ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I really hoped this phenomena would pass without me having to participate. I’m all for contributing to a good cause, and raising money to stamp out this horrible disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, but I’m not much of a joiner. (Pretty funny for someone who started a group that grew to 40,000+ members to say.) 

Everyday since this thing started, I’ve checked my Facebook page, sort of peeking through my fingers at my Notifications to make sure no one had nominated me to take this challenge. The funny thing is, as much as I hoped no one had, another part of me kinda hoped someone had. I didn’t want to have a bucket of ice water poured on my head. Nope. Uh uhn. But I wanted someone to like me enough to name me. You know, that I was at the forefront of their mind when they did their own challenge and thought, “Now, who would fun-loving enough to go along with this?” All the while, still hoping to avoid it. Crazy, I know. 

But here we go! My son Jordan has challenged me. That surprised me, and made me happy. He challenged me and a group guys he grew up with. Somehow, that made it even more special. Sort of, “My mom is as cool as my friends” kind of special. In his mind, it was probably more about his love to prank me, but let me just have my dreams. And of course, if my baby boy asks me to do this, I have to do it! So here it is. 

I’m not going to nominate any readers (unless you are Dan, Debbie, or Janet, as I mentioned in the video). I’ll leave that to those that know you and love you. And don’t think you can hide. This thing is lasting way longer than I thought it would. No one is safe! 

Learn more about ALS, and if you feel moved to do so, donate at ALSA.org

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Eating Like Grown Ups

Somewhere along the line, we got off track and I stopped cooking for my family. It was in those years of soccer and little league, when Dan was always the coach and I was team mom. On those short evenings when we had to hurry and do homework, then jump in the car as soon as Dad got home to go to practice, it was always so much easier to just grab something to eat along the way.

That was when my children’s taste buds started to rebel against good, healthful food. I got so very tired of hearing, “Yuck! I’m not eating this!” when anything I made did not resemble mac and cheese from a blue box accompanied by frozen sticks of possibly poultry or feasibly fish. I know I should have been stronger and made them eat better, but I was tired. Ask any mom of youngsters. They are all tired. And if someone said to me, “Don’t cook. Let’s do what’s easier.” I didn’t have the energy to fight them too much.

As the kids got older, we continued our take-out tradition. By then we were deeply entrenched in the habit. Thankfully, as the kids became adults, so did their tastes. We ate a lot of take out, but it was mostly from local restaurants, not fast food. No one minded at all. And family time is much nicer when everyone can have their favorites.

But now we are living in an Empty Nest, just the two of us adults. Thankfully, I have a husband who is a bit of a foodie and will try anything. It’s more of a miracle that I am excited to try all the new foods we’ve been exploring. 

What got me started cooking (mostly) every night is a study our small group did at the beginning of this year. It’s called The Daniel Plan. I got really excited about the Food chapter. That is where I learned why some of the things I’ve always eaten are so bad, and why some of the things I thought were so hard to eat enough of are so good. Continue reading

Baby, It’s Cold Outside…

It’s cold.

Well, not up-north-where-I’m-from-in-Michigan-and-Ohio cold, but definitely we’re-used-to-90s-here-in-Texas cold.

I’ve been in Texas since 1981, and somewhere along the way, I became a cold weather wimp. We went for a visit at Christmas time in 1989. It was snowy and beautiful, but the wind was fierce and stabbing. I just wanted to be inside with a couple dozen blankets and a heating pad. So it didn’t take long for my body to decide it prefers 90+ degree days to -20 degree days.

But don’t you just love this time of year? We get to wear our jeans, funky boots, warm fuzzy sweaters, fun sparkly scarves, and jackets and coats that cover a multitude of desserts.

And the best part of all, it’s cuddle-up weather! Time to wear our “home pants” (aka flannel pajama bottoms) as long into the afternoon as our day’s activities will allow. Soft, fluffy slippers just beg to be left on as well. And hoodies! Oh the comfort of hoodies! Grab a mug of your favorite hot beverage topped with whipped cream and possibly even sprinkles. Find a cozy spot to curl up in with your favorite blanket, and spend a couple hours with the pastime of your choice, be it with your laptop, TV remote, or for your traditional types, a good old fashioned book. Add the mesmerizing glow of a fire and a loved one to cuddle up next to you, and I dare say, you are as close to bliss as you will ever be on this earth.

Another thing that adds to the yumminess of this time of year is the aroma. Besides the baking smells, for this surely is the time to bake, there are the candles. The candle companies have special scents all year round, but none of them even come close to the candles of autumn and Christmas! The woodsy, spicy, pumpkinny, tobacco-y, harvest smells of autumn candles lure my mind to a cabin somewhere in the woods, full of homey touches like rough-hewn wooden furniture, and overstuffed chairs and quilts in reds, oranges, browns, and greens. Outside the golden glow of sunset and the sound of birds chirping “goodnight” as they settle into their nests for the evening. And oh! The Christmas scents of cedar, red berries, fresh baked cookies and apple pies, peppermint, pine, balsam, and cinnamon! Reminds me of being a child, and carefree days at home with family all around.

So yes, I love it when it’s cold outside, as long as I’m warm inside. And right now it’s cold…sort of…well, it gets down into the mid 40’s at night…sometimes…

Alright. It’s 72 degrees outside my house as I’m writing this, but here in Texas, 72 is on the chilly side…kinda…to us. But Thanksgiving is this week, and if the weatherman won’t cooperate, I’ll pretend it’s cold enough for hot chocolate, warm pumpkin pie, and sweaters.

MeeMaw’s Orange Chocolate Chip Cake

When Hubby and I got married and his family and my family converged to become Our Family, one of the things included in that merger was our old family recipes. This weekend, I got to try one of Hubs’ mom’s recipes.

He had mentioned that he wanted an orange chocolate chip cake for his birthday. I Googled and found Ina Gartner’s sumptuous recipe, only to discover that what Hubs meant was he wanted the cake his mom used to make.

So I called my sister-in-law and got the recipe. It’s a brownie type cake with no icing or glaze. It doesn’t need any. It’s very moist and oh-so-good!

Funny that in 30 years of marriage, this is the first I’m hearing of this cake. Wonder what else I’ve been missing?

Meemaw's Orange Chocolate Chip Cake

MeeMaw’s Orange Chocolate Chip Cake

Preheat oven to 250°F  (Yes 250°. You cook it low and slow.)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt

Mix the above dry ingredients lightly together in bowl and set aside.

  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp grated orange peel (You’ll need two large oranges.)
  • 1 cup soured milk*
  • 1-12 oz bag chocolate chips (I like to use Nestlé’s semi-sweet Tollhouse chips.)

In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugars with a fork. Beat in eggs until creamy. Mix in grated orange peel then soured milk. Add flour mixture slowly, stirring as you do. Don’t over-stir. This stuff is more like muffin batter than cake batter, so over-mixing might make it less fluffy. Lastly, stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour batter into a 13×9 cake pan that has been greased and floured. Bake for 50-65 minutes at 250°F until golden and done. (The recipe says 50 minutes, but at that point, mine was still pretty wet in the middle. 65 minutes was perfect for mine.)

Hubs says his mom used to make this as a Bundt cake. Sister-in-law said she tried it, but it didn’t work for her. I might try it next time, just to see.

Let me know if you make this and how you like it!

*Prepare soured milk by mixing 1 tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar into 1 cup of milk. Set aside for about 15 minutes to sour.

Front Row Baby!

 

My best friend posted that on my Facebook page. It is a truth we’ve lived by for the last 11 years. Most my friends feel the same. If we can’t sit in the first row, we’ll begrudgingly take second or third row. It’s not that we’re snobs, and we’re certainly not groupies, but we are spoiled to it.

We like the front row for lots of reasons. Mostly because we like to be where the action is! My friends and I want to feel like that band is playing just for us. We like to be part of the party. I feel like that at church, too. I like to sit in the first few rows. If I am farther back, I get too distracted by the other people in the audience. Farther back feels like watching your favorite movie on an 11” TV instead of the big theater screen!

The other reason we like to sit in front is we are all mad concert photographers. Not professional, mind you. The only reason I take decent pictures is because I’ve been doing it a while now. I’ve picked up a few pointers, but mostly this one little trick. I have found if I take 500 pictures at a concert (Thank You God for digital photography!), 200 of them turn out good, 100 of them are really nice, about 30 of them are kind of awesome, and about 5 are what we call “money shots”. I don’t know why we call them that. None of us have ever sold a photo, although some of us have had photos used on other websites.

It’s always a thrill to see your photo on a music website, especially if they actually ask first and credit us without having to remind them. A good rule of thumb when right clicking and saving someone else’s photo is to save their name with the picture. Then if you ever post that photo anywhere, always ask the photographer’s permission and put something like photo by: Soandso Jones in the caption. The photographer will love you for it.

I’ve gone to concerts and sat stood in the front row without my camera. Boy, is that awkward. I don’t know what to do with my hands! Especially if I don’t know the words to the song. I’m so afraid the singer will look my way, and think I didn’t listen to the record enough to learn all the words.

I like to make the artist on the stage feel appreciated. I clap, sing, smile, dance, and show them that I’m having a great time. That’s why I don’t understand why people sit down at rock concerts. Rock music is meant to move you! These folks up on the stage are working hard. Look at them sweat! It’s not easy to get up there and pour your heart out to a different audience in a different city every night. Artists feed off of the energy of the audience. The more fun the audience is having, the more fun the band has, and the more fun the audience will have. It’s a circle of love!

As I wrote most of this post, I was minutes away from trying to buy tickets to see one of my favorite bands, NEEDTOBREATHE. (That’s not me shouting. That’s how they spell it.) I was a nervous wreck! I checked my blood pressure and pulse, and they were each up 10 points! I love buying tickets, and I hate it. It’s like riding a roller coaster, thrilling and terrifying at the same time! All the while we are screaming, and laughing, and feeling sick, and praying.

And really, I have no business going to this show. It’s in Longview, Texas, and the day after this show my husband and I have tickets to MUTEMATH (they like their name shouted, too) in San Antonio! That means we have to get up the next day, drive six hours, stand in line for another couple of hours hoping to get in there before everyone else, and then stand up all night, because it’s a GA (general admission) show! I mean seriously. Is that anyway for a couple of 51 year olds to act? Of course it is! (Note to self: Pack Geritol and Starbucks gift cards, lots of them.)

But it’s worth it. Whether it’s just me and the hubs, or me and my friends, or any combination thereof, we always have such amazing times at concerts.

So how did I do with the ticket buying? FRONT ROW BABY! It’s going to be an awesome, awesome weekend seeing two of my very favorite bands back-to-back with my hubby and friends!

Breaking Good?

Every summer A comes home from college and says, “You have to watch this show!” It’s usually some show we have heard of or seen previews for, but doesn’t appeal to us for one reason or another. But A can be very insistent, so the hubs and I usually relent and watch a few episodes with him.

I believe in giving most things a chance. I want our kids to know we value their opinion, and although we don’t always agree, we’ll listen or watch and weigh their suggestions, if it seems reasonable.

To be honest, the biggest reason we watch any of these shows is that it gives us extra family time with our boys who aren’t boys anymore, but men. It gives us a common ground with them. And we’re so glad they share the things they are interested in with us, no matter what it is!

Most of the shows A has gotten us into are shows we could take or leave if the kids weren’t watching with us. I can’t remember the last time I watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother or Arrested Development on my own. Not that they aren’t good, but not my favorites. Of course, I never watched Spider-Man or Sesame Street without them, either. (Although, Hubs and I did watch an episode of Beast Wars the other night on Netflix. Love the characters on that show!)

I didn’t know that the child-parent television habits would continue into their adulthood, but I’m glad they have.

We don’t always say yes to the shows they try to get us to watch. I watched three episodes of Dexter, and that was more than enough for me. I can’t watch a show when I don’t like the characters. And it’s kind of hard to root for the serial-killing main character in that one. Although, I do love Michael C. Hall’s ominous Dexter voice-overs on the Dodge commercials.

This summer, the show A got us into is Breaking Bad. Then he went back to Austin. Hubs and I would have been fine with dropping it right then, but J and his girlfriend Andi wanted to watch it with us. So this is some of our family fun, weekly marathons of Breaking Bad on Netflix. We look forward to it and miss it if we haven’t done it in a week!

I described Breaking Bad to my mom as a show about a middle-aged, very square high school chemistry teacher (who could have been so much more) who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He wants to find some way to make some quick cash to pay his medical bills and take care of his family after he’s gone. His family consists of a teenaged son with Cerebral Palsy, a wife who is very pregnant with a “surprise” baby girl, a kleptomaniac busy-body sister-in-law, and her husband who is a machismo DEA agent. With our main character, Mr. White’s science background, and through a chance event involving a former student, Jesse, he decides he’s going to provide for his family’s financial needs by making and selling meth. Yep. Illegal drugs. So together he and Jesse (who is a small-time drug dealer himself) delve deeper and deeper into the drug trade, picking up pointers and hardening themselves to the side effects of the business along the way. It’s one of those climbing the ladder of success stories, except instead of up, the ladder our main character is climbing decidedly down into a deep, dark pit.

My mom said, “That sounds terrible! And depressing! Why would anyone want to watch that?”

Exactly! But somehow we do. And somehow it’s not.

I love shows that uplift me, make me happy about what’s going on, not that bring me down. I don’t care for dark entertainment at all. But this show doesn’t give me that depressed, dirty, scratchy in my soul feeling that I expected when we first started watching. It’s a very well written character study. It’s serious entertainment that makes you think, not my usual fluff fare. So it’s not bad, just different for me.

And knowing me like I do, I shouldn’t like it, but for one thing. In a show about chemistry, that in and of itself is the shining factor of the show. It’s what makes us want to come back each week. Bryan Cranston (Mr. White) and Aaron Paul (Jesse) play off each other so well and have that chemistry that every show needs to make it. It makes their alliance believable, and provides unexpected laughs…big laughs, and endearing moments that keep me coming back episode after episode.

So yes, this show is a little dark, and can be pretty violent, and is not the kind of show I would normally choose to watch. But I do like it, and it does provide a family bond, something we all enjoy doing together. So we watch it together and enjoy it quite a lot.

I guess it could be worse. If we’d have had daughters instead of sons, we’d be watching the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Someplace.

Anyway, this isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. This is just laying the ground work for what I really wanted to say, but after 900 words, I think I ought to give you a break and let that go until another time.

Captioning Your Memories (or “You Did What to That Antique?!”)

A couple of years ago, I cleaned out the boxes in our “attic”. I got rid of the stuff we thought we might use again when we put it in the box, but was now obvious we never would. When I cleaned out the memory boxes*, I got rid of all the things I couldn’t remember why we’d saved or what they were. There were little bits of paper, champagne corks, broken toys, pressed flowers, and other things that brought no recollection of any happy time enjoyed with them. I’m sure these objects were important to us at one time. I’m certain that if I could remember when we got them or what memory they stood for, it would warm my heart and maybe bring a tear to my eye. But at this moment, it was nothing but stuff taking up space.

That’s when I started labeling our memories.

I don’t have the best memory to begin with. Thank God for the advent of digital photography. Without the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, I probably wouldn’t have much memory of individual events at all. And here’s where I should be telling you that I print out a small photo of the event that goes with the memory item, and put both in a Ziplock bag so they stay together when I put them into the memory box. Then when I go through the memory box in years to come, the photo instantly brings back a full recollection of the day.

But I’m not that organized. And I just thought of that idea this minute. And it might take too much effort to find and print the photo. I tend to like to do things the most expedient (read: easy) way.

So what I did do when I cleaned out the memory boxes was to write little snippets of the memories on small pieces of paper and attach them to every item that might not be remembered the moment it was again discovered. A baby’s shirt might say, “J wore this to the first baseball game he ever attended. Nana & Papa came with us” and the date as best I could remember it. I didn’t write out all the details, just enough to bring to mind the rest of the story.

And just this moment, I decided I’m going to call this “Captioning,” because it is just like putting a caption on a photograph.

Now when I put stuff into our memory boxes, I put a tag on them of some sort, a caption. What use is a memento if you can’t remember what it stands for?
 

I do this on lots of stuff in different ways. My favorite is the wine corks. I only started liking wine on my 50th birthday. Four people gave me red wine, but I wasn’t a wine drinker at all. I wanted them to know I appreciated their gifts, so we opened a bottle at the party. I was surprised to find I actually liked it! Since then, Hubby and I have been exploring wines a little. So when we have a bottle on a special occasion (or a Wednesday), I write the date and what we were doing on the cork, and then save it in our big glass jar. It’s a funky scrapbook of family memories.

Someday someone is going to replace our laminate flooring. When they do, they are going to find the memories all four of us wrote on the sub-floor the day we installed the flooring.
 

I caption the scorecard when we are playing any game that requires the score to be kept on paper, like Scrabble or Password. I write at the top of the score pad who’s playing, what else we did that day, and the date. When we play again, we can go back through the memories of other fun times.

I also (now some of you may cringe at this, especially if you love antiques) write on the undersides of old furniture. Hubby and I love to look at old (especially mid-century) furniture and household things and speculate about the life they have lived. Who owned this? How long did they have it? Was it a happy home? Things like that. So for the sake of whoever owns some of our pieces later, I’ve written some of the history on a hidden part of it. We have a lamp table from Hub’s grandfather’s house from the 1940’s or 50’s, an old drop leaf table Hub bought for me when I was away at a ladies’ retreat in 1985, a clock his parents got when they first got married, and a few other pieces on which I’ve written the history as I know it on some hidden part. Monetarily, it might decrease the value, but historically and sentimentally I think it increases the value.  

So what about you? Do you do anything like this to help you and those who come after you know what made special objects special?

*Memory Boxes: I have always kept a box with a lid on it in each family member’s closet. They are marked with their name, dated, and numbered in succession. When there is a memento from a special event, it’s labeled and dropped into the memory box. It’s lazy scrapbooking, but it works. When the box is full, it goes into the attic, and a new box is started. I only hope is that now that my kids are getting to the stage of leaving the nest, they going to take all their boxes with them!