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March 2008

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A WELL STOCKED PANTRY

            Everyone has little things they do that give them a sense of security. Maybe it’s a secret stash of chocolate or $40.00 “mad money” tucked away in a secret compartment of your wallet or an obnoxiously noisy alarm clock inconveniently located across the room. In college I had a friend that always kept a “back up” boyfriend. There is no universal “security blanket”, but rather individual needs that may appear trite to someone else, but help us breathe a little easier.

 

            Being the wild and zany individual that I am…I find solace in a well stocked pantry! I’m not talking about having 2 cans of mushroom soup, but rather 12. There are also chick peas and mandarin oranges, water chestnuts and canned salmon. You just never know! Although this may seem excessive to some people, if I see a recipe that calls for crushed pineapple…I’ve got it. Green chilies? I say chopped, whole or frozen? Avocados…of course! Come on, give me something hard! Tarragon, cumin, sage? Yep. Yep. Yep. Rye flour, barley, wild rice…long or short? Fresh carrots, onions, celery, peppers, chives…in the drawer in the refrigerator. You see what I’m saying? I didn’t need to do any special planning when Y2K rolled around…if the world market had collapsed and chaos ensued, I could have feed a family of 16 for four or five months without blinking an eye! I require a well stocked pantry…it’s an obsession…what a shocker!

           

           My children often tease me about it. HOWEVER, they can come over and say,

 

“You know what sounds good, Mom? Chicken Enchiladas.”

 

“No problem”, I say.

 

“MMMM, apple crisp sounds yummy, too”

 

“Okay, start peeling apples.”

 

No one needs to make a grocery run…you just have to forage in the kitchen. (BTW…they, meaning our teasing children, are not above pinching a jar of this or a can of that one the way out the door…saving themselves a trip to the store! “Thank you, Mom”.)

 

            I’m not sure what prompted this compulsion. It’s not like we were deprived of food as children or ever went hungry. As newlyweds we weren’t poor, living off Mac ‘N Cheese or PB&J sandwiches. And it’s not like I was Scarlet O’Hara, rooting through an abandoned garden, looking for a rouge potato, swearing, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” I think the explanation is much simpler…I like to cook and I like to feed people. OMG…I’m like Remy the rat in “Ratatouille”!

 

            I may be a bit over the top…or more to the point…over the cupboards (where “backups” are stacked to the ceiling) when it comes to supplies but in part, that is because I have the room. I’ve had much smaller kitchens, with no back up fridge and freezer, so I couldn’t keep all the supplies I have on hand today. But I find it very interesting, when you talk to other people, what they think falls under the heading of “must have” staples. For instance, I could live without garlic powder, since I have fresh garlic on hand, but my kitchen must have dried basil, parsley and bay leaves. I could do without my jar of spaghetti sauce, but don’t take away my stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. You can take the margarine, but I’ll keep the olive oil. I could survive with less, I’ve done it before, but I’m delighted I don’t have to.

 

            Where you are in your life and how much time you to spend in the kitchen, has a tremendous impact on what you’ll find stowed away in your cupboards and fridge, and what you consider “essential”. I might be aghast to find out someone does not own fresh celery, yet they might find it down right disconcerting to know I have almost no prepared foods. So, there you have it…I’m like a squirrel burying nuts in my kitchen on the off chance there will be a hard winter! Rational behavior…I think so. Do others agree? They don’t have to! No one seems to complain when I'm able to make their favorite meal!   

 

We all have our kitchen essentials…those things that we use frequently and would be lost without. It’s always interesting to hear what other people consider to be staples. So, share, please! Besides the normal milk, flour, butter, and egg variety staples, what do you consider to be basic and irreplaceable in your kitchen?

 

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

The first time my brother tasted these I had brought them to a family gathering. After he had taken a bite he asked me, “Did you pick these up at a restaurant?” “No”, I replied, “Why do you ask?” “Well, they’re so good. They taste like something you’d get at a Mexican restaurant.” I couldn’t decide if I had just been complimented or insulted! Anyway, they are extremely delicious, and given the flavor, well worth the effort!

           

Ingredients

1 can (19 oz) enchilada sauce (any variety)

2 cups diced cooked chicken (I make Chicken Soup then fish the meat out!)

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (6 oz)

1 cup sour cream

1 can (4.5 oz) chopped green chilies

1 package (11.5 oz) flour tortillas for burritos (8 tortillas)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz)

Chopped avocado or green onions, if desired 

 

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spread 1/2 cup enchilada sauce over bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish. In medium bowl, stir together chicken, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and chilies.

2. Spoon about 1/3 cup chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas; arrange, seam side down, in baking dish. Top enchiladas with remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Spray sheet of foil with cooking spray; cover baking dish with foil, sprayed side down.

3. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until hot and cheese is melted. Top with avocado or green onions. If desired, serve with lettuce, chopped tomato and additional sour cream.

ABOUT THE "ABOUT ME"

Finally, after what feels like a bajillion blog entries, I got my “About Me” ditty written. Be sure to check it out using the side button, if curiosity prompts you :)

ONE IS SILVER AND THE OTHER'S...OLD!

            If you were ever a Brownie you know the song…

 

Make new friends, but keep the old,

One is silver and the other’s gold.

 

            New friends are great! They’re kinda like a “do over”. I ran into a neighbor “boy” that was home visiting his parents. He is now married and he and his wife bought their first home. After we were chatting for a while he said, “Boy, I was a jerk in high school. I wish I could go back and apologize to a ton of people.” The truth is he was a jerk. He was a bully, and he and his friends terrorized many insecure classmates. A dear friend’s son was often the target of his cruelty. And perhaps not surprisingly, but totally irrational, this “jerk” was quite popular. I looked at this neighbor “boy” and I thought, “You know, I think you really have changed.” He was nice mannered, pleasant and very communicative. Anyone who met him now would have a profoundly different impression of him than his classmates and teachers did.

 

            New friends fall into the category of “Variety is the spice of life.” As we go through our lives, interests change. Maybe in college you were the partying sorority girl. Now, by some cosmic hiccup you’ve become, of all things, a crunchy mom. How is that even possible? And although you hold tightly to your old friends, it’s wonderful to make new friends that share your present mindset. (There’s no way your still single college roommate who continues to party every weekend would give a flying leap that you found a supplier of organic diaper wraps!) So, new friends, with common interests, allow you to share a slice of your life…maybe, some day, they will become “old friends”, but for the time being, they enrich our lives and embellish our personal tapestry.

 

            But this blog is really about “old friends”…those friends that have been with us through thick and thin. They’ve seen us at our best…and our worst. They may be people we talk to every day or just exchange annual newsletters with at Christmas time, but they are the people who “knew us when”. Several years ago I took an “old friend” to the community Bible study I belonged to. We’ve been friends since she was 16 and I was 19…so, hmmmm, OMG…34 years! Irrelevant, other than demonstrating that we’ve been together for a long time! Anyway, we were sitting in the pews of the church where a visiting speaker was talking about temperance. She was this little old lady, who was standing on a stool to be seen above the podium. She was waving her hands, slamming her fist on the lectern, talking about the evils of alcohol. Now, I can guarantee you, being raised Catholic, I had never once heard a sermon quite like this one. I think this is what Carrie Nation must have sounded like! Anyway, with a grin on my face, I leaned into my friend to make a comment, but when I turned around I noticed she had slid about 6 feet away from me. I whispered, “What are you doing?” And with a completely deadpan face she whispered back, “When the lighting hits, I don’t want to be sitting too close to you!” I faked a coughing attach, and made my way to the bathroom just in time to avoid wetting my pants! There wasn’t a single other person in that room who could have made that comment to me. She continually tells friends that the only time she ever got in trouble was when she was with me. When our children were young, her father always grimaced when she mentioned I was watching her kids and to this day he develops facial tics when my name is brought up! Old friends!

 

            Every Wednesday morning I meet a group of “old friends” for coffee, aforementioned friend being among them. We’ve known each other for eons. I remember when we use to talk about “boys”, then babies and stretch marks. We’re still talking about stretch marks, but also about menopause, our husband’s heart attack, saggy boobs, and the grand babies. We also talk about politics, books, our children, and hot actors. (Quite true!) And we still talk about our youth. (Again, ask my pew pal about “chaps and the Marriot”…I think she blew the entire thing out of proportion…at least that’s what the guys in the band would say!) But, I digress…

 

            But there you have it…our existence is a kaleidoscope of old and new friends, everyone adding a little to our life. As time goes by we find some of our new friends and acquaintances are temporary or “situational” friends, but some hold fast and become kindred spirits. I’ve forgotten the name of some friends I’ve made over the years, yet I am grateful that they were there when I needed them. But I must admit, I am every so grateful, and feel blessed, every time I think about my handful of close friends. The ones who knew me when…and to quote Simon and Garfunkel in their song Bookends

 

Time it was and what a time it was it was,

A time of innocence, a time of confidences.

 

            There is no overriding purpose to this week’s blog other than acknowledging the value of friendship. I wish all my friends out there, the old and the “new”, a lifetime of friendships that grow and flourish and bestow untold smiles upon your days!


AM I READY?

            Often, it seems like parenting is all about asking “Is my child ready to…whatever?” Think about how often you’ve been confronted with this question…“Is my child ready to be weaned, or potty-trained, or go to school, or read, or date”? It seems there are tons of books and magazines and well intentioned friends and family that are willing to help you answer those questions. As parents of growing children we are always assessing their “readiness” for any life situation, BUT, what we often fail to give credence to is the equally important question “Am I ready to let them do…whatever?” “Am I ready to sever the bond of nursing, or tackle potty training or let my child go play at a friend’s without me, or drive, or even, get married”? One of the trickiest parts of parenting is being able to balance your child’s readiness with your own.

 

Parenting is many things, but it is not a neat mathematical equation. We might be able to say,

 

            Circumference = 2 Pi Radius

 

But we cannot unequivocally say,

 

            My Child’s Readiness = My Own Readiness

 

Successful parenting is not only about writing the equation, but effectively balancing it! (Ah, and you thought you’d never use algebra again!) Although you might think you have your child’s best interest at heart, if it’s in direct conflict with yours, it can get very messy! Case in point…

 

            I nursed all three of my children. With my first two I had to wean them at eight and ten months old because I needed to go on medication. We were not ready for the transition…the decision was out of our control! When I had my third, I was determined to nurse him until he went away to college! (Okay, a little exaggerated, I really didn’t have a planned stop date, but I did plan to nurse him for much longer.) At around 12 months old, he began to lose interest in nursing. We switched over to daytime sippies, but I held on to the “tuck-in” nursing at the end of the day. This went on until he was 18 months old, when finally he had had enough. I could just imagine his little brain thinking, “For the love of God, woman…put that thing away!” After a couple of frustrating evenings, I realized, like it or not, he had weaned himself. (You’ve heard the old adage, “You can lead a baby to boob, but you can’t make him drink!” Truer words have never been spoken!) I had rationalized that it was in his best interest to keep nursing, but then I realized he no longer needed it, and I was trying to force my needs on him! I knew my third would be my last baby, and I truly wasn’t ready to give it up nursing yet. My readiness certainly did not equal his!

 

            So, what do we do when our readiness is out of sync with our child’s? First, you need to acknowledge that you both have needs, and that they won’t always be the same. Second, life is all about compromise…even with our children. I’ve always told my kids, “Choose your battles wisely”, and this certainly applies to parenting! Next, make sure you define and understand both your child’s and your own readiness. Perhaps your child has exhibited many of the signs of potty training readiness, yet, if you’re not ready, chances are the process will be stressful and take far longer than necessary to accomplish! Finally, when you are out of sync with your child, ask “why”. When I examined my disappointment at having my son wean himself, I realized what I liked best about it was the quiet time it afforded us. I wasn’t always able to give my third the one-on-one time I had given the other two…and nursing was the one excuse I always had to be alone with him. It was something no one else could do and something that gave me guilt-free alone time. After I understood that, I too was ready to wean…but I protected the “tuck-in”, and we had many years of quiet one-on-one time at the end of each day. Understanding the “why” helps us deal with these inevitable discrepancies.

 

The next time you ask “Is my child ready?” make sure you ask, “Am I ready?" too!

 

It seems that from birth children are in a hurry to grow up. As parents we often desire just the opposite. Given the fact that our basic goal appears to be in direct conflict, I think we all do a pretty darn good job! 

TOO "WEARY" TO WRITE!!!

            We just got back from a wonderful 4 day weekend visiting with my son and daughter-in-law Wisconsin. Although at times restful, we were on the go a lot and ate more than our fair share of cheese! We returned to a house full of pets and grandchildren that thought we were gone for a month! Believe me, its lovely being missed! But it’s now Monday night, and I’m due to post my weekly blog tomorrow morning. I sat down to begin writing it, and when I realized I began with the definition of “weary” and “trudging” I decided tonight WAS NOT the night to write a blog! So, bear with me…give me a day…and I’ll get my blog posted on Wednesday. (Egads…I feel like I’m back in high school explaining to my uninspired creative writing teacher why I didn’t finish my last assignment!) Anyway, have a lovely day, I’ll try to get a great night’s sleep, and I promise to be “perkier” the next time I sit down to write. Until tomorrow! 

FLUFFING THE HOUSE

 

            When I was 7 years old I was “accidentally” locked in a closet. Actually, my older brother had a hand in it, but, hey, big brothers, right? Can’t live with them, can’t get out of the closet without them! Anyway, this event precipitated two unique outcomes…first, claustrophobia, and second, a life long aversion to housecleaning! The claustrophobia thing is a no brainer…trap a 7 year old in a 3 x 3 foot closet, crammed with snow gear for 4 children, assorted adult coats, extra grocery store bags, a vacuum cleaner, and, according to my brother, a vampire…then remove the knob so that your mom can’t even get you out, and the stage is set for a lifelong, debilitating disorder! The housecleaning thing is a little harder to understand. For those of you who know me, or have regularly read the blog, you know I have an acute sense of smell. While “calmly” waiting in the closet for the termination of my incarceration, yeah, right…the one smell that permeated the air was the musty odor of an engorged vacuum cleaner bag. You know the smell I’m talking about, right? It’s not exactly a bad smell, kinda like little kids socks at the end of the day, but not one you want forever associated with fear! Anyway, every time I smell a vacuum cleaner, my palms get sweaty, my heart races and I feel light headed. I can’t help associating it with the 3 days I spent in that closet…okay, so my mom said it was only half and hour…time enough to find someone in the neighbor with tools and the knowledge of how to pop hinge pins…but long enough to generate a repugnance for any activity associated with using a vacuum. Yeah, yeah, I know, there are other ways to “clean” besides using a vacuum, but that’s my story, uh, more like my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!  

 

            To make matters worse, my mom is some kind of household whiz. Next to her I feel like a genetic mutation! I can never, ever remember our house being messy. She had that Stepford Wife ability of maintaining a home that was a showplace, despite the fact that she was raising 4 children, while smiling! (I’ve always secretly hoped she was doing some illegal drugs that gave her super human strength and Pollyanna optimism! It would make my comparable ineptness much easier to endure!) Anyway, she insisted that we kept our things “picked up and put away”, and was in a constant state of “straightening up”. (I was always afraid when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night that I’d return to a made bed!) When I was growing up, if you had snapped “before and after” cleaning pictures of our house, they would have looked remarkably alike. The only tell tale signs that the house was just cleaned was the new vacuum cleaner marks on the carpet and the renewed scent of Pine-Sol! I, on the other hand, especially when the kids were young, would start my cleaning by bringing in the snow shovel and forging a path down the middle of the room. When I cleaned, you would walk in and say, “Wow, I forgot there was wall to wall carpeting in this room!” It would not be greatly exaggerating my disposition to say I really dislike cleaning…even “loathing” may not be a hyperbole, however, I certainly appreciate and desire a clean house…a complex dichotomy that has been the bane of my existence!

 

            After many years and numerous embarrassing situations with unexpected visitors, I finally stumbled upon a housekeeping system that seemed to work for me. I would “regularly” clean my house…my litmus test for knowing when to clean was when the kids began naming the fuzzy things that were growing in the shower…but allow the day-to-day mess to give our house, what I affectionately refer to as a “lived in” look. I was comfortable with the house if it remained just 30 minutes away from being “company ready”. If I got a phone call from someone saying they wanted to stop by, I could say, “Sure, just give me half an hour.” In half an hour I could FLUFF the house. Fluffing a house is totally different than cleaning a house. Fluffing involves no direct cleaning…it is picking up, throwing things in closets (actually, that’s not true…I usually kept my closets very organized…you never know when you might find yourself stuck in one…) putting pillows back on the couch, raking toys into a corner, and loading breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. (Okay, and sometimes last night’s dinner dishes, too!) It’s stacking the magazines and newspapers in a pile…my discussion of “piles” will be addressed another day…and it’s plugging in the “tart warmer”, if it wasn’t going already. Stick a pot of coffee on during this condensed housekeeping foray, and ta-dah…the house looked surprisingly presentable! The word “fluff” became a part of our family’s esoteric vernacular. I could say, “Hey, guys, we need to fluff,” and everyone took their stations. In a mad dash we ran around, fluffing and folding, stashing and storing…but in a short time the house felt organized and comfortable. I found it was much easier to get the kids involved in “fluffing” than cleaning. And, when the house was fluffed, it made it easier and faster when it was time to pull out, gulp, the vacuum, and actually clean.

 

            In a perfect world I’d have a housekeeper who’d clean for me. Actually, there were brief moments in my life when I did, but I found you still needed to “fluff” between cleanings. I also found, with occasional “fluffings”, I could postpone full fledge cleaning, which, to my way of thinking, is highly desirable! And, although I find it mind boggling, I know that there are people out there who actually enjoy cleaning! I am envious and stand in awe of them given the fact that through early childhood trauma or some chromosome deficiency, cleaning has always been a challenge for me. Over the years “fluffing” has become a way of life. No, I’d never win an award for cleanest house, and if you look closely, even after a good “fluffing” you’ll still notice vagabond fur balls and a fugitive Lego here and there, but for the most part, a quality fluff is appropriate for most situations!  

 

We all seem to have definite feelings about housecleaning, and these feelings are often emotionally charged. Perhaps, as a teenager of the “60s”, my avoidance of housecleaning is a latent rebellious commentary to my mother’s values. Perhaps it was the closet…or perhaps I’m just lazy! How would you classify your housekeeping dogma? Are you a fanatic, a slob, or content with mediocrity?