Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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
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
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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!!!
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.
Maggie's Cranberry-Pecan Muffins
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)
3/4 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 tastingnashville.blogspot.com. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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 is in charge of the all-important cranberry dishes for our Thanksgiving celebration. Here are 3 of his closely-guarded recipes.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Friday, November 12, 2010
If you use an anti-static sheet in the dryer, save it when you remove the clothes and use it to clean out the lint trap from that load. The fuzz will stick much better to the sheet than to your hand.
If you crumple and crumple and crumple and CRUMPLE a sheet from a brown paper bag, it will look enough like soft, thick suede that you can use it to craft convincing “leather” covered wagon tops, buckskins, and teepees for your little Pilgrims and Indians to play with this Thanksgiving. It also makes good book covers.
Butter your hands before you shape popcorn balls or Rice Krispies treats. The goo will be much more manageable.
Teach your toddler to put on his coat the way Jack's preschool teacher taught him: spread it open on the floor in front of him with the outside of the coat touching the floor and the collar-end pointing towards the child. The kid crosses his arms, slips his hands down into the opposite coat sleeves and raises them straight into the air while straightening out his arms, thereby flipping the coat up, over his head and down into place. Presto!
Remove tarnish from your silver the easy way: line a baking dish (or the sink) with aluminum foil and pour in boiling-hot water. Add 2 teaspoons each of salt and baking soda for each half-gallon or so of water. Completely submerge the tarnished silver so that it's touching the foil and let it soak until the tarnish is gone; rinse and polish with a soft cloth. (The tarnish “jumps” from the silver to the foil, leaving a dusty precipitate. SCIENCE!)
Use a man's discarded dress shirt as a child's arts-and-crafts apron; just button it on the kid backwards. It's long enough to keep paint off of most of their clothing and the sleeves can be rolled up or down (or cut off) as needed.
There are 3 good ways to get wax off your candlesticks. Put metal holders in the freezer for a couple of hours; the wax will become brittle and you can chip it off with your fingernails. Put glass or crystal holders in the microwave for a few seconds until the wax melts and you can wipe it off. Put any kind of holder in very hot water for a few minutes until the wax softens enough for you to peel it off; stand the holder upside-down with the base out of the water if the bottom is covered with felt.
Even if your husband hates everything mammalian so you can't have a kitten no matter how much you beg, kitty litter is still good to have on hand. The plain ol' clay variety soaks up oil spills in the driveway and garage, can be used to “salt” frozen steps and sidewalks, and can be pressed into service as drainage in the bottom of a planter in a pinch (if you put a bit of screen over the hole in the bottom of the pot). Keep a big bag of it in the trunk of your car for a bit of added weight when the roads are icy, if you have rear-wheel drive. (And who knows – someday your husband might change his mind about the kitten, and then you have to be ready to jump before he changes it back!)
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Like anyone who was ever a little girl, I want to be beautiful.
My mom (who always tried to be kind when my dad wasn't looking) once comforted me when I was a child by telling me that I was one of those people who don't look right in photographs – that I didn't look the same if I wasn't moving. My first boyfriend told my best friend while we were dating, “I love her body, but I can't stand her face.” (Can you believe my friend didn't pass that little tidbit on until after I broke up with the boyfriend?)
If having non-standard features wasn't enough, I'm also a fat woman. (It makes Lance flinch when I say that, like he's watching me stab myself, but to me “fat” is just an adjective. “Zaftig” and “fluffy” and “big” mean “fat.” Why not just say it?) To most people, being fat is the very worst fate they can imagine. Public ridicule of fat people is still okay; I'm embarrassed to recall that once I got into an argument with a bunch of Craigslist trolls about whether or not a fat woman (who might, after all, be their favorite teacher or their mother or their boss) could conceivably have any value to society. The unanimous consensus was that if they didn't want to bang her, she might as well be dead. So much for society.
(By the way, my cholesterol is probably lower than yours and my arthritis is inherited from my 98-pound mother.)
I wasn't fat until I hit my 20s. I was raised in the Projects and went to ghetto schools, and since I developed early I got called fat so often that I absorbed that belief with my multiplication tables. When I did get fat it felt pretty natural, to tell you the truth. What was the big deal?
Anyway, never having added “beauty” to my mental resume, I concentrated on other things. I am smart, and funny, and extremely nurturing (which doesn't always go with “smart” and “funny”). I'm bouncy and enthusiastic and organized and skilled in a wide range of areas. These things have given me an air of confidence that tends to confound people who can't believe I'm putting myself out there. I mean, why would an ugly fat woman WANT to shop for negligees, have a baby, swim laps, speak in public or dance? It confuses people that I'm not in a corner covered in shame.
The foregoing is not a cry for sympathy. It's a statement of fact, as if you were writing, “My eyes are brown” or “my hair is short” or “I am tone-deaf.” Most of the time I don't even think about it, because goofy-looking and overweight are not things that matter much to me.
They do matter sometimes, though. I love clothes, and like most other women I long for fluffy red cashmere sweaters in the fall and gauzy white peasant blouses in the summer. I get polyester double-knit tunics in colors from the planet Krypton no matter what the season, because designers don't make beautiful clothes in my size. Anything over size 12 apparently falls into the “slipcover” category. It matters, too, when I go somewhere in my official capacity as Someone's Mother or Someone's Wife. I would really love to be beautiful then. My people love me as I am, but I'm always so sorry to embarrass them by not being a Cosmo Woman.
There are a few things I like about myself. I love my eyes. I like my boobs (even though they're a lot lower down than they used to be). I think my hair is a pretty color and I am excited about the silver streaks that are coming into it. I put on makeup every day of my life – foundation, eyeliner, shadow, mascara, blusher, lipstick, gloss) because that's what my mother did so that's how women DO. I like being clean and well-groomed; beyond that I just don't usually think about it very much. I think about things like writing and gardening and chickens and my family and sex.
Lance thinks I'm beautiful. I don't understand why, but he really, sincerely thinks so. Partly I think it's because when he looks at me he sees the 19-year-old with waist-length gold hair who could wear a 2-piece swimsuit. Partly I think it's because we're both extremely sensual and he sees me through the eyes of how I make him feel and how I express the way I feel.
Sometimes, though . . . sometimes I catch sight of myself in a mirror or a window and I can see it. Sometimes I'll be wearing a dress that makes me look – just for a moment - curvy and delicious instead of like the Michelin Tire Man. Sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of myself laughing and see how someone who eats life by the handfuls could be more attractive than someone who is forever reining themselves in. Sometimes I'll walk into a room and watch my husband's eyes narrow and his lips turn up at the corners when he sees me.
Sometimes, I'm beautiful. It could be that we all are.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
My husband is a retired Naval Reserve officer. My son is an active duty Air Force Captain with a few deployments under his belt. My father was a sonar technician, on both submarines and destroyers, in the Pacific during WWII, and my father-in-law was a CPO store keeper during the taking of Okinawa. My mother's brother, Bill, was in stationed in the Philippines when Japan invaded, and endured the the horrors of the Bataan Death March and subsequent imprisonment in a POW camp. My father's brother, Bill, was killed in the Pacific, fighting for each of us.
Each of them has a story to tell, just as EVERY service person has a story to tell. Lest we forget that all service people are important to the bigger picture, I have a story that is both amusing and profound.
During the Vietnam War, my husband was a electronics technician, ultimately achieving Second Class Petty Officer. He was also stationed in the Philippines, at Subic Bay on Luzon Island. While the war raged, he repaired electronic equipment.
John is an electronics kinda guy. Early on, the Navy realized this and sent him for additional training once he was out of basic training. Once he reached the Philippines, he was charged with repairing radios.
Back in the sixties, electronics were just becoming a household word, but my John spoke electronics fluently. This was an area where often the "kids" knew more about the system than the officers did, and John was a classic example.
There was a radio that, frankly, went kerplunk. When John was assigned its repair, he quickly identified the problem as a mal-functioning transformer. He ordered the parts and awaited delivery.
His CO called him on it, not believing that this was the problem. John was called into his office, ordered to bring the schematics, and grilled on the repairs he had stipulated. The CO was convinced that the problem wasn't with the transformer and ordered John to review his work and, ultimately, "fix the problem."
Well, the problem WAS the transformer, so John ordered the CO's driver to pick up the parts. The driver was a Philippine national, a civilian, and was able to leave the base to pick up the parts quickly without a lot of administrative hoo-hah.
He did it with all due speed and gusto. When John had the parts, he repaired the radio and all was put right on heaven and earth.
Later that day, John was in the mess and the CO came and thanked John for his work. When he asked what the problem really was, John told him it was the transformer and that the CO's driver had gotten the parts on John's request.
I guess the CO looked a little surprised. John went on to explain that, although he'd been told that the transformer wasn't the problem, John knew it was. AND the CO had told John, just before dismissing him, to "fix the problem." So, John did fix the problem, it was the transformer.
The CO just shrugged it off. No big deal.
We hear a lot about egos, etc. in the military. But we don't get the little stories, the minutia of everyday service. If fixing the transformer was John's duty, he did his duty and fixed the transformer. John's CO was humble enough to see it.
So, this Veteran's day, celebrate doing your duty. Remember that the military is filled with souls of talent, inspiration, stubbornness and a willingness to obey a command, even if it's politically incorrect.
Forty years later, after claiming GI benefits, John has earned a BS, MS and doctorate in all things electronic (ok, maybe not all things, but a lot of things!).
And, he's a big-time expert on transformers!
(for more information on where a kid can take his service-encouraged talents, Google
"John H. Brunke" AND transformers)
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
But a lot of that changed after I was diagnosed with MS. The first to go was piano moving, followed by lawn mowing and bark moving. At some point we moved to our home in Tigard, where nary a blade of grass graced our yard - it was all garden, evergreens and decks. Once the heavy work of landscaping was done, I could manage most of the maintenance myself.
I also went back to work around that time. John's sense of fair play kicked in, and realizing that it also wasn't fair that I had to work full-time, do the mommy thing and be a solo parent when he traveled, he started cleaning a bit. I was awed and amazed at how well men clean!
John had been an enlisted man in the Navy before he was a commissioned officer (it's called being a "mustang"). Starting at the very bottom of the flag pole, he learned how to clean as only a naval swabbie could clean. I started to notice how our toilets sparkled and how clean the shower got when he was on bathroom duty. After 15 years of marriage, it was fun to learn of these hidden gifts.
We turned Saturday mornings into "field day" chez Brunke. The boys would clean their bedrooms and bathrooms (meaning they'd stuff their laundry under their beds) and John and I would tackle the living areas and the other baths. We got to be so organized that we could clean our house in three hours. We didn't polish silver, mind you, but we mopped, dusted, vacuumed, put stuff away; the basics of cleaning. With the four of us, things got done!
Now it's just the two of us. We are in a smaller home, but still, it requires a lot of work. So every so often I have a hissy fit and demand that we clean up. John is usually a good sport and just cleans his heart out. But yesterday was different.
It was more.
John has power tools, air tools, you name it. Our upstairs has some lovely vaulted ceilings, but with wall hangings, light fixtures, shelves and the lot, cleaning gets dicey for me. So yesterday, John brought his power tools upstairs and cleaned away.
He has some kind of air hose gadget that blasts dusts off high areas. He has a power steamer that he cleans door and window jams with, he has power tools that will blow your mind away, and watching him yesterday apply all these tools was thrilling. Nothing cleans like a guy with tools!
I wasn't idle, either. I dusted, cleaned bathrooms, cleaned the kitchen, washed windows and polished furniture. The upstairs is now kinda sparkly.
This leaves the basement. I'll clean the two bedrooms and bath, while John cleans his shop (more on that in another entry) and his den. And yep, I can see power tools playing a major role.
Marriages evolve. What used to be 'women's" work is now shared equally. But it's easier to achieve equality with air tools!
Monday, November 8, 2010
If I'd known the sex would all but dry up when we got married, I might have approached things differently. I don't like having to be the one constantly asking for it. I want my man to be aggressive and pursue sex with me instead of just giving it a go when I pursue it. I just hope I can make peace with it, since the rest is pretty good. Maybe I need to let him chase me a bit more... I just can't stand games.
Sex sure is a temperamental part of marriage, especially once the babies come home. Hang in there. Have you considered a "date night" like Millie's? Also, just a little honest chat?
Remind him that you married him for more than sex and be sure he knows he's appreciated for everything he does, in and outside the bedroom.
I can’t stand head-games, but bed-games are a different story. Think back to before you were married, when the sex was (presumably) good; have your approaches changed since you tied the knot, or is it your expectations that have changed?
One suggestion for perking up the conjugal blahs is to flirt. If you think of flirting as a game that you don’t “have” to play anymore because you’re married, think again. Too many women act like sexy little bundles of cooing admiration until they get that ring on the finger, and then “Get Husband” becomes one more crossed-off item on their To-Do lists and the only times they talk to the poor bewildered guy are to tell him to take out the trash and to yell at him for not being more romantic. Maybe he wonders where his playmate went.
You don’t have to play dress-up (unless you want to) and speak to him in a teensy little Zooey Deschanel voice (unless he likes it) to flirt. Just drop a comment at breakfast time: “Huh; I have the feeling I’m gonna be feeling reaaaal frisky tonight!” to give him something to think about during his workday. Admire his arms (a squeeze and a “H'm!” is enough) or run your fingers through his hair. Let him know you think he’s desirable without overwhelming him with your desire. You can ask him, even after he makes an ordinary comment, “Honey, are you FLIRTING with me?” with a delighted grin.
It sounds obvious, but you must talk to him. Just don’t charge into it screaming, “You NEVER initiate sex and it makes me feel like an UGLY COW and we’re going to TALK ABOUT THIS and FIX IT RIGHT NOW!” That approach is enough to turn off the most libidinous man. Instead, some time when you’re both relaxed, start a “remember when” conversation. “Remember that night we necked for hours in the back seat of your dad’s car?” or “Remember the time we ducked into the bathroom at that boring party for a quickie? That was so hot!” Turn the conversation to things you both like or things you’ve always wanted to try. Don’t start anything physical, just keep it easy and fun.
When you do have sex, don’t spoil it afterward by saying, “Whew! It’s about time!” or something equally rude – he’ll feel as though he just can’t win. Give him a lascivious smile or a lewd wink a few hours later to remind you both of the fun you had together; whisper, “Yummy!” in his ear while you’re watching TV that night. Purr.
Concentrate on why you love him and make a special effort to connect with him on those wavelengths. It’s too easy to let resentment about the sexual famine come between you. You may think, “Why should I have to be the one to do all the flirting? It’s the 21st century, for goodness’ sake; we’re supposed to be equals.” Well, successful relationships have never been 50/50, despite what you may have heard; they are usually 90/10. Some days you’re the 90, some days you’re the 10; in any case, you are hoping to make things better, so don’t worry about keeping score; relax and enjoy one another as much as you can. A great sex life is a joy and a blessing to any woman.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Hello to all of you out there in Millie and Mollie land!
It's been a while since I've been able to think of anything good to post, so today I'm cheating a little bit and asking for help with a quandary of my own. Phil and I are slowly starting the process of trying to buy a house, and as such we're taking steps to save as much money as we can. So far this hasn't made too big a difference in our day-to-day lives, but with the holidays coming up I'm feeling a little down. For the last two years (and for my entire childhood) we always pulled out all the stops, especially at Christmas, and spoiled rotten our families and each other. This year, since we'll be out of town for almost a week and we don't want the cats to destroy it, we're not even going to put up a tree (although we might get a tiny one that will fit on a bookshelf or something). This is something we've been planning for months, but as the holiday season draws ever nearer, I must confess that I've been feeling a little down about it.
So, all that being said, my question to you is this. What suggestions can you offer in the way of making a special Christmas on not a lot of money? I'm sure there's a lot of great advice out there and I would love to hear from any and all of you. Fire away!!!
What a timely question. This is a topic many of us are considering at this time of the year even if we're not saving up for a house; budgets are tighter now than they have been for a long time, and we don't want to short-change our families by making Christmas seem like a bargain-basement exercise.
Fortunately there are a lot of ways to make your holidays as merry and bright as they have always been; and as a matter of fact, the extra thought and love that goes into each gift, decoration and celebratory occasion may make this Christmas your best one yet. Take heart, dear May!
1. Do something every single day. Starting on December 1 (or the day after Thanksgiving, if you can't stand to wait that long), have a small ceremony, project or outing planned for each day between then and Christmas Eve. It doesn't have to be a big thing: Sending out your Christmas cards (even if they're free e-cards), lighting a pine-scented candle, baking cookies or watching a library DVD of National Lampoon's Christmas are all examples of things you can do that don't cost a dime. The important thing is to have something to look forward to; it makes Christmas last longer!
2. Have clear expectations. Since right now it's just you and Phil at home, you don't need to worry about disappointing children. Talk to your extended families as soon as you can and let them know your plans; let them know that you'll be giving home-made gifts or even skipping gifts this year, and that you'd like them to cut back on what they give you (so you won't have as much to pack and move). If you do exchange gifts, you could make matching knitted stocking caps, small caricatures or any other home-made items that feature your particular skills. Be clear with each other, too. Decide on the number of gifts you'll exchange if you worry that it will be extremely lopsided. Have a talk about what traditions are really important to you and which ones you'd be willing to skip this year, then just do the important ones. If you don't care much about sending cards but it wouldn't be Christmas without stocking-stuffers, concentrate on picking up a bunch of little whimsical gifts and forget about buying envelopes and postage this year.
3. Give dreams. Buying a house is a huge, wonderful milestone, and it's a super-fantastic gift you are giving each other. Consider having a house-themed Christmas celebration! Make a gingerbread house together. Find a fancy skeleton key at a secondhand store or a locksmithy and present it as the "key to your heart." Haunt the Goodwill for "house" movies like The Money Pit or Mouse Hunt and wrap them in the "For Sale - Houses" section of the Sunday paper. Check out used bookstores for "How To" manuals on plumbing, roofing, basic carpentry and other necessary homeowner skills.
4. Remember to live where you are now. Even though you will be out of town a lot during the holiday season, when you ARE home make the most of it. Don't put Christmas off until next year. Get the small tabletop tree and put it high on a shelf, or make it portable so that you can lock it in a closed room when you are away. Put a fresh wreath on your front door so that you can have the smell of Christmas even if you don't have a live tree this year. Decorate your windows with garlands, artificial snow, window clings - whatever says "Christmas!" to you. As you know, Christmas is more than just spending a few frenzied hours one early morning ripping open presents; Christmas proper is the whole season. Don't just flop on the couch and watch TV after work in December; spend a little time treasuring your home and your relationship.
5. Opt for the experience. There are a lot of things to do this time of year that you can't do at any other time, and it sounds like this might be your year to collect these experiences! Take a picnic lunch in a basket out to a cut-your-own tree farm and ride the hay wagon into the woods; you don't need to actually be cutting a tree to enjoy the farm. Eat your picnic while you enjoy the sights, sounds and smells, then ride the wagon back to the farm and buy a wreath, some evergreen garland or some jams or honey for your Christmas morning breakfast. Round up your friends and go caroling, the way you've been talking about since seventh grade. Go to a high-school music concert. Wander through church bazaars. See how many Salvation Army bell-ringers you can locate in an hour; put a quarter in each pot you find.
6. Be Christmas elves. There is nothing that will bring you out of the doldrums faster than doing something for somebody else for no reward but the goodwill you will feel. Shovel and sand (or sweep) an elderly neighbor's walkway. Crochet a snowflake ornament, wrap it neatly and leave it on someone's porch with a "Merry Christmas!" label - ring the bell and run! As you're packing things away in preparation for your move, go through your kitchen cupboards and dig out those canned and packaged foods you never got around to using; donate them to your local Food Bank. Many schools have coat drives this time of year; donate good-condition cast-off coats, hats and scarves to a drive, or good-condition clothes of all kinds to your city's PTA Clothes Closet.
7. Go for quantity over quality. This is not the time for the carefully-chosen, once-in-a-lifetime gift; this is the time for 10 gaily-wrapped packages from the Dollar Store and the Goodwill. Select things that are consumable - candy, drawing paper and colored pencils, jigsaw puzzles, assortments of coffees - and spread them out around the room as much as you can for Christmas morning. The impressive display will help to reassure that tiny voice that chirps, "but . . . where's CHRISTMAS?" even though Adult You knows you're saving for a house.
8. Enjoy the differences. While this year may not bring the sort of Christmas you're used to, you're actually in what many people would consider an enviable position. You're young, you're beautiful, you're healthy, you're madly in love with your husband and it's Christmas-time! Revel in it! In a few years you'll be a homeowner and mother, with all the joy these two things bring. Right now, though, you don't have a leaky roof, a leaky bank account or a leaky baby puking down your neck. Make 2010 the year you dress up in high heels and go dancing every night in December (even if it's in your living room)! Accept every party invitation you get! Go to concerts and movies and banquets! Enjoy being alive and successful and in love.
9. Give yourself a break. Don't be too rigid with yourself or with each other. If you're both feeling sad, agree to loosen the reins just a bit. In the long run it won't affect your home-buying timeline very much if you splurge a tiny bit, very carefully. Often just giving yourselves permission to cut loose a smidge relieves the compulsion to do so.
10. Count your blessings. Starting on Thanksgiving morning, each of you take a sticky note and write down something in your life for which you're grateful. Exchange the notes and read them out loud, then post the sticky notes above your bed. Add to them each morning, and at bedtime spend a moment reviewing what you've written so far. As the notes build up, you will begin to look at your life through more appreciative eyes; spending time each day thinking about how much you have together, and how wonderfully your life will continue to grow, will remind you that you have already given each other the best Christmas gifts of all.
John and I have had our lean years, too. Peter and Roger probably didn't notice because we substituted a lot of underwear, socks, sweatshirts, etc. for the luxury gifts. But we did make a point of buying each of you boys one nice thing.
Have fun with what you have. Remember all those tacky Christmas stockings? We put odor-eaters, cough drops, Bic pens, tylenol, Bean-o and other silly things in 'em. Oh, yeah, you're getting tacky ones this year, too. We started this tradition one year when things were a little lean, and we've kept it going.
Give coupons! I'd love a coupon for baby snuggles whenever my kids become parents. Just be sure to give Millie and Mollie the most. You don't want to leave us out in the cold - so be sure we get plenty, and don't favor a Millie over a Mollie. Remember Sleeping Beauty? You can have fun decorating them and I can't imagine anything sweeter or more precious than this.
Another coupon could be a weekend to visit you in your new future home. Personally, I'd LOVE this!
Watch a whole lotta Christmas movies. Do the "Christmas Story" one, or "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Home Alone" or whatever. Get dressed up like the characters and have friends over. Have key phrases like "you'll put your eye out" so that you can each have a handful of popcorn or a swig of soda pop when it comes up.
Over the years, John and I have learned what NOT to give each other. John will never again give me a port-a-potty for camping, and I will never, never, EVER give him anything electronic. So have some fun and make lists of exactly what you DON'T want for Christmas. Start with fruitcake. Think of all the future Christmases you'll save by thinking ahead like this!
I'll post more as the spirit moves me, but here's a good start!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
First, go to
and read the facts.
We little folks have to stand up for ourselves. Look out for your hard work being plagiarized by others.
Not only will they steal your hard work, but they'll bully you into believing that you deserved it! Ms Griggs must have learned her journalistic ethics at Styx University.
Personally, I plan on boycotting any supporter of "Cooks Source" or Judith Griggs.
Since my OTHER other other job is as a professional writer - with much of what I write published online - I'm glad this sort of thing is finally getting the public attention it deserves. No, in fact, the Internet is NOT "public domain" - otherwise uploading music without paying for it would be perfectly okay. If you publish your writing - or photography or music or anything else - online and you're concerned about copyright, be sure to include a line with your work such as "Copyright Jane Doe, 2010."
Misconceptions like Ms. Griggs' are commonplace (though unconscionable in an editor), but intellectual property is just like any other kind - if it's not yours, don't use it without permission!
Today, my stock portfolio reached the highest point I was at when all this economic nastiness began. This was over two years ago, and for a lot of the time, I've been sitting on pins and needles, praying that recovery was at hand.
Today, November 4th, 2010, I can truly say I've hit recovery.
But what is recovery? John and I were never honestly hit with this recession. Trust me, we've been hit in the past, and were this time as well, but our only suffering this time was "on paper" and not real. We still had our pensions and John was able to so some consulting work in the energy field (so to speak). So we had our downs, but it was something that didn't interfere with our day-to-day lives. I wish I could say the same about friends and family.
I have sisters who are out of work, bosom buddies who are out of work, partners of bosom buddies who are out of work, husbands of sisters who are out of work, the list goes on. In addition, I have family whose jobs were negatively impacted by the recession: they didn't lose their jobs or benefits, but the economy impacted how much they made.
I'm not a Gates or a Getty or an oil baron in the Middle East. I'm a middle class housewife who turned a little bit of money into a little bit more money. And I did it by not losing faith and building on hope.
When my stocks plunged, I dug in my feet and chose to wait it out. We were lucky, the money I played with was disposable - we didn't need it for our regular living expenses. And I had bought decent stock, no real losers, just sensible stuff that would follow the overall economic picture. My prudence was ultimately rewarded, but it took time. Things might not have been so good had I needed extra cash.
I got my "financial advice" from my father-in-law who also made money by investing money in our economy. He only had two salient bits of advice, and for me it worked out. "Don't be greedy" and "Don't be in a hurry" was my mantra for years. It was good advice.
If motherhood teaches us anything, it teaches us to eschew greed and wait things out. Kids aren't calmly raised because mom and dad lost faith at the first sign of trouble. Nobody got rich selling stock in a panic when the market dipped. People lose money when they sell in panic. And, although we lived without my income for 12 years, we ended up ok financially because we learned early on in our lives that money wasn't everything. Family was everything.
So, I'm hoping that this recovery catches up with all of us. It did with me today, so I'm hoping the same karma flows your way as well. I have ultimate plans for the money I've made by investing - it will involve grandkids and education. So there goes the greed. And I don't have grandkids, yet, so there goes the hurry!
It's good to have a plan and to visualize the future.
Since I'm a Linguistics nerd, speech development was one of my favorite parts of my kids' early childhoods.
I really enjoyed those days (sometimes stretching into weeks) where a kid had made up a word or a phrase that obviously meant something, since they kept repeating it with increasing degrees of emphasis – trouble was, whatever they were saying was not in Standard English. Figuring out that “Agg-n!” meant “I would like to drink some apple juice now, please!” to six-month-old Joy was a triumph worthy of Professor Higgins.
More lasting, though, were the words and phrases that were just so darned CUTE they entered our family lexicon forever. My siblings and I still call tools “dookooz” because that's how our baby brother said it; I won't tell you what else he called them because he learned that particular word from watching our Dad work on the washing machine. My baby brother is now a 37 year old mechanic with a barn full of equipment and four kids of his own, but I still have to catch myself: “Sassy, I need to hang a picture; will you bring me the doo- the toolbox, please?”
A child's early phrases can give you a great deal of insight into his character. When Rocky was going through the Terrible Twos he'd say, “Help me do it myself!” which under the circumstances was remarkably polite; so was Red's strangely formal, “I don't feel good to do dat right now.” Both of these phrases work equally well for 20-somethings, I'm glad to report.
Sassy was apparently one of those babies who sat regally on a cushion and allowed her subjects to bring her their offerings, so it wasn't necessary for her to learn to talk until she was about 10 months old. Her first words were spoken at Rocky's parent/teacher conference; she was sitting in majestic splendor in her stroller, Lance and Bertha and Rocky were talking to the teacher and Bender was horsing around (loudly) in the courtyard outside the classroom. Sassy drew herself up to her full seated height, pointed a chubby finger towards the window and intoned, “Sh'up, Bee.”
When Jack was learning the fine points of language – oh, around 4 and 5 years of age – he made connections that were perfectly logical in retrospect, but convulsed the rest of us with laughter. His particular genius was in making a singular form of a word that hadn't originally been plural. For example, he'd scratch his ear, look at his finger and say, “Oh, look! An earwack!” Once he was helping one of his brothers look for his other tennis shoe and asked me, “Have you seen Rocky's other Conver?” It's no surprise to me, therefore, that today the kid doesn't even blink at calculus but needs a calculator to do multiplication. He's just got that type of mind.
Of course, they come by it naturally. Apparently Lance didn't speak at all until he was practically a year old, and then his first verbal communication was to Minnie, a little old neighbor lady who gave him a treat whenever she saw him. He toddled away from his mama and up to the gate, gazed up through his long Bambi eyelashes and cooed, “Min-nie? Cook-ie?” He still only speaks when it's something of vital importance like that. My entire extended family calls those picnic pests “Answer Bugs” because of 1-year-old Millie; I pointed at one and said, “What's that?” Mom answered, “That's a bug.” “Nuh-uh, it's a ANT!” “Well,” Mom explained patiently, “ants are bugs!” “Ohhhh, answer bugs!”
Makes sense to me.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Red is one of those people who make up words. When he was about 14, he started saying “slorfty” instead of “sorry” and it caught on. Now we all say it.
(We say a lot of weird things, actually, and it garners us some odd looks when we're out in public. As a matter of fact Lance and I continue to use words coined by little bitty kids even though the kids in question are now in their 20s. “Kidspeak” is probably another entry unto itself.)
Anyway, my point is that apologies have their own vocabulary in our house. It's important to teach your kids to apologize and make amends when they've done something that hurts someone else.
Something many parents don't understand, though, is that it's just as important for us to apologize. Even Millie and Mollie aren't perfect; we make mistakes, we lose our tempers and sometimes we're just plain wrong. How can we expect our children to take us seriously if we don't acknowledge what we've done and make amends ourselves?
The other day I did something very rude; I laughed at something Jack told me. It can be difficult for me to remember that Jack is nearly an adult; he's a junior in high school, it's true, but he's also the youngest and the most easy-going. He was talking about his future and said something that seemed out of character for someone who was – surely? - only about six years old; and I laughed. It was the end of the conversation.
Thinking about it later, I was aghast at what I'd done. A teenager was confiding his hopes and dreams to me, and instead of taking him seriously I'd laughed at him! I immediately called him to apologize. Fortunately (Jack being Jack) he forgave me readily and we chatted for a while before he had to get back to whatever he was doing.
I was lucky. A thoughtless move like that can do a lot to damage a child's trust in you. He may decide that it's not safe to confide in you any more; you may lose all credibility in his eyes if you set yourself up as infallible. He knows full well that you are not.
If you pull a bone-headed move like the one I did (and you surely will), apologize. It won't weaken your authority or your credibility; in fact, it will model the behavior you are trying to teach your children. Just say something like, “Honey, I'm sorry I was so cranky this morning. I didn't sleep well and I had a headache, but that's no excuse for yelling at you the way I did. Please forgive me.”
Then later – when they apologize to you for doing something bone-headed (which they surely will) – you will have the opportunity to model forgiveness. Tell them, “I understand and it's okay. You are very brave to apologize,” then give a hug and forget about it. Try not to nurse a grudge. Tomorrow is another day, so forgive, forget and start over again together.
And . . . slorfty, Jack. You're the greatest.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
I love blogging with Millie. We see the world in the same way. I was just going to write a small comment about homemaking and how women see it differently than men (not in all cases, of course, but in most) when, in my usual verbose way, it turned into a blog entry. So here's my spin on why things are the way they are.
I played house when I was a little girl. I'd go into the garage, and then I'd redecorate. I'd fashion beds out of planks, make them up with old quilt. and use card tables for dining room tables, covering them with old sheets. On any one particularly rainy day, I could change a mud puddle into a vat of hot chocolate and ladle cups of cocoa for my dollies. Nobody had to explain it to me, it was innate.
I had baby dolls, stuffed animals, real animals and brothers and sisters I'd rope into it. They would be my babies, pets and friends. So it was a no brainer when I decided that being a house wife was good enough for me. I just loved playing house!
My husband was another person altogether. He'd build forts, play soldier, ride his bike and, on one occasion, scrape all the gunpowder from a roll of caps to make a bomb (it didn't work)! He and his best friend would go camping, alone, in the Mt. Hood National Forest. John's dad would drop them off one morning and pick them up the next day. They were young teens, and these days, we'd run that parent into parenting classes, but in those days, a little adventure was the norm.
John and I often wonder if we would have ever matched up with an on-line dating service if there were those in the seventies. We had absolutely no shared interests - I liked movies, art museums and live theater. John flew airplanes, scuba dived, sailed and rode dirt bikes. We were polar opposites.
But 33 years together have blended us. John now gardens with a passion and cooks quite well. I now sail (ok, John sails but I love being there with him), travel, and, wonder of wonders, camp. Who'd a thunk it?!
What hasn't changed is that I still love play house and John still wonders "what if?" It's a natural that I fuss over clean kitchens and sparkly toilets. And if John hadn't spent 33 years wondering "what if" our lives would be chaotic at best.
Sometimes polar opposites compliment each other. We all know that if I didn't harp over tidiness, we'd be the next installment on "Hoarders" since John tends to save little bits of stuff for future projects. And if John couldn't imagine a better way of doing things, we'd still be watching our old TV sets and Netflix wouldn't be an evening amusement at our place.
We were interesting parents as well. I was stricter, believe it or not, and John was more relaxed. I worried over every little thing and John figured what the kids didn't outgrow wouldn't kill them (probably). In the end, it all worked out.
So here's to the difference between us! Uber feminine girly meets hairy he-man. They marry and live happily ever after (if you forget 1985). She nags him over his underwear on the bathroom floor and he tells her to exercise more. What could be sweeter?
I realized last weekend why women can't relax, and why men can't understand that.
Do you remember the song Without You from My Fair Lady? In it, Eliza Doolittle is explaining to Professor Higgins that he is not, in fact, The Boss of Her:
Without your pulling it the tide comes in,
Without your twirling it the Earth can spin,
Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by,
If they can do without you, Ducky, so can I!
The trouble is: without women pulling it, the tide won't come in!
Women of my mother's generation were supposed to rear Harvard scholars, keep the house spotless, cook gourmet meals and be waiting at the door at 6 p.m. - freshly coiffed, made up and perfumed, and holding a pitcher of martinis to boot. Nowadays women are supposed to do all this, drive the car pool and hold down a full-time job.
The one constant in most families is a woman trying to be some sort of House Elf. She is in charge of making the home run smoothly (even in cases where the husband does as much or more than she does housework-wise, the wife is usually the coordinator). Division of labor lessens the load in one way but increases it in another – even adult children must often be prodded, nagged and reminded on a daily basis to do their chores – a job for Guess-Who?
You may think to yourself, “Well, they may not notice what I do, but they certainly would notice it if it were not done.” I've got news for you there – I once went on strike and no one noticed for two weeks – and then only because I told them. I learned a hard truth: No one but me cares if the house is dusted or not, they'd just as soon eat whatever they can scrounge whenever they feel hungry, and they can't tell the difference between clean clothes and dirty clothes.
The problem, I regret to say, is us. Women have standards. We can picture in our minds how we'd like our homes, relationships and lives to be, and we bend all our super-powers to the attainment of those goals. Yes, it is important to teach your children the difference between right and wrong, between the salad fork and the dinner fork – but they don't care. It is far more convenient and aesthetically pleasing for your husband to use the laundry hamper instead of the floor, but he doesn't care about aesthetics, you do* – and besides, the House Elf will pick them up for him, right?
Generally speaking, women have always been the ones who have encouraged gentility, cleanliness and civility – and though it's worthwhile, I'm sure it's always been an uphill battle, too. However, I believe it's time we learned something from our husbands. They have a super power I'd love to borrow: They know when to call it a day. Then know when to turn off Employee Mode and turn on the relaxation time.
Come to think of it, maybe that was the real reason for the high heels, perfume and martinis at 6; it was a signal to the woman that she was done being the House Elf for the day, and the rest of the tides could wait until tomorrow to come in!
*Actually, Lance doesn't do this. Thanks, Sweetheart!
Monday, November 1, 2010
Well, you read it here first . . .
OK, OK, so maybe I'm a little anal when it comes to planning. I have been married to an engineer for 33 years, and after our first year of marriage, I was starting to see the fruits of planning. We'd planned for the unexpected when we bought our house, and, voila, when the new single paned glass windows on our new home proved inadequate for the fierce gorge winds in Gresham, Oregon, John and I had a little money squirreled away to buy better, double paned windows.
We postponed starting our family until we were sure we could survive on John's pay only. The last year I worked before our first was born, we banked every cent I earned so we had a nice nest egg should things get rough. Fortunately, we never needed it, so we were able to invest a chunk of money in a bank bond when interest rates reached 16%!
We bought only used cars until we could afford to pay cash for a new one, and paid cash for all our used cars, too. We saved money every month and paid into John's retirement fund. We were a churning, burning saving machine! But that didn't happen without considerable planning and sacrifice on our part.
As a result, we had enough money in savings so that the boys and I could go to Switzerland with John in 1986 when he was temporarily assigned to an engineering exchange there. We were able to pay cash for everything, and all our bills in advance before we left. Boy, were we smug! But, we should have been, because saving during the Reagan era was hard. Everyone and their dog, it seemed, drove a new BMW and cruised the high seas on the Love Boat courtesy of their line of credit. But John and I had been persnickety and had built up a nest egg that allowed us to go to Europe for three months with no debt. Not bad!
It's no surprise that retirement has been untroubled. With John's pension and our savings, we've been able to buy our dream retirement home with cash after 33 years of marriage. It's a nice goal for folks just starting out. But with most traditional mortgages spanning 30 years, a person ought to be thinking in these terms. We avoided unreasonable debt and lived within our means, and, son-of-a-gun, it paid off.
So here I am, lamenting that maybe I "over-planned?" We've lived on Whidbey Island for five years, moving into our home on Halloween, 2005. It's November 1, 2010, and our sixth Halloween has passed with no Trick-or-Treaters. What's an empty nester to do?
My point here is that when you plan, you make choices. We chose for saving and living within our means and against debt and squandering money. We chose to camp most vacations so that every so often we could take a really nice trip. We drove beaters so that we could avoid car payments, and we chose the safety of planning over impulsive behavior.
But it's with some regret that I'm looking at a bowl full of undistributed Butterfinger candy bars. It seems that when we chose to live on the South end of Whidbey Island, we chose a neighborhood with no minor children living within walking distance. It seems that the best laid plans of domestic planners failed to include Halloween spooks!
So here I am with a ton of candy and no little spooks to take it. No little butterflies graced my front porch, no little ghouls blinked at my costume. It was a total waste of a perfectly good Halloween.
Planning is a good thing for young 'uns. Save your money and do without things that are flashy so that you can have the occasional things that come into your life as opportunity arises. But also keep in touch with your core self. I'm thinking that our next home will be in a child-infested neighborhood!
Anyone want a Butterfinger?