Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and See You Next Year!!

We've had a VERY Merry Christmas so far. Good friends and good food on Christmas Eve. Happy children and parents and more good food on Christmas day. Now starts the packing rush for our 20 hour car ride from Minnesota to Eastchester, New York. We've got this long-car-ride-thing down to a science. Everybody knows their roles and stations. As the Generalissimo I have trained them all well.

So don't get any cuts from opening those blasted blister packs, don't eat too much fudge, be sure to drink lots of water, go for a walk, be grateful for every last loved one, and have a great Holiday break! I'll see you all when we return in very early January!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Slap Upside the Head

Every year it's the same damn thing, and it's my own fault.

I have an overactive imagination. I always envisioned lovely homey scenes of my daughters helping me make Christmas cookies, deck the halls, and generally get ready for our Christmas Eve dinner with guests, our traditional Christmas morning waffles and whipped cream and strawberries, and the semi-annual car trek to New York to see their Italian family.

Perhaps I read too much. I always envisioned scenes of Ma Ingalls, cooking and cleaning happily alongside Laura, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. Or those lovely March sisters lovingly assisting their beloved Marmie with all things Christmas.

Instead I get indifference to the cookies, requests to turn down the choral music so they can turn up the iTunes, snotty looks, grunts, and other nonverbal communication. I never read that Jo March and her sisters fought over the computer and who had to dust. And Laura certainly never told Ma Ingalls to just "chill" or "get over it!". Reality hurts.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I shake my head

Somebody is having a Merry Christmas!

And a Happy New Year!

The 116 banks that so far have received taxpayer dollars to boost them through the economic crisis gave their top tier of executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and other benefits in 2007, an Associated Press analysis found.

That amount, spread among the 600 highest paid bank executives, would cover the bailout money given to 53 of the banks that have shared the $188 billion that Washington has doled out in rescue packages so far.

And a little bitching about the car industry bailout. Yes, all those jobs are mighty important. But isn't my husband's job equally important? Don't we have to eat? Were is the bailout for the construction industry? Or small business owners? Or restaurant owners? Or airline employees? Or Best Buy employees? Or 3M employees? What about us?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh, Pa! It's another blizzard!

We're having some serious winter weather here, but it's Minnesota, what do we expect. Just finished rereading "The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder and I'm wondering why blizzards seemed so much worse back then. A lack of GoreTex and central heat probably contributed.

The news has a "no travel advisory" for our area. But couldn't that also be interpreted to mean a travel advisory is NOT in effect? My, my they should mind their use of the English language.

All day it snowed like a Christmas movie. My youngest and I walked around in our beautiful historic downtown. Santa and his elves were on the town square, and he and I sang "While the merry bells keep ringing, happy holidays to YOU" as a duet. Looked just like Bedford Falls. I was tempted to go bang on the large bank windows and yell "Merry Christmas Mr. Potter!"

Right now, amazingly strong winds have moved in. The temps have dropped to 35 below windchill and all that snow is blowing around, drifting, blurring vision. Happy Winter!

Merry Christmas Crappy Gifts

I've been tagged by Bubs over at the Sprawling Ramshackle Compound to share what I think would be a truly crappy gift to open. Here are the rules:

1. pick a crappy gift and post it on your blog.
2. pick 5 Bloggers that you think might want to open their hearts and pick a crappy gift.
3. link back to this post.
4. and if you really want to get into heaven, write "I POSTED A CRAPPY GIFT" in the comments section of Dr. Zibbs' original post HERE where it all started, so we can all see the crappy gifts you picked.

Here's my idea of a crappy gift:

A cat sweater! I don't normally like cats although we have them. And I DON'T want to wear images of them on my person.

The only thing worse would be a sweater FOR the cat. Or a cat sweater with a cat IN it.

Don't ever, ever give me clothing with cats on it. I will put it out in the garage for the cats to sleep on.

I tag Michael, Little Sister, Cheesecake Maven, Melinda June, and Kirelimel.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Secret Santa gift goes to . . . .

I'm involved in the best-ever Secret Santa exchange, meaning everything is virtual and I don't have to actually buy them a thing! So I went on a virtual shopping spree for:

Bad Tempered Zombie!

This is not a blog I read, but i may start visiting more often. I think I have a twin in Calgary Canada. I love her line that it was survival growing up in Winnipeg where the weather is trying to kill you 7 months of the year. Kind of sounds like Minnesota!

Anyhoo, here's what I'm getting Bad Tempered Zombie for her Secret Santa gift:

First up we have your own homemade snow plow!! Perfect for the those winter mornings when you simply MUST get the kiddies to school, even if school's been cancelled!Next up, we have a lovely set of silk long johns. If you've ever lived up north, well, you never LIVED up north until you have a set.

Bad Tempered Zombie, you'll be the envy of the neighborhood with your own JUMP STARTER! While they wait for their cousin Stan or AAA to juice up their dead cold car battery, you'll be half way to the coffee shop. And speaking of coffee . . . .
You've also won a restaurant-quality espresso machine! With cup warmer on top!
And for those cold winter nights with hot reads, you'll be receiving this contraption for reading in bed, just as soon as I find out who the hell sells it. As well as the bolster pictured below, which a stoned college friend starting calling a "double comfort" for unknown reasons, but the name stuck. So Merry Christmas Bad Tempered Zombie! Hope you like your gifts!

Broke-Ass Soup: the recipe

Here's my recipe for Broke-Ass Soup:

2 cups any variety dried beans - I buy a mix of peas and beans
1-2 lbs beef stew meat
Heaping spoonful soup base, like "better than bouillon" or just use beef bouillon
1/2 cup flour seasoned with any combo of: salt, pepper, onion powder, seasoned salt, garlic powder
Veg oil
2 (15ozs) cans diced tomatoes - if one of them is chili-ready, all the better! WITH juice.
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, choppped
1/2 poblano pepper, chopped - or any other pepper, could even used canned green chilies.
Seasonings: seasoned salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, garlic salt, whatever sounds good to you! Don't be shy with the seasoning.
Herbs de Provence

The day before: rinse and drain the beans. Cover with water and let sit over night.

Assemble the soup:
Drain and rerinse the beans, drain again, set aside.
Put the seasoned flour in a bowl or ziploc bag. Add the stew meat. Toss and coat the meat.
Put enough veg oil in your soup pot to just cover the bottom. Heat on medium high, until you see ripples in the oil. Add the stew meat, with flour, and barely brown.
Add 2.5 qts water and a heaping spoonful of soup base.
Add the drained beans and canned tomatoes, juice and all.
Bring that to a boil, then add onion, peppers, and seasonings to taste. I think the herbs de provence really added something special.

Slow simmer this on your stove for over 3 hours. Seriously.

You could use any meat with this: ham hock, sausage, or just go vegetarian!

Those dishes have nothing to do with this post - I've just always coveted Lenox Holiday china. Remember, I said there would be gratuitous Christmas images this month! Here comes another one!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Broke-Ass Supper

Supper at our house has become "we're broke and you'll just eat what I give you". Kind of like the meals I had growing up, which never hurt anyone. Well, except maybe that liver-n-onions incident but we won't go there.

Before the job loss, I would grocery shop without much thought. We weren't buying filet mignon and caviar mind you. But I planned menus based on what was going on that week, what did I feel like making, what sounded good, what were the kids craving, etc. Sure we used coupons, I'm not an idiot, but not much consideration beyond that.

Now? Well we haven't bought deli meat since August 2007. We only buy regular meat if we have a BOGO coupon. We now eat lots of potatoes, pasta, and beans. And I just found out there's an ALDI about 20 miles away, so we'll be making a pilgrimage soon. Let's say I'm getting a really, really good lesson in frugality. My Grandpa Ginny always said "you pay for your education one way or another".

Yesterday I made this big pot of bean soup with stew meat - it was absolutely delicious! And beside it is my homemade chocolate cake. I'll share recipes with anyone who leaves a request in the comments.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I miss my folks

Earlier this year I told you about my Mom. This week, Little Sister wrote a great post about her last Christmas with our parents. Last month was my Dad's birthday. Thought I'd tell you just a bit about him.

Dad died of a heart attack in 1999 just nine months after my Mom's sudden death. We think he died of a broken heart.

He was born Thomas Arthur Jenkins in Chariton, Iowa in 1929. He descended from hard laboring Welsh and Swedish immigrants. According to family stories, my Dad was the original little rascal and in fact bore a striking childhood resemblance to Spanky McFarland. My Dad as an adult looked like the perfect mix of Captain James T. Kirk and Sergeant Carter. Feisty? You betcha!

Dad's nickname in High School was runt - he probably topped out at 5'5" - but he played a mean game of baseball and football. After High School, and some serious wandering including a stint in a logging camp in Oregon, he ended up in the Air Force. With the wonderful GI Bill, he was able to attend Iowa State and dive head long into Civil Engineering. He spent his entire working life as a Construction Engineer with the Iowa DOT. He once told me there wasn't even one cold dark winter morning that he didn't look forward to going to work. He was one of those lucky bastards who just loved what he did for a living.

My Dad was a feminist before his time. While he would spout knee-jerk reactionary statements, he made sure each of his three daughters knew how to change a tire, run power tools, work with wood, scale a fish, rig up a fishing line, shoot guns, and build a campfire. He loved having kids, and when he came home each day, he was truly home. He was often roped into quite unmanly activities like dressing Barbies and watching thousands of majorette routines. Luckily he also had a son to keep his masculine pursuits from disappearing altogether.

Dad could be hell sometimes, with that Welsh temper. But he was usually a lot of fun. He could sing like the dickens - again the Welsh genes - and play harmonica. His laugh was entirely infectious. He appreciated the little things, and for such a man's man he just loved doilies, candles, and cloth napkins. He drank coffee like his life depended on it, and by about 1971 that was probably true.

In the late 1960's my parents bought a three acre section of a run-down farm, tore down the sagging barn, and built the greatest home place. He made a swing out of an old basketball and a burlap bag, threw it over a dangerously high tree limb, and created a heart stopping ride out over a ravine. He built us a playhouse on a deck overlooking that same ravine.

While tearing down the barn, Dad inhaled plenty of microscopic dried bird droppings hovering in the air. This was before face masks were commonly used. Soon after, he became so sick he was hospitalized but Docs were stumped. Years later we learned the culprit - histoplasmosis - a bacteria found in avian fecal matter. Usually the scarring of this infection causes no harm, but in Dad's case it grew right across his center of vision. He basically lost his sight in his late 40's. After that came the loss of his driver's license, his ability to hunt, work with wood, read, or to see anyone's face with clarity. He handled this loss with dignity, and with magnifying glass in hand forced himself to learn the computer and all the Internet had to offer. He dove into Genealogy to fill the holes where his hobbies used to be.

I miss hearing him say "atta girl!" or telling my kids to "come over here and give me a big bear hug". I miss making him coffee. I miss setting a pretty table with my cloth napkins and having him gush all over it. I miss the smell of his Old Spice aftershave. I miss telling him a good joke. He's been gone almost ten years, and I still can't delete his email address. I regret that I didn't apologize to him, and Mom, for being such a mouthy ungrateful kid.

We miss you Grandpa Tom! Hope there's coffee in Heaven!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Let's throw OUR shoes

OK, folks. How are we going to virtually, symbolically, or physically throw OUR shoes at W? I feel we Americans must support this angry Iraqi man, and show our own disgust at W's policies of torture and destruction.

Should we all mail a pair to the White House? They could always donate them to charity after someone throws them at W.

Should we all mail a copy of a pair?

Should we stage symbolic shoe throwings in 0ur public spaces?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

If only he'd had five feet

Can you blame this man for throwing shoes at Bush? If there is anyone who needs a good thump in the head it's W.

Isn't this man surrounded by Secret Service anymore? You'd think they'd be all over him before the thrower had the second shoe off.

Watch the door behind him, when the keystone cops come running in.

A beautiful concert

Twin #1 sings in the High School choir, and they performed their winter concert last night. It was so amazingly beautiful.

First off, they hold the service at Skinner Chapel at Carleton College which lends an Old World air to the service. Photo at left.

Second, the High School choral director is quite a talented young man and makes the most professional choices, and works with this group like they are a college choir. He perfectly showcases all that talent. They sang "My Dancing Day" and "Sussex Carol" and a modern poem rewritten in Latin. Most of it acapella. I'm a huge fan of choral music, and this was a real treat.

Twin #2 also has a lovely voice, but she wanted to take a break from choir. After the Fall concert, she realized this was not a good decision but can't get back into the program until next Fall. Oh, if only they'd listen to their mother!

Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I need a better alarm clock

I need a better alarm clock. One that, after the 6th or 7th time I hit the snooze, will scream "REALLY! I am NOT KIDDING! Time to get your lazy ass OUT of BED!!!"

You see, I'm blind as a bat and hate getting out of bed, so I don't really notice the time - I just give the thing another wallop and hit the pillow.

And why do I find the most comfortable sleeping position in the entire history of mattresses just after the first snooze slam? Why couldn't I be that comfortable at 11pm the night before?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the bleak midwinter

You know you live in a northern area when you leave your office at 4:15pm on December 11th and all the streetlights have come on.

Lord have mercy it's dark up here!

No wonder all the Scandinavians get depressed. And no wonder they all settled here where it's just as dark in midwinter.

Think I'll have a shot of Aquavit and go to bed to read Giants in the Earth.
Maybe that will cheer me up.

More on Aquavit.

Movie plots that just need to retire . . . . . now!

This has NOTHING to do with Christmas. I just needed to do some bitchin!

1. The cop/detective who works outside the rules, and is constantly thwarted by his misunderstanding boss, who is usually black and yells a lot. Still the renegade hero manages to bring in the crook and save the dame. The hero cop wears jeans and denim shirts while the strict bumbling by-the-book guys wear shirts and ties, and awkwardly catch things the radical hero suddenly tosses at them.

2. The adorable child with a disability who is teased and mocked by the entire ignorant world including all educators, classmates, doctors, and fellow bus riders. Only by diligent threats and fits from his/her mother does the entire world finally understand and feel massive guilt.

3. The lonely old hermit who lives on the edge of town, nursing a secret grief. An angelic determined child befriends him, wears him down, and invites him to Christmas Eve dinner. The child's parents are slender, attractive and poor. Mom is a knockout with a great haircut but wears thin cardigans and house dresses no one has seen since the 30's. Dad looks like a model, and says lovely supportive things to his equally-model-beautiful wife about getting more hours down at the mill. The last shot is a pan-out through the kitchen window, to a gentle snowfall.

4. The new girl at school is derided by the clique of mean girls. New Girl has a funky artistic loving Mom, raising her on her own since Dad died/left/ remarried. The mean girls have fabulous hair and bodies, and the other kids part their way while they saunter down the school halls. They do a lot of eye rolling and that weird head thing, and they play nasty tricks on New Girl in gym class. New Girl teaches them a lesson through her exceptional skills in ice skating/dancing/cheerleading/gymnastics and they finally see the error of their wicked ways. Leading Hunk is dating the head mean girl but begins to see how shallow she is when New Girl moves in. The movie ends with Leading Hunk kissing New Girl.

5. Any movie with two actors in comedic danger situations looking straight at each other and simultaneously yelling AAAAARRRRRHHH,
stopping, looking straight ahead and again simultaneously yelling AAAAARRRRRHHH.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Books, with recipe

I love Christmas! And I love Christmas books.
Each year, I take out my favorites and reread.

Today's feature is: Four Midwestern Sister's Christmas Book, by Holly J. Burkhalter.

Schmaltzy and syrupy and I love every single word. It's the authors story of Christmases with her large family in Ames, Iowa and their love of baking, music, books, family, and snow. Plus the author worked for Human Rights Watch in DC, which speaks volumes to her humanity.

This book is like a worn-out but much-loved quilt wrapped around me. It reminds me of my two midwestern sisters, and cousins, grandmas, etc. although we're not quite that nice. Plus it's chock full of recipes that are wicked good. When my sister-in-law joined the family I searched the internet high and wide to find this out-of-print gem, and I finally found one much over the original price. If you have a copy, hold on to it, they are rare.

I'll share a recipe that I've tried - yummy!


2 lbs ground round
1 cup cornflake crumbs
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 eggs
2T. soy sauce
1/2t. pepper
1t. minced garlic
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 can (16ozs.) jellied cranberry sauce
1 bottle (12ozs.) chile sauce
1T. brown sugar
1T. lemon juice

Mix meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Form into walnut-size balls and place in a large square baking dish.
Preheat oven to 350. In a sauce pan, mix together the sauce ingredients.. Stir and simmer until the cranberry sauce melts. Pour over the meatballs and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve in a chafing dish.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Snow here today, two hour delay

Snowed about 4 inches overnight, and this morning we had a two-hour delay for school. It doesn't look that bad to me, we're Minnesotans after all!, but I hear the rural roads are nasty. There's more on the way, so the weatherman says.

Good thing I don't work on Tuesdays. I was able to make the kids a nice hot breakfast of their choosing - which was chocolate chip waffles. Which means I basically fed my kids a giant chocolate chip cookie with syrup as the most important meal.

PS - we have decided NOT to send out Christmas cards this year. Another penny-pinching measure. Is that practical or Grinch-y? Discuss.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nothing to say, snow on the way

Nothing much to say here today. We have a snow storm on the way, with another right behind it. I love the exciting build-up to snow storms - can't fight the pioneer urge to stock up on food. Who am I kidding? I take any excuse to stock up on food! Back to work today after a most unpleasant week of sickness. I'm not yet firing on all cylinders, but close.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winterwalk 2008

Besides watching my teen Twin #2 suffer with a sinus infection, the saddest part of being sick this week was missing Winter Walk in downtown Northfield. Our family looks forward to this almost as much as Christmas itself! The downtown merchants put on the best party, and most of it is free! This is but one of thousands of reasons I love our little town.

The streets are lined with lights and luminaria. The stores are filled with free cookies, cider, and other treats. Santa is stationed in the bank, and Mrs. Claus has her own little hut on the town square. You can have wagon rides behind giant teams of Percherons. Choirs and small instrumental groups tour the crowds. Dancers put on shows complete in Santa costume. At perfect intervals are barrels filled with burning wood to warm your hands. Kids can pet a reindeer or a Scandinavian pony. Click through to see the Flicker photo show.

Merry Christmas!!!

Killing the Christmas Spirit

Nothing kills a Christmas mood like being sick. I've been down and out all week with a nasty cold and sinus infection. My Twin #2 is worse - my hubby is at the ER with her right now where they are testing for mono or influenza. She just didn't turn around, even after 3 days of antibiotics. So I'm up at 3am thinking of her, worrying, and using up all the kleenex. As a parent, there is nothing worse than seeing your kids hurting.
Addendum: She's back home. No mono, no flu, but still sick. But she's sitting up now, and she hasn't done that all week, so maybe we're turning a corner.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ick. Sick.

Twin #2 and I have been home all week with sinus infections. This is miserable.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Didn't they read or watch A Christmas Carol?

This Christmas has really driven home the gap between the haves and the have-nots. In years past I could just ignore all those insane gift commercials. Now I'm noticing that even Menards is in on the creepy act - Menards is the midwest equivalent of Lowes and Home Depot, but with an even stronger working class feel. Last night they were advertising $400 power tools and $700 tool chests as great Christmas gifts!

I'm also thinking about the lessons inherent in A Christmas Carol by Dickens. How wonderfully sweet of the big 3 automaker CEO's to take a $1 a year salary as part of a bail out. This seems like a sacrifice until you learn that they make upwards of $22 million a year!

Why aren't they being fired??!! For $22 million a year I'd expect just a wee bit of success, wouldn't you? And honestly, how much harder do they work to earn those millions every year?

The President of the academically elite liberal arts college where I work makes just over $500G's a year. That was recently published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune so I'm not telling tales out of school. This institution has never had lay offs. Their endowment is healthy. Their students are successful. The institution grows every year. This man flys all over the country and the world, commercial I might add, to further the purposes of the college. He works just as many long hard hours as a major CEO.

The President of the University of Minnesota makes just over $700G's. That's a Big Ten teaching, medical, and R&D facility with over 40,572 undergraduate students, 25,527 graduate, professional, and other students, 4,088 full-time faculty, and $619.2 million in sponsored research awards. He governs not only the large metro Twin Cities campus but four coordinate campuses in outstate.

I say if a large corporation fails, and is looking for a taxpayer hand out, you fire the whole lot and replace them with hard working Americans willing to accept a more reasonable salary. I'm sick and tired of the rich Ebenezer Scrooge's hoarding everything.

Addendum - little sister is right. Hear what Michael Moore has to say. Exactly!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The 12 Gays of Christmas

I'm going to beat MG and my sister, and be the first one to post this this Holiday Season. ENJOY!

THIS may drive me to murder

A local department store, Herbergers, has the single most annoying Holiday commercial known to man. About every 4 minutes, this ear-worm jingle comes on: GIVE JOY, GIVE MORE, GIVE MORE, GIVE JOY sung by a choral group whose voices just grate on my nerves and make my short hairs stand up. GOD, PLEASE make it stop!!!

Christmas thoughts to focus on

Our youngest child's elementary school just sent their online December newsletter. In it was this poem from a 3rd grader:
Christmas Time is a time of joy, happy faces, and fun! Gifts and Santa on his way, turkey and a hot fire. People watching Christmas movies. Kids shouting and playing in the snow. Christmas time is great!!

My husband and I will be filing bankruptcy this month, and losing our beloved home, and I mean beloved. To say our egos and morale are in the toilet is putting it mildy. But this poem reminds what Christmas and happiness AREN'T.

Never has a child said that Christmas is:
TWO sports cars in the driveway
That shiny new Cadillac
A giant expensive house
Christmas decorations that are WAY better than the neighbors
A skinny beautiful Mom who wears the latest clothes and the perfect makeup
Getting all that crap advertised on TV
A diamond necklace from Kay's or Jarrod
Ferrero Rocher candy

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thoughts on Same Sex Marriage

Aren't ALL marriages Same Sex marriages?
Are you married? Then it's the SAME SEX, DIFFERENT DAY.
Married folks, am I right?