Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wherein I'm Left Holding the Bag

So far this school year, I've bought exactly three lunch bags for Violet.  After she lost the brand new one that we bought for this year in just the second week of school, I insisted that she use lunch bags from previous school years in lieu of buying a replacement.  When she lost both of the extra lunch totes we had on hand within the next few weeks, I had no choice but to buy her a new one.  Then she lost that one, so I bought yet another replacement.  That time, she actually tried to convince me that someone stole her lunch bag with her lunch in it.  I'm still skeptical on that one. I mean, who wants someone's ratty old lunchbox and turkey sandwich?

As I've mentioned in a previous post, both of my girls are forever forgetting this, that and the other thing for school, sports, etc. and personal responsibility and taking responsibility for such is a huge topic of conversation around our house on an almost daily basis.  I especially dislike when said forgetfulness costs me money, a la having to buy multiple lunch bags in a year or replace $60 custom embroidered school sweatshirts that one has only had in ones possession for less than a month, a sweatshirt that was an early Christmas present that was lost before Santa even squeezed his way down our imaginary chimney (don't even get me started on the sweatshirt incident, - clearly I'm still not over it).  So let's re-cap:  We started the year with two spare lunch bags and I've bought three lunch bags so far, and we only have one bag currently in our possession (well, two bags if you also count Lily's which she's had all year), and zero spares (we're also two weeks in to the replacement sweatshirt, let's hope this one lasts a bit longer than the last.  Did I mention it was custom embroidered?).

So this morning, I noticed that Violet had packed her lunch for school in a lunch bag that was not actually a lunch bag at all.  And it certainly was not the lunch bag that I had bought to replace all the other lunch bags that she had lost already.  When I asked Violet where her lunch bag was, she insisted that she had definitely brought it home but couldn't locate it at the moment.  Having tired months ago of the rigamarole with all the lost lunch bags, I immediately went off on a tangent, lecturing her yet again about personal responsibility and money not growing on trees and how it looked like she would be taking her lunch to school in a plastic grocery bag every day because I would not be purchasing any more lunch bags this school year.  When she tried to argue that she was positive that she brought it home, I haughtily informed her that she had zero legs to stand on in this argument so any point she was trying to make was falling on deaf ears.  As I dropped her off at school, I reminded her to keep searching for the lunch bag once she got home or it was grocery bag lunch sack city for her for the rest of the year.

At home a little while later, Lily asked if I could help pack her lunch because she was running behind schedule.  After bestowing a mini lecture on her about getting ready on time for school, I agreed to pack her lunch and asked her to bring me her lunch bag.  She went to retrieve it from her book bag and as I spread peanut butter on a slice of bread, she walked out her room carrying her lunch bag...and Violet's too.  She handed both bags to me and said 'I just remembered that I used Violet's yesterday because I didn't feel like getting mine out of my book bag.'

But seriously, who loses a $60 sweatshirt?  (See, still not over it.)
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Piece of Cake

Many, many months ago, I came across this pin on Pinterest:

Looks good, right?  When I clicked on the pin, it told me that this was a Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey's Irish buttercream icing.  Mr. Chick is a huge fan of both Guinness beer and Bailey's Irish Cream, so I've been saving this pin for months, waiting for his birthday to roll around.  I never actually looked at the specifics of the recipe until earlier this week, with Mr. Chick's big day fast approaching.  It turns out, the recipe for the cake is from Nigella Lawson, who I think lives in England, and she had some weird ingredients listed.  Have you ever heard of caster sugar?  How about plain flour?  Yeah, me neither.  Google informed me that caster sugar is a superfine sugar that's not as fine as powdered sugar, and it's probably hard to find in the United States.  The good news is that plain flour is good old all purpose flour.  Soldiering on!

Another problem quickly arose:  the original listing of ingredients was in metric measurements, and weirdly enough, the conversions were in ounces and not cup measurements.  Excellent.  How I was supposed to measure 10 ounces of plain flour, 14 ounces of caster sugar that I wasn't going to  be able to find anyway and three ounces of cocoa?  I was already tired and I hadn't even set foot in the kitchen.  I was also going to need to buy a 9" springform pan, because I didn't own one and had never even used a springform pan in any shape, size or form.  Despite these issues, I stayed the course because of how super thoughtful it was going to be to make a cake from scratch that includes not just one, but two libations that Mr. Chick happens to love.  It seemed meant to be.  Soldiering on!

I set out to the grocery store with list in hand and was actually pretty lucky to find something called 'extra fine' sugar, which was as close to caster sugar as I was going to get.  Sugar is sugar, right?  Right.  The grocery store also happened to carry springform pans but they were 10" pans, and being a stickler for the details, I was on the hunt for a 9" springform. I arrived at my holy land  Target, confident that I could procure the appropriately sized pan for my baking project.  Turns out, not so much.  Target also had a 10" springform pan, and a four pack of tiny springform pans, but no 9" springform pan.  No matter, there was a HomeGoods on my way home!  Surely they would have the elusive 9" springform pan, right?  Yeah, no.  Not only did they only have one 10" springform pan in stock, it was in the shape of a heart.  Honestly, I wasn't really sure why I even needed a springform pan when I had a perfectly good 9" round cake pan already.  But again, stickler, details, and all that jazz. Still, I had been to three stores already and had no interest in looking any further - one 10" heart shaped birthday cake, coming right up.  Soldiering on!

Once I had all my supplies, it was time to get baking.  Everything went swimmingly with making the batter, even though it looked pretty wet and runny to me.  I had read some comments on Nigella's website about the fact that it was a very wet cake, so I didn't worry.  That is, until I poured the batter into my brand spanking new (and lovingly procured) springform pan.  If you've never seen or used a springform, it has a release lever on the side that you open to release the edges of the pan from the bottom.  Suddenly, Guinness chocolate batter was oozing out the bottom of the pan and suddenly, the springform pan that I went to three stores to buy seemed like a huge joke that Nigella Lawson was playing on me.  Not to be thwarted in my efforts, I plopped that baby on a cookie sheet, put it in to bake and hoped for the best.  I had planned this cake for months people, and I would not be deterred.  One 10" heart shaped super flat cake it would be.  Soldiering on!

This is what my kitchen looked like after the cake went in to the oven so clearly, it was a hard fought battle (you can still see the chocolate ooze on the counter between the stove and sink):

While the cake baked, I kept an eye on it and noticed that more batter was oozing from the bottom of the pan on to the cookie sheet and instead of being somewhat flat like I anticipated, the cake was taking on a weirdly uneven ramp-like surface.  At one point, the ooze on the cookie sheet started to burn, and I thought the oven might even catch on fire.  Oh well, a 10" heart cake with a built in ramp system and added smoky flavoring it would be.  Soldiering on!

After the allotted baking time, I removed the cake and let it cool for a couple of hours in the pan.
When the cake had cooled enough, I popped the lever on the side of the springform pan and...nothing happened.  The bottom did not come loose as it was supposed to!  The stupid springform pan was just getting better and better.  Just then, I noticed that the edges of the cake had pulled away from the sides of the pan, so I figured I would just plop the cake out into my hand and set it on the cake plate.  I've done that plenty of times in the past, what could go wrong?  It turns out, a lot.  Remember when I said that this was supposedly a 'wet' cake?  Yeah, that.  I soon found out that a wet cake will just break all apart when you try to move it from pan to hand to plate.  I would show you a picture of my poor heart cake, but at this point, I was highly annoyed and not in the mood to document.  Just take my word for it when I tell you it was a broken heart.  I pieced my poor heart together the best I could and put it in the refrigerator in the hopes that further cooling might fuse some pieces back together.  One 10" broken heart cake with a  built in ramp system and added smoky flavoring it would be.  Soldiering on!

Are you tired yet?  I was, and now it was time to make the buttercream icing.  I've never actually made cake frosting that turned out any good, so I was pretty intimidated going in.  But really, it couldn't be any worse than my cake problems, right?  Right.  The ingredient list was pretty straightforward, egg whites, sugar, butter and Bailey's Irish Cream.  The icing was actually a swiss meringue buttercream so I had to actually build a meringue and then turn it into a buttercream icing.  Everything was going great - I whipped my egg whites and sugar to soft and pillowy peaks and when I added the butter it whipped in smoothly.  It was like Martha Stewart herself was cooking in my kitchen.  My last step was to add the Bailey's Irish Cream.  I added the four capfuls as instructed and...suddenly my smooth and creamy buttercream looked more like cottage cheese.  One 10" broken heart cake with a built in ramp system, added smoky flavoring and cottage cheese icing it would be. Soldiering on!

For a minute I thought 'I'm sure it's supposed to look like that, I did everything right.'  Then I stopped kidding myself, threw the mess in the refrigerator and quickly googled 'how to fix curdled buttercream'.  I quickly found a blog post someone had written previously which seemed to be written specifically for me, because not only was it on how to fix buttercream, but specifically how to fix swiss meringue buttercream.  Turns out, you take some of the frosting out of your bowl, zap it in the microwave for about 10 seconds, and slowly incorporate it back in to the rest of your icing.  It worked like a charm and in no time I had my creamy Bailey's Irish buttercream frosting ready to go.  At that point, I was ready to get the whole mess over with, so I unceremoniously dumped the entire bowl of buttercream on to my sad heart cake and smoothed it around trying to help with the 'fusing back together' part.  It didn't really work out, but all in all, I think the cake could have turned out much, much worse (and it doesn't have a smoky flavor either, so there's that).

It's a good thing I soldiered on.
Monday, January 28, 2013

A Few Things That Puzzle Me

Exhibit A - Crack is Whack:  This morning, I had to take Violet to the orthodontist.  The waiting area has a row of seats along one wall, and a bench seat in front of the wall seats.  When we arrived at the office it was fairly empty, so I took a seat against the wall.  Shortly thereafter, a woman arrived and sat in front of me on one of the bench seats.  Unfortunately for her, the poor lady's butt crack was on full display as soon as she sat down.  She wasn't wearing pants that were particularly low waisted, so I was quite perplexed.  Nonetheless, said crack remained on display for the entire 45 minutes I sat waiting for Violet to finish her appointment.  What perplexes me is how someone could sit with their crack hanging out for 45+ minutes and have no idea.  The office was quite cold, so don't you think you would feel a breeze or a chill of some sort?

Exhibit B - Jenny from the Block:  During the same orthodontist visit, in my haste to find something to look at that didn't involve someone else's rear end, I spied a People Magazine with a smiling Jennifer Lopez on the cover.  The cover proclaimed that Jennifer was saying to the world "I have no regrets!"  Sub-headline:  "The star on life, men and marriage."  Methinks it a little strange that after a highly publicized broken engagement and three divorces, that Ms. Lopez has zero regrets in life.  I'm not saying that it's not okay to have that many failed attempts at matrimony, who am I to judge?  I just think it's somewhat disingenuous to say that you regret nothing at all, especially when children are involved.  But really, at the very least, she must regret Gigli a little, right?

Exhibit C:  Thought Leaders Thinking Thoughts:  In the past few weeks, my LinkedIn account has been yelling at me to make sure I subscribe to the 'thought leaders' in my industry.  I presume they think that I don't miss any of their 'thought leadership thinking thoughts'.  Now, the process of identifying someone as a 'thought leader' has never really seemed very scientific to me.  I once worked for a corporation who proclaimed themselves a thought leader, just because they felt like it.  Nobody argued with them about whether they actually were a 'thought leader' or not, so if it's as easy as that, I hereby proclaim myself a thought leader on cheese fries and belly buttons.  Subscribe now to hear all my riveting thought leader thinking thoughts on both exciting topics and next week, I'll have a tutorial on knitting a scarf from belly button lint while eating cheese fries.  It's going to be brilliant.
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Easy Home Cooking - Chicken Noodle Soup

Earlier this week, Lily came down with a terrible cold.  She had the runny nose, scratchy throat, cough, the whole nine yards.  I wanted to make her some chicken noodle soup, but most recipes call for boiling and breaking down a whole chicken for the meat and stock.  No thanks.  First of all, I didn't have a whole chicken and second of all, I'm not good at seeing food in it's 'whole' form.  The only thing I had on hand was some boneless skinless chicken breast, so I was going to have to improvise.

The first thing I did was rub some olive oil on three chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs) and sprinkle both sides of each with salt and pepper.  Then I roasted them in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes (side note - the chicken was still sort of frozen in the middle before it went in the oven so with completely thawed breasts, it would probably be closer to 30 minutes).  I let those cool completely and then diced them up in to big chunks.

Next I chopped up some carrots (about 1/3 lb of baby carrots), celery (about 4 stalks) and onion (one small to medium sized onion).

Next, I sauteed the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until the onion turned translucent.

Then I added two quarts of chicken broth, 4 cups of water, the chopped up chicken, a teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, a teaspoon of poultry seasoning, about two teaspoons of chicken flavored Better than Bouillon seasoning (seriously, get that stuff, it's so much better than the dry cubes and granules, and it really helps a soup when you're not actually starting with homemade stock), a bay leaf and about two teaspoons of dried parsley.  (Like the minestrone recipe I posted last week, it's going to seem like a lot of liquid, but we're cooking the noodles in here, so it will work out, promise.)

I let this all simmer on low for about an hour, until the carrots and celery were tender, then added the noodles.  I had about half a bag of no yolk egg noodles and half a box of bow ties, so I just threw them both in.  Also, this makes a very noodle-y soup, so feel free to use less if you want less noodles.  As you can see, I improvise when I cook, quite a bit.  I like to use things up as much as possible to avoid waste, so if that means we have two noodle chicken soup, so be it.  Let the soup simmer until the noodles are tender, about 10-15 minutes or so.  So easy.

Oh, and see that bread type thing on the side there?  I totally made that up, because I didn't have anything bread or roll-like to serve with the soup.  I did have a few frozen pieces of pita bread, so I thawed them out, brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with parmesan cheese and oregano and baked at 400 degrees for about 5-6 minutes.  When they came out of the oven, I cut each pita bread in quarters with a pizza cutter.  It was sort of crisp and chewy at the same time and everyone clearly liked them because they were all gone when dinner was over.

This made enough for everyone to have seconds and there were leftovers to freeze, so feel free to adjust if you don't want to make as much.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

- 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and chopped
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 T for chicken, 2 T to saute your veggies)
- 1/3 lb baby carrots (or 3-4 regular carrots), chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 small to medium onion, diced
- 2 quarts chicken broth
- 4 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon (again, highly recommend Better than Bouillon)
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (can just add a bit of sage and thyme if you don't have this)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley

Rub chicken breast with 2 T olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees for about 30-45 minutes.  Cool completely, then dice.

Heat two T olive oil over medium high heat and saute celery, onion and carrots over until translucent.

Add your chicken broth, water, chicken chunks and seasoning and simmer on low until veggies are tender, about an hour to an hour and a half.

Add your noodles and simmer until tender. (I used the equivalent of an entire 16 oz bag of egg noodles because we like a lot of noodles, you could use half of that and be fine.  If you use less noodles, I would also only use two cups of water.)

The recipe as is is also not very chunky, so if you like lots of veggie chunks, just add more.  I would say use 1/2 lb of carrots and 6 celery stalks.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tit for Tat

I grew up in a single parent household and my mom never really punished me all that much.  Until I learned to drive, I spent most of the time that I was at home in my bedroom, reading.  So really, how much trouble could I get in to with that?  The answer is, not that much.  Once I started to drive and had my own car though, I had a little taste of freedom and all bets were pretty much off.  I was pretty good at concocting stories about where I was and what I was doing to throw my mom off my trail.

The time I drove three hours to a keg party to meet up with some guys that my friend and I met on Spring Break a few weeks before?  I was 'spending the night with a friend and then helping her get ready for prom the next day.'  She looked beautiful on her way to the dance, I'm sure...I just had nothing to do with it.  When I think about how some of those situations could have turned out, I shudder.  What a dumb girl I was, sometimes. Even still (out of town keg parties notwithstanding), my teen shenanigans could have been much worse and I stayed out of trouble, for the most part.

I don't think I was ever truly 'grounded' until just before I turned 18, when I was grounded for a month because I missed curfew.  Seemingly harsh, right?  The thing is, I missed curfew by pretty much an entire day.  I was out all night with my boyfriend, doing every single thing that gives parents of teenagers (and especially teenage girls) nightmares.  I was doing ALL OF THE THINGS.  (In my defense, said boyfriend is now my husband - yep, married to my high school sweetheart and really I wasn't that kind of girl, no way.)  Now, it's not like I gave my mother a play by play of my night when I finally got home, but I'm sure she could infer some things on her own.  And apparently, I had a right to a speedy trial because I was found guilty and sentenced to a month of lockdown before I could even plead my case.

Being grounded when you 1) are almost 18, so you think you're grown up already and know everything and 2) have a car that can take you anywhere you want to go, pretty much sucks.  And for the first time ever, my mom was pretty relentless in sticking to my punishment.  About three weeks in to my teenage purgatory, I decided that I deserved time off for good behavior.  My upcoming birthday seemed like a great reason to plead my case for early release, so I called my parole officer mother and assured her that of course I had learned my lesson and would never miss curfew again, especially when I was out with my boyfriend (let us remember again, he's now my husband).

Miracle of all miracles, my mom relented and I was a free woman just in time for my eighteenth birthday.  So, what was my first act as a legal adult, just released from a month of being grounded for missing curfew?  I went and got a tattoo of course, just because I could.  Clearly, I was an adult, people - and I had the tattoo to prove it.  I'm sure my mom learned her lesson for grounding me, too.
Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Un-crafty Crafter - DIY Bird's Nest Necklace

I am not what one would call 'crafty.'  I can't draw, I don't scrapbook and so far, I'm entirely too uptight to knit.  I've tried a few different times and actually broke the knitting needles because I was knitting the stitches so tight.

Even so, several months ago a came across a Pinterest pin for a DIY tutorial on making bird's nest necklaces.  I thought they were pretty cute and figured there wasn't much risk involved with trying to release my inner crafter, so why not?  The tutorial is located here: and even for the craft impaired, it's pretty easy to follow.

This is the picture that caught my eye on Pinterest:

Cute, right?  I picked up all the supplies for less than $20 at Michael's including beads, jewelry wire, necklace chain, jump rings and clasps.  I was starting from ground zero, I've never made any jewelry before, so I didn't have anything to start with.  I also got a jewelry tool kit that was on clearance for about $10, but really, you can do this with tools from a regular toolbox.  Some needle nose pliers and wire cutters should do ya just fine.

You're dying to see my finished product, right?

I think it looks pretty good, if I do say so myself.  I swear, there really is nothing to this.  String some beads on your wire, wrap until it looks how you want it, wrap a few loops around the 'nest', attach some jump rings and a clasp, done.

I will say that wrapping the wire feels awkward at first and because I used perfectly round and smooth beads, they were kind of slippery, so you have to be careful that the wire doesn't slip off.  It also starts off feeling kind of loose, but it tightens up the more you wrap and then tightens even more when you do the loops around the nest at the end.

I've made two of these so far and given them as gifts, with rave reviews each time.  I have to say, there is something very satisfying in giving a gift to someone that you actually made for them with your own two hands.  It feels more personal, maybe? (It was also pretty nice that a few people who saw them thought they looked good enough to have bought in a store.)

So, even if you're the non-crafty sort like me, you can make this necklace with few materials and a little patience.  As I mentioned, the supplies were pretty inexpensive and even after making two necklaces so far, I have enough supplies left to make at least 2 or 3 more.  Give it a try!
Wednesday, January 23, 2013


As a parent of a teenage girl, there are many, many days where I feel like every move I make is an insult to Violet's very existence.  Requests for her to pick up after herself, load the dishwasher, let the dogs outside, etc. are met with huge sighs and drama, as if I've just asked her to scale Mount Everest while carrying me on her back.  Sometimes, even asking her to do something that doesn't suck, like go get some ice cream, or go to Target are met with looks of 'Are you kidding me?'  Seriously, who doesn't want to go to Target?  I'd live there if I could.  Anyway, these are fun times is what I'm saying, and you never know what will set Violet's eyes rolling next.

Admittedly, I've had a difficult time adjusting to the teenage girl attitude that everyone assures me is totally normal.  If you ask my mother, she insists that I hated her from the ages of 13-18, which I have zero recollection of (hating her, or why she would think I hated her, that is).  I've picked up a few scrapes and scars along the way of learning to 'choose my battles' with Violet, but I'd like to think that I have in fact learned a thing or two.  For the most part, I've now accepted the fact that Violet has really just lost her mind for the time being and I'm hopeful that she'll find it again by the time she graduates from high school.

This morning was a perfect example.  As I pulled in to the parking lot to drop Violet off at school, she started with the heavy sighing routine.  'This school...I just don't know about this school,' she complained dramatically.  I had no clue what she was getting at, so I just stayed quiet.  (Clue # 1 that I'm learning how to navigate teenage girls and the parenting of such - when in doubt, keep your mouth shut and listen.) She started again.  'This school has, like, gates everywhere.  Like, why so many gates?  It's so stupid.'  The kid was pissed because the school has too many gates around it.  Gates that have been there every single day for years, that she's never commented on before this morning.

Oh yes, she has most definitely lost her mind.
Monday, January 21, 2013

Mother Chick Chat - Ten Random Questions Answered

1. What did you dream about last night?  I've been having really unpleasant dreams lately.  I can't exactly remember last night, but I remember it wasn't good and I woke up feeling unsettled.  The night before that, I dreamt that I was at the mall with Lily and a friend of hers and the other friend's mom.  I left the girls with the other mom and started walking in the other direction when suddenly, a bomb went off right where I left them.  I started running back toward them and I saw that Lily was okay, then I woke up.  This other time I dreamt that I was on a cruise ship that was sinking (this was way before that one sank last year) and I had Violet with me but I couldn't find Lily and the faster I tried to run, the slower I went.  Those kind of dreams suck, and I actually have them quite a bit.
2. If you could be given ANY gift what would it be?   A cleaning service.  I find there aren't enough hours in the day as it is, so I hate spending any of those hours cleaning.  My inner neat freak and germophobe requires regular house cleaning, though.  My inner perfectionist also requires that I go around after anyone else in my house has cleaned something in order to do it the 'right way.'  (The right way would be my way, obviously.)
3. What was the last film that really moved/disturbed/thrilled you and why?  Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  They're a married couple who go to a cheesy theme motel to try and re-connect.  They go back forth between showing how they met and started dating to present day when they have grown apart.  It's quite disturbing to watch, but interesting at the same time - with some surprises thrown in for good measure.  It's not a 'feel good' movie, so don't be expecting to feel all warm and fuzzy after watching it.
4. What is your favourite TV show of all time ie you've seen them all, can watch it over and over again and quote lines from it?  Friends.  I'm still trying to get over the fact that this show premiered almost 20 years ago.  Ridiculous.  Pivot!
5. What's your favourite way to wake up and what's the first thing you do?  I do not have a favorite way to wake up because I am not a morning person.  The first thing I do is look at my phone to see what time it is and hope that I have time to go back to sleep.  I prefer weekends, when I don't have to jump right out of bed and start arguing with one kid or the other about getting up, getting ready or getting out of the house on time.  Weekday mornings are fun.
6. What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?  I actually don't mind my name, so I don't think I would change it.  When I was younger, I hated it and thought that Jessica was the most beautiful name in the world and fervently wished my parents had named me that.  Then I moved on to Tiffany.  Now I'm pretty happy that my parents did not name me Jessica or Tiffany and think my own name is pretty nice.  Normal enough that it's not too weird and out there but unusual enough that you don't know 500 people with the same name as you.
7. If you had to do a bushtucker challenge (you have to eat insects/grubs etc) what would be the worst thing you had to eat?  Spiders, hands down.  I'm sure they would be huge, gross, hairy ones.
8. Whats the worst/most embarassing CD/Album you've ever owned and do you still have it?  Probably a toss up between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.  But hey, those were the jams back in the day.  I remember having my mind blown by the fact that 'I Think We're Alone Now' was NOT a Tiffany original.  I had both of albums on cassette and I'm pretty sure I finally got rid of those when I moved out on my own.
9. What characteristics do you dislike in yourself?  I tend to be judgmental of others.  I know this is a character flaw and I'm working on it.  I also worry a lot and I'm trying to stop that and be more positive.  Clearly, I have a lot of things I'm working on.
10. What are you really afraid of?  Something happening to one of my kids.  Having had a close call with Lily many years ago, I can honestly say I don't know how I would be able to go on if anything happened to either one of them.
Saturday, January 19, 2013

Easy Home Cooking - Minestrone Soup

I usually make a meatless meal about once a week.  Not to be vegetarian, but more as a money saving tactic.  It can be a challenge to find options that everyone in the Chick household will actually eat.  I should say, it's tough to find meatless options that Mr. Chick and Violet will eat...they're the picky ones.

This minestrone soup is one of my go to meatless recipes because it's easy to make AND is a dish that everyone likes.  Additional bonus points for that fact that it's all stuff you probably have on hand and even if you don't, you can modify to fit what you do have in your pantry and refrigerator.  You really can't mess this one up.

Here is where a good blogger would show you a picture of ingredients.  I am a blogger that doesn't plan ahead, so I'll just tell you what was used.

Ingredient List:

(I'm giving approximate measurements because I don't really measure on this one, really, you can't mess it up!)

- olive oil (about 2 T)
- carrots, diced (I used about 1/4 of a 1 lb bag of baby carrots because that's all I had left, if you have whole carrots use 1 or 2, depending on how big they are)
- celery, diced (about 2 stalks)
- onion, diced (about half a medium onion)
- 1 can garbanzo beans 
- 1 can Italian stewed tomatoes
- I can regular diced tomatoes (I usually use petite diced, but regular is fine too)
- soup stock (I used a 32 oz carton of beef stock, but you could use chicken or vegetable stock, whatever you have on hand or prefer)
- water (about 4 cups)
- uncooked pasta (about 1 cup - whatever shape you like, just something small'ish like bow ties or shells.  I used some 'winter' pasta that I bought from a fundraiser that was snowflakes and snowmen, so really - anything goes)
- 1 t dried basil
- 1 t dried oregano
- 1 t kosher salt
- 1 T dried parsley
- 1 t garlic powder
*This is what I used last night, but I've also included cabbage, zucchini, cannelini beans, etc. in past versions - feel free to substitute or even just add to the ingredients listed here.  You can use fresh herbs and garlic of course, I just always tend to stick with dry.

First you heat the olive oil in your soup pot over medium heat and saute the carrots, celery and onion in the olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Reduce heat to low and add the two cans of tomatoes, including the juice from each can.  I always chop the stewed tomatoes a little smaller that they come out of the can.  I just drain the can into my soup pot, dump the tomatoes on my cutting board and coarse chop them, then throw them right in the pot.

Add your soup stock and water.  I know it seems like a LOT of liquid but trust me on that part.   You're going to cook your pasta in the soup toward the end and that soaks up a lot.  Add your salt, basil, oregano, parsley and garlic powder and stir.

Let this simmer for about an hour or so on low heat - it should be really low, so it simmers and doesn't boil.  With my stove, I have to turn it to the absolute lowest heat setting but yours might be different.  I left this simmering at home while I grocery shopped (someone was home, of course), so it probably simmered for about an hour and a half, and that was fine too.

After the soup simmers, you can adjust your seasoning as needed.  Add your pasta and turn the heat up to medium low.  When your pasta is cooked, it's ready.  If it seems at all thin or watery here, add some tomato paste and it should thicken up a little and round out the tomato goodness.

I served this topped with some shaved Parmesan cheese and French bread on the side for dipping.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Five - Random Thoughts Edition

1 - Earlier this week, a bear cub escaped it's enclosure and was roaming around the streets of a town not too far from me.  I heard about this on the morning news one day this week after the bear made a break for it and the experts from the Fish and Wildlife Commission were advising anyone who sees the bear to NOT run.  Instead, you should clap your hands at the bear and say 'Bear, go home!'  I don't know about you, but if I run across a bear on the street (even if it's a bear cub - I'm sure they still have sharp claws and teeth and are freakishly strong), I'm not sure I would be level headed enough to scold the bear like a school teacher.  But maybe that's just me.

2 - Kim and Kourtney Kardashian were on the Today show this week, promoting the latest in their seemingly never ending plethora of reality shows.  Of course talk turned to babies and kids, since Kim is currently preggers (let's just overlook the fact that she's knocked up by someone OTHER than the person she's currently married to, shall we?) and Kourtney has two kids already.  I had to turn the TV off and walk away when it somehow morphed in to a discussion of how Kourtney thinks they should breastfeed each other's kids because that's how they did it in the old days, or something equally ridiculous.  Seriously, WHY do people give them any publicity whatsoever?  I really don't get it...people who are famous for nothing other than being famous baffle me.  I get that they are trying to extend their time in the spotlight as long as humanly possible, but when you say stupid stuff in the media like they constantly do, why do people keep listening to them?  Perhaps if we stop paying attention, they'll go away, is what I'm saying.

3 - It's cold outside today.  After temperatures in the 80s for the last two weeks, it was in the 40s this morning, which is cold where I live.  Violet came out of her bedroom this morning with long pants on, but short sleeves and no jacket.  I refused to take her to school until she put on a sweatshirt, which resulted in much sighing and eye rolling and declarations of 'Oh my god, Mom!'  Later, Lily came out of her bedroom wearing long sleeves and a jacket, with shorts.  I refused to take her to school until she put pants on.  This also resulted in much sighing and eye rolling and declarations of 'Oh my god, Mom!'  I'm starting to wonder if there is ever going to be a day that I don't do something as their mother that is seen as an affront to their very existence.  Probably not, but I think I'm okay with that.  Somebody has to be in charge around here.

4 - Speaking of annoying teenage behavior, I found my diary from my freshman year of high school not too long ago.  It's as angsty as you might expect and I'm almost embarrassed for the dumb girl that wrote those things in the light blue book with "CONFIDENTIAL" stamped across the front.  Apparently, I 'really really loved' my 9th grade crush.  Like, really.  But, really?  Not so much.

5 - And speaking of teen angst, I caught a re-run of My So-Called Life a few weeks ago.  I thought that show was the BOMB back in the day, because I was the exact same age as Angela Chase and I also thought Jordan Catalano was the Hottest. Thing. Ever.  Unfortunately, Angela was the only one of us skipping class to meet up with him in the boiler room, or where ever it was that they met up to make out, but never talk to each other.  (Incidentally, looking at him now I just think that he looked kind of dirty and could also have used a haircut.) Anyway, the episode I saw recently was the one where Angela's mom was throwing an anniversary party for her parents, when all Angela really wanted to do was go to a party that her best friend Rayanne was throwing (which of course would involve drinking and drugs).  After viewing this episode, I found myself identifying with Angela's mom and her desire to just want Angela to spend time with the family and not make it seem like she's ruining Angela's life in the process, and her fear that bad things could and would happen to Angela and there wasn't anything she could do about it.  Seriously, identifying with the parents on a show that *I* watched as a teenager?  Surreal.
Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ticked Off

It's official.  This summer, I'll be attempting my very first camping trip.  With a tent.  Sleeping on the ground.  In a tent.  On the ground.  In the dirt.  Where bugs crawl.  If you look at my blog, it's pretty pink and girly.  I don't do dirt and bugs.  I agreed to said trip in the first place because I'm trying to branch out and try new things.  I'm thinking I'm in trouble already.  The good news is that the campground has bathrooms with showers, which get good reviews on Trip Advisor for being neat and clean.  But still.  A tent.  On the ground.  With dirt.  And bugs.

The other day, my brother-in-law e-mailed me a helpful 'camping gear checklist' that's approximately 47 pages long.  It's full of things that I do not have, because I do not camp.  Not until Memorial Day weekend, that is.  The list includes things I would expect to see like a tent, sleeping bags, etc. but there are other weird things that give me pause.  Like, what am I going to need an axe for?  I don't even know how to use an axe.  The one item that really confused me was 'clear nail polish.' Are we going to give each other manicures at the campsite?  If so, camping isn't going to be as bad as I thought.

It turns out that the nail polish is for ticks.  According to Google, you put nail polish on ticks if they latch on to your skin.  First of all, I don't want to think about ANYTHING latching on to my skin.  Second, ticks have Lyme Disease, which is not a souvenir I want to bring back from my little camping adventure.  Last, I found out when I googled 'tick repellent' that ticks are not really bugs at all, they're arachnids.  As in spider-like; eight legs and all (I also looked up tick pictures and counted).   Seriously, ew.  So now I'm sleeping in a tent, on the ground, with dirt, bugs AND spidery things.  Awesome.  Why have a I never thought to do this camping thing before?  It sounds fabulous.

If a tick jumps on me though, I can guarantee you that the LAST thing I'm going to want to do is give it a manicure.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pin Testing - How to Get Whiter Nails

If you're like me and need a daily dose of eye candy, there is no better place than good old Pinterest to get your fix.  Along the way, you'll come across approximately 47 million pins that promise that it's super easy to build an entire ottoman out of matchsticks and some gum wrappers from the bottom of your purse and clean up every stain ever made with vinegar and baking soda.  Since I generally like doing things the easy way, I'm frequently drawn in to the promise of awesome results (it's right there in the picture!) with little effort.

Today's pin-speriment comes from my Helpful Hints board and promises to remedy yellow discolored fingernails that you get from wearing nail polish for too long.

How to Get Whiter Nails
Source: via Lindsey on Pinterest

This is a problem I know all too well, as my fingernails are painted 95% of the time and my toenails are painted 100% of the time.  Since I'm not planning to get a pedicure until this weekend and absolutely cannot leave the house with naked toes, I tested out said pin on my fingernails only.

In my 'before' picture below, the yellowing on my fingernails is kind of hard to see.  I took about 872 pictures  and couldn't capture it properly with my iPhone or my Canon Power Shot.  If you look closely, you can see where white healthy nail has started to grow in at the top of each nail bed.

The 'Before' Nails
The caption of the pin had the following directions:  How to get white nails -- make a paste using 1 tbsp peroxide and 2 1/4 tbsp baking soda. Let this paste sit on your nails for 5 minutes and voila! White nails! REMEMBER THIS AFTER USING BRIGHT NAIL POLISH!

When you mix the paste of baking soda and peroxide together, it looks like this (Pay special attention to the awesome 70s style spoon that may parents got as part of their wedding flatware in 1973.  The marriage = dead since 1981.  The spoon = still kicking it almost 40 years later)

I mixed the baking soda and peroxide glop together and piled it on my nails using a small paint brush since the directions didn't really specify HOW to apply said glop.  You're dying to know what that looks like, right?

I have no idea if that's what the pinner had in mind for this but there it is.  I let this sit for the five minutes as directed before rinsing off.  Here is the 'before' picture (again) on the top and the 'after' picture on the bottom (I would put them side by side but uploading photos in Blogger sucks and I can't figure out how to do that):

'Before' Nails
'After' Nails - Baking Soda/Peroxide Test
If anything, I think the yellowing is more noticeable in the 'after' picture than it was in the 'before' shot.  Test #1 for 'How to Get Whiter Nails' = FAIL.

After the crash and burn results of the first nail whitening treatment, I decided to actually click through to the link on the pin to see if those directions were any different.  It took me a while to actually find the directions in the Shape magazine article.  It turns out that the actual directions were to scrub your nails with whitening toothpaste and a nail brush with zero mention of either baking soda OR peroxide.   WTF Pinterest?

Anyway, I grabbed some whitening toothpaste from my travel kit and an old toothbrush, because I don't actually own a nail brush.  Well, I did at one time but I have two daughters who like to borrow steal my stuff on a regular basis, so the toothbrush was going to have to do for purposes of the next test.  The directions in the article didn't actually specify how much toothpaste to use or how long to scrub your nails for (I'm learning that some pins aren't very specific, which sucks for people like me who need clear and concise directions). 

The supplies for 'Whiter Nails - Take Two'
I globbed some toothpaste on the brush and got good and scrubby for five minutes, figuring I would use the timeframe from the original test since Shape magazine doesn't like to give clear directions when handing out beauty tips, apparently.

Minty fresh fingers
When I finished scrubbing and rinsed again, I again admired my handiwork.  The 'before' (again) is on the top and the 'after' is on the bottom:

'Before' Nails
'After' Nails - Toothpaste Test
Some observations:

1 - I don't see a noticeable difference in the yellowing after this test, either.

2 - As you can see in the 'after' picture, my nails now have some weird white lines on them like they're all dried out or something.  I'm very excited about that.
3 - If you look close enough at my palm in the 'after' picture, you'll see that the toothpaste left some weird white dots on my skin that won't come off, and I have no idea why.

Test #2 for 'How to Get Whiter Nails' = FAIL.

If anything, my nails are worse off than when I started.  The verdict on 'How to Get Whiter Nails' is:  Sucky Pin. 

Thanks for nothing, Pinterest.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Paradigm Shift

You know how when your kids are little, all they really want is for you to play with them? And a lot of the time you really just want to sit down and read a book, or watch TV or have a glass of wine, or whatever else floats your boat.  And there are times when you talk about this with other people - the fact that sometimes you just don't want to play another round of Chutes and Ladders, or color any more pages in that coloring book, or brush another Barbie's hair that isn't even real hair anyway.

Then, people with kids older than yours get a faraway look in their eyes and give you the ever popular speech to 'Enjoy yours kids now, because it all goes by so fast and before you know it, they no longer think playing with you is the coolest thing on the planet.'  And you're all 'Whatever, I just want two minutes to go to the bathroom by myself without someone barging in and asking me to put their Barbie's shoes back on or build them a house out of the four legos in their hand, one of which is that weird flat rectangle thing that's useful for exactly nothing."  I'm telling you though, those people with the kids older than yours - they know what they're talking about.

To this day, I stand by my pronouncement that one of my greatest days as a parent was the day when the kids could get up and fix themselves a bowl of cereal without waking me up.  Violet was an early riser who woke up by 6 AM.  Every. Single. Day. So, sleeping in until the sun made an appearance seemed like quite the luxury at the time.  The thing is though, that after they get old enough to fix that bowl of cereal and are a little independent and self sufficient, they just keep on growing and changing, and becoming people who really prefer to do things that don't involve spending time with you.

We passed that point of no return with 14 year old Violet quite some time ago.  Ever since she was about 13, she would much rather video chat and text with her friends than spend any significant quality time as a family.  Any suggestions of family time are met with sighs and eye rolls and pronouncements of 'I don't feel like it' or 'I don't really want to do that.'  And, if you get on your parental high horse and declare that WE are GOING to spend time as a family and YOU are GOING to like it, that results in whatever activity you were planning to do for fun being met with a sullen attitude and looks of 'OMG, I would rather be ANYWHERE but here, these people are lame.' Which means that exactly no one has any actual fun on your fun family outing.  Good times, that.  I thought that I had a little longer before 11 year old Lily joined the 'family time is officially lame' bandwagon.  Alas, it appears I was mistaken.  

Last night, Lily was cleaning her room and I told her that when she was done I would play a game with her.  There was a time that family game night ranked high on Lily's list of Fun Things To Do and any invitations to play a game were met with much enthusiasm.  Apparently, it isn't as high on her fun list these days because my suggestion was met this time with a 'Thanks, but I'd rather watch this show that will be on TV soon.'  We won't even get in to the fact that it was a repeat of a show that she's seen more times than I can count.

Ouch, man.  This parenting gig can be brutal.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lesson Learned

A scene from my car, circa a few weeks ago:

"Why are you wearing those soccer shorts?!?!  Those aren't the right shorts!" I screeched at Lily, as I turned the car around to head home in search of the 'right' pair of soccer shorts.   I had discovered that she wasn't wearing the 'right' shorts for soccer practice just as we pulled in to the parking lot at the soccer field.  As we drove home, I lectured Lily for the umpteenth time about personal responsibility.  Don't you know the right shorts to wear to soccer practice?  Yes. Then why did you wear the ones you have on which clearly are NOT the right shorts?  I don't know. Awesome.

After we secured the right pair of shorts and started the trek back to the soccer field, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Lily pulling on her tie dye soccer socks.  "Why are you wearing those socks?!?!  Those aren't the right socks!"   Yes, she knew that she needed the other socks and no, she didn't know why she didn't bring them.  Again, awesome.  Back to the house for the second time to get the correct socks.  After two return trips home, Lily was finally wearing the 'right' outfit and I dropped her off at soccer practice.

Why didn't I just let her go to practicing wearing the wrong gear, you ask?  Well, that's because the very same day as all the parents from our team had received a strongly worded letter from the team mom stating that our girls were not wearing the 'right' practice outfit and from here on out, the league would be fining the teams for each new offense.  I was NOT going to be the mom that ignored the email and brought my kid with the wrong uniform the very day the email was way.  I suppose I could have plead ignorance and said I hadn't checked my email yet, but alas, I am a rule follower at heart and have known since the beginning of the season that they needed to wear a practice uniform, which Lily had dutifully worn EVERY practice so far.

Anyway, the whole point of that story is to illustrate that situations like that are a common occurrence in our house, with both Lily and even Violet.  I am forever running around to drop off forgotten lunch boxes, money for lab fees, soccer cleats, soccer shorts, water bottles, book reports, school goes on and on and on.  Lectures on personal responsibility are a dime a dozen around here.  I am firmly of the belief that at the ripe old age of 14 and 11, Violet and Lily are old enough to take some responsibility for making sure they are prepared for school and sports.  

Don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of following them out the door asking if they have everything they need while they roll their eyes and say that yes, they do - only to call me in an hour and say they need me to drop something off in the school office.  That said, I don't think it's unreasonable to think they can get out the door on time with the required materials in hand, whether it's a lunch box, homework or sports gear, especially when I specifically check with both of them Every. Single. Night to make sure lunches are packed, homework is done, uniforms are clean, permissions slips are signed, etc.  Even still, I get a frantic call or text at least once or twice a week asking me to drop off forgotten items.

Today was one of those days.  My phone signaled an incoming text and it was Violet, asking me to drop off her culinary jacket in the school office.  Said jacket was currently crumpled up in a ball on her closet floor.  This was the same jacket I had spied earlier while gathering laundry from her hamper and thought to myself "Hmm, I wonder if she needs that?"  Turns out, she needed it and was asking me to bring it to the school posthaste.

After not very much a lot of deliberation, I decided that  TODAY was the day that I would teach her a lesson.  I texted her back that I was sorry, but I would not drop her jacket off in the school office and she would have to deal with the consequences of not having it and hopefully that would make her remember it next time.  After a moment or two of parental guilt about the fact that I was not coming to the rescue of my precious little snowflake, I actually took an odd sort of glee in the fact that there FINALLY would be some consequences to all the forgetfulness around here and she would learn her lesson.  She never responded back so I can only guess that was was none too pleased with my response.

When I picked Violet up from soccer practice after school, we were talking about her day and I asked her if she got in trouble for not having her jacket for culinary class.  I was anticipating that she might say she got points taken off her assignment that day, or she had to do extra credit to make it up, something to that effect.  She's in high school, they're tougher on high school kids in those situations, right?  What she actually said was "Nope, we just got a new teacher for that class this week so she let it slide."

Well, okay then.  Somebody learned a lesson today, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Violet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

I mentioned previously that 2013 was going to be the Year of Fun (and also Faith but this post is about the Fun).  As much as I am a planner, I think that sometimes the most fun can be had by being spontaneous and not over-analyzing decisions.

My birthday is this Friday and while I'm not really one to make a big deal out of such events, I decided that there's no better way to kick of the Year of Fun than to do something good for your birthday.  With that in mind, I booked a last minute hotel deal on the beach for a little family getaway.  Two nights where I don't have to cook or clean, and two days of sitting on the beach, which is one of my favorite places to be.  Since it's supposed to be in the 80s here this weekend, there couldn't be a better weekend for it.

If I wanted to, I could think of a million reasons why NOT to stay at the beach this weekend.  But, I don't really want to think of those reasons, so I'm not.  So, this will be the weekend of Spontaneous Fun.  I would say the Year of Fun is off to a pretty decent start.
Friday, January 4, 2013

I Need More Happy Little Trees

This quote just seems to say it all today.  I will do my best to remember this the next time I'm annoyed that someone is not doing something 'my' way.

“Maybe there lives a cloud right there, wherever you want him, wherever. Just drop him in. It's your sky, so you make the decision where your clouds live. There. Maybe, yes, there's a little friend that lives right there. Right there. Right there. Maybe another one right over in here. You can just get crazy and fill the whole sky up full of clouds, and that's all right.” –Bob Ross, 1989

May we all be happy finding where our clouds live and creating our 'happy little trees.'  Bob Ross, Zen Master...who knew?
Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ya Gotta Have Faith...At Least According to George Michael

Since I've last posted here almost 1.5 years ago, a lot has changed.  I'm the mother of a high school freshman and a 6th grade middle schooler.  I moved...again.  I changed jobs...again.  Things are different, but good.  And yet...I find myself more stressed out than ever about life in general.

That job change means that I'm now self employed.  As the larger income earner between my husband and I, the fact that I don't have a steady paycheck that a nice company deposits in my bank account on a regular basis is scary.  It's working out so far but every once in a while, when I let myself think about it, I get a pit in my stomach about the possibility that my income could dwindle and leave us in a bad place financially.  Another sticking point with my work situation is that I work from home, so there are days and days at a time where I don't leave my house except to shuttle someone to or from soccer or possibly go to the grocery store.  To some this might sound like heaven, but the more time I spend at home, the less I actually want to leave, then I feel even's a vicious cycle.

On the home front, keeping up with my girls and their ever expanding extracurricular and social calendar is a full time job in and of itself.  This Fall, they both played on two soccer teams each - one competitive and one school team, which meant that someone had practice or a game almost Every. Single. Day.  Some days, they had a practice and a game, some days two practices, some days there were two games in two different places, or a game here and a practice get the idea.  We're coming up on tournament season and I'm conveniently not thinking about the fact that there are multiple weekends in the near future where each kid is playing in a tournament in a different city.  Plus, Lily is starting school play rehearsals when school starts back on Monday, so we'll be adding that in to the mix.  It's always something, you know?

All of this leaves me feeling tired and overwhelmed much of the time. Yes, things could be worse - but they could also be better.  With that in mind, I had already decided that I was not going to do New Year's resolutions or goals, because I feel like that's just setting myself up to fail.  That said, I decided to have a couple of words to represent how I want to live this year.

The first word is:  FAITH.  I'm not a particularly religious or spiritual person and faith is something that I've struggled with mightily in the last couple of years.  I've only recently realized that I can have faith without it having to do with religion.  I can have faith in myself.  This year, I'm going to have faith that things are going to work out with my job and income because I work really hard and am good at my job.  I'm going to have faith that things will work out how they are supposed to, even if I don't understand it at the time.  I'm going to have faith that everything is going to be okay.

The second word is:  FUN.  I often find that I let my own issues get in the way of having fun.  Things that are supposed to be fun sometimes stress me out, maybe because they don't go exactly how I expect them to or how I think they should.  I can easily talk myself out of doing something I might enjoy because it's either outside my comfort zone or seems like too much work.  I've already started working on this with some successes and some failures, but the important thing is, I'm trying.

So, 2013 is the year of faith and also fun.  I wonder if George Michael would approve?