Wednesday, November 29, 2017

God Bless Us, Everyone! (Redux)

First things first. A reader from North Carolina commented on Monday's post, saying (essentially) that she wished she had someone nearby who made good pottery. So let me take this opportunity to let any readers from North Carolina know that Meredith and her husband create wonderful pottery: mugs, tumblers, plates, decorative tiles, etc. If you live within a few hours of Whynot, NC, it's worth the trip, I'm sure.

Someday I'll be driving through there, Meredith. SOMEDAY.

And, yes, I know North Carolina is a large state. But, using my prodigious GoogleMap skills, I have determined that Whynot (and please, Meredith, explain that town name to us!) is smack dab in the middle of it. Conveniently located!

Okay, back to regularly scheduled programming. Below is a picture of one of my favorite things: cranberry chutney, made by friends who are the daughters of my dear friend and neighbor who passed on back in 2011. They have kept up her custom of gifting me with a couple of jars every year, which I love as much for the memories as for the gustatory delight.

Sometimes? A jar of chutney is NOT just a jar.

I give them a couple of loaves of cranberry bread in exchange, because that's what I always gave their mother. I have no idea whether or not my friends even like it. They could be humoring me, for nostalgia's sake. They could be dumping it in the trash as soon as they're out of sight. Still - TRADITION.

Blogger, cook, and photographer extraordinaire Jennifer alerted me yesterday that today is the annual FREE dress rehearsal of A Christmas Carol at a somewhat nearby (as in Whynot Pottery nearby) Shakespearean theater. I immediately canceled Susie's orthodontic appointment (because PRIORITIES) and commenced trying to convince other people to join us, because it is always a wonderful performance in a beautiful venue. And free - did I mention free?

Apparently, no one cares. Or maybe my powers of persuasion are not very powerful. So it's just Susie and I heading out on the road today to enjoy some holiday cheer. That's okay, except I won't get any knitting done. But I won't be expected to cook dinner, either, so that's a plus. I mean, I haven't cooked much of anything in 5 days - no reason to start now, right?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

My favorite weekend of the year is over, which fact makes me feel bereft. The 3 days after Thanksgiving always feel like an oasis of calm before the rest of the holidays hit, and I took full advantage of it this year, visiting yarn stores, getting together with friends to knit, going with Susie to see Wizard of Oz on the big screen...that sort of thing.

Some money may have changed hands at the yarn store Friday.

No cooking happened whatsoever. In fact, my family has been eating Thanksgiving leftovers for 4 days now. Today I broke down and cooked up a batch of baked beans in the crock pot. They weren't ready in time for dinner, though - so it was turkey and mashed potatoes one more time. And stuffing - last night we discovered a full 3-qt pot of stuffing that we had forgotten to remove from the cooler on our back deck (which functions as our back-up refrigerator the night before Thanksgiving).

Look, we're not proud of that, okay?

I also attended my neighbor's annual pottery sale on Saturday. She's talented and has her own wheel and kiln and, in honor of Small Business Saturday, I bought something.

Fruit not included

I visited another yarn store that afternoon, because, hey, SMALL BUSINESS. Money changed hands there, too, because I am very philanthropic that way. Most surfaces in my house are now covered with skeins of wool and needles and half-done projects.

I'm not proud of that either, but it's the way I've chosen to live, apparently.

When I wasn't supporting small businesses or watching Judy Garland sing, I was knitting. Because, well, I bought all that yarn. I managed to finish 2 hats, start another one, and embark on a cowl. Winter IS coming, you know. Also? Christmas.

Gratuitous picture of Hat #2 (brighter blue in real life).

So how did you all spend the best weekend of the year?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Too Stuffed To Think Of A Title

Around 10 PM last night (Thanksgiving Eve), fed up with the low level of help I was receiving from fellow members of my household, I decided that my family was composed of ingrates who didn't deserve the lovely holiday dinner I had been spending most of the week cooking for them. I vacuumed loudly to share my displeasure; and by the time I was done, not only did I have a clean floor and staircases, I also felt calm enough to compose a complete list of chores to be done NOT BY ME the next day.

Moral: Never underestimate the problem-solving power of passive-aggressive vacuuming.

It also helped when I then sat down and logged onto Facebook, where approximately half the middle-aged women I know were complaining of the same thing. Solidarity, ladies! Shoulder to shoulder, we march on, planning the festivities and making sure that our children have something to remember besides (hopefully) that their mother always seemed strangely cranky on holidays.

Rachel took care of these, thank goodness

So today went well! Brian and Rachel together managed to cook, rice, and mash 10 lbs of potatoes. They all emptied and loaded the dishwasher a zillion times, plus washed pots and pans. Susie prepared the hors d'oeuvres (cheese plate, cut-up veggies, dip, potato chips) while I ran around picking up clutter. Rachel dished out the cranberry sauce, gravy, and applesauce for the table. Brian and Susie made the salad (hey, I needed SOMETHING green). Susie fluffed the stylish couch pillows.

In short? I made it to the dinner table without feeling like a martyr, and I feel great about that. Apparently, it pays to just order people around. I need to remember this at Christmas.

And, people, I have no idea how some of you cook everything for this holiday on the same day. All I had to prepare today was mashed potatoes and turkey and gravy, and I didn't sit down for hours. Amazon added to the general stress level by letting me down - you see, on TUESDAY, I ordered extra forks and some brand new cloth napkins that had free one-day shipping. I figured, worst-case scenario, I'd get them Wednesday.

It's 8 PM on Thanksgiving evening, and they're still not here. Luckily, I had some pretty yellow IKEA paper napkins that we used at dinner instead. We're so classy.

IKEA napkin holder, too!

I'm rambling, but OMG this day was long. I walked one of my guests home and when I came back in the door, I said to Susie, "Shouldn't you be upstairs taking your shower? It's LATE." 

Turns out, it was only 6 PM. No wonder she looked confused...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Holiday Prep

Today was a cooking day. Cranberry sauce and brandied sweet potatoes and stuffing...LOTS of stuffing. Throw in an orthodontist appointment and a trip to the bank, and it was a pretty full day. I got it all done, though, so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself here.

A lot of this sort of thing happening today -
and, yes, that IS a full 8 quarts of stuffing

The house didn't get cleaned, however. Maybe I'll get to it tomorrow, maybe I won't. All I know is, day after tomorrow? Is Knitting Day. That's the day I get to just sit and knit, in a (maybe) clean house full of leftovers. Also, yarn stores have gotten into the whole Black Friday thing, which explains why a former Black Friday refusenik such as myself is leaving the house at 7 AM on Friday: I've got to take advantage of a "30% off everything from 8-10 AM" yarn sale.

We all have our price.

Brian, retail wage slave that he is, has to work from 4:30 to midnight on Thanksgiving  (THANKS A LOT, BEST BUY).  Folks, before you run out to shop on Thanksgiving evening, think a second: those people who are manning the floor and the registers are, one and all, missing from their families' holiday festivities. Can't you just wait until Friday morning? Show these retail giants that it isn't worth opening on a major holiday, all right?

Not that Brian cares, of course - he'll be earning time and a half, so he's feeling like a mini-Rockefeller right now. But, hey, his rapidly aging parents care. That's one less person to help with the dishes, you know...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cut-Rate Entertaining

So tonight I did what I know I shouldn't - I tried another "copycat" recipe from the Internet, this time for Nando's amazing Portuguese rice. However, unlike my previous attempts to imitate beloved restaurant food (and don't think for a second that Brian isn't still scarred by my attempt at Panda Express Orange Chicken), this rice turned out not quite the same as the restaurant version, but...close. Very close, is what I thought when I tasted it. I would call it a win, but Susie deemed it unsatisfactory. Rachel ate her rice uncomplainingly, but she hasn't had the real thing yet, so her opinion doesn't really count.

On the left is my home-mixed bowl of the special
piripiri seasoning - cuz I'm a pro, I guess

So, yeah, back to Nando's for more research, I guess. Luckily, one just opened nearby. People, words cannot express (although you know I'll try) how good their chicken is. I mean, you take a bite and suddenly you are no longer an adult, assessing calories or fat or whatever else we adults think about to ruin our meals. You're a kid, with a piece of chicken in your hands, and nothing else exists in the world at that moment.

It's that good.

Susie (my chicken-deprived vegetarian) ate the rice that came with it and was suitably impressed. Also, the fries - OMG, the fries.

Just try Nando's, okay? Trust me on this one. NOT a paid post here, although if Nando's wants to throw some free chicken my way, I wouldn't say no, that's for sure.

I'm off to cook some more food now. Thanksgiving waits for no blogger, and there's no way I can get the entire dinner done in one day. Tomorrow is cranberry sauce and cranberry bread. Wednesday is stuffing and sweet potatoes. Thursday is turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Somewhere in there I run around like a maniac trying to find enough decent-looking (i.e., not torn or stained) napkins and figuring out if I need to serve the kids on paper plates again this year so the adults can dine in relative splendor on the cut-rate dishes I've picked up at Target over the years. The ones that are now all chipped, actually, because that's what happens when you have kids wash dishes in a kitchen with granite counters...

Seriously, I don't know why people even accept repeat invitations to this house. Maybe I could make it a BYOPlate event this year?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Doing The Can-Can

Wow, the Internet is helpful! I ended up going with the razor blade approach that a number of people suggested (turns out Larry has an entire collection of these little thingamajigs that hold straight razors) and then some WD-40 towards the end, to get off the last of the film. It worked great. Maybe one scratch on the stove, but I don't care.

Nothing like the right tool for the job!

Today Susie and I spent the morning sorting food the Boy Scouts collected for the local holiday food drive. The church basement we met in had full grocery sacks piled high (HIGH) in one corner. The rest of the basement was filled with tables pretty much groaning under the weight of donated comestibles, already sorted. The walls were lined with shelves holding even more food. It was an impressive sight.

I probably wasn't as helpful as I could have been, because my OCD kept kicking in when I'd see the different types of soups all jumbled together on their table or the different boxes of pasta practically screaming at me to be organized by brand and size. Still, we got it done, folks - went through the entire mountain of bags and all. We had some extra time, so the person in charge asked Susie and I to sort all the tomato products by type.

I can't believe I didn't take a picture of how many cans there were. SO MANY CANS.

Susie wasn't too thrilled with this new task (poor girl, she was getting hungry by then, surrounded by food she couldn't eat), but seriously? It felt like heaven to me, separating the stewed tomatoes from their diced brethren, and making sure no one would mix up the crushed with the pureed. HEAVEN.

There's something wrong with me, I know.

Tomorrow? We go back, this time to sort donated coats. Trying to be useful is my new hobby, apparently. As a pastime, it sure beats setting small appliances on fire...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

5-Alarm Applesauce

Good news of the day: my house didn't burn down!

In case you ever wanted to know
what Instapot innards look like...

Bad news: I still have to figure out how to get dried melted plastic off the glass cook top of my stove.

I've gotten some of the big chunks off. But that white film?
It's all plastic and it's not budging.

Feel free to chime in with suggestions, because I've lost the capacity for rational thought at this point. I was counting on Larry to come up with something, but he came home from work in a rental car and explained that his car was in a body shop, getting repairs for some extensive rock damage incurred on his way to work that morning. All the poor man could do was stare at the stove as I explained - again - what happened and say, "Uh-huh, uh-huh" while attempting a knowing nod that looked weirdly off kilter. And then he went to the basement fridge and got a beer.

What happened? I was using the Instapot as a crockpot, simmering apples for sauce, and at one point I pushed it further back on the stove and then left the kitchen. I didn't realize it had somehow hit the stove knob in the back and turned the rear burner - the one it was sitting on - to Hi.

Fun fact: Burning plastic smells extremely poisonous. We had to open all the windows. By the time Larry got home, the house was down to 60 degrees and STILL smelled.

Another fun fact: You think you know what to do in case of smoke or fire, but you don't. Or I don't, anyway. It was Rachel who unplugged the Instapot, while I was still fussing around the stove, trying to figure out where the weird white smoke was coming from. And it was Rachel who reminded me that there were two other children upstairs in our house who should be alerted before things got worse.

My emergency response skills leave a lot to be desired, apparently.

So that was my day. How was yours?

Monday, November 13, 2017

A New Day Dawning

So I was throwing something away in my bathroom the other day when I spotted something strange in the trash. I looked closer. Could it be? Was it possible?

Yes, it was.

Um, don't look at that expiration date, okay? I said, DON'T LOOK.

Larry THREW AWAY AN EMPTY TUBE OF TOOTHPASTE. Long-time readers of this blog will know that this is an event which is about as frequent as the appearance of Haley's Comet. In fact, I have always been the one in this marriage who finally discards a squeezed-out tube and replaces it with a new one. It's as if we've been playing an ongoing game of Chicken for the past 27 years, a game that I have repeatedly lost.

This means, of course, that anything is now possible in my marriage. ANYTHING. Maybe Larry will purchase a household item without first creating several spreadsheets documenting the pros and cons of every similar product on the market. Or perhaps he will someday refrain from embarking on some household maintenance task a mere 2 hours before a major social event. It might even mean that - dare I say it? - Larry will at some point admit that a bagel slicer is NOT a wise birthday present for one's spouse.

I know - I'm just talking crazy now. But a girl can dream, can't she?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No Thanks

[A repeat, from previous Veterans Days - STILL relevant]

There's a lot of talk on a day like today about how selfless military people are.  People left and right in the blogosphere are thanking veterans like me for our service.  So I just want to set one thing straight.

I joined the Navy because I needed a job.  I had student loans to pay; I was ashamed of not being on my own (unlike many "kids" in their 20's nowadays); and no one wanted to pay a fresh-faced History major anything close to a living wage.

In other words, I joined the military for totally selfish reasons, as do many in the armed forces.  I joined for money, I joined to gain my independence, I joined in the hope I would get a chance to travel.
What I got was a lot more.  For the first time in my life, I worked and lived alongside people of another skin color.  For the first time in my life, I saw African Americans in positions of power.  And I came into close contact with those heretofore exotic people known as "Southerners" and "Texans." (And I learned very quickly the difference between the two.)  I met people who were from comfortable backgrounds and people who had signed up because they were tired of crashing at friends' houses and getting food from dumpsters.  I met people with college degrees like mine and people who had never even considered college as an option.  I also encountered people like my husband-to-be who were taking advantage of the tuition subsidies the military gave them to earn their degrees.

I learned in the military that America is a lot bigger than any one of the segregated social bubbles in which we live and are brought up.  I learned that an organization as hidebound and conservative as the military could still be in the forefront on issues such as equal opportunities for minorities and for women.  Most importantly, I learned that people of different races, religions, and beliefs are able to work together toward a common goal.

I think that last is a lesson that a lot of people in our country today have forgotten.  Maybe they've never even learned it.  It's easy in this country to stick with your own kind, easy to become convinced that your reality is the only reality.  You can watch "your" channels, read "your" news, listen to "your" radio stations.  But the truth of the matter is, this is a really big country with all sorts of people in it.  And none of them are better or more "American" than any of the others.

Go ahead and thank me for "serving."  But realize that I benefited from my service to my country more than anyone else did.  I hated a lot of what I had to do, and the military does have its own particular brand of crazy; but I came away knowing a lot more about my fellow citizens than I could have learned by staying in the familiar bubble of my particular upbringing.

Would you believe that lately I have actually had people say to me, "How could you let your son go into the Army?"

How?  Tell me, how could I not?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Gonna Fly, I Am

The dishwasher man is here. He pulled into the parking lot just as my sisters-in-law were pulling out after their week-long stay, if you want an example of the antithesis of perfect timing. And now I hear him on the phone to someone else at Geek Squad, describing some problem with the dishwasher he just found, which worries me. I mean, this thing IS getting fixed today, isn't it?

Bought some IKEA umbrellas, too,
because that's how we do
Tuesday I drove with Aunt Mary and Auntie Kate to IKEA. Because Auntie Kate had never been there, we pulled out all the stops: a slow meander through the entire showroom, the Swedish meatballs plate for lunch, an even slower meander through the entire Marketplace, a stop in As-Is, and then, after the registers, an ice cream cone (plus the purchase of 6 cinnamon buns to take home).

What I'm saying is, we know how to do IKEA right. Also, I somehow ended up with a small desk I had totally not planned on buying. But that's pretty standard for a trip to IKEA, I'm thinking.

Wednesday (yesterday) I took both of them to the local mall, because it turns out Auntie Kate had never been to Shake Shack either. I know! It's like she lives on the moon. Says the woman who has yet to step inside a Sonic...

What I'm trying to say is, it's going to feel pretty good to not go anywhere today.

I will have to get back to my morning exercise routine, though - that has fallen by the wayside, what with having houseguests and spending all my free time washing dishes. And here is where I share some exciting news with you all: after months of waddling/jogging/walking/whining most mornings on a mile-circuit near my house, I have achieved what I had started to believe might be well nigh impossible - a few weeks ago, I managed to jog slowly the entire time.

And then I did it twice more, the same week. Meaning, it wasn't a fluke. And, yeah, that first time, I DID run up my front steps and dance around with my arms in the air like Rocky. I earned it, dammit.

Monday, November 06, 2017

All Washed Up

Little time to write, what with entertaining sisters-in-law, changing clocks, and washing dishes the livelong day. I generally like the fall time change better than the spring one, but I have been SO TIRED in the evening. I crashed by 9:00 last night and I was going to do the same tonight, only Larry wouldn't let me because the bed wasn't made because I pulled the bedclothes out of the dryer too soon without realizing it. For some reason he didn't want to sleep on wet sheets - go figure.

I'm feeling pretty pleased that I got to use the word "bedclothes." I've been in love with that word ever since I read it in the book "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" when I was a kid. Feel free to comment and share your own favorite words from antiquated children's books!

Hello? Anyone?

Fall, unfiltered
We've been doing the "take your guests to all the places you mean to visit but never do until guests come" routine. Also, it turns out that Auntie Kate has never been to an IKEA. So that's on the schedule for tomorrow. Because Susie and I are experts at IKEA now.

We've also been cooking a lot, because, well, guests. Luckily, Aunt Mary doesn't mind helping wash dishes. To add insult to injury, I keep getting packages with dishwasher parts that the repairman ordered. They sit in my dining room, mocking me as I wash yet another sinkful of plates and utensils and pots and pans.

I have a raging case of dishpan hands, thanks for asking. Also, my refrigerator situation (which can be generously described as "haphazard" at the best of times) has tipped over into "critical." It's all the cooking plus my reluctance to clean out old foods because then I would have to wash the containers. BY HAND.

Have I mentioned my dishwasher is broken? Oh, okay then...

Friday, November 03, 2017

Wherein I Don't Even Mention Candy

Okay, so yesterday I buzzed around the house cleaning up the Halloween stuff so we could put the Halloween bins in the attic before my sisters-in-law arrived today. I kept thinking I was done, but - just as with the Christmas decorations - I kept stumbling across more items (and believe me, we don't have that much!). So, finally, after stuffing the Halloween place mats into the almost full bin and feeling confident I had slayed that particular beast, I asked Larry to put everything in the attic.

We know where this is going, right?

Not half an hour after he did so, I entered the kitchen (where I had spent at least HALF my waking hours that day) and saw this facing me from the opposite wall:

Yup, not exactly hidden - but, hey, after the paper chains incident from January, I suppose I knew anything was possible.

As discussed in these pages recently, our dishwasher has chosen this week to go on the blink. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. I'd feed the kids cheap pizza half the nights and we'd muddle through with minimal cooking and paper plates. BUT this is the week that both my sisters-in-law are coming to visit. That means a heck of a lot of cooking and a heck of a lot of pots and pans to clean. That also means our lucky guests get to hear me at my best, haranguing the kids for using out an extra knife or leaving their plates in the sink instead of washing them and putting them in the dish drainer.

Yes, the Michael Graves dish drying rack is BACK. I held on to it, because I knew that there would be a day I would need it again. Unfortunately, I neglected to share this info with Larry; so he apparently threw out the rubber mat that goes underneath it during one of his many dump expeditions during the Great Basement Remodel this past winter.

It is a testament to the strength of our marriage that I am still speaking to him. It helps that I still have this stupid cold and am too tired to fight. I am trying hard not to think of all the crap that is still in the laundry room that I would have happily seen taken to the dump instead.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017


Well! November! Let's do this thing!

Susie decorated our door, and I couldn't
even appreciate it.
I spent all day yesterday wondering why Halloween was so hard and why I didn't enjoy it anymore. Seriously, I didn't even want any candy. And I didn't know what any of the little kids coming to my door were dressed up as, which irritated me.

I decided I must be getting old and boring and that poor Susie would spend the next 6 years living with parents who were no fun whatsoever. For some reason I failed to attribute my poor attitude to the fact that I had a bad sore throat/head cold and had been running full tilt all day despite it.

But then at 4:30 this morning I woke up feeling miraculously better (I could swallow! I could breathe!) and decided Halloween was pretty cool after all. Hooray! I love happy endings!

So today I have a new lease on life - I feel like Scrooge when he wakes up and discovers it is still Christmas Day. I celebrated by eating some candy corn for breakfast. Then I cleaned up the kitchen because - oh, happy day - the dishwasher repairman was coming.

Remember that leak? It kept happening and I assumed it was a gasket, so I set up a repair appointment (it's free, because I was smart this time and bought the Geek Squad service plan, because - let's face it - you can't trust a dishwasher to last more than 2 years). And then, last night, the thing kept turning itself on. I mean, with the door open and everything. We punched all its buttons and I confess to smacking the instrument panel once or twice (hey, it used to work with TV's, back in the olden days), but in the end we had to turn off the power to the whole thing just to get it to stop.

It's a witch. With jazz hands, of course 
Larry and I decided the dishwasher was haunted. I expected it to start back up again, even after the power was off, and maybe gurgle something like, "I'm Chuckie, want to WASH DISHES?" At which point we would have had to sledgehammer it to death.

That didn't happen though. Whew!

So the repairman has been here for over an hour, and it sounds as though he's ordering a part, which will take a week, and oh - did I mention I have house guests coming to stay on Friday? Appliances can sense these things, I'll tell you that right now. THEY KNOW.

My guests leave on the 9th. I think we can safely assume that that's when my dishwasher gets fixed. But I'm at peace with the situation. Probably because I've got my Twizzlers and Almond Joys to comfort me...