Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh to be a kid again...

I love how any found object can be turned into something creative. Like, one warm fall day at the park, after running around in the grass, they found sticks and decided they were dinosaur tails.

Or how they can turn a roll of masking tape into a fun toy by rolling it back and forth to each other on the floor...
Or how having frosting on your face is adorable...
Or how garbage day is hours of entertainment...
Or how running around in their underwear is okay...
Or how playing with playdoh provides hours of creative entertainment...
Or how finding a feather turns into a story of where it came from...
Or how making food into faces on their plate is the coolest thing ever...Having young children teaches me to look at the everyday things differently, to find joy in simplicity, to appreciate nature, to slow down and take it all in.
Don't you wish you were a kid again?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Mom made the best chocolate chip cookies ever! No fooling! She could make them perfectly, my friends would argue they were store bought cause they were always the same size and shape. She would make this huge batches and store them in the large coffee cans or ice cream pails. Of course, she would also hide them all over the house so we couldn't snitch them between meals. We always found them, and man, you were lucky if you could find one of the cans and re-hide it and not have to share with the older brothers.

These cookies were coveted... and as we all got older and moved away from home, Mom would send us a batch for our birthdays, usually in an ice cream pail. One year, she sent my brother a birthday card without cookies. He marked the card - "return to sender - no cookies" and dropped it back in the mail box. So, please don't tell my family I am sharing this well kept secret; I amy not get Christmas presents this year if you do.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup shortening (Mom used butter flavored)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix well on medium speed
2 1/3 - 2/1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Sift together and add to creamed mixture
Add 1 cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
Bake on greased cookie sheet
350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. I usually take them out at 12.

I apologize for not including pictures like my co-bloggers did in their recipe posts. The cookies didn't make it to the camera session.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Books have always been an escape for me... I went to a small rural four room grade school (no I didn't walk four miles through snow up to my chin). The Brown County Library system had a bookmobile that came to our school every couple of weeks. I remember getting my library card and thinking I held the key to a whole world... ah the freedom to unlock a whole imagination was right there in my pudgy little hands. So off to the book mobile I trudged... and I checked out books. Man, did I check out books. By the time I hit 8th grade, I had read every book on the bookmobile. The librarian was reserving books for me and bringing me a stack of them every time she came. I read Roots, Centennial, and every other book I could get my hands on. Throughout the years, some of those books have stuck with me, and I have enjoyed them again and again. Here is a list of some my favorites - not ranked in any order and includes some recent reads.

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain To this day, I enjoy Twain's satire and view of the world. One of my favorite authors of all time.
  2. The Encyclopedia Brown Series - Donald Sobol
  3. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
  5. The Hardy Boys Mystery Series
  6. Iron John - Robert Bly
  7. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
  8. Absolutely anything by Stephen King
  9. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett An exceptional book, well written and captivating.
  10. All Creatures Great and Small... As a farm kid, I could relate and laughed often.
  11. The Last Catholic in America - John Powers. Yes, I was raised Catholic, and yes, I could totally relate.
Next time around, I will actually write a review. What I will say is I have always enjoyed books on all subjects and of all genres. Books are an escape, an ability to travel to far away places, travel in time, and to challenge the imagination. My daughter is a book worm also, and like me you will often see her with several books started. My son, at 15 months, loves to sit on the floor and flip through his books. I can only hope they will learn, enjoy and share my passion for books.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

The pictures were taken in spring of this year at the Eagle Bluff Nature Center in Southern MN. I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter and her 6th grade class on a field trip there. A beautiful facility with lot's of great programming, staff and of course outdoor activities. The last picture is of my daughter conquering her fears on the ropes course: 30+ feet off the ground.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best Entertainment for the Money

Every June, I spend $25. I have been doing it in the State of Minnesota for the last 6 years (since I moved here). For that $25 I have watched eagles soar before my eyes, listened to rivers run wild, met people from all over and watched the seasons change. What did I spend that $25 on - an annual pass to the Minnesota State Parks.

My family and I enjoy being in the parks and exploring. We have gone on hikes, had picnics, and camped. All for $25 annually - and guess what, I can go to the parks as much as I want. Camping is extra... but the memories are free. My daughter knows many birds by the song they sing, or the way they look. She has an appreciation for nature and conserving it for the generations to follow. We have seen trees formed in interesting shapes, paid our respects at Indian Burial Mounds, and been amazed at how water has carved out bluffs.

My daughter likes fly fishing, standing in water and trying to master the cast, and catch a fish. We have yet to be successful, but can't wait for my son to be older to join us. We have stood on the bluffs along the Mississippi and had bald eagles soar past us, close enough that we could only stare in awe at their majestic presence. We have had many discussions over what new trails to explore or conquering the "Five Boot" hikes.

In the future we want to try canoeing or kayaking. Most of the parks have geo-caching where you can borrow GPS units and go find hidden treasures that are left by others. The parks have done a great job of setting up great locations for the treasures that are a challenge and give everyone a sense of accomplishment when there are all found.

At the end of the day, we are all tired, yet relaxed from a day outside. We have gotten great exercise, spent time as a family enjoying nature, learned a few things along the way and marveled at all that being outside has to offer. In today's world of electronics, television, computers and ipods, I treasure those moments where we can explore in the woods. We all enjoy the quiet, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the birds singing and our time together. We have never left a state park wishing we had done something else. $25 well spent...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Frustrated with Sports on TV

I have several issues with NBC, ABC, CBS, ESPN and all the other channels that broadcast sports. I want to watch a game with my family. I want them to learn about sportsmanship, being a team player and the game. I want to root for my teams and see them play well... but in between the possessions, the caution flags or innings I cringe. You see, I don't think my 12 year old daughter should have to see an older couple sitting in bathtubs and discussing erectile dysfunction, or worse knowing the words to the Viva Viagra song. Thank goodness my son is only 15 months old, but I still feel the need to change the channel at every commercial. You see, if it isn't the commercials for the male organ obsessed, it is the violent TV shows or extreme video games. Why is there a video game with zombies called Left For Dead 2? Really, they needed a second one? I understand the target audience for sporting events are males. I get it... women and children don't watch sports. Perhaps they don't watch sporting events on TV because the advertising is insulting? I have to tell you the audience at games should give networks a clue. They do watch - in fact, my wife is a much bigger college football fan than I am.

My second issue I have with the networks in sports is the creation of the self-absorbed divas. When I see Chad Ocho-Idiot, or T.O. or any of these other numerous "role models" I cringe. For I never know if the camera will show them cussing at their coaches, doing some stupid dance in the end zone or talking trash. I remember being in Dick's Sporting goods after Randy Moss "mooned" the crowd after scoring a touchdown. A parent there was buying his 10 year old son a Moss jersey. Clearly there are deeper lessons here that could be taught. Sports shows have created these monsters and encouraged their behaviors. Bring some class back into the games, so when my little boy starts playing and I talk to him about sportsmanship, he understands what it means. I will have to go back and find footage of guys like Barry Sanders or others that were always classy. There are few in today's games, thanks to the ratings obsessions.

My third issue is the cheerleaders. Enough said...

As parents, we have to monitor what are kids are watching, and do our best to screen out inappropriate content. I can understand not watching prime time TV. But my kids should be able to watch a game without the content that comes in commercials and the shenanigans on the field of play. Encourage your kids to follow players that do it right, show sportsmanship and are examples on and off the field. I know as a parent, my opportunity to give the network gods a clue are slim to none... but what I can do is control the content, have discussions around appropriateness of behaviors and lead by example. Kids will learn their respect of teammates, the game and the people around them through the examples we set. Oh and for the networks, I am watching you... but more and more on DVR - where I can filter out your junk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Apple pie guy

Randy's birthday is tomorrow, and he isn't a cake kinda guy. He is an apple pie kinda guy. I have been competing with his grandmother's apple pie for ten years, and I finally got the dip and kiss after this recipe courtesy of (where all the cool kids hang out). It is labor intensive, I'm not gonna lie, but it has a crust to DIE for.


  • Dough
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
  • Filling
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 pounds baking apples like Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Mutsu
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten


Make the dough by hand. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter. (If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl. If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.

Make the dough in a food processor. With the machine fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean size bits of butter, about 10 times. Add the egg and pulse 1 to 2 times; don't let the dough form into a ball in the machine. (If the dough is very dry add up to a tablespoon more of cold water.) Remove the bowl from the machine, remove the blade, and bring the dough together by hand.

Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.

Make the filling. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.

Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice and spices. Set aside to cool completely. (This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.)

Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Layer the dough between pieces of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. Put the apple filling in the pan and mound it slightly in the center. Brush the top edges of the dough with the egg. Place the second disc of dough over the top. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. Brush the surface of the dough with egg and then sprinkle with sugar. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours, or refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Cook's Note: You may freeze the uncooked pie, but don't brush it with egg or dust it with sugar beforehand. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 6 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake, from the frozen state, until golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Stink

Seriously? One of the best books for boys who love machines of all kinds. Both my boys (6 and 3) LOVE this book. They love to say, "You think I stink? whooooo-eeeeee do I ever! No skunk ever stunk this bad! But go on, think about it, without me? You're on mount TRASH-O-RAMA baby!"

It is a great stocking stuffer, a great read, and a great way to get kids to realize that their garbage has to go somewhere.

We read this after watching Wall-e one night and Drew said, 'Wow, mom. We make a lot of garbage. Why don't we recycle more?"

Good question from the 6 yo. He is pretty adamant about using our reusable bags at the grocery store, putting his trash in the garbage, but thinking about whether or not it can be recyled. If it can, it goes in recycling. Case in point, I said, "Hey, can you go put this in the garbage?" and handed him some old papers from his backpack. He responded, "No mommy, these are RECYCLABLE!" as if I was both deaf and stupid.

So I Stink is a fun and fast read perfect for those enviornmentally conscious kids in your life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

rest within the race

Two boys are busy. Now, it is all relative. My friends with 3 or more roll their eyes enduringly at me. They smile and nod with a knowing smile that says, in the nicest way possible, that I have NO idea.

But really, I think I have an idea….maybe just one, but I’ll put it out there.
When I started training for a ½ marathon, I had no idea how long 13 miles is. Really, I didn’t, or I wouldn’t have followed through probably, heh. I stuck to my training schedule and each time the mileage increased I’d start to get a bit anxious. Wow, 5 miles? That’s far. How will I make it? What if I have to walk? Do you think I should take some gel? Like I said, I had no idea. Each time I would come home from a run I’d tell Randy I wasn’t sure if I had another mile in me.
But I always did.

Parenting is a really, really, really long training schedule. Each child adds a different dimension. There are some “runs” that make us want to quit and throw it in. After others we feel like we “just don’t have another mile in us.” There is no throwing the towel in or returning a child, there is an acceptance of the training, and a moment in which finally, an answer, never the answer, is clear.
One child, two children, red children blue children, it doesn’t matter – there are challenges in this race, this race in which to raise creative, kind, confident kids with a heart for others. It is hard, and sometimes it takes moments of selfishness to really do the trick.

For my mother, it was walks around the house. When she couldn’t stand our bickering and complaining we would find her walking around the house. She would pause at the flowers, pull weeds, or just walk. Over and over, she’d walk. For me, it is running. When the boys become too much, when I’d rather put them to bed at 9 am than start the day, I know it is time for a run. My grandmother sewed, my husband fishes, and my friends read, go for coffee, scrapbook, and watch movies. There are times built into the training called rest days. Those are the days where 44 hours of wii is ok. Those are the days where one more movie isn’t going to hurt. Those are the days where ice cream for dinner is just about perfection. Those days, those rest days, are important. They allow us to build back, center again, and remember the goal at the end.

This Saturday was a running day. Randy and Drew went to the hockey game and Owen and I went swimming. This weekend poor Owen’s binky “broke” and they just don’t make any more. He was sad, couldn’t sleep very well, and was, frankly, mad at the world. It was time for binky to go, and it was time for me to man up and run the run. Somewhere in this week will be a rest day. A day to release all the tension and unrest from the weekend, but in the meantime I keep reminding myself that: A. My miles and someone else’s miles are different and certainly we are training for different races. B. that I can run another mile. And C. I love the process. I love the training. I love the challenges.

Enjoy the race.
Enjoy the rest.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Exhausting Hope

Finishing up the last week of the first quarter in a high school is close to the 9th circle. Each one starts to throw the others under the bus. “But he didn’t send me the links on time.” “But she didn’t text me with the time we ere going to meet.” “Can’t you grade us separately?” “When can I meet with you for my thesis?” “When was that due?” “Oh geesh, Brock, why do you teachers do this to uuuuuuuuuussssssssssssss???”
I know you now are desperate to enter into my room every morning where a sea of Abercrombie and Uggs swarm my door and I must swat them away just to put down my backpack. You want to come and calm fears, shush tears, and remind them that, in the end, they will A. live, B. learn, and C. thrive. Then I have to remind them that they, A. are more than a number, B. this is merely quarter, and the real grade isn’t until the end of the semester, and C. can’t argue about points, so shush it.
You want to walk into my room.
Really, you do.

In that room, where the anxiety level is through the roof, where they question the relevancy of English, literature, and me, they also are learning. OOOooooooooo, are they brilliant! They are learning that the “right” answer is one supported by text. They are learning that an easy “A” is less than a hard earned “B”. They are learning that literature is life. We are majoring in life within my room and for that, I am…

But in a good way
In a way that I can’t explain other through anecdote

I came in to meet with one of my students for her thesis and the entire back board was covered with purple and brown expo brain matter. She worked madly over the philosophical debate about why we must proceed on the archetypal journey. She pulled examples from three or four different texts. She worked with concepts like fate, free will, task, stereotype, mentor, deceit, and love. She grappled with motivation and the lack of. When I walked into that room after grabbing a quick bite of a sandwich I sat on the back table and allowed her to proceed through the trails of now red ink connecting ideas, erasing those that don’t fit. I watched and interjected here and there in order to streamline her thesis. Later that evening, during online conference hours, she typed. “Brock, I am so excited about my paper. In truth, I can say I have never said those words about any paper, especially at the end of the quarter  haha.”

I am telling you, you want to be in my room. You want to be involved with these amazing minds. You want to see what they do when handed 12 titles and told to go find something interesting to write about. You want to be here, in the sea of Abercrombie and Uggs. You want to be here and see what our future is doing in the present.

Here is the hope those looking over they shoulders are looking for. It isn’t a plan, it isn’t a policy, and it isn’t a system or a standardized test. It lies in the hearts of our children. If we nurture those beating, pulsing bodies, our hope, daily, is restored.

So I invest. I smile. I say, “I know you are frustrated, but I believe in you. I know you can do this. Just try. Just pick up the idea and try.” Most importantly, I say, “What do you think?”

And make them answer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Orange Cranberry Muffins - perfect for Thanksgiving morning!

Before I jump into writing about cooking and food and recipes and the like, I feel it necessary to disclose the relative amateur nature of mah skilz, as they say.

I do not cook very much. I do not cook well. My husband, in fact, cooks more often and better than I do. It is not because he likes to do it or feels he is especially good at it. He does so because he likes to eat and he likes it to taste good. Ergo, he cooks for our family quite frequently.

What I DO do is bake. I'm much better at it than cooking. Each Saturday and Sunday morning, we have fresh baked goods paired with hot eggs, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. Halloween? I'm ready with homemade pumpkin bread and butterscotch cut-out cookies. For Christmas everyone knows to expect gingerbread men, sugar cookies, bourbon balls and pecan pie. Other specialties of the house? Key Lime Pie. (No, I will never give out the recipe here.) I make almost all the birthday cakes in the house. I bake my own yeast breads. Our house runneth over with scones and muffins and cookies and biscuits and popovers and such.

That being said, let's jump in: Orange Cranberry Muffins

For this yummy, we will turn to our trusty companion, the Better Homes and Gardens NEW Cookbook, publication date 1996.

In the chapter of the food group "Breads," on pages 118-119, we find the general recipe for "Muffins."

Lest you believe for one minute that I would give you nothing more than a recipe from a cookbook, have faith. I wouldn't lead you astray. No, I rarely make a recipe exactly as it's written. The recipe in the cookbook gives a variation to include cranberries, but even that would be too ordinary and trite. It takes a little bit of know-how, but one always has to change up the recipe and add a little something extra in order to make the end result "pop" (as Stacy London might say).

Here's my spice, seasonings and herb cabinet:

We buy such stuff from a local market and then fill jars we already have.

This makes it possible to buy only as much as we need, enabling it to always be fresh and also enables us to buy expensive spices that we otherwise couldn't afford (like saffron). The per pound cost is as much as 1/10 of what it costs at the grocery store. So, hello exotic things I normally wouldn't buy! Like:

dried orange peel

The perfect complement to the tangy flavor of the dried cranberries. Just the little extra something we need to make this otherwise ordinary, run of the mill recipe for cranberry muffins become something extraordinary.

Without further ado then, here is the recipe:


Orange-Cranberry Muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried orange peel
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup dried cranberries

Line twelve standard muffin cups with bake cups; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix in orange peel. Make a well in the center of dry mixture; set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir until just moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool in muffin cups on a mire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and serve warm. Makes 10-12 muffins.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: You're Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen

You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation
by Deborah Tannen

When my oldest daughter was entering her tweens, after a year of hearing she and I argue relentlessly, my husband ordered You're Wearing That? by Deborah Tannen and gave it to me for light reading. He hoped something in the book would help us girls work out our conflicts. I've been a daughter for almost four decades and a mother for almost 16 years. I've got two sisters (no brothers) and two daughters (no sons). Suffice it to say, I've spent my lifetime thinking about how mothers and daughters converse. I started a blog in order to work out my ideas. I have spent God-only-know-how-many dollars on long distance phone calls with friends and family discussing my angst. When the book was in my hands, I read it cover to cover in three days. I found out I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Chances are that you are... adult daughter and that you have something to work out with your mother, or...

...the mother of a grown daughter, wondering why she's so angry or depressed or distant or riled whenever you talk to her, or...

...the mother of a daughter and you wonder what your relationship will be like with her once she is grown. You might even wonder what it will be like once she's past childhood and into her tweens and (gasp!) her teen years. Or...

...the husband or brother or son of a woman you KNOW needs to improve her communication with her mother or daughter.
If any of these apply, buy the book and read it. Or buy it secondhand. Or check it out from the library. Or go in together with five friends, read it one by one and passing it to the next when you are finished. Then talk about it together. It'll be worth your while, your effort and your pennies.

Tannen focuses on the relationships mothers and daughters have once the daughter is grown. It seems like the relationship should be easy enough to navigate, right? A mother nurtures her daughter through infancy and childhood, loves her, and wants the best for her. The daughter looks up to her mother, feels supported and loved, seeks her advice and approval in her times of need, and feels physical pain if her mother hurts. Sounds like the makings of a perfect symbiotic relationship. Perhaps that's why it's such a mystery to women around the world why they say the nastiest things to their mothers and why mothers are so quick to push all the wrong buttons with their daughters.

There is a dynamic push and pull of the mother-daughter relationship, one which Tannen explains is different from all other familial relationships. A daughter seeks her own identity and to define herself as an individual. Weighed against that is her mother's perspective, a woman who sees her daughter as an extension of herself. The two ideals work against each other, sometimes in ways the two women cannot even verbalize consciously.

As I read the book, I found myself realizing that I had to start changing the way I mothered NOW. My daughter was 12 at the time, but the push and pull was already there. This young woman, barely starting her adolescence, would (God-willing) be in a relationship with me for the next 50-60 years. We could continue down the rocky path I had set us on or I could make the choice to repave the path, a path we could walk down together and enjoy the beauty of the view instead of constantly criticizing each other's make-up, hair cut and choice of clothing.

The book is such an easy read, so enjoyable, and so enlightening. Tannen is a linguist (so am I), but I don't recommend the book because of our common research interest. For me, I was delightfully surprised to find that the book wasn't just another volume in my library of linguistics books, but instead it was a book that, when I was deeply engrossed in, I didn't even remember was written by a colleague at all.

So pick it up and treat yourself to a new perspective. I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Avoid the flu of the pigs

Wordless Wednesday: Thank you, veterans

Thailand, circa 1967-8.
Downtime on the ground between missions as a 707 refueler with four fighters.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pizza and a Movie

A long time ago, more than a decade ago, one of my dearest friends introduced me to Friday Night Pizza and a Movie Night. She had three children at the time, 5 years, 2 years and newborn. Every Friday night their whole family would watch a movie together and enjoy homemade pizza. It was always a kids movie that the children would enjoy. We found out about it because my daughter and I came by one Friday night to visit. My friend welcomed us in, gave my daughter a piece of pizza and a spot on the floor, and pulled me into the kitchen to visit while the children were happily occupied. At the time I thought, I wish our family could have something like this.

Since then, I've divorced my oldest daughter's father, been a single parent, remarried and had a second daughter. It was a few months ago, when I was in my last trimester of pregnancy, that I suggested to my husband we give the idea of Friday Night Pizza and a Movie Night a try in our family. I was on medical leave because my pregnancy had become very stressful to my body. My husband had just returned from South America after losing his father to a sudden death. My teenage daughter had been away for a month with her father and hadn't been home much at all. We were all a bit fatigued, drained, and generally in need of downtime to reconnect. We desperately needed to have some quiet family time.

We started with some movies we had around the house on DVD or recorded on DVR. Freaky Friday (the remake with Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis), Men In Black and Beetlejuice. We loved it. It was great to get to laugh together.

The baby was born, the school year started for both my daughter and my husband. Things felt hectic again. So we continued to set aside Friday night for pizza and a movie.

We starting going for some serious films. Lean On Me with Morgan Freeman. I love the opening sequence, seeing the pristine school of the 1960s fade into the inner city graffitied school of 1987. To this day I think the use of the song "Welcome to the Jungle" in that scene is one of the best uses of a musical piece in film. While watching the violence and chaos ensuing at Eastside High in 1987, backed by Axl Rose screaming to cacophonic metal rock, my daughter couldn't take her eyes off the screen. After about half a minute, she said, 'OK, that is SO unrealistic. That would never happen in a high school." It was then that I realized that even though she had spent her entire educational career in Washington, DC and close to Detroit, she had no idea about the reality of inner city schools and neighborhoods.

My husband picked out Rabbit-Proof Fence. It's a 2002 film directed by Phillip Noyce (of Dead Calm and The Saint) depicting the true story of three girls journeying across the Australian Outback back to their home and their mother. The girls are journeying back because they have been forcibly removed by the government, a government who believes that mixed race people, half-aborigine half-white in this case, are members of an unwanted race, nature gone wrong. Such children were removed from their families and trained to be domestic servants -- until 1970. The movie is a bit too subtle for young children and maybe too complex of a topic for them to understand. But for my teenage daughter, it was perfect.

The next movie night was Baby Mama. The following week was my pick, a classic that I adore, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. For both of these flicks, we all laughed out loud through the comedy and antics of the SNL alums.

Aside from the selection of movie itself, our family has benefited so much since starting Friday Night Pizza and a Movie Night. Having a fixed time in the week set aside for family gives us a place to reconnect. Even more important, it's much better than a night out for so many reasons.

  • It has a minimal cost, just the price of renting a movie, about $10 tops for a couple frozen pizzas ($15 is we order out, pick it up and use a coupon), and a few more bucks for the sodas bought in bulk and a salad made from scratch. I guess that the top price tag for the whole evening has never been more than $30 and sometimes that includes milkshakes and dessert.
  • The night can go on into bedtime without the crankiness of still being out. If someone gets sleepy, they can just snuggle up on the couch with a warm afghan. The worst thing that happens is they doze off and watch the rest of the movie later in the weekend.
  • Above all, the best advantage to being at home rather than being out is that we don't have the distraction of being in a crowd, having to interact with strangers, and interacting with the rest of the world. We get enough of all that during the week. By staying at home we get to focus on each other and enjoy each other's company.
For the time being, the planning involved is minimal. We order a pizza for take out or throw a few frozen ones in the microwave. The choice of movie just needs to entertain two adults and a teenager and not have a soundtrack that would upset an infant. As time passes, it may take a little more planning and tolerance. When the infant gets older, we'll have to change the movie selections to ones that are age appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. Pizza will need to be cut up in small bite-size pieces and accompanied by carrots or some other nutritious side suitable for smaller kids. Eventually, I hope Friday Night Pizza and a Movie Night will become such a fixture in our family life that when friends stop by unexpectedly, we can easily fit them right into our festivities. Fix up a plate of pizza for each child and find a spot on the floor for them while we adults enjoy the end of another week in relaxed conversation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Avoiding the piggie flu

It was a problem that didn't have a perfect solution. And the information needed to make a decision regarding the solution was ever-changing. Enter stage right: swine flu.

See, I'm already messing up. It's politically incorrect to call the virus "swine flu." Poor pigs. Ok, then. H1N1. It doesn't really matter, though, right? The new, more technical name still causes panic in people.

The problem was how to keep everyone safe and healthy, especially those most at risk in our household, my 3-month-old baby and me.

Our household, minus our youngest member, we all got the H1N1 vaccine last Thursday. The critical at-risk population that qualified us all to get it was that the wee 3-month-old in our household was at risk and not able to receive the vaccination. Since the only way to prevent her from getting the virus was for her never to encounter it, everyone in the household could to be vaccinated.

I've had my reservations about this whole thing. It's a brand new vaccine. What if something went wrong? What if I got the vaccine and I got sick or debilitated and couldn't take care of the baby? What about my older daughter? I don't want her to have some strange reaction to a vaccine. How would I feel then? Still, there were no reports of people suffering from the vaccine...and there WERE reports of babies getting the piggie flu and being dead 24 hours after diagnosis. One of those babies was in my state of Michigan. I couldn't get it out of my head: what if MY baby got the flu accidentally and died? How stupid and foolish would I feel for not going ahead and having everyone in our household protected against the virus?

Normally I'm not a person who is an alarmist. I take the wide angle lens to examine the world and try not to jump to hasty decisions. When swine flu hit the US last spring, back when I was just a pregnant woman with asthma, I didn't worry too much. Sure, all flu strains result in death for a few, but I always sought medical attention when needed. Surely if I caught the bug, me and my growing baby in utero would eventually be fine.

The effects of the pandemic abated in the US over the summer. That was when the news hit about pregnant women being particularly susceptible to the fatal effects of this flu. The way I heard the guarded warnings in the news was like this: You shouldn't worry unless you are pregnant (I was) or if you are asthmatic (I am). Even if you are in one of those groups, don't worry too much because it's summer. Where the swine flu is really spreading right now is in the southern hemisphere, where it is the dead of winter. So really you're not at risk unless you travel to South America, like Brazil, or if you live with someone who recently has. Oops. My husband was in Brazil at the time. But we beat the odds and I didn't encounter anyone who seemed symptomatic. Groovy. The baby was born without so much as a hint of a flu-like symptoms on my part.

Then, just about the same time I was breathing a sigh of relief for no longer being pregnant and potentially being exposed to the virus every week due to my many medical appointments, the flu season reared its ugly head here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere. The promised vaccine was slow in coming. When I called the pediatrician's office, I heard a pre-recorded message before I could reach a live person: "If this a life-threatening emergency, hang up and dial 911. If you are calling to inquire about vaccination against the flu for your child, we are not scheduling appointment since our supply has not yet arrived..." ...and the recorded voice trailed off into a slew of conditionals and apologetics. I started getting a little more nervous. Maybe this thing WAS something I should worry about. The most likely groups to catch the flu? Teenagers and those on colleges campuses (that covers my older daughter and my husband). Those most at risk? Those whose respiratory systems aren't strong, like very young infants and asthmatics (that covers my baby daughter and me). I thought, we're screwed. My immunologist's office didn't have the vaccine at all and had no idea when it was coming. The county announced a free vaccination clinic; all the doses available were accounted for in the first hour when those who had already been waiting for 4-5 hours were assigned numbers. As a result, the county canceled the three remaining clinics scheduled in order to avoid similar panic-driven chaos.

Finally, the county announced a county-wide mass vaccination clinic held at one of the local university's large arenas. 4000 doses of the vaccine available. 10a-7p, one day only. I showed up at 9a with the baby, aiming to get wristbands (required to enter the building and to receive a vaccine) for me, my husband, and my older daughter. I was successful...and spent the next four hours in line. With the baby. Surrounded by hundreds of other people in a confined space. My husband ended up having to cancel his classes for the day in order to get his shot. I took my older daughter in the evening after the school day was over and she had completed swim practice. The whole time I was there with her, she kept saying, "this is JUST like I Am Legend. Maybe we'll all turn into ZOMBIES!" I told her to keep it down and not to incite panic. By the time we got home, it was far past dinner time. We raced through reheated leftovers and finally finished at about 9:30p.

But. The point is. We got our swine flu vaccines.

Wasn't the whole point of vaccinating against this virus so that the normal flow of activity in the country wouldn't be disrupted? I feel like there's some irony in here somewhere.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Crock Pot French Dip Sandwiches

This is my quick and easy recipe for French dip sandwiches, using a crock pot. I usually buy a roast or two when they are on sale and throw them in the deep freezer until I want to cook one.

For this recipe you need a roast (whatever kind you like the best!), a French loaf, beef bouillon cubes, 1 can of beef broth, cheese slices and water. In the morning, take your roast straight from the freezer and throw it in your crock pot. Then pour the can of beef broth in, along with some water and a few bouillon cubes (this will be your dipping juice when it's time to eat!) Set your crock pot on low and let it cook all day!

Just before you're ready to eat, cut your French loaf in half length-wise and line both sides with cheese. Pop the loaf in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. While that's melting, cut your roast into small chunks or slices, then place them on the loaf with the melted cheese. Put the top on your sandwich, cut into pieces. Pour your au jus sauce into bowls big enough to dip your sandwiches.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ten Favorite Grown-Up Authors

10 Favorite Authors

  1. Maeve Binchy- My favorite book was Circle of Friends.
  2. Anita Shreve - I don't think I've disliked any of her books.
  3. Jodi Picoult - Her books are somewhat predictable for me, but still good.
  4. LaVeryle Spencer - It's romance, what many would consider fluff but I enjoyed it during and after college when I needed something less than intense to read. Also she's a Minnesota author. I think Spring Fancy was my favorite.
  5. Nora Roberts - More of what many would consider fluff, but really took me through that transition from reading textbooks to reading other novels that made me think.
  6. Tami Hoag - Another author with Minnesota ties. I have two autographed hardcover copies of two of her books. She writes more murder mystery style with a little romance thrown in.
  7. Wally Lamb - Really interesting stories...not the norm, yet compelling stories.
  8. Steven King - I don't know who could dispute that he isn't a great writer. Perhaps not the most intellectual, but for his genre he's superior.
  9. J.K. Rowling - Who doesn't love Harry and friends?
  10. So I lied. I can only recommend 9 today. Maybe you have one to add to my list?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Busy Day Sanity Saver With Twos and Threes

When my oldest was two, she liked to go places and do things much like she still does today. She’s a doer and a social butterfly, yet even the most social two and three year olds have their limits of how many errands they can stand before they melt down.

At the same time, there are sometimes days that parents just really need to run a lot of errands. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable to have to go 5 places in one morning, even though we’d much rather space the trips out for the sake of the toddler or preschooler in our lives.

On one of those days that I knew I was going to be running around a lot, and dragging two-year-old M (and her baby brother) with me I had a wonderful brainstorm that worked so well that I used it any time we had a “running” day.

Before we left that day I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and sat down with M. I told her we needed to go to a few places and we would be getting in and out of the car a lot. Then I drew her a picture list in the order of the places we would be going and the things we would be doing. I drew a target to symbolize Target and told her that first we would go to Target. Then I drew an envelope and explained we’d be stopping at the post office. Then I drew a building with a flag in front of it and told her we would need to stop at her school. And so on with the errands, ending with a picture of a house to tell her we’d be going home after the last errand. I told her we would eat lunch at home so I drew a plate and eating utensils last so she’d know we would eat lunch when we got home.

As we got in the car to start our errands, I’d given M a pen so she could mark off each errand as we completed it. I made sure to ask her what the next errand was before we left the previous place. She loved being able to help me remember what we needed to do and it kept her focused on the goal: getting things done so we could go home and eat lunch!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Live In Minnesota?

People in other parts of the country often can’t imagine why anyone would want to live in Minnesota. Our winters are cold and long, our summers are (usually) hot, humid and over in the blink of an eye. But Minnesota has a way of growing on people. Sure, they complain while they’re here but when/if they move out of state I almost always hear them say “I wish I was still in Minnesota.”

Here, some of the good things about living in Minnesota:

  1. We have no sales tax on clothing. This includes shoes (as long as they aren’t specialty shoes like soccer cleats or golf shoes).
  2. We have no tax on food. This doesn’t include food prepared in a restaurant, but still. No tax on our food is good too, right?
  3. We have separate stores for alcohol and they close early. They aren’t even open at all on Sundays. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a plus, but it forces you to plan ahead. Life lessons people!
  4. We can say dorky things like “yah, you betcha” and other native Minnesotans don’t think we’re weird.
  5. We have Early Childhood Family Education available. I would have gone completely nuts (even more than I have) without ECFE, especially when my first child was born. I learned so much and met so many great people in these classes. Most of all I learned that I’m not the only parent struggling with issues.
  6. Our streets are clean, our crime rates are low and we have little air pollution.
  7. It’s beautiful, even in the wintertime. Have you ever seen snow that sparkles? Some snowfalls look like glitter.
  8. If you don’t like the current weather, you can be fairly certain it will be different tomorrow.