Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to Normal

A couple of months ago, my 9-year-old daughter broke and displaced both bones just above her left wrist. I'd advise against your children trying it.

Poor thing tried not to freak out at the sound and vibration of the saw cutting through her cast. And my daughter tried to stay calm, too. ba-da-bump

Dinner last night: spaghetti, salad

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cooking Up a Storm

My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook, a chef really, and over the years she has educated me on a variety of topics, including but certainly not limited to: tomatoes, which should not be refrigerated but rather left on (a) their vine and (b) the counter to ripen; cous cous, which is not as exotic as it sounds and quite easy to make; fudge, as in her recipe is the most delectable I have tasted in all my vast experience of consuming fudge and fudge products—I know, I know, you think you or someone you know has a better tasting fudge, and I'm not here to argue with you, but . . . Chris Gahman makes the best fudge in the entire world, bar none; tea—how to select the real stuff and then make a good cup; the many uses of pizza stones; and the importance of baking on high-quality cookie sheets.

A multitude of interesting cookbooks sit on Chris' shelf, and perhaps 10 or more years ago, I remember selecting Once-a-Month Cooking from her kitchen library to read. While I never followed its system as outlined, I have used a version of its philosophy, which is basically to cook meals in batches and then freeze them for later consumption. I've mentioned some of my practices here and here.

The other day, I happened upon the original book's updated version, Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites. I bought it. I read it. I pondered. I made a decision. I was going to try the method exactly as directed. I talked it over with my husband to make sure he was on board, because he would have to watch over the children all day so that I could hang out in the kitchen. He agreed, and this past weekend I set out on my cooking adventure.

As suggested, I shopped for groceries the day before cooking. The book provides a shopping list, divided in categories (bakery, frozen, canned, meat, etc.), so my trip was focused and simple. It took me about two hours, because I chose to visit two stores (Sam's Club and my local market).

Then I spent all day Saturday cooking. The first three hours were spent in prep: rinsing, peeling, chopping, etc. If I do this again, I will definitely stop after the prep and call it a day. Once you've got all your prep work done, you go into assembly line mode and begin preparing each dish. For example, you start with a big batch of meat sauce, some of which you'll save for spaghetti and the rest you'll use to smother stuffed shells.

The day was horribly, exhaustingly L—O—N—G and next time I will break it up into three parts: Day 1 Shopping, Day 2 Prep, and Day 3 Assembly. You have to go through the process once to know how to adapt it to your needs, so I kept a pencil by the cookbook to jot notes and reminders into the margins as I went along.
Some of the recipes provide only 4 servings, so I'll want to double those next time.
I could have used fresh mushrooms instead of canned.
There was no need to chop an entire head of cabbage since it won't get used until the minestrone is actually served.
I will pay one of my kids to wash dishes while I'm cooking, because I ran through every mixing bowl, measuring cup, and cooking utensil that I own several times over and had to keep stopping to rinse out my finite number of skillets.
And so on.

The upside is that my freezer is full of 30 meals. THIRTY meals, people! One day of pain in exchange for a month of meals is the type of discomfort that I can handle.

Dinner last night: leftovers

Friday, September 25, 2009

Termination Dust

We are in the middle of a colorful autumn, as the gold and orange and brilliant red leaves will attest. I must admit that fall is my favorite time of year. It's cool, but not cold. Certain flowers are still in bloom and potatoes can still be dug up. The birds are starting to leave, so we're treated to awesome sights in the sky, as families of swans and large Vs of geese head south. The trees are absolutely gorgeous.

But Time waits for no man. That light powder that just showed up on the mountain tops? Not good. Winter's coming . . . soon.

Dinner last night: mushroom-stuffed meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, glazed carrots

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Moose on the Loose

All of the sudden, it's Moose Central around here. A momma and her yearling are running around behind our house. A mother with two calves is hanging out in the front yard of our neighbor down the road. And a certain antisocial skinny-legged twig eater has been lurking in the woods that border our local elementary school. He leaves the kids alone, but he's a little creepy standing off by himself . . . chomping . . . and watching . . .

No, we're not interested in fresh moose nuggets.
Go offer your wares somewhere else!

Dinner last night: salmon pasta alfredo, chopped salad

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In the Mullygrubs

Bleh. My back started to go out, then I caught some kind of gross stomach bug that knocked me for a 24-hour loop, which led to my back seizing up on me after laying in bed all day trying not to hurl.

Even if my back would have allowed me to sit in front of the computer, my 9-year-old needed it for her research project. RESEARCH project. She's in fourth grade and knows nothing about introductory paragraphs, conclusions, or thesis statements, but she's supposed to write two papers—yes, TWO—on mountains and lakes. So I was gasping in pain, while trying to teach her how to take notes and write paragraphs and put everything together in a RESEARCH PAPER, and she was Googling phrases like What is a mountain? and How are lakes formed? while her mother was not blogging.

Speaking of not blogging, I'm feeling discouraged. I'm not sure why. Can't put my finger on it. I want to write more. I want to write less. I want to change my focus. I want things to stay the same. I can write. I'm illiterate. Who cares who reads my stuff—it's nonsense, anyway. Why can't I attract an audience? You see my dilemma.


Dinner last night: stuffed green peppers

Friday, September 18, 2009

End of Summer

Somebody forgot to tell Alaska that the first day of autumn doesn't arrive until Tuesday.

Guess who'll be sweeping her deck this weekend?

I love when the leaves turn gold.

And the reds! Aren't fall colors gorgeous?!

Time to haul out the harvest decorations. I've got a scarecrow with a WELCOME sign to hang on my front door and a mat in the shape of a pumpkin to lay down for guests with muddy shoes. It's fall, ya'll.

Dinner last night: pizza

Monday, September 14, 2009

Retail Therapy

My sisters-in-law told me a story of how they spent 8 hours together at Nordstrom. Theirs wasn't a tale of horror. No, no. They were proud of themselves. In fact, that was one of the happiest and most glorious times of their lives, shopping and lunching and shopping . . . for an entire day.

I, on the other hand, consider 8 hours trapped in a department store the worst kind of torture. Forget about waterboarding. Take those Gitmo prisoners and send them into Nordstrom without any money, and I guarantee you they'll come out after 8 hours begging for a map so they can show you the exact coordinates of Osama bin Laden's cave. Anything to keep them from going back in to face the skinny ladies behind the counters, dressed in black with their perfect makeup and manicured fingers.

You want to know where weapons of mass destruction are hidden? Take a terrorist to the area in front of the brightly-lit dressing rooms, where fashionably-dressed customers hold their armfuls of designer clothing with ease and confidence, like there's nothing at all uncomfortable or horrifying about the fact that they're waiting in line to get naked in front of mirrors. Stuff that suicide bomber's pasty white body into a pair of trendy jeans that hits him so low on the waist his muffin top looks more like a super-sized bagel, and then make him come out in front of everybody to use the full-length 3-angle mirror. You'll get your information.

I recently went shopping for shoes. They're the one item I can't order online, because sizes and styles vary too much. The beautiful high-heeled pump with a satin bow pictured on my monitor ends up looking like a witch's shoe on my foot, all pointy and pinchy and wobbly. The hard, cold reality is that I have to go inside the walls of a store and actually try on footwear. It still involves mirrors, but at least I don't have to take off my pants.

I started out my adulthood with size 8 feet. Not bad for a 5'10 body. After my first pregnancy, I moved up to 8-1/2. After my second pregnancy, I had to start wearing size 9 shoes. After carrying twins, I began buying size 12E. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but while pregnant with the twins, I actually did have to purchase a couple of size 10 slip-ons. I was so heavy, I guess, that my feet flattened out.

Since giving birth to the girls three years ago, I've gone back to wearing all of my size 9 shoes. I have so many pairs! And they're so cute! But, hoo boy, do they hurt. Especially the dress shoes. I finally admitted the truth to myself this past Sunday after church: I'm going to have to start buying shoes in 9-1/2. My strappy sandals are just too uncomfortably snug.

So it was off to the mall to try on shoes.

All of the black shoes were either ridiculously high-heeled, too trendy, or old-ladyish. Where'd the classic black pumps go? I ended up buying some boots to wear with my slacks. Er, trousers. Dress pants? What do you call those things I wear out to dinner that aren't jeans?

Big, black boots. They're the new strappy sandal.

Dinner last night: chicken pot pie

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Day that will Live in Infamy . . . Until It's Completely Forgotten by the Next Generation

I was scheduled to help out at my husband's office, so I was bustling about the house cleaning up the breakfast dishes and getting myself and my one-year-old baby girl ready for the day. On a typical morning, I probably would have had the TV on and I would have stopped later at my favorite coffee stand for a caramel latte and I most likely would have listened to the radio on the 10-minute drive to work, but I was running late and feeling the need for calm, so I hadn't turned on the TV and I forewent the coffee and chatty barista and I drove my car in relative silence, enjoying the sound of my baby's babbling.

I walked into the office, head down as I hauled the infant carrier in the crook of my arm while balancing the diaper bag and my purse over one shoulder with a heavy bag of work-related files hanging over the other. I glanced up to see my husband standing in the middle of the room just looking at me, waiting for me to say something. I was confused. "What? What's wrong?"

He asked, "Did you hear the news?" "What news?" "Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York." "WHAT?!?" If he was joking, it was uncharacteristically lame humor.

He explained as best he could what had already occurred that morning, and gestured to the radio that was broadcasting the breaking news. Slowly, gradually, my mind began to process the information. The World Trade Center? I could recall clearly our first and only trip to New York a few years prior when we'd visited the city over Memorial Day weekend.

We'd come across the World Trade Center completely unplanned, as we were walking along the sidewalk staring up at all the skyscrapers, marveling at the acoustics and the sense of standing at the bottom of a very deep concrete canyon. We saw the sign out front and decided on a whim to enter the glass doors; we naively thought we could just wander through and explore at our leisure. We were informed that only one tower offered an observation deck, and we'd need to purchase tickets from the counter that blocked any further entrance into the building. Once we forked over our cash, we were directed to a line that snaked through the lobby and ended in front of a bank of elevators.

We stood together with other sightseers in typical urban fashion, I suppose, with little regard for personal body space, all smushed together and jostling for position. I remember my irritation at a small group of middle-aged Japanese men in dark suits pressing in around me. I'm a tall chick, and one guy was practically nestling his face between my breasts. He was leering and talking to his companions in Japanese and they were laughing at his obviously obscene jokes. I thought about making a scene, because the good Lord knows I can pitch a hissy fit, but I decided it wasn't worth it. I'd never see these jackasses again. I wanted to go view the sights from the top of the building, and if I started a fight I'd most likely get thrown out by security. So I flared my nostrils, narrowed my gaze, and spun around to give the ogler a view of my shoulder blades. He pressed up against my butt instead.

When the elevator doors finally opened, I made sure I inched away from my sexist pig of a friend and stepped into a different car. It started up, up, up. It took a long time to get to the observation deck, not because the elevator was slow but because we were traveling past scores of floors. The elevator must have been dedicated for us tourists, because we weren't stopping to let anyone on or off and a guide was talking about facts and figures, none of which I recall anymore. I guess I was thinking of the scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks steps off the elevator right onto the observation deck of the Empire State Building, so when the elevator let us off next to a snack bar, I was puzzled. Were we on the wrong floor? Was this all there was to the "observation deck"? There weren't even any big windows! We walked around for awhile, reading the placards under large pictures that showed the construction and detailed the history of the buildings, until we came across a narrow set of stairs that led up. Aha!

When I stepped outside into the light I was immediately overcome with a case of vertigo unlike any I had ever experienced. I literally stepped back and flattened myself against the wall to prevent myself from falling into oblivion. I was overcome with an illogical but terrifying sense that I would somehow be pulled by malevolent forces across the walkway to the side and pitched headlong over the fencing to my death. When I later talked to my husband, who possesses absolutely no fear of heights and has participated in some pretty scary climbing experiences, he admitted that he too felt his stomach lurch and had to take a deep breath before moving out further.

We were just so far up, it was surreal. I was looking down on clouds. Far away and below me, I could see small airplanes buzzing across the river. Through a telescope I viewed the lush greenery and trees growing on the tops of city buildings! We spied the Empire State Building, significantly shorter and less spectacular than the building upon which we stood.

All those memories of our time at the World Trade Center filled my mind as I walked through my husband's office, and I just couldn't reconcile my experience with what I was being told was happening in New York: the impacts, the explosions, the smoke, the bodies falling through the air. I attempted to work as I listened to the newscaster on the radio—I think it was Peter Jennings—repeat the same information over and over. My baby rocked back and forth in her swing next to her daddy's desk, nodding off into sleep.

In the middle of his commentary, the newscaster stopped himself. With disbelief in his voice he described to listeners his astoundment as he watched the first building crumble. "I'm telling you, there's nothing left. It's collapsed completely to the ground." I could not wrap my brain around the image he was creating with his words. How could that huge building be gone? Surely, it was just a small part of the building that had broken off. There still must be framing and girders and floors with gaping holes. There still must be people clinging to doorways and hiding in stairwells and holding on for dear life. An entire building doesn't just disappear. Human beings aren't just disintegrated.

* * *

After visiting a concentration camp, Eisenhower wrote a letter containing prescient words, which are now engraved outside the Holocaust Museum in D.C.
The things I saw beggar description . . . The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were . . . overpowering . . . I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda."

It must have seemed at the time preposterous that Eisenhower would even bother to say something like that. Who could forget the Holocaust? Who would dare to rewrite the horrific events that occurred while the Nazis ruled? Yet here we are in 2009 with kids learning their history from books and movies that fictionalize, romanticize, and parody World War II. Wackos across the world insist that the numbers of Holocaust victims were exaggerated, that it wasn't that bad, that perhaps the murders didn't even happen—it was all a conspiracy to vilify Hitler.

And here we are in 2009 with people insisting that 9/11 was orchestrated by the U.S. government, that something other than a plane hit the Pentagon, that the Islamic terrorists were not part of a larger movement against America. Time has passed, and some Americans seem to have forgotten the grief and horror and anger that we all felt and which shaped our country's response to the events of 9/11. I wonder what my children will be taught in school, if anything, about the circumstances leading up to and the consequences resulting from September 11, 2001.

I remember 9/11. I will always remember. Will my children?

Dinner last night: steak, baked potato, green salad

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just Because I'm Technophobic Doesn't Mean My Computer's Not Out to Destroy Me

I'm gathering research for a piece that I want to write for possible publication on another site. Of course, by "research" I mean your non-scientific opinions and by "piece," I mean piece of nonsense that noone but myself will probably ever care to read.

That said, please delurk and take a minute to participate in the polls that I've posted on the sidebar. Pretty please. There! I'm being all nice and pleading. Help a schlub out, won't you? De-lurk! Click on a couple of polls! They're completely anonymous, so the Man won't be able to track you down and force you to sign up for Obamacare. I promise.

Dinner last night: lasagna, green peas

[UPDATE: polls are now closed . . . thank you for voting!]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Country Road

Over Labor Day weekend, my eldest daughter went on a camping trip and my husband took our 9-year-old and one of the twins to Grandma's house. So it was just me and my baby.
My daughter LOVES to go on walks. She was so happy to have me and Mother Nature all to herself.

We headed to a nearby creek . . .

. . . where we could throw rocks into the water.

I wouldn't let her "pick the pretty flowers," since the last thing I need is her bringing home clover or butter and eggs to invade our lawn and garden. Vile weeds!
Dinner last night: chicken garlic pizza

Thursday, September 3, 2009

That's A Lot of Cole Slaw

When I think of "state fair," I visualize shiny, plump vegetables and groomed livestock and jars of prize-winning jam. I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the exhibits, but for the past two years—because of certain small children who were too pooped after all the rides—we haven't been able to spend any time strolling through the various buildings that house the many fair entries.

This year I vowed that we would go check out the exhibits, and we did. It meant we didn't leave the fair until late in the evening and I was exhausted from all the walking, but here you go . . .

People picture Alaska encased in snow and ice year-round, but we do have a summer season. It's short, but sweet, and our midnight sun allows for some pretty amazing gardens. One of the most popular categories at our State Fair centers around the biggest vegetables grown each particular year, and 2009 produced some doozies. This 90-pound cabbage is nothing, considering that the grand champion weighed over 125 pounds!! In fact, this year's winning cabbage made it into the book of Guinness World Records. That's right, Texas. We grow 'em big in Alaska, too.

This zucchini tipped the scale at just over 25 pounds.

There's nothing cuter than little piglets . . .

. . . and nothing uglier than a big ol' fat lazy mama pig.
Present company excluded, of course.
Hey! I resemble that remark!

My absolute favorite exhibit? The quilts! Oh, they're wonderful. This is just one small area. The rest of the quilts hang from the ceiling, and line the walls, and are stacked in piles on tables. They are so beautiful and represent such creativity and hard work, I could spend all day just looking at the quilts.

I had to take a picture of this winner in the sewing category. I sewed a couple of dresses this past winter but they sure didn't look like this beauty. Thanks, Captain Obvious, for your hand at the edge of the picture, making sure we notice the spectacular train on this gown.

This is one of the peaks on a range that encircles Palmer, where the fairgrounds are located. If you put on a pair of magnifying glasses, you just might be able to make out my daughter's red balloon floating away to the left of that mountain. Good-bye, balloon. And good-bye, State Fair. We'll meet again next year: same place, same time.

Dinner last night: barbecue chicken, roasted potatoes, green salad

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fair Hair

Every year at the fair, I give my older girls the choice of face make-up or crazy hair. This year, they and their friend decided FAIR HAIR, BABY!

These hair styles defy every law of gravity and of childhood. They will stay in place despite any silly antic a kid can dream up.

Climbing a rock wall won't faze this fauxhawk.

A bucking salmon can't move a single hair on my daughter's head.

Vigorous hula hooping? Please. My 9-year-old's locks reach for the sky even while she madly twirls 3 hoops simultaneously.

Enjoy your day, girls. Your evening bath won't be so fun.

Dinner last night: homemade chicken noodle soup, sweet corn muffins

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rides, Rides, and More Rides

You know you're an old fogey when fair rides no longer elicit screams of delight, but instead cause waves of nausea and the onset of a migraine headache. I can't believe I've come to this point in my life, but I'd rather stay on the ground and take pictures of my girls having fun than squeeze my slender hips into a nice, comfy Hell's Bells roller coaster ride and get spun around in circles. I know. I've become my grandmother.

Who are these nicely behaved children?
Look at how well they keep their hands
inside the railroad car at all times.

There's my girl.

Dinner last night: spaghetti with meat sauce, green salad, garlic bread