Saturday, November 29, 2008

Expressions of Gratitude

We've had one insane holiday weekend. Tomorrow is Sunday, and I am grateful, grateful to the depths of my soul, that I don't have to be anywhere except mass. In addition to logging almost 400 miles in driving to and fro, we stuffed/roasted a turkey, baked two casseroles, a cake, and three batches of cookies.

Many, many thanks to E, who hosted us for Thanksgiving dinner and let me bring along a stack of favorites to ease The Oracle's finicky pallette.

Many thanks to Hon and Pop who fed us a maaahvelous dinner on Friday night during our long-overdue visit. The kids hadn't seen them since summertime. The Oracle was going into meatball withdrawal.

Many thanks to my sister, V, and her husband R, who invited us to a lovely Christmas party this evening. The Oracle had to work and couldn't go, so I got to drive the kids up there on my own.

Thank you, God, that the traffic jam on the way to V&R's was civilized. Normally, we can cover the 80-mile trip in roughly one-and-a-half hours, but it took a smidge over three. The other drivers were surprisingly well behaved.

Thank you, Precious Daughter and Mighty B, for keeping the atmosphere inside the car a pleasant one despite being trapped in it for so long. They kept their good behavior working through V&R's party, too, despite the fact that they ate nothing besides a couple of cocktail weenies, two cookies each, and a stalk of celery.

Thank you, House Fairy, for detouring your route to Thanksgiving Dinner to check on my idiot German Shedder when I called you in a panic. I - horrors! - discarded my turkey carcass and failed to put the trash out of reach of the dippy dog and didn't discover my error until we were almost at E's. The House Fairy very graciously stopped by our house to check on Knucklehead and to put whatever was left out of her reach.

Thank you, Knucklehead, for starting in on nothing more than the stupid parchment paper. Why you bypassed the carcass for a piece of greasy parchment I'll never know, but I'm glad I didn't have to deal with the havoc those bones, skin, and meaty bits would have wrought on your digestive tract.

Thank you, Mom, for not coming back to haunt me when I discarded that turkey carcass. Mom never let it go to waste, using it to prepare gallons of turkey stock. I had this same ambition in mind, but I knew full well that the thing would have ended up shoved in a back corner of the fridge until it grew new legs and walked out on its own.

Thank you, Oracle, for not berating me as harshly as I deserved for neglecting to shut off the oven before departing for Hon & Pop's on Friday, and you can bet I'm thankful that it's an electric oven and that it didn't start a fire.

Thank you, Pearle Vision, for the 30% coupon we needed when Mighty B. unexpectedly destroyed The Oracle's glasses on Friday night. What should have been a $600 tab for new specs ran roughly $400.

Thank you, Oracle for driving home Friday night when I found your spare glasses conveniently stashed in the car's center console. I offered to drive, I know. You worked during the day and you had to work on Saturday as well, but I'm a chickenshit when it comes to driving the interstate around the stadium, and I also knew I'd face a harrowing drive to V&R's the next day.

Certainly not least, thank you to all of my friends who take the time to throw an email or a phone call my way despite the antisocial tendencies I've developed recently. I do love to hear from you, and I hope you don't lose patience with me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Notions of Sewing

I've gained quite an appreciation for all of your stitchery wizards out there. Except for a brief obsession with counted cross stitch during my tenure with 9-1-1, I'm pretty much clueless with the operations of needle and thread. I've often expressed a desire to learn how to sew. Other than Home Ec. classes in middle school (which I enjoyed), I haven't touched a sewing machine.

A couple years ago, The Oracle, sick of my overt hinting, purchased a rebuilt Singer for me for Christmas. (Rebuilt was my idea, since I didn't want to shuck out a billion dollars if it turned out that I was a sewing flop.)

My kids' Catholic school has this thing with costuming for the younger grades. Last Christmas, I was required to dress Precious Daughter as an angel for the Christmas pageant, since she wasn't one of the lucky ones who could borrow one of costumes the school had on hand from prior years. This year, for Halloween, I had to dress Precious Daughter as a saint, and she had to write a brief essay on her chosen saint's life.

For the angel and saint costumes, I pulled out the Singer and "winged" something together (no pun intended, but there nonetheless). The saint costume was a disaster, pinned together and stitched into compliance at the bus stop.

A week or so into November, after the Halloween stores were closed and long gone and too little time for eBay to rescue me, a letter comes home announcing that the second graders were to dress as either Pilgrims or Native Americans for the day before Thanksgiving. Ugh, not again!!!

Determined not to send my child to school wearing another half-assed creation, I mustered my courage and set off for the fabric store. I haven't looked at a sewing pattern since middle school, and had little clue as to what I was supposed to get. I muddled my way through the pattern books and quickly convinced Precious Daughter that she'd much rather be a Native American. The Pilgrim costume looked waaaay too complicated.

With the help of the fabric-store staff, I spent $37 on the pattern, fabric, and other essentials.

$37!!! Yikes!!! My do-it-yourself jobs cost less than half of that.

The one thing on my side is that I have a half-decent mechanical ability. My artistic side is virtually nonexistent, but I'm usually pretty good at following instructions and putting things together. It took me two days of staring at the pattern and the instructions to get a sense of what was expected. Monday night, with only two days to go, I took the plunge and started cutting. Once the kids were in bed, I fired up the sewing machine. After a few false starts, I worked until 2:00 a.m., sewing pieces together as far as I could go.

Part of my project involved this foreign stuff called "bias tape," which I'd never used before in my life. I vaguely remember seeing the stuff in my mother's sewing notions, but I had no idea what it was for, and the pattern instructions might as well have been in Greek. I had to return to the fabric store on Tuesday for a little guidance. It wasn't much, but they tried. I returned home an began my battle with bias tape.

I must ask. Why is that stuff so darned dense? I had to pin this stuff to armholes, and I couldn't drive the damned pins through the tape. I must've bent at least fifteen pins in my efforts to stick them through the fabric. My thumbs and forefingers ached from applying pressure to the pins, and I'm lucky that I didn't stab the hand holding the fabric. I would have jammed a pin clean through a finger with all the pressure I was applying.

Between the bias tape battle and all the seam pressing and the constant worry that I was botching this project beyond salvage, I was one pooped parent. Kids, the next time you grumble about wearing a home-made anything to anywhere, shut up and consider the work that went into putting it together.

Enough rambling. This is how it turned out. Not bad, huh?

That pink trim on the bolero and at the fringe was nothing short of difficult. First off, the entire edge of the bolero was covered with a strip of that hideous bias tape. Second, trying to sew a straight piece of trim on a curved item is really, really tricky. There were parts where it all crunched up despite my best efforts, and I blame the bunchiness in the bolero on that. Ah well.

In his second picture, Precious Daughter was sick of me and the camera. She'd just gotten off the school bus and I made her ditch her coat so I could photograph her. I know full well she won't put it on again, and I wanted a picture, dangit.

Mighty B. made his hat in school that day, and it cracks me up every time he puts it on. Those knobby things are two turkey drumsticks. Funny, eh?

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The party at E's was fantastic, with a nice mix of friends and a buttload of kids. Precious Daughter and Mighty B. had a wonderful time.

The Oracle was stuck working and missed all the fun.

I dragged my reluctant-to-leave children out the door, placating them with one of the radio stations playing 24/7 Christmas music during the ride home. They both crashed and burned into a sound sleep fifteen minutes before we pulled into the driveway.

As much as I love having my kids fall asleep after a long day of frenzied play, they're getting too big to haul from the car to their beds without disturbance. Leaving the engine running, I ran inside, turned down their beds, and went to fetch them in.

Precious Daughter awoke long enough to help me get her out of the car. She helped me lift her up (phew!) and I carried her inside, ditched her coat, jeans and sneakers and covered her up. She was out in seconds.

Mighty B. was total dead weight. He's a beefy kid, and I thought I was going to rupture something during the lift from the booster seat to my hip. I get him inside, and he barely opens his eyes while I get him out of his coat, shoes, and jeans. Zzzzzzzz.

I sort of have the house to myself. The Oracle won't be home for at least another forty minutes, so I park my butt in his recliner and boot up the laptop.

My arms are a little cold, but I think nothing of it until a big shiver runs up my arms. Hmmm... What's that thermostat set on?

I go check, and I see that my house is eight degrees lower than the 68 it should be. Why isn't the heat running? I feel the vents, and they're ice cold. I venture into the basement and check the breakers, and they're okay too. I take the cover off the heater and hit the red "reset" button on the oil burner. It fires right up, thank God.

The Oracle comes in and complains of the cold. I mentioned having to reset the burner, and it was then that I realized the heat had shut off and not come back on. Crap. I call the House Fairy and get a little advice and nothing works. I have to call service from the oil company, unless I want to spend my night punching the reset button to keep the heater turned on.

At 10:45 I call and leave a message with the answering service. The Oracle makes a pot of decaf and we both fall asleep on the couch waiting for the phone to ring.

At 1:30, the temp has dropped another three degrees and I wake up shivering. I go downstairs and punch the reset, wait for it to shut off and punch it two more times. I call service again, and it takes me several tries to get through, because something funky is happening with their telephones. She tells me she delivered my prior message, that she'll call again. I send The Oracle to bed, since there's no point in both of us waiting up, and I'm too aggravated to sleep after a three-hour nap on the sofa. I wrap myself up in a blanket and open my book and I wait.



At 3:30, nobody's called and nobody's going to. I tried calling the answering service again, but they're still suffering that same funky phone problem, and I'm done wasting my time. I make sure the kids are tucked in tight and I crawl into bed, waiting at least another half hour before sleep comes.

I called the service again in the morning, and now the woman tells me that she'd been trying to reach the on-call person "every fifteen minutes" since my last call. I don't really believe her, but I'm wondering why there's only one person to reach. Isn't there some sort of chain of command? Whatever.

At 8:10 a.m., our house is a balmy 50 degrees when the repairman calls and says he'll arrive at our house in forty minutes. We're dressed in layers of sweats and coats and huddled in the kitchen with our fifteen-year-old space heater. Yeah, I could have fired it up last night, but I don't trust the thing anywhere else with the dog hair, not to mention the added risk of two geriatric cats who are desperate for anything warmer than each other.

The guy shows up, and I was tempted to lay into his butt about not answering his page, but I thought his turn at "on call" probably started at 8:00 a.m., and he'll probably have a long list of chilled, grouchy customers. I offered coffee instead. He replaced some little brass part and was gone in fifteen minutes. The best part is that I didn't have to pay him a nickel; the oil company will just tack it onto my bill. (I don't have a service contract, but I guess I should reconsider that since the unit is 17 or 18 years old.)

Our heater ran for over two hours trying to regain 18 degrees.

I'll be calling the oil company in the morning for a chat with the secretary I usually deal with. While I don't want anyone fired for not returning my calls last night, I don't think the guy, whoever it was, should benefit from receiving any pay for his after-hours time on call when he didn't answer his messages.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Runaway Paprika - The Last Straw

My friend is having a party tomorrow. After a little discussion, she and I decided that I'd bring along a few goodies including a cheese ball, cole slaw, and devilled eggs.

I dug out my sister's rather-awesome recipe, only to be reminded that it isn't really a recipe at all. It's more or less an ingredient list with proportions varying from "a little" to "a lot." Well, I'd done it once before, and I knew I had to just keep tasting it as I went along. No biggie.

As I get ready to cook the eggs, I'm suddenly second-guessing the cook time. Is it seven minutes? Is it ten? Ah, shoot.

I turn to our favorite "food bible," The New Best Recipe published by Cooks Illustrated. I spotted a method for hard-cooking eggs that I'd never seen before, and decided it would be worth a try. Everything else in that book has proven to be nothing short of excellent with results exactly as promised.

I set to work. Cover the eggs in 1 inch of water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. From there, the eggs are removed from the boiling water and submerged in an ice-water bath for at least five minutes to arrest cooking.

I follow the steps to the letter, remove the first egg, and start peeling. What a bitch!!!! The recipe promised a shell that would "spiral off" once I got through the membrane at the wide end of the egg. No way. I had the shell and the membrane all right, but that thing wasn't giving up for anything.

When I finally get the shells off, my eggs are nicked and battered. Several were total losses in my efforts to peel them, with only the yolk being salvageable. I still have a respectable amount to serve, so I slice it through the first egg and discover -- uh-oh -- the yolk is only 3/4 cooked. It's not wet in the middle or anything, but it's a little too marbly looking to my liking.

Are you kidding me? All that nitpicky work and my eggs aren't even thoroughly cooked. I have to start over.

On the second batch of eggs, I cook 'em the old-fashioned way, by boiling the heck out of them, and thanks to my Joy of Cooking I have a reliable cook time (7 minutes). I should've gone there first. I cool my eggs, they peel with ease, and I start working on the filling, blending and tasting, adding something, blending, and tasting. I've gone through half of the spoons in the drawer with all of my sampling, and the damned things are still as flat as hell. I add one last little bit of extra, and zoooommmm-pow!!!!! The danged things are on fire. What the heck happened here?

There is way too much devil in my devilled eggs. I'm not sure what to do now. I have no more eggs. I can't add more mayo because it will make the filling too squishy. I resign myself to my disaster, praying that my friend's guests like spicy eggs, and fetch the paprika to sprinkle on my eggs for a little color.

Where's the paprika? I remember taking it out of the cabinet, but my paprika is nowhere to be found. Nowhere. WTF?

I've searched everywhere. I know it's here someplace. I've checked in other cabinets, on the floor, the fridge, the trash can. Dagnabbit, I had the darned thing in my hand. Where'd it go?

When/if it turns up, I'll let you know.

---- Edited to add: The paprika turned up in the cabinet where the spices belong. Huh? I have no recollection of putting it there. I had just taken it out of there, and I hadn't used it yet.

Now, this may not seem all that unusual to you, but I am one of those horrible people who perpetually neglect to put things away. By all rights, that paprika should still be sitting by the stove or on the kitchen table two days later.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Because He Can

Mighty B has been in quite a mood this evening. He spent the last hour arguing with me out of sheer orneriness. Part fatigue, part misery (The Oracle is working tonight and he misses Daddy), I get the brunt of his emotions.

I had to go to the stupidmarket for dog food, and if it was something to annoy me, he did it, rattling glass jars on their shelves, playing with fruit displays, opening and smelling the contents of the pickle barrel by the deli, not staying with me until I forcibly grabbed his arm for good, and doing the old hang-and-drag to make me let go.

Fortunately for me, he's a tall-ish kid, which means I merely dragged his bejeaned knees up and down the aisles until I finished what I had to do.

We check out and return to the car. He climbs inside, and I close his door and walk around to the driver's door. Oh, looky-looky!! Mighty B has reopened his door and is giving me a defiant stare.

"Oh, it's that game?" I return to his door, throw the child lock on, and shut it gleefully. Mighty B. is vexed that he can't reopen it. "Serves you right."

After a heavy-handed threat, he finally buckles up for the ride home, and when we arrive, I open his door, release the child lock, and ask him to step out of the car. He refuses because he can.

"Okay, suit yourself, I'm going inside" and I do, but I send the Shedder outside with him to keep a watchful eye. He wanders in a few minutes later.

Precious Daughter gets in the shower, Mighty B. plays possum and I have to strip him down. He has finally resigned himself to his shower fate, and he's a good boy about it.

We ate an early dinner, so snacks are in order. I unwisely give them hot chocolate, cheated on the powder and camouflaged with milk.

MB - Mommy, I don't like the marshmallows.
Me - I can scoop them out.
PD - I'll eat them!
MB - No! (pause) Mommy, I'm not drinking it. The mug is too full.
Me - Suit yourself. It's there if you want it.
PD - I'll drink it!
MB - No! (pause) Mommy, can I have some crackers?
Me - How do you ask me?
MB - Pleeeeease?
PD - Can I please have some too? (it takes me a moment to recover from the shock of PD uttering the word, "please.")
Me - sure. I'll just put them here and you guys can help yourselves.
MB - I don't want to share!
Me - (groaning) Fine, B. Seven for you, seven for PD.
MB - But I wanted three!
Me - Eat what you want, B. She can finish what you don't, and I have more if you want them.

Not ten minutes later, the mugs are drained, the crackers are devoured, and our petty power struggle is forgotten.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Human Good Citizen

Take a look at this post on Stapling Jell-O.

There's nothing I can say to add to it. It's an excellent idea, don't you think?

E shared the link with me. She's becoming quite the blog surfer, huh?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Almost Over!!!

Time to get your vote on!

Everyone close to me knows I'm sick to death of election coverage. Sick of debates, sick of analyses ad nauesam, sick of the recorded automated phone calls and TV commercials. "I done had it."

Once the worst of the morning rush is through, I'll be wandering over to the polls to cast my vote. This is clearly one of the advantages to self employment. I don't have to stand in a crowd of a bazillion other people waiting to cast a vote before going to work at 9:00, and I won't be stuck in the after-work/after-dinner rush.

Yes, I care who wins, but I'm not getting political here. Even if it isn't my candidate, I hope the winner takes the election by a whopper of a margin so we don't spend the winter fuddling around with recounts and hanging chads. Please, God, no more of that.