Get out of my bubble. Please.

I’m all about the positive.  I’m that slightly annoying, cheerful person who seeks out the good news amidst the darkness.  I’m calm, patient, and reflective.  All smiles and rainbows.

Mostly.

Until someone encroaches upon my sphere of  personal space.  Which has been happening more and more frequently as of late.  Anywhere I’m waiting in a queue, folks are invading my bubble, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I mean, what’s going on here?  What makes a person think that standing within three inches of a stranger’s body is socially (or hygienically) appropriate?

When you accidentally shove your grocery basket into my heels, I forgive you because, hey, we’re all hoping finish here and get back to the juicier parts of our lives.  Stuff happens.

But once I’ve angled myself to encourage a greater distance between us by aiming my shoulder toward you and holding my basket between us, once I’ve made eye contact with you to show you how close you are to me (and that it’s not natural for people with no relationship to be able to feel one another’s body heat,) back the f@&# up.  Back it up.

For serious.  Don’t be in my personal space.   Don’t force me to fake a cough or sneeze, or failing that, actually ask you to back up.  It’s too awkward for all of us.  Just stay out of my atmosphere, and I’ll stay out of yours.

And on a tangentially related note, please don’t go to Subway and order “a sandwich with no bread.”  Because A) that stack of meats, vegetables, and condiments you’re ordering does not actually constitute a sandwich without bread, and B) none of us need to know that, “I don’t like their bread,” especially the folks facing you who baked the bread.

Alright joy seeking folks, I’m finished whingeing.  I promise the next post will reflect my celebratory, positive outlook.

 

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laundry chicken

laundry chicken

laundry chicken

We’ve begun deliberately placing our clothes on top of the overburdened hamper, balancing with precision, delicately attempting to avoid the likely clothing avalanche.  We engage in this Tetris-like dirty clothes game for way longer than it seems possible.  After four days, we’ve reached the point where we have to consider the precarious picture frame in our approach.

This morning, my husband boldly positioned a towel on the pile.  A big, bulky towel.

Challenge accepted.

This isn’t going to be one of those heartwarming posts in which I declare the new year to be the year of managing the laundry, or describe some phenomenal new system I’ve implemented to make laundry simpler, or liken to pile of laundry to unresolved issues in my psyche.

Nah.

I’m playing chicken.  I don’t want to carry the clothes down to the laundry room (what I affectionately call the unfinished part of the basement where the machines sit atop a peeling gray paint layer, flecks of which cling to our feet while we curse the former owners who should have used epoxy . . .)

Anyway, I’m not doing it.  I’ll sort, wash, dry, and fold up one side and down the other.  But getting the clothes to and fro is just beyond my tolerance.  Wrestling the mesh bag out from the squeaky PVC hamper frame, gathering the strewn items not secured in the bag, managing a grasp in which the strings don’t crush your fingers, navigating this awkward, dirty entity down two flights of stairs – gah.  I hate all of it.

I’m fairly certain he’ll give in before I do.  (Thanks, dear.  Darn nice of you, too.)  He hates doing it, too, but he loves me enough to let me win.  Most of the time.

Next house deal breaker = laundry chute.

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“. . . the hap, hap, happiest Christmas . . .”

Last night, I hosted a dinner for twenty people.  In addition to our family of four, we had my parents, my brother, my sister, her husband, their three (soon to be four) kids, my husband’s parents, his sister, her husband, their three kids, and my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law.  I felt just like Clark Griswold, scheming out the “hap, hap, happiest Christmas since . . .”  You get the point.  I was jazzed.

The big Christmas Eve affair went imperfectly, with lots of little and a couple of glaring deficiencies.  But what was great far outweighed what wasn’t.  And that’s how I roll.

I super love Christmas, even though there are moments of stress and grief.  Christmas brings bountiful opportunities to celebrate the joy I’m constantly seeking.  Here are some of the ways I’m focusing on joy this season:

1. I’m honoring my heritage.  Until I started eating Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with other people’s families, I didn’t realize my family ate exotic ethnic foods.  (I sorely missed the sweet and sour red cabbage and the holiday lebkuchen my Mom makes every year.)  This year, I brought my kids into the tradition.  We spent a lovely morning carefully following the recipe on which their grandmother’s grandmother made little notes and spilled orange juice.

Holiday lebkuchen - a family favorite

Holiday lebkuchen – a family favorite

Yum.

Yum.

It got messy, and the boys lost interest after awhile.  But we shared a special project with generations of kinfolk, and we’re all enjoying the outcome.

2. I’m connecting with people.  In addition to the Christmas feasting with family, I’m getting together with a childhood friend for drinks tomorrow, chatting with folks on the phone (gasp,) and sending and receiving holiday cards.  Social media can be fun, but I’m enjoying all the old-school ways of keeping in touch.

Not exactly a Pinterest-worthy display, but we've been loving the cheer as our collection grows.

Not exactly a Pinterest-worthy display, but we’ve been loving the cheer as our collection grows.

3. I’m keeping things simple.  For last night’s dinner, I outsourced the Beef Wellingtons, made the cabbage, mashed potatoes, and pink salad ahead of time, used store-bought crusts for the tiny cherry pies on sticks, and accepted everyone’s offer for appetizers, wine, and desserts.  I wanted to spend time with everyone, not spend the evening in the kitchen.

tiny cherry pies on sticks

tiny cherry pies on sticks

4. I’m going with the flow.  Like when we tried to go to Mass yesterday.  It was like the Black Friday of worship – people walking from four blocks away in all directions, aggressive parking interactions, questionable adherence to fire codes – it was intense.  I gave a yeoman’s effort before conceding to the crowd and coming back home.  We can try again today.

I also kept it cool when suddenly all my cloth napkins went missing during our big dinner.  So folks paired the china, silver, and crystal with paper napkins.  Nobody cared.  (Except me, for like four seconds. But then I let it go.)

5. I’m making every moment count.  I’m sipping coffee and playing Lexulous with my husband, building Nanoblocks and Lego structures with my kids, taking long walks with my dog, literally smelling the flowers my mother brought, and otherwise committing to a philosophy of savoring the moments in life.

classic - the box is always more interesting than what's inside

classic – the box is always more interesting than what’s inside

Merry Christmas to you all, and best wishes for a joyful, healthy, and successful 2015.

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Card game: Society (or Battle)

I want to call it “Society.”  But since my son invented the game, it may be called “Battle.” Anyway, it’s easy and entertaining, so I thought I’d share it.  I imagine we’ll be playing a bit of it with family in the next few days.

Players: 2

Supplies: One die.  One standard deck of cards, jokers excluded (poor buddies)

Set-up: Shuffle the deck and deal it out evenly between the players.  Players do not look at their cards.

1. Players put forth a card from the top of their deck.

2. The player with the higher card value rolls the die first.  The amount rolled equals the “damage” to the opponent’s score, and that amount is subtracted from the score.  (For example, if I dealt a 3 and you dealt an 8, then you would roll first.  Then if you were to roll a 2, my score plummets to 1.)

I'm going to lose here.  Ah, well . . .

I’m going to lose here. Ah, well . . .

3. And then the player with the lower card value rolls, and the ‘damage” is subtracted from the opponent’s score.

4. The first player to wipe out the other player’s points wins the round and keeps both cards, placing them on the bottom of his dealing stack.

5. The player with the most cards when everyone’s sick of playing wins the game.

I had a great time playing with my little guy even though I really wanted to finish the episode of Breaking Bad my husband and I had sneaked off to watch.

(Insert Jesse Pinkman impression here.)

Play it, and let me know what you think we should call it.

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Family breakfast, winter edition

Breakfast is a big deal in our house.  (Read about it here.)  And I tend to get all jazzed up about Christmas, too.  I love the lights, I love the music, I love the personal introspection, and I adore the time with my family.  Jamie and I are both teachers in the same system where our kids go to school, so our whole team has time together for winter break.  I’m some kind of excited, let me tell you.

This Sunday morning, I got a little fancy with the family breakfast since we’re going to a later mass and had some time to spare.

French toast men.  And wreaths.  (The bread was too small for my snowflake cutter.  Dag.)

French toast men

French toast men

Toward the end, I had a couple of casualties.  But the partial decapitation still plated nicely, and it tasted just as delicious as his brethren.

The guy on the left left the pan in two pieces.

The guy on the left left the pan in two pieces.

And since it was a family scene, I accommodated my son’s desire to have regular toast.

Plain toast.  mmmmm

Plain toast. mmmmm

But it was still cheerfully thematic, because that’s how I roll.

 

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Back (in brown)

"Feeling good, Todd."

“Feeling good, Todd.”

Well, November is over, and I did not write a novel.

Still, I’m really glad I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, because I learned so, so, SO much about writing, about myself as a writer, and about my (still gestating) novel.

Thank you to my family, friends, and readers for your patience with my hiatus – I have genuinely appreciated the space to just write.  It was luxurious to claim an entire month of evenings and weekends to nurture this daunting project, and I feel re-energized.

I’m shooting to finish by next November.

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NaNoWriMo hiatus

I’m giving it a shot this month, so I’m checking out of blogging and all other writing ventures until December.

I’m super psyched (and super nervous.)

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“probably just been nosin’ through the trash”

I’m choosing to believe that a team of collaborative raccoons did this.

Dag.

Dag.

Because I don’t want to think about the size, skill, and determination of any singular animal with the capacity to knock over our 60-gallon, 4-foot tall, heavy, full trash can, gnaw or tear into bags and containers, and scatter the residual detritus across our yard.

Now, some you folks live around bears, and you’re thinking something along the lines of, “Doesn’t she know how to bear-proof her trash? Why is it just sitting out in the open like that?  What did she expect?”

But I live on the periphery of a bustling city, at least 30 miles from the nearest possible bear habitat.  So practically speaking, it really couldn’t have been a bear.

I need it NOT to have been a bear.  I’m terrified of bears, and I think that’s completely appropriate, rational, and downright legit.

The summer I was fourteen, I went on an Outward Bound trip.  I spent two weeks canoeing, portaging, camping, and surviving in the boundary waters of Canada and Minnesota.  The scenery was breathtakingly spectacular, and it needed to be.  Because it was also riddled with biting black flies, cold rain (and accompanying “foot rot”), and all the luxuries of camping in the wilderness, including texturized vegetable protein and powdered milk for meals.

So lots of bears live up there, and we had some training to prepare for them before we left the base camp.  We streamlined our toiletries so as not to attract them, packing one tube of toothpaste to share amongst the ten of us, and leaving our deodorants behind.  We practiced bear-proofing the food packs, throwing ropes through the cruxes of trees and suspending the packs out of reach.  And we talked about what to do if a bear came to camp.

We had our first bear encounter three days into the trip.  We were portaging, and we “lost” one of the packs.  We looked all along the paths, and we found it about twenty feet into the woods, shredded and depleted of most of the food.  We learned to man the food packs at all times after that.

I shared a tent with the only other girl on the trip, and she was far less of a princess than I. Still, I was making the best of it until I could go home, shower, sleep inside, and eat real food.  Anyway, we heard a bear reconnoitering outside of our tent on the fifth night.  Terrifying.  And not even close to cool or funny.  We did not sleep that night, obviously.

We managed to complete the trip without further bear incidents, fortunately.  But I’ve been thinking about this trip recently, and considering how lucky we were.

This summer, I read Claire Cameron’s The Bear: A Novel.  I’m not going to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, but it definitely put the fear of bear in me.  Yikes.  I’ve been reading it aloud to some of my students, and it’s even scarier in the dark using one of those tiny lights that clips onto the book.

So all I’m saying is, I’d like to hear from folks that other animals are capable of barreling into our trash this thoroughly.  Decimating deer?  Nefarious groundhogs?

There aren’t coyotes in the Southeast, are there?

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Beef stroganoff

In the midst of this glorious autumnal weather, I was motivated to fire up a batch of beef stroganoff tonight. This recipe represents an evolved amalgamation of several recipes, and I really think it’s my favorite.

Sorry – I took a whole mess of photos.

First, I get out the sour cream so it starts to warm up.  I put one heaping cup into a small bowl.

mmmm, sour cream

mmmm, sour cream

Then, I add the ketchup.  Originally, I used tomato paste.  In addition to the fact that no one ever needs the entirety of those cans and I hate to waste, I actually think 2 tablespoons of ketchup works beautifully here.  Plus it was all I had one time, and then it became my new way.

"Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?"

“Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?”

The secret to a tender stroganoff is the meat.  If you’ve got all day, then by all means, choose stew meat and slow cook it.  But I’m a last minute girl (with high standards) so I use a tenderloin end and slice it into bite-sized pieces.   Pat it dry, cut it up, and give the bits a nice salting and peppering.

DSC_0003

tender, marbled, so good

DSC_0004

salt and pepper’s here

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet or braiser.  Add the beef and brown.  Take a minute to enjoy the heavenly scent, and resist the urge to move the meat around.

browning in butter - legit

browning in butter – legit

Use tongs to turn the meat and brown all over.  Meanwhile, slice the onion into rings.

Vidalia - cuz ya gotta

Vidalia – cuz ya gotta

Also, heat up a half cup of water in which you’ll dissolve the bullion.  I know, it’s a questionable ingredient, and high-brow folks may prefer to use home-made stock.  But dag, it’s so delicious and easy, and there’s something childishly satisfying about dropping the tiny brick into the hot water.

bullion - it feels a little "science-y."

bullion – it feels a little “science-y.”

Once browned, remove the meat onto a plate to rest, and let the butter / meat drippings sauce heat up for a skinny minute.  Add the onions to the pan and let them sear up.

golden brown and ready

golden brown and ready

Deglaze the pan with the bullion, using a wooden implement to get all the flavorings from the bottom of the pan.  Inhale just a little.  Yes . . .

deglazing

deglazing

Add a package of sliced mushrooms and mix them into the heavenly sauce with the onions.

sliced white mushrooms

sliced white mushrooms

Once the veggies are tender, spoon a bit of sauce to temper the sour cream mixture.

about this much

about this much

Mix this hot sauce into the sour cream mixture so that it doesn’t curdle when you add it to the hot pan.  It looks horrifying, but don’t lose faith.

it's not ruined - promise

it’s not ruined – promise

Add the sour cream mixture into the pan, and mix thoroughly.  Then return the meat to the pan.  Salt, pepper, and dill – everything’s going to get friendly for awhile.

I heart dill.

I heart dill.

I don’t measure the dill.  I like a LOT, so I’d guess it’s something like a tablespoon.

more than a pinch

more than a pinch

Let everything mingle over low heat with a lid while you make wide egg noodles on which to serve this hearty sauce.  A robust red wine would be nice, but since it’s a school night, I had sparkling water.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Serves 4-ish, depending on how hungry everyone is, and freezes well.

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No crepes for you!

I’m unapologetically über-cheesy. In that vein, I’m always searching out ways to be ridiculously thoughtful and nostalgic. Several months ago, after having read a terrific blog post about making crepes, I decided to commit to recreating our wedding luncheon on our anniversary.
Here’s what happened: I was overruled. My kids want nothing to do with vichyssoise, fancy salad, and chicken crepes, and my husband admitted that he prefers a steak anyway. And, truth be told, I’m afeard of the burn-y, demoralizing mess I would have made.

So here’s our family selfie at Outback Steakhouse.

IMG_0272

Good thing you’ve got long arms, honey.

IMG_0275

15 years, and we’re still smiling!

 

We had a glorious meal on our 15th anniversary, without the crepes.  Highlights included delicious food, not having to do any dishes, and the fact that our waiter closely resembled Angus Young from AC/DC.

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