Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Everywhere I look, I'm seeing Top 10 lists for 2008. I started compiling my own retrospective, but by the time I reached #5, I was nodding off. And if I was bored, I can only imagine what the two of you who read my blog would feel. So I'm going to refrain from describing how my eldest daughter broke her arm or the happiness I felt when my 8-year-old declared that she loves school or my gratefulness for a very cool husband who took me to Hawaii for our anniversary.

I remember watching an awards show years ago, when a Holocaust survivor featured in a winning documentary stepped up to the mic to give her acceptance speech. She looked into the camera and spoke to all the people sitting around their TV, who might be regretting the uneventfulness of their lives. That little old woman, who had lost everyone she had ever loved during her youth, reminded viewers in a trembling voice that our seemingly boring lives with our family should never be taken for granted.

So I don't just admit that 2008 was a boring year, I proclaim it! I sat around the dinner table evening after evening with my husband and four children! Day after day I climbed behind the wheel of my minivan to drive a precious daughter to school or to a piano lesson or to the soccer field! Minute after uneventful minute passed by as I lollygagged down the road with my loved ones, who I thank God are healthy and happy and traveling this journey with me! And you know what? I pray that 2009 is just as "boring" a year as 2008. And may your new year be boring, too!

Dinner last night: pasta alfredo, green salad

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

After the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, the excitement and giddiness of my girls opening gifts, and the visiting and sharing of meals with family and friends, I needed some quiet time. So on a walk I went.

The day wasn't particularly beautiful—the sun was hidden and the sky was mostly overcast—but I really enjoyed the peacefulness and stillness of the winter day. As I tromped through the woods, I snapped some pictures and contemplated the year past and the year to come. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost came to mind.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was snowy* and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In snow* no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for any other day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

*due to weather conditions, I took the liberty of substituting "snowy" for "grassy"
and "snow" for "leaves"

Dinner last night: ham and bean soup, dinner rolls

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

God bless you and your family
today and throughout the new year.

Dinner last night: ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, dinner rolls, pistachio salad, cheesecake with cherries

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Traditions: Christmas Cookies

We're a country of tolerance . . . until it comes to the cookie platter. Don't mess with an American family's favorite Christmas cookies. Fortunately, we're also a nation known for diversity and variety. One household might insist on lemon bars and chocolate peanut butter balls and Russian tea cakes every year, while their neighbors across the street prefer divinity and gingersnaps and snickerdoodles. You and yours may choose the comfort and familiarity of chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin and Oreos. It's really not important what kind of confectionery wafer your family enjoys at Christmas, as long as you dip a delicious cookie or two or three dozen into the beverage of your choice while singing a joyful round of Deck the Halls! 

My family's favorite? Sugar cookies covered with tasty cream cheese frosting and candy decorations. My love for the sugar cookie started early in life. Every December, Mom would cut out and bake cookies in the shape of trees and angels and stars, and we would all sit down at the kitchen table for a marathon session of cookie decorating.

My mom and sister are extremely creative people, so their cookies looked like little pieces of art while my cookies looked like, well, something Rudolph coughed up. 

Thankfully, my daughter inherited her Grandma's sense of artistry.

Dinner last night: meatless spaghetti, garlic toast, green salad

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Let the Cold Stop You

Time to break in the new skis that Grandma bought us!

Who says you can't downhill ski on Nordic equipment?

Tired, but focused.

Dinner last night: tuna melts, tomato soup

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Defense of the Christmas Sweater

I'm here today to represent all those who are being discriminated against this holiday season—the poor saps of the world who wear with pride their blinking ornament earrings, who cheerfully participate in the Secret Santa gift exchanges at the office, and who gather their families in front of their gaudily-decorated artificial tree to pose in their pajamas for a Christmas picture. If we don't make a stand now against the sophisticates who mock us for our Santa hats and tins of fudge, we will surely pay.

Have we learned nothing from history?? Do you not remember the Grinches from the 70s who set out on a campaign to stigmatize fruit cakes? Just look at what's happened. When's the last time you bit into a heavenly piece of stöllen bread lightly slathered with rum butter and savored the sweet goodness of moist apricot? First the fruit cake . . . then the homemade fudge . . . it's a slippery slope. Why don't you just serve me some store-bought cookies while singing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer and ruin my December altogether? If you really want to drive a nail in my coffin, correct me with a stern "Happy Holidays, ma'am," after I've wished you the politically incorrect "Merry Christmas."

People! Wake up! The same Scrooges who convinced us fruit cakes were tacky are on the move again. This time they've got Christmas sweaters in their sights. Apparently those of us who wear 'em are fat, forty, and frumpy. Well, I may be all of those things, but at least I'm festive. And fun. And free-spirited. See? I'm handy with the F-words, too. There's another one I'm thinking of, but it's Christmas, so I'll refrain.

One woman's frump is another woman's festive.

Mommy, why did that mean lady call me tacky?

Shhh, baby. That lady's better than us . . .
she decorates her fresh tree with
gold ribbon and Victorian ornaments.

Dinner last night: barbecue ribs, mashed potatotes

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tagging Isn't Just for Gangsters Anymore

It's only taken me months, but I'm finally getting around to responding to some fun little memes. Helene from I'm Living Proof that God has a Sense of Humor tagged me to write about my quirks. Both TwinMama from Bringing up Twins and Lana from The Kids Did WHAT?! tagged me to come up with six random things about myself.

Procrastination is not a character trait I would normally champion, but in this case, waiting so long has provided a good excuse for combining my assignments into one post. So here are six random and/or quirky things about myself, along with a WARNING that this may be TMI for most of you. Just sayin'.

1. I am rarely seen in public without earrings. They are my favorite form of jewelry. If you ever find yourself wondering, "What shall I give to Kim for Christmas?" the answer will always be earrings. And chocolate. I have 2 pierced holes in each earlobe and I would have many more running up the sides of my ears, except that I once accompanied my bohemian friend to the mall where she got her right ear pierced way up high. When the stud went through the cartilage, I heard the grossest crunching sound imaginable. So, no more ear piercing for me.

2. I hate lines. Who doesn't? But my loathing for waiting in line borders on the pathological. I have gained a reputation amongst my family and friends as being highly organized, when in reality "organization" is just my coping mechanism for avoiding anxiety attacks while standing in line. If I told you that I research the best times, locations, and strategies for getting in and out of a facility, you'd probably think, Big deal. She uses Fandango . . . So does everybody! Girlfriend, please. When you can tell me which entrance gates at Disneyland move faster, then we'll talk about who hates lines more. (By the way, studies have shown it's Gate 13 and 20).

3. Canned ham and I do not get along. Something in canned ham—high sodium content? a particular preservative?—causes me to become violently ill. Fortunately, I'm not allergic to pork in general. A broiled chop is fine. A honey-baked ham is delightful. Just keep me away from the canned stuff. Please don't even offer me canned ham, because I am very polite and would probably eat it so as not to hurt your feelings. And then I'd end up vomiting all over your pretty accent rug. 

4I involuntarily quote lines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Hearing certain trigger words, like peach, will compel me to blurt out, "Do I dare to eat a peach?!" Overhearing someone sigh, "I'm gettin' too old for this," will cause me to shout, "I grow old . . . I grow old . . . I shall wear my trousers rolled!" It's annoying, I know. Yet I cannot stop.

5. My jaw is screwed up. When I was 16 years old, I went snorkeling and, when I came out of the water for lunch and tried to eat a Dorito, I realized that my jaw was locked. In a panic, I forced it open, heard a pop, and experienced an aching pain that persists to this day. Stupid TMJ.

6. I over-explain.

Dinner last night: broccoli shrimp alfredo

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Traditions: Christmas Stockings

When I was a child, my mom handmade stockings for each family member and decorated them to reflect our individual personalities and interests. We kids were allowed to get up as early as we wanted on Christmas morning, as long as we kept quiet and opened only our stockings. My sister and I usually carried them to our beds, where we unwrapped all the goodies stuffed inside before falling back asleep for a little while.

When I left home, my stocking came with me. Like me, it's getting older and a little worn around the edges, but every time I look at it I am reminded of my mother's love and all the happy family Christmases from my childhood. I've continued Mom's tradition by making a special stocking for my husband and each of my daughters.

In December 2005, just after we had been told we were expecting twin girls, a Christmas miracle occurred . . . my husband went out into the snowy evening and actually entered a fabric and craft store. He bought two plain red stockings, ironed on the letters to spell the names we had picked out for the babies, and hung them from the mantle in honor of our unborn daughters. He asked everyone who was at our house that Christmas to write down a prayer for each baby and put it in her stocking. I've since tucked those prayers into the girls' baby books, so one day they can read all the blessings, love, and protection we prayed over them.

Stocking stuffers at our house range from the useful, such as a new toothbrush, to the luxurious, like designer perfume, to the inexplicable . . . my mother always included a can of smoked oysters and placed a manderin orange in the toe of each stocking. I've long forgotten the significance of those particular food items, but I continue that tradition . . . no matter what else my loved ones might find in their stockings, there always will be an orange and smoked oysters!

What kinds of "stuffers" go into your family's Christmas stockings?

Dinner last night: pizza

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Dress a Toddler In Four Easy Steps

1) Remove Pajamas. This first step will require sturdy footwear and plenty of hydration, so lace up your running shoes and take a swig of eggnog before chasing after your two-year-old and wrestling her to the ground. A good pair of earplugs are also recommended, as her shrieks of delight at being chased will be replaced by cries of heartbreak when she realizes what is happening. Peel off her princess nightgown calmly but firmly, while ignoring her sobs of "No, Mommy! Stop, Mommy, stop! Pin-cess dess! Pin-cess dess!"

2) Clothe Child. Using both legs and your left arm to hold toddler stationary, begin dressing her in a cute outfit. If one of her flailing limbs manages to slap or kick you, mutter quietly to yourself, "No pain, no gain. No pain, no gain."

3) Comb Hair. Allow toddler to put on her own socks inside out and shoes on the wrong feet, while you race over to the windows. Make sure windows are secure and all draperies are pulled tightly shut, as the ensuing screams may scare any passers-by into calling the police to report a possible torture occurring inside your home . . . you are now ready to COMB HER HAIR. The style does not matter—just get the hair out of her face and call it a day.

 * If you have twins,
take another swig of eggnog and repeat steps 1—3 *

4) Final Touches. Wipe away child's tears, give her a big hug, and tell her how pretty she looks. Hand over her jacket and say with a sweet voice, "You get to put on your new pink coat while Mommy goes potty!"

During the 12.5 seconds you are in the bathroom, your child will remove her top and pants, turn them INSIDE OUT, put them on BACKWARDS, then slip into her coat. Congratulations! Your toddler is dressed and ready to go!

Dinner last night: cheeseburgers, baked beans

Monday, December 8, 2008

Step 2: Budgeting and Purchasing

This is the third installment in my ongoing series, "Stocking a Pantry for 6–12 Months."

As I've started implementing my food storage plan, I've come to realize that it's not an event with a simple beginnng, middle, and end. In fact, it's a never-ending process of buying, storing, and rotating. Unless I've got a distant relative I don't know about who will bequeath me an unexpected fortune to use on a mad grocery spree, I'm building my pantry as I go and need to come up with ways to offset the costs of accumulating a year's worth of food.

Coupons. I'm not a big coupon user. I wish I was. Truly. I've kicked myself after reading about people who save copious amounts on their grocery bills simply by taking advantage of all the coupons floating around out there. I've spent a good portion of my Sunday afternoons clipping coupons, only to NEVER use them. I've tried the cute little accordion-file coupon organizers. I have gone shopping with coupons IN MY HAND, checked out, loaded the car, only to realize that I forgot to use my stinkin' coupons!! However, I do receive a couple of really good coupons in the mail from my local grocery store; they come once a quarter, don't expire for a couple of months, and provide me with significant savings at my store only. I keep them in my wallet wrapped around my membership card so that I'll remember to use them. If you're a coupon-clipper, then my hat's off to you, and I don't need to tell you that you can find tons of them online and in newspapers and magazines.

Bulk Warehouses. I shop once a week, without fail, at Sam's Club. My family of six needs and uses the cases of toilet paper and Kleenex and bleach wipes that I purchase there at a much lower cost than at my grocery store. The dairy, produce, and meats are so much cheaper it's not even funny—that is, if you can consume them all before they go bad. We can. Plus I like the big carts that seat both of my twin toddlers.
          I understand that smaller families might not want to buy a vat of vanilla ice cream. And I appreciate that many people experience vertigo when they stare too long at the stacks of merchandise towering up toward the steel rafters. But if you've got a big family—and possess the willpower to resist the middle section where they keep the bedspreads and kitchen appliances and huge gift baskets—then a bulk warehouse may help you save money while stocking up on essentials.

Store Brands and Sales. If I keep my eyes open, I usually can find some decent prices in my grocery store. My store has its own brand, which is cheaper than specialty brands. Unless there's a specific product that I know tastes superior, I pick up the least expensive brand. Also, there is a sale rack at the back of the store where they keep day old bakery items, discontinued brands, damaged packaging (but not damaged contents) for little to nothing. I check the sales flyers in the newspaper for loss leaders—when a store deliberately takes a loss on something like milk, in order to get shoppers into the store—and I'll pick up those extra items when they're on sale. I also keep an eye on "family packs" of chicken and meat; if they're getting close to expiration, the store will put them on sale and I pick them up and then freeze them for later use. I use a black Sharpie pen and scrawl across the outside of the package, "Thaw and use in ONE day!!!!" Even though I feel like throttling my kids some days, I really don't want to give them salmonella.

Holiday Specials. Right before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, many stores offer discounted or FREE turkeys and hams when you spend a certain amount on groceries. Since I am buying a lot of food for the holiday meal anyway, I usually meet the minimum requirement and am able to pick up an extra bird or ham for the freezer.

Pantry Fund. Since I have twins, I own two of every baby article you can think of. Even after passing on useful items to friends who are expecting, I'm still left with an inventory of gently-used child gear that would rival the contents of Babies 'R' Us . . . so I'm selling things on Craigslist and using the money to build a pantry fund. If you're looking to downsize, you might consider a yard sale, eBay, or the classifieds. Artsy or crafty? Look into creative outlets like flea markets, holiday bazaars, or etsy.

The economy is probably going to get worse before it gets better. Money is tight, and spending extra on groceries may seem counterintuitive. But I'm looking at it as an investment. The money I spend now to build up my pantry is money I won't be spending later. If necessary, I'll be able to go for a long while without spending much at all on food; we will be able to eat quite well from the contents of our freezer and cupboards.

The third step of this confusing and useless highly-informative series is pre-cooking meals. It shouldn't take long. I'll most likely name this final installment, "Shall I Bake Up a Batch of Cookies to Send Along With All My Tax Money?"

Stay tuned.

Dinner last night: oven-baked chicken, sweet potatoes

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Traditions: Advent Calendar

I'd been keeping an eye out for the perfect advent calendar, when I spied this a few years ago sitting on a shelf at Sam's Club.

The girls take turns opening up each day's tiny door, taking out an ornament, and hanging it on the knob. 

The secular and religious symbols provide lots of interesting topics for conversation—the toy soldier, for example, reminds us of The Nutcracker that we attended over Thanksgiving weekend, while the angel gets us discussing the role of heavenly messengers in the Christmas story. There's a Santa and a baby Jesus, which help us talk about who should get the most emphasis during this holiday season.

I also like the deep base, which is just right for storing the wonderful cards, letters, and pictures we receive from family and friends throughout December (hint, hint).

Last Christmas, we received a really cool advent calendar from Aunt Brenda: an old-fashioned delivery truck with 25 side drawers designed to bring a handful of Christmas candy each day! The twins objected to the "each day" part.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Guess Who Likes Her New Coat?

There was a time when I was a perfect parent. That time occurred well over a decade ago, before I had children. If my younger self could see me now, she would sniff, "When I have kids, I will never let them eat soup while wearing their brand new coats."

And my older more experienced self would retort, "Shush up, you skinny know-it-all. At least I convinced my daughter to take off her mittens before eating lunch. I've learned to pick my battles."

To which, my younger self would reply, "I refuse to argue with an obviously deranged woman who sets her table with plastic utensils, paper napkins, and coffee mugs instead of soup bowls."

Everything tastes better when I wear my beautiful pink coat.

Dinner last night: lasagna, garlic toast, broccoli