Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The dog ate my homework

Actually, her brother colored all over it.

Charlotte has homework most weeknights. Usually it's a math worksheet, or sometimes writing or vocabulary words to work on. Last night's had two dot-to-dot pictures to help her work on sequencing numbers 1 to 20. She dutifully connected the dots (though she did get caught up in the pattern at the end instead of paying attention to the numbers).

Instead of putting her homework back into the red folder that all the kids use to carry papers back and forth to school, she left her worksheet on the kitchen table, next to her pencil. That's where Trystan found it. And decided to try his hand at dot-to-dots. Except he ignored the dots and just drew lines all over the paper.

My husband and I didn't catch it until this morning when we were rounding up backpacks and lunchboxes for school. There was no time (and no eraser in the house big enough) to clean it off and have her start it over. My husband wrote a note, and sent it along to school as it was--you could at least see Charlotte's work underneath Trystan's scribbles.

Charlotte wasn't concerned in the least about the problem, so I had to gently explain that it was her responsibility to make sure her homework went back into her red folder every night. Mommy and Daddy would help, but it was her job to ensure that Trystan didn't ruin her homework.

For good measure, I told Trystan not to color on his sister's homework. I'm not sure that message will sink in for another two or three years. He flashed me what I call his cherub smile at me--that innocent-looking, wide-eyed baby smile that gets him out of so much trouble. The one that means he understands exactly what I'm telling him and just how much mischief he's causing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Sports

Despite the best efforts of a plethora of coaches and gym teachers, I actually like exercise.


Seeing me during one of my many round phases—where the shape of my cheeks and the number of chins was indicative of my lifestyle at the time—you might never have guessed that.


I don’t get sports.  I can’t say I tried a huge variety of them as a kid—mainly softball and tennis, with a brief foray into basketball one year.  My hands never seemed quite large enough to grasp and throw a softball with any measure of skill, and I was too easily distracted by dandylions and my own thoughts in the outfield.  Basketball player need to run fast, and to jump.  And shoot under pressure.  Guess playing P-I-G in my neighbor’s driveway wasn’t enough training.


I loved tennis, and still do.  But I had both the misfortune of having a coach who I didn’t like, and the undiagnosed need for glasses during my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  Not being able to see a ball can negatively impact your ability to hit it.  I’ve tried once or twice as an adult to join some sort of tennis group, but I need actual lessons and practice time.  Ideally, practice against other players of my ability level so I don’t just stand dumbly as balls whiz by my head at warp speed.


I think my biggest problem with sports is the competitive aspect.  Don’t laugh.  As a kid on a basketball floor, once the clock is running, it’s every woman for herself.  Throw the game plans, the positions, the practice sessions out the window and just play to WIN.  Now, I realize that as athletes and teams mature, that isn’t correct.  Entirely.  But it was really frustrating for me.  I’d be told what position to play, and what my duties were, and I’d expect those things to remain true during a game.  Which meant that the hotshot player (there was always at least one) was always in my space, butting me out of the way, and preventing me from having any contact with the ball, or from contributing in any way.  I never learned the rules for being a “hotshot”, apparently.


I’m not aggressive, and I’m not that kind of competitive.  If someone shoves me out of the way once, then I just step aside the next time they come through.  I don’t shove back.  And someone who totally outclasses me doesn’t inspire me to try harder—she inspires me to find a different activity, one with room for me to excel as well.  Because there can only be one hotshot on the team, and I never felt the need to butt my way into someone else’s stinky shoes.


The “sports” that I’ve always enjoyed the most involve either a team of 1, or a non-competitive way of working together.  Like color guard. There are no breakaways or one-on-one’s in a marching band show.  I always had an assigned spot, and no one had any business taking it from me, or else the entire performance would suffer.  In tennis, I’m either playing well or I’m not.  I had one lone doubles partner with whom I ever played well, and she couldn’t play after our freshman year because of a health concern.


These past few weeks, I feel amazed and totally outclasses by Charlotte’s soccer league.  The other 5- and 6- year olds know as much as I do (probably more) about the game at this point.  Char is excited to play, and has been volunteering to play goalie and asking for coaching from my husband on what to do, and how.  I’m glad he’s around because I’m so totally clueless.  Um, stop the ball?  There’s more to it than that, I hear.


At this point in my life, I’m content with step aerobics, bike riding, and a little weight lifting (wouldn’t my high school gym teacher be amazed).  But I am enjoying watching my daughter try out sports.  So far, I think she has a slightly better grasp of them than I ever did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I just realized that I recently passed my 500th post. 500! Wow. I sure jabber a lot. I posted for the first time in February, 2006, though I'd had the blog address for about a year before that, but never wrote anything I felt like sharing with the world.

Since then, I've gone from regular life of working and being the mom of a then 1.5-year-old girl to the regular life of working and being the mom of a 2.5-year-old boy and I've had a high-risk pregnancy, dealt with all of Trystan's myriad surgeries, doctors, and health problems, and written 1 novel plus 1/4-3/4 of three additional ones (not published, just steps and lots of learning along the way).

I think this is the part where I'm supposed to say something pithy and wise. Er, I've always been better at wisecracks than wisdom.

So, thanks for listening! See you at 1000.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Last Friday, they brought our new fridge. This Wednesday, they’re taking it back again.

I will be sad to see it go, but we just can’t keep it. Out hot deal turned a bit chilly (or is it lukewarm?) when the floor of the freezer compartment cracked Friday afternoon. Not just a little crack. A crack that extends from the back of the freezer all the way to the front, with a spread of a quarter inch. The crack wasn’t there when the fridge was first delivered, but appeared after being turned on and cooling the better part of the day.

Saturday, after some bad directions from the warranty department on the 1-800 number that sent me to the local regular Sears store, I drove back to the outlet. The manager there was very helpful, and had me look at the other fridges on the floor.

There was one identical model to the one sitting in our kitchen, but slightly more battered looking. I might have taken it, but I looked in the freezer compartment. It had a repaired crack of the exact same size, shape, and placement on the floor. The repair involved some kind of caulk, and it was obvious that the crack closed up a little after the caulk was repaired. Looks to me like the crack widens when the freezer compartment is cold.

The other fridges on the floor were not acceptable—all the wrong size or configuration or color. They are refunding the entire cost, and picking the fridge up. Luckily, I hadn’t quite sold the old one yet, though I did have a buyer lined up to come Sunday morning. My husband then did a little research on Consumer Reports and found that the Kenmore Elites were rated fairly low.

Back to square one, and a fridge that’s a little too small, whose fridge door doesn’t quite open because of the wall, and that may require the occasional blowout (thankfully minus the hairspray). Until we decide on something else. We’re still not ruling out replacing all kitchen appliances in one fell swoop, but wont’ be getting a fridge from an outlet store. Now that I’ve had a taste of the storage space and accessibility of a bigger, different style fridge, its going to be that much harder to wait.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mother Nature's Bounty

We went apple picking a couple of weeks ago at Eckerts in Belleville. Honey Crisps. I think its my new favorite apple variety. We picked about 40 pounds of apples. Oops.

Believe it or not, in less than two weeks we have used each and every one of those apples. Many, many were eaten.

The rest have given me a chance to practice one of my hobbies. Canning. If you've never done it, its not really hard, and apples are an easy way to start. You need canning jars, of course. Around here, grocery stores and Walmart carry them. Treat them like an investment--the jars and the lid rims are re-usable. You only need to buy new seals for the tops of the jars.

Several years ago, I bought an "Apple Kit" by Ball that had jars, a funnel, a "bubble freer" (a plastic stick), a magnetic lid wand (for fishing metal lids out of boiling water), and a jar lifter. Plus recipes. All I had to add on my own was a boiling watter canner (a really big stock pot with a could use any stockpot large enough to hold your jars and enough water to cover them), and food.

Applesauce is about the easiest to make. Apples plus water. Sugar is optional (and with honeycrisps which are sweet enough, I didn't use any). I pulled the ugliest apples out of our collection for the sauce, since no one would see bruises after they were cooked.

Peel, chop, cover with water, cook, and mash. Really, that's it.

You don't want your food to spoil, so follow a recipe and canning directions closely. Its not difficult, but it is kind of time consuming. Personally, I love the process, but some people might find it tedious (for some reason, I enjoy tedious kitchen tasks...I know, I'm strange). I used the applesauce directions in The Ball (Blue Book of Canning), Canning for Dummies, and a few other pamphlets and recipes from Sure Gel and the Ball Apple Kit, etc.

Apple butter isn't much harder than applesauce. It is apples, water, sugar, spices, and a LOT more time. But its sooo yummy.

That Apple Kit came with "apple pie gel" which is a canning-friendly food starch. Homemade, canned apple pie. Great for a quick pie (its already cooked), or to use as a topping in a coffee cake, for ice cream, etc. I do need to figure out if I can buy that kind of food starch separate from the kit so I don't have to buy another one (though the kit isn't much more expensive than buying more jars..)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Photo

Believe it or not, his sister didn't put him up to it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dinner Last Night

Blackbean Chili Casserole
Serves 6-8
Total time: about an hour, depending on how long your rice takes

  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1 tsp beef soup base (or 1 beef bouillon cube or chicken or skip it)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 can (the normal size) black beans, drained
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3 red/orange/yellow bell peppers, rough chopped
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend)
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Cook rice according to package directions, adding the beef soup base to the cooking liquid as you first bring it to a boil.
  2. Heat oven to 425.
  3. In a large (10-12" minimum) skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic, and cook about 1 more minute.
  4. Add ground beef to the onion and garlic, and brown.
  5. Add chili powder, oregano, and cumin to the beef mixture and heat for 1-2 minutes to help bring out the flavors
  6. Stir in black beans, canned tomatoes, and rice. Cook just until warmed, 1-5 minutes. Taste and add salt & pepper if needed
  7. Pour beef mixture into a 9x13 pan. Top with chopped bell peppers, and sprinkle with cheese.
  8. Cover the pan with foil, and bake about 20 minute until heated through.
  9. Remove the foil and cook 5-10 minutes longer until the cheese is hot and bubbly.
  10. Cool, and enjoy!

Feel free to play with seasonings, adding more heat with red pepper flakes, chipotle, hot sauce, etc. Or try ground turkey instead of the beef, or use leftover rice instead of making it fresh to cut the time down by 20-30 minutes. This could also be made ahead and refridgerated or frozen, just adjust your baking time accordingly.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Out with the old fridge

We bought a fridge. I blame the salsa.

A week or so ago, my husband participated in the monthly ritualistic cleansing of the coils on our refrigerator. The ritual involves first emptying every item in the freezer, and dismantling a panel inside. Then he applies heat from a hairdryer, thus manually performing the “defrosting” step that our auto-defrosting unit can’t be bothered with. After re-assembling the freezer, we check the contents of the fridge for spoilage. That day, I threw out a huge bowl of homemade salsa, only about 3-4 days old, that had fuzz on the top.

And, if you want to get ice or water from the filtered in-door dispenser, make sure you have an extra empty cup and a towel on hand. Because our fridge is overly generous with ice and water. Kind of like me and chocolate, it just doesn’t know when to quit. I mop up the (new, laminate, non-water-proof) floor in front of the fridge on average twice a day.

Yes, I’ve spent quite a lot of time hemming and hawing over the decision. And, despite my earlier resolve that we don’t need a French-door fridge, that is exactly what we bought. There isn’t an ideal option in our kitchen, unless we could live with less food-storage space, and thus, a smaller fridge. We can’t. The fridge hole has plenty of room for a large refrigerator, if you don’t care about opening the doors. A right-opening door will never open fully thanks to a wall, and a full-width door that opens to the left could smack the corner of the island.

The French-door is a compromise. It’s one of the larger ones on the market at 25 cubic feet. We pack that thing full with milk, fruit, and veggies every week. I just can’t justify a smaller one. And I ought to be able to one of the top doors all the way, so I ought to have enough access to store wide plates or even cake boxes, unlike our side-by-side.

We bought a stainless steel one. And, if hubby and I weren’t about to be late picking Char up from school, we *might* have purchased a new stove and dishwasher to match. I was apparently in a money-spending mood that day. We got a bargain, though, I hope. We’re buying a scratch-n-dent model, saving 50% off of the list price. I don’t mind dings. We have a 2-year old. We’re going to scratch-n-dent whatever we buy anyway. We’ve had mixed luck in the past with scratch-n-dent appliances—we bought a lemon of a washing machine and a gem of a dryer that way when we moved into the house. But the brand-new-unblemished fridge was also a lemon that we’ve been squeezing for the past 6 or 7 years. So, I’m willing to take the chance, and on a brand (Kenmore) that we’ve had better luck with than our lemons (Maytags, both of them).

Maybe towards Christmas we'll go back after that stove and dishwasher. We'll talk about some minor cabinet changes and possible refacing and countertops after the new year :)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The problem with email

I am frustrated with how people treat email.  There have been several times lately where important communications are sent by email.  And I havent gotten them.  And no ones bothered to figure out why.  And I havent found out until after the fact that theres a problemits hard to know that youre not getting emails that you dont know are on the way.

Lets get something straight folks:  email is not two-way communication.  Sending an email is like shouting into wild blue yonder and hoping someones around to hear you.  Unless you get a response, you dont know that your message was even received.  And you have no control over when the message is read.  If you have something important to say, and want to make sure the other person heard you, and in a timely manner, you will have to demand a response, or follow up with an actual communication.  Like a phone call.

See, much as I hate phones, they have an upside.  If you dial, and the other end rings endlessly, then you know that your call did not go through.  Unlike a misspelled email address where you never see that undeliverable message from your mail server.  And if you only get an answering machine, you might get a clue as to whether youve actually reached the correct person.  But best of all, when you connect and actually speak to the person on the other end, then you know that they heard your words.

I wrote last week about how neurotic I was about Charlottes first soccer practice, where I hadnt heard bupkis from the coach beforehand.  I even called the school and was given vague reassurances, but no actual problem solving.  Last night, after her second practice, I asked when wed get a copy of the game schedule, and her coach looked surprised.  Turns out hed emailed it several days ago.  Turns out, hes been emailing since July 30.  Luckily he had his roster, including email addresses on it, and I could see immediately that someone had mistyped mine.

The dumb thing is, that email address has our last name in it.  As in (Not Smith, but I dont feel like publishing our family domain at the moment)  And someone had misspelled Smith.  Right next to Charlottes last name, which was spelled correctly.  I would have thought that, having misspelled the domain name of the email address, that his mail server would have told him it was garbage at least once.  But, it didnt.  And since I had no way of knowing that he was emailing me, and he never requested a reply to check his list, then neither of us knew there was a problem.

But I did know there was a problem.  I had called the school, to the only contact I had, and no one bothered to look into it.  Im guessing the message didnt get passed to the team coach, or he might have wondered why I wasnt reading all of the emails that were answering all of the exact questions that I had, and he might have double-checked the email address.

The other email incident lately involved the correct email address, but a time limit.  I had entered part of one of my manuscripts in a writing contest, and managed to submit something that was too long (OpenOffice and Word apparently disagree on the finer points of formatting, but thats a different story).  I got a response from the contest coordinator, requesting that I resubmit within 24 hours.  The problem was, that email came on Charlottes birthday (the same day I was being neurotic about soccer), to an address I dont see at work.  In fact, I only check that address about 3 times a week (Id love to write full time, but).  Despite the time limit, they used email and assumed that I would see it and be able to respond Luckily, someone did call two days later, and gave me the opportunity to fix the submission (which I did, first thing thing the next morning, and then checked that email address for the first time all week).

If something is important or has a time constraint, call.  If you are establishing an email distribution list for the first time and youre typing in email addresses, ask for a reply on the first message, and follow up (by phone) to any who dont reply.  And it never hurts to hand out a hard copy of your contact information, so that people can contact you with questions.