Friday, December 23, 2016

Attempts at Festivity

Today is our first day of Christmas vacation.  School is closed, the library is closed, and the kids have been guilt-tripping me all year about how we didn't make gingerbread cookies last winter, so today:  Gingerbread cookie day.

They only took three hours to make, are pathetic to behold, and taste like one of my least favorite desserts!

Now, to be fair, I had a certain six-year-old sous chef helping me with the cookies, which explains the three hours and the section of butter wrapper found while cutting out the dough, plus my insistence upon trying a new recipe that includes zesting citrus fruit didn't exactly cut down on the prep time.  

Caedmon likes to use a toothpick to extract every last bit of orange from the zester.  This did not take forever or cause me to age one hundred years while waiting.

Those are the eyes of a kid hopped on the demon gingerbread.  I am, sadly, his dealer.

In other Christmastime news, the little town nearby goes a little crazy over Christmas.  The library I work at is just off Main street in this town, where they plunk a live tree right in the middle of the street,
but also thoughtfully (or perhaps their motivations are more of the legal nature) leave enough space to swerve around it so you can still, you know, drive down Main street.  They also have speakers mounted along Main, and they've been playing Christmas music for the last two weeks.  It is marvelous.


We don't put a tree down our house's main thoroughfare- or even have a live tree, for that matter- but we do have a kitchen pig all decked out, and that has to count for something, right?
Just don't talk to Derek about the pig, okay?  He may or may not have said something about what is clearly a CHRISTMAS WREATH resembling a crown of thorns, instead.  Never mind that this is a pig and Jesus was Jewish.

Although I don't remember reading anything about Jews being at odds with pigs doubling as chefs, so it's probably fine.  I mean, our kitchen pig probably keeps kosher, right?  He's not going to cook or serve up his own kind!  Thank goodness pigs aren't known for being savages who will eat absolutely anything, including other pigs.

P.S.  This post did not end up in a place any of us were expecting.  It is not just you.

Friday, December 9, 2016

So Misunderstood

Last Sunday we awoke to our first real accumulation of snow this season.  It was only a few inches, but it was still enough to excite our children and have Adelaide exclaiming, "Finally!  I was beginning to think we weren't going to get any snow this winter."  It was December 4th.

Because it's December, I've been venturing outside of my usual stores (Aldi, Fareway, and Aldi) to do some Christmas shopping.  This is always a highly entertaining time, because since I'm not used to visiting such a vast array of stores, so many of their contents are a novelty to me.  Behold:
Derek's mom gave me three small, conical foam trees a few years ago, and I'm just now getting to doing something with them, because our children are finally all old enough that I can do things like get out the hot glue gun without fearing for anyone's lives or digits.  I've hot glued pennies all over one (the effect is cooler than it sounds), but what to do with the other two?  I saw these and Hello, Inspiration!  A tree covered in eyeballs!

And another in hair!

Fortunately I walked out of the store with neither eyeballs nor hair, and with the fresh air returned my sanity.  Still looking for ideas as to what to cover those foam trees in, though, if you care to share.  Not strictly opposed to body parts.  (Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Derek reads this.)

In addition to such exotic stores as Target and Hobby Lobby, I'm on Pinterest more often this time of year (Christmas crafting, huzzah!), and for some reason Pinterest seems to be under the mistaken assumption that I'm one of those higher level, crazy-super-healthy eaters, so it keeps grossing me out with "Suggested Pins" like this one.

I mean, really, Pinterest, isn't the fact that I pinned this

and this

and this

 enough of a clue?

Now, I won't be eating all of those in the same week, but make no mistake, I will be eating them.  I'm not interested in your ocean witch's brew, Pinterest, even if it would prolong my life by five (sad and hungry) years.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Do Old Ladies Like Key Chains?

This morning I was going through the house, opening the blinds to let in some sunlight in an attempt to help warm our chilly home.  I pulled a cord, the slats turned, and this little guy was sitting there waiting for me.

I was planning on cutting this hydrangea back all fall, as it's gotten so big and top heavy, but then I got sick and then it got cold out and then I saw this fella and remembered our hydrangea bush is a favorite perch for cardinals every winter.  It's tucked into an outer niche of our house, which means it's somewhat sheltered from the wind, but also means I can look out the above window in the living room and watch the cardinals, or...
... I can go into the front room and spy on them from a different angle.  It seems to stress them out when I go back and forth too much, though, so after snapping a couple pictures I left him alone.  The only thing that would have made this better is to have had a female cardinal in there, too, as I prefer their muted coloring and besides, female solidarity and all that.

Last night Derek's mom very kindly drove down to watch our kiddos for the evening so Derek could take me out for my birthday.  I wanted to eat at a restaurant that has these amazing(ly unhealthy) waffle fry nachos topped with pulled pork and other glorious fixin's, and while yes, those nachos were incredible, our joy was somewhat muted by the fact that we were freezing the entire time we were there.  See, this local chain of restaurants builds decks onto their buildings, then for some exasperating, flummoxing reason encloses the top with a glorified tarp and continues to seat diners there all year.  There are heaters suspended from the ceiling, but as Derek put it, we were eating on a three-season porch during the fourth season.  
Why, yes, we did wear our coats, scarves, and hats throughout the meal, thank you so much for asking!  I took my gloves off because I found manipulating my silverware with them on to be a bit unwieldy.  I was so mad I hadn't worn my long underwear under my jeans, as the draft coming in under the table around my legs was brutal.

This wasn't mere overflow seating, either; we saw numerous open tables as we were led through the (deliciously warm and cozy) dining area to the winter porch.

Jethro's, your food is good, but it is December in Iowa.  Please stop with the deck seating.

Let's see, I have talked about one of my favorite birds, my hydrangeas, and complained about a recent visit to a restaurant.  Although I have tiptoed around it many times before, it would seem that 34 is when I begin my official foray into cranky old-ladyhood.  I am comfortable here.

My next request for our birthday date was to visit the local antique mall (hang on while I search for the expedited application to AARP).  Which we did.  And it was, as usual, glorious.

Derek and I will be celebrating 13 years of marriage next summer, and while I know ten years is Tin and 15 is Crystal, I have a feeling 13 might just be Basket of Heads.  If I'm right, I know exactly where to look!  Thanks, Brass Armadillo!

Really, though, the only thing I came close to purchasing was found in this stall.
Do you see what I see?

The good angel was saying, "Do you really need a muskrat foot key chain?  What about the starving children in China?" but the bad angel was like, "It's your birthday:  Treat Yo Self!"

In the end, I did not bring the muskrat foot key chain home, as it's hard to buy something you're afraid to touch.  But gosh, did my grinchy heart grow three sizes that day.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Away, Off We Go!

Adelaide had her winter vocal concert last night.  I can tell our kids are getting older, as the times of their activities are getting later and later in the evening.  Unfortunately, I am an old lady at heart, so my response almost always elicits an eye roll from Daughter.

"What?  You have to be there at 7:15?  This concert doesn't start until 7:30 PM?  But... but that's so late!  We probably won't get out of there until 8:30!"

*Adelaide rolls eyes, wrestles internally over whether or not she should dignify her mother's histrionics with a response*

*Her mother writes a blog post, shrewdly guessing at Daughter's internal monologue*

*Adelaide reads all this at school, gets yet another chance to roll her eyes at her mother*

And now you're up to the present.

But going back to last night, after Adelaide came downstairs, dressed and ready, Derek kept observing how grown up she looked.  He said this in an unemotional, here-is-a-fact kind of way; this did not stop me from growing increasingly emotional each time he said it until I wailed, "Stop!" because he was right.  She did look grown up.
I purposefully put the above photo at this point in the post, not just to brag about how good-looking my husband and daughter are, but also because Adelaide looks much younger when she's next to her father.  Maybe I should just hog-tie the two together.  (Note to self:  Google "How to hog-tie people together" ASAP.)

We arrived at the concert early, as Adelaide had given us very specific instructions on where she wanted us to sit, and if you want to be in the front two rows, you have to get ahead of a couple hundred people to secure your seats.  We sat right where she wanted us to, which turned out to be nice, as she saw us and we saw her and I got to take pictures of a bunch of my friends' kids to send to them.

There were cute little presentations between each song, and one of my favorites was two boys pretending to be reindeer telling each other really terrible jokes.
(There are heads in the foreground of every photo; we were in the second row, but there were people in the first row and I am not tall.  Just look past the black blobs, please.)

Two reasons these jokes were the best:  First, Daughter's face.
She is in the center, there, in the red.  She made this face every time a corny joke was told.  Everyone in the auditorium was chuckling.  Adelaide was wearing the expression she has when she feels one ought to know better than to do something, but don't worry, she'll just be embarrassed for you.

The other reason these jokes were the best is that for us in the second row, they were in stereo:  the family of one of the reindeer comedians was sitting right behind us, and apparently he had been practicing these jokes frequently in their home to prepare for the big night.  His little brother was directly behind me, and recited each joke, word perfect, along with his big brother up on the stage.  It was hysterical.  

Atticus did not share in his sister's reservations; he enjoyed every groan-worthy punch line.

Adelaide also had a small speaking role.
She performed it admirably, and looked so grown up!  *keens*

Our children are in three more winter concerts in the next two weeks.  By my calculations (meaning I've looked at all their song lists), we'll have heard large groups of children sing Over the River and Through the Woods four times by Christmas day.  If you find me wandering the aisles of our grocery store, repeatedly muttering, "The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh," while my left eye tic rages, don't worry, it's just because I have listened to these darlings of ours debate whether it's "over the river and through the wood," singular, or "over the river and through the woods," plural, ONE MILLION TIMES in the past month.  Happy holidays, indeed.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Niece Hoarder

I'm on High Alert:  Operation Impending Babies right now.  Every text I receive could be from one of my sisters telling me they're in labor.  As I told Kelli a few days ago, I am in a sweet, sweet spot in all this baby business, as I get all the excitement but none of the pain.  Glory hallelujah.

Yes, indeedy-do, each of my two sisters are due to have their third baby girl any time now.  You remember my sisters, right?  Kelli, the middle child, who I once convinced to play chicken on the old highway down the road from our house, where we'd run out in front of passing cars, seeing who could get closest without actually getting hit?  That sister.  (Incidentally, that is the last time I remember getting a spanking from my mother.  Sometimes, when I've been sitting for too long, I believe I can still feel the effects of that particular disciplinary action.  It turns out fear gives mothers divine strength.  Thanks a lot, neighbor who snitched on us- no, but really, thank you, you likely saved our lives.)

Or Stephanie, the youngest, who Kelli and I used to stuff in a sleeping bag and shove down the stairs?  Or shove in a laundry basket and pull around the kitchen, bouncing off the sharp cabinet corners?  Or shove in the dryer, because how else were we supposed to answer the age-old question, "Will our baby sister fit in the dryer?"

Those sisters.

I was worried they were both going to be selfish and deprive me of any more nieces, but thankfully they both managed to get knocked up a third time and now my family and I will have even more little girls to smother with our well-meaning, overly-affectionate love.  We got to see them a month ago, where we did our best to get enough niece/cousin time to last us a while.

Adelaide also made sure to demonstrate to all the little girls that you're never too big to sit in Grandma's lap.

Incidentally, our children still love to sit in our laps.  I love this, too, even if it feels like this most of the time:

Come on, nieces.  You have an aunt ready to smoosh and smooch you, plus I have it on good authority your mothers are perhaps just the teensiest bit uncomfortable right now.  I don't want to point any fingers, but some of you aren't being very careful with your pointy knees and elbows.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Five Books

I'm still recovering from this bronchitis, but am certainly no longer the wretch of a human being I was a mere week ago.  One thing I was able to do a lot of while I was sick, though?  Read!  Here's what preoccupied me from my own miserable self last week.

The Crops Look Good by Sara DeLuca

In the introduction, author/editor Sara DeLuca writes that this is a project that's been in the back of her mind to do for years and years, but didn't believe she could do it justice until now.  I think the prospect of going through stacks and stacks of your family's letters spanning decades of time and editing them for clarity, story flow, and to prevent repetition and boredom seems absolutely daunting.  She did it handily, however, as I compulsively read this book full of letters from a mother and siblings to and from the daughter who moved away from the Wisconsin family dairy farm in 1923.  DeLuca makes you care about the family whose voices form these letters, hoping that this next letter includes a note from Helen, that Margaret will be able to come home for a visit soon, and that mother Olava will get a break today before she works herself to death.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

When I read the synopsis of this book, I really didn't know if I was going to be able to get through it.  A mother (hey, I'm a mother!) goes on a walk with the woods with her eight-year-old son (wait, I have an eight-year-old son), he asks if he can walk ahead to an oft-visited spot (our kids do this all the time), and she goes through the mental struggle every parent is familiar with:  Do I let them go?  It's not far, but I won't see them for close to a minute.  I need to keep them safe.  But not coddle them.  They need their independence.  But still be safe!

So she lets him go.  (I've let ours go!)

When she arrives at the destination, when he's been out of sight for mere moments, her son is not there.  She can't find him.  He is missing.

What follows is the investigation into the disappearance of this boy and into the lives of everyone around him.  I was haunted by this book until I finished it.  I couldn't stop thinking about it, wondering who the heck took this boy?  Complete stranger?  Someone he knew- this character or that one?  When recommending it at the library I've compared it to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, but when I say that I mean in terms of tension and story grip, for I find every last character in both of those books completely loathsome, and if I have no one to root for, I can't like a book.  While terribly flawed and imperfect, you still understand and feel compassion for the characters in this, Ms. Macmillan's debut novel.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

This book came across my goodreads feed (the only social media that's felt safe to be on since the election), recommended by Cassi.  Alice Hoffman is one of those authors whose work I've always felt slightly ashamed about never having read; Practical Magic has been on my To Read list for a long, long time. The next day I was processing new books at the library, and this came across the desk.  I swiped it with zero remorse before any patrons could get their paws on it, then zoomed through it, both because I did feel a little guilty at my book hoarding ways but also because it was a terrific story.  I'm not going to try to describe the protagonist because I don't think I can in just a few words without making her sound thoroughly unlikable, but she gets her hooks in you early on in the book, and won't relinquish her hold on you until the very (satisfying) end- but fair warning, you'll do your fair share of frustrated yelling at her in the pages in between.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

This book was recommended to me by two separate women at the library, so when I finally picked it up, I knew to expect a can't-put-it-down read/ perplexing mystery, as that's how they described it.  What I wasn't expecting was the deep, heavy nostalgia that suffused me every time I read Ms. Pickard's descriptions of the setting and my home state of Kansas.  She gets everything spot on:  the smells, the sound, the wind, the storms.  It was beautiful in such an unexpected way.  Outside of all that, it was an excellent mystery, as all my guesses as to the outcome of the plot and the eventual villain were dead wrong, and I was delighted by it.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

This is another book I had recommended to me at the library, but when I brought it home, Adelaide was rather disgruntled to find me reading it; she had told me how good it was several months prior and I had not acted on her recommendation.  But look:  Adelaide reads so much, and she tells me about more books that I Should Read than I could ever hope to actually get through.
She was right about this one, though.  It's a really beautiful book, about a bright, funny girl with a facile mind and the body that imprisons it due to cerebral palsy.  You will want her teacher to see her for who she really is, to hug her neighbor, to physically harm that mean girl, and to cheer for how brave she has to be every day.  If Adelaide hadn't already insisted I read it, I would be doing the same to her, as any book that changes how you look at disabilities is one worth forcing on your loved ones.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

This Pie is Delicious with Zithromax

I've been knocked flat for the past week by bronchitis.  Of course, I didn't know it was bronchitis until Derek ever-so-gently nudged me out the door to see the doc Saturday morning (thank you doctors who have Saturday morning office hours- THANK YOU) after a week of listening to me cough-choke-splutter-hack all over the house, and that's in addition to picking up all my slack because I have been USELESS.

It was one of those things where not only did I feel like I could lie down wherever I stood and fall right asleep, but my brain just wasn't working right.  It felt like a big barrier had been erected in the middle of my brain, and if my thoughts originate at the back (we're playing it fast and loose with brain physiology tonight, okay?), they had to get over this barrier to reach the front, where they were accessible and communicable.  But it was one of those army obstacle course-type barriers that you have to jump and climb and wriggle your way over, so all my thoughts had to do that.

So during one of my few hours at work when a patron would ask a perfectly reasonable question like, "What's the newest James Patterson?" I would stare blankly for a no doubt alarming length of time while the biggest part of my brain asked itself, Who's James Patterson? and the answer struggled over the barrier toward the front part of my brain pan, all while that jerk spectating part of the brain sat there watching the whole spectacle with popcorn, chortling, "'Who's James Patterson?' LOL."

Oh, and I looked terrific all through this.  Reeeaaally smashing.
Like this, except about a million times less adorable.

I know I was in good company, as there were a whole mess of people not feeling so great over the past week and a half.
But!  I am now on an antibiotic and already feeling so much better.  My cough is still present-it just chased Derek away from an NFL game and right up the stairs, as a matter of fact, so now I'm struggling not to let the power go to my head.

And cheer up, my fellow Americans, both coughers and non-coughers alike, for we have pie to look forward to this week!

Or, you know, don't cheer up, if you're not ready yet.  I support you and your feelings. *says this while petting your head in a distinctly non-creepy way*

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Best Kind of Tough Choice

Last weekend in Kansas, Adelaide, my mom, and my sister Kelli made pies for the crowd mom had invited over.

Mom always invites a crowd.  It's, like, a thing.

I was so glad Adelaide was having a chance to freshen up her pie skills, as we haven't made any in a while, and you know I'm not eating any subpar pie at Thanksgiving.  I just won't have it.
Adelaide was doubly pleased because when she asked to put a lattice crust on the top they said, "Sure."  Adelaide's mother never says, "Sure," when Daughter asks to do a lattice crust because Adelaide's mother is cruel but also because generally when we're making pies we're trying to complete four in a shortened space of time and who the heck has time to make a lattice crust?

Aside from my mom and sister, of course.

Also we don't have one of those zippy-wheely zig-zaggy pie crust lattice cutter thingies (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, well, I'd say that's fair), so that's always been another handy excuse not to make a lattice crust.  Now that Adelaide's made one, however, I might just have to let her try at Thanksgiving.  And speaking of Thanksgiving!
I love this book, because how could you not love a cookbook that, if you were to make a pie chart depicting its contents, would look like this:

Yes, I made a pie chart about a pie cookbook.  There was no way it was not happening.  I don't have that kind of superhuman self control.

In addition to being a professional pie maker (pie artist?  pie-ologist?  baker?), Ms. Howard is a writer, so the essays in between sections are well-written and interesting.  I sat down last night and read the thing like a novel, front to back.  Now I get to go back and decide which ones will make it onto our table; Adelaide's voting for Chess Pie, which I have neither baked nor eaten before, but which the author makes a strong case for.  My front-runners are her Toffee Pecan, Chai-Spiced Pumpkin, Shaker Lemon, Strawberry Margarita, or Banana Cream.  I have no idea how we will ever choose just two of three.

Also in the running is her Apple Pie.  It is classic.  It is simple.  It is delicious.

It has a lattice crust.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Purposefully Trivial

Since things are all serious and stressful right now and I'm afraid to turn on the tv for fear of what election news awaits me, I'm going to discuss only the most trivial of things tonight.  I get to do this because I voted and then was called a socialist by a patron at the library who did not vote as I did.  Ah, patrons.  So fun.  (And I get double-bonus points for not saying what was in my head at the time, which was, "Actually, we prefer the term 'Marxist,' or, in a pinch, 'Commie.'"  Even if I'm neither a socialist nor a Marxist nor a communist.  Either way, she wouldn't have gotten it, trust me.)

We were in Kansas and Oklahoma last weekend, and while at my mom's house, I stumbled upon a photo.

First of all, do you remember those terrible school lunches that- at least at my schools- were called Hot Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches?  They consisted of a slice of white bread, topped with a thin round of gray mystery meat (honestly, if turkeys got together and hired an ambulance chaser I think they'd have a real case in suing for defamation of character- I'm sure they'd get oodles of cash from all those notoriously wealthy school food providers), then on top of the "turkey" was an ice cream scoop of fake mashed potatoes, topped by meat water, or "gravy," if you wanted to drown your elementary school sorrows.

Anyway, I would decline the gravy and eat as much of the fake potatoes as I could without actually ingesting any that had touched the meat.  (I was a real peach to live and eat with, let me tell you.)  But I remember my friend Megan would slide the bread out from underneath the whole mess, then take the middle of that white bread and roll it up into a ball of somewhat-cooked dough and eat it.

All that to say, when I saw this photo of my sister as an infant and me as a three-year-old, I could only think, "Look how adorable Kelli was!  And... look how I look like a floating ball of Hot Open-Faced Turkey Sandwich bread dough with a bad wig.  Huh."

The 80's were a special time.

In other news, I have found that Adelaide corrects her friends notes they have written to her.
This made me inordinately happy.

In election-ish news, I saw this sign and thought the person running had an unfair advantage.  Who's not going to vote for Bacon?!

And now, if you're at the point where you just want to bypass all the hoopla and need something to send you into a meditative trance (or coma, whatever), this did it for me.  So neat.