Thursday, December 31, 2009

Retrospective

Some days, when I was in a hurry to get to an appointment, feeling flustered because I had a lot on my mind and tons to do, I found myself experiencing major road rage. I tended to tailgate, mutter unkind words as a speeder passed by, or honk loudly in irritation at the guy who cut me off. Even if I resisted my dark impulses, you can bet I was thinking ugly thoughts about the rude drivers around me.

Other days, when I had plenty of time to run my errands and was feeling calm and organized, I was the world's nicest driver; it didn't bother me one bit if someone drove too slowly—I stayed three car lengths behind and passed at my leisure. If someone tried to pull in front of me, I slowed down and waved him in. I didn't worry about grabbing a parking spot close to the entrance before the minivan racing the other way; in fact, I parked at the very end so I could walk a little.

Inept, clueless, and passive-aggressive drivers dot the roadways. There's always going to be someone who crosses three lanes without signaling, a teenager on her cell phone, and the couple with a big dog in the back of their Subaru driving 20 mph . . . it's only my attitude that's ever going to change. My outlook determines whether or not I enjoy my journey.

Here's hoping that your path through 2010 is wide and smooth, and that you're able to take your time and enjoy the ride. Try not to freak out too much at fellow travelers, even when they're hogging the road. I'll do the same.

video
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Dinner last night: short ribs, sweet potatoes, broccoli



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blog to Book

The following is not an advertisement or paid review of any kind, just a note to fellow bloggers who, like me, distrust the Internet and might want to transfer a portion of their blogs into an album or book.


My mother-in-law does not own a computer, but I thought she might enjoy looking at some of my blog entries. I tried this Christmas to design a "blog book" for her through my iPhoto program that would feature my top posts, but it was taking literally hours of my time. I checked out various photo album programs, which were fine for all my photographs but didn't allow much space for text. I had just decided to give up on the project when I ran across a comment somewhere suggesting Blurb. I looked over their website and decided to give it a try . . . so much easier than anything I had attempted!



You download their free bookmaking software onto your computer and do all your work there, so everything is private and protected. The program will automatically stream (no cutting and pasting!) however many posts you want from your blog into your choice of several book templates—the designs are fixed, but you've still got flexibility in fonts, resizing and repositioning your photos, etc.



When you've got your blog book looking the way you want, the program will upload your project to Blurb's website to print and ship it. I thought the prices were reasonable, ranging from $13 to $75, depending on size, soft- or hardback covers, number of pages, etc. Standard shipping was an additional $5. I paid around twenty bucks for something really special.


My mother-in-law loved the book and called me in excitement, thinking I had actually been published. I tried to explain that I just made the one book for her as a gift, but I don't think she believes me. The book looks that professional.



Dinner last night: spaghetti, corn on the cob



Monday, December 28, 2009

Debriefing

My favorite moment of Christmas occurs just before midnight on Christmas Eve. I'm the only one up. I've finished cleaning the kitchen, wrapping the presents, and stuffing the stockings, and am ready to head up the stairs and fall into bed. The house is quiet and dark, except for the sparkling lights on the tree.

Reverence. Gratefulness. Anticipation.


The kids were so excited about their gift for me that they made me open it FIRST!

It's a blanket! A backwards robe! No, wait . . .
it's a Snuggie!


I was really good about not going overboard on the gifts this year. Part of it was finances, part of it was experience. I bought my 3-year-old twins two toys: a farm animal set and . . .

this little car, which they have not stopped playing with since they ran into the living room on Christmas morning and spied it under the tree.


It wouldn't be Christmas without our best friends and their family over for dinner.

This year, it's official. We've turned into our parents . . .
the children have been assigned to a kid's table!


I hope you and your families all experienced a wonderful holiday together. Now, throw out the cookies and fudge and pies and cakes. And candy canes and toffees and truffles and peanut brittle. The High Festival of Butter has ended. It's time to get serious and lose some weight. Yeah, yeah, I know. Starting January 1.



Dinner last night: leftovers and cookies



Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers

Wherever you may be . . . whomever you're with or without . . . whatever your circumstances . . . I pray that today you will feel His love and peace.

Joyeux Noël






Dinner last night: prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, green salad, dinner rolls, chocolate cake and ice cream


Exactly one year ago:



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Go Time

Alright, team. It's the final week of Christmas. Are you ready? Me, neither.

Usually, I'm very organized when it comes to the holidays. My secret is ballet class. My 9- and 11-year-old daughters have always taken a dance class on Saturday mornings. Starting in September, I've had one hour every week to devote to Christmas. I drop the girls off, then head out to shop. You'd be amazed at how much I can get done when I'm focused on a task. Once I've collected gifts for everyone, I use my Christmas hour to sit in the car, listen to music, and write Christmas cards. By November 30, I'm ready to put up the tree, decorate the house, and throw a cookie-decorating party. I'm a well-oiled Christmas machine.

This year, my 9-year-old broke her left wrist at the beginning of the school year, so we let her sit out ballet for the year. Then, my 11-year-old begged to be freed of pliès and tendus. In addition to entering 6th grade, which at her school is notorious for its amount of homework, her soccer team is training for Regionals, so she simply doesn't have time for ballet this year. Those impudent children ruined my Christmas schedule . . .

. . . not to mention their Christmas portrait.



Dinner last night: chicken tostada



Friday, December 18, 2009

Rut or Tradition?

Last week, I turned to my husband and sighed. I had recently been told by an enthusiastic friend about her plans to serve a "dry-aged prime rib" for Christmas dinner. Evidently, it sits in the refrigerator for two weeks wrapped in cheesecloth, which is changed every day. The meat breaks down or something, and is absolutely delicious and tender after roasting. I've been making the same Christmas dinner for as long as I can remember: a big ham with scalloped potatoes as the main side dish.

"Should I make something different this year?" I asked my husband, already knowing what his answer would be. "You make it, I'll eat it." He's not picky. I continued any way. "Prime rib? Maybe I should make a fancy prime rib. Brisket? You like brisket. Or we could do something like crab legs. What about a goose or duck? That's Christmas-y." He grunted noncommittally, then muttered, "If we don't have ham, you won't be able to make ham-potato bake with the leftovers. I like that." Hrumph. I decided in my mind that I was going to make a luscious prime rib AND crab legs. I'm going all Martha Stewart on my family's heinies this year.

A few days later, out of the blue, my 11-year-old daughter pipes up from the back seat of the minivan, "I can't WAIT for Christmas dinner, Mom! It's my favorite meal of the year! HAM! And SCALLOPED POTATOES!" She was practically giddy. "Oh, honey. I was just talking to Dad about that. I think I'm going to make something different this year." "Nooooooo!" she wailed. "I look forward to this dinner all year. Pleeeeease, Mom."

How could I resist? It's the ONE meal she looks forward to ALL YEAR. So it's ham and scalloped potatoes for Christmas dinner again. Somehow, I don't think anyone will mind one bit.





Dinner last night: Santa Fe chicken strips



Thursday, December 17, 2009

I've Turned into My Grandma

So my husband actually picks up the phone and calls me from work to ask what the deal is. "How come you're not blogging anymore? What's wrong? You're not going to post any thing all week?" Dude. I'm a little busy over here, what with the flurry of school activities and the writing of Christmas cards and the consuming of an entire tin of fudge.

Breathe a sigh of relief, Internet. I haven't been buried in a snowdrift, although we certainly have received enough snow in the last few days to cover my exhausted body should I fall over in the back yard and decide to just stay there and take a nap.

It's crazy. Every evening after work my husband comes home and fires up the John Deere to clear another 6" from the driveway and the road. I make hot chocolate for everyone, serving it in teacups and saucers so my daughters think it's fancy. After dinner, I make my husband drive me to town in his 4-wheel-drive truck so I can shop, while he waits in the parking lot like the crowd-phobic man that he is.

After tucking the girls in for the night, I climb into bed wearing my long flannel nightgown and soft fleece socks; I settle into my pillows that I've arranged just so and begin reading The Time Traveler's Wife with my magnifying glasses perched on the end of my nose, but I can't get past the first chapter because I keep falling asleep.

And I'm pretty sure I've started snoring.

Baby, it's cold outside.
I think I'll go in and blog.



Disclaimer: Daisy's eyes are not a weird, glowing green. They have a red-eye function in iPhoto . . . where's the green-eye function, I ask you.




Dinner last night: beef stew, cheddar-onion breadsticks


Exactly one year ago today:



Friday, December 11, 2009

Living in an Ansel Adams World

The woods surrounding our house look like something out of a black and white photograph, with thick hoar frost on limbs contrasting against the darkness of tree trunks and fir needles . . .

. . . stark,

. . . lonely,

. . . peaceful.



Dinner last night: Hawaiian pizza



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mesmerized

I shudder to think what crotchety sort of curmudgeon I'd become if I didn't have my four little girls around to remind me of the delights attached to childhood and the simple joys to be found this time of year. The twins, especially, are amazed by the sights and sounds of Christmas. We grown-ups forget how special, how really wonderful, colored LIGHTS are. Or ANGELS! On top of trees!




Dinner last night: spaghetti




Monday, December 7, 2009

Trimming the Tree

My husband threw me for a loop when he announced last week that he wanted a real tree this year. I guess he's finally recovered from our first Christmas together as a married couple.

We lived in a tiny apartment on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks. There are many wonderful things I could say about Fairbanks, Alaska, but for the purposes of this post, you just need to click on over to today's temperature in that part of our state. So, on a bright, chilly December day in Fairbanks, my brand new husband and I drove out into the Alaskan hills somewhere and cut down a little tree that looked cute outdoors but appeared decidedly frightful standing inside our shoebox of a home. The very next day, our Christmas tree dropped all of its needles and we were left with a naked, brown monstrosity adorned with a strand of lights and a few ornaments. Being the stubborn, broke newlyweds that we were, we let that Charlie Brown tree stand in all its glory until Christmas morning.

I have no idea if I snapped a photograph—I hope I did and that some day I'll come across it so that I can prove how pitiful it looked—but if I didn't capture that joyous piece of Christmas cheer on film, the vivid picture in my and my husband's minds will last a lifetime. In fact, when we reach our late 90s and are in the midst of full-blown dementia, that "real, live" Christmas tree will be our one remaining memory we will describe over and over to the coat stand in the corner that we mistake for a nurse's aide.

We bought fresh trees for a few years after that, but at some point in the early 1990s, after our cat climbed up into one and knocked it over, sending needles flying throughout the room that I was still vacuuming up the following February, we gave up trying to fill the air with the scent of fresh pine and purchased an artificial evergreen. It's served us well over the years as each of our four little girls has made her entrance into our family. They've been able to crawl around the living room floor and touch the tree without impaling themselves. Dragging out the box and putting all the pieces of our tree together has become as much a tradition for our family as skiing out into the forest to cut down the perfect tree has become a tradition for the classy families of the world.

Only 18 days left until Christmas . . .
get that tree up and decorated!




Dinner last night: stuffed pasta shells, green peas



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can You Tell I Went Out on Black Friday?

I'm Alaskan, so I know what it feels like to walk shivering and miserable through ice fog while people zip by in their toasty warm cars. Much of my youth was spent hunkered down in my parka, trudging along the side of the road, on my way to school or the library or a friend's house. My consequent sympathy for pedestrians has turned me into one of those annoying drivers who stops in the middle of a parking lot to let people walk in front of her. I'm in a warm car; they're not—I don't mind waiting a second while they cross to a heated building's welcoming arms. Sometimes, though, I'm sorry I've bothered to slow down.

It really chaps my hide when a guy literally swaggers in front of my car like he's the coolest cat in the world. He won't make eye contact with me; in fact, he acts like I'm not even there and he's got all the time in the world to stroll through the cold. He's a tough guy. No coat in the middle of winter, but he doesn't have to hurry. No sirree.

Then there are the teenage girls who purposely slow down once I've stopped to let them cross. Almost like they're proving what a sucker I am. Burn! We rule, you drool. Watch us sashay and talk on our cell phones while we completely ignore you, old lady.

But most of the time, people are really appreciative. They'll flash me a smile or mouth, "Thank you." Oftentimes they'll send me a friendly wave or even break into a little trot just to let me know that they don't want to keep me. Those are my kind of peeps. Offer them a little kindness, and you'll receive a little back.

So if you're ever walking across a busy parking lot and someone stops for you, let them know you've noticed. You don't have to fall prostrate on the ground and raise your hands in worship. A brief nod is more than sufficient, and your small acknowledgment just might determine whether that driver ever makes a friendly gesture again.




Dinner last night: turkey soup, rolls



Exactly one year ago today:



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to Break Out the Advent Calendar

Can you believe it's December 1 already? What is happening to the time–space continuum? I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that an entire year has passed since I posted about our family's Christmas traditions, like the advent calendar that we put out on the first of the month . . .


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).



Dinner last night: Italian sausage and spinach pie




Monday, November 30, 2009

Family Secret

Emma Amundsen was born in 1896. She married a young man named Fritz Erickson, and they left their homeland of Finland to start a new life in Ketchikan, Alaska, where Emma gave birth to their daughter, Dorothy Jane.

Emma is my great-grandmother. I never gave her existence a thought, as I never heard her name mentioned and cannot recall a single story involving her presence; I suppose I presumed she died at childbirth or in my grandmother's youth. You can imagine my shock to discover that Emma had been living in Alaska throughout most of my childhood. And you can understand my sadness to learn that she was buried in an unmarked grave. When my mom found out, she climbed into her car, drove to the Palmer cemetery, and paid for a plaque engraved with Emma's name and dates to be set above her resting place.

So many questions . . . did Emma and my great-grandfather divorce? I do not know. Did she run away? I do not know. Was she institutionalized due to poor health or mental illness? I do not know. Did she ever hear that her only daughter gave birth to seven children, or learn that those seven grandchildren of hers produced at least 16 great-grandchildren, or dream that those great-children would go on to have more than 15 great-great-grandchildren? That even though she was no longer included in the family, Emma Amundsen Erickson held a place in her own legacy that could never be erased?

I do not know.




Dinner last night: turkey tetrazzini



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

"If you're like me . . . you're perfect."

A tightly-wound woman in a Target commercial delivers that line through clenched teeth and a fake smile as she begins preparations for the holidays. Christmas is a competition for her—let she with the most beautifully decorated home win. She's kind of funny. And kind of scary. A lot of woman get so caught up in creating the perfect Thanksgiving dinner and the perfect Christmas morning for their families that they lose sight of what's really important about this time of year. Note to self: it's not the eggnog.

As I bustle about my house today, making up the spare bed for our weekend guests . . . and pre-making food for tomorrow . . . and stressing out about whether or not to use the convection bake feature on my oven . . . I'll try to keep my eye on the big picture. Tomorrow's holiday is not about producing a table straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya'll. God is good.



Dinner last night: cheeseburgers, seasoned fries



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moose on Deck

Moose are not skiddish creatures. This skinny-legged twig-eater couldn't have cared less that Daisy, our dog, was barking hysterically or that I was blasting my air horn like a mad woman.

Despite our noise-making, Moosey Moose moved right on up to the lilac bush growing outside my kitchen window.



My, what large nostrils you have . . .
"The better to smell tasty lilac leaves.
These smell dead, but I'm not picky."



My, what big teeth you have . . .
"The better to eat tasty, dead lilac leaves.
Hey, I'm a moose, not some fancy gourmand."



My, what big eyes you have . . .
"The better to look at your barking beagle.
By the way, she doesn't scare me one bit."



Dinner last night: penne with bolognese



Exactly one year ago today:



Monday, November 23, 2009

When Did This Happen?

One of the benefits of staying home full-time with twin toddlers is witnessing their milestones. I get to see them learn new things every day. I watch over them as they eat, play, and laugh together. We share a common language. They know by the tone of my voice when I'm joking and when I'm serious; I understand what they mean when they ask, "Where's my effens?" or "Can I have mo seal?"

On the other hand, because I'm with them every day, I don't notice the small changes that strike others as slightly miraculous. Friends who haven't seen the girls in a while will exclaim, "I can't believe how tall they're getting!" or "Wow! Look how long their hair is!"

My girls are growing up.


Dinner last night: chicken and rice enchiladas, refried beans, corn



Friday, November 20, 2009

Baby Needs Her Baby

Our new dog, Daisy, distracts me. How am I supposed to blog with a cute little beagle snoring and twitching at my feet?

After her morning potty break out in the freezing cold, Daisy bounds into the warm house, grabs her squeaky toy, and races through rooms at breakneck speed. After a couple of laps, she literally jumps onto her doggie bed—falling asleep before her body has fully settled into the cushion.


Daisy dreams of running through a meadow of dog biscuits
with froggy baby at her side.




Dinner last night: chicken soup, southwestern eggrolls



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grateful


When I say my in-laws live a few towns away, I'm not talking about an hour's drive through the suburbs. Because we reside in Alaska, a visit to Grandma's house involves a half-day's journey over 370 miles and a trek across the marsh, up the mountain, into the pass, over the river, and through the woods. Service stations are few and far between—even if we manage to make it to a gas station, the restrooms aren't always working. And so it was on a sunny weekend in the summer of 2002.

My husband had stopped at an old Chevron to fill up his pickup and let our 4-year-old daughter take a bathroom break, but the restroom was out of order. Being the good Alaskan dad that he is, my husband pointed our toddler toward the bushes along a hurricane fence that ran across an empty field sitting next to the cracked asphalt of the service stations's parking area. The dirt lot was undeveloped, full of rocks and sticks, with not even a tree to hide behind. Being the good Alaskan kid that she is, our daughter did not hesitate to run out there to take care of business.

As my husband set about fueling his truck, a strange feeling overcame him. You may know that feeling. It's the tap tap tap of God's finger on your shoulder, as an inner voice warns, "Listen up. Danger's on its way." My husband glanced over to where his little girl was wrestling with her waistband, intent on the logistics of going potty in the wild. He looked to his right across the field, where he saw two Rottweilers headed straight for her.

Alaskans witness marvelous moments in nature. A bald eagle will snatch a fish right out of the water and keep on flying. Two rams can hit each other with such force the air booms with the sound of their horns crashing together. You learn a thing or two about hunting and prey, watching through high-powered binoculars as a wolf takes down a moose calf. I'm not exaggerating when I say that on that summer day, racing across that dirt field, those dogs were intent on one purpose. Running as fast as they could, ears laid back, teeth bared, their eyes were trained on their target. There was no tail wagging, no barking, no uncertainty. Those dogs were going to attack a baby girl.

Before his brain could even process what was happening, my husband's instincts took over. His hand dropped the fuel hose, and as the nozzle hit the ground, he was already taking off. His body lunged forward in the sprint of his life. Everything around him was crystal clear: his daughter now standing motionless, frozen in terror by the sight of the advancing animals . . . the owner of the dogs, half a mile away, shouting thinly for his pets to come back . . . and the dogs galloping low to the ground in fluid, determined motion. My husband knew the very life of his child depended on him reaching her before the canines.

His feet hit the soft earth of the field, and without slowing, my husband bent forward. He swung his arm down and scooped up a stick, using only his peripheral vision, while the main focus of his eyes never wavered from the dogs closing in on his unmoving little girl. History shifted, and the purpose for the many years he'd spent training on the basketball court and running cross-country changed in a split second. The speed and strength he had developed as an athlete was no longer about leading his team, or winning races, or placing in the Seaside Marathon—his ability to run and to run fast was meant solely for this match against a pair of attack dogs. As he charged straight into the path of the oncoming killers, he lifted his arm and let out a primeval roar fueled by testosterone, rage, and certainty that death blows would follow. Rottweilers, meet Alpha Male.

The dogs stopped. Stared. Sized the human up. An eternity filled those few seconds of time, a mere moment, but one that ticked past in slow motion. Then the Rotts pivoted. I wish I could say they yelped and ran away as fast as they could, with their tails literally tucked between their legs, but truth be told, they loped nonchalantly back toward their owner on the far side of the field, refusing to act cowed or intimidated. Game over. No big deal to them. My husband turned to gather up his tiny child, she crying and his hands shaking now that the threat had been removed.

If you ask my daughter today, she will tell you that she mostly recalls the dust billowing up behind the dogs as they raced toward her. Although she couldn't articulate it at the time, she now can admit to feeling completely vulnerable standing there in her underwear, too petrified to bend her knees and pull her pants up, staring at the monsters bearing down on her. She didn't understand the concept of death, yet her young mind realized with horror that those dogs meant to eat her.

She doesn't remember her dad being there at all, until he appeared out of nowhere to pick her up and hold her close. My daughter knew then that she'd be okay.




Wednesday, November 18, 2009

7 Hours, 2 Minutes

This time of year, daylight is short and darkness is long. The thermometer is sitting a hair above 0° and won't be moving much over the next couple of days. It's a good week for stoking the fire and catching up on my reading. And eating cookies.

Alaskan sunrise at 9:14 a.m.



Dinner last night: lasagna, green beans, Caesar salad, bread



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cold and Flu Season

What day is it? Where am I? What's going on, and have I missed anything?

A stomach flu hit our home exactly one week ago. It started with the baby of the family, moved to her twin sister by Thursday, hit my husband on Friday morning, then knocked out my 11-year-old daughter on Saturday. By Sunday, everyone was weak and exhausted, but feeling better. I used the reprieve from my duties of wiping up vomit and distributing Tylenol and popsicles to my aching, dehydrated patients to engage in the more typical household chores of cleaning and organizing the kitchen, scouring the toilets, and finishing the laundry. I'm not stupid. I knew the flu bug would hit me with a vengeance, and it did at 3:30 in the morning.

Because of Mother's Foresight, my family was able to make it through Monday without me. The kitchen was stocked, clothes were folded and put away, and the girls' backpacks were packed and ready for school. I slept the day away, with a break here and there to run into my clean bathroom and kneel at the porcelain throne.

The only member to emerge unscathed from the past week is my 9-year-old daughter. Don't ask me how she resisted the germ-infested environment that is our house, because her skeletal frame doesn't carry a single extra ounce of fat that would help cushion her from the effects of a 24-hour flu bug. She's a skinny drama queen who would have loved for nothing better than to be rushed via ambulance to the hospital for a treatment of IV fluids and antibiotics.


My husband thinks all the sugar she's been consuming on a daily basis since Halloween has somehow protected her.




Dinner last night: popsicles, Tylenol



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Braces Off

My eldest daughter wore braces for a year, not to straighten her teeth but to move things around to make room so the rest of her adult teeth can come in properly and to fix an overbite. Or so I'm told. What do I know about malocclusion or palatal expansion or frenulum labii superious? Knowing my luck, "braces" are just a big orthodontia scam that separates guilt-ridden parents from their hard-earned cash.

BEFORE


AFTER






Do you think my 9-year-old jack o'lantern will need braces?




Dinner last night: honey chicken, rice, corn on the cob, green salad



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

I recently watched a video clip of a guy interviewing random people on the street. All of them could name the President of the United States, but when the man with the microphone asked if they knew the Vice-President, most of them were stumped. And despite the recent media coverage of health care reform legislation, not a single person could name the Speaker of the House who was instrumental in its twelfth-hour passage.

I try not to judge their blissful ignorance too harshly. Perhaps they merely experienced a moment of nervous memory loss when the camera and mic were shoved in their faces. Maybe they were foreign tourists who were unfamiliar with American politics. And if they truly didn't possess a clue who Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi were, I suppose there's a certain relief knowing that Americans are living their lives, busy and happy and unconcerned with the machinations of Washington, D.C.

Today, however, I hope my fellow citizens are a little more aware. More reflective. More grateful. Today is November 11. It's the day that our country has set aside to honor our war veterans. I hope you'll take a moment in your busy day to remember the price that has been paid so that we can wander our streets, shopping bags in one hand and ice cream cones in the other, oblivious to who was elected Vice-President last year.



Dinner last night: onion soup



Monday, November 9, 2009

Just Like That

It's winter.

The first snow of the year fell over the weekend, blanketing the ground in white. I pulled out all the winter gear—the snowpants and the boots and the warm hats and the wool socks—and we headed outside to play.



I don't like to wear mittens.
But I don't like cold hands, either.
What to do, what to do . . .




Don't worry about the white stuff, peoples.
I'll turn it all yellow for you.



Dinner last night: tacos



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Touch the Drapes and You're Dead

Tie-Dye is our cat. She showed up on our doorstep shortly after we moved into our home almost three years ago. She comes and goes as she pleases, although throughout this past summer, she expressed little interest in stepping foot inside the house, preferring instead to hunt mice and the occasional bird.

We have a special pair of gloves, the Mouse Gloves, which we keep next to the mudroom door and which we use at least once a week to pick up a dead mouse or shrew that Tie-Dye has left for us in the garage. They used to be partially eaten, but recently they've been left whole and pristine. Sorry. Circle of life, and all that. My 9-year-old used to be saddened for days after seeing a poor little dead mouse on the garage floor; now she just shrugs her shoulders, pulls on the Mouse Gloves, and tosses the corpse into the woods.

Mice are not the only things to feel the wrath of our cat's claws. Tie-Dye has shredded the base of my lilac tree, by using it as a scratching post. Now that winter is approaching, and Tie-Dye is taking her daily 6-hour nap indoors, I'm a little concerned about what she plans to use inside the house to sharpen her claws once she awakens and feels like stretching. So far, it's been the Berber carpet, which provides a nice rough surface for her to grab and pull. I don't care too much, since it's old flooring that we're planning to replace as soon as we have the money, or Tie-Dye destroys it, whichever comes first.

Like the woman said . . .
Circle of life, little mousie.



Dinner last night: hamburger quiche



Exactly one year ago today: Two Kims for the Price of One



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oops–a–Daisy

Meet the newest addition to our family. She came with the name Daisy, which I wanted to change to the similar-sounding Paisley. The moniker Paisley would not only complement the name of our cat, Tie-Dye, but would also pay homage to our puppy's favorite napping spot: the paisley arm chair in front of the fireplace. However, no one else in the family appreciates my choice, and the twins can't pronounce it . . . so Daisy she stays.

Daisy is an 8-month-old beagle. A co-worker of my husband insisted that she was only giving the darling canine away because she has a newborn and can't handle both a baby and a young dog. She assured my husband that Daisy is potty-trained. And doesn't bark.

First word of advice? Never believe someone who's giving away for free a purebred beagle puppy. Daisy poops like there's no tomorrow. All over our floor.

And the baying when we leave her alone? Let's just say that my new phrase before running to the grocery store is, "Call out the hounds, Jeeves." Then I shut the front door, cover my ears, and sprint to the silent haven of my minivan. Beagles know how to howl.

On the flip side, beagles are one of the very best breeds to have around children, which is good to know, considering I have four. Daisy is loving and sweet and rejoices in the chase. My kids absolutely adore their new pet. They run after her through the house, throw balls for her to chase, and take her for walks. We're the perfect family for an energetic dog that requires a ton of attention. When my girls have finally tired her out, Daisy lets them snuggle up against her on her doggie bed.



Dinner last night: sweet-and-sour chicken over chow mein noodles



Monday, November 2, 2009

Recovery

I survived.


Friday evening, my daughters opened our doors to their friends and trouble flooded in. Shrieking, giggling little girls in costumes hit this house and rocked the foundation as they ate, played games, and bobbed for apples like insane children with water-obsessive disorders.

I fully intended on taking wonderfully composed, well-lit photographs that would showcase the joy and spontaneity of childhood. Instead, I spent the evening in the kitchen stirring melted caramel so it wouldn't burn to the bottom of the pan.

You'll just have to trust me that the kids had a lot of fun before collapsing into sugar-induced comas.

The pizza and the watermelon were big hits. Much to my surprise, the cupcakes went uneaten. It wasn't like the kids tried them and went ptooey . . . they didn't even touch them. Delicious chocolate frosting. Yummy cream cheese delights. NOT A NIBBLE! Learn from my mistake, Moms, and don't bother with cupcakes—they've jumped the shark.


The tote bag decorating station was a great success. We set tables up in a nook, away from the madness of the family room, and after the initial flurry of girls making their own bags, the craft area provided a quiet, creative outlet to which girls returned in small groups throughout the evening to perfect their creations.

Hope you all had a fun-filled weekend, and I look forward to surfing around blogs and checking out your pictures of candy-grubbin' munchkins.



Dinner last night: lime-grilled tilapia, rice




Friday, October 30, 2009

Food for a Children's Party

If you've been reading my posts this week, you know that I'm in the middle of getting ready for the Harvest Party that my 9- and 11-year-old daughters are hosting this evening. I thought I'd take a minute to share the menu, with apologies for the lack of interesting food items.

If there's one thing I've learned from motherhood, it's that my kids and their friends do not appreciate beautifully-presented nutritious food made from scratch . . . so I'm careful about how much time and energy I put into my cooking and baking for a kids' party. The food has to be yummy, but not exotic. Pretty, but not difficult to eat. Traditional, but not boring.

The key to a successful table is presenting a variety of kid-friendly finger foods, so I sat my girls down and asked them to list all the foods they would like to eat at a party. I nixed the messy stuff, like spaghetti and ice cream, and said a big NO to pop. Here's what they came up with:

fresh veggie platter with ranch dip

fresh fruit platter

shrimp platter with cocktail sauce

deviled eggs

turkey sandwiches

meatballs

pizza
(cheese; pepperoni)

cupcakes
(chocolate cake with chocolate frosting;
carrot cake with cream cheese frosting)

cookies
(chocolate chip; peanut butter)

strawberry-pineapple punch

water


Bon appètit, kids. And watch the crumbs falling out of your mouths, will ya?



Dinner last night: teriyaki chicken, seasoned noodles



Exactly one year ago today: The Sisterhood of the Magical Sweater



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Games for a Harvest Party

When I agreed to let my daughters invite their friends over to our house, I asked them what kind of party they would like. Crafts? Cooking? Games? Free play? They both agreed that they like to do stuff. They wanted mostly to play games, with one crafty-type activity. So we put our heads together and came up with some oldies but goodies.

1. Candy Count. As everyone arrives, they'll write down their guess of how many pieces of candy fill a glass jar. At the end of the party, the person with the closest guess gets to take home the container of sweets.


2. Tote Bag Decorating. We'll set up a table with fabric markers, a Bedazzler, and various colors of tote bags to decorate. I decided against using puff/glitter/fabric paint, because it takes too long to dry. The bags will be used throughout the party to hold candy and prizes, and the girls can take them home and use them for trick-or-treating.

Crafts can be very expensive, so I try to plan ahead in order to take advantage of coupons and sales. I scored the Bedazzler for 50% off! Because we're operating this party on a shoestring budget, I started buying the tote bags several weeks ago, using my weekly coupons at the local craft store.


3. Bobbing for Apples. Two kids play at a time, kneeling on opposite sides of the apple tub with their hands behind their backs. Ready, set, go! Whoever comes up first with an apple, wins. (To make bobbing more difficult, remove the stems from the apples before placing them in the tub.) You'll need a stack of towels nearby to dry off faces. Each girl can use her victory fruit to then make a caramel apple.



4. Bean Bag Toss. My husband had an extra sheet of plywood, so he cut it in half and then cut out some circles; the girls and I decorated it with craft and poster paints that we already own. If you don't have plywood, just use cardboard boxes. My friend once set up an entire carnival in her back yard, making all the games from cardboard, and the kids had a marvelous time. We have some little bean bags already, but you can make them from all kinds of material laying around the house (baggies filled with rice, rolled up socks, etc.) or use balls instead.



5. Balloon Pop. Each girl will be allowed three tries to pop a balloon with a dart. (To make it more challenging, use small balloons.) Prizes will be doled out accordingly. This game was my husband's idea, so he has promised to supervise and make sure no one puts an eye out.

6. Pass the Pumpkin. The girls will be divided into two lines and then race to pass a mini-pumpkin without using their hands—they'll have to hold it between their chins and necks. If the pumpkin drops to the ground, they have to start over from the beginning of the line. Lots of giggles with this one.

7. Pin the Nose on the Scarecrow. I'm thinking about having them pin all the parts of the face while blindfolded, which might create some pretty funny-looking scarecrows!


If you've got any tried-and-true games for ages 9–11, please leave a comment. I can use all the help I can get!




Dinner last night: creamy chicken enchiladas, refried beans



Monday, October 26, 2009

Songs for a Halloween Party

In my opinion, music is an integral element of a successful party . . . even a children's party. I know that kids are loud and the last thing moms want is to add more noise into the mix, but if you plan your playlist and set up your stereo in the right room at the proper volume, I believe music will help set the atmosphere for a happy, groovin' time.

Here is my playlist for the Harvest Party my girls will be hosting this weekend. You'll notice that I've placed Monster Mash every four songs or so. What can I say? The kids love to sing along and dance to this song. It's really important to listen to your entire playlist; don't just sample each song. I had selected several songs that I thought would be good, but when I actually listened to the lyrics I caught some cursing and themes that were inappropriate for my preteens. You may find some songs on my list that you consider too hard or too silly or too whatever; it's imperative that you listen for yourself and cut or add songs as necessary.

Pacing is also important—for example, you don't want back-to-back slow songs or too much of the same genre. I had a perfect flow until one of my 3-year-old twins grabbed the mouse and in a blink of an eye rearranged the middle section of my list. I don't even know how she did it, the little turkey! I will have to listen once more to fix the flow . . . so, in an order that may change before the actual party, here are some catchy Halloween songs:

1. Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett)

2. Thriller (Michael Jackson)

3. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker, Jr.)

4. Somebody's Watching Me (Rockwell)

5. The Time Warp (Rocky Horror Picture Show)

6. Monster Mash

7. I'm Your Boogie Man (KC & the Sunshine Band)

8. Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)

9. Grim Grinning Ghosts (Walt Disney Records)

10. The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band)

11. Monster Mash

12. Memphis Exorcism (Squirel Nut Zippers)

13. Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)

14. Don't Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)

15. Bring Me to Life (Evanescence, version from Daredevil soundtrack)

16. Monster Mash

17. Ghost Riders in the Sky (Bruce Anfinson)

18. I Put a Spell on You (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

19. Black Magic Woman (Santana)

20. Yo Ho a Pirate's Life for Me (Jonas Brothers)

21. Monster Mash

22. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (B5)

23. Ghost Town (The Specials)

24. Cruella De Vil (Walt Disney Records)

25. Abracadabra (Sugar Ray)

26. Monster Mash

27. You Can Do Magic (America)

28. Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group)

29. Spooky Song (LazyTown)

30. Do You Believe in Magic? (The Lovin' Spoonful)



* Please use the comment section to
add songs that you would recommend *



Reader Alert

The problem with personal blogs like mine is that the content is all over the place. Many of my readers—okay, okay, two or three of you—visit because of my pictures of Alaskan scenery and wildlife. Several other readers—alright, you don't have to be mean about it, one or two of you—check me out on occasion because of my photographs of and my writing about family life. Most of my readers—yeah, yeah, you don't have to rub it in, you final four—are fellow mothers of twins.

My point? My 11- and 9-year-old daughters are throwing a Harvest Party this Friday. So all this week, I'll be posting about our preparations (assuming I can pull myself away from the housecleaning and the cupcake-baking and the game-making to sit down for a few minutes at the computer). The detailing of How to Organize a Children's Party probably is not the sort of material that a hip young chick without kids or a 45-year-old male working in Corporate America will find compelling. So if you want to skip my blog this week, I'll understand.

On the other hand, if you're one of my bloggy friends who has thrown a children's party or who may host one in the future, you just might find my anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-ridden week of some interest. I hope that you will comment freely with suggestions and advice, as I could use any help you can offer.

I'll be back shortly with my Harvest Party Playlist.



Dinner last night: chili dogs



Friday, October 23, 2009

My Own Real Live Jack-O-Lantern

My 9-year-old daughter's mouth system seems a little underdeveloped. She was born without several adult teeth, which the orthodontist says may be a blessing because her mouth is so small. Where would they go? In fact, her adult canines have no interest in coming on down to join her front teeth because there's no room for them. So yesterday, the dentist extracted FOUR baby teeth. You're probably envisioning the tiny baby teeth that your children have put under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy, but her baby teeth still had full roots on them, and I just about passed out when Dr. Silverman held one up in a forcep, all bloody and huge and looking like a scene from Saw.

Just in time for Halloween.




Dinner last night: salsa verde pork



Exactly one year ago today: Our Favorite Spot



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Minivan Milestone

I cannot abide a backseat driver. You know the kind—that helpful passenger who suggests when to speed up, to slow down, to watch out for this, and to be careful of that. Evidently God has decided I've some changing to do in my attitude, since He's plopped two little backseat drivers into my life to help me develop patience and understanding.

Lately, my 3-year-old daughters have been annoying me with their nonstop shrieks to "Go! Mommy! Go!" whenever I'm sitting in a long line of cars at a stoplight. I've tried the passive-aggressive approach, muttering "What do you want me to do? Smash into the car in front of us?" which doesn't faze them one bit. Then I decided to use the educational technique of explaining to them in simple terms that the red light means "Stop" and the green light means "Go." As the light changed, I over-enthusiastically sing-songed (sing-sang?) "See, girls? It's green! Time to go!"

What a mistake.

Now I am informed at ear-splitting decibels every time one of the twins spies a red or green light. It's of no concern to them that the intersection to which they refer sits 2 miles away. It could be the red flash of a semitruck's brake lights, for that matter. They're pointing out every stinkin' RED! light and GREEN! light, screaming for me to GO! or STOP! Since I didn't explain the purpose of a yellow light—speed up? slow down? it's too controversial a subject to discuss with an adult, let alone a toddler—they simply bellow ORANGE! Their noise almost made me miss the momentous occasion of my minivan's odometer flipping over to 100,000 miles.

A frazzled mother of shrieking twins driving a worn-out minivan.
Glamorous, I know.



Dinner last night: zanzibar chicken over rice, green salad, corn



Exactly one year ago today: Fun and Games



Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunset Through the Trees

I'm not down with the weather lingo, so when I wave my arms around and proclaim in a self-righteous tone that our spectacular sunsets are created by cold weather and inversion and various atmospheric conditions, just ignore me. I may not know what is causing our colorful skies these past few days, but I do know that the sunsets have been amazing. They occur right around dinnertime, when I'm hustling and bustling to get food on the table, so I'm never able to drive to a scenic spot where I can really capture their beauty. This quick snap out my upstairs window will have to do.


He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
He suspends the earth over nothing.




Dinner last night: pork chops, stuffing, mushroom gravy



Friday, October 16, 2009

We Park on Driveways . . . and Drive on Parkways

Looking at this video you may notice our paved driveway and wonder who we think we are, calling ourselves Alaskans and then getting all fancy with the driveway. The thing is, we live off a tiny dirt road snaking back into the forest. It is full of ruts and potholes. There are no culverts or drainage ditches or wide shoulders. Those of us who live along this glorified pathway are responsible for plowing it in the winter, digging troughs during break up to direct the water off the road and into the woods, and managing the dust problem in the summer.

Our neighbors up the road have a tricky driveway that circles around a stand of trees. Still further up the road, a couple maintains the driveway and parking areas for their house as well as for their parents' home sitting on the back of their property. Our own driveway climbs a hill before leveling off in front of the garage. ALL of us have paved our driveways. Beautifully graded, smooth asphalt driveways. No mud getting tracked into the house. No holes to break a child's ankle when falling off a pogo stick. No dust billowing behind the twins as they ride their Dora trikes at breakneck speed straight down the hill.

Once you've navigated the dirt trail to get to our home, it's smooth sailing. Paved driveways are the Alaska way.



Dinner last night: chicken broccoli casserole over rice



Exactly one year ago today: Say "Cheese!"



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crazy for Forts

My 9-year-old daughter is into fort-building. Her 4th grade class has been studying Alaska Native cultures, which inspired her recently to race home after school and construct an Aleut house in our back woods.


Look at the sturdiness of that structure,
which so perfectly demonstrates the concepts of
function AND beauty.





Her younger sisters pose in the fire pit
to model how ancient Alaskans might have warmed themselves.





Unfortunately, one kid is now seriously considering stealing matches from my kitchen drawer and setting the woods ablaze.




Dinner last night: spaghetti, green peas




Exactly one year ago today: The Fog Creeps In on Little Cat Feet



Monday, October 12, 2009

Why My House is Messy

I don't dare turn my back to vacuum the living room, because my 3-year-old twins will be out the door and over the fence.

Lord, give me strength.



Dinner last night: homemade minestrone, sweet corn muffins



Friday, October 9, 2009

Wet Leaves

From a distance, the Alaskan fall presents its glory, with fiery trees outlined against blue mountains tipped with snow. A closer look, however, reveals that autumn is almost finished.


The birches beyond our woodshed
stand thin and shivering.



More leaves cover the ground than fill out the trees.



No longer green and fragrant,
the wild grass moves sadly in the wind,
waving a gentle good-bye.



Skinny limbs flash their colorful elderberries . . .
but they are shriveled and dying.



Red leaves riddled with holes
hang onto their branches for dear life.



A lone stem of clover defies the weather, determined to stand guard over her patch of garden. Normally I'd snatch her out of the ground, but today I forgive her obstinance and let her live a little longer. Winter will arrive all too soon and finish her off.




Dinner last night: pizza



Exactly one year ago today: Make Up Your Mind, Alaska!