Pardon Our Dust

In order to create an awesome omelette, a few eggs must be broken.

I’m standing in front of my laptop with a few crates of eggs, determined to keep throwing them at the monitor until a decent meal can be served to you.

Here I was, all poised to jump into our New Year’s resolutions and realized that I left one of mine (okay a significant amount) undercooked.

I am incredibly good at generating ideas. I excel at starting things. I love to take what is, throw it into the blender and make something totally different with it.

Life is full of possibilities.

If the idea really floats my boat I will stay with it and have a great time.

But like most excitable types, I am easily wooed into the next great idea.

“Squirrel!” cries the brain, and off I run to the next big adventure.

I am surrounded with half finished great ideas.

A lot of them are still in the “scribbled down on sticky notes” stage.

Ask anybody.

If ever I was to have one goal in life it would have to be: Finish What You Start!

Taken literally, this is physically impossible, as the impulse to start things happens every five minutes or so.

But taken rationally, I suppose with some prioritizing I could get just a few main things actually ‘finished’ in a timely fashion.

It sounds painful, truth be told. And maybe messy. Definitely not ‘perfect’.

But really, where should we draw the line with ourselves?

I love myself enough to talk myself into doing the best thing for myself (like going to the gym), and I respect myself just enough to be able to sit through a little pain to accomplish it (“I was just there last week. Why should I come back today?”).

This is the last blog of 2014 and when I meet you on the other side, I would like it to be in the form of a fresher, slightly tastier version of a website.

I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing. It might be a complete disaster before I make something palatable.

But it’s the next step.

So be safe and have fun ushering in a Happy New Year!

I’ll be playing the egg toss game.

I hope I win!

Are We There Yet?

I would like to thank everyone who made this particular moment possible…

The traffic that swarmed the mall next to my house and turned a five minute drive-by into a half hour exercise in patience…namaste.

The mother who made fudge, cookies, and great grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe so I could “sample” it all. The goats who made the cheese that I covered in raspberry chipotle sauce “for our guests” and then ate by the spoonful. The girlfriend who bought me pajamas a size too big…because by this time next week, they’ll fit just right.

The basketball coach who thinks practice never takes a vacation and scheduled out of town tournament games…because he can.

The inventors of Skype who allowed one family party to connect with another family party across countless miles se we could open presents together and virtually annoy each other. The brother-in-law and the niece who each drove many miles, just to make sure the family was together for Christmas so we can annoy each other in person.

The Hubby who thought giving our 13 year old a flying drone in the living room was a good idea.

The doctor in orthopedics who decided not to cast our son’s broken arm for physical therapy reasons but in reality saved us from the stench of a week-old sweaty splint.

You all know who you are.

This moment is just a snapshot of the past few days or so. But it could reflect our year.

Ours is always a bit of a roller coaster, starting off slowly, building momentum quickly, and after the first hairpin curve, we just hunker down in the seatbelt and hold on for dear life.

No one seems to mind if our eyes are closed or if we’re screaming, but occasionally a photo gets passed around of us doing it.

There’s really no need for explaining.

Today is the pause.

The part where the ride has dropped us over the last big dip and is lurching slowly into the docking area. My head is up, my grip on the roll bar relaxing, and I’m seeing the next line of victims eager to jump in and go for the ride. They can have it.

We are just about “funned” out.

New Year’s Eve will be the celebration of getting off this ride and looking around for the next big thrill.

We’ll have the usual gang hanging out with card games and glow in the dark sticks and we’ll go outside for a countdown and then cheer real loud so the neighbors know we gave it a fair shake.

And then go to sleep as fast as possible.

This year was exhausting.

Heaps of fun, of course, lots of gorgeous views from the top of climbs and lots of great company along for the ride. There were a few moments when I thought perhaps we were going to end up hurtling through space without a parachute and several times when I was definitely nauseous from an unexpected drop. There was, occasionally, an unavoidable loop thrown my way.

Only a crazy person would have tried to get off the ride half way through it.

But believe you me, I considered it regularly.

I don’t want you to think I’m whimpering because, frankly, my daughter gave me a pep talk the other day saying, and I quote, “Mom, you did sign up for this you know!”

So I voluntarily set this ride in motion.

I wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time in “It’s a Small World” and a little less time riding the “Matterhorn” though.

Pavlova

Good morning to you! Take a moment and breathe deeply. I hope you’re in your comfy chair.

Enjoy the sounds of excited kids, perhaps the hissing of the tea kettle or distant bells on the street corner.

Smell the pine or the dinner cooking or the candles on the table.

This is a moment for peace and reflection.

It may become my one lasting tradition.

Although my family has grown through many stages and tried several holiday traditions, I have to admit none of them really stuck. We used to make a family photo card every November, but no one will sit for it now. Young children made paper countdown chains, teens did puzzles from an advent calendar, but now we are never all home at the same time for those 24 doors to be faithfully explored.

Perhaps it’s a good thing not to be too tied down to any one ‘necessary’ bit.

Flexibility is key. One year we chopped down a palm tree that had the audacity to grow where it was not wanted. That’s the tree we brought in and strung with lights.

When we moved, I brought along a Christmas tradition. Or so I thought.

For many years we’ve made cookies or truffles or cinnamon rolls or biscotti, wrapped them up and delivered them to our neighbors. Our old ‘hood was steady as a rock and our kids knew everybody.

As the kids grew, the tradition somehow morphed into me doing everything and then begging someone to help deliver the goods. They have better things to do than decorate cookies I guess.

All of our new neighbors are strangers and seem to be constantly moving themselves. I can’t decide if a plate of slightly crooked gingerbread men delivered by slightly surly teenagers will solidify a month-old relationship.

It may just make them reconsider their new location.

So maybe it’s time to re-think this tradition as well.

I can fuss and plan and stress and make huge kitchen messes all by myself.

Or, they should all be expecting wine-in-a-bag.

I will be choosing by the label design, how else?

One Christmas we hosted a wonderfully fun family from Australia. Among the many memories we made, a recipe for pavlova is one that stuck. Probably because I wrote it down.

Her measurements were metric and my kitchen was not.

The ingredients had to be interpreted. ‘Caster’ sugar is finely granulated, but we used what I had and all was well.

This lovely lady reached for my pint of buttermilk, thinking it was milk. I only just saved her cup of tea.

She was gracious enough to demonstrate her pavlova magic for me and with the leftover egg yolks, prepared a chocolate cake from scratch a couple of days later. No one bakes from a box except us Yanks. She used cocoa powder and the flavor was distinctly different. Her kids were in heaven, and so was I.

I had the cooking channel right here in my kitchen! Woot!

Don’t let the recipe worry you. I made it successfully for a couple of Christmases thereafter and it’s a nice change of pace, especially if you top it with fresh fruit or perhaps crushed candy canes.

Lovely Pavlova

  • Separate 4 room temp eggs (they should sit out for at least 20 minutes first); save the yolks for another recipe.
  • Beat the whites and a pinch of salt until they won’t slip in the bowl when it’s tipped sideways. (Use a glass or metal bowl. Make sure your bowl and mixer were dry.)
  • Gradually beat in 2 cups of white granulated sugar until it’s stiff and glossy. This will take forever. (Because the sugar must melt a bit at a time. If a pinch feels grainy between your fingers, you’re adding too fast. If you over beat it, it starts to separate or curdle; start over.)
  • Last, beat in 1 tsp each of: cornstarch, baking powder, vanilla, and white vinegar.
  • Lay a sheet of foil on a cookie sheet. Parchment paper works. No rim on your pan.
  • Gently spread your egg glop onto the center of this foil, spreading into a 10” roundish cake shape. (You could use a plate to mark a guide first if you like. But messy is also pretty. And a gentle hollow in the center will hold fruit nicely.)
  • Pop it into a pre-heated 300 degree oven, and then immediately reduce the temp to 250 degrees.
  • Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave it in there to cool and dry out. No drafts allowed. (A challenge on rainy days. Better during santa anas.)
  • When ready to serve, beat 2 cups heavy whipping cream with a pinch of powdered sugar and a drop of vanilla until stiff. Spread it onto a completely cooled pavlova and top with fruit, etc.
  • Refrigerate leftovers.
  • If, by chance, your pavlova is cracked or tanned or weeps or acquires other beauty marks, eat it all the same! You could switch up this recipe into a lot of flavor variations. Have fun!

I’m in Love With the Trash Man

This year at gift giving time, I want to sing for an unsung hero. A guy who is reliable, strong, smart, a good listener and drives a big truck. Like the sheriff, he cleans up this town and makes it safe to walk the sidewalks and enjoy the fresh air.

He’s your neighborhood trash man. And I’m in love.

I’m not a respecter of persons. I love them all. If they made a Trash Man Calendar I would buy it and hang it in the garage. Probably turned to Mr. August.

The trash man will take anything you put in the can. ANYthing. I have, little bits at a time, gotten rid of old water heaters, furniture, kitchen remodel chunks, even concrete.

The greens guy unknowingly but very cheerfully removed an entire pool deck. I had to saw the pieces into 4’ lengths, but there it is. Super service.

Our recycle bin has held the remnants of every party we ever threw. Soda bottles and pizza boxes and colorful crepe paper streamers.

They all show up faithfully every Thursday.

They are the only thing standing between us and the dark ages.

I can go without a lot of modern conveniences, but plumbing and trash removal aren’t on that list.

I finally drove over to the disposal facility today. I don’t know why it took me months before getting around to it. I had a collection of half used paint cans that were considered hazardous waste.

You can’t just dump them in with your regular trash, you have to make an appointment to drop them off.

I felt just guilty enough to not sneak it in there anyways but just put out enough to procrastinate getting it over there.

I’m so spoiled.

It’s free of course, but you take a few minutes of your time to do it.

I sat in the line of cars waiting to drop off “hazardous waste” and watched the trash men empty each load. It was great fun.

They wore gloves and coveralls and tossed giant TVs, computer keyboards, empty propane cylinders, and…hey! that’s the exact same bread machine I have! The one that makes your loaves square instead of round. Someone tossed it? What a waste.

I mean…I guess waste is the idea here. Waste disposal. Got it. Don’t have to like it though.

Watching them work was like watching the Three Stooges pack for a move.

They were doing something I always thought would be fun: take that machine that just broke on me in the middle of something super important and THROW IT ACROSS THE PAVEMENT WATCHING IT BURST INTO TINY SHATTERED BITS OF SORRY.

And these guys are getting paid to do it. Awesome.

My little box of paint cans took them less than a minute to toss. I didn’t even get out of the car. What gentlemen. They were efficient, friendly and helpful. I felt like I needed to go home and find some more things for them to toss.

Driving back out through the facility, I discovered all of the amazing behind the scenes shenanigans. Trash trucks were emptying into large warehouses where trash was processed into further heaps.

Conveyor belts were moving recyclables three stories high and stacked all around were compacted bundles maybe five feet cubed: some were solid crushed milk jugs. This looked like art. White with bits of random color.

Other cubes were cardboard, packed so tightly they were reduced to card stock.

Soda cans were impossibly interlinked, a cube of shiny aluminum brilliance.

The smell was a wonderful pungent tart and sour thing you could almost taste.

But it only lasted a moment or two.

The helpful trash men were insisting that I move right along and for all I know, saving my life in the process.

I came away with two very relevant thoughts.

I am re-confirmed in my opinion that, in this large living America, less is very much more. So much of our trappings are disposable. Simply outdated, unused, or unloved.

Less things. Try not to have so much in the first place.

The recycle idea is wonderful. Re-gift. Re-purpose. Don’t toss it, see if someone else can use your bread machine. Shop at the thrift stores. Donate freely. Circulate your stuff.

Sharing is caring.

But you can buy me one of those calendars.

Santa Clause, Satan, and The Swing Set Sucker Punch

I am about to open a fat can of worms. There’s no way around it. We don’t need this to get messy. But we’re going to get real for a few minutes.

Are you one of those moms who drags her kids down to the mall for a Santa photo? Santas worry me like circus clowns worry me. At least a mime has the sense to keep his mouth shut, and they are plenty creepy.

Every kid worth his salt will take one look at Santa and see a phony. What normal adult dresses up like that and expects to be taken seriously? What crazy mom tells her kid to go sit on a total stranger’s lap and tell him secrets? Who does that?

I only attempted two Santa photos back when I was a young lemming mommy, and my rational kids were screaming bloody murder at the whole nonsense.

But I never ‘did’ Santa. I never did the Easter Bunny. I never did leprechauns. The Tooth Fairy was always a day late and a dollar short.

Don’t lie to your kids. They will tell themselves lies later all on their own (“Mom said to eat the cookies…I’m pretty sure I heard her say that.”).

So while my mommy friends were on the roof at midnight, ringing sleigh bells and leaving hoof prints, my kids knew it was all just a fun game that parents played and they got ‘Santa’ presents all the same. They swore not to tell their friends, and I got a good night’s sleep.

Lest your holiday cheer is wilting like a June snowman, you need to understand…like the infamous Grinch, I too have a tragic back story.

Remember my tiny childhood home? Next door lived a dyed-in-the-wool catholic family with three little girls. The oldest daughter was my age, 9, and got threatened regularly with Satan when she was naughty.

If Lorraine’s mama said Satan was in her bottom dresser drawer ready to snatch her, then he was.

I was being raised believing in only one God, which meant there couldn’t be one anywhere else. Satan was a figment of a grumpy and misguided imagination.

Lorraine and I were never what you would call ‘friends’. We were quite opinionated ‘frenemies’.

So I pulled that dresser to pieces looking for the guy with the pitchfork. We never did find him.

She insisted: just because we can’t find the guy doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

And she waited for her moment of revenge.

One Christmas morning, we woke up to sunshine and a few frugal gifts which we enjoyed. Passing a window, I noticed something; a shiny new swing set was sitting in the backyard and with whoops of delight, we raced out to play.

Lorraine and her sisters were watching through the fence.

“Look!” I cried, “Santa brought us a swing set!”

“No he didn’t,” she said smugly, “your dad built it.”

“There’s no way he could have!” I retorted. My spy system was pretty good, and there had been zero hints that this possibility was in the works.

“I sat up last night and watched him do it,” insisted Lorraine, “There is no Santa Clause.”

I stopped swinging.

My frown of anger, doubt and possible betrayal began to grow as I marched back into the house.

“Mom!”

My mother’s guilty face, however, told me immediately that “Santa” used the same wrapping paper that she did (a detail I had been overlooking until today) and furthermore, while quite easy to locate (one on every corner in December…well, technically in November too in progressive malls) he was also a figment of a cheerful and misguided imagination.

Can you blame me if I never invited her over for a swing on the set?

Just because there is no Santa doesn’t mean his gifts disappear.

How Many Queens in a Full House?

A homemaker is a gambler.

She gambles every time she makes something new for the family dinner.

She gambles on whether Hubby will throw a fit over her new short hair cut.

She gambles on whether the car will run out of gas before she runs out of errands.

So it’s only natural that when she has incoming house guests, she invites Lady Luck to join her in the linen closet for a game of bluff.

Four of a Kind would be lovely but Two Pair are all I can realistically ask for.

The gamble is finding the right combination of sizes, colors, and pieces that will go onto the correct configuration of beds.

Simultaneously.

Our large family has no shortage of beds. The girls have twin beds with rolling trundles that pop out when needed and the boys have twin beds that can combine into a king size, and we have a queen size bed that just sort of moves around between rooms.

I really don’t know how that happened.

But she lives here too.

Depending on who our guests are, I may need to take my game up a notch, as the kids donate their rooms for the occasion.

The girls have bedding that is coordinated but comes with an array of unique pillows, stuffed animals, college blankets, clip-on headboard lamps, a couple of candy bar wrappers in the duvet and possibly some pocket change under the mattress.

One daughter always makes her bed. One daughter never makes her bed.

The boys share a room that is completely stripped of toys, trophies, or trinkets. Instead, their room with two beds and two nightstands has a central sacrificial burial mound where a week’s worth of laundry (clean and dirty) mingle with sports equipment, gym bags, school papers, shoes, cell phone chargers, backpacks, and empty gatorade bottles.

When I tell them to clean up they use a skip loader and put it all into the closet.

None of them will use a top sheet, so the fitted sheets get worn to rags and the tops are brand spanking new. The quilts are somewhere in the middle.

My linen closet takes a good beating but we manage to make it work.

I reach in and pull out a king top and a queen bottom. Okay, double or nothing. I grab another blue sheet and two twins and a pillow sham fall out.

I decided to toss all of my dice at once, gut the shelves, and look for the Royal Flush.

I lined up the kings and kept a set in yellow. I hunted down all of the queens. Only the brown set stayed. Because only the brown set had all the pieces. I discovered I had twin bedding for a dozen beds, but only if those beds needed a random top sheet or pillow case. So I stacked matched four piece sets for six twins, tossing out the kickers.

I had to find a blanket and quilt to each set. By now I was surrounded with linens.

Let’s see…two twins equals a king….

“I’ll see your sheet and raise you a bed skirt.”

It was then that I decided to raise the stakes even higher. When your son hits 6’2” and his feet are hanging off the end of his bed, you have to get what they call a twin “long”.

That or buy him nice ski socks.

I had a hot tip on some sheet sets at a discount warehouse, so I went to investigate. I found a lovely 500 thread count Egyptian cotton set marked down by 70%. It’s pink and yellow, but it’s new and it all matches. Maybe it’s a long shot, but no one needs to know if he’s sleeping on flowery sheets, right?

No? Fine. Scratch that.

I shuffled the deck and found one with tiny green seashells. Score!

Turns out, twin “long”s aren’t the popular size, but for us they’re the ace in the hole.

Oh. You’re coming over for the weekend? Suite!

We put jokers on the couch.