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.