Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Christmas Take-Aways

OK, so maybe I didn't get the book deal I asked for (yet), or the talk show invites (yet, again), but I did get several heart felt hugs, at least five cups of joe and several errands done. As a matter of fact, the best gifts I received were not even on my list: all six of my guys attended late night Christmas Mass while I sang with our choir, my son picked out a hot pink protective case thingy for my laptop, and my sis got me extra bowls (so I don't have to borrow hers every time I serve chili at a party).

But my husband's gift tops the list - an overnight getaway for two.

We no sooner had all of the crumpled wrapping paper picked up when he whisked me away to a lovely little place called Serenity Springs (http://serenity-springs.com) for a some post-holiday battery-recharging.

If we hadn't gotten lost, we would've reached our destination in just under two hours. The fact that we couldn't find it only enhanced the feel that we were actually getting away.

Checking in, Debbie, the woman with whom my husband conspired to pull off this escape, pointed to a rack of wine bottles and told me to pick one.

I immediately fell in love with the place.

She then pointed to a corner of the office that contained DVDs of dozens of movies. I picked two. My husband didn't balk. I was in heaven.

As we stepped out of the office, I was aghast to see that our car had been replaced by a horse-drawn carriage. No kidding. I checked to make sure my loafers hadn't magically transformed into glass slippers before stepping up into it.

Snuggled under a blanket, we were transported to our private cabin where we were filled in on the essentials, like how to work the remote and how the butler service works.  I did a double take. Butler service? All we had to do was scribble a request - anything from pizza to board games to massages - pop the piece of paper in a little box affixed to the wall, flip a switch and moments later, our request would be filled.

Just like magic...

Once we were alone, I scoped the place for two essentials - a coffee pot and a blow dryer. Check.

Let the decompression begin!

Snuggled on the couch sipping our wine, we enjoyed the peace and quiet - no phones, no laptops, no kids.

The kids. I tried to not think about them, but I couldn't help it. We left our oldest in charge. He and our next oldest are Eagle scouts and our third son is almost there. What could possibly go wrong?

The mere fact that we left them alone to fend for themselves made me feel old. Where has the time gone, I wondered. Between my day job and trying to get my writing career off the ground, I have let a lot of things slip through the cracks - daily family dinners being one of them. As a result, my special needs son's table manners are, um, lacking, my cross-country runner son with the high metabolism is nearly invisible when he turns sideways and my oldest son, well, he'll be following his older brother to college in a matter of months.

Taking another swig of the lovely Red Horizon wine from Shady Creek Winery (www.shadycreekwinery.com), I announced to my husband that my resolution for 2012 will be to serve a sit-down family meal every day, no matter how crazy our schedules get.

That'll teach him to whisk me away for a romantic overnight...

Flicking on the fireplace, he warned that my feeble attempt to slow down the clock would have the opposite affect.

Perhaps.

You can find out for yourself. I'll be covering it all here, the recipes that work and the ones that don't, the jabs that are flung and the jokes that are told, and the affect that it has on us all.

One year. 365 family dinners. Who's with me?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Plate Spinner's Christmas List

On the first day of Christmas,
I really want to get
a big offer for my first book.

On the second day of Christmas,
I really want to get
two errands done and
a big offer for my first book.

On the third day of Christmas,
I really want to get
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
I really want to get
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
eight maids for cleaning,
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
nine columns written,
eight maids for cleaning,
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of Joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
ten nails painted,
nine columns written,
eight maids for cleaning,
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
I really want to get
eleven chocolate truffles,
ten nails painted,
nine columns written,
eight maids for cleaning,
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
I really want to get
twelve heartfelt hugs
eleven chocolate truffles
ten nails painted
nine columns written
eight maids for cleaning
seven talk show invites,
six-figure income,
five cups of joe,
four wash loads cleaned,
three sit-down meals,
two errands done,
and a big offer for my first book.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Tight Squeeze at Casa de Plate Spinner

Winter break just started for my younger four boys and my oldest is home from college for a couple of weeks.

A full house for Christmas.

Huzzah, right?

I let images of Norman Rockwell's paintings and Martha Stewart's dinner table spreads fill my head.

As much as I like the fact that I no longer have any leftovers when I cook and I have more helpers keeping the house picked up while I work, I can't ignore a couple of blotches already apparent in my idyllic day dreams.

For instance, my oldest, displaced from his room by his younger brother nearly as soon as he received his acceptance letter, is camped out in our family room and guest bath. This doesn't pose too much of a problem except that his late night hours don't correspond well with his littlest brothers wake-at-dawn hours.

At least for the time being, most everyone except me can sleep in. Until I can follow suit next week, I will tip toe around and keep my speaker phone on low.

Then there's the mobility issue. Four licensed drivers now reside in Casa de Plate Spinner and we only have two cars.

As soon as all were awake this morning, the bidding started.

Son #1 - My friends are meeting this afternoon.
Son #2 - I'm meeting the guys to go running.
Me - If anyone is interested in eating dinner this evening, I have to hit the grocery store.
Son#1 - Can't you go shopping now?
Me - No, I have a conference call in five minutes.
Son #2 - I told the guys I'd drive to the forest preserve.
Me - Oh, and don't forget Chris has a lesson at three.
Spouse - And I have to pick my dad up from the airport at seven.
Me - Yeah and Daniel's got scouts tonight.

Like a limo company dispatcher, I slated up a schedule that will allow each of us to get our stuff done without stranding anyone at home. By the time I'm done, the older two are already negotiating amongst themselves for rights to the newer Sedan over the worn-in SUV.

As I retreat to my office, I check my calendar.

School's starts in 14 days...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a Gold Christmas

As the holidays approach, the adrenaline is pumping both at work and at home.

At work, we're working rushing to ensure all tasks can be done despite the yawning chasm of lost man hours laid bare by everyone's vacation schedule.

At home, I'm thinking of threatening my boys that if they don't cough up letters to Santa soon, they'll end up with nothing but socks and underwear for presents. Waiting for them to draft their lists, there's plenty of other things to do, cards to mail, concerts to attend and cookies to bake.

The one thing I have gotten done, however, is purchase my husband's gift. While I won't tell him what it is, I have made a point of telling him what I spent on it. Just so he knows I'm not afraid to drop some big bucks on the man I love.

It's just my way of laying on the guilt.

Since my engagement ring/wedding band "went missing" several years back, not a birthday, anniversary, Valentine's day, or Christmas goes by when I don't remind my beloved that I would really, really like  "something shiny" to replace it.

And he's obliged. I have since received a brand new and quite shiny pressure cooker - too heavy and a little clumsy to sport on my ring finger - a lovely little light-up and somewhat shiny music box, a new phone,  and lots and lots of chocolate to ward off any residual disappointment.

I think I've finally accepted the fact that I'll never see my ring again.

While some are certain it was absconded during a large party we hosted, I'm not convinced.  Instead, I've watched as my dear spouse fruitlessly disassembled our dryer, poked through every pipe in our house and up-ended every bit of furniture we have.

We've since replaced it with a simple gold band. Utilitiarian. Gets the job done. Signals to the world that I am indeed betrothed.

But after all these years, I still miss my hard-earned bit of bling. I'm talkin' six and a half years of dating before we made an appointment with one Bob Kamen on Jeweler's Row to pick out the .79 round cut hunk of ice and custom, engraved setting.

I never should've removed it.

Oh well, lesson learned. I'll just look forward to another type of shiny present sitting under the tree this year - like keys to a new car.

I can dream, can't I?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bake Sale Beauties

I did it again. I volunteered to provide goodies - homemade goodies - for the band's annual bake sale at my son's school tomorrow.

Why else would I be up at this hour on a Friday night?

I bake, I blog. I bake, I blog. Trend? Perhaps. Coincidence? Possibly. My laptop, after all, usually sits on my kitchen table. Without it, I wouldn't be able to dig up an old recipe from a friend - and it's not just any recipe. It's THE recipe.

By definition, bake sales call for more than your standard chocolate chip cookies and rice crispy squares. This recipe calls for three different kinds of chocolate chips and has a secret ingredient - ground oats (ok, so much for the secret). 

Another plus to this elegantly simple recipe - it makes a ginormous amount of cookies. I had the poor things backing up on my cooling rack waiting to be carefully layered in the aluminum pan I am using to transport them in.



My boys were allowed to taste test the ones that dared to crumble, even just a bit. I asked them if they were too sweet. It was like asking someone sitting in the audience at a Lady Gaga concert if it was too loud.

No complaints there.

After shoving the last two pans filled with little clumps of these delectable drop cookies into the oven, I figured it was time to decorate a batch of brownies I had made earlier. 

A sprinkle of powder sugar was not going to get it done. Not for this bake sale. 

Instead, I used these nifty little bags of icing, each affixed with a little pastry nozzle. Having used up my creative juices on this week's TribLocal column ( "You Had Me at 'Ho!'"), and feeling too tired to make anything as intricate as a snowflake design, I went with classic stripes. 


Thanks to Betty Crocker, they are now a yuletide feast for the eyes. Who cares what they taste like, really...

OK, yes, I got the idea for the stripes after querying Google. And I'm not ashamed to admit that, after I wash my hands and wipe the flour from my face, I am going to hug my laptop like there's no tomorrow. 

Without it, I would've shown up at my son's school tomorrow carrying a bag of Oreos filled with red and green goo. 

...Maybe next year.