Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RECIPE: Julie's Fruit Buckle of Awesomeness and homemade vanilla ice cream

What is summertime, exactly, if not swimming pools and sweet corn, tomatoes warm from the garden and fireworks, blueberries and ice cream? One of my favorite memories of a book is from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, when she described Almanzo and his brother and sisters using up all the white sugar to make ice cream in their hand-cranked ice cream freezer when their parents were gone visiting relatives for a week. White sugar was a valuable commodity in the 1870s and those naughty Wilder munchkins emptied out an entire barrel of it in their lust for sweet, creamy frozen yumminess. Almanzo had to do the majority of the cranking because he was the youngest. Eliza, the bossy one, put herself in charge of beating the eggs, I believe, so what the young Wilders were eating was actually frozen custard rather than frozen ice cream.

What I've got for you here is frozen half-and-half, although if you want a sturdier result, you could substitute heavy cream with no problems. I do use an ice cream freezer: I think my husband and I received it as a wedding gift back around the time when the Wilder kids were growing up; they asked to borrow some of our sugar after they used all of theirs, but we told them no. You can also use a freezer method that involves whipping the ingredients with an electric mixer, pouring the mixture in a 9x13 dish and then freezing it for something like eight-thousand hours, but honestly, ice cream freezers can be had for such a small outlay of money, I'd buy one if you don't already have one. My freezer is not a high-end model and it churns (noisily, my gosh, the thing could deafen you) for forty minutes and you have ice cream before you can say Bob's-yer-uncle. If Bob is, indeed, your uncle.


4 cups half and half
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into the freezer container of an ice cream maker. Proceed according to manufacturer's directions. When ice cream has finished churning, remove from freezer container and pour/scoop into an airtight tub of some sort (I just use Rubbermaid). Place in freezer for two hours to finish hardening.

Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder to half and half mixture and one teaspoon of cinnamon, if desired.

Add one cup of chocolate chips, Heath toffee chips, Butterfinger chips, etc. when ice cream is finished churning. Stir candy into soft ice cream and place mixture into a Rubbermaid container. Put in freezer to continue hardening,

Add two cups of mashed ripe blueberries, peaches,strawberries to mixture. Omit cinnamon, unless it just sounds good to you.

Add one cup of crushed peppermint candies to mixture

Purchase a log of chocolate chip cookie dough. Using about half the roll, cut into small chunks: refrigerate until firm. Prepare vanilla ice cream according to directions. When ice cream has been churned, remove it from the freezer container and place into a bowl; stir the chunks of cookie dough into the soft ice cream. Scoop into a Rubbermaid container and place in freezer for two hours to finish hardening.


The dessert recipe actually belongs to my friend Julie P., as much as I would like to claim it as my own. It is delicious, it is easy, it is cheap. It's comforting and homey on a cold, wintery evening and it's absolutely delicious with that homemade ice cream pictured above. Julie claims that it is actually a Paula Deen recipe, but Paula's recipe contains an extra stick of butter, which Julie felt was too gooshy. I tried it Julie's way and it was so good, I almost fell out of my chair in a happy little dessert coma, so I'm fine with just the one stick too.

1 can fruit pie filling, any flavor
1 can of crushed pineapple or pineapple tidbits, your choice
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick of butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spritz a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the undrained can of pineapple into the baking dish and spread it around to cover the bottom. Spoon out the fruit pie filling onto the pineapple and spread it around as well. Open the cake mix and distribute it on top in an even manner; pour the butter across the top, criss-cross, back-and-forth, up and down.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar if you'd like. Serve warm and prepare to be revered as a goddess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to Know When Your Daughter's Boyfriend is Officially Part of the Family

Bobby and Meelyn haven't been a couple for long, but they seem rather permanent, which just goes to illustrate that when you know, you know. My husband and I are great believers in knowing, since we got married six weeks after we met. Bobby's parents got engaged after their third date. My parents showed a certain measure of restraint by waiting for something like eight weeks after they met before they tied the knot, but that's only because all the Saturdays at the church in Mt. Summit were already reserved. And considering that we've all been married, respectively, twenty-one, twenty-five and almost-fifty years, I think we have a good track record for being People Who Just Knew.

So when Bobby isn't working, he's usually here. He does the kinds of things other family members do, such as sitting on the couch eating Pringle's potato chips, drinking a Coke and commenting loudly on the stupidity of whatever movie we're watching on Netflix. Or he's engaged in a debate about who, exactly, is going to get in the car and drive to the nearest Redbox to rent a different movie after we all give up on Netflix. Or he's making poop jokes while we're eating dinner, which has possibly done more to endear him to my husband than anything else I could think of. Or he's yelling, "SHUT UP!!! GEEZ!!!!" at the dogs, who deserve it.

But the other day, something happened that confirmed Bobby's place in our family, which has suddenly not just added another person, but also added a lot more heart, although you may wonder if I've lost my mind when I explain the circumstance that marked him forever as One of Us.

It was an almighty hot day and my husband was at work and Meelyn, Bobby, Aisling and I were hanging around the house, drooping limply over the furniture. I was so bored, I thought I was going to implode, and since I'd already done three loads of laundry and cleaned up the kitchen TWICE, I felt like I deserved a little break. So I grabbed my keys and said, "Who wants to go to Starbucks? I'm buying."

The resulting stampede nearly knocked me out the front door and down the porch steps, and after we finally sorted ourselves out and shooed the dogs back inside (they're not allowed to drink coffee, even though all three of them like it and will totally slurp it right out of your mug if you don't keep a close eye on it) and got the people inside the hot van, Aisling and Bobby had started one of those pointless arguments that sounded like this:

Aisling: No, it didn't.

Bobby: Yes, it did.

Aisling: No, it DID NOT.

Bobby: Yes, it DID TOO.

Aisling [witheringly]: Nuh-uh

Bobby [unperturbed, toying with her]: Yes-huh

Aisling [yelling]: NO IT DIDN'T!!!

Bobby: [raising his voice, mocking] YES IT DID!!!!


[brief moment of silence]

Bobby [very, very quietly]: youuu got in trouuuuble....

Aisling [goaded beyond endurance] SO DID YOU, YOU STUPID BUTT!!!!

See what I mean? You can get to know people and you can really like them and all, but you will never really get them and they will never really get you, but they're very nice all the same. Then there are those people who can come to your house and fall in love with your daughter and eat your potato chips and know exactly how to torment her younger sister, giving her the opportunity to have the older brother she never had, and you can  think, "Here are my kids. My three kids," and share that thought with your husband, who will say, "I know just what you mean."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

I do not have a green thumb of any sort -- kelly, hunter, lime, pea, you name it, I don't have it. And this in spite of the fact that I come from a long line of talented gardeners, which doesn't seem fair. Of course, I also come from a long line of accomplished drinkers and brilliant cussers, so that kind of makes up for the fact that I can kill living plants with a casual glance, doesn't it?


Anyhoo, in spite of the fact that I am the grim reaper of garden centers everywhere, I really like flowers. And I do have a measure of success with hard-to-kill varieties of flora such as marigolds, petunias, geraniums and impatiens. I have some nice hostas growing around the house. And, you know, grass. But other than those things, I register a big, fat FAIL on the scale of People Who Sing to their Ferns.

So I wrote this handy little guide, not yet available in hardback, paperback, library binding or 99 cent e-book edition, to those who share this deficiency. Because there must be someone else. Someone. Anyone?

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

1. Never trust yourself with plants you buy for full-price because you'll hate yourself when they die later. Ditto for anything bought at a plant nursery that looks healthy, robust and colorful. Limit yourself to plants purchased from, say, Lowe's. Or better yet, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is famous for buying huge amounts of annuals and then allowing them to languish, un-watered, until they're on the verge of expiring and marked down to half-price. THAT, my friends, is the time to buy your hanging baskets, your flats of pansies. See, if it's already mostly dead, you won't feel like a failure later if you forget to water it for a week or so: It's already accustomed to such mistreatment and won't hold a grudge.

2. While you're buying your plants, tuck a great big box of Miracle-Gro into your shopping cart. Miracle-Gro is one of those products that real gardeners scorn, preferring to use their own fertilizer from the compost bin in out in the yard. But for you and for me, Miracle-Gro is, well, a miracle. It can take a basket of vining petunias that are drooping limply over the edges of their container, trying to gasp out final instructions to their lawyers about the contents of their wills, and make them sit right back up and demand scrambled eggs and bourbon.

3. Come home and distribute your plants wherever you want them to go. Then find a pitcher and pour in some red wine (Shiraz works), half a cup of sugar, two sliced oranges, one sliced lime, one sliced lemon, a handful of grapes, a sliced apple. Throw in a liter of club soda or ginger ale and you've got yourself an amazing little sangria that will....wait. This was supposed to be about Miracle-Gro. GET A PITCHER, gallon-sized, fill it with water and one tablespoon of Miracle-Gro, and go douse your flowers with it. Be generous.

4. Pinch back any gangly, unsightly stems or stalks that are springing forth from the plant at strange angles; also remove, by using your thumbnail, any spent blossoms. Geraniums, in paticular, need this service offered to them because there is no flower that looks as ugly and unkempt as a gone-to-seed geranium. For other plants, like petunias, you can't just pull off the withered blossom, you also have to pinch off that little green part that the blossom sprang forth from. I learned this the hard way one summer, and made my mother double over with laughter as she observed my sad, sad baskets of flowers.

5. Check out the internet and make sure that flowers that are supposed to be in the sun are actually in it, and vice versa. Change plants all around, wishing you'd thought of doing this beforehand.

6. Water daily when it's super hot; continue to pinch back spent blooms. If you forget to water the plants for a few days, blame it on the sangria, not on me. Look, I was the one who told you right from the beginning that I was not to be trusted around flora, right?

7. When late fall arrives and the flowers die and look all shriveled and brown and loathsome, leave them out for a little while longer, like until Christmas, so that your place assumes a slightly squalid, if not downright haunted, air. It works well at Halloween. This will make the neighbors love you. LOVE you.

8. When it's finally time to throw out the hanging baskets, don't just pitch the soil and the dead plants, thinking that next year, you'll buy your annuals in flats and maybe purchase some lovely vinca and devise your own flower baskets that spill colorful blossoms recklessly over the sides in a sweet cascade that nearly reaches the porch floor. You and I know right now that it will never happen. You will end up storing five years' worth of plastic pots with those cheapo, coat-hanger hooks on them out in the shed or down in the basement, where they will eventually tumble over onto your husband, who will storm into the house or up the steps growling, "Please remind me WHY THE H*LL WE'RE SAVING THESE?"

You will not have an answer that will satisfy him. You see, he knows you. Probably the whole neighborhood does. Just... let the baskets go, along with your tender dreams of window-boxes and trellises and flowering shrubs. It isn't going to happen.

Just ask my husband.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It seems that on every House Hunters we watch around here, the couple searching for their dream home anxiously says to their realtor (a person who often looks strained to the point of screaming), "We want a private back yard. We don't want everyone staring at us and peering into our business."

I, for one, want to know exactly what all these couple are doing in their backyards that they don't want everyone to see. Because, you know? None of the neighbors give a flying flip about your kids playing in the sandbox or you out there planting geraniums. They don't care about your pork chops on the barbecue or your dog pooping in the grass. So unless you're an ardent devotee of topless sunbathing or things of a more intimate nature done al fresco -- in which case, shame on you, were you raised in a barnyard? -- let me just tell it to you straight: THE NEIGHBORS DON'T CARE. They're not really interested in you at all. They are not spending their days eagerly hanging about by the patio door saying, "Oooh, I can hardly wait until the neighbors' kids come out to swing! And did you see that flat of petunias the missis bought yesterday? Do you think she's going to, like, plant them? Seriously, this is just as exciting as Christmas freakin' morning!"

You're boring. We're all boring. We all do boring stuff at home that no one else cares about, because they're all at their houses doing their own boring stuff and they have no time to sit wistfully gazing at your boring stuff. Get over yourselves, House Hunters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Husbands, take note

Husbands, at some point or another in your marriage, your wife will turn to you with a suspicious look in her eye and say, "Surely you're not going to wear THOSE PANTS are you?"

Let me stress that there is only one right answer to this question, and here it is: "These pants? Aw, no, I'm not wearing THESE pants. I was just wearing these pants until you tell me what pants you actually want me to wear. These pants are just like a holding pattern in air traffic: working fine at this moment, but not even close to the final outcome."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This was my husband's idea of the perfect Father's Day dinner: sausage gravy with nasty canned biscuits, potato puffs and scrambled eggs. He ate in perfect happiness, oblivious to the girls and I, who watched him inhale at least a pound of grease with an almost obscene amount of enjoyment. We elected to eat other food, to which he gleefully responded, "Oh, yay! MORE FOR ME!"

*gulp* Happy Father's Day, honey!

My husband and I went to the opening night of Symphony on the Prairie at Conner Prairie in Fishers last night to hear Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which happens to be the music we heard on our first trip to the prairie, which we think was probably about fifteen years ago. The music is performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra inside that big bandshell with all the pretty colored lights, and people sit in folding chairs or lounge about on blankets spread over the grass. There may be wine involved. Indeed, a great many of the audience members at Symphony on the Prairie take the relaxed atmosphere as a license to get  pleasantly buzzed, and there's a giddy note in the applause after each piece of music, with some people lurching a bit unsteadily to their feet to shout "BRAVI!!!!" just before stifling a gentle burp.

When we go, we always take a substantial picnic in a basket, as well as a fully-stocked cooler. Ditto, folding chairs, a camp table, and the old king-sized comforter from our bed (the one Izzy ruined by chewing a black pen on it) and some pillows.

But there's an awful lot of peripheral stuff that has to be packed too, in order to make the whole experience on the prairie more comfortable. Because, you know: NATURE. Nature will sometimes have her way with you, and out on the open prairie, she likes particularly to blitz you with heat and mosquitos. It's important to take stuff along not only to make your meal more easy to eat, but also to force Nature to keep her distance.

Here's my list, not only for your information, but also so that I'll have it handy for my own reference. The ones I keep writing on paper disappear. I blame Nature. I know she's responsible somehow.

In the Picnic Basket:
- at least two citronella candles, more if there are several people in the group: I like the three-wick kind that
   some in the little pretend-galvanized steel buckets.
- an Aim-n-Flame, unless you can light those candles by the force of your will
- a squirt bottle of Off or some other insecticide
- several cardboard-on-a-paint-stirrer fans
- plates
- cups, if all your drinks aren't in bottles or cans
- napkins
- plastic forks, spoons, knives
- salt and pepper
- a bottle opener/cork screw (because if you forget these items, you might as well just go home)
- a bag for your trash
- some wet dishcloths sealed in a plastic bag, to be used to wipe off dirty stuff or the occasional bird
  offering: curse you, Mother Nature
- a container of baby wipes or similar, for wiping sticky wine off self (don't ask); also for removing frosted
  brownie residue from fingers
- binoculars, which come in handy for seeing the actual keys of the piano a special pianist is playing, ditto for
   violins and other instruments being played by a soloist
- any non-chilled food items you plan to eat, such as potato chips, croissants, or the aforementioned
- a roll of toilet paper. Just. Because. Shut up.

In the Cooler:
- the wine
- the beer

And if there's room for anything else...
- food that needs to be chilled, and this includes any CHOCOLATE you bring with you. Because if you put
  your chocolate in the picnic basket, you will be so very, very sad and sorry that you did
- At home before we leave, I always fill a mixing bowl with some ice cubes and about six cups of cold water, adding one teaspoon of almond extract. Soak however many washcloths you need per person until they're completely saturated - the washcloths, not the people, silly - and press them gently to rid them of excess water. Put the wet, chilly washcloths into a plastic ziploc bag and seal it well: use them on the prairie for wiping off your feverishly hot forehead, arms and legs. Sometimes it gets really darned hot out there, and those washcloths always seem like a decadent treat.

And also:
  I mentioned above that we also take our huge old bed comforter, because the prairie is often so relaxing, you just don't feel like sitting through the whole performance. To that end, we also have a number of crummy-looking pillows that used to do duty on the couch, but which now are fit for nothing better than head duty outdoors. We also take folding chairs, our folding camp table and a wee little folding table I bought at Wal-Mart that is just the right height for putting your drink on if you're sitting on the ground. Basically, think of it as a three hour camping trip, although you obviously can't take a tent, an awning or a barbecue grill. Which is a shame, because Symphony on the Prairie is the only place on earth, I would ever remotely consider camping.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Humorless people suck

Meelyn's graduation party is coming up this Sunday, which means that it's just about time to buy all the food we're planning to serve. Lots of it can be put together this coming week, but the bulk of it will be done on Saturday. Which means that the Big Shopping Trip will happen on Friday.

Mee and I decided that the bulk of what we're buying should be purchased at the local Gordon Food Service, which is a store, like Staples, in which I could wander for hours and hours, lost to demanding clocks, text message notifications and pesky store managers who eventually want to GO HOME for the evening. Today, then, was a banner day for me because it was the day I got to go to GFS and use their Menu Wizard for the first time.

The Menu Wizard is a nifty system which involves a store employee giving you a barcode scanner, much like the one you see in the picture above. You go through the store, clicking the little trigger at the barcodes of the items you which to purchase; when you're finished, all your info is magically uploaded into one of the computers at Customer Service, and when you're done clicking, you and an employee stand there and allow the computer to reckon up, say, how much potato salad you're going to need.

As you can image, the highlight of this entire experience was getting to use that scanner gun. I was restrained enough not to point it at fellow shoppers and squeak "Pitchooo! Pitchooo!" at them, which is what I am absolutely certain Susan or Allison would have done. (Carol and Meelyn would have encouraged them to do it, and then gone to hide behind a huge display of barbecue sauce and laugh.) My restraint failed me when the store manager first handed the gizmo to me and said, "This is the Menu Wizard."

I took it from her and said with great seriousness, "Oh, gee. I'm kind of disappointed. I thought the Menu Wizard would be a person wearing a robe and a pointy hat."

She gave me a long look. "A person? In a robe? And....a pointy hat?"

"Uhm, yeah. Because, you know. Wizard." I shifted back and forth from foot to foot while she stood there, clearly waiting for me to come to some kind of point. "A wizard? Like Harry Potter? Dumbledore? Hermione? He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Called-Voldemort?"

"Oh. Well. I'm not a fan," she said crushingly. She proffered the scanner and I took it from her meekly and went off, feeling severely snubbed. I snuck a look over my shoulder and she was looking after me with a frowny face, like she thought I was going to take a wand from my purse (nine inches, pecan wood, rather whippy) and start making the packages of paper plates dance the Macarena.

So, okay. Maybe that wasn't the funniest thing I've ever said. But honestly, don't you think it's kind of worth a smile, thinking about a guy with a beard and a robe and a pointy hat sitting back in the break room, smoking a pipe and reading The Daily Prophet, just waiting for customers to come in so that he could work his magic with the sliced Virginia ham and the colby-jack cheese?


Shut up.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Suddenly this summer....

So I haven't written a single word on my blog since January 17, I've been told. One part of me feels like a complete slacker, because writing is supposed to be what I do, you dig? On the other hand, even my own mother doesn't read my blog, so for all she knows, I could have contracted some terrible disfiguring disease that caused all my fingers to fall off so that all my typing had to be done with my nose, which is why it has taken me SEVENTY-FIVE HOURS TO TYPE THE LAST THREE SENTENCES.

No, seriously. I don't have a disease that made my fingers fall off. And, surprisingly enough, I haven't been avoiding my blog out of laziness, a character flaw that I heartily endorse in myself, but completely deplore in other people, especially people who are supposed to be bringing me a Diet Coke. Actually, I've been doing stuff. Mostly stuff like teaching some classes, not exactly what one could call full-time, but somewhat more than part time. Plus, Meelyn and Aisling both have jobs and schoolwork to keep them busy -- the two of them used to work at the same Hardee's, but in the past few months they've moved on, Mee to Ruby Tuesday and Aisling to Fazoli's (she comes home smelling delightfully of garlic butter) -- and both have been swamped with schoolwork, as is the norm at Our Lady of Good Counsel. I don't think it was Our Lady who advised, "Keep the little jerks busy and they'll stay out of trouble," but it's a good motto anyway, don't you think?

Also in the news, my husband is still selling cars and he's also gone back to lifting weights, alternating that with his running so that he's looking way too cute for someone his age and the other day we were at a restaurant and a young server asked him, "Do you ever sell tickets to your gun show?" and I gave her a slitty-eyed look and said in a voice laced with cheerful menace, "That is MY gun show, sweetie, and those tickets sold out a loooong time ago." At any rate, he's looking so ripped, I've had to do my part so that he wouldn't be the only pretty thing in our marriage and now...I am, well -- and those of you who know me had better sit down -- I've been exercising. Yes. Swimming, actually. I love to swim, mostly because it allows me the solitude I need in which to be surly about exercising. If you walk on a treadmill, other people come in to the cardio room at the YMCA and they want to say hello to you when they get there and goodbye to you when they leave and I just can't stand it. When I go into the cardio room at the Y, my first thought is that I want the person who is already on my favorite treadmill -- the one in front of the big fan -- to die, and also the two people to the left and right so that I won't have to smile at anyone. The pool allows me the freedom to be who I am, and that is a big stinker.

And yet there's more: Meelyn has been accepted to my alma mater, Ball State University, where she plans to study dietetics and exercise science (I don't know where I went wrong with that girl), and she also has a serious boyfriend, Bobby, who is just the nicest guy ever. They are so cute together that sometimes I have to go outside and quietly vomit into the shrubs, but most of the time, they make my husband and me remember what it was like when we were as shiny and new as they are, and that makes us do stuff like go out walking in the rain, holding hands. Plus, isn't it always the most awesome thing ever to find out that there are other people in the world to love and be loved by? I hold such a dim view of humanity that's it always comes as something of a shock, the most pleasant of surprises, to stumble across another person who is just...good.

So here we are and it is summer vacation, and although I have a ton of prep work to do for the classes I'm teaching next school year -- Shakespeare, American literature, college prep composition, a composition class for middle schoolers and a Shakespeare for Grownups class -- I also plan to just do some sitting and some reading and some catching up here so that when, every now and then, someone asks me "So why aren't you writing on your blog anymore?" I can answer, "But I am!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pass the Puffs

Once a winter, I get that kind of cold where I lose my voice. Not a total loss; just enough to make me speak in something between a breathy murmur (which bears no resemblance to the smoky purr of Marilyn Monroe when she sang the happy birthday song to John F. Kennedy) and a strangled squeak. My throat hurts when I talk, but that doesn't stop me because when you're a mother, when does something like a lousy cold stop you from doing ANYTHING, up to and including giving birth, hauling yourself out of the house to drive various children to various activities and baking a pan of hopefully un-coughed-upon brownies for the church chili supper.

Naturally, this is one of my family's favorite times of the year, the time when they can, in all truthfulness, say that they didn't hear me calling them twenty-five times for dinner. Or telling them to take the dogs out. Or telling them to...oh, never mind. They just love it, that's all. And they never cease talking about how delighted they are that I've been reduced to a series of eye rolls, scowls, gestures and emphatic huffing sighs. It reminds me of the Buffy episode titled "Hush," where the entire town of Sunnydale lost their voices due to the influence of the super-scary Gentlemen, and Giles was forced to communicate with the Scoobies with plastic overlays on an overhead projector.

So, like all mothers everywhere who will catch a bad cold or the flu this winter, I'm still patrolling, just like you. We're all still patrolling. I'm just thankful that I don't have to stake anything more resistant than the baking potatoes I'm getting ready to put into the oven.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Forecast: snow and wind, then more snow. With wind.

I don't know who made this "AccuWeather" map, but whoever it was is my personal hero. Not only for being funny, but also for making sure my area of the country is designated as part of the group that needs to hit the liquor store. Because I found out last year when the snow lay on the ground like a big fleece blanket with a deceptive three inch layer of ice underneath, you can get through the winter without the whiskey to make a hot toddy, but why would you want to?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Maid service(Or how to make money in your spare time without ever leaving your home)

Let's say I have this....friend.

My...friend....has several friends who employ people to come in and clean their homes: these people are called "cleaners." People who clean the house but also answer the telephone and the front door are "maids." People who live in residence and supervise the cleaning are "housekeepers." In this economy, the job my....friend... inadvertently fell into, much like Alice fell down that rabbit hole, was a job as a maid.

The house she currently works in, she already answered the phone and the front door bell, as well as letting the dogs in and out all day long. She also does almost all the laundry, cooks all the food, and loads and unloads the dishwasher about a hundred times a day, it seems. All in all, it keeps me her pretty busy, considering that she also has several part-time jobs, a husband and two teenage daughters.

This is how she came to be a maid, and how you may also find yourself with a calling to do as she has done.

This friend....she couldn't help but notice however much she ordered, begged, wheedled, cajoled, demanded, implored or nagged, those two teenage daughters - and lovely young ladies they are - were still inclined to leave their dirty unmentionables strung across the bathroom floor, abandon cruddy plates adorned with a half-eaten turkey sandwich and a banana peel on any available kitchen counter when the sink, and moreover, THE DISHWASHER, were sitting right there in plain view, not to mention various high-heeled shoes, schoolbooks, hoodies, volleyballs, earrings, iPods and other miscellaneous STUFF lying around everywhere until my friend was nearly distracted with the yuck of it all.

One time, she says that she left a coupon for 40-percent-off-your-purchase-of-50-dollars-or-more from Ulta Beauty on her dining room floor for three days, just to see when one of the girls would pick it up. Even though they daintily stepped over it day after day on their way from the living room to the kitchen and back again, neither girl so much as stooped over to lift the rectangular piece of paper from the floor, even though this coupon was much coveted by both daughters, who had planned to each spend $25 at Ulta and garner that whopping forty percent discount. Finally, on that third day, my friend cracked. She leaned over, picked up that coupon with trembling fingers, and took it to the kitchen wastebasket, where she defiantly tore it into tiny shreds and then flipped the switch to MASH IT MASH IT MASH IT with the rest of the trash.

She swears that not five minutes later, both girls were on her like weasels in a hen coop, demanding to know where their precious Ulta Beauty coupon was. She pressed her fingertips to her forehead, prayed a silent Hail Mary to the Blessed Mother with the plea that heaven's angels would hold her back from killing these two gifts from God standing before her with their accusatory stares and screechy voices and said, "Ladies, the coupon is gone. Yes, that's right. GONE. And do you know why? Because it laid there on the dining room floor, right where the two of you walk a hundred times every day, a bright pink and green coupon on our pale taupe carpet, and IF IT WAS THAT FRIGGING PRECIOUS, ONE OF YOU SHOULD HAVE BENT DOWN AND PICKED IT UP!"

Both girls sniffed disdainfully. "I always have to pick EVERYTHING up, " said the older girl, whose propensity for leaving a clump of soggy hair in the shower drain after each shampoo was driving her poor mother to the chardonnay as early as 5:05 p.m.

"You do not!" the younger one countered furiously. "I always have to pick everything up, EVERYTHING!" In spite of the fact that one of those "magic" bottles for feeding orange juice to baby dolls had been lying on the floor of her closet since she was seven.

My friend, that poor woman, shouldered past the two of them and went upstairs to her bedroom, where she sank into the comfy chair, that chair in which she used to nurse her sweet babies before they were ambulatory and able to scatter bright plastic pieces of Fisher-Price throughout the entire house. "Back then, it was easy," she muttered. "And then when they learned to walk, we made cleanup a game. They'd bring me the little toys and put them in the pretty willow laundry basket and we'd clap after they threw each thing in....But now, here they are, old enough to DRIVE, one of them old enough to VOTE, both of them nearly out of high school, and it's like they think their hands can no longer be used to pinch and grasp and their spines no longer curve to pick up coupons or dirty laundry or HAIR from the DRAIN.

"I feel like the maid around here, because both those stinkers know I can't stand a mess and if they leave something long enough, I'll just do it for them. But I am NOT the maid, I am the MOTHER, goshdarnit! I'd be getting PAID if I were a MAID, but I'm NOT, so...."

And then a little light bulb went on over my friend's rumpled head.

She could get paid for the little cleaning services she provided, doing it just the way a maid would: quietly, efficiently and steadily. No more shouting, no more nagging, just diligently getting the job done and then presenting her employers with a bill for services rendered. In this case, she thought, a dollar per service would be plenty. Both girls had the ability to hold onto their money more tightly than Lady Gaga holds onto a microphone, so even a meager little dollar would give them both a kick in the pants that would hopefully wake them up to the fact that piggish and slatternly behavior is rude and selfish in the family home, but even worse in adult life, when living, say, in a dorm. Or in a bachelor girl apartment with a roommate. Or with a brand new husband, who might be dismayed to find that his beautiful bride, with her sparkling eyes and sunshiny smile actually had the home management skills of a crack whore.

So that's how I've she's made a nice little sum of money over the past few weeks, and frankly, it looks like she's found a cash cow, because both girls just keep on leaving empty milk cartons in the fridge and pencil sharpener shavings spilled on the desk and coats draped over the newel post on the staircase. Both of them are naturally indignant at being charged for their familial misdemeanors, but my friend is adamant: either pick it up yourselves, darlings, or pay to have it picked up for you.

The house is tidy and my friend has been able to cut back on the chardonnay, and if her girls keep it up for a few more weeks, she may have enough money saved up to buy those really cute boots she saw at Macy's.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Today I was standing in front of the stove, grilling a hot ham and cheese sandwich for Aisling, when the smoke detector took umbrage with my method of sandwich-making and began to shriek in loud, long paroxysms of rage that made me want to grab the broom and knock it off the ceiling so I could stamp it to death.

Would you like to know why the smoke detector moved me to such extremes? It's because last Thursday, my British Literature class came over for an evening of pizza and David Copperfield, and my husband went out to Pizza Hut and fetched the pizzas, putting them in the oven upon his return because I wasn't quite finished babbling about characters and point of view and genres and - one of my favorite topics - the Timeline of British Literature. As I was nattering on and on, talking about bildungsroman and child labor and how Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died of typhus, I started to smell something burning.

But, you know, the smoke detector wasn't going off. It was completely silent. Knowing how it gets that urge to scream its head off if a biscuit so much as turns golden-brown, I decided that I was imagining things and kept on talking.

A moment later, my eyes felt all itchy and watery, and the burny smell was stronger. "Excuse me," I said to my students, "but I think my kitchen is on fire."

I went through the swing door from the dining room and went into the kitchen, which was full of smoke. Smoke, I'd like to add, that was going completely undetected by the SMOKE DETECTOR on the ceiling.

Nervously, I yanked open the oven door and pulled out the pizza box on the lower rack which was, yes indeedy, BURNING on the bottom. I made haste with a dish towel and stifled it before it actually burst into flames, but it was darned scary. Which why I am holding a bitter grudge against the stupid smoke alarm, squealing up there above my head today over a grilled sandwich that wasn't even burning.

Which is also why, if the Machine Apocalypse that takes place in the Terminator movie franchise ever happens, I am going to be the sharpshooter in charge of going around and shooting all the smoke detectors.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reversing the Bucket

No, it isn't what you might be thinking and has nothing to do with the stomach flu my family was passing around two weeks ago. At Christmas, which is the BEST TIME EVER to be puking sick. But I digress.

I was scouting around the internets yesterday, catching up on reading at some of my favorite news sites and blogs, and it seems that the latest craze to hit the blogging world - now that the nosy, intrusive and self-indulgent meme seems to finally be over, thanks all the holy saints and angels - is the reverse bucket list, the ten things you NEVER want to do before you die.

Some of the things I read were pretty darned funny. Others weren't so much funny as they were relatable, making me shiver in sympathetic horror. "Live alone in a huge mansion with only my life-sized Victorian doll collection to comfort me," was an item on one person's list, and I can spot a person who read Stephen King's The Tommyknockers twenty-five years ago and never, ever, ever forgot about that room full of dolls: I can spot that person from a thousand yards.

The only stipulation is that the list has to include things you could actually do.

So here's my Reverse Bucket List. Do you have one you'd like to share?

Things I Never Want to Do Before I Die

1. Remove 1970s groovy gold flocked wall paper from a room with ten foot ceilings. Again.

2. Stick my hand into the back of a baby's diaper while thinking, "I wonder if she pooped?" (I found out later that it's much easier to determine this status if you just hold the baby's diapered butt in front of your face and take a deep sniff.)

3. Be on Survivor. Because being hot and being hungry are never a good combination with me, plus I'd have to participate in all of those gym-class-from-hell challenges. It's not for me to be the plucky middle-aged mother figure who bosses everyone around and gets voted out either first or second and no one can even remember her ever being there after episode three.

4. Go to a Mass where all the music is the guitar-strummed kind and where we all stand around the altar holding hands during the consecration. And where there's a liturgical dancer. My experiences with being on the viewing end of liturgical dances? Negative, every last one of them.

5. Be a liturgical dancer. Even though I do fit the demographic, which is middle-aged, lumpy, and not necessarily a great genius in the art of dance.

6. And continuing on with the performing arts thing, EVER EVER AGAIN play the piano for a friend's event, no matter how wheedling her voice, how hopeful her puppy eyes. See Item #4 from this post if you'd like to know why.

7. Eat another raw oyster. Grandad once told me, when I was about ten, that he'd give me five dollars if I'd eat a raw oyster. He spoke to me of the horseradishy deliciousness of cocktail sauce, and how oysters were just fishy enough to lend a piquant air of the seaside to the sauce. He pointed out quite reasonably that he himself was eating an appetizer of a dozen oysters on the half shell, which he considered to be a particularly delightful treat. He would, he pressed, be happy to share one with me.

I should have known that there was something behind all this urgency because he was a prankster, a ruthless cutthroat gin rummy player and a twister of fairy tales, where the witch ended up eating Hansel and signing Gretel on as her apprentice. Anyway, I put the oyster in my mouth, which was not piquant at all, but tasted more like something that had washed up on the shore at high tide last week; it immediately grew to the size of a wadded up gym sock in my mouth, and UGH, so slimy. Grandad was laughing so hard, he couldn't even make noise. I promptly went to the ladies' room and threw up, which made me throw up more, because regurgitated oyster? Looks even worse than it did before, which was pretty bad.

Grandad apologized, tried to reassure me that his motives had been as pure as the water off the beaches in Bermuda, and gave me twenty dollars. I allowed myself to be only slightly mollified.

8. Learn to like football. It would make the previous forty-something years of my life, years I have spent telling people, "Look. SHUT UP," whenever they've tried to explain the game of football to me, such a waste of time. I plan to carry on being massively bored by football - and baseball, basketball, hockey and every other sport you care to name - for the remainder of my life.

9. Become a member of a certain political party, which I won't name because I don't want to hurt any reader's feelings or tick anyone off, but my mind just doesn't work that way and I wouldn't want it to if it could.

10. Go to the Indiana State Fair and leave without visiting the horses, the goats, the pigs, the cows and most of all, the zonkey. I don't care how stinky everyone thinks the animal barns are. I don't care if the whole family heads back home without me. I don't even care, much, if I step in something icky. I don't feel like I've had the whole State Fair experience unless I've gone to see the animals and petted the zonkey and remarked on how big the hooves on the draft horses are and how fat the pigs. Some people go for the food, some people go for the midway, but I like the farm animals and I'm tired of having to apologize for that. So YEE-HAW! Wilbur, here I come!

RECIPE: Crustless Quiche Muffins

This recipe for crustless quiche muffins is one I've been working on for several months, ever since the girls and I fell in love with the ones from Paradise Cafe and Bakery. What we didn't fall in love with was the enormous calorie and fat count, because the quiche muffins from Paradise, while completely cheesy and delicious, are practically the nutritional equivalent of a 6-ounce prime rib. I thought it would be nice to have a quiche muffin for breakfast that was full of protein, low in calories and fat and reasonably portable for busy mornings; also one that didn't require me to skip lunch because I'd already consumed a jillion calories.

These muffins are a good size and they're nice and dense. Eat one with a banana or an orange or even a container of yogurt and you've got a nice, sustaining breakfast that will stick with you. Or, heck, these things are so light in terms of calories and fat, you could have one for a quick snack in the afternoon when you need a jolt of energy-revving protein to carry you through the remainder of the work day and on into that dinner prep-homework-bath-and-bed-time routine.

In spite of the long ingredient list, these muffins mix up in a big hurry: It's mostly just a matter of opening packages and dumping ingredients into a mixing bowl.


1 1/2 cups Egg Beaters refrigerated egg
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 cup skim milk
2 cups Bisquick Heart-Smart baking mix (or the regular kind, if you'd prefer)
1 7-oz package reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup reduced-fat grated parmesan cheese (or, again, the regular kind, your pref)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 16-oz package frozen spinach
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste (you can always use less in the recipe and add more to each portion)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thaw spinach by emptying bag into a colander and running lukewarm water over it until soaked; allow to drain while you put everything else together. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all other ingredients and stir. Squeeze out the drained spinach in the colander, pressing it to remove as much water as possible (I always use the edge of a plastic measuring cup.) Add the spinach to the egg mixture, stirring to make sure all the spinach gets un-clumped.

Take two regular muffin pans and spray them thoroughly with non-stick spray. Then spray them again. And again. Why, you ask? Because I learned from painful experience that if you don't make those muffin cups as non-stick-able as possible, you will be prying your little crustless quiches out with a chisel, leaving half of them adhering firmly to your pan.

Fill the muffin cups all the way full - they will pouf up a bit into the traditional domed muffin shape - and you will get a yield of about 21 muffins. If you fill them slightly less full, your muffins will be appreciably smaller, but you can get a full two dozen out of your quiche mixture. Really, it's whatever you prefer.

Bake muffins for 35-40 minutes, until set and a toothpick inserted in a center muffin comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool completely before removing from pan. You may need to gently go around each one with a knife to loosen them. Store in the fridge (we put ours in gallon-sized plastic bags) and reheat by microwaving for about a minute per muffin. Delicious!

Nutritional Information:
21 muffins as prepared with lower calorie/fat ingredients
Total Calories: 136.7; Total Fat: 5.5g (Saturated: 1.3g; Polyunsatured: 0.3g; Monounsaturated: 0.6); Cholesterol: 36.1mg; Sodium: 623.6mg; Potassium: 145.5mg; Total Carbohydrates: 13.9g (Dietary Fiber: 0.5g; Sugars: 1.6g); Protein: 8.7g
Weight Watchers Points Plus: 3 per muffin

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On the first day of Christmas, or Why I Have Neglected My Blog for a Month

December is a busy month and a difficult time for blogging, what with all the other insane holiday crap women are called upon to do, so the next time you're wondering if the glass ceiling has been well and truly broken, look around and ask yourself: Who bought the gifts? Who wrapped them? Who planned the menu, did the shopping and cooked enough food to feed an army? Who cleaned (I noted that my last post here was the one outlining instructions on how to spiff up the house in case of an unexpected guest emergency)? Oh, I'm not saying that my husband did nothing. He's actually a great help and sexily muscled in our nine-and-a-half-foot Christmas tree into the house on his shoulder, which, if it were left to me, would have still been lashed to the top of the van. I think the problem is that, when it comes to household organization, particularly holiday household organization, the women are the quarterbacks and the men are special teams.

So you know what I did in the few weeks leading up to Christmas, and I know what you did because we were all doing the same thing, right?

But you don't know what I was doing on the actual Twenty-Fifth of December, and BOY IS IT WORTH THE TELLING.

Here's a rundown, and I hope as you read it, you will see absolutely nothing in it similar to your own merry holiday.

1. Christmas Eve - presents were all wrapped, except for the $#@% stocking presents, which I always forget to wrap until about 1:30 a.m. The house was pristine, all items for Christmas dinner were set out and ready for cooking, all systems go. Mass was at 6:30 p.m. and I even remembered to set out the Baby Jesus in both nativities.

2. Christmas Morning - Up and opening gifts at 7:00; on the road to New Castle to open gifts at Mom and Dad's at 9:15. Arrival at 10:00, Mom had brunch underway, family sat down to open presents. Merriment ensued.

3. Mom put breakfast out on the beautifully-laid dining room table. Poppy said a prayer and everyone tucked in. Two minutes later, my husband said, "I don't feel well. I think I'll go lie down."

4. Everything went to hell from there. Let me take you through the next 24 hours with my husband:

barfing feverishness saltine crackers tea with honey more puking headache and....other unmentionable agony, bathroom-related, more barfing, puking, heaving, hurling and heaving

5. On Monday morning, the poor guy was better and able to sit upright, albeit remaining as white as salt, occasionally overtaken by violent shivering.

6. On Monday afternoon, I was coming down the stairs with a basket of laundry and got to the landing, stepped down too many steps, and ended up hurtling down to the foyer floor, landing in a crumpled heap and surrounded by dirty socks and underwear.

7. It hurt.

8. A lot.

9. I ached all over until very, very early on Wednesday morning, when I awoke from an uneasy slumber -- nothing like that "long winter's nap" spoken about so blithely in Clement Moore's poem -- with the certain conviction that I was getting ready to experience

barfing feverishness saltine crackers tea with honey more puking headache and....other unmentionable agony, bathroom-related, more barfing, puking, heaving, hurling and heaving

10. Which I did, worse than my husband, and up until New Year's Eve, spent my days sitting in grey-faced languor on the couch, nursing my bruised ankle, shoulder, knee and hip and occasionally twitching.

11. Meelyn and Aisling managed to avoid the horrible stomach virus, but caught a bad cold that required gallons of orange juice, Ny-Quil and hot tea to treat.

11. On New Year's Eve, the four of us went to the Outback so that we could at least say we'd done something fun. We had a good time, but were back home by 9:00, changed into our pajamas and sat back down on the couch, me still twitching and both girls coughing, sneezing and blowing their noses. My husband said that he was still feeling kind of rocky, six days after the onset of the stomach virus.

12. I concurred.

13. We went to bed rather early, bemoaning the fact that, while our entire year has been really amazing and positive, the last week of it was so awful, we all wanted to salute it with a great, big, wet raspberry and yell "GOOD RIDDANCE!" out the front door.

So! That's what I've been doing for the last month and the last week of that month.

As I said before, I hope you experienced nothing like it.