What I've Been Reading Instead of Cleaning My House

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Extremely Short Stories

I came across "extremely short stories" recently and I must admit that I love them (they work well with my short attention span).

According to wired.com, Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and is said to have called it his best work. So they decided to have some horror and science-fiction authors give it a try. Here's what they came up with:

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

We went solar; sun went nova.
- Ken MacLeod

whorl. Help! I'm caught in a time
- Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel

He read his obituary with confusion.
- Steven Meretzky

On NPR, Robert Swartwood calls it "Hint Fiction." These have titles and are a little longer (like Twitter messages). Here's some of what he's collected:

"The Return"
They buried him deep. Again.
- Joe R. Lansdale

"Golden Years"
She: Macular. He: Parkinson's. She pushing, he directing, they get down the ramp, across the grass, through the gate. The wheels roll riverwards.
- Edith Pearlman

"Houston, We Have a Problem"
I'm sorry, but there's not enough air in here for everyone. I'll tell them you were a hero.
- J. Matthew Zoss

I miss her more than the others.
- David Joseph

Ooh, that last one I should send to TLC's "Sister Wives."

How about you? Care to leave me an extremely short story in the comments?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dysfunctional Family Bingo!

Oh, if only I had found this earlier! What could be more fun at your next family gathering than a rousing game of Dysfunctional Family Bingo?

You can order it here.

Sibling rivalry, hormonal imbalance, door slamming, questionable parenting, I just need "unsolicited advice" to win. Oh, there it is, BINGO!

Of course, I would have to get my family to actually agree to be in the same room together to play. Drat.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No, those aren't lumps of coal from Santa under the tree!

I got my Christmas gift early this year -- a little kitten.

I'm training her to sit by me while I'm reading. She's doing pretty good so far.

When she's not sitting by me, she's shredding up our arms and legs and pooping under the Christmas tree.

We've named her Roger (you'll have to watch "Open Season 2" and then you'll know her personality).

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

This year, we're keeping it close to home for the holidays. I'm ignoring all my far away friends and family (sorry if that's you) and only focusing on those people that influence my family's life on a day-to-day basis.

I just bought some treats (believe me, no one wants me BAKING anything for them) and included a small note detailing how much I appreciate them. As I started making a list, I realized how many people I rely on and take for granted.

Such as:

My mail lady who always comments on how cute and clever my homemade postcards are (the people I mail them to never say a word -- maybe she's keeping them?).

My neighbor who had her children make get well cards for my sick kids and even brought them breakfast in bed (homemade waffles!).

My milk man who comes every Monday (even if it's a holiday) and never gets my order wrong.

The couple down the street who opened up their business for Nigel's cub scouts to tour and they had a GREAT time.

The kids who play with my kids every day (even though my kids have a hard time sharing).

My list soon grew to more than 50 people. What a blessing it is to be surrounded by so many terrific people who serve me and my family throughout the year. Thank you!

Snow Lanterns

We've been making snow lanterns at our place. We read about them in a Tasha Tudor book and had to try it for ourselves. The hard part is waiting for there to be enough snow and then waiting for it to get dark to put the candles in them! You just build little igloos out of snowballs, leaving an opening, and then put a small candle inside. Love it!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nigella* has nothing on Nigel

If you read my blog, you know that I'm constantly struggling with staying within my food budget. Well, I've given up. I've turned over all cooking and shopping duties to my husband, Nigel.

Why I didn't do this years ago, I don't know.

He is an awesome cook and can make a dollar stretch like nobody's business. It's also nice to just turn to him and say, "Hey, what's for dinner?" And unlike me (where the answer is usually, "Whatever you can find under the couch cushions" or "Shake the toaster, that's dinner"), he actually makes something!

Also, my cooking experiences often turn out like this recent episode:

I was making rice krispy treats (simple, right?) and I was melting the marshmallows and butter over the stove. I was stirring and stirring and there was still this lump of marshmallow that would just not melt! What was the deal? It's never taken this long. I pulled out the spatula I was using to stir in order to turn up the heat and that's when I noticed that the rubber/plastic/silicone part of the spatula was missing! That wasn't a clump of marshmallow -- it was melted spatula!

I had always had those heat resistant spatulas -- but I guess this one wasn't! Gross! I had to dump it in the trash, clean the pot and start all over again.

Is it any wonder I've given up on cooking?

*Referring to Nigella Lawson, the "Barefoot Contessa." I like watching her cooking show just because her voice is so soothing (it's more relaxing than yoga!).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yummy Bread Pudding

Last night at book club one of the ladies brought the yummiest dessert. It's a bread pudding made with croissants -- genius!!! Here's the recipe:


In a 9x13 pan layer 8 buttered croissants sliced open face up. Sprinkle white chocolate chips and layer again.

In a bowl mix:
8 Large eggs
1 Cup Sugar
3 Cups Heavy Cream
2 tsp. Vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon

Pour over bread and smash down using a spoon making sure all gets soaked. Let Stand for 30 Minutes.

Bake at 350 for 1hr 30 min in a larger pan water bath (half full) -- covered with foil. Take foil off the last 7 or 8 minutes.

1 Cube Real butter
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Vanilla Bean Paste

Dissolve and Melt in Microwave. Do not boil.

Add any desired fruit last.

We did not have it with any fruit, but it was so, so, so, so good. She said that you can get vanilla bean paste at those fancy gourmet kitchen stores.

By the way, this month we're reading "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I am loving it and it's one of those books that you can't put down. I can't wait to find out what was in that pie (Don't tell me!).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the book "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I first read this book in high school and absolutely fell in love with it. In fact, I started a "Boo Radley Fan Club" (our logo was a bloody pair of scissors) and even dressed up as Mayella Ewell for my 10th grade yearbook photo.

This was way before the band "The Boo Radleys" was around -- I must admit that once they came on the scene, it took the wind out of my sails (people would think I was a fan of the group, not the book).

Recently, I read the book again for my book club. It was just as great as I remembered it. For our book club discussion, we watched the movie. The movie is almost as good as the book. Who cannot love Gregory Peck as Atticus?

Anyway, happy anniversary!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Freecycle Follies

If you don't know what Freecycle is, it's a Web group where people in a certain area post items that they want to give away or items that they would like to get (and everything must be free). Most people just check the posts on the Freecycle Web page, but I somehow signed up to get all the postings e-mailed to me. This is becoming a pain because every day I get about 200 e-mails from people who are either trying to get rid of stuff, want stuff, received stuff, or are waiting for people to pick stuff up. The bad thing is, the Web site no longer recognizes me as a "freecycler," so I can't change my settings!

Anyway, the fun part is that while I'm wasting precious minutes of my day deleting all the e-mails, I come across some very amusing ones. Granted, they're not amusing in what they're trying to give away (it's always baby clothes or furniture or non-working computers), but what's amusing is how it shows up on the truncated subject line of my e-mail list.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Wanted: Electric Hair

Offer: Bag of various boys

Taken: Slightly used woman

Monday, June 28, 2010

Too much of a veg for veggies

So I got my second basket of produce on Saturday afternoon and I made the mistake of not putting it away in the fridge fast enough (give me a break, my bananas from last week's basket just barely got ripe!). Anyway, I went to put them in the fridge Sunday morning and the strawberries and Swiss chard were already moldy! Snapdragon!

I'm not good with produce. I end up throwing most of it away because I don't eat it fast enough or it never gets ripe or I picked a bad one to begin with.

I give up.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vegging Out

On a friend's recommendation, I tried out this produce co-op . It costs $16.50 a basket (plus a one-time $3.00 sign-up charge) and this is what I got:

1 bag cherries
10 bananas
1 bag grapes
1 cantaloupe
11 peaches
17 small plums
4 tomatoes
3 avocados
2 stalks broccoli
1 bag baby carrots
1 large head romaine lettuce
1 small bag green beans

I can't get my kids to stop eating the grapes and cherries (I'm finding cherry pits all over the house). The bananas and avocados still need to ripen, so it'll be a while before we can eat those. The cantaloupe was delicious (we ate it as part of our Father's Day breakfast). The broccoli was great (I used it in our Father's Day chicken divan recipe). The romaine lettuce, baby carrots and tomatoes are good (used in our Father's Day salad). We're looking forward to using the green beans (along with potatoes and onions) in a German recipe that Nigel is famous for.

So here's my predicament: the peaches and plums aren't even close to being ripe (and they don't ripen if you just let them sit out -- they'll get softer, but not sweeter). So I'm going to have to cook them to use them up. I know that I can make a good peach cobbler, but what should I do with the plums? Any ideas?

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Running" a 5K

A few days ago I "ran" a 5K.

You'll notice that the word "ran" is in quotes because let's be honest, there's very little running going on when I'm doing it. It's more like a slow, agonizing jog or a very fast walk.

And this was a very BIG race with actual numbers on our chests and timers on our shoes. Very high tech. The best part is that I finished in about 6 1/2 minutes UNDER my goal time and I saw lots of my friends in the race (mostly I saw them as they were all PASSING me by).

Nigel and the kids were there to cheer me on and it was a lot of fun. We've decided that next time we'll ALL run/jog/walk together as a family.

The last time I did one was in 1985. I thought this would hold me for another 25 years, but it was so much fun, I can't wait to do another.

Monday, June 7, 2010

You can take the girl out of food storage, but you can't take food storage out of the girl

So it's finally June and I can go back to the grocery store!

A few days ago I had my first shopping outing and I was envisioning a shopping cart overflowing with delicious easy-to-prepare items.

Not quite.

After hitting the much-missed produce section, my mind was a complete blank on what to buy! I realized that most of what I buy I don't really need and left the store with only two bags.

Even yesterday, I made sloppy Joes with freeze-dried chicken chunks, canned sauce, freeze-dried mozzarella cheese and some hamburger buns that were left over from a neighborhood barbecue.

Oh well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Final Analysis Revisited

I can't believe I forgot the two most important things I learned in my "living off my food storage for the month of May" experiment:

-- Even though making a bed out of #10 cans seems like a good way of storing your supplies in a small space, GETTING at them is a whole other story. After a few days of getting all the stuffed animals off the bed, moving the mattress (is there anything harder to maneuver than a mattress?), tackling the bed board, then trying to remember where that specific can is (even though I had made a map beforehand, it was still horrible), I decided it was easier just to go hungry.

-- Make sure to include some snacks in your food storage plan (cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, etc.). Making dinner takes a LOT longer when everything's from scratch (including grinding your own flour) and your kids will eventually sneak into your pantry and eat your entire supply of chocolate chips if you don't have some quick snacks on hand.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Thrifty Month of May Final Analysis

My month of "No Grocery Shopping in May" is just about over and I did learn some things about my emergency food storage preparedness:

-- It takes a lot more time and energy to make everything from scratch, time that I hopefully will have if there is an emergency (like losing my job), but not so much when I'm working full-time and trying to go to all of the "end of school" activities. Let's just say that towards the end of the month, we just went without bread because I was too tired to make it.

-- I did cheat and went to the grocery store twice, but that's only because my kids had promised certain foods for their classroom's pot lucks and we didn't have those in our food storage.

-- We learned to survive without Kool-Aid, Parmesan cheese and Ramen; and we also learned to eventually like the Apple drink.

-- Don't stock up on the kids' favorite cereals because as soon as you do, they will decide that they now HATE that particular cereal and you'll end up eating all of it (curse you, Cinnamon Toast Crunch!)

-- Luckily my radishes were ready to harvest half-way through the month and I would look forward to picking some each day just so I could taste the crunch of a fresh vegetable.

-- We went through a lot more butter than expected; and we went through a lot less eggs than I expected (we started off the month with two dozen and ended the month with one dozen left).

-- My credit card bill was cut in half just by not hitting the grocery store each week.

-- We really didn't eat that much differently than we usually eat. Makes me wonder what the heck I'm wasting my money on at the store.

-- Stick with the basics. We got sick of fancy canned soups real quick, but we could eat beans and rice every night.

And the most important thing I learned from this whole experiment:

-- Nigel is the "MacGyver" of food storage cooking! He can take a rubber band, some toothpaste, and a roll of duct tape and make lasagna out of it! He's amazing! He's going to be the most important part of my emergency plan.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's a Ramen Emergency!

I am out of Ramen.

How can that be? I didn't have a load of Ramen in my food storage? What was I thinking?

I don't particularly like Ramen noodles, but my kids live off of it (they like to eat it raw -- they put it in Ziploc bags and call it "Monkey Chow").

I'll have to add Ramen to my list.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Food Storage Update #2

Now we're about half-way through our month of no grocery shopping and only living off of our food storage.

Here's what I've realized so far:

-- I should've done this experiment in June or July so that I could at least get some fresh vegetables from my garden.

-- I'm going to need to freeze a lot more butter (when you're mostly eating home baked bread, you go through a lot more butter than I thought).

-- If at all possible, try to keep some cash as part of your food storage so that when your family revolts (and they will), you can make a quick trip to McDonald's and grab some Dollar Menu burgers.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Adventures with "Milly"

A few days ago I met "Milly."

Milly is our friendly, neighborhood wheat mill. About a year ago, all the ladies in my neighborhood pooled our money together and bought an industrial-grade wheat grinder. I don't know how they decided which woman had to keep this machine in her garage, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with poor rock-paper-scissors skills.

Anyway, I went over to her house and she showed me how to work the grinder. I brought about 10 pounds of wheat with me and it was turned into flour in no time (usually I make my children grind it at home by hand).

I was so excited to use my new flour, I immediately went home and made some whole wheat bread. In the past I've had bad luck with making wheat bread. Instead of loaves, I make door stops. To make sure that I had light and fluffy bread, I added some dough enhancer and gluten powders to the dough.

Then I made the mistake of accidentally doubling the yeast.

I set the dough out to rise and it was getting huge! Then I put it in the oven and my kids were giving news reports every two minutes of how close the bread was getting to touching the top of the oven.

I had visions of that "I Love Lucy" episode where she bakes:

When I pulled the bread out of the oven, my blimp-sized loaves quickly deflated into small, thin bricks (much like those cartoon souffles or my hopes and dreams of being a good cook).

Luckily I now have plenty of flour to try again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Freeze-Dried Cheese

I opened up my #10 can of freeze-dried mozzarella cheese. I was very curious as to how this was going to turn out.

It looks like regular grated cheese, just hard. I soaked it in warm water for five minutes and most of the cheese got hydrated well. The only bad part is that it now looks like a clump of cheesy rubber.

I added it to my meatball sandwiches and I put it on pizza and I must admit that it melted nicely and tasted just like regular mozzarella cheese.

I think this one's a keeper.

(Please note that someone in my family must also like it because I keep finding it in the cupboard with the lid off -- they're just eating it straight out of the can)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Food Storage Update

Well, I haven't done any grocery shopping since April 28th, just living off of my food storage, and this is what I've learned so far:

A loaf of bread from the store will be eaten up in seven days.
A loaf of home-baked bread will be eaten up in seven minutes.

I have no parmesan cheese. How can I not have parmesan cheese? The easiest cheese to store and I have none? Major flaw in my food storage plan.

Looking at my car's empty gas tank and my purse full of uncashed checks, I realize that I connect all of my other errands to grocery shopping. Hard to get out of that habit.

When I tell people about my little experiment, they always come back with, "Oh my goodness, what are you eating?" Like I'm forcing my family to eat soup made out of boiled shoes or something. So here's what we've been eating at our house so far in May:

Cold cereal and milk (I've got a lot of cereal and I'm still having the milkman deliver fresh milk -- it has to be a major catastrophe for me to drink powdered milk);
Pancakes and sausage (though I'm down to my last package of frozen sausage).

My kids still have money in their school accounts, so they've been eating lunch at school and Nigel and I just eat leftovers or bread and butter (my freezer is full of butter).

Spaghetti & meatballs;
Meatball sandwiches;
Shepherd's pie (using the freeze-dried meatballs);
Chicken & dumplings (using canned chicken);
Green chili casserole (kind of a Mexican lasagne using tortillas);
Pad Thai (if you're a Thai food lover like me, your pantry is full of curry powder, jars of peanut butter, hot sauce, noodles, and cans of coconut milk).

Cookies (finally used up all that frozen cookie dough I had);
Peach cobbler (made with just a can of peaches, a white cake mix, and topping it with a powdered "whipped cream" mix).

Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed in milk;
Powdered juice.

So as you can tell, we've been eating quite well (probably better than when we DON'T live off of our food supply).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Top of Spaghetti...

I also decided to try out my #10 can of freeze-dried Italian seasoned meatballs.

That's right, freeze-dried meatballs. Who knew?

I rehydrated them as directed and put them in a tomato sauce to serve on top of spaghetti. They still tasted a little tough, though.

The next night, I made meatball subs (with my bread recipe for the rolls, some Manwich sauce, canned mushrooms and freeze-dried mozzarella cheese). Again, they seemed a little tough.

Nigel and I thought they were OK. My children did NOT like them and said that they didn't taste like meat.

Again, something I won't be buying in the future (after all, how many recipes do you know that use "meatballs"?).

Please note -- I had a meatball sub the next day for lunch and it tasted MUCH better. Maybe they just needed more time to rehydrate.

An Apple a Day...

In our quest to not buy any groceries this month, I decided to get into our long-term food storage (otherwise known as Alice-Grace's "bed") and open up a #10 can of powdered apple juice and try it out.

First of all, the color is...shall we say...disturbing. The juice was a sickly, brown, sewer-y looking color. Yuck.

But it's the taste that matters, right? Well, it tastes EXACTLY like green apple flavored Jolly Rancher candies. Not exactly something I want to drink.
But what do I know? Did you know that Jolly Rancher also makes a soda pop? I've never seen it (and after tasting this "apple juice," now I know why).
I must admit that Alice-Grace and Jeffrey absolutely LOVED it. Of course, they're also known for eating powdered sugar out of the bag with a spoon.

Nigel, Frances and I definitely did NOT like it. I won't be buying any more #10 cans of this in the future. I'll stick to things I know that I like (like packets of cherry Kool-Aid -- I love me some cherry Kool-Aid).

Monday, May 3, 2010

I "Knead" Some Bread

As of this morning, we have one slice of bread left.

I guess it's time to get out the flour and yeast and start making some. Luckily I have this bread recipe where I can make homemade bread from start to finish in only one hour. I went to a class given by the lovely ladies of Pantry Secrets and I was so inspired that I bought enough of the ingredients to make four loaves of bread a week for an entire year.

Then I realized that I would have to WASH the bowl, dough hook and loaf pans, so the ingredients have just been sitting there in my pantry.

That's probably what prompted my "no flour" diet.

Oh well, time to get kneading.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"It's May, It's May, the THRIFTY Month of May!"

So we've decided that we're not going to do any grocery shopping in the month of May. Here's our reasons:
  1. We've got a ton of food storage that is coming up on its expiration date and we need to eat it up.
  2. We need to save up money for some trips this summer that we weren't expecting to take.
  3. It's a good way to see what we like in our food storage (and more importantly what we DON'T like) for future food storage purchases.

We will still be getting fresh milk delivered to our house each week (it has to be a REAL emergency for me to drink powdered milk), but otherwise we're going to say adios to our friendly, neighborhood supermarket this month.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Running of the Roses

I have a tradition of watching the Kentucky Derby every year.

Since it's "the most exciting two minutes in sports," it's the only athletic event my attention span will handle (we just avoid "the most boring four hours in sports" that appears before and after the race).

Frances was my watching partner this year (mostly because she wasn't feeling well and couldn't get off the couch). We donned our festive Derby hats (regular hats that we decorated with whatever was in arm's reach of us at the time -- mine was covered with Barbie dolls) and ate some Lifesaver mints that Frances found in her backpack (instead of drinking mint juleps).

Then we had to make our bets. Frances based her bet on the cute outfit the jockey was wearing and I based mine on "whatever horse Calvin Borel is riding."

I won.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Will this spring fever ever end?

I'm still plagued with spring fever. Here's the list of symptoms:

Plant garden? Check.

Pass General level Ham Radio test? Check.

Train for 5k? Hmm...kind of check. (Let's just say that there will be little running involved)

No flour, no sugar diet? Hmm...let's change the subject.

Make more knitted cats? Ahem...this is getting embarrassing. (I did buy more buttons for eyes and ribbons for collars, does that count?)

Do my spring cleaning? Hmm...hey, wow, look at the time, yeah, gotta go.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I've Come Down with a Bad Case of Spring Fever

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I've come down with a bad case of spring fever.

I've been busy training for a 5K (yes, I'm so out of shape and pathetic that I have to actually TRAIN for a 5K), trying out a new diet (no sugar, no flour -- so I'm putting in a lot more time cooking), and getting ready to plant my garden (if it would stop raining and snowing already).

In case you're wondering, I do have two more cats done, but I ran out of eyes (buttons) and collars (ribbon). As soon as I get over this spring sickness (or is it cat scratch fever?), I'll get back to the blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Love is in the Air

Did I mention that for Valentine's Day Nigel gave me pepper spray?

And when he gave it to me he said, "I have a feeling you're REALLY going to need this."

Ah, nothing says romance like mace and paranoia.

(Please note: I haven't had to use it -- yet)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesdays with Meow-y #5

Here is knitted cat #5. This one is based on a cat I had as a little girl. I really like how the two-toned face turned out. This is done with a knit stitch instead of a garter stitch, so it doesn't look as fluffy, but it's the only way I could get the face to work out. Also, I've gone back to the floppy arms. Nigel wanted me to show how the backs of the cats look, so here's some kitty butt for you. I'm not too happy about the white tip on the tail, though, looks too much like a fifth leg.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meow-a? #5

At book club a few months ago, we read a book called "Speak." The woman who chose the book chose it because she works at a place where children are brought to be questioned in cases of suspected sexual abuse. It's a place where they can feel safe.

It's horrible that such places have to exist, but maybe they would like my cats. Something to hang on to while they tell their story.

Also, my cats don't have mouths, and the book "Speak" is about a girl who stops communicating after a traumatic incident.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why I'm Not a Chef (or even a cook)

A friend of mine has this awesome blog where he writes about all the cool things he cooks (mostly bakes). I decided to try out one of his easier recipes. It consisted of about three ingredients, but even so, I managed to mess it up.

The first thing I needed to do was buy a boxed angel food cake mix. OK. I looked all over that store, there was no "angel food" cake mix. Is it the same as white cake? Some of the white cake mixes showed cooking times for one of those bundt-like pans, but some didn't. Also, do I HAVE to make it in a bundt-type thing? I don't have a bundt-type pan!

So I gave up and bought an angel food cake from the store's bakery. There, that part's done.

The frosting consists of whipped cream, milk, powdered sugar and instant pudding mix. Easy, right? For me, no.

I was whipping and whipping and whipping and nothing was happening. That's when I looked at the carton and realized that I had bought HALF & HALF, not heavy cream. Snapdragon!

So I'm off to the store AGAIN because I'm determined to make this cake. I even bought some strawberries and blueberries to make it extra special.

I finally got it done and my son would only eat the cake, my daughters would only eat the frosting, NO ONE wanted the fruit.

Is it any wonder I don't cook?

Please note -- the frosting was excellent the next day on French toast.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesdays with Meow-y #4

Knitted cat #4. This is based on a cat I had right before I got married. It was a white cat with blue eyes, which my mother hated. I guess white cats with blue eyes are deaf, but I never noticed because since when does a cat come when you call it? Again, it has the stiff arms, which I'm not liking too much. My kids call this the "ghost cat," so maybe I won't make any more white cats in the future.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meow-a? #4

I was at the orthodontist working on another knitted cat and the lady in the billing office got very emotional talking about her teenage niece that has cancer and spends a lot of time in the hospital and how the kids in the oncology ward would love to have cats like that -- mostly to know that people are thinking of them and to hold when they're scared.

I never even though about teenagers wanting them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesdays with Meow-y #3

Here's knitted cat #3. This is supposed to be based on my neighbor's orange cat, but for the life of me I cannot find orange yarn anywhere (everything is "pumpkin"). So instead, this is a yellow and pink mixed yarn. I tried to save time by knitting it all in one piece (as opposed to knitting the arms separately and then attaching them to the body), but it gives the cat too much of a stiff appearance. I also apparently need help on not tying granny knots on the bows around their necks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meow-a? #3

I was knitting one of my cats at the dentist's office and I told them my story about the Year of the Tiger and my goal to make 52 cats.

My dentist recommended donating them to a Women & Children Crisis Center. His son is gathering materials for toiletry kits for the center as part of his Eagle Scout project. He said that many of the women and children arrive there with just the clothes on their backs. I bet a child would like something to hold onto and call their own.

Maybe that's what I'll do.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Quit

I've had it. I quit. I have this love-hate relationship with this whole coupon system and it's definitely tilting towards the HATE side. Detest, dislike, despise, loathe, have ill will towards.

For the last two weeks, there have been NO good deals. Nada, zilch, nil, el-zippo, the big goose egg.

I am totally stocked with toothpaste (did you realize that toothpaste expires? I'd better start brushing my teeth 16 times a day to get through it all) and if I eat one more thing of yogurt I'm going to PUKE. Heave, hurl, drive the porcelain bus, talk to Ralph on the big white telephone, holler New York.

Here's what really drives me crazy about the system. The lady who was teaching the class went on and on about how great the deals are at this one supermarket and how she loves it because on the receipt it shows her exactly how much she saved.

I went to that same supermarket and I ended up getting the wrong brand of juice, which wasn't on sale and didn't match my coupon. Ugh! I then took that same coupon to my preferred grocery store (where everyone is nice and cheerful, but not the coupon lady's favorite store) and bought the juice with my coupon, even though it wasn't on sale.

Here's the thing. The juice that was on "sale" at the first store was actually MORE expensive than the juice that was NOT on sale at my preferred store!

Store #1
Juice regular price: $3.50
Juice on sale: $3.00
Coupon: $1.00 off
Total price: $2.00 (save $1.50)

Store #2
Juice regular price: $2.50
Coupon: $1.00 off
Total price: $1.50 (save $1.00)

So I SAVED more at store #1, but PAID less at store #2. So what's more important, bragging about how much you've saved, or actually paying less money?

Hey coupon lady, watch me save even more money by stopping my newspaper subscriptions (and not buying any more yogurt).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesdays with Meow-y #2

Here is knitted cat #2. This is based on a cat that Nigel and I had for 13 years, which left us for another family (the same cat that mauled knitted cat #1).

I really like how the white and black together turned out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meow-a? #2

So what am I going to do with these cats I'm knitting?

My coworker suggested donating them to the local police station. She said that policemen keep stuffed animals in their squad cars for when they have to take children away from their homes in order to keep them safe. They like to have something for the kids to hug.

Hm, good idea.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


That's right, call me Technician Class Operator Lois.

I passed my Ham Radio test. Not only did I pass, but I got 100% (thank you very much).

At first I was nervous because there was about 30 people there to take the test and it was obvious that they had all taken classes and they all had the same textbook with them. I felt like I was in that dream where you you have a Spanish test and you didn't even know you were enrolled in a Spanish class. I was thinking, "Gee, I kind of skimmed through 'Ham Radio for Dummies' and I did some stuff on the Internet. I hope that's good enough."

I guess it was.

The test itself only took about 30 minutes (and 20 of those minutes was filling out paperwork), but I was waiting in line for over an hour just to take the test because I had to wait for the people in front of me to finish.

What I didn't realize is that if you pass the Technician test, they let you have a free stab at the General Class test. Let's just say that I bombed that one royally (that's probably where the class and book could've helped).

Anyway, it's official, I'm a geek.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Like Ham

I don't mean this kind of ham (though I do like me a good ham -- even at Thanksgiving I prefer ham to turkey).
And I REALLY don't mean Jon Hamm from "Mad Men" fame (I so don't get his appeal).

I mean Ham as in amateur radio. Yes, I'm upping my geek points and trying to get my ham radio license. I'm taking the test for my Tech license today.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesdays with Meow-y* #1

Here is my first cat so far.

The pattern I used is actually for a bear, but I just added a tail and voila, it's a cat!

This one is based on my previous neighbor's cat, "Hat" (named so because they brought it home in a hat). Our cat mauled it once (but it survived), so I feel I need to immortalize it in yarn.

I'm not sure how the button eyes will affect who I can give the cats to (probably NOT children under age 3 for choking reasons).

One down, 51 more to go!

*I know, bad pun based on Mitch Albom's book "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Meow-a?* #1

When people see me knitting, they ask me what I'm making. They're always surprised when I answer, "Cats."

Then I have to explain the whole crazy cat lady-Chinese New Year-year of the tiger-making 52 cats-no I don't know what I'm going to do with them-idea.

The good thing is, people tell me some great ideas on what I can do with them.

Suggestion #1 -- Mother Bear Project.
This is a great organization for giving teddy bears to children with HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, but it's bears, not cats, I have to pay for their specific pattern, and then I have to pay them to donate them. Not quite what I'm looking for at this time. Plus, I'd like to do something more local.

Still waiting for my epiphany to happen. In the meantime, I'll keep knitting my cats.

* Bad pun on "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" from "The Sound of Music."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

I know, I should be wishing everyone a Happy Valentine's Day, but once you've worked five years in the floral industry, you learn to loathe that hideous heart day.

Please join me on a winding journey of how I plan to celebrate Chinese New Year:

I always joke about how I'm going to be one of those crazy cat ladies when I grow up. You know, those wacky old broads with the ten million cats running around their house. Alas, I can't be one now because a cat would eat our pet rabbit (which is fine with me, but my children wouldn't care for that too much).

So instead of real cats, I figured that I would knit stuffed animal cats.

Then I realized that this year is the year of the tiger. Tiger, that's a cat. What if I made a cat for each week of the Chinese year of the tiger?

Now what am I going to do with 52 cats? I must admit that I don't know. I'm hoping that I'll have some kind of an epiphany and that by the end of the year, I'll know what to do with my cats (hoping to donate them to a worthy cause -- in Chinese astrology, "tigers" are known for their courage, so maybe children that are in need of courage and something to hug).

Anyway, I'll keep you posted on how my cats are doing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Club

It's my turn to pick a book for book club.

Any suggestions?

Please, nothing with swearing in it (we like to save all of our swearing for the actual discussion of the book).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

School Daze

Yesterday I was helping out at my kids' school and after discussing the upcoming Winter Olympics with a group of sixth graders, one especially odd girl came up to me and said:

"I have a new word I like to say. Gigolo! Gigolo, gigolo, gigolo. Doesn't that sound delicious? Gigolo."

I cautioned her that maybe that wasn't an appropriate word to say, especially at school. The girl had no idea why. I tried to explain to her what it meant (which was probably worse than her actually saying it), but she still didn't quite get it. She thought she had made the word up. Her face then brightened to a smile and she said:

"I know! Instead of gigolo, I'll say (insert very non-PC racial epithet here)! That's a good word."

I again told her that it was NOT a good word (and didn't explain why just in case she decided she WOULD like to use that word correctly).

Finally, she decided that "Jell-O" would be her new word of choice.

I agreed. After all, there's always room for Jell-O.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Is That What They're Calling It These Days?

A few months ago I was early picking my kids up from school and I noticed a man in the parking lot adjacent to my kids' school. He was standing alone, looking at the school playground with a pair of binoculars. Not just looking, but studying.

What the heck is this? Not one to let creepy guys get away with spying on children, I went up to him and asked what he was doing.

He replied, "I'm looking at this tree."

The tree that's 10 feet in front of him -- with binoculars? I pushed him further to explain himself.

He replied, "I'm looking for my iguana."

Oh, is that what they're calling it these days?

He then sheepishly explained that he had lost his pet lizard and someone had reported seeing it in one of the trees by the school. The problem is, the lizard is green and the trees are green, hence the binoculars.

Sure enough, as I looked around, there were "Lost Iguana" posters plastered all over the neighborhood. That's not all, they were also advertising a $100 reward! Soon, I was studying all the trees to find that iguana (she was named "Queenie," by the way).

It wasn't long before other parents were asking me what I was doing.

"Oh, I'm just looking for an iguana."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coupon Woes -- Revisited

Have you ever had the experience of just being sick of your hair? It never looks good, it's a source of never-ending frustration and you've just had enough. You make an appointment with the hairdresser to cut it all off.

Of course, the day of your appointment, you hair looks BEAUTIFUL! It's never had such body, such shine, it's gorgeous! What do you do? Cancel the appointment? Still get it cut off?

I'm having the same experience with this whole coupon thing. Yesterday I printed off my shopping list and brought out all my coupon inserts. After one and a half hours (literally), I had all my coupons cut out and sorted. I complained to Nigel the whole time, "This is it. I'm cancelling my newspaper subscriptions. This is too much work."

Then I go to the store and as always it takes FOREVER to shop and the pizza coupons don't match up with the pizza that's on sale and some other coupon-hording women have bought up all the yogurt (like I need more yogurt).

I was dreading going to the check-out stand because my cart was beyond over-flowing. "Oh great, this is going to cost a ton," I thought to myself.

Total = $162.77

But then I had the store sales and special offers (they were doing "buy 10 of these various items, get $5.00 off your bill" -- I had bought 40 of those items).

New Total = $85.04

Then I gave the cashier my HUGE stack of coupons.

Final Total = $59.74

So from $162.77 to $59.74!!! I bought 48 products and paid just a little over $1.00 for each one (which is quite a feat considering that I bought three things of Tide liquid detergent).

Hm, maybe I'll give the coupons another chance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Coupon Woes

About three months ago I started this new grocery shopping method.

At first it was really easy. Get newspaper, pull out coupon sections, file them away by date, check the Web site that matches the coupons with store sale items. I was getting great deals with very little time or effort put into it (and the $20 plus that I saved with the coupons each week more than made up for the $15 a month newspaper subscription).

What I didn't realize is that the more coupon inserts I have, the more time it takes to figure everything out.

There's searching through the stack of coupons, flipping through all the pages, then realizing that I ALREADY used that coupon three weeks ago. Snapdragon! (That's my new swear word)

The worst part is when the Web site is wrong (which is often). Either the store doesn't have the exact item that the coupon is good for or they make mistakes on exactly how much money you'll save (like confusing FREE with $1.00 off -- quite a difference when the item costs $7.00).

Very rarely do I find a super great deal. I'm also finding myself buying stuff I normally wouldn't buy if it weren't for the coupons. Plus, it seems like the good deals are on the SAME products every week. How much cereal, yogurt and shampoo can one person use? Come on!

Now I'm at the point where I dread getting my newspapers. I don't even want to get the coupons out of them. I just stare at them in their little red wrappers and hope they'll disappear.

Oh well. Anyone want some yogurt?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Too Immature for Maturation

The elementary school's "maturation" program was yesterday. The school strongly encouraged parents to attend.

Frances STRONGLY encouraged that I did not.

Why not? Just because I threatened to yell out:

"Excuse me, nurse? When should I expect my daughter's tail to fall off?"


"OK, enough talk about periods. It's the proper use of the semicolon that I don't understand!"

The only thing I remember from my elementary school's maturation program was the boy sitting next to me breaking a thermometer in the middle of a movie called something like "Betty Finds a Hair."

I remember the school nurse being concerned about the broken glass. In those days, NO ONE cared about a little mercury poisoning. In fact, the school nurse would put mercurochrome on our cuts and scrapes (because you really want those heavy metals to go DIRECTLY into your blood stream). In fact, they even marketed games to kids with mercury in them. Does anyone remember this one?

If you were really cool, you would break the toy open so you could play with the mercury in your bare hands.

Maybe it's a metaphor for maturation classes in the pre-AIDS days. We didn't know back then what could hurt and potentially kill us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's All Greek to Me

Yesterday Nigel and I went out to lunch at a new Greek restaurant in town. I had heard that it was run by actual Greek people, so I was pretty excited. (The other night we went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant and there wasn't a SINGLE Chinese person in the place. Not one! No Chinese people eating, working or cooking. With over 1.3 billion Chinese people in the world, I don't even see how that's statistically possible)

Sure enough, the men working there were very Greek, there were Greek flags everywhere (though they neglected to take the Bavarian cuckoo clock from off the wall from the prior restaurant's decor), and the food was delicious.

The best part? This was listed on the menu:


I could just see myself saying, "Why yes, I would like a side of homos with my pita." This is probably the first time in my life I wish I had one those camera phones.

You've got to understand, I love things like that. Maybe it's because of the girl in my high school from Taiwan who had her "Charlie Brown & Spoopy" book bag. Or maybe my Japanese roommate in college and her "Happy New York" sweater. Or my neighbor from Brazil and her son's "Winnie The Puff" teddy bear. Or my husband's tres leches birthday cake from the Mexican market down the street that said "Hoppy Birthdoy."

I think it brings me such joy because I am SOOOOO terrible at other languages. I'm in awe of anyone that can come to a different country and learn another language. I have taken years of French, German, Japanese and Chinese and I can't say a word in any of these languages. I come from a long line of people who can't speak another language. Case in point: many years ago my parents went to Germany to visit my brother in the military. They even took German language classes in preparation for their trip. Once there, they were at a shop counting out their money and my father went from counting in German to Spanish to English to APACHE! Yes, Dad, when you can't remember your German, go for Apache! That's the universal language ALL Europeans understand!

I just hope that the Greek restaurant doesn't change their menu. I think it's perfect just the way it is and will certainly bring me back for more (food and smiles).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yet Another Reason Why I'm Mad My Kid's Speech Therapist Moved Away

A recent conversation at our house--

Frances: Here's our school's Scholastic book order. There's a book I want about people who have vanished.

Lois: Oh, like Amelia Earhart?

Frances: Yeah, and some author vanished, too.

Alice-Grace: Kids in my class at school have vanished.

Lois: They have?

Alice-Grace: Yeah. Luis, Omar, Maria, Jose...

Lois: Do you mean they're Spanish?

Alice-Grace: Yeah, that's what I said. Vanish.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Like most of you, one of my new year's resolutions has been to eat healthier.

Cut out sugar? No way. Say no to fast food? Yeah, like that's going to happen.

I'm not going to cut anything out. Instead, I've decided to ADD good food into my existing diet and make better choices.

For instance:

Salad at McDonald's -- grilled instead of crispy chicken.

Meatloaf -- I added two cups of chopped cabbage to one pound of ground beef (when it cooks down, you can't see it or taste it).

Creamy Chicken & Rice -- plain yogurt instead of sour cream and brown rice instead of white rice.

Snacks at work -- nuts instead of M&Ms.

French toast -- whole grain bread instead of white.

So far, ADDING good food is a lot more fun than TAKING away the bad food. Hopefully, I'll retrain my tastebuds so that I'll crave the good foods. Yeah, I don't think so, either. But I'm still willing to try.