesn't sacrifice price or flavor for being so.

Dinner always starts with salad tossed in their house dressing which is perfect. Alongside comes a loaf of fresh bread, still warm, and slices of garlic bread.

If you're feeding me before I've put in my order, you are automatically a winner in my book. But remember, a winner with flavor.

I cannot order anything but the Chicken Parmigiana here. I've tried, honest I have. I ordered Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo a few times and it was a perfect blend of creaminess, pasta, and veggies, but I have always had to return to the Chicken Parmigiana for one reason: they pound this bad boy ridiculously thin. It is so thin you might almost think for a second that they thought you ordered the veal. But you didn't. The breading is crisp, the cheese is evenly spread, and the sauce is fresh and sweet. I always get their homemade pasta on the side, but you can pick from an assortment of other sides if you are crazy and don't like pasta.

(I got so hungry I forgot to take a picture of my plate when it was beautiful, but the above picture will have to suffice. It comes from my husband's plate and yes, those are french fries hiding in the back).

My husband usually gets "The Fisherman's Delight" which includes an assortment of fish: lobster, king crab, clams, scallops, and shrimp served kettle style. The first time he ordered this was the first time I tried scallops. From that day of I dubbed scallops the filet mignon of fish. Can there be anything better?

Dessert at Joe's is, of course, to die for. Just don't order a cappuccino to go with your tiramisu or you might have to wait for a while (especially if it is a busy night). All their desserts are homemade and complete perfection.

The cost is probably what will make it or break it for most people. My husband's Fisherman's Delight costs $26.99 which is fair for all that fish. My Chicken Parmigiania comes in at $16.99. This really isn't horrible. If we look over at a chain restaurant like Olive Garden (who, yes, I do love despite that they are a chain and despite that people swear that they are not true Italian food) they are serving the same meal for $13.95. So it's $3.04 cheaper there. Just remember that the cooks in the back of Olive Garden aren't lovingly pounding your chicken paper thin. No, they are pulling it from a bulk bag that says, "Chicken Parm" on it and then throwing it into the oven.
(*Note: I do not know this for a fact, but one can only assume...)

In respects to a true Italian meal, Joe Italiano's is where it's at. Cost, flavor, and location all taken into consideration, it wouldn't take a trip to Atlantic City to get me to drive the 45 minutes from my house to eat here on any given night of the week.

Again, thank you Gram.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#25 He Tells Me I've Accomplished Something

My basking in the sunshine of freedom has found its demise; I have finally returned to work. It is with great delight that I reminisce on my summer as I share what I have accomplished.

Truth be told, at one point I did feel as though I had accomplished not a lick of what I had set out to do. Try as I might, I never could get a solid summer schedule working. Each day was so different from the next because of other commitments that I could never sit down and decide on a set schedule. I tried to occasionally set a daily schedule--an hour doing this, an hour doing that, but let's face it, there were no demands forcing me to do this and that. I had no deadline except my final day of summer vacation which, when summer began, felt miles away. And a deadline felt so not summer-y.

After all, my summer off wasn't supposed to stress me out. It was supposed to be a chance to do things I couldn't do during the school year, and to complete tasks that had been put off. So the philosophy I soon took on was that as long as I was not sitting around twiddling my thumbs as I stared at the TV or sleeping poolside, I was ahead of the game.

Since I love bullets, here is my bulleted list of my accomplishments, notice that most, if not all, of them are not throw your hat in the air and hoot and holler kind of accomplishments, but they still are something to be proud of.
  • I Read.
One would think as not only a teacher, but a writer and lover of books that I would read all the time. Sadly, it just is not so. This summer I hoped to eliminate that truth about myself. I read four books, all completely different, and am in the middle of three (Don't worry I'm not crazy, this can be explained). Not fantastic, but a start.

I finished off Little Women which I say with red cheeks that I started in December '10. I read through The Giver in two days to remind myself of the story. I have always moaned that I wish I lived in a society that gave out careers as they are given in The Giver, and my husband always points out the lack of freedom that such a society would have. This I know, but feel life would be so much simpler if we all grew up knowing what career was destined for each of us.

I read The Beginners Guide to Chickens because I bought it two years ago when I first decided I wanted chickens and was tired of seeing it propped up between my bed and nightstand. And finally, I read SuperFreakanomics per my husband's suggestion. It'a pretty good book if you want to be enlightened about statistical craziness that occurs in the world around you.

Now, the three books I am in the middle of. Each night I have been reading little by little The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx. It's not exactly a book that requires to be read cover to cover without interruption and it provides a good laugh here and there. Second, I started Dante's Inferno that my older brother loaned me probably over a year ago. (Hopefully he won't remember that I still have it...shhh, don't tell!) The problem is that I either get spooked out or get tired from flipping back and forth from the text to the end notes that I don't have the umph to continue on without breaking for a day, week, or month. Lastly, I started reading 1, 2, 3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Discipline Pre-K Through Grade 8 towards the end of summer. I have been reading it here and there as I take an occasional break in putting my classroom together before the start of school. So far it has been pretty good despite two typos I caught in the text (This is not exactly something that someone who WANTS to be published wants to see when reading something that someone else ALREADY has had published.
  • I Wrote.
My full intention for how to spend the summer was to put all my efforts into rewriting a book I completed a little under a year ago. In essence, it is my memoir of growing up with a brother who has Down syndrome. After opening the continued gift of rejection letters, I decided that it was time to change the book around, drastically. This required an entire rewrite cover to cover. I felt a little like a failure as the beginning weeks of summer passed and I still hadn't found my start. Everything I wrote felt forced or too happy go lucky. In the mean time, I worked on a children's Christmas story that I began last Christmas and when writer's block took hold of that story I then wrote another totally different children's book. This one I sent to eight publishers and have gotten my rejection from two. Here's hoping to hear back from all eight. It was probably a little over a month into summer that I got my inspiration for improving my memoir and then finally began attacking the original document with full force. I'm about a third of the way towards completion.

(Pictured: My desk mid-creative process).
  • I Cleaned.
This was one of the first things I did in my days off and it never ended. It is extremely hard for me to do anything else if there is a mess lingering in the next room. Somehow deep inside as I try to get something else done I know the mess is there and it takes over all of my attention. It was when my husband commented that he hadn't washed a single dish since my summer vacation began that I knew I was doing extremely good.
  • I Cooked.
In addition to writing, cooking was one of my top priorities. I've already mentioned my obsessions to The Pioneer Woman Cooks and The Farmer's Almanac Everyday Cookbook, but there were so many many others involved in the cooking madness--websites like allrecipes.com and foodnetwork.com included.

Some Of My Favorites:

*Tex-Mex Chicken: A simple simple slow cooker recipe. It was basically chicken, salsa, corn, and black beans mixed together and cooked four hours on high, then poured over white rice. Yum!
*Pesto Sauce: Paired with everything...to, die, for.
*Pineapple Coffee Cake
*Perfect Chili
*Chocolate Sheet Cake: This is heaven spread thin. I don't even have words for how wonderful this was, but if you ask my thighs they might have an answer for you.
*Knock You Naked Brownies (pictured below)

The Stinkers:

*Dinner Pasta Salad: Slow cooker recipe gone bad! Italian seasoning and pasta sauce cooked on low do not blend into anything but a bland irritation.
*Peanut Butter Cup Cake: Bland and boring.
*Easy Cranberry Chicken: My first disappointment from the Farmer's Almanac. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't amazing like all the others.
*Soft Pretzels: Not horrible, but I could have just made bread and dipped it in salt. The next time I'm thinking about getting down and dirty and coating them in butter and then pan frying them after baking---to give it an Auntie Anne's type feel.

Last, I've been working on perfecting my own pizza pie. I'm doing my best to model off of the holiness that is Kate and Al's pizza, but I haven't gotten it quite right yet. I'm almost there though, I can feel it.
  • I Exercised.
Last summer, my husband and I attempted to complete the workout course titled, "Insanity". Unfortunately, the only insane thing I've discovered about that program and any type of exercise is that it is nearly impossible to keep up while working full-time and keeping two additional part-time incomes. Let's face it, exercise is the last thing I really want
to do at the end of the day. But despite the excuses, I need it. So after the first week off, I had the time, so I began taking walks everyday.

While walking one day I watched as a girl jogged at the slowest pace ever and then realized the beauty that is jogging. I've always avoided running like the plague. After about three seconds I'm dripping in sweat, gulping for air, and pretty sure that I will expire if I continued any longer. Perhaps it is just the over achiever in me that didn't realize there was an in between to walking and running named jogging. I started jogging for about a mile and then walking another mile everyday. The problem I'm facing now is that I desperately want to keep it up, but now would have to get up extra early to do it before work, or give up relaxing in the evening to do it at night.

  • I Played.
  • There are only two things I could ever do and be 100% passionate about. Writing (about things I want to write about) and music.Marriage, a new home, yearly job changes, and just about any other excuse I can think of kept me from keeping that passion occurring in my daily routine. By the middle of summer, I dusted off my violin and began chugging away at exercises that eventually made my wrist sore as a subtle reminder that yes, I had indeed been away too too long. By the third or fourth day of practice, I was close to my usual strength and intend to keep at it hoping to eventually audition for a chair in a local orchestra.
  • I Day-tripped.
Don't think I've forgotten about my list of inexpensive fun things to do (see post under June titled "He Lets Me Have The Summer 'Off'".) Not only did I get all the above done, but I managed to do 9 out of 23 things on my list.

* A Day at the Beach
*A Night at the Beach
--I Got to experience my first ever room service. Totally in love with it.
* Picnic at the park
--Done on one of my first days off with hubby.
* Go to the Local Farmer's Market
--Just about every week! We were stocked with local produce throughout the summer.
* A Day at the Pool
--Let's face it this should really be "Days at the Pool". My grandmother has a nice in
ground pool which I visited frequently (*note, only after I had accomplished a lot
already in that day.)
* Shopping
* Farm Fairs
* Festivals
--A rodeo counts right? Totally an out of the ordinary, yet fun experience.
* Go to see Fireworks
(Philly as the sun sets before fireworks come on the Fourth of July)

Of course, there were things that I wanted to do from my list but didn't get to, but only a few. The ones I wish I had done were: Grounds for Sculpture, the Freehold Racetrack, and NYC. Don't worry for me though, I'm sure I will get there eventually.

Overall, in retrospect of my time spent at home I have to say I loved it. (But, you knew that already didn't you?) I guess after years and years being just a housewife might get boring, but being a housewife my way I don't think could ever get boring.

Friday, August 5, 2011

#24 He Recognizes True Pain and Perseveres Through

While writing and later reflecting on my post of the continuous transformation of character I face with my hunger demon, I couldn't help feeling how absurd it truly was. I feel I may have presented it as an affliction, and by affliction I mean something that pains me, something I suffer from. And while it may be true that this may be a psychotic issue I have that I cannot resolve (after all, someone's mood being affected to a point where they go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde can perhaps only be labeled as psychotic, or chemically unbalanced at the least), please know for sure I suffer from nothing. I have no pain in my life.

A few years ago I wrote this as a reminder to myself of a true lesson of pain and perseverance. Enjoy!

Having your wisdom teeth pulled is not usually a time in a person’s life when they are given a great epiphany. Yet, for me, that whole horrible experience provided a new outlook on appreciating the simple capabilities that we possess.

By my second day of recovery, I began to realize how easily the ability to chew food is taken for granted. I soon grew frustrated with the fact my stomach was never full, aggravated with the limited selection of food: ice cream, yogurt, and mashed potatoes, and restless with each inconsistent night’s sleep. It didn’t take long for me to begin feeling a lot of pity on myself and start singing that all too familiar tune, “Whoa is me!” Yet, while my flesh was aching and screaming out how unfair this pain was, I could not completely meditate on these feelings without the thought of my Aunt Linda, who endured cancer of the tongue and throat. Within a year of being diagnosed, she was unable to speak or eat. She had to be fed through a tube and had to write down anything she wanted to say.

During my oral recovery, I was on the couch more than 75 percent of the day. I skipped Sunday morning church, avoided two dinners at my parent’s house due to not wanting to smell food I could not eat, and cooked one pathetic meal for my husband. This may seem normal and acceptable. Most people do not expect someone in pain to be serving others, or to give of themselves in the least. Yet when I reflect on this time, I am surrounded with constant shame of my self-pity and drama over my short loss of the ability to chew food, sleep through an entire night, and have a face that is not in constant pain.

Even while my aunt was experiencing the worst of her cancer, even days before she passed away, she was constantly moving, constantly serving her husband and those around her. She had to be rushed to the hospital many times because of blood loss, yet days later she’d be home baking cookies or home-made bread for her husband to take to work. She died right before Easter of 2008, yet had plans to cook a feast for her husband and children. She felt much more pain than I ever experienced, yet did not let it get her down. It did not change her character. She did not allow self-pity into her mind.

She had to endure smelling food she could not eat and writing down words she could not say, but she never complained. It would have been so easy for her to tell her husband that she couldn’t cook for him and didn’t want him to eat anywhere near her. No one would have looked down on her either if she had chosen to lie around on the couch all day.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of taking the easy way out, of making your problems bigger than they are. Think about the healthy wife who refuses to cook for her husband because she, ‘just doesn’t feel like it’, or the healthy husband who uses a sick day to lie around the house and milk a mild cold. Think about when we complain because it is left-over night and old spaghetti is on the menu, or when we avoid talking on the phone with someone we can’t stand. If all our abilities were taken away, we’d give anything just to be able to serve our husband and cook him a meal, just to be able to work one more day at our job, just to be able to eat a left-over meal or just to talk to someone we can’t stand.

Aunt Linda was a true inspiration of what it means to persevere and endure. Although I am far from being like her, I aim to have half the strength that she possessed. I want to look at every hard circumstance I am faced with and see the good I can bring from it. Each day I want to recognize the simple abilities I have been given such as my health, the ability to talk, the ability to eat, the fact that I have two arms and two legs; and never take them for granted. I want to see pain as an obstacle for me to overcome, not something that I will allow to overcome me. I want to greet each day thanking God for another chance at life, another chance to make a difference in the world and try my best to be an imprint of Aunt Linda for all to see.