Saturday, November 5, 2016

Olive Garden Inspired Chicken Gnocchi Soup

Chicken Gnocchi soup!  One of Sweet Girl's favorite soups is the Chicken Gnocchi soup at Olive Garden.  I've tried a few copy cat recipes, but they never got it just right, so I tinkered with it until I came up with a recipe that we all just love.  Please enjoy!

Olive Garden Inspired Chicken Gnocchi Soup

• 3 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely diced
• 1/2 cup carrot, finely diced (or shredded from a package)
• 1/2 cup celery, finely diced (about two large stalks)
• 4-8 medium to large cloves garlic, minced, divided
• I Tablespoon each Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper, plus more to add later
• 1 Tablespoon ground thyme (or fresh, if available. If using fresh, remove from stems and chop fine)
• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
• 2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cut into bite sized pieces (see recipe below)
• 3/4 cup Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay
• 6 cups chicken broth (plus extra as needed)
• 2 pints half & half
• 2 (16 ounce) packages potato gnocchi
• ½ bag fresh baby spinach, stems removed
• freshly grated Parmesan and/or Romano, for serving

For the chicken:
• Remove skin of 6 chicken thighs, 4 chicken breasts, or any combination and place in a baking pan (Thighs are really good!)
• Sprinkle the pieces with olive oil and flip to coat.
• Season each piece with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, thyme; flip pieces and repeat
• Coat the top of each piece liberally with half of the minced garlic.
• Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 25 minutes.  It’s OK if the meat isn’t completely finished cooking; it will finish in the soup.
• Shred or cut the meat into bite size pieces, removing extra fat and connective tissue.

For the soup:
• In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil together over medium heat.
• Add onion, carrots, celery and half of the garlic. Mix.
• Season with kosher salt, freshly ground white pepper, and thyme.
• Cook until tender over medium-low heat; about 10 minutes, stirring often.
• Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and cook 3 minutes, stirring often.
• Stir in the wine, then the chicken broth 1 cup at a time, followed by the half & half.
• Add the cooked chicken. Bring up to a simmer.
• After 10 minutes, add the gnocchi and stir. Cook until the gnocchi rises to the top.
• Add the spinach and simmer until the spinach is wilted, stirring often.
• If the soup seems too thick, add some more chicken broth to the consistency you like it.
• Season with salt and pepper to taste.
• Return to low and cook an additional 5-8 minutes to allow all the flavors to mix.
• Serve with grated cheese and garlic bread sticks.

Makes approximately 10-12 servings.  While leftovers do not freeze well, you can refrigerate for three days and it tastes wonderful! Recipe can also be halved.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dozer: Dozamo. The Doze Man. Big Daddy Dozer. Knucklehead. Slobberbox.

It is a sad day in our home; this morning around 7:20, our dog Dozer passed away. As it was apparent he was nearing the end, we were trying to get him to the vet to help ease his pain, but he passed on before we could get him there.

We got Dozer from a shelter in Chicago in August of 2009; he had been in the shelter system for more than a year. No one had taken him home - either afraid of his size or his medical issues, I guess. Oh well, their loss was our gain. We found out after we got him that he didn't have hip dysplasia (as we were told) but a ruptured ACL in his left knee. We could have returned him to the shelter, but he was such a great dog! If we had turned him in, it is doubtful he would have ever been adopted. So, we kept him - knowing that someday, he would rupture his knee again and we would have to make a decision.

As we got to know Dozer and he came out of his emotional shell from being in the system for so long, we learned that we had hit the jackpot of dogs. He told his own story: he was so well behaved that it was obvious someone had loved and trained him well as a puppy. He wouldn't hurt a flea. But at the same time, he came to us underweight (only 95 lbs! - you could see his ribs), sick, emotionally withdrawn, and with sores on his legs and elbows from laying on concrete constantly. We could tell that whomever had loved him so well had died or left in some way, and someone else who just didn't care had him - and left him outside for hours on end, and finally in some way he came to the shelter.

When Champs found him on on a Monday evening, he made arrangements for us to drive to Chicago the next night and bring him home. We brought him home at 11:30 at night on Tuesday (in spite of the fact that Champs had to get up at 4:30 for work). For weeks, Dozer (who was named Andre at the shelter) would do as he was told, but kept an emotional distance. As we worked with him, teaching him his new name, taking him for walks, playing with him and loving him, he slowly opened up and became this amazing dog with such a deep love for us - especially Champs. He obeyed me better than Champs, but he lived and breathed for the moment Daddy walked through the door every day.

Our four years with Dozer were awesome. We took him to the Freedom Celebration parade every July 4. It was so much fun to see people leave the parade and come to pet our dog. He loved to go on walks and would dance around the house until John was ready to take him out. Champs would play with him out on our driveway and Dozer would play growl and jump. From a distance, it looked (and sounded) like we had a monster dog, but it was all in fun. He never hurt a soul. At Christmas we would buy him a new kong-type rubber toy. He knew that smell and would help Daddy tear the package open to reveal his new treasure, and would demand to play right then and there. He liked to pretend he was the master of the house, but in reality, our 120 pound brut would cower before the cats - even going so far as to sleep elsewhere if our cat Jack was curled up on Dozer's bed!

Dozer was 10 years old when he ruptured his knee again a week ago. He'd already passed the life expectancy for his breed. We couldn't afford surgery, and it would have been a long and iffy rehabilitation for him anyway. We tried pain meds to help him through the pain while his knee scarred over, but they just didn't mesh well with his system and he's been sick the last few days.

It is so sad to lose our buddy, but I know that he adored Champs to no end, and helped a number of people who were afraid of big dogs to have a positive experience around one. He was sweet, gentle, funny, and a happy boy to be around. I won't miss Dozer Spit on my walls, but oh, I will miss our big, furry friend.

RIP, Buddy.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Forever I Will Run

"Only your love has captured my heart.
I hear you calling come, come, come.
So I will run, forever I will run
Unto You, oh God.
Where else can I go?
Forever I will run".

As we sang this in service today, I was thinking about what this song would mean to those sitting in the congregation. We have fitness enthusiasts who run. I could see them thinking of the consistency, the training, the constant running for the prize. Many have been delivered from circumstances they could not overcome on their own. I could see some saying "I will run" and meaning that they would flee temptation and danger and seek shelter in the everlasting... arms.

But I had a different thought than that. I imagined a dog whose owner has been away for days. Or a child who has been waiting at home all day for their father to come home. I heard those words He utters as He enters the room - the heart: "Daddy's Home!" And I saw the joy of that child, running with abandon to the door to be swept up into Daddy's arms. The joy of a faithful pet who can't contain his excitement and jumps and trembles with exuberance at being in the presence of his master who loves him.

Now, I know we're not small children, nor either a faithful dog. But He has captured my heart so completely. Where else can I run? Who else calls "Daddy's home!" and my heart runs to him in worship and praise? I want to remember this the next time life is overwhelming (probably later today!) - He is home, He has captured my heart - and I will run. Forever I will run.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Poster Child for the Sandwhich Generation

So I am exhausted. My feet, knees, and back are killing me.  But I want to start *trying* to be more consistent about blogging and today seems like a great day to stop and write a bit more than the 160 characters allowed by Twitter (just joined that today) or the slap and dash of Facebook.

Today I took the firm step into the heart of the sandwhich generation - again. My mom moved back in with us.  I'm sure that I hardly have any of the readers I did in 2005 (when I blogged devotedly), but back then Grandma B moved in after my father passed away and she couldn't afford to keep her home. She lived with us for a bit over two years before we moved to Illinois.

Since that time, Mom lived in an apartment in Minnesota for two more years, then went to Arizona for two years, then two years ago we brought her here to Illinois. Until today, she lived in a Senior Citizen complex about a block from our home.

However, sometimes even a block is too great a divide if the need is great. My mom has Arterial Sclerosis, which is slowly closing off the flow of blood to her brain, causing memory loss and the beginnings of dementia. She doesn't take adequate care of herself; doesn't take her insulin, or any of her other medications with any regularity. She sleeps all day. She never left her apartment. It was Time.

The fork in the road I anticipated two years ago was finally here: either put Mom in assisted living or bring her to live with us. But in Mom's current mental state, assisted living meant, to her, "nursing home". She could not see this as anything other than "the last step" and if we had put her there (much further way from us than just a block away), she would have turned her face to the wall and died. You have to use it or lose it; so she's moving here so we can help her to use it.

This will be an interesting road for us. She fears that she will be a burden (she won't). I fear that I won't be able to meet all her needs (let's face it, I won't - but she'll still be better than living alone). I worry about my daughter getting lost in the shuffle while at the same moment I rejoice that she again has her Grandmother living in her home, teaching her the meaning of family beyond Mom and Dad. I fear that I will do something wrong and give Erin poor teaching on how to handle John and I when we're aged...

Yes, I am firmly back in the Sandwich generation.  I hope it's not too much balonga or chopped liver!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Getting Intentional

What does it mean to be intentional?  I better figure it out, because that is the word I believe God is speaking to me right now.  It started during worship two weeks ago, singing "I will bless the Lord, bless the Lord at all times".  The key there is "I will".  The blessing His name - and certainly not the "at all times", cannot happen unless there is first an "I will" - I will choose, I will act, I will praise. I choose to set my will to praising Him.

As I have spent more time thinking about this concept of "I will", I've realized that so much of the time lately I haven't been saying "I will".  I've been saying, "I can't", "I won't", or "I'll wait".  "I'll wait" is the most egregious of all, simply because it doesn't feel like disobedience or defiance - it just feels like coasting. Coasting doesn't hurt anyone, does it?  I'm not so sure about that.  In the few years that I've said "I'll wait", I've seen some pretty poor results.

I need to lose weight, but I'll wait - and I've gained 40 pounds that I need to lose now.
I want to start a business, but I'll wait - and in the meantime, I've seen 4 new nationwide success stories of similar businesses started by women who didn't wait.
I need to get our budget done, but I'll wait - and now our financial issues are harder than ever.

Moving forward - being intentional and saying "I WILL" is scary and difficult. But I better figure it out. The clock is ticking and I don't want my chances to say "I will" become "I wish I had".

What about you?  What does getting intentional mean to you? What does it look like?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chili Throwdown

Tonight was the last Man's Cave/Ladies Night at church. It was a chili cookoff and lots of fun. I made white chicken chili and Champs made smoked pork chili. They were both really good - and neither of us won. Too sad, too bad, oh well.

I guess it wasn't whether we won or lost, though, it was that we participated. Sometimes it is so easy to just sit back and let others do the living. I've been doing too much of that lately. My new goal is to get up early each day so that I can leave my desk by 4:30. I haven't actually made it yet, but I am trying.

I've done a lot of this not-living the last 4 years. It takes a concerted effort to step out and make things happen again. Sometimes the steps are very small; baby steps to the door, baby steps to the car, etc.

But regardless of whether it is bible study or chili, it isn't important to win - it's important to get up and go for it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Free Car Repair - or - Above What You Can Imagine.

I mentioned the other day that I was choosing the be encouraged in the Lord in spite of our financial issues. The most glaring thing we were facing was the sudden problems with our car last Thursday night. When it died, I just couldn't put it all together. The car was clearly leaking antifreeze, but it also had an electrical system light on, a rubbing noise as it drove, and the steering completely locked when I put it in park. It honestly looked like it had major issues and I couldn't begin to understand where the money to pay for it was going to come from. The one thing that Champs and I agreed on was that we were still going to tithe, no matter what.

Champs started looking at the car and realized that the reason the electrical light had gone on was related to the rubbing sound I heard as the car drove: The alternator belt had gotten wet with antifreeze. Because of this, it couldn't spin properly and it rubbed. This made the battery run down, causing the light to go on.

As for the steering, when Champs went out and bought the proper antifreeze to refill the reservoir, the steering unlocked. Turns out that was a safety feature designed to keep us from driving the car with a dry radiator and cracking the block. He narrowed it down to either the water hose or the water pump. Now our biggest problem was how to pay for it.

Champs called and got some estimates; $150.00 at one place, but he gave us no confidence he knew how to fix it. $350.00 at another place. At that point, I asked Champs to call the dealer. The cars nowadays are so much more complicated than they were when my father was a mechanic in the 70's. If it was only a bit more, I would be willing to pay to make sure it was done right.

Sullivan told us it would be $500.00, and then asked us what the mileage was. At 45,000 miles, the Bumper-to-bumper warranty expired awhile ago. However, what neither Champs or I took into consideration was the POWER TRAIN WARRANTY! The Sullivan rep told us the repair would be free - and it was.

This is exactly the miracle we were praying for. I couldn't begin to imagine where the money to pay for the repairs would come from. My Mother-in-law offered to loan us her credit card, but neither Champs nor I could see how getting further in debt would be the best way out of this. In the end, all we could do was just pray, determine in our hearts to expect the best from God, and then watch as He figured it out. This is exactly the miracle we asked for. Perhaps we should have asked for more? Next, Lord, John needs a good job. And yes, we are going to stand firm in what You've called us to.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Going Platinum

Earlier this year I posted about feeling guilty for being unhappy. One of the things I wrote about was how frustrated I was by my job as a brokerage service representative. After 4.5 years of taking call after call with no break, I felt as though my job was a soulless zombie, feasting on my heart day after day. Oh, how I longed for a new job.

You know the old saying, "be careful what you ask for because you might get it?" Yeah, that. In May I went to Minneapolis for a week to meet my boss face to face and for a special seminar for an employee board I am on. While there, I found out that another group was hiring. This group does high-level dedicated service for our top-producing agents. Knowing that the job would require the ability to create relationships with my advisors and would involve more variety and problem solving and not as much slavery to a phone queue, I lobbied hard for the job. I went and introduced myself to the manager (it was the only chance he would have to meet me before I applied) and then posted for the job. I got it! Yay!

What I failed to realize fully is that I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. Suddenly I needed to be an expert on every area of our company. I can have an advisor call me for a brokerage issue, or a compensation issue. He could be having problems with a mutual fund or an annuity. She could have a complaint about an insurance policy or our marketing group. Like all jobs, this has a learning curve, and I have been climbing that curve since July when I started.

I know I will rock at this job. It makes the most of my best skills in finance and customer service and I am still very thankful that I got it. It's just that it's taking me awhile to learn it all and kinda kicking my butt in the process. Champs isn't working (he's been out of work since August) and I've been working too much. Oh, how I long for balance.

My goal this week is to leave my desk by 4:30 every day. I will dig deep and find it in myself to apply myself every minute and to produce my best work. Because this job isn't a soulless zombie feasting on my heart. It is feasting on other parts of me, however, and the time has come for me to be in control of my time again.

I'm not sure what the main point of this post is, so I can't wrap up with my pithy closing statement as I normally do. It's just that when it was time for me to blog, this job was on my heart, so that's what I wrote.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

You Have a Son.

56 Years ago today my parents were married. Back then, it was an all day affair; they got married just after lunch, then they had a short reception, then they broke to move to a ball room where they had a dinner, and then finally the dance and party. My sister came 17 months later and then, on my parent's 3rd anniversary, my brother Pat was born.

That day has garnered many stories from my parents. November 12 was a Wednesday. Mom woke up knowing that this was the day, and told Dad they needed to get Mary to Grandma's house and get to the hospital. My Dad, remembering how it went when Mary was born, decided he had plenty of time to take a shower and get some breakfast. Finally Mom had enough and told Dad they had to go NOW. They took Mary to Grandma, dropped her off and ran. By the time they got to the hospital, Mom was panting and trying to keep herself in control. Dad ran her into the lobby where he found a nurse and a wheelchair. He told them that he was going to go and park the car and would be right back. This was all of 35 minutes after Mom told Dad to get his butt in the car.

Dad ran out, parked the car, and ran back. He stepped off the elevator in time for a nurse to greet him and say, "congratulations, Mr. Higgins. You have a son". Dad walked into the Labor room in time to see the doctor cleaning himself off - almost as soon as he hit the cold air, Pat peed right on the doctor! Unlike today, when a mother goes through labor and delivery in one nice room with whatever family or friends she chooses to invite, when Pat was born the mother went first to the Labor room and then, when it was time, she was moved to the Delivery room. In my mom's case, Pat was born in the Labor room, and before Mom even had a chance to get fully prepped. Dad always liked to say how he called the hospital billing department and chewed them out for charging him for the Delivery room when my Mom never even saw the inside of it!

Now remember, I said that this was Mom and Dad's anniversary. Well, they sure weren't going to go out for dinner and dancing! Dad spent much of the day with Mom and then that evening he went out and got jeeeest a tad tipsy. Enough that he was crying in his beer and calling out "Bobbi, I love you!" Mom likes to tell that part of the story; I never heard that part from my Dad!

53 years later, my Dad has passed on and my Mom, while she misses my Dad, doesn't pay as close attention to dates as she used to. I'm glad I have the stories, though, to pass on here and to my daughter.

Happy birthday, Pat.

11/11/11, 11:11:11 Memorial

So I missed two things yesterday; I missed my blog post, and I missed two opportunities to make a once-100-years FaceBook post. Two times yesterday I could have posted "11/11/11, 11:11:11". I intended to step away from my desk in the morning to post, but I got so involved in work that I forgot. I then figured I would do it in the evening, but I waved the white flag at 9:30, just so tired all I wanted to do was sleep. Both opportunities missed. And I can say with some certainty that I will not be here to post the next time the opportunity arises.

Let's hope that in 13 months I can be on point to post 12/12/12, 12:12:12!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choosing encourgment

The one and only reason I am sitting at this computer to type anything is because I promised myself I would write every single day for the rest of November. I have to be up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow to work early, and then take my mom to the hospital for a CAT scan at 12:30. As it is is 11:30 now, this will be short.

Champs and I decided to tithe. We took the challenge to see God's faithfulness to our family. Although right at the moment I am discouraged like you would not believe, I am also choosing to be encouraged.

Why? Because we have no money. Christmas is 6 weeks away. We're behind on the house payment. Champs has been out of work for months. I've been so busy working that I haven't kept up with the bills and responsibilities here at home. And just tonight our car (oh yeah, we're behind on that payment, too) locked up and died in our driveway, leaking pink fluid. Champs thinks it has a torn coolant hose. I'm really glad I got to the driveway before the steering locked.

And at a time like this, I can choose to be upset with God, or I can choose to look to the bigger picture. If Satan is trying this hard to make us stop tithing, then God must have something really good planned if we can stay the course and be faithful.

Oh Lord, I hope so.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Display of His Splendor

For the first time in our marriage, John and I have been attending Wednesday night church and it has been really good. He goes off to "Man Cave" (where he has been encouraged to grow the beard I wrote about the other day), and I go to "Ladies Night". Our group has been going through the Beth Moore video series "Breaking Free" and also doing some small group sessions. It has been pretty good; I've discovered that I do have some things that I need to break free of, and I've discovered that in some areas, I am doing really well.

Tonight's lesson - the last in the series - was "The display of his splendor", and it talked about how we, as Christians, are Witnesses, Warriors, and Brides. The last point, that of being the bride of Christ, was to focus on how delighted God is in each of us. How unique we are and how He made us that way. Or, as the speaker said, "When God made you, He said "I'll never do that again!" Cute.

When we broke up for our small group session, we had the hardest assignment yet. We were to actually see ourselves as the display of His splendor. How? With the very practical assignment of working by ourselves for a few minutes to write 5 statements that would describe us to someone who didn't know us. They were to be positive statements only; no negatives. Do you have any idea how hard it is to say 5 positive things about yourself? Without adding a flip side of "of course, I talk way too much" or "I can't seem to keep up with my household duties"? No, it had to be positive.

So I scratched my head, tapped my pen, and then I wrote my list:
1. I have a good sense of humor (at least Champs says I do; it's one of the reasons he married me).
2. I am a good cook (just ask anyone who has had my chili or my lasagna).
3. You can depend on me to do what I say I will do (even if I'm doing 5 other things at the same time).
4. I am a strategic-thinking, organized problem solver (must be why I got my promotion this summer).
5. I am outgoing (the flip side is that I talk to much, but this was supposed to be all positive, no negatives, remember?).

And then, at the last minute, I decided to be an over-achiever and add one more to my list:
6. I give good massages (Really, really, good massages. 5 minutes of bliss kind of neck, shoulder, and hand massages. It's made me quite popular with my choir).

So there it is. A list - maybe complete, maybe only partial - of what makes me His Blond Girl. We had to share our lists with the others in our small group and I felt silly reading it off to the rest. I have to admit that I don't think it's much to brag about, but He made me and He loves me. So it is conceivable that even though the bills are unpaid, even though my house is a mess, and even though my hair needs washing, that I actually am a Display of His Glory.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

If I Won a Million Dollars

Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. ~George Scialabba

Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure. ~Victor Hugo

So I tend to daydream a lot. When I am drifting in that space between awake and asleep; when I've been on the phone working on a tough problem for an hour; when work is done and I have 15 quiet minutes before dinner and I don't want to read or watch TV...I daydream.

My daydreams usually take the form of "what would I do if?" Some of my questions are painfully practical. "How would I cope if Champs died?" I answer that one quickly and move on. "How many cats are too many to own?" That one has answers ranging from one to ten, depending on my mood at the moment.

Some questions I ask myself often. The answer is usually the same, but with some variation along the way. Today's daydream question (a personal favorite) was "What would I do if I won a million dollars?" The first thing to consider is that I don't buy lottery tickets, and I have no rich relatives on the verge of passing, so I have no idea where this million would come from. Who knows? Raffle ticket, maybe, or from some essay contest. The "where from" is not an issue, really. It's that it showed up. Now what?

Well, I guess I have to think in order of God, Country, family. Meaning, 10% off the top for a tithe. So now there is $900,000.00. Then you have country. I'm thinking that Uncle Sam would want at least 30%, so now there is $567,000.00, give or take a Franklin or two.

Now the real fun can begin. Pay off every. single. bill. I can't tell you how much fun it would be to sit down with my checkbook and write a check for everything I owe to any person, any company, any loan. Pay off the house, the car, the back medical bills, every little thing. Oh Lord that would be the BEST DAY EVER!

OK, so after all that fun, let's say that there is about $380,000.00 or so left. Next up, fix the things in the house that must be fixed; new roof, new windows, new garage door, etc. A few plumbing issues, some odd issues with ceiling nails popping out of the drywall and a few issues in the crawlspace. Not decorating, just fixing - and we're down to oh, say, $300,000.00 or so.

A quick call to my financial advisor (whoever he is; it's not like I have one now!) and we've put away $100,000.00 or Sweet Girl's college and $100,000.00 for our retirement (which, I know, is not near enough, but oh well, it's not near enough now and I haven't actually won a cool mil, so I guess we'll just pretend that's not an issue.)

Well, in the space of a few days we're down to about $100,000.00 left. So this is where all the fun would happen. Some house decorating. A trip to Disney. A flat screen TV. New carpet. Knee surgery for our dog. A set of drums for Champs, a pink Buddy scooter for me, a clavanova for Sweet Girl, braces for everyone in the family (yes, Champs and me too), some great presents for family members, Oh, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Because if you're going to spend your fertile imagination on how to spend a free million dollars, then there has to be some Godiva in there somewhere!

Monday, November 7, 2011


OK, if my husband can take part in "No Shave November" and my best friend Geekwif can do "NaNoWriMo", then I have to get back a part of me.

From now on, I am doing "CaNoBlogMo" - or "Catherine's November Blog Month". Which means I will blog every day in November - starting now. I will try to write each day. No, I will not try. I will do. I have no idea what I will talk about. In fact, I apologize in advance if I
a. ramble.
b. swear.
c. complain.

We shall see, shan't we?

My Hairy Beast

In thirteen years of marriage, the hairiest part of my husband has been his chest. Or maybe his legs. It hasn't been his face. He has been a member of the clean-face club all the years we've been together. Until now. The men of our church (The guys of the Man Cave)are participating in "No Shave November". Anyone who has ever doubted that my husband is the red head I've always said he is (his hair tends to be brown-red)would, upon seeing his face now, know that he is a red head. And you know, for only be a week old, it's pretty thick already. It's getting to the soft/scratchy stage. Thank goodness he can shave his neck and trim it up. Not that he's got a lot of experience at that. Like I said, he's always been clean shaven.

Well, I take that back. John did have a goatee once. He grew it when I was in Minnesota for my job training, so I barely knew it. But he did valiantly grow it. For two weeks. That was all he could take before the itching drove him to take one last (unsmiling) picture of it, send it to me, and then shave it off with a cry of itchy desperation.

Anyhow, so here he is again, growing out a beard and trying so hard to carry on. It's November 7 and all he can think about is how badly his face itches. I'm thinking it must go away, or there wouldn't be so many men with beards. But the question in our house now is how long will Champs make it before he cries out and shaves the thing off? I'm hoping he makes it this time. Of course, I will be looking forward to welcoming back that soft sweet face I'm used to. Right now he's beginning to look like a sea captain.

And the only other question is "you haven't written in 6 months and the thing that broke the silence was facial hair?!?!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hunny McMonkey

Champs and I took Sweet Girl to Peoria today to get her a Build-A-Bear with her Daddy's voice recorded on the voice box. It was a wonderful day for the three of us. I have been saving our "Stuff for Stuff" rewards certificates and gift cards for quite awhile so Erin was able to have a spending spree unlike any she'd ever had before.

I expected her to be like most kids would - just go nuts and buy everything she's been wanting. But she didn't. After we made her bear, she turned to me and asked me if I was ready for my surprise. I was. She said, "I have lots of bears and Daddy has his monkey (I bought him a monkey for Father's Day 2 years ago and named him "Coach McMonkey), but you don't have one. I want you to pick out a bear and an outfit." I questioned her to be certain she was ready to do this and warned her that she would be giving up a portion of her spending spree.

Sweet Girl assured me that this was just what she wanted and sent me to the wall of animals. Seeing as daddy already had a monkey, I picked out a cute little monkey that is different than his, but similar enough to look like a pair. I named her Hunny McMonkey (Hunny was my nickname online when Champs met me) and dressed her up really cute.

And drove home with a full heart, happy that our daughter proved, on her own, that she is learning how to be unselfish and giving. I love it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


noun \ˌmō-tə-ˈvā-shən\
1 a : the act or process of motivating
b : the condition of being motivated
2: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence : incentive, drive

Is it just me, or do you also hate when a definition of a word uses the word to define itself? What is motivation? Well, it's being motivated, of course! No wonder I can't seem to get a handle on it for myself.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about motivation lately. Do I have enough? Is it the right kind of motivation? Am I acting on motivation or just reacting to the events in my life? If I am merely reacting, does that count as a form of motivation in and of itself?

Yeah, as you can see, I have a few questions. The reason I have so many questions is because I realized one week ago that if I don't embrace motivation and begin to fight for what I have, to work to find the woman I used to be, and to stretch myself to become more than I am now, my carefully constructed house of cards will come tumbling down.

I have started fighting, but not enough. I need to dig deep and find the motivation for real change in me, in our marriage... in my life.

Yes, I want my condition to stop being lackadaisical and become very strongly motivated.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

But what if it is broke?

"If it ain't broke..."

You can finish the rest of the saying. A five-year old could. But it has occurred to me that I've been doing a lot of not fixing it around here lately. And a few things are broke. It's time to start fixin'. Three things have me thinking about getting busy and fixing what is wrong.

The first broke thing that made me think of this is my husband and his ongoing fight to fix his snow blower. For years it has just started up, spit snow out of its way, and then sat in the garage waiting for the next snow to come. This year, however, it got fussy. It would start, but then die after a minute or two of running. Champs cleaned the fuel lines. Nothing. He cleaned the injector and then the carburetor. Nope. He went and bought a carburetor replacement (because the manufacturer of his machine has gone out of business)and rebuilt the entire piece. He's watched videos of how to fix it, searched online and worked hard - and still it refuses to move snow. He does not have the answer, but he is not giving up.

The second broke thing that made me think of this is me. I have been struggling with being unhappy. I am overweight, overwhelmed, and under-motivated, as I wrote about here. It may be that for the first time, I am truly caring enough to try. I do not have the answers, but I am not giving up.

The third, and perhaps most painful, thing that is broke is my marriage. While I have been struggling with my frustrations and trying to keep them quietly under wraps where they wouldn't bother anyone, it appears that my husband has been dealing with frustrations and failings of his own - and hiding them, as well. I found the hidden damage. There are parts of our marriage that are broken. I didn't know it was broke. Not working at prime operation, certainly, but not broke. I have since learned differently. Thankfully, we have discovered this at the "fix engine" light stage, not at the point when everything grinds to a painful halt on a busy street. I am online, searching for answers, fighting to fix it. He is turning to the proper people to help fix it. We are talking - really talking - for the first time in months about what we can identify and what we know to do about it, regardless of how painful it may be to actually get busy and start doing the work. We don't have all the answers, but we are NOT giving up.

There's a few things broke around here. With God's help and grace, we are fixing them. The snow blower, however, may need to go to the shop.

Monday, January 31, 2011


Yesterday morning I woke up thinking that I was cherished and respected. I went to bed knowing that I was loved - but certainly not as respected as I thought. My husband hurt me in a way I was unprepared for.

Today he put the steps in motion to fix it. I am not happy, but I am convinced that I am loved. Possibly cherished. I've also learned that sometimes you have to fight for what you love.

Marriage is a labyrinth.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I am in the position of feeling guilty. Now, being a good Catholic Irish girl (who has since gone Charismatic Christian), feeling guilty really is nothing new to me. It's a lot like breathing, actually.

The reason I feel guilty is because I guess I don't feel like I have any right to feel so... unhappy.

My mother always said, "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all", and so I haven't been saying this or writing this, but I can't ignore it any longer. I am not happy. I have no right to be unhappy, but I also don't know how to break its hold.

I have a wonderful husband. No question there. I have friends who wish they had a relationship as good as we do. We talk, we work together, we laugh. When we argue, we make up. We treat one another with respect and still, after 13 years, recognize in each other the unique gift of God we have received.

I have a beautiful 10 year old daughter who is the light of my life. She is bright, sweet, and beginning to discover her inner teenager. She struggles with ADD, but triumphs in intelligence and spirit.

I have a good paying job. It meets our needs in a way that no job I could find here in town could do. I work on the phones, taking calls. No commute, no dress code. Fantastic pay and benefits.

We have a beautiful home. It has light, open rooms with enough space for the family, but not so much space that I can't keep up with it.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? What do I have to be unhappy about? I should be guilty for being unhappy with the blessings that I have.

But here it is: I feel like I've lost myself. Lost my motivation... and I don't know where to find it again.

Work has become a prison. I am stuck on the phone, taking brokerage trade and customer service calls, over and over and over, ad nauseum. My work style is to have a to-do list and move from one task to the next, switching around as needed to be efficient but not "stuck". When I was a Communication Specialist, this is how I worked and it brought me kudos. However, this style flies in the face of a phone job that is one call after the next and my performance is assessed primarily in numbers. How many calls did I take? What percentage of the time was I available to take a call immediately? How well did I adhere to the schedule? I have no room to set my pace or to breathe between calls. I honestly expected, when I went back to work, that I would quickly show my superiors that a remote agent can be hired off the phones and I would go back to a staff position. Three and a half years later, I am still on the phones, still taking calls, and beginning to realize that the unspoken rule that going remote means giving up your upward mobility is not just a thought, but a stone reality.

So of course, the next thought would be "if you're not happy at work, find a new job." But I can't. I am stuck. Our family cannot be without my pay and benefits. Champs was laid off for nine months and is now working again, but in a wonderful new career. He is an entry level pharmacy technician. He loves it, but earns about 2/3 of what he used to earn. I couldn't be prouder of him for making a change, but it means that I cannot, no matter what I want. We are already behind in our house payments and I am trying to figure out how to tweak the budget even more to keep us in the black. When we first moved here to Champaign, I tried to find work in my field as a Communication Specialist and there was nothing ... anywhere. I tried to get work that would use my Series 7 license, and again, nothing. My job working remotely for the big company in Minneapolis came just at a time when I thought we would be lost if I didn't work again. Now I am afraid to even try again, because I know I'll never be able to get this kind of pay and benefits again.

The next obvious thought, then, is of course this: "Well, work is only 8 hours a day, Blond Girl! Get over yourself and DO SOMETHING with the rest of your time." I know. I know. And yet I can't seem to break out of this malaise to do actually do anything. I feel like I am stuck working, balancing the checkbook and staying one step ahead of financial issues, and cleaning the house.

I used to love to do three things: I loved to write, I loved to sing, and I loved to bead jewelry.

I used to write all day at work and come home to write an entry in my blog every. single. day. And I had people who loved the way I wrote and were waiting for my next witty observation of life.

I used to be on the worship team. I sang special music in church. I bought CDs and listened to music. Somehow, since we've moved, I've lost my voice and become afraid to try. While God is still worthy of my worship - worthy of my praise - worthy of every song I could raise to His mercy and grace, I have... nothing. I can't and don't sing any more and I don't know why.

I used to thrill to create new jewelry. I could teach my friends how to design when they thought they couldn't. I would make something that shone, sparkled, delighted - something that had never existed before I thought it into being. Now my beads sit in a basket, collecting dust.

I honestly don't know what is wrong with me. I've lost who I used to be and I can't seem to define who I should be now. I cook. I clean. I do laundry. I take calls, pay bills, and keep this house going. I am a wife. I am a mother. But somewhere along the line, I've forgotten how to be a woman. Someone with value. I wake in the middle of the night, lost. Who am I? Where is Blond Girl? How do I merge the wonder and joy of the overwhelming love I have for my husband and my daughter with who I am? I don't know how. I don't have any motivation any longer.

I am lost. I am unhappy.

And I am soooooooo unbelievably guilty for feeling like this.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Sandwich Generation; Balogna and Cheese

I was born in 1965, a classic sandwich generation member. The Baby Boomers ended in 1964 and Generation X, while described as starting in 1965, didn't show its real defining characteristics until we got those born in the 70's starting to throw their weight around.

Now, like many my age, I am a member of the true Sandwich Generation; those of us who have our aging parents to the left, our burgeoning children to the right, and are gamely trying to balance the needs of both in the middle. I've written about this in the past when my mother lived with us in Minnesota.

Four years ago when we decided to move to Illinois, Mom decided to stay in Minnesota, then two years later moved to Phoenix. Now, 4 years into this odyssey, she has decided to move to Illinois. She will be here in October and is moving into a local Senior Citizen apartment complex. And I am glad - truly. Not so much because I deeply want to control any aspect of her life, but because my life is much easier when I am the one at her steering wheel.

My mom, though she would not admit to it, doesn't honestly want to be in charge of her life. She doesn't want the work, the worry, or the hassle. She's been this way since I was a child, and it wasn't that long ago that I finally realized that I've been raising my mom all along, in some ways. My sister and brothers are 6 - 9 years older than me and moved away from home when I was still in elementary school. They have never really related to Mom on the level I have, so they are happy to let me steer for awhile. I was the one who became a Christian when my mom did, the one who listened to her debate the merits of staying married to my father or divorcing him when I was in Junior High, the one who listened as she came to grips with her painfully abused childhood (even when I didn't want that role because it was too much like a mirror) and the one who helped her negotiate the road through cancer and widowhood when Dad died.

I may not have always wanted to fill that role, but it was there for me and I find myself filling it once again. For my mother who is older, now, and somewhat more selective in her memory, her hearing, and her tolerance, I am now the person in charge. I look at her now with a mixture of love and frustration. I miss the vibrant woman who loved to get out when I was younger, and I'm glad to have my daughter's sweet grandma back to where they can again be a vital part of one another's lives.

Yes, my mom can be frustrating and joyously funny at the same time. For me, the sandwich generation truly is one of bologna and cheese.

Friday, June 4, 2010

5 Days in Forks

I should have been writing all this week (goodness knows there's enough material around here, what with Champs out of work, Grandma B visiting for the summer and work at The Big Company becoming a bit stressful), but I haven't been. Why? Because on Sunday afternoon my slightly obsessive personality and I went to the library.

And I found The Twilight Saga - the first three books.

Now, I had decided long ago not to see the movie. I'd seen the previews, read about the teenage devotion to Robert Pattison, saw the fervor for all things Edward and Bella... it seemed as though it would hold no interest for me, a nice mature mom and customer service representative. Also, I'm a Christian. There's more edifying things to watch than a movie about vampires, right? Right.

But then one day about 4 months ago, I was going through YouTube looking at snippets of TV shows when I found the entire Twilight movie posted in parts. I watched it and was surprised that it turned out to be pretty good. Nothing life changing, but I enjoyed it. And then forgot - until last Sunday.

Walking through the shelves, I didn't see anything of interest. I was in a mood for a romance, but I didn't see anything that caught my eye. I've already read every romance by my favorite author, Catherine Anderson and didn't feel like a repeat visit. That's when I saw the display of Twilight books - the first three, anyway. I decided to get them. I figured it could do no harm; unlike witchcraft, which is real and forbidden, these books were a story about vampires - fictional beings.

And oh! What a story! The first book, Twilight, was so much better than the movie ever thought of being. And each story after that was better than the last. Geekwif, who knows me well, warned me not to stay up all night reading. And I didn't - much. I only read until 1:30 or so each morning. And between calls, during breaks, at the pool, before and after meals, and while the family watched TV... The books pulled me in and wouldn't let me go. By dint of my friendship with the librarian, I was able to get the last book, Breaking Dawn, on Wednesday evening and finished it - all 750 pages or so - by Thursday night.

Stephanie Meyer is a wonderful author, and the world she created in Forks, Washington, is amazing. But I must say that I am glad to have returned from Forks and come back to my life in Champaign. Now I'm free to go obsess about something else.

Although - I hope she decides to write Jacob and Renesmee's story sometime!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slug Bug Blue

When I was a child - three, maybe 4 years old - my mother drove a baby blue Volkswagen Beetle. A blue bug. I have vague memories of riding around in the back seat of the bug, strapped into a blue vinyl and steel bar car seat that had as much chance of ripping the skin off the back of my thighs as it did of saving my life in the event of an accident.

My clearer memories of the bug - when I was, oh about 12 years old - are of pieces of the car scattered in various corners of our garage. Apparently the motor needed to be fixed. My father owned a gas station and was a mechanic, but like the proverbial shoeless children of the cobbler, our car was neglected in favor of more important things. Finally my dad pulled out the pieces and sold them off just to erase that project from his to-do list.

My mom is in town, and we've introduced her to the family obsession with playing "Slug Bug". One day on the road we saw a baby blue bug, which brought up our ill-fated beetle. And Mom told us a story.

When I was a baby, my mom had two Great Danes, a brother and a sister named Hercules and Sari. My mother's cousin, G Elaine, was a foster mother to 4 children with Down Syndrome. For some reason, these large dogs always charmed and calmed the kids when they were having a bad day. On such a day, G Elaine called my mom and asked her to bring the dogs over to help with the kids. Mom agreed, and not having the family sedan at her disposal, took me and the dogs in the bug.

After a successful day with the kids, we headed home - 25 miles away by freeway in rush hour traffic. When Mom was almost home, she saw lights in the rear view mirror; a cop was pulling her over! She checked her speed, her lane - anything she could think of, but everything was normal. When she got pulled over, she asked the officer what was the matter.

"Oh, nothing", replied the officer. "But when I saw this tiny car with these two big dog heads sticking out of the sun roof, I just had to see it for myself!" Slug Bug blue, indeed!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting my (satilite) signals crossed

So yesterday my husband found this pretty yellow glass ball on a ribbon hanging from a stand. He found it on CraigsList for free and asked me if I would like it. I said sure. Today he got a message saying that we weren't first to ask, but no one had come for it, so whoever got there first could have it. Classic CraigsList, right?

I grabbed the address and hopped into my car. The TomTom needed a few moments to warm up and I knew the first half of the trip, so I started on my way. About the time my TomTom was ready to go my phone rang. It was my sister-in-law, Princsiss - only she sounded really confused. I sounded really confused. Her reason was that she thought she was calling our Mother-in-law. My reason was that I had reached the point where I needed to get the directions from the TomTom before I could go any further. At this point, the conversation kinda... faltered.

Me: Yeah, so I'm, ah well, I getting this glass ball. Yeah, mom is here fine. Dang, I need to go to, um, I don't know. Wait. I gotta pull into this parking lot. OK. I need to get onto Church but I don't.. darn! It says it's waiting for a valid signal! Hmmm. I guess you're probably thinking how blond I am right now, huh? Oh wait. I got it. Oh, I see. I have to turn on your dad's street. Not the street he lived on; the one named after him.."

Princsiss: So you're mom is in then? What are you doing? What? hahahahahahahahaha. Maybe I should go and let you figure this out.

And like that. I guess it's a good thing I pulled over, because I could barely carry on a conversation, let alone find my way to the apartment with the glass ball. All that for a 6 minute trip!

Editor's Note: Yes, I did get glass ball. It is quite pretty.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My time line is wavy

Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations. ~Faith Baldwin

My parents were married in 1955 and the kids followed quickly; 1956, 1958, and 1959 each saw a new child. By the time the third one rolled around, the doctor pulled my father into the office and explained to him that he had to stop getting Mom pregnant; after three so quickly, another one would likely kill her.

I'm sure Mom didn't mind the break, either, what with three in diapers at once.

But medical science and young motherhood being what they are, eventually my mother forgot to take the pill one December morning. And, nearly six years after everyone else, I came along. And with my birth came my struggle with time, wondering where and how I fit into the continuum.

By now, my brothers were 6 and 7 years old, and my sister was 9. Growing up, I remember crying in my mother's arms that I was born too late - I didn't fit in. Everyone was so much older than me. My sister, Techno-Goddess, thought of me as a living doll. She mothered me, played school and taught me to read, and taught me every song on Elton John's album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. My brothers basically just beat me up a lot and made me miserable.

When it was time for Kindergarten, my mom had me tested and was told that while I was ready to go academically (I could already read at a second grade level or better), I was tiny and would probably get beaten up. Wanting to spare me, Mom and Dad held me back a year and I started when I was five - and turned six just a month later. School was always a bit hard; I was older than the other kids and I already lived with 5 people who were much older than me. It alienated me from the other kids; they felt I talked "too big" and I got along better with the teachers than I did with most kids my age.

Fast forward about 20 years. After I graduated from high school I went through a very long, painful period in my life that I pretty much just prefer to ignore; except for specific cherished memories those years do not exist. It's as though I erased 7 years from my life, restarting the clock again when I hit 25 years old and went to college for 2 years. When I graduated and moved back to my hometown, I started attending a local church and made friends with a group that were all 6 years younger than me. I didn't try to make it happen, it just did.

When I was 32, I met Champs quite by accident. At the time, he was 25 - 7 years my junior. Love being what it is, the age difference didn't matter and we got married. Got a great job, had a baby, bought a house. When I turned 40, my life was chronologically equivalent to a 34 year-old. It has stayed right there. By the calendar, I am 44, but when I look at my life, I feel like I am 38. I am vain enough to hope I look 38 and not 44, but that's not too big of a deal.

To add to the age-oddness I feel, my Mother-in-law is only one year older than my sister, and my brother-in-law was born the year I graduated from high school.

The older I get, the more I realize that time is fluid and we're all just riding the waves. The higher the numbers go, the more irrelevant they become.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day, 4 Ways

Today is, of course, Mother's Day (or as Sweet Girl says, our cat Jack's third birthday). While I've had a wonderful day so far, this day has me thinking of three other women as well, and thinking about how this day impacts them. Let me introduce you:

My Mom
My mom is turning 75 this July and is celebrating her 53rd Mother's Day. She has lived the gamut of Mother's Days; the first celebration, childish cards drawn with smudgy hands, bouquets of dandelions, teenage mumblings of thanks, grown adult children's thanks and now, "Happy Mother's Day, Grandma" and even "Happy Mother's Day, Great Grandma" cards. While I'm sure she can sit back and enjoy a job well done, I also wonder if she doesn't feel a certain sense of melancholy at the reversal of roles. Now we make sure she's taking her medicine, getting where she needs to be, and generally parenting her. Does she miss the old days, I wonder?

My Friend:
Perhaps my dearest friend in the world, C is married but does not have any children. I know she wishes that she did. When Sweet Girl was born, we asked C and her husband to be her Godparents, a role they've taken very seriously. She will call Sweet Girl just to talk, she's been there for every birthday and milestone. Now that we live out of town, she's not there as often, but I know this child of mine is the child of her heart. I don't mind sharing. C may not have a little girl at home, but she has one here - and she can celebrate Mother's Day with me as far as I am concerned.

Little B
Little B is a friend of mine in Tennessee. She is single and not a mom - in the strictest sense. However, she is a teacher and Assistant Principal at a Christian elementary and middle school. She is loved for her history teaching and her fair, wise discipline. She is also a Douala, helping bring new people into the world with love, prayers, and backrubs. I know she's not a mother, but she, too, has a mother's heart. I wonder how many moms, on this day, think of Little B and her contribution and send a blessing her way? I know I do.

And then there is me. When Champs and I got married, we planned on having three kids. God and medical issues gave us one - Little Miss Sweet Girl. She is nine now. She greeted me this morning with a song she wrote herself. It wasn't a Billboard topper, but it was beautiful. Every note. Then she and her father went to the store to get the makings for my favorite breakfast, even though they hate it (I can't figure that out, actually. Who doesn't like corned beef hash and fried eggs?). Then Champs gave me a wonderful present of a digital frame. Well, first he gave me the wonderful present of Sweet Girl. She fills my heart and I'm glad I get to be her mom.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ramen Revolution

So last night was Girl Scouts, and I had to get Sweet Girl to her meeting in 30 minutes - and she needed to eat dinner first. Now, my daughter doesn't eat fast, so that meant I needed to cook fast. I had no time, and not a lot of ingredients laying around, what to do for dinner? Inspiration struck. We had leftover rotisserie chicken from the night before, a head of broccoli and some ramen noodles, so I came up with pan fried ramen noodles. If I do say so myself, it was pretty darn yummy - and fast! Because this is a basic process, you can change it up in anyway that works for you. No rotisserie chicken? Saute a frozen boneless chicken breast. No broccoli? Use green pepper, and so on.

Here's what I did:

In a 2 qt sauce pan, I put water, 1 head of broccoli cut into florets, and 2 packages of ramen noodles (without the flavor packets). I broke the block into quarters. Let them cook together; the water doesn't need to be boiling.

Then, in a large non-stick fry pan, I put a teaspoon of sesame noodles and dry-toasted them a bit. Then I added sesame oil, a couple turns of the pan. I then added about 2 teaspoons of garlic paste (you could use chopped garlic from a jar or fresh sliced or minced garlic - whatever you like). I took one package of the ramen soup spice (oriental flavor, in this case), and put half in the fry pan and half in the noodles and broccoli.

Next I added about 5 chopped green onions and a cup of shredded chicken and let that saute for a moment. By then, the noodles and broccoli were cooked, so I just grabbed a strainer spoon and spooned the noodles and broccoli in with the chicken and onions, keeping the pan on high and stir frying them together. I added a bit of the broth from the soup pan and fried to evaporate the broth and coat the noodles.

After a couple of minutes, I turned this out on to a plate and topped it all with a bit more sesame seeds, some Asian spice (red pepper flakes, ginger, etc.) and I would have thrown some cilantro on there if I'd had any.

Truly, this was about a 7 minute process from beginning to end. It took me longer to write this than it did to make it. It was so yummy, really inexpensive, and a big step up from simple ramen soup!

The family enjoyed it - and Sweet Girl was only 5 minutes late for Girl Scouts.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It is NOT a whole new game, is it?

Did you play "Slug Bug" when you were a kid? You know, see a Volkswagen beetle, hit your brother and yell out, "Slug Bug blue!"? I grew up doing that - and then forgot about it when I became an adult. Mature. Responsible.

But thanks to the new, amazingly annoying Volkswagen commercials, "Red one!", featuring hits for any model, they claim that game is back, but it's "a whole new game". But for me, Champs, and Sweet Girl, it's still the same game and it only counts for the BUG.

Now when we are out driving around, there is a thrumming underlying current in the car. Who will see the first one? What color will it be? And will we find a true gem - an old Bug from the 60s? We've gotten to know that a high school student parks a red Bug on Crescent. A credit union employee parks their white Bug on John. Over at the bank on County Fair, another person parks a green one in the lot. There's so many running around; one trip may yield two or five - and the fun is not knowing when or where the next one will be, but hoping to be the first one to call out "Slug Bug yellow!" Or to be the one to hit back when we realize that it's actually a Cooper Mini or PT Cruiser, instead. Maybe that should be a different game - "Cruiser bruiser gold!"

Sweet Girl doesn't have any siblings; a fact that often saddens me. She doesn't have someone to compete against in the back seat. But Slug Bug? Well, we can give her that. And leave all this maturity behind for awhile.

Maybe it is a whole new game, after all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Secret is the Sesame Oil... or Maybe Just the Sweet Girl

So I love to cook. And I love teaching my daughter how to cook. This week's lesson was homemade pork fried rice. Oooo, I love this dish! As fun as it is to make, it was so much fun explaining to Sweet Girl what I was doing with each step and why.

"OK, honey", said I, "I cooked this rice yesterday. Nice jasime rice - it is so yummy. But you need to cook it the day before, or at least the morning before." To which she asked, "well, why not the half-hour before?" - and then we discussed the merits of cool, dry rice in oriental cooking.

Then we moved on to the scrambled eggs. Four eggs scrambled in vegetable oil and then set in a bowl on top of the frozen peas to begin to thaw and cook them. Now, normally, she complains about the eggs in the rice, but because she got to scramble them up for me, she loved every bite (take note moms - this trick works wonders. Let them help you make it; it will suddenly become their favorite food).

We moved on to make sure the cilantro was chopped, the mushroom (just for her) cut into little chunks, the shredded carrots ready to go, and all the sundry bottles and jars lined up. With the misenplace in place, we were finally ready to begin putting it all together. After dry-toasting the sesame seeds, I let her saute the onions and garlic in the sesame oil. As she stirred, she commented on how good the scent was. I explained that the oil came from the pressed sesame seeds. Something that was so simple and matter of fact to me was a revelation to my 9 year-old! Then ginger, asian spice mix, a touch of red pepper flake, pork, veggies, rice... soy sauce. With each new spice addition, Sweet Girl wanted to taste test - well, not the red pepper flake! She even tried the sesame oil - just a drop - to see how the individual flavor became a part of the dish.

We got it all fried and served it up for ourselves and Daddy (along with mini chicken eggrolls from Sam's Club - Yummy!). You know, I've made this dish so many times, but I have to say that after making it with Sweet Girl, it tasted the best it ever has!

Sweet Girlisms?

So here in blog land, we call our daughter Sweet Girl. However, at home, she has a few nicknames - most of which she really doesn't like much anymore.

When she was a baby and diaper changing was a scheduled part of our existence, she got the handle "Stinkybutt"... it stuck, of course. From there, her father came up with "Pooperdoop" - another winner that has stood the test of time.

Along the way we also got "Super Girl" from the neighbor, the aforementioned "Sweet Girl" for the blog, and also Tiglet, Punkerpoo, and (a throwback from my mama), "Snickelfritz".

But the two that she hears the most are, of course, Stinkybutt and Pooperdoop - to which she replies, "I am NOT a Stinkybutt!". Just this morning I told her not to worry, we'll keep Sweet Girl around. I mean, I can't label posts about her as "Pooperdoopisms", can I?

Um, no.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Peddling cookies at the dentist's office....

My dentist and his assistant - well, the whole office it seems, love my cooking. It started by accident, really. First I let them know I was a Pampered Chef rep and offered a few recipes. Then one day I brought a couple of cookies from a recipe I was tweaking and testing so that I could get their opinions. Before long (and it didn't take long - I've had 3 or 4 crowns this year so I've been in the office a LOT in just a short time) I became their favorite patient. I mean, why not? I bring them cookies and I have so much work done on my mouth that I'm also assuring them all of a wonderful vacation!

But I digress... Last time I was in the office, 2 weeks ago for a crown prep, I was unable to make cookies for the dentist. It may have been the fact that I was in pain from injuring my back, or that I didn't have time to get them made as I was attending physical therapy in a pool - who knows. In any case, I promised them cookies today. I delivered. I took my "chewy chocolate chip" cookie recipe that I've been perfecting for the last few months and made "chewy oatmeal chocolate chip" cookies. I ground the oatmeal to give it a lighter tooth texture, but with the wonderfully oat flavor. I added just the right extracts to bring out the best in the chocolate. I pulled them out of the oven, packed them in a container, got in the car and went straight to the dentist's office.

I got my wonderful new crown - but not until everyone in the place had grabbed one - or two - of my new cookie creations. One person even went to remove their Invisaline braces tray just so he could have a cookie right then and there.

I got the fun of knowing my recipe works, but I had to laugh at the irony of bringing my sweet treats to the dentist's office and not getting chewed out for it!

I wonder how many cookies I would need to make to get my next crown for free?

Your Actions Speak Louder Than Your Words

Sweet Girl missed the bus this morning and it was completely my fault. I took ownership of that and I took her to school. The reason she was late is because I felt it was more important to have a conversation with her than to get her up and eating a bowl of marshmallow mateys.

You see, when the alarm first went off, I ignored it, hoping Champs would get up with the girl. No luck there; he was dead to the world. However, as I lay there fending off the alarm with the snooze button, my mind drifted to yesterday. I realized that, in spite of 4 separate requests, Sweet Girl had managed to avoid practicing her piano pieces yesterday and she has her lesson today. I got up, walked to her room, woke her up and informed her of this fact.

Now, here's the thing: Our daughter has some ADD issues. Issues that we have not had formally tested (because it isn't in network for our insurance and because the initial testing costs more than 2000.00 and that doesn't even go into the charges for the therapy), and which we have not named to her face (why stick the kid with labels and also give her a ready excuse?). But the reality is that both my mother and I have been tested for and diagnosed with ADD as well. When we were young those labels didn't exist. We both learned to make it work with what we had. Because of this, I'm determined that Sweet Girl, too, will need learn to make things work for herself. It is hard, though, because she's at a crucial point in her development. She's nearly 10 and needs to start becoming more independent, and not have Mom and Dad do everything for her. She needs to take responsibility to get her "stuff" done everyday without one of us standing over her. And yet she cannot seem to do even the basics of this. Tonight her father told her that from the time after school up until she went to bed, she was to take a shower and practice her piano without being told to do so - or there would be consequences. She did neither and now she's grounded for two weeks. In the end, I know she loves music and her piano, she just finds the regimen of practice boring so doesn't get it done.

I will need to plan a trip to the library to see if there are any home-based solutions we can try. I've asked over and over of her teachers if there are any school or district psychologists who can help us, but I've gotten nowhere with that. I can't afford the medical route, either. Yet she needs some help. Perhaps there is a good book out there than can teach me how to help teach my girl to help herself.

In the meantime, she's getting up at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow to practice her piano. Sigh.

The Intelligence Continuum

I believe there is a continuum of our own belief in our intelligence:

When we are children, we believe we know everything about a couple of things.
When we are teens, we believe we know more than our parents about everything.
When we are young adults, we believe we will know even more about everything.
When we are parents of children, they believe we know everything.
When we are parents of teenagers, they believe we know nothing.
When we are parents of young adults, we both believe that we know everything.
when we are older, we begin to realize that we really didn't know anything at all the whole way through the journey.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So here I am. Finally.

I've been The Blond Girl, well, for 44 years - and in the blogsphere for the last 5 years over at "Rants, Raves, and Revelations of the Blond Girl". Today I had to close that blog because our gmail account got hacked. One of my most oft-heard comments was, "It doesn't matter what color you dye your hair, you'll always be The Blond Girl". I think this is true. Blond. Pink. Tulips. Sweet Girl. Champs. Lilacs. Peonies. It's who and what I am.

My lighthearted approach to the observations of life has been sorely abused the last 4 years. I recently realized that I miss the woman I was in 2005; slim, working a job I loved, doing things that seemed important - like writing and beading, spending time with friends. I felt that I had somehow lost all of that. But I realized, only days ago, that I didn't lose that; I lost how I looked at it.

In 2005, when I was at the top of my game writing, life was HARD! I had my 3rd hernia after my gastric bypass and I was fighting the insurance company to pay for my surgery. We had gotten taken by an unscrupulous lender and we were in an ARM mortgage that was getting ready to reset - at the same time that we were still recovering from John having been out of work. I was fighting to keep our house from being foreclosed upon. We were becoming disillusioned with our church and wondering if it was time to move on. And yet, if you were to read my blog at that time, you didn't see that. It was because I chose to focus on the light in our lives, not the darkness.

However, after we moved to Champaign, life got to be so hard. The finances imploded because we weren't working. I missed my job. We didn't have insurance. Then I finally got a good job but had to leave Champs and Sweet Girl for 6.5 months of training. I forgot to focus on the lightness in our lives, and was only able to see the darkness. I was overwhelmed by it and wondered what I needed to do to get back to who I was in 2005.

I realize now that I will never again be the woman I was in 2005 - and frankly, I don't want to be. I've matured. I've gained wisdom (and weight, too, unfortunately!). But what I can get back from 2005 is looking at the lights in my life. So that's how I want to start to write again - from a place of light. The Bible tells us that light overcomes darkness. I'm ready to test that promise. Welcome to Highlights of The Blond Girl.

P.S. It doesn't look like much now, but Geekwif is working on a new template for me. I love that woman!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Oh, She's Blond, too.

Just now, our daughter walked over to the sliding glass door and looked out. I asked her what she was doing. She said, "I heard something cracking." I replied, "That was your sanity." In all seriousness, she looked back at me and said, "No, it was outside."

Uh ha, Uh ha.