Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 31

Millie writes:

Eat 12 grapes, one for each month in the New Year, making a wish for each month.

If your kids are too young to stay up until midnight, “fudge” it a bit by letting them stay up 30 minutes or an hour past their bedtime. While away the hours making noisemaker: use a rubber band to fasten a square of paper over one end of an empty toilet-paper tube, add a handful of dried beans (or pebbles or rice or whatever) to the tube, then seal the other end. Let the kids decorate the tubes with stickers, crayons, felt pens, etc.

Herald the birth of the new year by blowing horns, banging on pots and drinking a sparkling-cider toast. Hey – it's midnight somewhere, right?

Happy New Year from Millie and Mollie and Maggie and May! May 2011 be magnificent!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 30

Millie writes:

Hit up a dollar store or a party supply place for hats, blowers, banners and other New Year's Eve paraphernalia.

Chuckle with the kids over the fact that Christmas music is still playing in the stores, but the Valentine's Day paraphernalia is already on display. Silly stores!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 29

Millie writes:

Play all the Christmas music one last time as you take down the tree, the lights and the decorations. Eat all the candy canes.

Put back fewer of your “regular” decorations than you took away; make some space for growth. If you like, hit up a thrift store or two - see if you can score a set of throw pillows, laundry baskets or something decorative for your living room. It's nice to have something "new" in the house as you count down to the New Year, and it helps to counteract the blandness of a place newly shorn of its Christmas decor!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Take Care of Yourself!

Mollie writes:

When I was a young SAH (stay-at-home) mom, with a husband who traveled and two small peeps, I used to cringe when people asked me what I did to take care of myself.  I was in my 30's and did plenty to take care of others, but relatively little for myself.  I took a lot of pride that in the early years of "mommy bashing" - I hung in there and put my children first.  I was a practicing adult by then and understood that undertaking motherhood was a decision I made in full possession of my sanity.  Those children didn't ask to be born, I asked to give birth to them and to be a safe harbor for them in their youth.

Had things been different (i.e. death, divorce, illness, disability, etc) I would have returned to the workplace a lot earlier than I did.  But in our case, balancing staying  home versus having a fancy new BMW really didn't create a dilemma.  We had our transportation needs met with a used station wagon and a small diesel pickup.  The oriental rugs and diamonds and cruises would just have to wait (please read with eyes crossed.  Thank you).  But don't kid yourself, I heard a lot of comments about my brain turning to drivel and just how could I not be bored by the constant company of pre-schoolers.

Well, those days are over.  I have a perfectly accessorized  car, a sail boat (and a captain to go with it!), and some darn nice rugs courtesy of our local WalMart.  OK, so they aren't oriental, but they are lovely just the same.  Save the issue of MS, my brain still works just fine, and now I can "take care of myself" if it matters to me.

Which begs the question, "What is Taking Care of Myself?"  When my kids were under our roof (peeps in the Hen House), taking care of myself included trimming my toenails, a weekly bath (I showered most other days), and a no holds barred trip to the K-Mart garden department.  Taking care of myself included getting a mammogram, pap smear, cholesterol count (mine was always high, thanks to genetics).  What it didn't include was a day at the spa, or a weekend of hob-nobbing with the haves.  No dinners out for us when I could make a perfectly decent casserole from ground turkey, rice, tomatoes and a bit of seasoning.

This year, making resolutions involves making changes that are sustainable.  I can now afford to have my hair done every six weeks, and, luxury of luxury, my eyebrows waxed (I have a veritable forest of eyebrow hair that I used to just ignore).  I've even visited a spa a time or two, mostly for the rehydration of skin that is turning to dust thanks to my having the good sense to not practice rehydration when I was young, and frankly, juicy enough.

So, if you are a young mom, keep "Taking care of yourself" a New Year's resolution, but keep it realistic and sustainable.  Do get that mammogram, do get that pap, do get that physical, and do buy some nice perennials for your garden.  Don't get frustrated if your resolutions don't include a new car, designer clothes, oriental rugs and fancy vacations.  There's plenty of time for all that when the kids are adults themselves and your skin is turning to volcanic ash.

Trust me!

Christmas Every Day: Day 28

Millie writes:

Bundle up and take a walk together, even if you have to dodge raindrops to do it. Talk about the year that's drawing to a close, and what you might do in the new year. Really listen to one another; remember your kid at this time last year? Quite a change, isn't it?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 27

Millie writes:

Take a break today - go out and see a movie that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas!

If this becomes one of your traditions, it will give you and the kids something to look forward to after The Big Day itself, and help keep this post-Christmas week from being a letdown.

Another plus: Since the kids are home from school, you can go see a cheap matinee!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Resolutions - Keeping 'em Real!

Mollie writes:

I'm a big one for making resolutions for the New Year, but not so hot at keeping them.  Last year, I resolved to start a 'domestic" blog with a friend and voila, Ask Millie and Mollie!  The year before, I resolved to learn to use my embroidery option on my sewing machine . . . ok, I've done a couple of embroideries, but I've hardly mastered it.  And so it goes.

At the ripe old age of 58, it suddenly occurs to me that keeping New Year's resolutions is easier if you keep them reasonable.  Loosing 40 pounds this year is unreasonable;  I'm 5'4".  I weigh 168 and would prefer to weigh in at 130.  But the amount of effort it takes for this post-menopausal MS patient with physical limitations is simply not available to me.  How can someone who has a difficult time walking 1 mile on level ground ever 'burn off' what it takes to reduce weight?  And eating a healthy, balanced diet?  If I eat reasonably, meaning meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates and healthy fats, a sensible diet still puts me over the calorie/carbohydrate  limit of effective weight loss.

And it isn't just the dieting and exercise, it's the medications many of us MS'ers use.  Steroids tend to ease recovery during an exacerbation, but they also pile on the pounds.  And it's yet to be determined how 15 years of interferons impact the entire bodily system, not just the immune system.  In the end, all I can really do is just do my best and take my lumps.

So I watch what I eat and plan on being happy if I can get my weight below 153.  I may not make it on the evening news, but if I keep my expectations reasonable, I may be able to lose 15 pounds in 12 months.  We'll see.

But my New Year's resolution isn't really losing weight, it's learning to keep my goals reasonable.  If I learn, in the next 12 months, how to manage my weight with the plethora of medical issues I have to consider, I'll have kept my resolution.  But I also have to factor in other issues as well, meaning travel, family get togethers AND my love of cooking.  So what I'm really hoping is that if I can lose 15 pounds and maintain it, I'll have made a realistic resolution.

And that's my real goal.

New Year's Resolutions - Keeping 'em Real!

Mollie writes:

I'm a big one for making resolutions for the New Year, but not so hot at keeping them.  Last year, I resolved to start a blog with a friend or two, and voila, Ask Millie and Mollie!  The year before, I resolved to learn to use my embroidery option on my sewing machine . . . ok, I've done a couple of embroideries, but I've hardly mastered it.  And so it goes.

At the ripe old age of 58, it suddenly occurs to me that keeping New Year's resolutions is easier if you keep them reasonable.  Loosing 40 pounds this year is unreasonable;  I weigh 168 and would prefer to weigh in at 130.  But the amount of effort it takes for this post-menopausal MS patient with physical limitations is simply not available to me.  How can someone who has a difficult time walking 1 mile on level ground ever 'burn off' what it takes to reduce weight?  And eating a healthy, balanced diet?  If I eat reasonably, meaning meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates and healthy fats, a sensible diet still puts me over the calorie/carbohydrate  limit of effective weight loss.

And it isn't just the dieting and exercise, it's the medications many of us MS'ers use.  Steroids tend to ease recovery during an exacerbation, but they also pile on the pounds.  And it's yet to be determined how interferons impact the entire bodily system, not just the immune system.  In the end, all I can really do is just do my best and take my lumps.

So I watch what I eat and plan on being happy if I can get my weight below 153.  I may not make it on the evening news, but if I keep my expectations reasonable, I may be able to lose 15 pounds in 12 months.  We'll see.

But my New Year's resolution isn't really losing weight, it's learning to keep my goals reasonable.  If I learn, in the next 12 months, how to manage my weight with the

Christmas Every Day: Day 26

Millie writes:

Our "Boxing Day" tradition is very simple: spend it lounging around the house and playing together.

Watch movies, eat leftovers, and try out all those new toys. Read a few chapters of your new book(s)! Enjoy each other - free of all things on the "To Do" list that tends to overwhelm all the days leading UP to Christmas.

Bonus points if everyone stays in their pajamas all day!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Mollie writes:

John and I are home, headed to some friends' home for Christmas dinner.  In days past, we'd spend the day with our own kids, opening presents, eating our feast . . . and writing "Thank you" notes.

The job didn't take more than a half hour, but the boys' grandparents and other friends got "Thank you" notes written on Christmas day and mailed on the 26th.

We'd hear a little grumbling, but once the chore was underway, things went pretty smoothly.  There weren't THAT many Thank You notes, but there were some.

It's important that our kids learn that if someone puts time, energy and money into buying wrapping and delivering/mailing a gift, a child can acknowledge its receipt.

We usually were able to nag notes before the big meal, and before we let them use the presents.  I know this is a little astringent, but saying "Thank You" on Christmas seems like the ultimate gift.

Christmas Every Day: Day 25

Millie writes:

Merry Christmas!

However your family celebrates, take a moment today to pause and look around. We silly adults can get so caught up in making Christmas "happen" that we forget, sometimes, to stop and let Christmas "be."

Slow down today. Listen. Taste. Play. Let yourself recapture the joy of being three years old on this glorious day, or eight or twenty-eight or eighty.

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 24

Millie writes:

Excitement is reaching a fever peak in households all across the globe tonight and the same question is on everybody's lips: Is Santa on his way?

Since 1955, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been using its cutting-edge equipment to track Santa's team as he makes his worldwide Christmas Eve flight. If your kids want to watch his progress, head over to the Official NORAD Santa Tracker and see where in the world he is right now!

Oh, and one other thing - NORAD is careful to point out that Santa won't stop at any house until all the kids who live there are asleep!

The children were nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

Christmas Every Day - Day 24

Mollie writes:

Prepare desserts the day before Christmas Day to keep the kitchen work at a minimum.  Today I'm making a Buche de Noel for dinner tomorrow.

If you are looking for a good Buche recipe, try the one at:

It's a great recipe with wonderful pictures to the steps in the process!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 23

Millie writes:

Go caroling!

Whether you are part of a choir that thunders the Hallelujah Chorus from a parade float or just a few merry amateurs warbling Jingle Bells, go out tonight and make a joyful noise. Even if you just go down to the end of the block, the chill air, the stage fright and the giddy excitement will make it an excursion your kids will talk about for years.

Warm up afterwards with some hot chocolate. Who knows? Maybe the neighbors will invite you in for some figgy pudding - whatever that is!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

Christmas Everyday: Day 23

Mollie writes:

Make "Thank you" cards with your family for your family.  Each family member is assigned one other family member to thank.  Each only does one thank you note, but they are to put their heart into it.

Example:  Chelle to Peter:  "You are my pride and joy.  I love your ethical nature and your commitment to your country.  After several deployments I can only describe my love and pride as "boundless'."

Decorate the cards and exchange on Christmas Day!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 22

Millie writes:

Tonight, take a leisurely drive around your town to look at all the light displays. Many towns have areas where everyone on the street puts up over-the-top outside decorations, and some have downtowns with fantastic lights and a giant tree.

Even if you live in a tiny hamlet, it's cozy in the car with the heater blasting and Christmas music playing on the stereo. Seeing the light-up Rudolph in Mrs. Perkins' yard and the inflatable snow globe in front of the Harris house is a great way to get you in the Christmas spirit - and you don't have to do anything but look!

Many towns have a tree-lighting ceremony or a Christmas parade around this time of year, and most cities have a Christmas light extravaganza of some sort. For example, since we're a river town, ours has the annual Parade of Ships - boats of all kinds are decorated with fantastical light creations and float down the rivers. Check your local newspaper and see what's out there!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 21

Millie writes:

Make a new ornament for the Christmas tree. We do this every year; when the kids move out, they take their "trousseaux" of ornaments with them to decorate their own trees. That way, even though they're starting out fresh, they still have all the memories of their childhood Christmases right there with them!

This year we made ornaments from yarn and plastic canvas. There are directions here but patterns aren't really necessary unless you want them; our freehand ornaments turned out beautifully!

Even the littlest kid can "help" make chenille candy canes. Our family favorite so far is the marbled glass ornaments, though the baked Sculpey Mr. Potato Heads were a hit too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 20

Millie writes:

Have a Wrap Party!

Set up wrapping paper, boxes, bags, tape, scissors, ribbon and all the rest of the paraphernalia in the center of the room.

Assign a different area of the room to each person; little kids may like to build "wrapping forts" by crouching behind chairs or sofas. Each area should have a flat surface like a floor or tabletop to facilitate those hospital corners!

Play Christmas music while everyone wraps their presents; come out of hiding for hot cider and popcorn when you're all finished.

No peeking!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mollie's Salad

Mollie writes:

Salad is a lot of fun at our house, mostly because I spent over 20 years trying to get boys to eat green food. Here is the recipe for an easy salad - makes up quickly and gobbles up quickly, too.

You will need

salad bowl
salad tongs
kitchen scissors
salad spinner
measuring cups

3 cups of arugula or 3 cups of spinach, whatever is available.
1 cup Italian parsley
1 cup cilantro
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup blueberries
large cooked prawns  (you choose - try one per dinner guest)
5 pieces sliced salami

Wash arugula (spinach), Italian parsley and cilantro and spin dry.  Put into salad bowl.  Wash cherry tomatoes, slice in half, add to lettuce bowl.   Add pine nuts.  Wash blueberries and add to salad bowl.  Cut the salami slices into quarters, add to the bowl.  Just before serving, add prawns.  Dress lightly with the dressing below, put leftover dressing into a cruet on the table.


You will need
glass jar with lid
kitchen scissors
measuring cups and spoons

1 cup olive oil
1//3 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp (approx. - do it to your taste) sugar
1 TBSP dijon mustard (again, approx, do it to your own taste)
salt & pepper (again to your own taste
1 TBSP fresh tarragon, chopped

Put all ingredients in jar, put on lid, and shake, baby, shake!  Taste it and correct it to your own tastes.
Once you are satisfied, put approx. 1/3 cup directly on salad, the rest on the dinner table.

This is good, healthy, and just a little different.  The tastes of the cilantro, arugula and parsley are really wonderful - even little folks like it (usually!)

Christmas Every Day: Day 19

Millie writes:

Remember those Christmas cookies you made yesterday?

Stick a few in a zip-top bag or on a paper plate covered with plastic; add a festive bow. Then take them next door and give them to your neighbors, with a cheery "Merry Christmas!"

'Tis better to give than to receive
-Someone who's never gotten a gift from Millie!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 18

Millie writes:

Woo-hoo, only a week left until Christmas!

This morning before you leave for the mall, make up a batch of sugar cookie dough and put it in the refrigerator to chill while you're gone (or 2-3 hours). This evening, roll out the dough and go to town with your cookie cutters (or use the mouth of a juice glass as a cutter for round cookies).

Decorate them with your favorite frosting or use the Royal Icing recipe from Day 15. I dipped mine in Royal Icing and then into red-and-white sugar crystals. Yum!

It's easy, it makes the house smell great - and it's Christmas-y!

I sure do like those Christmas cookies, sugar
I sure do like those Christmas cookies, babe!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Those Potatoes!!!

Mollie writes:

One of my favorite recipes is for a very basic potato dish.  It doesn't have a name, it is just a simple potato recipe that most folks make one way or another.  Here's mine -

You will need

cast iron pan - approx. 8 inches diameter
aluminum foil
sharp knife
kitchen towel


1 stick butter
8 small red potatoes
1 large sliced onion - a cheap white onion is best, frankly
20 peeled cloves of garlic (I buy 'em at the store pre-peeled or you can buy 3 whole  heads and peel yourself)
a branch of rosemary (maybe a foot long?)
salt and pepper.

Melt, at medium heat, 1/2 of the stick of butter in cast iron pan until just melted.

Wash and dry the potatoes.  DO NOT peel 'em.  Slice potatoes lengthwise, then completely dry the potatoes, especially the cut side.  Place the potatoes, cut side down and dry, into the melted butter.  The dried potato will brown better.  Chop the onions to a size you prefer, add to potatoes in pan.  Put whole, peeled cloves of garlic in pan.  Add the rosemary, than lightly salt and pepper.

Take the leftover 1/2 stick of butter and butter the dull side of the aluminum foil.  Then take whatever leftover butter you have and chop it into the potato mixture in the pan.  Put the aluminum foil, butter side down, over the potatoes and seal over pan.

Cook over low heat for 1/2 hour.  Best potatoes bar none!

You can also add pre-browned sausages before you seal the pan with the aluminum foil.  Makes for a very inexpensive yummy dinner!

Christmas Every Day: Day 17

Millie writes:

To help reinforce the spirit of "giving" at a time of year when many kids can't think of anything but "getting," help your kids go through their closets and toy boxes to weed out the surfeit of clothes, books and toys.

Have a gentle talk with your children about the "poor kids," those who don't have as much as you do and need a little help from other kids who have plenty. (You may not, in fact, have plenty, but a) your kids probably don't think so and b) there is always someone worse off than you.) Donate your excess to the Salvation Army, the Goodwill or a PTA clothing closet.

My mom used to tell us that Santa would think he'd already been to our house if he showed up and we had too many toys lying around!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 16

Millie writes:

Write letters to Santa! Put the letters in an envelope so you can "mail it to the North Pole" later on; tuck the envelope into your purse if you need a shopping list, or keep it with the baby books.

Our kids are a little old for Santa Letters these days, but we keep the tradition. Each year they receive 3x5 cards with "Reasonable" written on the front and "Unreasonable" written on the back. This gives them space to dream big, and us a few specific hints (Green Day or Muse? Lewis Carroll or Stephenie Meyer?)

If your children tend to copy the contents of the toy catalog, limit their list to 5 or 6 things. If it helps, my mom had an iron-clad rule: Santa Claus doesn't bring anything that is advertised on television!

Johnny wants a pair of skates
Suzie wants a dolly,
Nellie wants a storybook
She thinks dolls are folly
As for me, my little brain
Isn't very bright
Choose for me, oh, Santa Claus
What you think is right!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Babette's Feast

Mollie writes:

The movie, "Babette's Feast" was released  in the late 80's, when our little ones were preschoolers.  I saw it  at a local avant-garde theater where foreign films were highlighted. These were our lean years, when we ate a lot of generic foods, mac and cheese, ramen soups, Velveeta and hamburger.  The movie was a welcome experience for this penny-pinching housewife;  it was filled with good cooking, humor, hope, forgiveness and the ultimate in humanity.

In a nutshell, two sisters, Martina and Phillipa, live in a village on the coast of Denmark.  They are the daughters of a minister of a religious congregation that practices austerity in the hope of celestial salvation.  These sisters are serious about their ministry - they have carried it on after their father's death.  One sister has rejected a potential husband in favor of her ministry, the other rejected a brilliant operatic career for a life of denial and spiritual renewal.

At one point, a disheveled Babette turns up on their doorstep.  She is seeking asylum from the ravages of the French civil war and is only wanting to work for the two sisters as they continue their ministry.  They allow her to stay with them, give her a room, and she begins working for the sisters.  Within their poverty, she manages to feed her two rescuers as well as the congregation in general.

Years pass, and decades later, Babette has won a small lottery.  As the anniversary of their father's birth nears, the sisters allow Babette to create a meal to honor his life.  But they do it with trepidation, since self-denial is a cornerstone of their salvation.  They invite members of the congregation to sup with them but the sisters insist that nobody should enjoy the food.

And Babette creates a feast.  As we learn at the end of the movie, she was a famous French chef at the time of the civil war and had prepared meals for many heads of state when she lived in Paris.  Her husband and son were killed in the war, and she fled France to save her life.

Tortoise soup, quail, cheeses, great wines and other delights of the earth are prepared in Babette's humble kitchen.  And the sisters, in the ultimate act of charity, agree to eat the meal but not enjoy it.  It doesn't take long for redemption to enter the dynamic!

In the end, the sisters have learned the complexities of love, forgiveness and salvation.  Babette has rewarded them for their years of protection in the only way she knew how.  And she spent every last cent she won in the lottery.   And the viewer, we have the unmitigated delight of watching all enjoy a meal that defies description.

In the 90's, I'd play the movie on video and try to get the boys to watch it - failing miserably.  But I also concocted my own "Babette's Feast" that was operational - within my budget and within my talents.   This began an annual celebration of Christmas Day, where we all ate well, enjoyed salvation, and I celebrated the season of loving and giving by preparing a good meal for my family.  I have to admit, the guys liked that part of it!

We've had a Babette's Feast of sorts since then.  The menu has evolved, with the exception of one year when I decided to flambe a goose, and  has remained pretty much the same.  We start with crab coctails,  and progress through multiple courses to the ultimate in Christmas desserts, a Buche de Noel.  The meal takes several hours, the kids had to use the proper silverware ( OK, stainless steel, but you know what I mean) and they even got sips of wine!  All in all, we have a blast.

The following is the normal meal we have when we celebrate Christmas.  It's less French, less Danish, and less austere than most holiday meals.  But it does remind us of how blessed we are on this earth.

Mollie's Feast

Crab Cocktail

French Onion Soup (a la Julia Child)

Mollie's salad

Prime Rib Roast (a la The Joy of Cooking)
"Those potatoes"
Caramelized carrots

Cheese and fruit platter

Mollie's Buche de Noel

In later entries, I'll write the recipes for the ones I've morphed over the years, but a copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and the Rombauers' "The Joy of Cooking" are all you need for the soup and roast.  We serve local wines, except one year we had a French Sauterne  at the end of the meal and another year we had French wine that some friends had given us.  In addition bread was a constant as well as sparkling water.   And yes, butter was everywhere!

Roger and Joy are coming up, pre-Christmas, to celebrate with us and enjoy another Babette's (Mollie's) Feast.  We plan on spending the day gabbing, cooking, sipping wine and ultimately sitting down for a wonderful family tradition.

The meal is pricey, but I usually had a little money squirreled away for this once-a-year extravaganza.
So if you are looking for someway to make austerity and abundance a Christmas celebration, here's one way.  Get your DVD and start cooking!

Christmas Every Day: Day 15

Millie writes:

Make a quick and easy “gingerbread” house using tubes of frosting (or royal icing) and graham crackers. Trim with small candies.

If you have pointy ice-cream cones, turn them upside-down and frost them green to make trees.

Royal Frosting

3 egg whites
4 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Dump everything in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the frosting is stiff (7-10 minutes). Use immediately or cover with a damp cloth to keep it from hardening in the bowl or:

Separate frosting into individual zip-top bags (one for each color you want)and add a drop or two of food coloring to each bag. Press out as much air as you can, then seal the bags and knead them to mix the frosting and the food coloring.

To pipe the frosting onto the graham crackers, snip a small piece off the corner of each bag. (If there is frosting left, re-seal the bag with a bit of tape; use the excess frosting to decorate sugar cookies!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 14

Millie writes:

Set up a Christmas village!

If you don't collect the houses, make some from cardboard boxes or construction paper. Use a hand mirror for a lake, old white sheets or cotton balls for snow, and small toys for the people, animals and cars.

Make a Fisher-Price village or a LEGO nativity scene, if that's what you've got. Use your imagination!

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Do YOU Believe?

This time of the year is full of good cheer. My oldest wishes strangers a "Merry Christmas!" and is thrilled when they return in kind.

Strangers also ask my kids if Santa is going to bring them toys. Have they seen Santa this year? I smile kindly and answer for my two year old that she hasn't seen him this year. What I don't say is that we don't do Santa. We never have and never will.

This is the time of year that we get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We want to keep it that way, pure and simple. As the children get older, we are trying to teach them the joy of giving, rather than solely focused on what they're gonna get.

My husband and I keep the gift count low, not only because it can get expensive to buy a lot of gifts, but because we'd like to keep The Gi-mes at bay. Much to our chagrin and dismay, last year at my inlaws, my oldest (then five) looked at her pile of loot and then underneath the empty tree and asked "Is that it?" Yes, she was only five and it was a simple question... but underneath that hovered a spirit of greed that I didn't want to feed.

Whether your deck the halls with Santas and elves or nativity scenes and cherubim (or all of it!), remember that the reason for the season is to show one another love and mercy. Not all gifts have ribbons or wrapping paper, after all.

God bless us, everyone!

Christmas Every Day: Day 13

There are only 12 days left! If you have little ones who are impatient for the big day to arrive, teach them to make a paper chain. Make one with a dozen links, hang it in a prominent place and allow the kids to tear off one link every day.

In addition to being an "art project," this craft will help teach counting and subtraction, distract the kids for 20 minutes . . . and maybe spare you a little bit of the "HOW many days NOW until it's Christmas??" countdown!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 12

Millie writes:

If you really believe it is more blessed to give then to receive - or if your kids love May Day - you'll like this one.

Buy or make a small ornament, then wrap it festively and leave it on a stranger's porch with a note saying that it's a gift from their Secret Santa. Ring the bell (or knock loudly) and run!

Who knows? Your small act of kindness might send a ripple effect through your whole town - it will at least be something that stranger's family will talk about for years to come!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 11

Millie writes:

Light the lights! Whether you hang hundreds of twinkle lights a'la Clark Griswold or put a single candle in the window, warm and welcoming light is the essence of the holiday season.

Put colored bulbs in your front porch socket! Trim the eaves with icicle lights! Put a battery-operated "candle" in each window to welcome your weary travelers home.

Break forth, O beauteous Heavenly light!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 11, Write your own Christmas Carol!

Mollie writes:

Sit the kids down somewhere comfy and announce that they will be creating their own Christmas carol.  Keep the music simple; a familiar melody like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" would be ok, especially since you won't be using it for profit, just family fun.

An example:

Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star
How I wonder who you are.
Are you our Savior, precious and new?
Or a little angel, fresh as dew?
Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star
How I wonder who you are.

It doesn't have to be spiritual, politically correct or anything else.  It just needs to come from your family's heart!

Medical Minutiae

Mollie writes:

When Millie and I started this blog, we did it to celebrate homemaking.  Most of it centers around our children since we are each dedicated moms.  But homemaking also includes other issues, including marriage, partners, money management and a bazillion of other details.

One of the issues where I consider myself a diva is the issue of health care.  After sweating my way through a chronic disease (multiple sclerosis) for 20 years, I've become something of an expert on the ways  of the sickly.  There is a lot to say, so occasionally I'll sort out individual topics and deal with them one by one.

One thing we don't hear a lot about is patient responsibility.  It's our job to be sure we are providing our medical providers with our latest insurance information and the pursuant information for the paper work that will accompany it.  We need to sign those medical information release forms so that a claim submitted for payment can be adjudicated quickly and reimbursement made to the provider as soon as possible.  It's just a matter of common sense.  If you have a co-pay, make it at the time of care, since those nurses, doctors, secretaries, bookkeepers, phlebotomists, etc. aren't working for free.  Remember, even a doctor has overhead.  By the time she pays her staff and rent and malpractice insurance and medical school debt, she still deserves some money to manage her household.

It is also our responsibility to be honest with our providers.  Somethings slip our minds or we make mistakes filling out forms.  If you make a mistake or forget something, just own up to it.  Just yesterday I blew it and listed a perfectly safe drug as one that caused my liver enzymes to soar.  In a nutshell, instead of listing zanoflex as the drug that shut down my liver, I listed another drug that I've been taking safely for years.  But we get battle weary, and we make mistakes.

A solution to this problem is to do what I'm doing now; that is, write a small medical biography about yourself (and your kids, etc) and take it to the doctors' office.  List the names of your drugs, both prescription AND over the counter.  List your surgeries, pregnancies, family medical history, etc.  Do this at home, when you are clear headed.  Print it, and take it with you.  You can let the doctor keep the copy attached to the forms you've also completed.  It lets these folks know that you are an involved, careful patient.

Also, there's something to be said about spelling all the medical conditions and prescriptions properly.  It lets them know that you may not be a medical professional, but you speak the language, even if it is a second language.

Along with your history, bring a printout of your questions.  I always ask whether a new drug is excreted by my liver or my kidneys.  I'm just over protective of both and like keeping up to date on this.  But I'm sure you have your own personal issues you want addressed, your own questions answered.  Going in with a printout also lets the provider that you mean business.  It also means that you'll waste less of their time.

Show up on time.  I hate it when a physician makes me wait - and usually it's because she was taking care of the patient in the next room who was having seizures that lasted longer than the 15 minutes the visit originally was for.  Time is not magic in the doctors' office.  Treat it with respect.  Print out the directions to the clinic, etc.

Leave the kids at home, unless they are the patient.  It's hard enough to give a patient the "bad news" without scaring the kids in the exam room spitless.  They don't need to hear bad news in this fashion, if at all.  They also don't need to wait in the waiting room for you to come out all teary eyed.  And the office staff has to draw blood, make appointments, settle billing questions, etc. so they really aren't reliable babysitters.

I had the doctors' appointment from hell yesterday, it began at 4:40 am when I rose to catch the ferry to drive to Seattle 'til I got home that evening to pick up my dog from daycare.  It was to determine if I'm eligible for a new drug for MS that will replace my 3x weekly self injections of interferon.  I'm hoping that all goes well, and I can switch therapies:  but before this decision is made, I had to see a neurologist, a pulmonary technician, an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist  and have lab tests run.  By the end of the day, my eyes were crossed and my fatigue level exceeded.

And I still had to shoulder my share of the responsibility.  It's a jungle out there, but we are up to it!

Christmas Every Day: Day 10

Millie writes:

Pop up a big bowl of corn, gather the family around the TV (you will hardly ever hear Millie suggest that!) and watch Christmas movies.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Love, Actually are a few of our favorites; for more young-kid-friendly fare, try The Polar Express, Home Alone or one of the Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas movies.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 9

Millie writes:

Your family's celebration starts at your front door, so hang a wreath on it! This will get your family in the Christmas mood every time you come into the house.

We have a tradition of buying a huge Costco evergreen wreath and hanging it up Thanksgiving night to kick the season off with its wonderful smell. It doesn't have to be the traditional pine circle, though; hang a grapevine wreath with stuffed animals and a big red bow, or a spray of silk poinsettias with battery-operated twinkle lights, or a brass French horn with a sprig of holly attached. Use whatever strikes your fancy and fits your decorating scheme.

But the prettiest sight you'll see
is the holly that will be
on your own front door!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 8

Millie writes:

Break out the books! If you don't already have a collection of Christmas books, start one this year. There are fantastic volumes for all ages containing stories, pictures, poetry and games with a Christmas theme. There is an even larger assortment at your local library!

We keep ours with our decorations during the year, and make a point of reading at least one every day in December. As with the ornaments, I try to add to our book collection annually – you find them cheap at school book fairs and at a substantial discount at the After-Christmas sales.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 7: Molly Wraps (Rap)s!

It's day 7 my friends and I've got something to say!

How to confuse your kids 'til the Christmas Day.

Wrap those presents kid by kid

But don't you worry 'bout keepin them hid.

Each kid gets their own color paper and bows

But this isn't just how everything goes

On Christmas Morning, tell who gets what

But before then, just keep your mouth shut!

Peter gets the presents in newsprint and Roger - brown bags.

Only Daddy gets the ones with the id tags!

The kids won't guess who gets what

Until Christmas morning when the silence is cut!

Millie writes:

Vacuum up the paper scraps with your faithful Bissel, Bro,

Then you and Mister Mollie kick it underneath the mistletoe!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 6

Get a poinsettia and display it prominently! There's no more potent visual reminder of the season than the vivid red and green of a classic poinsettia plant. Nowadays there are other colors, too, from peppermint-striped to pure white.

Poinsettias are available nearly everywhere this time of year, from the huge bushel-basket size at your local florist (or Costco!) to the tiny one-bloom pot at the nearby gas station. They also come in every price range, so don't be put off by the cost of the fill-your-unlit-fireplace size if all you want is a top-of-the-kitchen-table model.

Oh, and - they're not really poisonous, neither to humans nor animals.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

K3's "Cookie Trinity" Recipe

K3 writes:

With all of the festivities and food and baking, I wanted to share a recipe from a wonderful cookbook. One of my favorite cookbooks ever - and one that is especially helpful at this time of year (well, always, actually) is the More-With-Less Cookbook. This treasure of recipes produced by the Mennonite Central Committee "in response to to world food needs" was first printed in 1976 and has been updated in recent years. The book not only has great recipes, but nearly horrifying statistics about the American diet. However, never fear! There are also chapters about Eating with Joy and menu planning, making breakfast cereals, beans, and I even remember a demonstration when I was in church youth group about using 1 chicken to make 3 meals plus petfood and oil for use in bread baking. Recipes for homemade bread, crackers, ketchup, pickles, clay dough, children's paste, flavored teas, laundry detergent and international dishes are all included.

So how does this fit in with the holidays that seem to be surrounding us? First, the More-With-Less Cookbook highlights recipes that are TIME SAVING. Second, they have a variety of recipes that include instructions for helping children learn to cook and experience food. Third, they have wonderful recipes for desserts that are high in protein and can substitute as a meal.

One of my favorite recipes from the book is a cookie recipe that combines the "cookie trinity" -- chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter. What more could you want?

Here ya go!

Makes 6-8 dozen
Bake 375 degrees for 10 minutes

Cream together:
1 c. shortening (may use half margarine and half lard)
1/4 c peanut butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 c rolled oats
1-2 c chocolate chips
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
Mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes.

Hmmmm. Homemade corn chips. I'll have to remember that for the Superbowl party....OOOOOoooohhhh! Orange Eggnog popsicles....

Christmas Every Day: Day 5

Millie writes:

Decorate your Christmas tree! This can mean something different to each family who celebrates Christmas: you might hop in the car and head out to a lot, bundle up and cut your own on a tree farm or go up to the attic and bring down your tree-in-a-box. Some people decorate an interesting "found" branch they've stuck in a bucket of sand, and others have a roll-up felt wall-hanging tree with felt ornaments.

Whatever "The Tree" means to you, its set-up, location and decoration are probably governed by long-standing family tradition. For example, we use a lot of lights on our tree - and I mean a lot, one year we had more than 25,000 twinkle lights on it and oh, what a tree that was! - so light placement usually takes place over the course of a day or two. When they're all on the silver-and-gold bead garlands are draped. Then the ornaments and candy canes - and, this year, tinsel!

Play Christmas music while you work. Serve eggnog when you're finished. Take lots of pictures. Don't worry if the red balls are all on one branch or the left side of the tree is bare - who cares? It will look beautiful anyway (and if it really bothers you, you can "fix" it after the kids are in bed).

About ornaments: we each make a new one every year (this year we stitched our own designs onto plastic canvas squares using yarn - the kids will take their homemade ornament "trousseaus" with them when they move out) and I buy a new one, too (this year I added to my Star Santa collection, but I'm hoping to find a red glass bird as well). There's also a glass pickle ornament that I hide in the tree while we're decorating; the first one to find the pickle wins!

I confess that since a) we have a houseful of kids who can't wait and b) we use a fake one, we put our Christmas tree up a day or two after Thanksgiving. Of course we don't decorate it until everyone can be here - something that gets more and more difficult to schedule each year, as people grow up and get jobs and lives - but it's one of my favorite parts of the whole season. If there is a gaudier piece of oversize jewelry than a Christmas tree, I don't know what it is; and its twinkling, shining presence in the house is a visible link to Christmases past, Christmas present, and Christmases yet to come.

Christmas Gifts 102: The Stockings

Mollie writes:

Over the years, our family has come up with a bunch of traditions that probably identifies us as a little weird.  With little kids, it was always a struggle to get them to go to bed on Christmas Eve without opening  just one present.  As often as not, we'd break down and let them open one, just so they would close their eyes and let us get some sleep!

When they would roll out of bed Christmas morning, we'd start with their Christmas stockings.  When they were in their Santa Claus years, we'd put little toys and candy in their stockings.  But at some point, they just outgrew the cutsie stuff.

What's a Mollie to do?  At some point, you have pre-teens who just eschew the toy and candy thing and want to go directly to the big stuff.  But John and I always had the most fun with the stockings.  You can stuff one of those with just about anything and a kid would be happy.

One year, once the boys were both in middle school, I was having a hard time keeping track of my pens.  I'd buy a big bag of them in August, and by November they'd all be gone.  So that Christmas, I put Bic pens in their stockings, and for good measure, I put an assortment of "Hello Kitty" pens in my stocking.   Once I'd converted to pink pens, I never lost another; imagine a middle school boy showing up in class with a "Hello Kitty" pen - I think not!

But this set a precedent.   We started putting goofy things in stockings and ended up having a blast.  Imagine a 14 year old thanking his mother for the Odor Eaters in his stocking, and the 12 year old thanking the same mother for the bottles of Bean-o in his.  Add cough drops, little boxes of raisins, warm socks, mittens and the occasional pink pearl eraser and you get my point.  A mother could both entertain her kids AND make a statement with Christmas stockings.  And it was cheap!

Of course my kids are grown now, one having made several deployments in the Middle East, the other married and buying a home of his own.  But I'm still having the time of my life, coming up with tacky stocking stuffers.

The ground rules are easy.  It has to be something that the kid needs (Odor-Eaters? a MUST for a teen boy), it must be something normally kept around the house anyway, and it must be cheap.  If you stick to the big three, you'll all be laughing your heads off before they tear into the serious stuff.  It's a good ice-breaker for families everywhere!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 4

Millie writes:

Make or buy Christmas cards and spend the evening addressing the envelopes and adding a message to each card. Send out hundreds or just a handful.

Set up an assembly line, if you like, with one person addressing the envelopes, one person stuffing them, somebody licking the flap and someone else adding a stamp. If you're feeling crafty, the post office sells special Christmas stamps for that finishing touch.

Make sure your mugs are full of hot chocolate, mint tea, eggnog or hot cider to keep you well-fortified for this task!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Every Day: Day 3

Millie writes:

Break out the Christmas CDs and fill your world with song! Add a little Christmas music to your day wherever you are by making a seasonal play list for your MP3 player or creating a "Christmas" station on Pandora. Don't forget to take a CD (or a cassette or an 8-track tape) out to the car!

If you have the time, go to the library or browse YouTube to see if you can dig up a few of the Christmas songs you loved as a child. You might also start the new custom of buying (or making) a new album each year.

'Tis the season to be jolly . . . fa la la la la, la la la la!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Gifts 101: Buying for the Spouse

Mollie writes:

We've had great Christmases, hard Christmases, fun Christmases, quiet Christmases.  Every year, John and I have learned a little more about each other during the holidays.  One tidbit is think about the recipient before you buy.

Our first Christmas was a harbinger of our future.  John gave me an engagement ring with cubic zirconia instead of diamonds, with a promise of real diamonds when we had a home and some money.  He delivered four years later when I delivered Peter.

I loved the ring and keep it under lock and key just as if it was the real thing, because, it WAS the real thing.  But some of the other gifts promised an interesting future.  One of them was a port-a-potty for hikers and campers.  A throne of my own with unstable legs and a less than sturdy seat, wow!  I used it once and then promptly 'lost' it.  It isn't that I didn't appreciate the thought, it was just that there was nothing romantic about toting it on my back as we hiked through the Cascades.  So a word to the wise, avoid any Christmas gift that involves relieving oneself.

Another poor choice of Christmas gifts was the pair of Bigfoot slippers.   What can I say, they were ugly!  John, Peter and Roger bought them at some discount warehouse where only the unsellables are featured at extreme discount.  There was a reason for the discount: nobody wanted them.  But we have a picture of a very annoyed Mollie that Christmas with her feet furry and her toenails long.  Yuck!

It's not to say that I didn't give John some real turkeys, not at all!  I understand his love of all things electronic, and when we were young, I'd give John something electronic.  The problem was that I just didn't know what he would like, so the day after Christmas, John would take the offending piece of crud back to the store and then race over to another electronics store to buy something much more functional. My feelings were always hurt.

When I finally got the message that my choosing an electronic gift just wasn't working, I switched over to clothes.  Another mistake since John detests anything remotely resembling wardrobe additions.  Giving the man a sweater for Christmas was tantamount to giving me a port-a-potty.

So, after at least 10 years of marriage, we finally figured out what the other person wanted.  One year I gave John a ticket to attend a Stephen Hawking lecture.  I'd have purchased two, and gone myself, but they were expensive and I couldn't justify the expense of my ticket with our pitiful budget.  Another year, I gave him kayaking lessons, and another year I gave him didjeridoo lessons.  It turns out that if it involved learning, John loved it.

He also likes tools, so, since moving to Whidbey Island, I go to the local tool store and buy another tool. As it happens, John LOVES tools, even weird, useless tools.  And it's fun to go meet up with the folks there and joke about what John's getting this year - frankly, it's a tradition.

John has learned that if it involves gardening or cooking, it's a keeper.  I have more odd gardening tools than anyone ever needed, and I love them all.  And I have every conceivable kitchen do-hickey, some of them are in boxed storage, but I never know when I might need a cherry pitter!  These gifts are usually inexpensive and the best things under the tree.

We've been married so long that we now shop together for each other's Christmas.  This year, we gave each other an I-Pad and an electric foot massager.  There will be no surprises under the Christmas tree, no port-a-potties, but there will be two happy campers.  It takes the guilt out of spending a lot of money on ourselves when we include it in the Christmas gifting!

I'll write later about how we handle the kids and Christmas gifting.  And we have a family tradition that we call "Babette's Feast" where I go crazy in the kitchen.  More on that later.  But for now, enjoy spoiling your significant other creatively.   It doesn't have to cost a lot to indulge the other person, just be sure the gift represents the gifted!

Christmas Every Day - Day 2

Millie writes:

Fill your home with the smell of Christmas. Burn pine-scented incense, light peppermint-scented candles, or set out a bowl of fresh balsam potpourri. Bring in a pot of blooming narcissus. If someone in your home is allergic to strong fragrances, simmer apple juice or cider on the stove and add a stick of cinnamon and a sprinkling of cloves.

In short, do whatever it is that makes your home smell like the holiday to you and your family!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Every Day - Day 1

Millie writes:

Designate a small elf figurine, stuffed animal or ornament as a “magic Christmas elf” (or reindeer or whatever you have on hand). These are the rules: Starting sometime after everyone has gone to bed on December 1st, the magic elf moves to a different location each night. It must be in plain sight in a public room (not hidden inside something else, or out in the garage), and once it's found no one can play with it or it can't move the next night. This busy little elf will hop to a different spot each day until, on the morning of December 24, it is found on the Christmas tree. When the elf is on the tree, you know it's Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Countdown Begins!

Millie writes:

Whether your focus is religious or secular, the Christmas season is more than an hour's worth of present opening on the 25th.

During December, I will be focusing on the small things you can do every day to make the Christmas spirit last all month. You may choose to try all of them or none of them; I urge you to adapt the ideas to your celebrations, family and circumstances.

As for today: November's not over yet, so let's give ourselves a final moment of conscious gratitude during this month of thanksgiving. Make yourself a cup of something, sit for a minute while chaos swirls around you and think about the things in your life that are right.

It is my hope that it will take you much longer than a minute!

Monday, November 29, 2010

One Happy Mollie!

Mollie writes -

Well, the kids, Roger and Joy, are zeroing in on a home.  They have viewed a bunch, ruled out foreclosures and short sales, gotten pre-approved, and have now narrowed their search to  a place that seems perfect for them.

It ain't easy buying a home these days!  When John and I were home hunting the first time around (1977), we were using the GI Loan offered by the State of Oregon for folks who had served their country.  Although the usual mortgage rate was 6%, we were lucky to get a loan at under 5%.  We were limited by the amount the State would loan us ($35,000!).  So, we could look at homes within a certain price range ($35,000 plus the down payment).  We ended up with a new home, a split entry with an unfinished basement.  It had no appliances other than a stove, dishwasher and  garbage disposal, so acquiring a refrigerator was on our list of priorities.  We'd earlier bought a washer and dryer, so our appliance budget was spared that particular hit.

There was no yard, no fencing, no nothing.  Upon moving into our home, we realized that our "new" home needed new, double paned windows.  So, within months of buying a new house, we were buying even newer windows!

That first year we put in our front yard, started the back yard and just generally learned to live within our new budget.  We seldom ate out, didn't go on luxury vacations, grew our own vegetable garden and planted fruit trees and grapes.  We bought our clothes only on sale, and learned to decorate on a shoestring. We made do with one car, an old pick-up, and just generally counted our pennies.

Within a couple of years, we were sitting pretty and loving it.  We'd finished the basement ourselves; saving thousands on labor, fenced the yard, and were learning to live on John's paycheck alone.  We didn't care if we didn't have designer clothes, the latest in electronic toys, or a sleek new Beemer.  We had a pretty little home with all the fixin's.  Life was sweet!

In those years, I learned to stretch a buck until it screamed for mercy.  I had to put up with a few derogatory remarks from family and 'friends' who questioned our money management (imagine, no credit card debt or car payments!).  We eventually bought a used station wagon (this was before mini-vans) and even banked a little money.  We were a source of amusement to our friends with fancier cars, bigger houses and oriental rugs.  But we had faith in ourselves and our abilities to manage our resources.

We knew we were ahead of the game, but we had no idea how FAR ahead of the game we were.  After 3 years of marriage, we were ready to start a family.  And we knew, from our history of frugal living, that we could afford it without my income.  We wouldn't be swimming in gravy, but we were solvent.

Over the years, we've had friends who have flirted with economic disaster.  Some were unavoidable.   Try raising handicapped children on a single income - having kids with 'special needs' usually requires at least one full time parent.  But, frankly, most of our family and friends experienced economic hardship because they lived beyond their means.  It takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to tell yourself that you can't afford something, but as time passes, this gets easier.

So, here we are in our decadent old age.  We've saved money, lived on the straight and narrow and, son of a gun, are now enjoying the fruits of our thrift.  But, frankly, we still pinch pennies (just not as much!).  But we are here because of decisions we made as youngsters.  And practicing thrift was one of the best decisions we'd made.

You hear a lot of talk about how bad our economy is.  But those of us who manage our money, even in abundance, will survive.  It just takes time, self-discipline and a little humility.  You get to choose to do without "wants" in favor of "needs."  And, you realize what constitutes a need.

It does pay off after 33 years.  And, if time doesn't do anything else, it passes.

So, Rog and Joy, good luck.  You've chosen a good home that will serve your needs for years to come.  You'll be even better than John and I with money management, and will survive life's perilous roller-coaster ride.  Just keep on keeping on.  You'll be fine!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Everyone here at "Ask Millie and Mollie" is grateful to each one of you for your readership, ideas and support. You make it fun to do what we do!

May your day be filled with laughter, fun and love.

Happy Thanksgiving from Millie, Mollie, Maggie and May!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cherry Rhubarb Pie

May writes:

Since I don't really have any Thanksgiving recipes of my own, this year I went out to try and find something new.  After looking around online for a while, I managed to slap together a simple, easy cherry rhubarb pie!!!

May's Cherry Rhubarb Pie

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then take:

2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
3/4 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons quick-cooking tapioca (to help thicken the filling)

Put all of the ingredients together in a big bowl and let it sit for fifteen minutes.  Pour it into an unbaked pie shell (I used Millie's pie crust recipe; see below).  Cover it with a second pie crust (I did mine in a lattice pattern), brush the pie crust with a little milk, sprinkle some sugar on top.  I baked it for 40 minutes, which in my oven burned the edges a little; I would recommend baking for about 35 minutes and then checking to see if it needs a little more time.

Let it cool, and enjoy!  It sure looks beautiful, I can't wait to try it!!!

Thanksgiving Morning - plus Pecan Pie

Maggie writes:

I haven't been "doing" Thanksgiving on my own for long, dear friends, so I don't really have any interesting dishes for the actual Event. However, I'd like to share another tradition of sorts: the Holiday (this if for both Thanksgiving AND Christmas) Morning.

Almost every year that I can remember growing up we had orange glazed cinnamon rolls. No special recipe there, just grab a Pillsbury can in the fridge section of just about any grocery store and have at it. We'd also have scrambled eggs (or some sort of scrambled egg "mess") and the all-special Pineapple Apple Orange juice. In other words, something light and simple.

This year, I'd like to add Cranberry Pecan Muffins! Originally, it was gonna be bread.. but when I made a practice loaf... eh, it was a bit moist on the inside. So, muffins it is!

Maggie's Cranberry-Pecan Muffins

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix in one bowl:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

In another small bowl mix and then add to the dry mix:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped cranberries
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Tblsp. melted butter
1 egg

Prepare your muffin tin (whether that be with Pam or liners or butter and flour..) and fill them 2/3 of the way full. Pop those babies into the oven for 19-20 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick (or, barring that, a fork would do just as well). If it comes out clear, you're ready to enjoy!

Keep breakfast or brunch simple to keep the stress of all-day-cooking to a minimum. Talk, laugh and enjoy the day with friends and loved ones. God bless!

Millie writes:

Gentle Reader Lynne Blaisdell sent in her family-heirloom pie crust and pecan pie recipe - and, since Lynne is a true-blue Southern woman, you know it's going to be good!

I do not tweak the pie crust. You can't mess with perfection....I have never had it fail, nor seen it fail in the 36 years I've eaten it. My Grandmother got it from my Aunt, who got it from her mother-in-law, to whom it was passed down from her Bohemian ancestors.

I saw recently that Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) does a version, but it's not the same.

100 Year Old Pie Crust

4 Cups all purpose flour (spoon into cup - VERY IMPORTANT)
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Teaspoons salt (table, not kosher unless fine ground)
1 3/4 cup Crisco room temp (I use the Crisco sticks - so did everyone else. Crisco seems to be the key as well)
1 Tablespoon Vinegar or White Cider Vinegar
1 Large egg (cold)
1/2 cup cold tap water

Mix the first three ingredients till crumbly (pea size or so)
Whisk together the egg, water and vinegar, then add to dry ingredients. If it seems sticky, add pinches of flour until it doesn't stick to your hands. Divide into 4 equal parts, wrap in waxed paper and chill for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling out.

If you leave it in the fridge longer than that let it sit for 5 minutes or so before you roll it out.

Bake at 450 degrees if unfilled, otherwise bake as directed for filling.

Enjoy as I have. It makes GREAT pinwheels.

Lynne's Southern Pecan Pie

(I'd trademark it but you can't trademark a list of ingredients - I just ask for credit!)

I have worked and tweaked this basic recipe to suit our family taste. All changes will be ()'ed

350 degrees for 1 hour. (Check 30 minutes in and cover the crust so it doesn't burn. I use crust covers or foil)

3 eggs
3/4 cup light Karo
2 Tablespoons dark Karo
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter (let cool before adding to eggs; I use Kerry Gold Irish Butter, I think it has better flavor)
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Enough halved pecans to line the bottom of the crust as well as the top.

(If you like a more traditional pecan pie you can skip the chopped nuts and the ones that line the bottom of the crust and just top it)

Mix up the Karo, sugar and eggs; let sit while you roll out the pie crust and line the bottom of the pie shell. Pour in the filling just just below the rim of your pinched crust - like half of the tip of your little finger.

Place the halved pecans in circles starting with the outside ring and working towards the middle. There is no real reason for this other than looks. If you line the bottom of the crust do the same.

We like a nut-filled middle so we add both the chopped nuts and the halves. You can add or subtract nuts to your family's taste.

Send any questions to me at Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Failures

Mollie writes:

No blog would be worth its salt if it didn't include a dash of remorse.  As recently as last year, I made up a recipe that was officially declared "A DUD" by all present.

I'm referring to a recipe I picked up off the internet for mashed potatoes prepared in a crock pot.  I was looking for ways to make my day easier, and prepping potatoes and then keeping them warm for an hour or two while I finished the remainder of the feast preparations seemed like a good idea, right?


I won't go into details about this horrible exercise in sloth and culinary stupidity, other than I started slow-cooking the potatoes first thing in the morning.  Two hours before the magic, I mashed the potatoes, added my additives (cream cheese, sour cream and chives).  I returned the finished product to the crock pot, gave it a last taste (heavenly), reset the crock pot to warm, put on the lid and immediately went on to other stuff.

Wellllllllllllllllllll - don't take your eyes off your crock pot!  While I was doing everything else, the potatoes continued to cook, building up steam, etc.  Since the lid was on,  the potatoes continued to steam and emulsify.  By the time I returned to the mashed potatoes, they had turned into potato soup.

It looked pathetic, but my gracious guests ate it anyway.  We all had a good laugh over potato soup and gravy, and, since the rest of the meal was palatable, we declared the day a success.

There was a happy ending, and, as usual, it involved leftovers.  The following day, I paced a cup of potato 'soup' in the microwave oven.  After 30 seconds of warming, uncovered, I discovered the potatoes I'd lusted over the day before.  Seems that if I'd just reheated the taters in the microwave, we would have had mashed potatoes after all!

Oh heck.  Another day, another lesson learned.  Some days just involve more work.  Thanksgiving is one of them.  In retrospect, I should have tested the recipe before Ground Zero - but, there you have it, I didn't.

We all survived, and ate really good mashed potatoes the following day.  So my advice today is - stick with what's tried and true.  You can fly without a net another day - Thanksgiving should be a day of gratitude, not remorse.

Lance's Cranberry Creations & Millie's Pie Crust

Millie writes:

Lance is in charge of the all-important cranberry dishes for our Thanksgiving celebration. Here are 3 of his closely-guarded recipes.

Thanksgiving Cranberries:

Cranberry-Orange Relish

12 oz bag of cranberries
1 orange, cut on each axis (8 pieces)
1 cup sugar
Dump into food processor and pulse until chunks are small.  Chill and serve.

Whole Cranberry Sauce

12 oz bag of cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Dump into sauce pan.  Boil and stir gently for 10 minutes.  Chill and serve.

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Open the can.  Serve.


Mollie writes:

I triple double dare Millie!!!!!!!
Ok, I just don't do pie crust.  But there, in the blog, was a recipe for pumpkin pie that sounds WONDERFUL.

So I dare you, share your recipe for pie crust.  You make a good one, sister, and mine usually taste like pffsst.

Millie writes:

A-haha! My last two attempts at pie crust have been total disasters; I think kitchen humidity plays a part here, just as it does in bread making. When that happens I use pre-made dough from the grocery store – the kind you just unfold and use to line the pie plate.

I usually just use the regular pie crust recipe out of the old red-and-white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Sometimes I add cinnamon or nutmeg to the flour:

Plain Pastry

For a 1-crust pie:

1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoons salt
2/3 cup shortening
5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

Stir flour and salt together. Cut in shortening until the individual bits are the size of small peas (use a fork or a pastry cutter for this). Sprinkle the water a spoonful at a time onto the mixture and toss it all (the recipe says to use a fork but I use my hands). Repeat until the dough will hold together in a ball.

Flatten the ball and roll it out using a lightly-floured rolling pin on a lightly-floured surface. Roll from the center to the edges, flipping the crust occasionally. When it's as big as you want it, fold it in half and move it to the pie plate; unfold it, press it into place and decorate the edge as desired. (I usually have to do some cut-and-paste because mine never rolls out into a uniform circle.)

The secret seems to be using absolutely ice-cold water and adding only as much as you need to make the dough hold together.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving for the Rest of Us!

Mollie writes:

We are having a rather staid Thanksgiving this year, but this wasn't always the case.  My family has had our share of highs and lows and you could take our family's emotional temperature by the theme of the year.  One sister had not one but two handicapped children (we are talking wheelchairs, developmental delays and true heartache), another faced divorce, another Mollie dealt with breast cancer (17 years ago and she's still doing fine).

One year was particularly hard.  We were in the midst of Reaganomics and some of us were out of work.  Some of us were giving our kids Phenobarbital for seizures, some of us were spending money we didn't have for wheelchairs and hydraulic lifts for our mini-vans.  But all we could see on TV was the perfect family, with affluence abounding, healthy children and designer homes.

What diversity!

We were all a little shell-shocked.  How does one give thanks when, frankly, we had to think creatively to come up with anything positive.  Sure, Roger hadn't had any seizures that year, the twins were in a program for children with developmental delays and there was some talk of recovery around the corner.  But it doesn't help when you feel that your medical, financial and other complicated issues of the daily grind are on life support.

But, frankly, you can't keep a bunch of lunatics down.  We came up with a solution that lasted for years.  It took some planning, a lot of patience and very little money.  We had the anti-Thanksgiving!

We had it at our house, and the whole famdamily (my side) attended.  Since we were all either broke or pretending to be broke, we held off on the fine china (it's just as well, since I don't have china service for 21).  We managed to get our turkey at Fred Meyer for free since it happened that if you bought over a hundred dollars of other foods, the turkey was free!  And, since we weren't doing the glamor thing, we used paper plates.

We also used those clear plastic glasses for our beverages.  And since we were celebrating austerity, a guest was issued one (count it: ONE) glass at the beginning of the festivities.  We'd put labels with our names on them so we didn't exchange viruses.  But if you lost your cup, you were cut off beverages.  It was amazing how we protected our glasses!

So try doing Thanksgiving for 21 for under $100.00.  Just try!

Everybody brought food or wine.  John and I provided the basics, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, veggies - the works.  One of my sisters would bring bread, another brother brought "Spam on a Stick" our official pre dinner munchie that year.   My mom, God rest her soul, always brought pumpkin pie, and the California faction brought boxed wine.

We celebrated our humanity and did so with gusto.  When the meal was finished, we packed up the debris and dumped it into the 50 gallon garbage can, lined with plastique, that was waiting in the corner of the 'dining' room.  We enjoyed our boxed wine, played Monotony (Monopoly) 'til the wee hours, and just counted what blessings we could find.

And prayed for better times.

It worked.  Not all Thanksgivings were that stunning, but after that we managed to celebrate our lives without china, silver, expensive wines and lace tablecloths.   But economics improved enough that not only did we not have boxed wine, we had wine with corks!  But we never forgot the astringency of that one Thanksgiving, and we learned to celebrate with humor.

We started having Thanksgiving with themes.  We had cammo Thanksgivings, alternative turkey Thanksgivings (where we'd cook a turkey in deep fat) and other anti-Thanksgivings where we'd count our blessings, smoke a turkey and then all smoke cigars.  The fun just kept rolling.

Over the years, our desperation lessened, but never our humor.  It was sometimes tough to get us all together, but we managed, with our handicapped parking stickers, special needs kids, out of work folks (and in a family of our size, somebody was always out of work!).  But a tradition was started.

So, today's Thanksgiving recipe is a recipe for an alternative Thanksgiving.  Load up the kids, wheelchairs, controlled substances, Monopoly games with questionable markers (I liked the engagement ring) etc. and celebrate LIFE with those you love.  Add love, frustration, cheap wine and apple juice.  Mix in a little humility and a lot of tolerance, and voila, a perfect Thanksgiving.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mollie Does Dressing

After a 'seasoned' thirty three years of marriage, I've morphed a recipe for dressing that seems to please the family.  We all wanted a bit of meat in our dressing, but we also wanted giblets for the gravy.  What to do?

When I was a young wife, I watched AM Northwest regularly.  Maryanne Bauer, a domestic wonder, often gave recipes for the holidays that were both tasty and economical.  She had one for dressing with Italian Sausage that I tweaked to appeal to my family.

Every year I've prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving - we've had very few Thanksgivings where I haven't produced at least one large turkey.  In the past, we've smoked a turkey (really good) or deep-fat fried a turkey (also really good), but I've always manage to stuff one in the oven (so to speak) as well, simply because I can't imagine turkey without dressing.

Well, here we go.  After umpteen years of turkey magic, this is how I usually stuff a turkey.

First, I boil the giblets.  I use the meat for the gravy, but the broth that results from the boiling (usually 2 quarts) is used to moisten the breading.

So, here we go - this is what I'm doing this year, to a 14 pound turkey.

1 package of dried bread for stuffing a turkey (you chose - there are a bunch out there, personally I like Pepperidge Farm)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 pound ground sausage (your choice, this year I'm using an herbal pork)
Approximately 2 quarts of stock from boiling the giblets
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I love craisins)
1/2 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts are best IMHO)

Saute the sausage and the onions, set aside.  In large mixing bowl, moisten the breadcrumbs with the broth until it's moist and easy to form into a ball.  Add sauteed pork and onion, then the dried cranberries and nuts.

Taste the mixture.  There is usually enough seasoning in the sausage to replace the poultry seasoning that's normally used.  And once the turkey juices start oozing into the bird, you will have plenty of flavor.  Except, of course, if you want more!

Stuff the turkey, but be sure it's not overstuffed.  You've cooked the sausage already, but it's nice to have a little circulation going on inside the bird to allow the seasonings to balance out.

Voila, a dressing that's tasty and a little unusual.  Did you notice that there's no celery?  After 58 years of failed dieting, I HATE celery!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Millie's Pumpkin Pie

This week's blogs will feature The Ladies' favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

Millie writes

Lance and I take pumpkin pie very, very seriously. In fact, our wedding "cake" was actually a 3-tiered pumpkin pie! When I make these pies for Thanksgiving I triple this recipe because one of our most cherished traditions is to eat leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast the morning after the feast.

Millie's Pumpkin Pie

4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
12 oz. can evaporated milk
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 9" deep dish or 4 9" shallow pie crusts

Preheat oven to 425. In a very large bowl, combine ingredients in the order given. Pour filling into pie crusts. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for an additional 40-50 minutes for deep dish pies, 20-30 minutes for shallow pies.

Let cool; serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Note: To test for doneness on a custard pie, gently shake the pie plate. If the "wobbly" section in the center of the pie is bigger than a quarter, let it bake a little longer; if it is the size of a quarter or smaller, take it out. The center will solidify as it cools.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When Your Kid Dates a Loser

Millie writes:

Dating is fun, and it's a necessary step in your child's social development. Whether the kids in your community go on “crowd dates” to the movies at 13, couple up for the Junior Prom at 16 or take heavily-chaperoned walks at 18, it's natural that they want to begin to explore the grown-up world of love and romance.

If you have established open, honest communication – and you are very lucky – your kid will come to you with questions and comments about his dating life. But . . . what should you do when your kid is dating someone you don't like? This can be a toughie.

When your child is old enough to date, odds are good that there will be at least one real clinker in the bunch. To a certain extent, you just have to learn to suck it up and trust your kid's judgment. People, even people to whom you've given birth, will choose their friends based on what they find appealing in a person, not on what you find appealing in a person.

It is your job to be polite to your kid's friends and to receive them graciously in your home as long as they behave themselves. You don't have to like them. Your child likes them.

Of course, if you know that this person is actually harming your child physically you have not only the right, but the duty, to act. If there is physical abuse, call the police. If the kids go to the same school, alert the authorities so that they can keep a closer eye on the situation. Don't let the abuser into the house and take whatever steps are necessary to keep the two of them apart.

It's important to note that your child may not approve of what you are doing and may resist you. However, you are the parent. If somebody's beating on your kid, it's your job to protect him – regardless of what said kid thinks.

It's far more likely, though, that one of your child's Nearly-Significant Others (NSOs) will just rub you the wrong way. You may think he's not smart enough, or attentive enough, or ambitious enough – and indeed, he may not be. What you have to do here is to butt out. Your child has found something to like in this person; it may be that the NSO doesn't “do” parents, or that he is a diamond in the rough who will respond to a little polish. Don't bad-mouth the NSO. As long as your kid is happy, it's not your business.

Of course, this is different if you are asked a direct question, but even then you can't jump all over the subject like a monkey on a banana. Your kid will probably ask you at least once, “Do you like NSO?” The correct answer here (whether you like NSO or not) is, “I like NSO just fine as long as you like NSO.” Do not say, “No, I don't. I think NSO is a total waste of shoe leather.” If your kid loves NSO this will put you on opposite sides; if your kid is having second thoughts about NSO, he will have to stick it out anyway to prove to you that he can make his own decisions.

Your child may go through dating “phases” that will make you tear your hair out. Your 4.0 cheerleader daughter may be attracted only to goth beat poets, or your son the easygoing skateboarder may spend a year crushing on some demanding pretty-in-pink princess. Well, the Goth and the Princess are just kids, too – imagine how their parents feel, and be kind.

Don't be too kind, though. If your kid thinks you LOOOOOOVE the NSO, then they may be reluctant to confide in you. If your kid really values your opinion (Hah!), he may even stick it out with NSO long after he's lost interest in the relationship. Remember, “I like NSO as long as you like NSO” is our motto here. Remember, too, that dating relationships are often very fluid; if your kid breaks up with his NSO and you greet the news with, “FINALLY! Her hair was greasy, her grammar stank and she was way too short for you!” you are liable to be really embarrassed when they start dating again a week later. It's a sure bet he'll have passed your little character assessment on, too.

Of course, this doesn't mean you're entirely without resources. We once had one of our daughter's NSOs who would not take the hint that it was time to call it a night; Lance started vigorously sharpening all his knives (including his machete) in grim-lipped silence and the boy left quickly. Coincidence? I think not. We've also had several instances where a big brother or sister has drawn an NSO aside and murmured, “If you hurt him, I will find you.” Siblings operate under different rules than parents.

Bottom line: Teach your kid to be a good judge of character, then trust him. Stay humble by remembering a few of your own dating failures and don't visibly freak out if your kid confides some things to you that you don't really want to know (internal freaking out is fine).

Keep the lines of communication open and someday, when your child really does find True Love, you can rejoice right along with him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Power is Good!

Mollie writes:

Whidbey Island was flooded this morning with the hummmmmmmmmmm of generators.  Our power went out last night during one of the nastiest wind storms we've experienced.  What was so odd about this one is that we didn't have advance warning.  There we were, last night, midway through a Midsomer Murder episode.  I had noticed the wind and lightening earlier in the evening, and had just checked the view of Holmes Harbor from our living room, and dangnabbit, everyone's power was out.  I then heard a pop, and so was ours.

This isn't an unusual happening in our neck of the universe.  Whidbey Island is both an island AND a suburb.  We are close enough to Seattle that if you have the time and inclination, you can ferry to work You just need the time and commitment.  Something most of us don't have.

On the south end of the island, where we live, there is no big industry except Nichols Brothers, our local ship builder.  And the population is sparse in the winter, as many of the residents here are part-timers, living in Seattle and using their second home on the island for vacations or as a rental for others to use.

Not us.  We are full time islanders, and as such, we have a generator.  Living here year-round commands generator ownership.  Not only do we lose power frequently, but power restoration is slow.  If you are the local utility, Seattle Power, and you have to choose between sending a crew to reinstate power to 100,000 homes, or sending a crew on an hour long commute to restore power to 600 homes, most of them shut down for the winter, amazingly, you choose the 100,000 first, thank you very much.

So, I'm using a generator and I'm looking around the house to prioritize my power usage.  I can't (and frankly don't want to) power the entire circus during a power outage.  So I have to decide what to energize, what to shut down, and what to completely ignore.

First went the hair dryer. Second went the computer.  Third went all other forms of electronic entertainment and so on.  In the end, what remained on full time was the heat, the coffee pot and the refrigerator.  With mega-bucks of interferon to keep chilled, but not frozen, and our Thanksgiving turkey to keep frozen, not chilled, I was focused on keeping the house warm and the turkey and drugs cold.

And us caffeinated.

It wasn't that simple when we had kidlets.  Once you confirm that the schools are closed - and they should be with all the power lines askew and limbs dangling from trees, you have to amuse your kids someway.  And with no TV, no kitchen power, no nothing (or so it seems), it takes a woman with super-powers to keep the circus running.

We had an amazing amount of barbecues during power outages when my kids were small, and an amazing amount of book-fests as well.  We played board games - anybody for the Life game, or monopoly (said "monotony" in our house).

We opened the fridge rarely, and I lifted the ban on raiding the cookie jar.  We planned menus around melting ice cream and steak (don't wanna waste good meat!).  In those days, we didn't have a generator, so when there was no power, there was no power.  We ate well and slept long, especially if the days were short.

And we had flashlights and batteries.

In the end, we managed to survive power outages without too much trauma.  But I do remember the cheering when the TV popped back on and lights in the windowless bathrooms illuminated all the little miss-shots made by people who refused to pee sitting down.

As you might have guessed, our power was restored a little while ago, as well as out cable TV.  No harm done, no trees downed.  I may even finish that dvd!

There's nothing like a little power to restore a home, and there's nothing like a little power to make us appreciate what we didn't lose.  The toilets still flushed, books were still good, and with a little work, our senses of humor stayed illuminated.

Addendum:  Weather alert update.  Wednesday, November 17th, Whidbey Island.  Winds resume their gusts, and lower temperatures threaten snow in the mountains (Cascades and Olympics).  Cold to drop to sea level, possibility of snow on Sunday.

Gotta figure out where I'm cooking the turkey next Thursday.  Think I'll just get the kitchen all lit up and let the rest of the house coast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

And We Thought We Were So Smart!

Mollie writes:

Well, Roger and Joy are off on a trip to planet reality.  They are considering buying a home somewhere in the 'burbs of our local metropolis.  Of course, they are young, we have a tempestuous economy, there are a lot of homes for sale out there with baggage (think foreclosure and short sells), and you have the picture.

Did I mention that they are babies?  OUR babies?

It can't be easy.  When John and I bought our first house, we got hosed.  Nope, I'm not talking about the home we ultimately bought, I'm talking about the first home where we invested money.  I'll try to make the retelling easy - but in the end, getting hosed never results in an easy retelling.

Back in the 70's, my parents had built a home in a southern suburb on Portland, Oregon.  It was a lovely place, with roomy rooms, good structure, nice finish work, the whole shebang.  We liked their builder, so we began talking with him about building a home for us.

We weren't in my parents price range.  If we were going to build something, it would be small and merely '"sufficient" for our needs - not the house of our dreams, but a house to dream in while we were building equity.

We settled on a small split level, and paid to have plans made up.  The house itself would have 1600 possible square feet, only 1100 finished, with the basement being completed as money presented itself.  Our builder had a lot chosen in a small neighborhood he was developing, and work got underway.

We watched progress as the lot was cleared and building began.  Every time we met with our builder to discuss progress on the house, we were prepared to sign papers, but he kept on forgetting to bring them.  We thought nothing of it since he had sold himself as a "devout Christian" and my parents were pleased with the job he'd done for them.

Well, there was a hustle in progress, and we were the patsies.   After significant work was done on the house, it was up and framed, the builder came along and informed us that he was selling "our" house to someone else for twenty percent more than we'd agreed (orally) to pay.  Since we had nothing in writing (and in real estate, if it ain't in writing, it ain't anything) we were challenged to come up with more money.

As it turns out, the builder had gone to the bank to arrange financing for his development with our drawings as proof that he had a buyer for the first house.  He'd fully expected us to cave in and pay more for a house that we were, by then, emotionally attached to.

He was wrong.  Since neither one of us had anything in writing, we felt free to back out.  AND, after speaking to a golfing friend of my dad (who just happened to be a federal judge!) we sent the builder a bill for the use of OUR plans for the beginning of his development.

As it turned out, there was NO other buyer, it was a fictional person the builder created to up the price on the house.  The bank got wind of this and realized that this development loan was based on buyers who weren't contracted to buy the house.  Money for the house dried up immediately and the builder was left with a development with no buyers and no money.  The house we started sat unfinished for over a year.

And, strangely, the builder's credit dried up.

We pressed the issue and threatened the builder with fraud if he didn't reimburse us for the plans.  Ultimately, he did, but it was a while before he did.  Meanwhile, we started searching for a house that was within our price range, and life moved on.

Thirty-three years later, we ARE in the house of our dreams.  Where, in the past, we've purchased homes with the future in mind, now we are sitting pretty in a house that is perfect for the here and now.  But, that didn't happen overnight, and not without a lot of scarring.

So, a word to the wise.  If it ain't in writing, it ain't.  If someone has done business with your parents, SO WHAT!  And, and this is key, if the other party brings God into the picture, run, don't walk, to the nearest exit.

What crummy advice to give our kids!  We've refrained from telling them the details until now (and now, for heaven's sake, I'm blogging it!).  But, things worked out in the end, at least for us (the builder might have another story).

So remember, "In God we trust - all others pay cash" (Jean Shepherd)!

Good luck, kids.  And, remember we're there with all our advice and scar tissue!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Month of Love

Millie writes:

After the entry I wrote on October 1 about Lance and I celebrating 10 years together by amping up the romance during the entire month of October, I was inundated with notes asking for specifics. Therefore, here in no particular order are 30 of the things we did. Remember, it's not so much WHAT things you do, it's the cumulative effect of daily “Awwwww!” moments that will make each of you feel surrounded by love and tenderness. The more you do it, the easier it is for even “non-romantics” to come up with ideas.

DO try this at home!

1. Write “I love you” on the bathroom mirror with lipstick, or on the inside of the shower door with Vaseline (so it will show up when the shower fills with steam).

2. Send her a card or love letter through the mail. (Send it to work, if you're sure nobody else will open it.) Write something mushy inside, even if you're generally not mushy in person.

3. FILL the cookie jar with his favorite cookies.

4. Fill the tub with very warm water. (Sprinkle in a few rose petals, if you like.) Make sure the towels are clean and fluffy. Tell her, “You go soak in the tub and relax for a while. I'll make dinner.” Clean the tub afterward.

5. Put a pair of silk boxers on top of the pile in his underwear drawer (even if he's usually a tighty-whitey man). Add a note: “Can't wait to see you in these.”

6. Bring a picnic basket and steal him away for lunch. Go park somewhere with a fantastic view and talk while you eat. Pack grapes, a tiny bottle of wine or champagne and flutes, sandwiches, chips. Throw in a couple of fortune cookies for dessert. (Insert your own fortunes, if you like!)

7. Forgo the usual roses and bring her an enormous bunch of carnations, or daisies, or lilacs. Present them in a pretty vase (you can get them for practically nothing at thrift stores).

8. Burn a CD (or hijack his MP3) player and fill it with “your” songs. Add a few new ones, too.

9. Use scented massage oil, baby oil, olive oil or aspirin cream and give each other back rubs.

10. Have a grown-up date. Dress up. Make reservations. (If you're us, be seated next to a State Senator and ignore him.) Have a cocktail before dinner.

11. Have a “high school” date. Dress down. Go to Burger King. See a movie at a second-run theater. Neck in the back seat of the car.

12. Send a romantic e-card.

13. Buy (or check out of the library) him the newest book by an author you know he loves.

14. Put a bag of her favorite chocolates in her purse when you know she's got a busy day ahead.

15. Have his favorite beverage on hand at the correct temperature. Bring it to him when you think he needs it.

16. Give HER a present on YOUR birthday. Tell her she's the best present you ever got.

17. Buy some glow-in-the-dark stars. Make your bedroom ceiling into deep space, or outline your “favorite” constellation if you have one, or write “I love you” in luminescence. Turn out the lights.

18. While he's making his bedtime ablutions, fill the bedroom with lit tea candles. (If you use the battery-operated fake ones, you won't have to worry about the fire hazard. They sell them 2 for a buck at the dollar store, and they flicker like “real” candles.)

19. While she's making her bedtime ablutions, put a bottle of champagne into a bucket of ice by the bed. Add a pair of crystal flutes and two chocolates (or strawberries). Think James Bond.

20. Give him a clear glass jar full of green M&Ms (or jawbreakers, if he doesn't like M&Ms).

21. Take a weekend off together. If your kids are old enough to look after themselves, go away over night. If your kids are little, hire a sitter or swap overnights with another couple. If you don't have kids, turn off the phones and unplug the TV and – gasp! - the computers.

22. Tuck a love note into the bookmarked page of the book he's currently reading.

23. Bring her a big glass of cranberry juice in bed on a Morning After. Include a multivitamin.

24. Do his chores.

25. Make a ceremony of locking the bedroom door when you turn in for the night.

26. Fill 30 scraps of paper with “Reasons I Love You,” fold them small and put them in a pretty box. Present them to her on the first night of the month and read one of them aloud to her each morning.

27. Send each other sweet text messages – even if you're in the same room.

28. Write him a love note, slip it into a tiny bottle, seal it, hide it in your pocket and take him for a walk beside some body of water. When he's looking elsewhere, toss the bottle into the water for him to “find.”

29. Take a bath (or sit in a hot tub or a Jacuzzi) together. Sit and flirt and talk heart-to-heart until you're both pruny and the water is cold. (This is another good place to use those battery-operated votive candles, by the way.)

30. Buy (or check out of the library) a book about romance. Read a paragraph or two aloud to each other at bedtime. Even if you just make fun of them (and a lot of it does sound funny, read aloud!), it's a sweet way to put the idea in your minds before sleep.