Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Throwing My Budget for a Leap

It's month-end in my budget-conscious household. This being February, the shortest month of the calendar year, our grocery allocation is a smidge smaller than a typical month's worth.

As each month winds down, I take an inventory of my pantry and freezer before doing my shopping. This way, I'm not tempted to buy:  a) things we already have in abundance (bags of frozen mixed vegetables), b) things we don't need - like a loaf of fresh Italian bread if we won't be having pasta anytime soon, or c) things that are on sale, but only if you buy vast quantities of them (i.e., jars of spaghetti sauce for just 50 cents a piece if you buy twenty-five).

This past weekend, I did just that - took stock of everything and hit the store, buying just enough to get us through Tuesday, February 28th.

Then I remembered it was Leap year.

Now, it's not as if the check book is being held hostage in a Cayman Island vault, but I've always prided myself in not going over budget at work and I'm not about to go over budget at home if I can avoid it.

And itt's not as if there's nary a crumb left to serve my family on Leap day. I could always dust off the can of minestrone soup that I found in the pantry behind an unopened box of confectioner's sugar and serve it with a side of frosted over fish sticks. Yum...

No, instead I think I'll defrost some chicken tenderloins that lay forgotten under the freezer-burned fish sticks and throw them in the crock pot with the last envelop of onion soup mix and the can of cream of mushroom soup I discovered behind the minestrone soup that was tucked behind the yet-to-be-opened confectioner's sugar and call it a Leap day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Haven't Got Time for a Cold

Pardon my spin on an old Carly Simon classic, but it's true. I'm too busy to be ill.

Sure, I bowed to the unbearable sinus pressure in my head yesterday and called in sick, but after spending the day curled up under the covers, I still feel as rotten, if not worse.

And it was my wedding anniversary and everything (insert pathetic whine here).

My tax preparer husband, who had taken the day off for the occasion, instead spent it keeping my tea hot and made sure I had tissues-a-plenty.

Today, ready or not, our nutty schedule resumed: spouse at work, son #2 at a very, very important college interview downtown, son #3 at an all-day band competition being held at a high school far, far away, leaving son # 4 to watch son #5 while I took son #2 into the city, swinging by to visit son #1 at college on our way back home.

Got it?  Good, because I'm beginning to feel dizzy again.

My couch never looked so good. I wanted to hug it. Instead, as soon as we got home, I collapsed onto it, closed my eyes and fell into a coma-like sleep.

Some time later, I felt the tapping on my shoulder. I opened my eyes just enough to see son #5 squinting at me.

"What?" I mumbled.

"What's for dinner?" he whispered, so as not to wake me I'm thinking.

"I'm starving." He lifted his shirt to expose his empty, allegedly rumbling stomach.

He pulled on my arm until I was sitting somewhat upright.

"Beats me. What do you want for dinner?" As soon as the words left my lips, I knew what his reply would be and that the little stinker knew I was not up for an argument.

"M...."

Here is comes, I thought, trying to remember where I put my cough drops so I wouldn't sound like Joe Cocker when I give my order at the drive-thru.

Son #5 (a.k.a. "Boy Genius")
"...aybe, we could get a rotisserie chicken and some noodles and Alfredo sauce. And corn."

I opened both eyes and felt his forehead.

"Oh no, are you getting sick, too?"

"No. I just figured that would be the easiest thing for us to make."

So grateful I was for having this little man in my life that I told him, if he came with me, we could swing by McD's on the way back for a treat.

Seeing his reaction - the way he pumped his fist and hissed, "Yes!", then called up to son #4, telling him to get his shoes and coat on - the thought crossed my mind that I had just been conned, but if I don't have to cook today, who cares...?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hello Fish Sticks, Good-bye Chocolate

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation leading up to Easter.
As such, over dinner last night, I asked each child what they plan to give up for the next 40 days. My youngest kicked off the discussion with one word.
“Broccoli.”
Because of this tender age, I excused his naiveté and suggested that he do without something he really, really likes. I gently recommended chocolate milk, a staple in his diet.
Tender age notwithstanding, he sensed the hypocrisy in my suggestion, and countered with, “I will if you will.”
I relented, bested by an eight year old. “Broccoli it is.”
I moved on to one of my older boys. “Your turn. How about something electronic? How about Facebook?”
He winced. “Technically, Facebook isn’t something electronic, is it?”
“Nice try.”
Squirming, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his Ipod and placed it on the table before me, careful not to make eye contact. Before I could say another word, the rest of the boys interrupted with their offerings.
“Chips.”
“Soda.”
“Gum.”
My husband looked across the length of the table at me and asked “And you?”
I admired his bravery.
Without hesitating, I smugly responded, “Coffee. Just like last year.”
He held his head in his hands and mumbled, “Please, no. Not again.”
I scoffed. “Well, what would you suggest?”
Again, perhaps because of the distance separating us from one end of the table to the other, he mustered the courage to suggest, “Chocolate.”
Forty days is a very long time.
But, remembering that sacrifice is an integral part of this pre-Easter season, I agreed, determined to set an example for my boys.
I suppose I can make a point of avoiding the store aisles that are stocked with the “c” word, but it won’t help. It will find me. I’m a chocolate magnet.
“I can still drink coffee?” I inquired, silently calculating the balance on my Starbuck’s card.
“Sure.”
Five pairs of eyes stared at me as let out a sigh of relief big enough to fill a hot air balloon.
Technically, mocha isn’t chocolate, is it?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Sunday Afternoon Stew

Ah, Sunday . . . just about my favorite day of the week. I get to sleep in a bit, read the paper, sing with choir and spend nearly my entire afternoon deciding what to make for dinner - well, after I catch up with friends, finish the laundry I started yesterday, check on my folks, get my miles in, grab some groceries and get my hair cut.

Given my absurdly long to-do list, it's a good thing I've already picked tonight's main course.

It's called Mountain Man Stew. Now, before you take offense at the name of the recipe or imagine that I'm about to let some big, burly flannel-shirted guy into my kitchen, let me just say that I got this beefy recipe from a Boy Scout who just happens to be a member of my immediate family. I'll say no more.

Submitted to allrecipes.com by "Mike", the description reads, A heart stew! Invented in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Serve with bread and butter. Serves 4.

In what I now realize was a knee-jerk reaction, when I first made this recipe a year ago, I doubled it.

Given the volume of stew it produced, I could only assume two things: 1) my math skills are sorely lacking, or 2) the mountains of Pennsylvania are teeming with giants.

We had leftovers for a week.

But that's the only reason I haven't made it since then. And this time, instead of serving it with bread and butter as recommended by chef Mike, I'm adding dumplings - the better to eat it with, my dears.

Now, about that laundry...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Walking the Virtual Red Carpet

Sure it's an honor just to be nominated, but I'm thrilled to announce that I've won something! 

The Liebster Award is to the Blogosphere what the Academy Awards are to the movie industry. And, as the Academy Award winners are nominated by their cinematic peers, the Liebster  Award is conferred by fellow bloggers. And without all of those pesky paparazzi... 
Liebster is a German word, meaning dearest or beloved, but it can also mean favorite. The idea behind the Liebster Blog Award is that it is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to create new connections and bring attention to their wonderful blogs!”
In accepting this award, I must thank the giver, add the award to my blog, list five things about myself people don’t know and select up to five bloggers to whom I want to give the Liebster Blog Award.
I was honored to receive it from Vivian Kirkfield, author of the inspiring and insightful blog, Positive Parental Participation. I owe her many thanks for her all of the support. Just when I start to think that I am speaking into a void, Vivian's voice comes through loud and clear, reminding me that I have an audience and to keep the blog posts coming. Further, she is a font of information on fabulous children's books and child-friendly activities that I cannot find anywhere else. 
Now for five things about myself that people don't know:
  1. I'm not a fan of bubble baths. Never was. Never will be.
  2. I know it's not healthy, but the only way I like to eat fish is battered and deep-fried, served with greasy chips and wrapped in newspaper.
  3. Every winter, I buy the makings for homemade rye bread and every spring, I find them shoved towards the back of the bottom shelf in my pantry. 
  4. I will never get tired of watching "Miss Congeniality".
  5. The day they find out that chocolate causes cancer, I'm cashing in my chips.
In turn, I would like to bestow this award to the following bloggers: 
  • Moyra Gorski for her blog, My Living Better in which she provides frequent, pertinent healthy living information and tips. Plus, she's an amazing woman who doesn't just sell it, she lives it - everyday.
  • Amy Bordini for her blog, Don't Stamp the Baby - finding poetry in everyday life is truly a gift. Not only are Amy's posts lyrical, they make me smile and remind me to slow down and appreciate my surroundings.
  • Karen Putz for her blog, A Deaf Mom Shares Her World - while I typically crave peace and quiet, Karen is a courageous woman and an amazing writer who lives in a sound-less world whether she likes it or not, displaying grace, style and vigor at every turn. 
  • Beth Adlrich for her blog, Real Moms Love to Eat - not only does Beth teach moms that it's all right to celebrate their love affair with food and still be healthy (check out her book here), I happen to know that she is one generous soul - quick to encourage, share her expertise and give struggling writers a boost of confidence just when they need it the most (yes, I speak from experience). 
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm hoping to catch Meryl for an autograph...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Breaking from Tradition

Because my husband is a tax preparer, he is MIA from late January until about mid-April. Sure, I catch glimpses of him here and there. We're even able to sneak in a few quick phone conversations between his appointments with clients.

But after fifteen years of this routine, I've learned that when Valentine's Day rolls around, I know I don't have a Cupid's chance in divorce court of experiencing anything even remotely romantic.

Historically, I always get him a pound of turtles - those curious lumps of chocolate-covered pecans and caramel - and he always gets me a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates. It was a sweet tradition to begin with, but these days, it's as if every selection in the assortment is a boring vanilla cream, or worse - a maple nougat.

This year, I longed to break with tradition. If only I had the chance to convey this to my beloved prior to the big day. Instead, I tried subliminal messaging as he slept. Stumbling over his gym bad during the night though, its a wonder he didn't wake up feeling the urge to curse.

So the choice lay before me - should I go with tradition or encourage his quest for a healthier lifestyle?

Turns out the choice was made for me. By the time that I a) realized Valentine's day was on Tuesday, not Wednesday of this week and b) made it to the store to take advantage of their buy-one, get-one sale, all of the chocolate turtles were long gone.

Trudging to my car, a bright neon light caught my eye. It was a discount clothing store in the corner of the strip mall. I had never stepped foot in it, but something was telling me to take a peak.

Once inside, I read the signs hanging from the ceiling to see of they even had a men's department.

They did.

I mosey'd on over and saw two racks brimming with a wide assortment of dry-fit shirts, the likes of which my boys run in. Tracking down his size, I found three that would not only fit him, but were discounted considerably. So much so, that I would leave the tags on to further impress my bean counter spouse with my keen sense of frugality.

Once home, I was so excited that I stayed up to wait until he came home. He walked through the door at 11:30pm. As he sat on the couch across from me, telling me about his day, rubbing his eyes and yawning, I burst out, "Happy Valentine's Day Eve!" and handed him the bag of shirts.

Pulling them out one by one he feigned excitement and managed a weak, "Thanks."

Figuring he had forgotten all about Valentine's Day, I mumbled, "Read the price tags - that's the best part."

Squinting at them, he asked me to dig his glasses out of his briefcase.

Popping it open, there it was - a pound of assorted chocolates, but not in a heart-shaped box. These were in a lovely white square box emblazoned with "Graham's", the finest chocolate shop in the county, and wrapped in a lovely red satin ribbon.

"Oh, sweetie? How did you know?" I asked as I considered using the ribbon to tie the box directly to one of my thighs.

"I don't know. I thought you might like something different this year."

Surprise, surprise.
At least he didn't swear...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Bump in the Road

This week's workplace battle, pitting uncooperative project deliverables against a rapidly approaching deadline, left me with little energy or desire to stick to my New Year's resolution of serving my family a nutritious daily sit-down dinner.

As such, I've emptied my pantry of pasta and my freezer (that's right, freezer) of pizza.

(Photo Credit: Mattias Klum)
With a reverant nod to the immortal Helen Reddy, please join me in singing "I am working mother, hear me snore."

To make matters worse, I had not one, not two, but three good friends ask me - all within the course of about 3 hours today, "How's your book going?"

I'm a mom with a full-time day job, I have a manuscript burning a hole in my briefcase, and I am blogging about how busy I am.

If you looked up "irony" in the dictionary, chances are you'd find my name somewhere in the definition.

Maybe it isn't irony at all.

Maybe it's just pure, unadulerated mom-foolery.

Don't worry - I won't whine until the kids are in bed and I can pour it into a glass.

Thanks goodness tomorrow is Pizza Night (third time this week). Now if you'll excuse me, I have a deadline to meet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Have Chicken, Need Recipe

I was going to title this entry, "So Many Leftovers, So Little Time" but I will state it here instead as a reason why I did no main meal cooking this weekend.

We're taco'd out.

Further, my weekly menu-planning session was pre-empted by a DIY renovation planning meeting at my sister's house, but more on that later.

But I do have a package of chicken tenderloins ready and will to be transformed into a delectable dinner.

Here's the problem - my old reliable chicken recipes bore even me, let alone the kids.  If you have one that you'd care to share, please do. I'm game as long as it's quick, easy and doesn't require a trip to the grocery store to buy anything exotic like capers, peanut oil or currant jam.

Thanks and have a lovely Monday...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Will Salsa for Supper

I swear I planned on making homemade salsa for dinner tonight (with chips and tacos) long before Madonna decided to show off her salsa moves to the NFL pressroom the other day.

(Photo Credit: US Presswire)
Show off...

While her motivation may have been to grab another opportunity to show off her perfectly sculpted arms, mine was simply to have dinner ready well in advance of serving it. Another busy day. Another multi-seating meal.

Who's the show off now...?

This recipe is from my pal Julie G. Where she got it, I don't know. But one thing's for sure - you won't see me flaunting my avocado-pitting technique on YouTube.

Julie's Super Salsa
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained 
1 can corn, drained 
2 large tomatoes, chopped (or one can diced tomatoes, drained)
2 large avocados, chopped 
1/2 medium red onion, chopped 
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped 
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped 
3-4 tblsp lime juice 
3 tblsp olive oil 
1 tblsp red wine vinegar 
Mix all ingredients together and serve immediately with a "scoop" type of tortilla chip.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Little Things

I'm taking a little break from blogging about the perils of planning family dinners, to instead tell you about a magical moment that crept up on me quite unexpectedly this evening.

I'll be brief.

Juggling craziness at work, running one son to an orthodontist appointment, another to a play date and squeezing in a much-needed trip to the grocery store left me fairly frazzled. By the time my husband got home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was accompany my special needs son to the high school for the 8th grade orientation night.

But the poor guy looked more wiped out than I did.

I just didn't have the heart to ask if he could take our son to the high school so I could tend to my other pressing obligations. Instead, my excited/nervous son and I piled into the car, drove over and queued up for one of the rapidly disappearing parking spaces in the school's vast lot.

Once inside, we were herded into the gym like so many cattle. I let my boy take the lead and find a spot in which he'd be comfortable.

And, as I sat there next to him in the crowded bleachers, pointing out the principal behind the podium and some of his classmates in the stands, his eyes grew wide trying to take it all in.

I settled back to listen to the same speech I've heard three times before and Christopher leaned forward to listen.

That's when it hit me. Twelve years ago, I wish I knew I'd be here tonight, doing this with him.

Instead, twelve years ago, I was petrified, sitting across from a therapist who had just delivered the diagnosis of autism with about as much sensitivity as one would use to deliver a fast food order at a drive-through window.

But, I know now that my boy has busted beyond so many pre-conceived barriers that were set out before him and for that I am so very grateful. And proud.

When the first portion of the program concluded, he wanted to move on and check out all of the clubs and activities offered at the school. As we strolled by the tables lining the cafeteria, manned by real live high school students, he investigated those that interested him with a keen laser focus - just one of the super powers granted him by Asperger's Syndrome.

Watching as he questioned the student reps about their programs and wave back at the peers who greeted him by name, I was glad I came.

This time, I know his future has no bounds.