Saturday, December 28, 2013

2014 - a year in which I desperately need to retake high school English

I'm 28 years old, and I've reached the point where I'm far enough removed from school that I've forgotten everything. Aside from that, there are the areas of life where my attitude gets positively geriatric - I've done my time doing things the right way, and I don't care anymore.  By golly, I will begin sentences with the word "and". I will add "ing" to the end of every noun, thus inventing brand new verbs. I will abandon the proper use of apostrophes! (Actually, not that last one. I consider appropriate apostrophe use a hill to die on.)

I hope I'm not the only one who struggles here. Based on my time spent on social networking, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume I'm not alone. Maybe you can relate to some of my grammatical failings of 2013.

1. Sounding cray because I think dumb slang is hilarious.

This meme about sums up my life.

I'm in deep, friends. I latch onto the worst of the worst, and then I use these words and phrases for at least two years past even the "ironically funny" expiraton date. I recently exclaimed, "awesomesauce!" in a professional, business setting. I don't know how to stop, I need an intervention.

2. My use of the word "irony".

This is just about the only source of conflict in my marriage. When the new i101 radio station put Alanis Morisette's "Ironic" in frequent rotation, it could have been our undoing. (I exaggerate, but there is heated debate EVERY single time). My dear Aaron's standards for what constitutes irony are impressively high, while mine are... loose. Our conversations are something like this."

Aaron - "Rain on your wedding day is NOT ironic."

Me - "Fine. I'll give you that one, but 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife? Come on. Ironic. And Mr. Play It Safe's plane crashing when he was so afraid to fly? SO ironic!
Aaron - NO. Unfortunate, yes. Ironic, no. I just read that "ironic" is one of the most misused words in the English language. Right beneath "literally".
Me - You know what's ironic? Ombre hair.
Aaron - What?
Me - You know, my roots were growing out, so I literally just paid money to have my hair dyed to look like my roots were really, really grown out. Ironic. And stop it - I absolutely did use "literally" in the right context."  

We love each other a lot, but we will never agree on this one. (I actually know he's right, but shhh, don't tell him!) 

3. I can't decide what side I'm on in the Oxford comma debate, so I do whatever I feel like.

It hurt me a little bit to say that. I have utmost respect for the laws of the English language, and I hate to go all E.E. Cummings with punctuation. I really can't decide where I stand on this issue, though. I was taught to use the Oxford comma in school, but when I started doing medical transcription after high school, the company's policy was to not use it. Now I'm a conflicted hot punctuation mess (see #1).

4. Even 28 years into what I consider to be a fairly literate life, I would not venture to write the words "necessary" or "vacuum" without spell check. We all have our words. These are mine. I would love for 2014 to remedy this.

I can't wait to hear what grammar rules you're prone to forget! And take some time today to thank the dear Lord I'm not your child's teacher, because this is what I would teach them. Unless you're Aaron, in which case I AM your child's teacher. Whoops!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pinteresting Dinner Planning

I have memories of my mom making my dad's lunch for work, either the night before or early in the morning. If this is a 'good wife' gene, it must skip a generation, because I've sent lunch to work with my hubby probably thirty times in seven years of marriage.

In an attempt to be sweet to him/not let him starve, I really would like to step up my lunch-sending efforts, and this will probably be done best by meal planning and sending leftovers.

{Note to husbands: your wife is a rock star if she makes you lunch every day. Rise up and call her blessed, already, will ya?}

So, as I wait for a massively huge work file to download, I find myself passively avoiding -

1. Dishes in the sink
2. The man-child who is supposed to be napping, but has been singing in his crib for an hour
3. The two flies antagonistically buzzing around me. They've set out to taunt me - despite five days of unrelenting efforts to kill them, they are still freaking alive

No worries. I will not be distracted from meal planning this afternoon.

Meal planning works like this, if you haven't done it before.

1. Log onto Pinterest.
2. Spot an adorable pair of boots a friend pinned.
3. Click through to see how much said boots cost.
4. They're too much.
5. Remember you're "meal planning".
6. Scroll through your delicious looking "Recipes" board
7. All that delicious-looking food is making you hungry.
8. Stop for a snack.
9. Pick five or six main dishes from that "Recipes" board. Honestly, it's time to make use of some of these things you so laboriously pinned.
10. Confirm that you have the majority of the ingredients for each recipe on hand so you don't have to spend a small fortune on groceries.
11. Make a grocery list.
12. Spot a pin for a scarf sale on another website. (!!!)

So, as you can see, there are roughly twelve very important steps to meal planning like a pro. :)

Here's what I picked.

This Chicken Yakisoba is something I've been wanting to try for a while. I am an aficionado of both real Chinese/any-type-of-Asian food as well as extremely westernized/processed/not real Chinese food. "Toss it in soy sauce, it'll be fine," are words to live by, in my book.

 If you happen to follow this link, you may see that the website implies this is a paleo meal. I'm sure you'll see the first picture for this recipe is of a frothy, boiling pan of ramen. So, this is more "poor college student" and less "paleo". Don't judge me, it's my meal planning list, and it took me twelve grueling steps to pick this!

This Chicken Parmesan is a little something my friend Bernice whipped up one night when we went to her house for dinner. It's only one of the best things I've ever eaten.
No big deal.

I went home and promptly scoured her Pinterest activities until I found the recipe. I'm real creepy. It's amazing I have the friends that I do.

I would like to introduce you to Double Crunch Honey Garlic Chicken. I haven't tried it yet, but I love it already. Tenderized chicken, breaded and deep fried and then coated with a delectably sticky combination of honey, garlic and my old friend soy sauce. And wouldya look at that garnish. Rosemary? I don't know, but it's lovely.

This is the only recipe of the week that looked remotely appetizing to my five-year-old. He's got a rough week ahead of him, as his mother is not indulging the picky phase he finds himself in.

Beef with Broccoli will be a nice dish after three days of chicken. This will have broccoli carry-over from the Yakisoba, which is one less ingredient I will need to buy. Bonus!


I appreciate their enthusiasm, so I went ahead and stuck it on the list.}

This is a knockoff Red Lobster Shrimp Scampi. I'm going to skip the chardonnay called for in the recipe. Can I use the sherry I will need for the Beef with Broccoli? Anyone?

I put my little shopping list together, and am hoping for some good deals.

10 chicken breasts
1 jar marinara sauce
1 package garlic croutons
1 head cabbage
2 lbs broccoli
Fresh ginger
Soy sauce
2 packages ramen noodles
Angel Hair
1 bag frozen medium/large shrimp
1 bar mozzerella cheese

This will all get really interesting if our kitchen is being renovated next week, as planned. 

Happy Thursday, everyone! 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shut the Front Door: When My Kids' Discipline Issues Keep Me Under House Arrest

Anyone who knows me knows that I have pretty normal, very young children. Therefore, I am definitely not a parenting guru. There are a few things that have been passed on to Aaron and me in these past five years of parenthood, though. One of our starting points in our journey to parent well is to call behavior what it is, instead of wrapping it up in the beautiful excuses we are so often tempted to, like "he's tired", "he's going through a phase", or "he's super special and you normal people just don't 'get' him". Rather, disrespect is disrespect, willful disobedience is disobedience, and sneakiness is lying.

My mother-in-law was a self-confessed "groupie" of a lady named Bea Moss who did parenting seminars in this Illinois area. Bea was from an older-school generation of parenting, but I really agree with so many of the things she taught.

One of these things is that when your kids are being disobedient and need consistent discipline, it's time to hunker down, cancel some plans, and do the grandest and most significant job we have been given - parenting. I concur. I do not discipline well in the aisles of Target. It took my biggest little about 22 months of life to figure that out and take full advantage of it. I do not discipline well on playdates, even with my least judgmental friends. I do not discipline well with my mom over, giving her two cents. Nothing against her two cents, really!

There are parts of being a mom that make you want to die of happiness. Sweet, sleeping infants who leave milk-drool stains on your shirt. Babies who sleep well and wake up happy to see you. First babbling words. Snuggles. This whole discipline aspect of parenting has not been one of those things for me. I think I have a pretty good understanding of this - when your little person is still babyish and a toddler, it's totally tempting to put off the unpleasantness of discipline. We still have the upper hand mentally, and we are really good at redirecting, coaxing, bribing, and cajoling. BUT ONE DAY, one inevitable day, your sweet, milk-drooling, easily bribed child will realize they have a will of their own. There you will stand, facing an army of un-fought battles, armed only with sweet-talk and empty threats. That's frightening, and it motivates me in the same way that watching "The Hunger Games" motivated me to start running again. Because, you know...

Carson was three when he started really hitting these rough patches, and I had to start skipping some errands and playdates until we got things under control. He was like other kids and struggled with the same things, but just because something is normal doesn't mean it's okay. I remember last summer, we were going to go to a baseball game with a bunch of new friends. We were going to pick up one of our nephews to go with us and hang out with Carson. I was excited to get to know everyone better, Carson didn't totally understand what we were doing, but he just knew he really wanted to go. It was time to leave, and I was enthusiastic that these new friends would witness one of my few good hair days! Landon's napping and nursing schedules were skillfully orchestrated. The diaper bag was brilliantly packed to sustain a months-old baby and a toddler for three hours of baseball. We were even walking out the door on time, glory! Carson spotted suckers in the bag, and asked if he could have one. We told him that he could have a couple of them at the game, but he needed to wait. I had to run upstairs for something, but I put the diaper bag up on the counter and told Carson in no uncertain terms that he was not to take any candy out yet. By the time I came down, he was running to hide a half-eaten sucker, and he looked guilty as heck. I asked him, "Carson, did you take candy?" Without missing a beat, he answered, "No." But he was caught, and as I confiscated the candy, he threw an angry fit. Sometimes I know he doesn't understand something I tell him, so I have a lot of grace. Sometimes he would throw a fit because he was completely worn out and not in any condition to handle disappointment. This time, I was just looking in the face of one willful little boy. We had been working with him through his disobedience, sneaking and angry fits for a couple of weeks, but I just knew that this was an important moment. We could scold him and go on our merry way, or we could make a statement that what he did brought consequences. It was really disappointing, but I kept him at home with me while dad took his cousin to the game. I pulled my 'good hair day' back into a ponytail and got back to the most important thing on my schedule, being a mommy who wanted to build character, even in such a little guy as our Carson was. It was a good lesson for both of us. Those were the things that helped him see that we meant business, and it helped me see that I wouldn't actually die to stay in for a night, a few days, even a week.

We want the best for our sweet boys. We know the issues kids deal with just get bigger and badder, so we want to try our best to win these smaller battles before we take on the next one. Heaven help us!

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Week in the Rough

It's easy to be sweet when things are going your way, but a nice long easy patch in life has its disadvantages. For one, it's so very jarring when reality hits - life is not always smooth. That reality has hit me this week, in little ways, over and over. On top of that, I've just been bad at life for at least three of the past seven days. Here are a few of our (mis)adventures.

At 7:00 on Thursday morning, I loaded two sleepy boys and one sleepy me into the car and made the hour long trek to east Joliet. I had some shutters I found on Craigslist the day before. I emailed the seller to ask if they still had them. They responded that they did and named the price. I replied that I was coming for them in the morning, and they said, "See you tomorrow!" Imagine my surprise when I pulled up at 8:05 a.m. and was told that the family just sold them to someone who was most definitely not me.

Irritating. Disappointing. We are buying a house with a basement space that, as you can see, is not for the faint of heart.

Don't get me wrong, I like leopards as much as the next guy, but we have extensive plans for this space. Plans that can be summed up with these pictures.

A little less this...
...and a little less this...
...a little more this...

...and a little more this.

So, I will have to find shutters elsewhere.

Fortunately, the trip was not wasted. We were planning to visit my mom, who took a nasty spill the other day and ended up with a leg full of stitches. I stopped to get some coffee for us, but no trip through the Dunkin drive-thru goes unpunished. As I began to order, I was rear ended by the lady behind me. Oddly, the "small, decaf YOU-HAVE-GOT-TO-BE-KIDDING-ME" is not a menu item anymore. Something about it being a very unpopular drink, except among insurance agents.

*May I offer a brief note on accident etiquette, even though I know you are all wonderful drivers? Should you somehow find that you have struck some part of your vehicle against some part of another vehicle, it is wholly unacceptable for you to wave off  the offended party with a nonchalant, "Eh, you're okay." This tends to elicit an uncharitable response.*

We finally made it to my parents' house, and Carson was immensely impressed by Grandma's injuries. I truly meant to be helpful, but I started out by making an epically terrible pot of coffee (I wasn't supposed to have coffee, it seems). I finished the visit by accidentally omitting a very important two cups of milk from the recipe I made for their dinner. My poor mom. I ended up moaning something like, "I'm going to bed until it's tomorrow!" She's my mom, and she lets me be pathetic like that from time to time. I love her for it.

On the bright side, I've been looking for some vintage/antique dining chairs.  While in my parents neighborhood, I got these for a steal. Coming soon, a post on refinishing antique solid oak chairs!

I had been negotiating about a refrigerator with a lady on a Yorkville garage sale Facebook page, since the house is coming with not one single appliance. She sent me a message, asking if we would come look at the refrigerator that night. "Yes we can," I replied. Just like that, we cancelled our plans and the grandparents graciously came over to babysit. We waited. And we waited. We waited some more. She never responded to us. So we had a fun night in, eating chocolate chip cookies with Gramma and Grampa and watching "Wipeout". Appreciating symmetry the way I do, I felt it only made sense to both begin and end the day with inconsiderate online sellers. (We did end up getting the refrigerator. It's great, and so was the price.)

*Insert a few more days of curveballs* One of these was that my mom went into the hospital for an infection in her leg, where they kept her a couple of nights to get it under control. The boys and I took her home and stayed with her over the weekend in what felt like a more successful attempt at being helpful.

We left bright and early this morning to go meet and pay the pest inspector at the property we're trying to buy. This is the LAST THING that has to be done before our closing date can be scheduled. We waited an hour and forty five minutes. When the pest inspector arrived, the people in the house wouldn't let him in because he was late. 

Dear sweet mercy. 

For ELEVEN days, I have been working on coordinating everyone for this dumb formality termite inspection on a house that has already been thrice inspected by three different entities. I spent a good four days smoothing ruffled feathers and getting ducks in a row after the first termite inspection that didn't actually happen because of a listing agent error. We picked an inspector who was nice enough to us, but ended up being a complete diva with everyone else. He called us this afternoon after his inspection and reported there were no termites. Score! Give us the paperwork and let's get this show on the road! He launched into a spiel about the work we needed to do on the house if we bought it (yep, that's why it's cheap). He informed me that he would not buy it if it was him, (it's not) and that he felt compelled to put these opinions into his report and our lender would surely not approve our loan. 

*When my brother was a little guy, he would bang his head on the floor when he got frustrated. Twenty years ago it seemed really counterproductive. This afternoon, all of the sudden, it made perfect sense.*

Termite Man, you have one job! We need you to say, "Why yes, there are indeed termites!" or "No, there is nary a termite to be found!" Wait. We would also like for you to be on time, so you have two jobs, of which you have done exactly zero

So we wrote him his stupid check and called Terminix for a second opinion. In fairness to Termite Man, he said we didn't have to pay for the inspection, but I paid him out of spite. Because nothing says, "Thanks for nothing!" like a $75 check, right?

Carson had a rough night tonight. He got in trouble and couldn't spend the night with his cousins. He cried and cried, and then cried some more before bed tonight. I pulled him onto my lap, and we talked through the awesome day he had just had with 15 of those cousins. We talked about all he had to be thankful for. It struck me that I'm not exactly qualified for this particular teaching moment at this particular time. I know I have a whole lot to be thankful for, and I really am. 

But please toss up a prayer for this termite inspection tomorrow. Sister's about to start banging her head on the ground, here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Fail {and Sweetened Condensed Success}

Yesterday, I came across a post from the fabulous Ree Drummond. She shared a recipe from Imbibe magazine for "Vietnamese Iced Coffee". I was instantly intrigued.

How -To: Vietnamese Iced Coffee
This sweet, creamy coffee tastes like coffee ice cream. In balmy Vietnam, it’s called cà phê sữa đá. Look for the cute, stout brewers at Vietnamese markets.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk; 4 teaspoons medium-fine coffee grounds; 6 oz. boiling water; several ice cubes

Tools: stainless steel Vietnamese coffee brewer ($4–$5 at Vietnamese markets); tall glass

Servings: 1

1. Pour 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk into a tall, ice-filled glass.

2. Place the brewer on top of the glass and put 4 teaspoons medium-fine coffee grounds in the brewer.

3. Set the filter plate in place, so that it sits loosely on top of the grounds. Tighten it slightly by turning it.

4. Pour boiling water over the filter plate to fill about one fourth of the brewer. Wait 20 to 30 seconds. If coffee streams out into the glass, the filter plate is too loose and needs to be tightened. Pour more hot water to fill the brewer. Cover with the brewer lid. Coffee should drip slowly onto the ice, with the entire brewing process lasting about 3 to 4 minutes.

5. After coffee has brewed, remove the brewer and stir the coffee drink

First of all, "cute, stout brewers at Vietnamese markets"? How quaint! But, alas, I know of no such market, nor do I possess a stainless steel Vietnamese coffee brewer. I knew I needed a backup plan because this recipe called for one of the loves of my life, sweetened condensed milk, and I just had to try it. I studied Ree's eight-hour process for cold-brewing the most perfect coffee know to man, then I pulled out my coffee pot. There was approximately six tablespoons of tepid, filmy coffee, left from this morning.

Good enough.

I poured the coffee over some ice, dropped in a generous dollop of sweetend condensed milk and a splash of half and half, and I stirred vigorously. It was pretty good, except I could hear the voices of all Vietnamese people everywhere, crying out over the injustice I had done the one drink that bears their name.

My gaze fell on a coupon that had just come in the mail, and I hatched a plan to make amends with southeast Asia.

While I was out this afternoon, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and ordered a medium iced coffee, black.

The drive-through box squawked back at me, "Medium black coffee. Is that all?"

"Yes, iced coffee, please." (I learned this fun technique in child psychology! You repeat the child's statement, nonconfrontationally correcting them within your own statement. Noam Chomsky would have been impressed. Drive-through-guy wasn't.)

[squawk] "Yah, yah, yah... Pull a-head please."

Ah, Dunkin. Always with the excellent customer service.

I went straight home and mixed in a heaping spoonful of sweetened condensed milk, another splash of half and half and some more ice. I casually staged it on the deck railing, nestled between the decorative lighting so I could take a picture. And, yes, I tied a precious little bow to the adorable paper straw. I know you appreciate this as much as I do.

By the way, it tasted fantastic!

Monday, July 15, 2013

confessions of a hippie chick food hoarder

A few friends have asked if I'd tell them about our grocery budget and how we make it work. I usually launch into disjointed rambling about "rolling catalinas" and "shopping the cycles". I'm pretty sure I begin and end every sentence with "...but I'm NOT a couponer..." Even if it's only for my benefit, I thought I'd write this out and hopefully discover that there's a method to my crazy.

The most challenging part is the budget itself. We do $45/week, which divided by four people and seven days, works out to about $1.60 per person, per day. It's not easy, but it almost always works.

The second most challenging part is that I try not to buy too many processed foods. If you're a textbook couponer, you could probably budget $25 per week and feast daily on every new variation of Activia, Fruity Pebbles, and cheap turkey dogs. But I read this book and I'd rather not.

I'm an unconventional shopper. My brain just works differently when I think about what to buy, where to buy it, and how much of it to buy. Here are ten things I'm intentional about.

1. Buying seasonal foods

This is pretty common knowledge. Buying seasonal produce is best, it's fresher, tastes better, and is cheaper. Blueberries were $3.99 a pint a few months ago, I bought and froze several pints in the past few weeks for $.99 a pint. Love it. I also lovesuperlove the farmer's market for the 7.5 seconds it's open in this midwest climate.

2. Shopping the sale cycles

This changed the way I shop. I used to go to the same places every two weeks and buy the same things. If I went to an "Everyday Low Price" or "ELP" store like WalMart, I would pay pretty much the same thing every time, which would be a not too high (but not too low) price. If I went somewhere like Dominick's, I could spend nearly $4.00 one week on the same box of cereal that would cost $1.49 in three more weeks. At non-ELP stores, there really is a pricing cycle, rumored to last 12 weeks. Within that cycle, there will obviously be a highest price and a lowest price. Ideally, you can buy enough of the product at the lowest price of the cycle to last roughly 12 weeks. Even more ideally, you will have some coupons to bring the price down even more.

3. Stockpiling

This is just a fun way of saying "hoarding". Just kidding. Kind of. We bought a chest freezer a couple of years ago. Since I'm buying fewer processed foods, it means I'm buying more perishables. That makes stocking up for 12 weeks or more difficult, unless you have some sweet freezer space! Which we do. And I love it.

4. Watching Coupon Blogs

My favorite coupon blog for the past three or four years has been mashupmom. I like to keep my eyes on these for awesome deals and coupon links for things I already want to buy.

5. Rocking the store cards and perks

I'm a big fan of Dominick's just for U. I just added "$5 off a $20 grocery purchase" to my card, which is just a bonus on top of physical coupons and all the other deals. Just for U has a "Deal Match" feature so you can get the same prices that Jewel and Target are offering this week in their ads. There are store coupons and personalized deals based on what I have bought before, all of which you can add to your card before you go to the store. A few months ago, there was a store buy one get one free sale on a nice brand of bacon. The store price for one package was a ridiculous $7.00. In my personalized deals, I had a price of $2.50, so I got them for $1.25 a package, which was definitely the best deal I would get on that brand for a long time. So I bought 50. And we still have lots of bacon in the freezer. It sounds a little crazy, and sometimes there's a little bit of an investment on the front end, but the longer term savings pays off. I told you, not conventional.

I also like grocery shopping at Target now. Because I got a REDCard, I get some good grocery coupons in the mail. You can stack coupons and deals like a complete, total boss at Target. They text you mobile coupons, you can print coupons, you can stack their store coupons with manufacturer coupons, you can use your mail coupons for things like "$5 off a $30 grocery order", and you can use the Cartwheel app for extra percentages off.  I also almost always have at least a $2 Target giftcard because I use the Shopkick app. THEN you get a bonus 5% off at the end if you have the REDcard. You can do really, really well with smaller, well-planned grocery shopping trips at Target.

6. Not being too loyal to any store

I liked living in Joliet because there were lots of grocery stores in a small area competing against one another. This made for good sales. I could sometimes even be drawn into the unpleasantness that is Food4Less. Sometimes. I still try to keep up with the ads and make my way back there for a shopping trip every now and then.

7. The order you hand over your coupons is important

This is a real thing. I mentioned Target sending coupons like $5/$30. Last week I did a trip with one of these. I used a smattering of paper manufacturer coupons, Target mobile coupons, printable Target coupons, Cartwheel, my REDcard, and a $2 giftcard on my phone from Shopkick. I got just over $30 of groceries, handed that $5/$30 coupon over first (because my other coupons would bring my total below $30 and I wouldn't be able to use it). The paper coupons aren't such a big deal but I tend to do them next, then the mobile coupons. It seems to work best to do Shopkick last. It wasn't a TLC Extreme Couponing type trip, but we got a lot of real, healthy food and we didn't pay much for it at all.

8. My level of savings seems to be directly connected to how much food prep I need to do

Obviously, foods that are fully or partially prepared will come in smaller portions and cost more. Also, I am my mother's daughter. For a lady that spent ten years in the military, she totally could have been a homesteader in a peasant skirt, a gypsy Ma Ingalls, if you can imagine the awesomeness of such a combination.  I remember homemade bread, clothes on the line, and being the last family in the western hemisphere to get air conditioning.  I find myself feeling like I'm doing things "right" when I'm cutting chicken off the bone and when I cut and peel my own vegetables and fruit. I try to save scraps and make chicken stock. I try (try!) to be creative and not waste much. The smaller budget kind of rules out convenience foods, which works for us but might not for others. My proudest discovery of the month is this homemade substitute for canned cream soups. It's legitimately tasty!

9. Planning around what I have rather than what I need

I find recipes based on what I have and what is on sale, rather than planning a menu and shopping for all those ingredients. Allrecipes has a great little feature that lets you type in what ingredients you have on hand and pulls up recipes based on those. I experiment a lot. It usually works out for my poor family. It's sometimes a hard life when the cook is the only one with an adventurous palate.

10. ...and more planning...

I plan the heck out of my shopping trips. Sometimes I plan for a day or two. I know where I'm going, what I'm getting, and what I'm getting it for. I have my nerdy coupon envelope in hand. I don't impulse buy very often, usually because I have no energy for deviation from "the list".

So now I've done it. I've laid bare my hippie food hoarding ways for all of blogosphere.

But really, people, it kind of works.

Please don't submit my name to TLC. We're not actually hoarders. :) Come on over, I'll fry you some bacon and prove it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 13, 1999 - The Day I Didn't Die

I'm not sure, maybe everyone has a story about "the time they almost died". I  guess it's possible that if every person has one, it makes everyone else's not-dying seem like not such a big deal. Because there are other things to get emotional about. You know, like people actually dying. The farther removed I get from my particular story, the less often I think about it, but there's one thing that I am 100% certain about - June 13, 1999 was a big deal.

I was thirteen, and I was away from home for the longest stretch I had ever been. I had a junior staff position for a couple of weeks at a little camp near Peoria, Illinois. I was fairly middle-of-the-pack socially. I was perplexed by one half of the other girls, the early bloomers who wore sexy pajamas and looked stunning always. I myself was just figuring out mascara, and I was hoping there would be just one boy who noticed that my personality was bigger than my dental gear. I was somewhat comforted by the other half of the girl-population. The ones who rocked culottes and took moral issue with the concept of deodorant (before that was earthy and admirable or whatever). I was probably spiritually middle-of-the-pack, as well. I was sometimes genuine, sometimes not. I wasn't in the throes of adolescent rebellion, but fell short more often than not when it came to WWJD (very big in 1999, if you recall :).

June 13, 1999 was a  beautiful Sunday. All of the camp staff was headed to church, and I hopped in a car with two other Jennifer's and an Alex. We started down the eternal gravel road that led through the Illinois farmland and out of the camp. I tried to fasten my seatbelt, which was only a lap belt with no shoulder harness. I realized that the actual buckle part was tucked far into the seat, and I couldn't get it out. I felt around, but after a minute, I decided to skip the seatbelt, just this once. We drove on, laughing and chatting about inconsequential things that I don't remember in the slightest. What I remember was a Voice. It wasn't audible, but I'm not going to play it down and say it was a 'strong thought' or even my conscience. I'm a firstborn, and I'm well acquainted with conscience and 'strong thoughts' about how the world will end if I jaywalk. This was different, and it started soft, saying, "You need to buckle your seatbelt."  I fished around in the seat again, halfheartedly. Nope. No buckle. Back to conversation. Maybe a minute later, it was back. "YOU NEED TO BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELT." It's possible that I got a little sassy with the Voice at this point. There was no buckle, I was not going to make a scene about it, the end. We continued driving and everything was fine, but after another minute or so, it was back. How something that isn't actually audible can be loud, I don't know, but it was LOUD, "YOU NEED TO BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELT." I happened to see, across the whole seat and over by Alex was the buckle for a person sitting in the middle. "No way," I thought. "That's weird and I'm not doing it. I'm just not." Silence. The Voice had gotten my attention, though, and I couldn't shake the sense this was something worth listening to. I'm sure you already know that I stretched that seatbelt clear across the seat and buckled it over by Alex. We exchanged a look, I assume his look meant, "Hey weirdo. From now on, you have to hang out with the kids who think drums are the devil's instrument." Mine said, "Just, whatever, Alex." Or, "Talk to the hand!" Probably the latter. It was 1999.

I won't condescend. You know there's an accident in this story. We were making the final turn off a main highway onto the street the church was on. The driver gasped, "It's going to hit us!" Somehow I never even saw "it". I looked out my window, then turned forward, which was a mercy because a big van hit my side of the car, fast and hard. The sound of the impact was something I'll never forget. It overpowered everything - the metal crunching in and twisting around my ankles, the shower of glass that rained in on us, the feeling of the car flying through the air, what it must have felt like to land - I don't remember any of it other than that horrible sound. When we landed, we were far from the road, far from anyone, and I was the only one conscious. Alex came to in a few seconds, but those moments felt alone and very confusing. First, I noticed the blood. The driver was hunched in an odd, unnatural position, blood pooling in a large fold in her shirt. I had blood across the front of my clothes - was I hurt? I couldn't see my legs, the door was crushed in around them. I couldn't feel anything. Second, I looked back to see what hit us. There were people running from the van and I watched flames burst from it. Reality and panic caught up with me. I had figured out that my legs were completely trapped and I knew I couldn't get out if we caught on fire. But in those last few moments of being 'alone', I had peace that replaced the panic. A peace that didn't so much make sense, it just was.

It was the stuff that traumatic memories are made of. Swarms of rescue workers (amazing ones) descended on the accident site. They covered me with a sheet and began cutting the top off the car with the jaws of life. They cut us three girls out of the car, one by one. The driver was airlifted, she was hurt so badly I could cry thinking about it today. I remember her convulsing, the paramedics saying her body was shutting down. I have no idea how long it took them to get me out, but I remember the crowd of what seemed like at least 100 gawkers behind the yellow tape, just doing that obnoxious gawking thing. I remember being in the ambulance and being so distressed that they cut my new sandals off my feet. I ran through what I grasped of the story for the third, thirtieth, three hundredth time, I don't even know. They asked what the driver's name was. "Jen," I answered. They asked who the other girl in the front was. "Jennifer," I replied. They paused and asked, "So... what's your name?" Even at thirteen, I knew where they were going with this. "Jenni. It really is Jenni." They exchanged knowing "she-must-have-a-head-injury" glances and proceeded to dig glass out of my scalp.

We talked about my seatbelt situation, I sheepishly told the paramedic-man about how I buckled it across the seat. He was quiet for a minute and then quietly discussed with the other paramedic-men. He said it was a miracle, that there was no better way that I could have been buckled in for the way we were hit. No seatbelt would have been very bad. The correct seatbelt buckle would have held me in place to be smashed when the van hit us. In the days weeks, months, even years following, more and more "miracles" became obvious to us. Somehow landing inches short of a concrete pole - miracle. The two other Jen's pulling out of comas, recovering from brain injuries, surviving through that first night when the odds were not good, working through what had to be gruesome therapy - miracle. My seatbelt "situation" - I consider that my miracle, and at least there's one paramedic out there who does, too!

For me, God's voice wasn't a booming voice and an epiphany, it was in insistent urging to do something I already knew was right. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't listened. From now until forever, the phrase "just do the next right thing," feels really weighty and even urgent. June 13th is a type of New Year's Day for me, where I thank God for whatever He saved me from and muster fresh determination to just do the next right thing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stop and Smell the Chicken

I remember clearly when I got the word that my grandpa was dying. He was my step-grandpa, actually, but my most dear and real grandpa. At the time, life was just plain busy. I had a new job, and I additionally worked part time doing medical transcription. I spent a lot of time at church, and I was in the thick of wedding planning (woot!). Aaron and I somehow managed to get a last-minute four days off our combined four jobs, and we headed down to Virginia. We made it in record time - from Chicago(ish) to almostNorthCarolina in something like twelve hours. Then we raced back. Like, literally raced... aaand I got my first speeding ticket in West Virginia. Super traumatizing. And expensive. I highly recommend getting all speeding tickets in one's home state.

There's a point to this story, really.

I'm in a small group right now, studying the book 7: An Experiemental Mutiny Against Excess.  Today we talked about stress and how to intentionally find rest, even in the middle of our crazy. One question we discussed was, "how does our culture go against the grain of observing a time for rest?" We naturally segued into how we live and drive in Chicago(ish) and how it can make us rushed, impatient, and even angry. I had a memory wash over me from that trip to Virginia...

We were on our way back from Grandma's church on Sunday morning. My grandma was driving her car in front , and Aaron and I were in my car behind her. We stopped at a red light and watched as Grandma's door swung open, she stepped out of the car and shuffled her way back to our car. "JENNI!" she hollered as she approached us (She's slightly hard of hearing, which explains the hollering. She is in her seventies and was wearing her church-heels, thus, the shuffling.) You should know that my sweet Grandma is extremely Southern. Not prim-and-proper-Southern-belle, but Blue-Ridge-mountains-directly-related-to-moonshiners-with-residual-hill-folk-drawl. I'm not saying one brand of Southern is superior to the other. I just want to paint a picture for you here of my Granny-ma in her skirt-suit and pumps, hustling back to our car and calling out, "We're gonna git some chicken! Ya'll go on home and we'll meet you there!" 

IN THE MEANTIME, there were several cars pulling up behind us. The light turned from red to green. We had a conversation about lunch with my grandma, fairly certain the drivers behind us would unleash their Southern fury upon us and we would never actually make it to lunch. (Everyone knows that no one will shoot you more politely than a Southerner, but we weren't terribly comforted by this knowledge.) Grandma headed back to her car just in time for the light to turn red again, and there we sat for the longest red light in the history of mankind. The seconds ticked by, and we braced ourselves. To our amazement, no one even beeped. No one threw their hands up dramatically. No one in that long line of cars hollered out their window at us. They just waited. Clearly, they were not in a hurry and they respected the importance of fried chicken.  Since this day, my admiration for the South and the Southern is so great that I give them forever proper noun status, alway capitalized, never merely an adjective. This admiration falls just short of attaching any form of rebel flag to anything that belongs to me. Also, I will not be participating in Civil War reenactment. I will not do it. Not even for a gallon of sweet tea and a slaw dog (A hot dog with chili, onion, mustard and coleslaw. I want to weep just thinking about it, it's that beautiful).

But I digress. For me, this week is about intentionally pausing six times each day, even if the moment feels more green-light than red-light. I thought Jen Hatmaker put it well, "Stress is the calling card of our generation, the proof of our productivity, evidence of our important lives. We're busy. We're incredibly taxed. We're involved in worthwhile and stunning activities. We ensure our kids follow suit, keeping the schedule of a first year trial-lawyer, and the line items sacrificed are family dinners, unplanned afternoons, breathing space, rest." My pauses will include a short reading (from the Psalms), prayer and stillness. I'm a little concerned about how very weird this seems to anyone reading who isn't "in" this study. If you're my friend already, I assure you this is no more weird than any other thing I do on a day-to-day basis. If you're not a friend yet, I hope you'll just assume the best of me! I'll check in with 'all ya'll' on how my week went in six days or so!

Until then, please don't forget to respond appropriately to traffic signals, and to sometimes just stop and smell the chicken.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

rose-colored glasses are so-oo 2011...

These thoughts are egregiously hijacked from people who... well... aren't me. Family, friends, Jesus... hopefully not in that order. :)

Lots and lots of years ago, I was in a musical. It was a low-to-no budget production and there were some things that were sacrificed (like maybe safety). One day when we were on stage rehearsing, a board worked its way loose from one of the really tall props and fell onto a girl's head. I remember watching it topple and fall toward this poor girl, it all felt like slow motion. I absolutely had time to push her, holler, try to catch the board - SOMETHING - but I didn't.

I was frozen.

I think back to this sometimes. I so wish this wasn't a reflection of my personality, but it totally is. I see something bad happening, and I'm seized with this pathetic paralysis, caught in indecision until the crisis has passed and the point is moot. I hate it so much, so I decided about a year ago to do something about it! I decided to defy my natural instinct and act. It didn't matter if at the moment my life was good and theirs was bad, I would choose to see the need and try to find a way to help. I happen to have landed in a church with a whole lot of like-minded people when it comes to this, and I LOVE it. Here are some things I am learning from them and from others.

1. Empathize and give yourself permission to act even when what the hurting person is experiencing is more than you can wrap your mind around.

2. Get practical and do what you can do. Cook food, give rides, bring coffee, cry with them. Don't say "Let me know if there's anything I can do," and expect that to actually be helpful.

3. If you just don't know what to say, listen and let your words be few. You don't need to be a licensed psychologist to be there for them. Put your arms around them and shut the heck up.

3. If you do know what to say, wait for the right way and the right time to give your input. People in traumatic situations don't need to be bossed.

4. Let others help, too. It's not about you or me. For some reason, it can be really tempting to 'hog' the hurting person when you're positioned close to them. Maybe it's ego? I don't know, but I think I'm learning how important it is to let others come in and bless in ways they are gifted to bless.

I can't end a post like this without a shameless plug for be(LOVE)ed, a group I am honored to be a part of. They ROCK at caring for people in practical ways during times of sickness, loss, or other need. If you're looking to be a blessing, find other people who are doing it and MOVE with them. I'm looking forward to intentionally "move with the movers!"

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Wearing your husband's clothes (and other slippery slopes)

"Can I wear a pair of your dress socks?"

These are actual, non-dramatized words I spoke to my husband a few days ago. As I uttered them, I just knew I had hit a new low. There were two things that brought me comfort, though. First, said socks did not even come close to fitting me - the proper heel of the sock stuck out awkwardly mid-calf. Second, I did have a legitimate need. Upon assessing my sock-drawer situation, I realized I have exactly ONE pair of 'dress' socks, and ZERO pairs of the brown persuasion. I almost had rationalized how completely not-weird it was for me to wear my husband's socks, when, without missing a beat, Aaron cheerfully and non-judgmentally said, "Sure!" This had become so commonplace in our relationship that he didn't even bat an eye.

It's official. I have a problem.

I'm actually kind of normal. I have my very own closet as well as my very own dresser, which contain clothes that both fit me and belong to me. I just find myself increasingly turning my back on my own clothes and going to my husband's closet. It started years ago with one innocent item, a Chicago Bears hoodie he first offered me when we were ALMOST dating. You know the story...the girl is all, "oh dear me, it's just so-oo cold in here" so the guy offers her his big, manly sweatshirt. The girl conveniently 'forgets' to give it back until he officially asks her out,  (in retrospect, she realizes he probably just did this in an effort to get his shirt back) at which point she might as well just keep it forever because they will be married and she will need it as a maternity shirt before he can even blink... I'm sure it makes perfect sense to you that this hoodie now possesses some nostalgic power over me and I keep returning to it. One time, Aaron put it in the Goodwill pile. Upon finding me crouched in the dark closet, clutching it and hissing "my preciousss...", he promptly returned it to its hanger. He's a good man.

I guess this probably WAS cute when we were dating. I paired his shirt with my size 4 ultra low-rise Aeropostle jeans, sitting snugly on hips that resembled those of an 11-year-old boy. It's somehow not as endearing now when the other half of my outfit is the pants I slept in, resting a comfortable seven-and-a-half inches above the hips that have borne two children. Go ahead and throw in whatever-I-fed-Landon-last smeared on my chin and eye makeup from yesterday that appears to be making its pilgrimage from my eyes to my cheekbones. I imagine I must look like a live recreation of Lindsay Lohan mug shots... with birthing hips...

(I just need to admit here, my flair for the dramatic MAY have caused me to exaggerate some of that.) 

I will always-and-forever remember one bridal shower I went to where one of the bridesmaids was offering some words of wisdom. She talked about how her mom would make sure her hair was fluffed (I'm assuming this was in a fluffy-hair era) and she put on fresh lipstick just before her dad came home from work. I think that's so sweet! How awesome would it be to reclaim this slippery slope and work harder to look cute for my sweet hubby when he gets home? It won't always happen, but, by golly, today I will NOT have pumpkin puree on my face when he walks through the door... because I love that man!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Downton Crabby

Let's talk Downton. Everybody loves to hate a certain character - be honest, you're not above it and neither am I. Here's my dilemma - I can't decide who is THE WORST character in season three. Just when I think that one character (O'Brien) can get no more reprehensible (O'Brien), they come back and redeem themselves just enough to confuse me (still O'Brien).

So, shall we lay out the facts to determine who is the chiefest of the Downton villains?

1. O'Brien.  

A typical day in the life of O'Brien might include sabotaging other household staff members, empty flattery, and/or chain smoking.

O'Brien's most heinous offense was leaving a slippery bar of soap outside the tub for pregnant Lady Grantham to trip on. This led to the tragic miscarriage of the unborn Grantham son who would have solved Downton's pesky heir problems.

Her redeeming qualities include an ability to think on her feet, fierce loyalty to those she cares about, and her ability to keep Thomas at bay.

2. Thomas

"Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife, hide yo' husband!" Or maybe just that last one.   On a typical day, you may observe Thomas making unwelcome advances toward house guests, staff etc. Since he is forever an unrequited lover, a failure at black market entrepreneurship, a petty-thief, a coward on the battlefield and a dog-napper, we may be able to overlook his tobacco addiction.  Taking these into consideration, I can't even begin to narrow it down to a most heinous offense. He's sneaky and manipulative. I mean, just look at that face.

A redeeming moment happened, in my opinion, when he wept over Sybil's death. Perhaps he has a soul after all. Perhaps.

3. Branson

A typical day in the life of this former chauffer would undoubtedly include heated political debates, "marrying up", attending nationalist rallies, and occasionally burning down the homes of wealthy noblemen.

Branson's most heinous offense was leaving pregnant Sybil to fend for herself and sneak her way back to Downton while he ran from the law.

Seasons two and three show few redeeming qualities for whiney Tom, but your heart goes out to him when his sweet wife dies after childbirth. We all really liked season one Branson, too, so that has to count for something.

4. The (late) Mrs. Bates

A typical day in Vera Bates' life would show that she is a vengeful wife, a thief, a blackmailer, and a murderer of true love. In a word - she's SCARY.

Her most heinous offense is allegedly suicide with the intent of framing her husband, John Bates, for her murder. The jury is still out on that one.
Pun intended. :)

I can't tell you if she has any redeeming qualities, but she certainly can't get any worse from here on out!

5. These Guys

A typical day in the life of these guys would involve a collaboration for running drugs in prison. I think. I'm super confused about them, actually, but they seem menacing. FREE BATES! (Sorry, had to say it.)

Most heinous offense - stashing drugs in Bate's bed to frame him.

Their inadvertent redeeming quality is that Bates is totally manning up under the pressure they're putting on him!

6. Molesley

A typical day in Molesley's life would probably render you comatose. Just the name "Molesley" conjures feelings of "bleh". He's so blasted boring and occasionally sniveling. I feel for Molesley what Michael Scott feels for Toby Flenderson. This probably means I'm a closet bully or something, but he needs to be stuffed in a gym locker for the rest of the season.

I honestly think I'll have to wait until the end of the season to truly know. Will Thomas and O'Brien get on the patch and change their ways? Will Branson mellow now that he's a father? Will Molesley detect dangerous levels of radon at Downton and save them all? Is it next Sunday yet so I can see what happens next?!

Today's post brought to you by Carson (and Jenni)

Today I realized some things that I will miss about this particular phase of Carson's life. Isn't it true that the quirky little thing that they do day in and day out, they one day wake up and never do again? That's heavy stuff - it makes this momma want to weep!

One of Carson's "things" is that every measure of time, if it's not RIGHT THIS SECOND, is "last week" to him. I love, love, love it. Also, he ends about half his sentences with "I guess". A therapist may tell you that reflects uncertainty and yadda yadda.  Since Carsie knows we think he's totally awesome, I think it's just a cute thing he does. :) I asked him to tell me a story so I can remember it forever. Here goes:

"My cousins were here last week and a tree fell on Gramma's house. Firewood fell on the ground and there were deep holes in the grass. I saw it when I was playing on the iPad. My friends were at my house, and Poppa chopped down the tree on Gramma's house while I was sleeping. I got flowers for Mom. I went to the pool last week and there was a slide there, a fast one and a really big one. It wasn't dark in there, and um, I was playing with my Dad. The End. Hey mom - it's the end. That was fun!"

There you go. Most of those things are true, they just didn't happen last week. :) I guess.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What are these things called?

No, actually, it doesn't matter. I'll still hate them just as much, even if I know what they're called. :)

Should we break it to our copywriting friends that no one thinks about copywriters ever? It's nothing personal. There are plenty of perfectly respectable professions that nobody ever thinks about. I would give some examples, but... well...I can't think of any. I rest my case.

(The best part of this one is the "Buddhist Boot Camp" at the bottom. What would that look like? Really, now I'm intrigued.)


  Okay, fine. I was a TEENSY bit amused by the metal detecting one. :)

But then I got to the teenage ones. I LOVE teenager stereotypes.
FALSE. I do not love them, they are the second worst thing ever.
 Right after whatever-these-are-called. 
Let's throw in lack of regard for spelling/grammar/capitalization/punctuation (third worst thing ever) and we have hit the TRIFECTA, my friends. 

Note: I realize these are not, in fact, the worst things ever. However, I'm hoping my extreme scorn will influence the general population and hasten the day when whatever-these-are-called are no more. :)

Saturday, January 05, 2013


On this fifth day of 2013, I'm thinking back on 2012. it was a big year for us, and we were all sick enough over the holidays that I didn't put enough energy into my yearly retrospection. Here are my "Big 12" for 2012.

1. Our second son was born the morning of February 3rd!!! He narrowly escaped sharing the birthday/holiday spotlight with his dad and Punxatawney Phil.

2. We became landlords. This was, and continues to be, one of my least favorite things ever in life.

3. Child #1 was finally successfully potty trained!!!  Potty training this particular child ranks just below "being a landlord" and just above "what I imagine a root canal would feel like" on my list of least favorite things.

4. We had an epic summer of family traveling (we love traveling!) This included:
  • Four trips in an airplane with a three-year-old and an infant. These went remarkably well!
  • A historical and seaside visit to Boston. May I recommend Nantasket Beach Resort to anyone staying in Massachusetts? Picture snuggling in front of a fireplace, watching the ocean roar just outside your balcony. Sigh...
  • A big, long stay with six awesome Koehler cousins in Philadelphia.
  • A daytrip to D.C. We saw some cool historical stuff, got two parking tickets, and spent half the day pushing the double stroller around the city looking for the place our rental car was towed. You can't win 'em all. Would you believe the day was still fun?
  • A fun two-day trip to Springfield. I'm the proud momma of a now four-year-old who can tell you quite a bit about "Ingaham Blincoln".
5. This really falls into #4, but in August we all four had our first trip to Disney. We usually travel on the cheap, but we are now a little enamored with the whole magical, expensive, touristy Disney gimmick!
6. I started running again! I'm real wimpy and don't run in harsh winter conditions, when I'm pregnant, or when I have broken lower appendages, all of which happened in rapid succession in 2011- 2012.

7.  God did something unexpected and cool. He gave my husband a new job opportunity in his hometown with Community Christian Church. We had done some networking with this church the past couple of years and we were impressed! Aaron taking this job meant leaving our jobs, our home, and our church family. It was a big deal, but we are loving CCC Yorkville, and the people in it!

8. We put an offer on a house...and we didn't get it! We decided that was actually a good thing, just in time for curt and rude-ish realtor man to call back and ask us to make our offer again. Thanks, but no thanks, bro.

9. We ate only whole, real foods for the month of September. I look at food differently now. I cook differently. I shop differently. It was a great month for our family, and I recommend doing something like this, for about 36.5 different reasons. It won't even make you too weird! ;) I just ate a Twizzler, but with the awareness that it's probably one molecule away from being plastic, I stopped at one! 

10.  On a related note, I have developed a taste for food documentaries. No pun intended. This one, "Forks Over Knives", particularly captured my attention and challenged my thinking.

11. God also used this book to challenge my thinking even more. Just when I think I'm getting things figured out, He usually shows me I'm not even close. It's good - it keeps life exciting!  

12. We decided, for several different reasons, that we will homeschool, for at least the first few years of our kids' schooling. This decision has been so validated, especially the past month. 

It was a good year, and I'm looking forward to the adventures 2013 holds for us!