Thursday, July 28, 2011

#22 He Talks Politics

I have to put up with a lot of political conversations with my husband. I admit, he also has to put up with a lot of conversations about shoes, purses, and farms, but here is the one major difference: Most of his political conversations spark to mind when it is already an hour past bedtime and I am lying in bed ready to be out.

Does your spouse do this? If so, you feel my pain.

But I have to give him credit. While half of our nation (let's face it, more than half) is bantering about political issues that they clearly have no knowledge or education on, he educates himself. Instead of looking like an idiot talking about a topic he clearly is only basing his opinion on according to what the news, his favorite celebrity, or his family tells him, he instead subscribes to newsletters and reads an outrageous number of books on subjects that would make me want to either fall asleep or knock my head against the wall until I'm granted a concussion.

But, despite the midnight conversations on topics I have to speculate answers for, I love that this is his passion. I love that he cares about the state of our nation enough to have a strong standpoint.

Occasionally, there is a topic I can contribute to in a more educated fashion, my personal favorite being public education. (The word 'favorite' here can go many ways. Interestingly enough, sometimes, it also means despised).

Recently he forwarded this article to me (and was super excited to discuss it):

The writer of this article is amazed that college students are constantly complaining about having "too much to read". He later discovers this really means, "I can't read these books". After his research, the realization of the writer is that because schools took phonics instruction out and based reading on whole word recognition, students were reaching fourth grade and only able to recognize 1,600 words. This number 1,600 did not reach any higher as the students went through their high school years. Therefore, teachers were either having to teach words, through whole word recognition again, or dumb down their subject matter.

However, a phonics-trained student by fourth grade could recognize 24,000 words. (That is 15 times the amount the whole word students learned).

Today the public school can't seem to get their act together in regards to the subject of Reading. Some schools have gone back to phonics instruction, others stick to the whole word recognition, while other schools will do a little of both. One would think after years and years of a public school system being around we could decide on the best option, right?

Here is part of the conclusion of the article which can't be written any better:

"To cover up all the failure, everything was dumbed down and bureaucratic displacement took over. More and more money was thrown at education, not to solve the underlying problem, but rather to hide the problem from everyone."

The major problem in the education system is that there are these suits over in Washington who think they know what is best for education, yet they have not a clue of what goes into actually teaching children. Because the government controls public education, the schools must do what the government dictates to them. Even if it is not for the best of the students.

If you think this topic of Reading is bad, you must watch the documentary titled, "Waiting for Superman". I say must, because you must. If you haven't seen it and want to see how truly messed up things are---get it this minute, this second.

(See how helpful I am? All you need to do is click this little link :)

Buy it. Because chances are, you are going to want to share it with someone in this country after you watch it.

The movie covers the public education system in a fantastic way as the viewer travels along with five children who are in a lottery to gain entrance into different charter schools. Because of the failing public schools (at least in the areas these children lived in) they feel the charter school is their only option for success.

Charter schools are fairly new. From what I've seen of them, some work, some don't. They are still public schools, but are supposed to be better. The problem is that in some areas they remain of the same quality as public school, or worse.

There are four main reasons I have a problem with public schools. I believe all but one are addressed in the movie.

1. (Most) Children Aren't Learning (What They Should Be Learning)

Whamo! This one takes up about 75% of my problem with public schools. If students were coming out of our school system better educated my last three points wouldn't bother me so.
I could throw statistics at you to show why children aren't learning, but seriously just watch the movie. There are overwhelming amounts of research that point to the fact that our public education is failing our students. (Again, suits trying to dictate what should be done is not the answer).
This past April, while I was at my doctor's for a check up, my doc shared with me a story about a man she knew who was starting a charter school. He was doing everything he could to raise money for the school and couldn't get any kind of support in America. He went to China to ask an acquaintance for money and he was more than generous. The man couldn't understand why someone in China would give support for an American school, especially so much more than Americans. When asked why, the benefactor replied that America owed China so much he was hoping that his investment would help to better educate the American children so that when they grew up and went into the working world they would be able to control their money (and pay their debts).
Note: There are some excellent public school teachers who are doing their jobs to the fullest. Unfortunately, when one looks at the education of our population as a whole, clearly, the population of great teachers has dwindled. And why? See #4.

2. The Rising Number of Classified Students

While it's true that the number of classified students is rising, the question is, do all these
students really need to be classified? Ask this to a child study team member and they will go up in arms about how they do everything to ensure the students who are classified truly need the help they are receiving. They'll explain to you that without the pull-out instruction or in-class support that these students would just be mixed in and forgotten.
Okay, some of our kids need classification. Clearly those who have disabilities like Autism and Down syndrome need to be placed in skills classes where they can get the best attention. But students who just "have a hard time concentrating"? I'm sorry, tell me if those kids were cut any slack in the 70s.
I'll tell you the answer, they weren't. We've gotten into this habit of trying to make excuses for children for why they aren't succeeding when perhaps the problem is that we are consistently dumbing things down, lowering our expectations, and getting little or no support at home. In turn with this comes the thought in some schools where a teacher can't say 'no' to a child when they have given the wrong answer. (No, I'm not kidding).

3. Teachers and Administration are Overpaid

Public School Teacher: Starting salary: $48,000/per year
Median salary: $57,000/ per year

Public School Principal: Starting salary: $82,000/per year
Median salary: $105,000/per year

(*These salaries are based on my local school district)

This makes me just want to puke my guts out. Seriously. I hate to put it in such a disgusting manner, but that is literally how I feel. Please remember something very important about the public school teacher: they get a solid two months (and then some) off in the summer. They have a week off for Christmas, a week off for spring break, every patriotic holiday and every random holiday that won't offend the religious make-up of their school. So, in essence, they work, probably, truly, only nine months a year, and make what many hard working, or even harder working, Americans make for a solid year of work (where they only are granted 2-4 weeks vacation total).

Want to hear the really gross part? Despite all this, most teachers and administration making this obnoxious amount of money complain about it each year. Not only do they complain about it verbally among one another, but they complain right in your face each year with their "Vote Yes" signs encouraging you to vote for the school budget. Sure, they'll tell you that the school budget saves and adds jobs, but it also guarantees that this glorious pay scale will not change.

4. Tenure
I honestly don't even want to talk about this one. The fact that after working three-four years somewhere you could become untouchable is absurd. Again, watch the movie. One spot shows videotape of high school teachers going into the classroom reading newspapers and doing anything and everything but teaching. When it was brought to the administration, they were horrified and the big guy fired all the teachers caught on film. The next day they all were brought back because they could not be fired due to their tenure.

Do you think if my husband tried that at his accounting job that they would keep him around
very long? His job security relies on one thing: his work ethic. If someone comes around who can
do his job faster and better he'll be laid off before he knows what hit him. But in the public school
all you need to do is serve a few years and then you are granted security for life. Security that will keep you from being fired even if you choose to be horrible at your job. Security that will continue awarding you pay raises and summers off. Security where you would have to go out of your mind and do something like sexual assault in order to be fired.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If we do not educate ourselves about things that go on around us daily and do not realize the truth that hides behind something as simple as a "Say Yes" sign on the corner of our street, we may be blindly allowing things that should not be happening to go on. I do not hope to tell anyone what they should think about matters like this, but would hope that if you do or if you don't have an opinion on it already that you would:

1. read the article, and search for more
2. get the movie and watch it.

My issues lie in the system. We can change the system, but must first realize the problems within the system, and educate others on it.

"A genius is precisely a man who defies all schools and rules, who deviates from the traditional roads of routine and opens up new paths through land inaccessible before. A genius is always a teacher, never a pupil; he is always self-made."
Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#21 He Loves Me In Spite of Me

Yesterday I made homemade mac and cheese and roasted corn salad. I've decided that after trying two or three different homemade mac and cheeses, mac and cheese was meant to be eaten from the box. It is easier and while it might contain artificial flavors and preservatives, I'm thinking it also might have less fat (considering I dump cupfuls of milk and bars of butter into my homemade mac and cheese).

But, the roasted corn salad was to die for. A lot in the prep work, but a delicious treat in the end. It is one of those foods that you can snack on at 2 in the afternoon and not feel completely guilty and then want to jump on the treadmill for hours on end, or until you crash, whichever comes first.

But today is not about my delicious food (although, it does look delicious, doesn't it?). It is about how despite experiencing my kitchen rage as he walked through the front door to a kitchen temping at around 95 degrees, a fire alarm going off as smoke from who knows where appeared, and a wife with that look of don't-you-dare-speak-to-me, my husband still chose to love me and take me somewhere I really wanted to go after the temp had gone down, the smoke had cleared, the wife was more pleasant, and the dinner had been devoured.

The Farm Fair.

My secret desire in life is to one day own a farm. Looking at me, you'd probably never know it. In fact, after my confessions about animals, you'd probably never even suspect it to be possible. But, there it is. Something about farms and farm animals is so fantastically exciting to me that I want to order a year subscription to the Progressive Farmer, browse through farm equipment, and wear plaid shirts all day long.

The farm fair recently was relocated to a mile down the road from my house, so clearly there was no excuse for me not to go.

While a lot of people from around the area come mainly to ride the colorful death traps, snack on $4 containers of fries and $15 mugs of soda, and then perhaps stroll over to look at the things that cause the fair to be labelled a "farm" fair, I head straight to those areas to walk around with my head in the clouds.

Should tractors not excite me this much?

This is going to be quite boring for those of you who could care less about farming, however, it might just be a little entertaining to follow along as I plot out my animal journey at the farm fair and discuss what aspects I want for my farm.

Chickens, first of all, are a must. In fact I am in the process of dreaming about building my very own backyard chicken coop at my present dwelling. I figure, if I can survive the chickens then I should be able to survive the farm. (A true farmer may find this to be complete nonsense).

My girl Amy sent me this link:

and it is totally everything I want. (Admit it, looking at a chicken coop like this makes you want one too!)

However, one animal I decided after the farm fair that I do not want on my farm is sheep. Nothing against the fuzzy creatures, but I'm seeking animals with true food value. Plus, shearing the sheep seems like a heck of a job.
(This fella to the left has been almost completely sheared, yet has been standing in that contraption for a long while. His neck is probably killing him right now).

These poor little guys have no idea what's coming:

Lastly, what is a good farm without some cows and pigs? I was minutes away from watching a milking contest, but the tent was hot, the farmers clearly weren't in a rush,and the cows kept relieving themselves, that it was too much to bear at 9:15 pm with sweaty people crowding all around. (I do have to say, I don't think I've ever so much enjoyed the backside of a cow as when I thought I would get to see one be milked). A pasture of cows is absolutely necessary.

And pigs. Ah, pigs. Who could ask for more?

I sure couldn't.

Monday, July 18, 2011

#20 He Loves His Job

I play cards once a year as I wait for midnight's approach on New Year's Eve.
Throughout the year, I occasionally have a glass of red wine or champagne.

I have nothing against cards or drinking. I do find that both used in excess tend to become hazardous in more than one way. Therefore, personally, I choose not to do either frequently. Because of this I hardly know a straight from a flush or a martini from a margarita.

However, I'm very indifferent concerning both. I like to play cards, but hate to lose. I like to try out an occasional mixed drink, but hate choices. In the end, it is better for me to prefer the ease of red wine and champagne and to stick with cards on New Year's Eve.

Not so with my brother. His recent 21st birthday brought about the desire to celebrate in Atlantic City.

Now, don't knock Atlantic City.

I'm a little tired of people turning their noses up to it. There is a decent boardwalk. The beach is free. Gambling in moderation is fun. Casinos themselves are interesting and entertaining. The shopping options are numerous. The food endless.

P.S. In concerns with food, this must be shared: Harrah's has an awesome little chocolate "bar" called Temptations where, among other things, they sell Crumbs cupcakes (if you do not know what Crumbs is--smack yourself and then Google it). Also, Gold Tooth Gertie's in Wild Wild West has the best ever glazed doughnut. No joke.

So among my brother's Atlantic City birthday ventures were plans to try different drinks and play cards. And, before you go and start thinking my brother is just another 21-year-old partier, just know that my over 75-year-old grandma was also there the entire time.


Even if I read every possible manual about a card game I intended to sit down at, I would still feel completely inept to play. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't mind this awkward feeling and therefore puts himself into that scenario upon occasions when we are in a casino. I much prefer my nickle slots.
(Okay, this one is a penny slot, but it was "I Love Lucy" so I had to play it.)

My husband and brother went to play blackjack. Having just turned 21, the extent of my brother's card game knowledge is clearly limited and unexplored. After the first game, my brother was dealt two aces. Not realizing what this meant for him he said he didn't want anymore cards. As my husband tried to explain to him that he could split since he had two of the same card and now could play two hands, the card dealer arrogantly said something along the lines of, "What are you doing?! You have to take cards!".

Mind you, the table wasn't full. The area wasn't abounding with people itching to take over this table to play. It was just my husband, my brother, and one other player. My husband continued to explain what my brother had in front of him and why he should split, while the dealer continued to speak in a tone of annoyance and intolerance, even after being told it was my brother's first time playing.

The Bar

Like I said before, the whole bar situation makes me uncomfortably stupid. You actually have to know what you want or you are plumb out of luck. So my brother, my husband, my grandmother and I went to The Blue Martini in Bally's together. My husband asked the bartender to recommend something sweet for me and the girl stared blank faced, completely unable to think of a sweet drink recommendation. The lady sitting next to him suggested a Cosmopolitan, to which the bartender said that she thought it was a little sour. She then finally suggested raspberry Vodka with Sprite.

The next day, at The Toga in Caesar's, my brother wanted to have Red Bull mixed with something. Mind you, it's 5:00 pm. There are two bartenders working and a total of five people at the bar, and my brother, his friend and my husband make up three of them. So my brother says to the bartender, "What kind of drinks can you make with Red Bull? Like Red Bull and Vodka..."

The bartender answered, "Red Bull and Vodka".

"Yeah, but should I get it with a flavored Vodka? What can you suggest for me?"

"I wouldn't use flavored Vodka. I can't tell you what to order. I don't even know you, so how can I know what you would like?"

At this point it is clear that my brother likes Red Bull. So this guy has no other options of drinks made with Red Bull? No other options of drinks that taste along the lines of Red Bull and Vodka? Seriously?

Once we tell the bartender that my brother is celebrating his 21st birthday, he loses a little of his impertinent attitude and gets slightly friendlier. Only slightly.

But the manner of this man, the attitude of the dealer, and the lack of choices from the other bartender led me to wonder if these people had ever been approached by customers who were new to the card table or bar scene. While I find it highly unlikely that my brother was the first to sit down in front of them clueless as to what he was doing, even if he was--don't they love their job enough to explain and recommend things to someone interested in partaking in their trade?

Far too many people go about their daily job like these three. It is a day in day out routine and anyone who stumbles in their way that doesn't recognize the routine in subject to the attitude of "Well, duh, it's done like this!". And don't think that the gaming and drink service industry are the only ones who have allowed themselves to act in this manner. Have you ever had a situation where you needed to call the state to ask a question and/or have a matter settled? It is like a different world in the various facets of the state. Ask a question about something concerning you that you don't understand and it is like pulling teeth to get a clear explanation. You have just become the biggest inconvenience to whoever is dealing with you.

I know we all have bad days. But are we so out of tune that we can't recognize that while performing our job, whatever it may be, it is part of our job to give our customers, clients and anyone we come into contact with our complete attention by being informative and helpful? Don't we want the same treatment when we are out of our working zone and in another's?

Perhaps this was just one day where three people all working within 500 feet of one another were having an off day. Possible, yes. Probable, no. The unfortunate reality is that more than likely this is the scenario most places. Unless you are lucky enough to find someone who is totally in love with what they are doing, your experiences will not be filled with birds chirping, fireworks lighting the sky, or warm and fuzzies from head to toe.
But hopefully you who are reading this can make a difference. If you are in a job you don't love, find one you do. But if you love your job and simply can't stand dealing with other people, you might as well dig a hole and hide there. No matter what job you enter, in some way, you will have to work with others. So, get used to it. Choose the job where you can do this best and remember that at some point you are going to be somewhere where you hope the person you are dealing with loves their job as much as you love yours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#19 He Believes

I believe. I believe that God is real. I believe in Jesus who died for my sins. I believe in Matthew 7:7 when it says, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." I believe that God has my best interest at hand.

But I'm human. Or, perhaps I'm just woman. Usually, we women want to have it all under control. We want to know the master plan. And, we will bug out if one aspect of that plan goes astray.

I'm sure men might kind of want to know the plan, but if they have to take some detours they usually can be cool with that.

Not me. Ideally, I want to sit down, plot the plan out, then command it into action. I want what I want when I want it.

But then Jeremiah 29:11 explains that God knows the plans he has for us and that they are:

1. to prosper us
2. not to harm us
3. to give us a hope
4. to give us a future

So, God holds the plan. Not me. That's a little difficult because I want to at least know the plan. I don't have to hold the plan, but I want to know it will sort of turn out like I want it to. I want to know that it will mesh with my deepest desires. But the Bible doesn't tell me that I get to know the plan, the Bible just ensures that it's a good plan.

Psalm 37:4 does enlighten me a little by telling me that I'm going to be happy with the plan: "Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."

(Warning: This is only so long as I delight in the Lord).

But often, I can't help but feel like the father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9. He's asking for pity. Asking if it's possible for Jesus to heal the boy.

And Jesus says to him, "Everything is possible for him who believes."

And here is where I match up perfectly with this man. He doesn't just say, "Well, okay then Lord, I believe!"

Instead he is totally transparent and says to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

See I believe His plan is perfect. I believe that all things work together for good for those that love God. Also, I believe that this man did believe that Jesus could heal his son.

But I also hold unbelief. Not that Jesus isn't who he says he is. Not that God isn't powerful and almighty. But I hold unbelief that it is going to happen in my way and for me. Unbelief that ultimately "it" will turn out anywhere close to how I hoped or planned for "it" to.

Would Jesus heal his son? Will the plan be what I hoped or dreamed?

I can't help but picture Maria from the Sound of Music as she says, "Reverend Mother always says, 'When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.'"

Because God holds the plan he also knows the ultimate outcome. He may shut a door, and you may feel trapped. It's in that moment that I'm usually thinking to myself, "Lord, I believe you have the best plan for me, but I have such unbelief that it will happen (especially considering my circumstances right now with this closed door in my face)."

I sulk. I'm filled with sorrow for the plan that won't be.

Don't do this. Don't be like me. Because there is a window open. If you are focused on the closed door in front of you, you will never see the window open right near by.

Instead, hold firm to the belief that Jesus is who he says he is. Call on him to help you with your unbelief. Strive to believe like the centurion in Matthew 8:8 who said to Jesus, "just say the word, and my servant will be healed."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

#18 He Loves Halo Farm--as anyone in their right mind darn well should.

If you are reading this and have never experienced ice cream, milk, juice, or any other splendor from either Halo Farm itself, or a Halo Pub location, you have not lived.

And by you have not lived, I mean that anything you once considered to be ice cream, now, should be seen as child's play.

Trust me, I know ice cream. Look at my second post and you'll see, I'm just a little bit of an ice cream-aholic. (I assure you, I have not always been this way and I do not blame my parents).

Halo Farm is just so fantastico that it makes me use easy Italian translations of English words like fantastico for fantastic.

First, for all of you who are into "natural" foods--yeah, it's that. They make all their ice cream in small batches, they don't use artificial ingredients or flavors, there are no preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup. That makes me feel good inside, but isn't enough to win me over completely.

Now, those of you just into flavor and taste, it is ohhh so much that and then some! Halo Farm was built in 1975 and their biggest competitor then was Haagen-Dazs. (Ben and Jerry's followed behind in 1978). Because of this they worked in order to develop a taste which was better than Haagen-Dazs and cheaper too. Trust me, they have done it. The taste is beyond belief. Theirs is the only ice cream that I can eat plain chocolate and float away on a cloud of complete satisfaction and happiness. But you don't have to just get plain chocolate. They have ice cream with chocolate chips, with cookies and candies, coffee flavored, with fruit, with nuts, liquor flavored, and even sorbet.

I've always gone right to the source for my stash of Halo Farm goodness--the source being: the farm itself. There you can get 3 pints of ice cream for $5 and a half gallon of milk for under $1.50. You can choose from an assortment of fresh juices and also pick up your bread, butter, and other tasty prepackaged delights that you might have a hankering for. (At the same price or cheaper than the supermarket!) And I must mention the delicious delight in drinking their chocolate milk. In high school, I remember there being this big craze over Wawa's chocolate milk. And then once I saw that Turkey Hill claimed to have "The Best Chocolate Milk". Sorry folks. Halo Farm is It. Drinking their chocolate milk is like drinking a bar of chocolate, Swiss milk chocolate. (Toblerone, I hear you calling). It is so thick that in order to prolong the life of my half gallon, I mix it 50/50 with white milk...without affecting the taste. Yes, life is good.

But it was not until recently that I found another fantastico part of Halo Farm: The Halo Pub. I knew of their existence before and think that I had even been in one as an unaware child, but now, I'm totally addicted. Addicted in like a nicotine way, but I'm thinking it could perhaps be worse. Because the pounds will hit my thighs faster than nicotine could hurt my body, and then it will take years and years to undo the damage I've caused.

Ok, I've just had a minor panic attack.

But it's so worth it. First of all, forget about the fact that the Halo Pub not only serves the ice cream you can get at the Farm, but it also serves sundaes, milkshakes, coffees, soft serve, and their very own hot fudge and caramel. (P.S. The soft serve is less calories and you can get it as frozen yogurt--even less calories. But then again, why would you do that?) These delightful treats are worth the trip to Princeton or Hamilton Square for surely. The one thing I will point out is that you should not buy a pint there. The pints at the Pub are about $3.50...and do the math, they are clearly cheaper at the Farm. But, obviously, there are always emergencies.

The quaint decorative touch is what pulled me in and made me promise right there inside the building to never enter another ice cream establishment again (Yogurt Land, you are yogurt and therefore I will enter your premises again).

After I had constantly squirmed my way out of going to a Pub location with my brother by using the excuse that I knew I could get the same stuff at the Farm; I finally conceded to go to the Hamilton Square location with him.

They had me after I opened the door. This Pub is decked out with all the right accessories to give the feeling of life on the dairy farm. Cow bells and old ice cream scoops dangle from the ceiling, cow shaped milk saucers line a kitchen hutch, an impressive collection of milk jugs decorate a shelf surrounded by rural paintings of life on the farm.

As if it couldn't get any greater than this (what with the abounding old fashioned decor and tasty delights) they also every Saturday in the summer have entertainment from 7:00-10:30. From jazz to folk rock, to rhythm and blues, to blues, to rock and blues, to original folk...yes, I am in love.

Go to Halo Farm or Halo Pub now, before you do anything else. Your life depends on it.

(My brother enjoying his tasty delight with that "I told you so" look on his face. Stinker.

*Ice cream has not been pictured to keep you from salivating all over your computer*

**Information about Halo Farm's history and nutrition is taken from their pamphlet, I am not all knowing.**

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

#17 He Helps with Chili Family Fun Day

As part of a need to fill the desire to be a housewife who cooks and cleans and does everything else all good housewives do (and a little bit part of the guilt of being home all day long while everyone else is laboring intensely at their jobs) last summer, I started Sunday family dinners. Now, having dinner together isn't quite abnormal, in fact most Sundays my family has dinner (really lunch) together. However, we do not do the cooking. We order pizza, Chinese, or sandwiches from somewhere local--and we like that just fine.

But in order to fulfill this good housewife image (and also my underlying Italian heritage by being that woman who cooks and cooks and feeds and feeds) I started Sunday family dinners, hosted by yours truly.

Last year should have been labelled: International Sunday Family Dinners, because each dinner was created around a different nationality.

I started with my own:
Hungarian: Main dishes-Chicken Paprika and Goulash
Italian: Main dishes-Veal Scallopini, Meatballs with homemade gravy
...and then branched out a little further.

My first Sunday dinner for the 2011 summer was this past Sunday (yes, I got to a late start). This dinner was labelled: Chili Family Fun Day. I don't really remember who came up with that title, but it fit, so it stayed. The saddest thing I have to state here is that I did not take pictures of my masterpieces. I am so ashamed and almost did not write about it because of that, but then felt that the world still needed to know about my crazy venture.

To me, the cooking point of these family dinners is to stick with a theme and make as much food humanly possible that fits with that theme without getting too carried away. That's not at all contradictory right?

So I made three types of chili.

I didn't grow up eating chili. In fact, I think the first time I actually ate it was the first time that I made it per my husband's request. Something about beans turns me off. I've never really been a bean person, but I'm slowly learning to accept them.

I had to stick to a very strict time schedule for my food. Because, although it isn't too too hard to make chili, making three types of chili, sides, and dessert can get a bit chaotic when you're the only one in the kitchen.

9:00 am Hearty Beef Chili

Before leaving for church (let's be honest, before even getting dressed for church!) I ran downstairs to brown the beef for my Hearty Beef Chili (recipe from Kraft foods). Once the beef was brown (okay, mostly brown) I drained it, threw it into the slow cooker with an abundance of beans (bleh), salsa, sauce, chili powder, onion, and corn. After it had been mixed around, it was then left to itself for 6 hours.

One chili down, two to go.

12:30ish Back from church--time to scramble

Luckily, I thought ahead the night before and pulled all my dry ingredients out and onto my kitchen table. I then separated them by recipe in order to have less confusion as it came down to game time.

12:45 Cornbread

In hindsight, I realize I probably could have made this one the night before, but in honest confession I have to say I hate old food. I know, the night before---does that really make it old?? But truth be told, it doesn't make it fresh. Of course, it doesn't make it bad either, but this little personal issue of mine is what I blame for the fact that I didn't cook it the night before.
I got this cornbread recipe from "The Old Farmer's Everyday Recipes Almanac"--which is a super awesome cookbook. I got mine for $4.99 inside the Columbus Farmer's Market at the magazine store that sells everything 50% off and I loveee it! (More reasons to come later). The cornbread was, simply put: a perfect basic cornbread.

1:00 Fudgy Brownies

Did you know your slow cooker can make awesomely incredible desserts? Oh, it can. Now if you are a wah-wah who complains over underdone brownies and thinks that molten lava chocolate cake is nasty--this is not for you. This is for real dessert lovers who eat dessert for flavor and not in search of lower calories (and they don't put a tiny slice on their plate and call it a serving).

This recipe I found in Prevention Guide's Slow Cooker magazine which I love even more than any slow cooker book I've found on this earth so far. The most annoying part of this recipe is that you need to boil sugar, cocoa powder, and water to pour on top of your brownie mixture. I'm pretty sure this is what gives it the to-die-for-fudginess, however the multi-tasker in me finds it to be a pain. As I'm throwing my ingredients into the sauce pan to boil, I'm also throwing brownie mix, chocolate pudding mix, chocolate chips, eggs and butter into a bowl to make my brownie batter. Because I do them both at once my boiling concoction always boils too soon and then I'm left to tend to that. (I get it, I could make the mix first and then do the boiling, but for some reason it feels like that would make it longer in the end).

P.S. Serve with vanilla ice cream and everyone at the table will mutter unintelligible combinations of words that declare how good it is.

1:30 Simple Perfect Chili

The fudgy brownies had now been placed in the slow cooker to cook for an hour and a half and now it was time to start the Pioneer Woman's Simple, Perfect Chili. I am in love with the Pioneer Woman. I have her cookbook, I follow her blog, she is simply the quintessential example of what I eventually want my life as a housewife to look like. Her chili is just as easy as the slow cooker chili, but--beanless. (Okay, I have to admit, she has beans listed as optional ingredients, but I for surely did not put beans in mine!) Here is how simple it is: Fry beef, drain fat, throw in tomato sauce, throw in spices, stir, then cook for one hour. After the hour, throw in a mixture of masa (corn flour) and water. Cook a little longer. From her optional ingredients list, I opted to also throw in a can of diced tomatoes and chilies.

1:50 Pineapple Coffee Cake

Herein lies another reason I love the Farmer's Everyday Recipes Almanac. Now, don't get slick and think like the cornbread this was one that I could have done the night before, because it simply wasn't. This cake needs to be served fresh and warm for the full effect. (Okay, if it was my family's second time having it, it might have been okay to have warmed it up in the oven or microwave before serving it).

So easy and so delightful. The crushed pineapples really give the cake an incredible moistness and the topping of brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter will make you never buy another prepackaged coffee cake again.

2:10 Rice

Rice is ridiculously easy, but if I didn't get it on at the right time it could have slowed things up drastically. Luckily, my coffee cake went in on time and I was able to quickly throw the rice on the stove top without any hitch in my schedule.

2:10 Panic

At this point, I began to fear I was running out of time. While I realized I was 2/3 of the way there with my chili, I still had one chili left. One which I had never made before whose recipe claimed it only needed 15 minutes to cook, yet it contained a lot of pepper and onion chopping, therefore I needed a decent hunk of time to chop.

I gently asked my husband to leave his serious business of defending the world through COD:Black Ops (and if you do not know what that is, I envy you) to throw french fries in the oven lest I try to do it and it set me over the top. (By the way, he is awesome because he did it the minute I asked and helped set up even more). While I hadn't felt too much pressure before this point, time was escaping and the room was crowding in around me due to the assortment of spices and containers for ingredients that lay strewn across my kitchen table and the ever increasing heat of an air-condition-less kitchen.

2:15 Veg-Head Three-Bean Chili (Rachael Ray recipe)
This is a Rachael Ray recipe my husband searched out after having a vegetarian chili at a chili cook off and loving it. (Is it ironic that my husband likes vegetarian chili? Not sure about that one).
This chili has red pepper, green pepper, jalapeno pepper, onion, vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, black beans, dark red kidney beans, spicy refried beans, and tons of spices. I thought it would be a lot spicier than it was with the jalapeno pepper, two tablespoons of chili powder, and one tablespoon of cayenne hot pepper sauce, but it wasn't. It was, however, more like a bulked up salsa trying to prove itself to the world. Not quite chili, but definitely yum worthy.

2:30 Hot dogs and cheese
My Veg-Head Chili wasn't quite yet done, but it was time to cook some hot dogs and throw some cheese in a warmer for dinner which would be starting in a half-hour. This marks the simplest thing that I "made" that day.

3:00 Begin Chili Family Fun Day

At this point, most of my family had arrived. After introducing them to the assortment of food, it was time to dig in.

Note: It is best when your guests arrive to make it look, no matter how hard the dinner was to make, that it was done with the greatest of ease. Then when they go home they won't be able to wrap their brains around how it was possible for you to do all that work in only three hours total time and still look so pleasant.

Second Note: As the cook of such a fantastical feast you will be amazed at how little of the awesome food you eat after having been on your feet for so long cooking it.
P.S. This is a good thing!