Updated on Mondays to Help Start Your Week Off Right!
(and recipes updated whenever I get a chance)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recipe: Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies

These are a great holiday treat with a peppermint kick. I just made them to test my recipe, and I had to force myself to stop eating them.

The base cookie is the same as my sugar cookie recipe.

Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
Red food coloring

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla and peppermint. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into two equal-sized balls. Place one ball back in the bowl, add red food coloring, and continue to mix until desire color is obtained. Remove red dough from the bowl and re-shape into a ball. Flatten both balls slightly, and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate discs until firm, at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325.

Divide dough into approximately tablespoon-sized balls. Roll out each ball into a snake-like strip (just like we used to with play-doh). Line a red snake next to a white snake and twist evenly around each other, twisting from both sides. Curve one side down to form the cane shape. Place formed cookies on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, approximately 2 inches apart.

Bake 9-11 minutes. I always make sure to slightly under-bake these, because I prefer the white parts to not brown at all. Let cookies cool completely on wire racks (they have to cool to set completely if you under-bake them). They don't need any icing, but I have seen variations where people sprinkle crushed peppermint candies (or crushed actual candy canes) on top immediately after removing from the oven. I prefer them without the crushed candy, since they're very chewy and soft, and I don't like the hard candy juxtaposition on them.

Makes ~ 3-4 dozen 4" cookies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

These are a classic sugar cookie. They tend to be somewhat crisp, especially if you leave them out and uniced. I usually ice them and put them in tupperware, and they stay nice and moist, but my father-in-law loves classic sugar cookies, so I have to leave a few out for him. He says they remind him of cookies his grandma used to make.

I also have no idea where this recipe came from (it's in my family cookbook), but it's a pretty generic sugar cookie recipe, so I'm not sure anyone could claim it came from anywhere but general knowledge.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into two equal-sized balls. Flatten the balls slightly, and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate discs until firm, at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325.

On a surface lightly covered with powdered sugar, roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thick. I usually put some powdered sugar on top of the dough to get it to roll out easier, and I also frequently pick up the dough to toss more powdered sugar underneath - otherwise, it has a bad habit of sticking terribly. Cut cookies with 4-5 inch cutters. A metal spatula is also very useful in removing cookies from the counter, if they start to stick a little.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on parchment-paper-covered cookie sheets. Chill cookies on the cookie sheets in the freezer for approximately 15 minutes, until dough is firm (this helps them keep their shape and spread less when baking - if you put them straight in the oven without freezing them first, you'll end up with rounded corners and less distinct shapes).

Bake 12-15 minutes, until edges are barely beginning to brown. Allow to cool completely, then ice with the following powdered sugar icing recipe. Like I said earlier, though, these cookies are also good without any icing at all (albeit a little plain). I'm just a sugar-fanatic, so I can't fathom eating anything plain that could otherwise be enhanced with icing (which, in my world, is most food items).


3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients until smooth icing forms. Add food coloring. This recipe is usually enough to ice all the cookies. I divide it up into portions before coloring it. Adding food coloring usually makes the icing slightly more runny, so keep that in mind as you mix it. If it's too stiff, add more milk, 1/2 tsp at a time. If it's too runny, add powdered sugar 1/8 - 1/4 cup at a time until desired consistency is attained.

After icing, let the cookies sit out overnight until icing hardens before stacking them in tupperware containers with wax paper between layers of cookies.

Usually makes around 4 dozen 4-inch cookies.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Day I Flew Air India

On January 3, 2004, a plane flying from Cairo, Egypt to Paris, France had a mechanical malfunction and crashed into the Red Sea, killing everyone on board (mostly French tourists). However, because of the general world-atmosphere, until the cause of the crash became known, everyone immediately assumed it was an act of terrorism. In response, Air France cancelled all of their flights around the world for at least 24 hours.

I was in the Chicago O'Hare airport when I learned all of this. I was in the middle of making a connecting flight (to an Air France flight) that would take me from Chicago to Paris, where I would take another flight for the last leg of my journey into Berlin, where I would be living and studying for the next semester-turned-year-ish (and living in Communist Block Housing). I also had a terrible flu-like cold and was fairly heavily doped up on Nyquil.

Our study-abroad program was through University of Nebraska-Lincoln (not where I attended college - but our university didn't have the numbers or program support to do study-abroad for German students, so we were effectively out-sourced), and there were only around nine of us in the group. I have a vague memory of there being someone in charge, but in my Nyquil-haze, I can't recall the exact details. The airport was excessively crowded due to the number of flights that had been cancelled in the aftermath of the plane crash, so our small group huddled together while we waited for someone to give us some sort of direction.

Again, because of my flu-like state and excessive intake of sleep-inducing medications, the specifics of the next few hours are somewhat unclear in my memory. But I do recall that someone (possibly the person who may or may not have been in charge of us?) told us we had to run as fast as we could to the other side of the airport. At the time, I recall having no idea whatsoever as to the reason why. Perhaps they thought we needed to burn off some of that excess holiday weight we'd surely all gained? Or maybe they were merely trying to keep us entertained. Regardless, we obeyed like confused, obedient sheep being nipped at by a herding dog.

If you've never run through the O'Hare airport in a drug-induced haze, I strongly suggest giving it a try. There's a long section of the airport connecting two terminals that has moving sidewalks and a plethora of color-changing neon lights lining the ceiling and mirrors on all the walls. The rest of the tunnel is somewhat dark, so the overall effect (especially while doped up on medications) is somewhat trippy, to put it mildly. Walking quickly on the moving sidewalks gives you the impression of having super-human speed, the vivid colors are reminiscent of a light-speed journey through space (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), the endless mirrors duplicate your being infinitely, and all the while a constant cautionary voice (God? Is that you??) booms overhead to pay attention to the end of the moving sidewalk. I no longer have any curiosity to try LSD.

When we got through the Tunnel of Drugs, our possible-leader took us into a giant room separated with huge glass walls. For some reason, we were still in a hurry. He/She told us in a panic to get our passports ready and wait in a line that magically appeared around where we were standing. I couldn't see where the line led to, but I could see select chosen people walking through turnstiles into the mysterious glass-enclosed room, which was filled with rows of chairs. Again, this entire area was packed full of people, all wearing heavy winter coats and looks of confusion and forlorn desperation. While most of this time is dreamy fog in my mind, I have an incredibly vivid memory of a boy about 12 years old, sitting on the other side of the glass wall, staring at us with an endless look that seemed to suggest all hope was gone from the world.

After what seemed like several hours (good thing we ran), it was finally our turn to approach the desk (the apparent goal of everyone in our make-shift line). The concept of a help-desk was skewed by the number of uniformed people running back and forth on the "help" side. They seemed just as desperate and helpless as the mass of us on the customer side. We were obediently herded to the desk as a group. A harried young female airline worker took all our passports without once looking at any of us. She turned to her computer and began typing at an alarming rate, then turned to one of the other uniformed workers smashed in behind the desk next to her, mumbled something, and turned back to the computer, seemingly with tears in her eyes. She sighed as she handed our passports back to us (again without once looking at any of us) along with a stack of papers that turned out to be boarding passes.

We were next ushered to a line that was evidently going through the turnstiles into the magical glass room. It was then that we noticed the guardian of the room. A massive black man (who was not wearing a uniform, in my memory) was directing all the peasants through the gates. And evidently, not everyone was doing it right. Every few seconds, his voice would boom out that someone had to "go back to the end of the line." In defeat, the coat-clad individual (or family) would dejectedly walk back to end of the room and rejoin the line on the outside of the glass room. I still have no idea why this was happening.

We got through the turnstile-gates without issue, though he did study our boarding passes with an incredibly discerning eye. Luckily, ours were not declared fakes. And with very little ceremony, we graduated to the glass room.

After several more hours (or possibly just a handful of minutes), it was time to board a plane. It was at this point that it came to my attention that the plane we were boarding was part of the Air India fleet. I have no idea how we ended up on this flight, but I now have a fairly good idea as to why there were so many available seats.

As soon as I stepped in the plane, I was struck with an instant nagging feeling that something was off. The plane just didn't feel right. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was because the plane appeared to be a Frankenstein of various other, most likely deceased, planes. The seat cushions didn't match the ones next to them, let alone the seat backs. The overhead compartment and ceiling panels were all varying shades of airplane-beige. The aisles were lined in worn strips of carpet, as if someone had just laid down carpet squares side-by-side. The stewardesses were all short, chubby Chinese women - but they were wearing Indian-style saris and bindis.

On our original flight, the small group of us students had seats close together, and we were planning on practicing our German on the long flight overseas. Of course, as we were now flying stand-by on another airline, our seats were scattered throughout the plane. The patchwork cabin had the most dreaded 3-5-3 seating configuration. Fortunately, I was on a side, but I was still the middle seat of a set of 3. The person with the window seat was already there, and I was pleased to see that he was a small, nondescript Indian man. I got what I needed for the 8+ hour flight out of my overhead bag (including more Nyquil), sat down, and buckled up. I took another Nyquil, then leaned back and closed my eyes, hoping I could just sleep my way through the entire flight.

When I awoke, we were already up in the air. Groggily, I opened my eyes to the unpleasant sight of broken ceiling panels and various burned out lights above me. As I came to a greater state of consciousness, I became aware of the person in the seat to my right. First I noticed his hand. I've never seen a hand that big before or again in my life. It was practically the size of the tray table. On his massive bratwurst fingers, he had several gold rings that were easily the size of golf balls. The presence of his obscenely huge body in that tiny coach-sized seat seemed to defy the basic laws of physics. He literally could not put down his tray table, because his presence engulfed the entire area between the back of his seat and the seat in front of him.

Seeing that I was waking up, he turned his head (no easy feat, considering it was practically smashed into the ceiling above us), smiled at me, revealing several gold teeth, and introduced himself as so-and-so. From Nigeria. He went on to tell me that he was a Nigerian prince. So here he was. The fabled Nigerian Prince of email-scam lore. In the (massive) flesh. And if he'd asked me to give him my bank account information so he could transfer his fortunes to it in return for many gracious riches of my own, I probably would have done it. His mind-boggling physical existence screamed of the truth of the classic scheme.

Soon after meeting my partial-seat-mate, the fake-Indian Chinese stewardesses (who spoke neither English nor Hindi, as far as I could tell), passed out our in-flight dinner. As it turns out, Air India flies complete with authentic Indian airplane food. I kindly refused, as even the thought of the meal turned my already queasy stomach. The cramped cabin soon filled with the most pungent airplane food smell imaginable.

Refusing the food turned out to be quite a mistake. The small, quiet Indian man to my left suddenly let out an exasperated sigh. I tried to ignore it. Another sigh. This one sharper and louder. I shifted awkwardly in my seat. A third sigh, this one clearly directed toward me.

I cautiously turned toward him, and he unleashed a fury of comically Indian-accented rage on me.

"You could have gotten the food and given it to me. I would have eaten it. At the very least, you could have just gotten it. It wouldn't have hurt you to just get the food and not eat it. I would have eaten the food."

"I... I'm sorry?" I squeaked.

Another sigh of disgust as he turned back to his own meal, which, evidently, was not only appetizing to him, but also not enough to satisfy his tiny stomach.

In an attempt to make some space between my disgruntled neighbor and me, I shifted my shoulders in the direction of the Nigerian prince. He took this as a sign of my interest.

"You know," he told me in his booming, rich, princely voice. "You are very pretty. You could come with me to Nigeria. You could be my princess. Would you like that? You could be very rich. They would like you in Nigeria. You could be my wife."

"I... um... I'm going to Berlin. To study German."

"Forget about that. You will come with me. In Paris, you will come with me on the flight to Nigeria. You won't go to Berlin. I will make you very rich. You will be my princess."

"Um... I don't think I want to, " I said, staring at the massive rings on his hand. They must have weighed several pounds each - they were clearly solid gold.

"Fine," he barked and turned away from me to finish his meal of airplane meat and curry, which was precariously balanced on top of the seat in front of him. He refused to acknowledge me for the rest of the flight.

I turned and faced the old, stained seat fabric of the chair in front of me as I took another Nyquil. "Please just let me go to sleep and wake up in France," I whispered to the magic green pill. "Maybe this is all just a sleep-deprived, drug-induced dream, anyway."

The next six sleepless hours of nighttime, trapped between the small, angry man who slept in his seat with his body twisted into a pretzel of Indian yoga and the enormous mass of disgruntled, rejected, snoring Nigerian prince proved to me that it was all too real.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Plea for Snow: An Ode to the South Dakota Winter

I was born during the middle of a blizzard on a blustery, early South Dakota morning in January. If you've never experienced a Dakota Blizzard, you have no idea what you're missing. I know blizzards happen in other places (occasionally), but the upper-Midwest really has a monopoly on the concept. It's the only place I've ever heard of that has such bad winter storms that, included among the traditional weather watch/warning system, there is a "Winter Death Warning." A Winter Death Warning is issued by the National Weather Service when the blizzard is bad enough that the roads are designated as "closed" and driving is done at your own risk, because emergency services (like police and ambulances) flat out REFUSE to come and help you if your car gets stuck in the snow. It's their way of legally saying, "look, if you're stupid enough to ignore these weather warnings and road closures and go out there and try to drive in this, we're not going to risk our lives to come help you, and YOU WILL DIE." Now that's a hard-core winter.

In the four years of my high school career, we rarely had real snow days. Not for a lack of snow or terrible weather, but because we South Dakotans know how to manage massive amounts of snow - and drive through it. We did have a handful of late-starts, though, but less for the snow itself, and more for extremely cold weather. There was a rule that said if the wind chill was below -50° F (that's -45.5 Celsius, for those of you wondering), they were required to cancel school, since it was too cold for kids to be walking around outside. How considerate of them! But they rarely followed this rule, much to our chagrin. It would be -54°, and they'd still make us go. A wind chill that low usually means an actual temperature in the -30's. If you've never experienced temperatures that cold, you don't really know what cold means. Speaking of which, the coldest temperature I've ever experienced first had was a wind chill of -64°. Negative. Sixty. Four. I walked outside in that. It was cold. And yes, they did cancel school that day. (By the way, the coldest recorded temperature ever in SD was -58°. I can't even imagine what the wind chill must have been, as wind is also a ubiquitous feature of the South Dakota terrain.)

They also let us out early on multiple occasions when it was clear a blizzard was going to come through and would potentially trap us all at school. It always made for a fun afternoon to try and race home before the weather got too bad to drive. One time, we had such a terrible blizzard, they closed the mall in the middle of the afternoon. I was working there at the time and had to try and venture home in the middle of the blizzard. The regularly-8-minute drive took me over 45 minutes of terror, because, in a real blizzard, you can't see anything but a solid wall of white blowing snow. It doesn't make for the best driving conditions (hence the whole "Winter Death Warning" concept).

Our school itself also made for some interesting wintry experiences. We had an old, worn out heating system that would cut out on a regular basis. On days when it was really cold outside, it didn't take long for the interior of the school to become unbearably cold without a heating system. So the school decided to do something about it, to protect us children. They let us get our coats from our lockers and wear them (which was normally against the dress code). Generous of them. They also made a rule that, if the heaters were out for longer than 2 hours, we could go home (2 hrs being the arbitrarily established time for the heat-less building to become inhabitably cold). Inevitably, the heaters would always kick back on after 1 hour and 45 minutes. But it still takes a good amount of time for a building the size of a high school to get warm again. They let us wear our coats for another hour or so...

One of the most enjoyable parts of a South Dakota winter (to a kid who didn't have to drive in the terrible weather, that is), is that, once it gets cold, it stays cold. That means all the snow that starts falling in late October and through the rest of the winter rarely melts completely. It just keeps accumulating. By late January/February, we usually had around 3-5 feet of snow that is a permanent feature of the landscape. This made for the most awesome snow-fort building of all time. If you've never dug out and spent time in your very own real igloo, you're also missing out on what winter really is. It's amazing how "warm" you can be surrounded entirely by snow!

After nearly 4 years in Texas (first in the desert of El Paso, and then in the rolling hills of San Antonio), I thought I'd grown accustomed to life without winter. I was nervous to move to a place that has all four seasons (which, I should point out, South Dakota does NOT. It has 9 months of winter and 3 months of summer. It's one of 13 states to have a temperature variance between the coldest and hottest temps of over 170° (SD's record is 178° - it gets well into the -30's every winter and well into the 100's every summer) - not surprisingly, the others are all of the other upper-Midwest states, and California and Alaska). Fall here in south-central Missouri was quite a disappointment. While I was thrilled to see actual trees again, it would appear as if all the trees on the beautiful Ozark hills are the same species - and their leaves all just turn brown. But now I'm geared up and anxious for a real winter. We've been having temps in the 20's and 30's for several weeks now, and still no snow to show for it (though most everyone around us has already had at least flurries).

I'm hoping my wintry reminiscences will prompt Missouri to fulfill my anticipations and bring me some snow in the near future. I'm ready for it. And it would seem as if my South Dakota blood has re-awakened in my eagerness for a real winter. 27° doesn't feel cold to me, anymore. Husband thinks I'm insane, but I know I'm just a true blizzard-born South Dakotan at heart.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recipe: Best-Ever Coffee & Chocolate Cake

I got this recipe from food network, but I've altered it somewhat and done some research on recipe copyrights, and it turns out, you can't actually copyright a recipe, only the written instructions (your words describing how to make the recipe). So this is my version of the recipe, in my words (and I'll put the link to the original recipe at the bottom, just in case you don't trust my alterations - that's okay, I won't take offense... I've only baked this cake about 10 times... it's not like I know what I'm doing or anything... jerks).

The Best-Ever Coffee & Chocolate Cake:


butter and flour, for pans
1 3/4 cups + 3 1/2 Tbsp sifted cake flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour - but it is better with cake flour)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (shaken)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 extra large egg + 2 extra large egg yolks (all at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot, fresh coffee

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8" or 9" round cake pans, line the bottom of pans with parchment rounds, butter the parchment, and flour the inside of the pan (bottoms & sides).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, eggs & yolks, and vanilla until combined. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture with the mixer on low speed. Continue to mix on low and slowly add the coffee, scraping the bowl with a spatula to ensure thorough blending.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 30 minutes, then completely on wire racks. When cakes are completely cool, I cut them both in half to make the four layers of the cake. (I use a cake slicer/leveler because I have one, but a big knife and a steady hand work just as well. :) )


9 oz semisweet chocolate
3 sticks butter (at room temperature)
2 large egg yolks (at room temperature)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp instant coffee powder

Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler (or pyrex bowl placed over a shallow pot of simmering water - make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water), then set aside.

Beat butter in a stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy (around 3 minutes). Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat another 3 minutes. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar, and mix until smooth.

Dissolve the coffee powder in about 2 tsp of the hottest tap water possible. Add the coffee mixture and melted chocolate to the butter mixture and blend until smooth. Use immediately.

To frost the cake, try this:

Place a small amount of frosting on the middle center of your serving dish and spread around (to hold the cake in place). Take the top half of one cake and place it rounded- (top) side down in the center of your serving dish. Frost the top (now the exposed, cut side of the cake). Next, layer the bottom half of that cake on top, cut side down (putting that cake back together, but upside down). Frost the (now) top of that cake. Next, layer the bottom half of the second cake, right side up (so the exposed, cut-side is now the top of your cake), and frost. Finally, finish with the top half of the second cake (the rounded side). Frost the top and sides of the cake. Basically, you'll end up with two cakes, the bottom one upside-down, the top one right-side up, with frosting in the middle of both cakes and between both.

This recipe also makes great cupcakes - but I'd suggest using 2 extra large eggs for the cake, instead of 1 egg and 2 egg yolks. Also, foil liners work best, since this cake is fairly moist, and paper liners won't hold up well for long. (If you follow this frosting recipe, there will probably be quite a bit extra for cupcakes, since this recipe is increased 50% from the original to make enough for a 4-layer cake. You can decrease the frosting recipe by 50%, or you can just have a lot of frosting to work with (and eat)).

Keep the cake (or cupcakes) refrigerated. But the frosting will harden in the fridge, so if you want softer frosting, remove from the fridge about 30-60 minutes before eating. Return left-overs to the fridge. (The frosting is also very good cold and hardened, though.)

Serves: a lot. This makes a pretty massive cake (probably at least 12 generous servings). Enjoy!

Recipe: Turkey, Mushroom, and Sage Soup

This is easily one of the best soups I've ever had, plus it's a good way to use up some left-over turkey after Thanksgiving! This recipe is with my modifications (which probably only serve to make the soup more fattening - and delicious).

Turkey, Mushroom, and Sage Soup:

5 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped (or 2 medium onions)
2 celery stalks, chopped
30 large fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
7 cups chicken or turkey stock (I usually end up just using broth, since half the time, I can't find chicken stock in the store)
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
16 oz sliced mushrooms
16 oz chopped cooked turkey
2 cups heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper
shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, melt half the butter (2 1/2 Tbsp) over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage, and cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring to combine the ingredients well.

Gradually add about 1 cup of the chicken stock while stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides to mix. Pour in the remaining stock and stir to combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil.

Stir in the rice and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, partially cover, and gently simmer, occasionally stirring, for around 30 minutes, or until rice is just tender.

While soup is simmering, melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as they start to brown (I stir them with a rubber spatula to keep them from getting bruised, like they would with a wooden spoon).

After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the mushrooms, turkey, and cream, stirring after each addition. Simmer for another 10 minutes, or until soup is heated through. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. After serving into bowls, generously sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese

Serves 8-10

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recipe: Glazed Applesauce Cookies

I will do my best to correctly and appropriately credit all recipes to their original sources, when applicable. This one is a family recipe, so I have no idea where it came from (other than my mom). Feel free to make them or pass on the recipe, but you can call them something like "Momma DePriest's Applesauce Cookies," if you feel so motivated. I kind of like that... maybe when I start my own bakery, I'll regret having ever shared these recipes.... But, considering how lazy I really am, I think it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Without further ado, I present:

Momma DePriest's Glazed Applesauce Cookies:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup shortening (crisco - I use original flavored for these)
1 cup applesauce
2 eggs

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground cloves in a medium sized bowl.

In a large bowl, blend sugar and shortening together until well combined. Mix in applesauce and eggs. Gradually mix in dry ingredients until well combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 400°. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, until almost no indentation remains when touched. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; cool on wire racks.

Light Brown Glaze:

1/2 cup margarine or (unsalted) butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-4 Tbsp milk

Heat butter in a double-boiler (or place a pyrex bowl over a small saucepan. Put about 1-2 inches of water in the saucepan and ensure the bottom of the pyrex bowl does not touch the water. Place the butter in the pyrex bowl and heat the water to melt the butter.) over medium heat until delicate brown. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir in milk 1 Tbsp at a time, until smooth.

Spread the cookies with Light Brown Glaze. (Keep the glaze over the heat as you ice - if it cools, it will harden. If it does harden, return to heat or gradually add milk until it returns to desired consistency.) I've also found that it works well to dip the tops of the cookies into the glaze. The glaze tends to be extremely hot, so it's easy to burn your fingers while you spread it.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Starvation/Lactation Diet

These days, lots of people are creating fad diets and making a good deal of money off of them. This seems like the type of bandwagon on which I would like to jump. Without further ado, I present, for your weight-loss enjoyment:

The Starvation/Lactation Diet: Let Your Little Ones Suck the Pounds Right Off!
Your children can drain more than just your patience!!

Real-Life Testimony!! At just 5 weeks after giving birth, I've already lost not only all the pregnancy weight, but another 10 entire pounds! And I did it all by simply following the Starvation/Lactation Diet!

The key to the Starvation/Lactation diet is three-fold: Firstly, lactation burns an extra 5-600 calories a day - just through milk production - a natural process requiring no additional effort. Simply give birth and begin nursing. It's as easy as maintaining a newborn human's life! Secondly, a short exercise routine revolving around the baby - you won't even realize it's exercise! And thirdly, and this part is really central to the process of the diet, is starvation. All you have to do is forget to eat! With a newborn around the house, this is much easier than you'd think, especially if the baby is colicky. You'll be so consumed with trying to stop the baby's incessant and inconsolable crying (exercising!), you won't even remember you're supposed to be hungry!

There is minimal equipment required for success. All you need is a baby (preferably colicky) and an empty cupboard (although this is also typically unnecessary, as you're going to be so busy, you won't likely remember that there's food in the house!). An exercise ball is also optional. So go get yourself knocked up, wait 9 months, and get ready to embark on the easiest diet of your life!

Unlike traditional fad diets that necessitate mixing up and drinking diet shakes or gallons of fruit juice, the S/L Diet calls for no confusing measuring and mixing of drinks or calorie counting. Instead of counting the number of shakes or snack bars you're allowed to consume in a day, the S/L Diet simplifies all this math for you in a clear, easy way: none! You are, however, allowed to drink as much coffee as you can possibly handle. Drink as much as you need to get through the day (excessive coffee consumption will also provided an added benefit to the exercise aspect of the diet plan)! If you sip the coffee throughout the day, you can actually confuse your stomach and mind into thinking you're not even hungry in the first place!

Now on to the exercise. Although it's not necessary, having a colicky baby will help to motivate you in the exercise routine. When the baby starts incessantly crying, simple stand and do in excess of 400 knee-bends and arm raises (making sure to support baby's head in all movements). When you eventually feel like your knees and shoulders have turned to mush, you can graduate to wrapping the baby in a Moby wrap and bouncing on your exercise ball for anywhere up to 5 hours a day. If your baby isn't colicky, and doesn't "motivate" you for 3 or more hours a day, you have to remember to do the exercises on your own. Maybe poking the baby in the face (gently!) to wake him/her up too early from a nap will enable you to get the screaming results desired.

The simple act of producing human milk will complete your routine, giving you all the benefit of extra burned calories with minimal work. Simply ensure that baby nurses upwards of 12 times a day - that's every two hours for at least 20 minutes per feeding (that's only 240 minutes a day, for those of you too burned out by all that confusing math of other diet plans!). If you planned on doing anything else during this time, you can forget about it! You'll be too busy getting the body you've always dreamt of*!

(*The S/L Diet Co. takes no responsibility for your "dream body" being a post-children body that you've simply resigned yourself to having.)

It's that simple! Nurse constantly, spend hours a day trying to soothe a baby by bouncing vertically, and refrain from eating, and you, too, can get amazing postpartum results!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day I Met the Parents

Note: This is an entirely true story, remembered to the best of my ability and from my perspective. If you happen to be the person this story is about, please don't take offense, as I intend none. I just feel that this experience needs to be shared with the general public.

Like most people, I spent my freshman year of college bouncing between multiple groups of friends, trying to find the one (or two, or four) that fit me the best. By Spring, I had found a boyfriend, and had quite a few friends, a handful of very close ones, but the majority were the type you get along with really well if you're around them, but you only hang out when your paths cross.

One day, I was hanging out in the room of some guys who fell into this latter category of friendship. We were having a nice enough chat, when another guy (also this casual type of acquaintance - we'll call him John) came into the room. After passing around the normal greetings, he looked at me and asked if I would be interested in helping him celebrate his up-coming birthday. He was from the town where our college was located,Omaha, so his parents had offered to take him and a group of friends out for dinner in his honor - as any poor college student knows, the chance to eat in a real restaurant and have someone else pick up the tab is not an opportunity you should ever pass up. But because I didn't know John very well, I hesitated. Seeing my uncertainty, the two other guys reassured me that they would be attending the festivities, as well. I asked who else was invited and was given a list of about six other people, most of whom I knew.

The dinner wasn't for almost a week, and I had nearly forgotten about it, until that Friday, walking back into our dorm, I passed John, who casually reminded me that the dinner was that night. Although I had a car in town, I didn't particularly like driving it around (and losing my highly-sought-after parking spot on campus - our university was notorious for having little to no available parking - at least close to the dorms and in good locations. One time, my car was broken into on campus while it was parked in a less-than-desirable lot, but that's a story for another time), so I asked how he and the other attendees were going to be getting to the restaurant.

"Oh, my parents have a minivan, and they can drive us. There's room for you, so I'll stop by your room and get you this evening before we leave," John told me. With that, I went up to get ready for the evening.

When John came to pick me up a few hours later, he was alone. Since the other people who were going were all better friends with John than I was, and most of them were from Omaha, as well, I figured they were either already downstairs or had driven themselves. We went down to the front of the dorm where I saw a minivan parked, waiting for us. John went over and opened the door for me, and I climbed in.

I was immediately accosted by his overly-friendly parents, both of whom turned around to voraciously great me.

"You must be Laura!" "We've heard so much about you!" "Welcome to our van!" Okay, they might not have said the last one, but I was slightly caught off guard by their eagerness. To meet ME. After all, I didn't know their son too well. We'd had one class together and were in pep band together, but otherwise, I knew his friends better than I knew him. I forced myself through some niceties, then turned urgently to John, who was pulling the van door shut behind him. No one else was in the van.

"Um, where is everyone else?" I asked him.

In a hushed town, he mumbled something about how they were driving themselves. Slightly unnerved, I accepted this answer. After all, they were all from Omaha. It probably wasn't a big deal for them to drive themselves.

On the way to the restaurant, I made friendly chitchat with his parents. The usual, "what's your major; where are you from; what do you parents do" college talk. They seemed nice enough.

We got to the restaurant, and it was absolutely packed. His dad ran up to give them our names, and I was a little surprised to hear that they hadn't made a reservation. For a large group of people on a Friday night, it seems like a reservation would have been the smart thing to do. We crammed ourselves into the already over-stuffed lobby and stood in an uncomfortably close group of four amidst the other hungry patrons, waiting for a table. I glanced through the crowd but didn't see anyone else I recognized. They must all be running late, I told myself, as doubt began to creep in.

After 45 minutes of waiting with no sign of anyone joining us, making increasingly uncomfortable idle chit chat with John and his parents (his poor mother seemed desperate to talk to a girl - I wasn't surprised to learn she had two boys), we were finally called to be seated. As we followed the hostess to our table, all shred of hope slipped quietly away. It was a table for four.

The dinner itself was pleasant enough, after I came to peace with the realization that I was now on a double date with a guy I hardly knew and his parents. We quickly ran out of things to talk about (I didn't know what to say to John, let alone his parents. I was not prepared for this!), and I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. His parents were so pleasant and seemed so genuinely happy to get to know me, but the longer we sat there, the more and more uncomfortable I got as thoughts like, "those other guys, my supposed friends, must have been in on this. They said they were coming. Did they cancel and nobody bothered to tell me I would be the only one going? Or had it been a trick to take me out on a double date with his parents all along, and the other guys just played along to get me to go?" ran through my head.

Over dessert (they really went all out for us), things took a turn for the even more bizarre. "So what are you and John going to do tonight when we drop you back off at the dorm?" his mother asked sweetly. I glanced quickly over at John only to be struck by his eager look of anticipation, "yes, what WILL we be doing?" his face seemed to scream, almost desperately, at me.

I felt a cold chill of realization trickle down my spine. I'm not sure how it took me over two hours to realize, through of the niceties and excitement, but John's parents very clearly believed we were in a relationship. It dawned on me that he had not only tricked me into going on a date with him, but that he'd also misled his parents into believing I was his girlfriend. I had to act quickly to save myself.

"Um... I have to work on a paper," I muttered. Not untrue, but also not very helpful as his father suggested, "you have the whole weekend! Surely you don't need to work on it tonight!" John's face dulled, then quickly brightened at his father's fast thinking.

"Well, um..." I hadn't wanted it to come to this. I didn't want to crush these sweet parents' dreams so acutely. But they'd left me no choice. John clearly wasn't going to interrupt and save himself the embarrassment of correcting his parents' assumption (at this point, I was truly hoping it was an assumption on their part, and not anything he'd explicitly told them). "I'll probably watch a movie with my... boyfriend," who is not your son, I felt like adding.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. They drove us back to the dorm and dropped us off ("it was simply wonderful to meet you, Laura!" "Take care, and we'll talk to you soon!" Clearly, their train of thought had not been entirely derailed, or they'd managed to pick up the pieces and return to their world of oblivious assumptions. I think his poor mother was just desperate at the thought of almost having a "daughter" of sorts). I jumped out quickly, yelled, "thanks, I've gotta run," to John, and darted into the dorm, up the stairs, and locked myself in the safety of my room.

Over the next few years, I remained casual friends with John, but the date evening with his parents was never again mentioned. To this day, I still don't know if it was an intentional trap or simply a misunderstanding or miscommunication. His darling mother, however, did keep a place in her heart for me. She would occasionally send a grocery bag of treats for my roommate and I with John when she bought food for him. She twice bought me small Christmas presents. And she even gave me a card for my graduation. I'm unsure whether or not she thought I was just a friend of John's or a very reclusive girlfriend for the remainder of college. I hope she wasn't devastated the day she found out I got married - not to her son. She definitely deserves a good daughter-in-law, but trickery is most certainly not the best way to go about acquiring one.

At the very least, I hope I was personable and pleasant on our dinner-date-trap. It's just so important to impress the parents.

Breastfeeding: A Family Affair

Just a quick disclaimer: as the title suggests, this post will deal with breastfeeding. If you are squeamish in regard to reading about my breasts and/or nipples, I suggest not reading any further. (And a small note of apology for making you read that much. Now quit thinking about my breasts.)

I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. It's cheap, natural, convenient, and the healthiest option for both mom and baby. I'm all for women feeling comfortable enough to nurse in public. I think something is fundamentally wrong with a society that makes women feel like they're committing an act of vulgarity when nursing. I think women should have the right to nurse anywhere and everywhere they please, without getting a single dirty look.

That being said, nursing in public is not for me.

I'm not sure if it's just my inherent modest nature (I say as I type a public post revolving centrally around the topic of my own breasts), my reluctance to do anything "wrong" (because to me, "stranger" is an obvious authority figure who could "get me in trouble" (by glaring at me)), or my bizarre inability to use a nursing cover in a way that it sufficiently "covers" much of anything.

I nursed my son for over 16 months, which should have given rise to many occasions to nurse in public, but I always found ways to avoid it. I'd force-feed him immediately before we left the house, and plan on not being gone any longer than 1.5-3 hours, depending on his age. If I absolutely had to nurse him while we were out, I'd either retreat to the car (and drape multiple blankets over us) or hide out in a bathroom stall (consequently, I think it's rude when restaurants have lid-less toilets - it's very difficult to sit on an open toilet seat with your clothing still on (or at least partially still on - one boob making a casual appearance through some secretive flap of shirt), balance a 10 month old on your lap, and proceed to breastfeed until the crying stops).

But what I didn't realize (at least not on a conscious level), was that breastfeeding a newborn with a 2 year old around would make it about as public a display as possible. While a stranger at the mall is going to shoot you a dirty look or make one disparaging comment (hopefully at most), a 2 year old will scrutinize every tiny aspect of your actions. Since he's my son and he's still fairly young (25 months when Bean was born), I didn't think about the effect of breastfeeding on him. We can't go to the bathroom or shower without leaving the door open, both for his safety and so he can come and go as he pleases (you'd be surprised at what seems urgent to a 2 year old when you're soaking wet with tons of shampoo in your hair). He's not old enough yet for us to be concerned with modesty around him.

So his initial reaction to me nursing Bean was a bit surprising. Clearly, he has no memory of his own months of nursing. The first time he actually noticed what was happening with Bean and me, we were sitting next to him on the couch. She was not currently latched on, and he turned and saw all my exposed motherly glory. I watched as his face contorted from confusion to abject horror. "Oooooh noooOOOO!!" he yelled, pointing at my nipple, "Momma has a BOO-BOO!!" I looked down and realized it does rather look like a terrifying boo-boo, all red and swollen. I tried to explain that it wasn't a boo-boo, and Mommy was perfectly fine, but he just backed away from me on the couch with a face frozen in a confused/disgusted look of someone who just saw one of those freakish people with a terrible disfigurement that begs for awkward stares.

Over the course of the next few days, he seemed to recover from this initial shock. That is, until he caught me senselessly beating his baby sister on the back. He ran up to me, grabbed my hand to stop it, and yelled, "No hit! NO HIT, WAIWA!!" I realized then that burping a baby could easily be construed as child abuse, especially to someone who doesn't understand the concept of babies. After several minutes of trying to explain the intricacies of a newborn's delicate intestinal tract, I finally got him to understand that, if I don't "pat" her on the back, she won't burp, and her tummy will hurt. And she'll cry. He understood at that point that we need to anything we can to keep her from crying. For the next two weeks, every time he saw me burping her, he proceeded to go off on a rambling soliloquy about the necessity of burping and how he, like a big boy, can burp, but the baby is too little to burp (that's how he gauges everything now - "Ant can do it. Waiwa can't.").

Just when I thought we'd covered all aspects of nursing and Boy was now comfortable with the process, I realized he had yet to actually see her nursing. He came and sat next to me one day while she was eating, and instantly, the look of abject horror returned.

"OH NO!! WAIWA.... EAT... MOMMA!!!!!" I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. Not only did this tiny monster invade his house, steal all his one-on-one time with Mommy, and fill his house with ear-piercing screams, but now she was going to EAT his mom, too?! His line in the sand had been drawn - and crossed.

I tried to explain that she was just drinking. That mommy makes milk for her to drink, and that's how she drinks it. She wasn't eating me, and I was perfectly fine, but the baby needs to drink, and that's how we do it. Again, the look of uncertainty/disgust stayed frozen on his face, but he acted like he at least understood what I was saying, even though he was clearly still uncomfortable with the concept.

The other day, while we were sitting at the kitchen table, the baby was in one of her bouncy chairs and out of Boy's sight. He noticed that she wasn't there, looked around briefly, then grabbed the front of my shirt, pulled it down (exposing the boobs), and exclaimed, "Waiwa all gone!" Because she does spend the majority of her time with my boobs. It would make sense that I would take to simply stashing her in there, too.

Bean is now almost 5.5 weeks old. But Boy is evidently still unsure about this whole breastfeeding thing. More often than not, he comes over while I nurse and stares at my breasts with that look of disgusted horror. For minutes at a time. I have never felt more heavily scrutinized in my life. I'm starting to feel like nursing in public would be a more pleasant alternative to this hyper-critical judgment I'm subjected to in the comfort of my own home (and from someone who suckled at these same breasts himself for over a year). I doubt any stranger could say anything that would be as cruel as those freak-show-audience stares of my own flesh and blood.

Just when I thought he was beginning to understand the process and feel comfortable with it, this morning, while I was feeding him breakfast and nursing Bean, he grabbed his juice cup and matter-of-factly told me, "Ant drink fruit juice. Waiwa drink fruit juice."

Why do I get this nagging feeling I'm setting him up for disappointment during his teenage years?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Day I Got Bird Flu

There seems to always be some kind of flu epidemic threatening to wipe out all of mankind. Last year it was Swine Flu (or rather, H1N1), and in 2006, it was slightly less glamorous Avian Flu. This might not be on the forefront of many of my readers' minds, as this epidemic was primarily contained to Africa and Europe. But I had the great fortune to be living in Goettingen, Germany at the height of the spread of Bird Flu Frenzy through much of Europe, including Germany.

It started quietly, as lethal epidemics are wont to do. We heard news stories in passing about a so-called "bird flu" in Africa and didn't give a second thought to those poor chickens with mild fevers and achy bodies. In our favorite pizzeria or the local cd shop, we would hear snippets of news reports alerting us to the fact that bird flu now had documented cases in Turkey and China. However, these reports were of little concern for us, and not just because they were in rapid-fire, usually incoherent reporter-style German.

As the flu spread across Europe, the message of its danger slowly worked its way into our heads. Somewhere, hidden among my thoughts of the cute new line of sweaters at H&M or how unbelievably cold central Germany can be at 2am after a night of drinking in the local "Irish" pub, these invasive thoughts began to take hold. Without realizing it, I began to avoid large groups of pigeons (a difficult feat in downtown Goettingen, as the Gaenseliesel is a prime target for pigeon excrement-shooting practice). "Bird Flu" eased its way into our vernacular. Upon seeing a dead sparrow in the gutter, someone would jokingly call out that "bird flu has claimed another victim," to the naive laughter of those around.

Spring spread slowly across Germany, carrying with it the dark cloud of reality that was bird flu. Gone were the days of lax joking at the expense of a fallen bird. When the news came on between atrocious German techno songs on the radio at our beloved pizza restaurant, an eerie calm fell over everyone as we listened anxiously to hear of the latest dead goose with bird flu found within the borders of the Fatherland. We hurried past the loitering group of ominous looking pigeons as they taunted us from atop the Little Goose Girl statue with their potential to die suddenly at our feet and thusly condemn us to an abrupt, albeit terrible, death by Bird Flu. We memorized lists of possible symptoms of the virus and were quick to unapologetically banish anyone from our midst who so much as sniffled.

The government began issuing warnings to the public. Typically, public health warnings are somewhat tame; a short news bulletin you listen to in passing, casually taking into consideration the suggestions for maintaining your own good health and preserving the health of your loved ones around you. But that's because we typically hear public health warnings in English (those of us from English-speaking countries, at least). There are few things more terrifying than hearing a solemn male voice dictating instructions to the public through overhead speakers (the radio speakers were hung from the ceiling in our friend's pizzeria) - in German.

Instantly, my mind took me to 1944. What was this voice saying? Were the Allies going to bomb us soon? When would the air raid sirens go off? Who, exactly, was this, addressing his public with that stern, determined voice of confidence? Everything will turn out okay if we just obey your every command, Authoritative German Male Voice? We won't die if we blindly follow you to the bitter end?? JAWOHL, MEIN HERR!!!

Okay, it wasn't really THAT terrifying, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't whispers of such vague impressions hidden among the news broadcasts.

It was in the midst of this wide-spread public hysteria that my daily 4 mile walks around town in several inches of snow and not nearly enough clothing (because who wants to be warm when you can show off your sexy Euro-trash-style clothing?), combined, most likely, with the consumption of far too much pizza, finally caught up with me.

I woke suddenly early one morning, around 3am, sweating profusely, shaking violently, and under a heavy fog of fever-induced delirium. I made a mad-dash to my dorm-style apartment's unisex, shared bathroom and threw up violently for several minutes. As I literally crawled back to my room, my body shaking with regular convulsions from the illness that had taken over, it dawned on me that I had, in spite of my unfaltering obedience to the German government and their warnings, somehow contracted bird flu, and was hereby condemned to die.

Back in my room, I huddled on top of my sweat-soaked sheets, pulled my knees to my chest, and began rocking back and forth as I sobbed to myself over the realization that my last hours were going to be spent alone and miserable in Germany. Eventually, I managed to fall back into the April 1945-esque nightmares of my delirious sleep.

Several hours later I awoke, fever broken, and feeling alarmingly good for someone who had surely just died of bird flu less than 3 hours ago. As the sun shone brightly onto my sweat-stained sheets, I realized, had I really be dying (or really had bird flu), it probably would have been reasonable if I'd called my boss and requested a ride to the local hospital. I hadn't thought of such a simple solution due to the nightmarish ramblings of my fevered mind. Fortunately, it turned out to only be some kind of 24 hour bug.

In spite of this near-death experience, I still never bothered to learn how to call an ambulance in Germany. I just always figured, I lucked out and didn't need medical attention, surely I wouldn't get that sick again. After all, I was in Germany, where bad things never happen twice.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Momster of Two

After sliding the two 9" rounds of Husband's Best-Ever-Coffee-Chocolate Birthday Cake into the oven just moments ago, I find myself taking a peaceful break from my new life by relaxing for a rare moment alone in my favorite recliner, sipping my second (or is it third?) cup of coffee for the day, and watching my sweet 3.5 week old baby girl with her breastmilk-full tummy dozing angelically in her bouncer chair as I'm serenaded by the alarmingly loud sounds of my 2-year old son pounding on his door while screaming desperately to be freed from the terrible entrapments of nap time. Ahh, the blissful world of a stay-at-home-mom.

So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming the mother of two small humans. The invasive and ubiquitous fears I had with Boy are seemingly non-existent this time around, for several reasons. First and foremost, Boy is still alive. Second, Husband is one trimester short of being a real-life Physician Assistant, and consequently now has the knowledge to correctly answer my constantly nagging and most feared child-rearing question, "do we need to go to the ER for this?" And third, Boy seems to have successfully accomplished the enormous task of wearing down my tolerances. His incessant screaming for the first 8 or so months of his life, if nothing else, taught me that babies won't die from crying. Although, that doesn't keep me from trying to eliminate all crying (if you can make it stop, why wouldn't you try?), it has given me the confidence to laugh at and relax about the second child's (thankfully) occasional hysterics.

Husband first pointed out this drastic change in parenting style a few short minutes after Bean was born. They placed her on my stomach, and she instantly started wailing - this high-pitched, jerky, goat-like wail. Through my tears of incredible joy, my initial reaction was to mock her. Within moments of her birth. It took us nearly a year of parenting Boy before we felt confident (or numb) enough to mock his cries.

With Boy, I remember being terrified to do anything for fear that I would do it "wrong." His first bath at home was done on the bathroom counter after reading and re-reading "What to Expect the First Year's" passage on "Baby's First Bath," laying out all the supplies, placing the baby on the first of five towels we utilized, and then sending Husband in a panic to grab the book so I could prop it open next to my bath station and read the instructions as I performed each act of cleansing - just to ensure I did it "right." Although this might give you the impression that a baby's first bath is more complicated than a simple sponge bath, let me assure you, it isn't.

I was terrified about how to dress him. Baby clothes seemed to complicated, and there were so many types. Onesies, front-buttoning shirts, gowns, footie pajamas, even baby socks intimidated me. Alternatively, Bean is lucky if I remember to change her clothes once a day (with the exception of countless "photo op" outfit changes a day, it's just so easy to leave her in her footie pajamas...).

I was terrified about how to entertain him. What do newborns like to do? How do you play with a baby, much less a newborn? What the hell is swaddling? Why is he screaming inconsolably and incessantly for hours on end? Boy was colicky. He would scream at least three straight hours, every day, regardless of what we tried to do (and we tried EVERYTHING), sometimes as much as nine hours a day, from when he was three weeks old until he was five months. I held him for 90% of that time, often crying right along with him. The only place he would sleep was on me. Consequently, I got very good at holding him and doing everything else, including going to the bathroom and baking cookies (not simultaneously). I've since read that firstborns tend to have higher rates of colic, possibly because of parents' uncertainties and lack of confidence (newborns are evidently empathetic and insightful enough to pick up on these subtleties). We fit that description exactly.

It's a wonderful feeling to have an established parenting style. I've discovered the cries don't stress me out - she's going to cry sometimes, regardless of how attentive I am to her every need - the clothes are simple - and adorably pink this time! - and I just like to hold my babies. So far, she isn't crying for hours on end (thankfully!), but I still hold her 90% of the day. There's just something so precious about a tiny little newborn. I can't describe it exactly, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with their inability to dramatically pound on their door and scream bloody-murder as a protest to nap time. Nothing like a 2 year old to make you really appreciate a newborn's inability to do much of anything.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Heat-Induced Ramblings

Weather.com is a pathologic liar. I've known this for years, and yet, I still place an unfailing trust in them. This gullibility combined with my stinginess has resulted in countless episodes of me nearly suffering from heat exhaustion. Early every morning, I eagerly check the weather (on weather.com), and based on their impressively incorrect predictions, I frequently decide it would be a good day to open up the house and let in the cool summer breezes (this desire is mostly motivated by my excitement over the prospect of saving money by turning the a/c off for the day - I literally get giddy over the $5 I could potentially save by being slightly too warm for my own good all day. On a side note, I clearly do not have a stable grasp of the traditional weather patterns of the varying seasons). Inevitably, because of this cycle of lies and blind trust, I end up covered in sweat, digging my nails into the carpet as I try to crawl across the floor in a last-ditch attempt to drag myself to a water source by no later than 10am, usually accompanied by an almost 2-year old screaming with excitement while he jumps on my dehydrated back, in accordance with the toddler law that "any adult on the floor is fair game."

In addition to this almost daily bout of overheating, as many of you know, there is a humanoid parasite growing inside of me. We're somewhere around the 2/3rds mark, and this not only aids on the rapidity of consuming heat exhaustion, but it also serves to diminish my already meager motivational inspirations.

To top it off, I recently went into battle with Dish Network. One day, out of the blue, our DVR stopped working. The receiver still got the satellite signal, so we could still watch live TV, but, as modernity would have us all believe, live TV is for losers. The defunct DVR hard drive meant not only could we no longer access all our previously recorded programs, nor make new recordings, but we couldn't even (*gasp*) pause live TV. After alerting Dish Network to the problem, they reassured me that this kind of thing "happens all the time," and they would send out a replacement receiver within 3-5 days.

Anxiously, I waited for UPS to deliver my new, hope-filled black box of TV recordability. Finally the day arrived. Husband helped me replace the old receiver and send it back to Dish. We patiently scrolled through countless channels and programming lists to repopulate our DVR schedule. Once again, I felt complete.

Then the unthinkable happened. My new DVR (that arrived in that UPS box with so many promises of years of pausable TV) stopped working. The power cord was faulty. After checking and re-checking our connections, I called Dish again to report the problem. They guided me through a 30 minute test procedure to ensure the issue was with the DVR, not the operator (although most of them were moot to begin with, as the box couldn't even turn on). Defeated, the customer service representative told me they would send out a replacement DVR (again) in 3-5 days (again). I waited.

In the meantime, with no working TV, Boy and I watched movies. He discovered his favorite movie is WALL-E. We have now seen WALL-E at least 20 times. Although, as far as children's movie addictions go, WALL-E is probably at the top of the list, as it has very little dialogue or music, and mostly consists of seemingly random beeps and whirs. Seemingly, because, after 20+ viewings, one can, remarkably, begin to memorize the precise timing of these electronic sound effects.

After a week of WALL-E and waiting, with no replacement DVR in sight, I called Dish Network again. They informed me that they had received my request for a second replacement DVR, but that they, in fact, have a policy that prevents them from sending out a new DVR within 2-3 days of having just sent one. But seeing as how the only situation that would necessitate replacement DVRs at such a frequency is the one we were in - that the initial replacement (refurbished) DVR sent to the customer was, itself, faulty - the only evident purpose of this policy is to prevent customers from receiving timely restoration of services. After "clearing up" our issues, Dish agreed to send me a second replacement DVR. In 3-5 days.

We now once again have working TV (and the power to record TV), I continue to turn my house into a sweat lodge most days, and I'm still incubating a fetus. However, I blame the combination of these three factors (and a great lacking of inspiration) for my failure to write a new blog post during the entire month of June. Although, logically, I should have had more time to write while WALL-E played on repeat (okay, that's a slight exaggeration; I don't think we ever watched it more than twice in one day), instead, I was seemingly crippled by the repetition, sweat, and increased hormones.

That being said, hopefully I will return to writing on a somewhat more regular schedule. But I make no promises, as weather.com is a known fabricator, and my longing for cool breezes will always play the fool to their trickery.

In related news, after having received multiple requests to post recipes of various food items I regularly prepare, I'm considering sprinkling the blog with a smattering of food-oriented entries. In general, I'm thinking of altering the content of the blog slightly, so as to include more current happenings (no cute anecdotes of the adorable things Boy does, I promise), much like this entry. If you feel strongly about this one way or the other, please leave me a comment, and I may or may not take your opinions into consideration, depending mostly on the current temperature and humidity level of my house, and any heat-induced hallucinations I may be experiencing at the time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Mystery of Trash

Much like the towel buying incident of my life, for an embarrassingly long time, the mystery of "taking the trash out" seemed to allude me. Like most families, my parents required my brothers and me to complete a list of weekly chores. My chores included helping with laundry, washing dishes many weekday nights, dusting and vacuuming various rooms, and cleaning the bathrooms. I didn't mind most of these, but I loathed cleaning the bathrooms, mainly because we lived in a house with five toilets and three boys. Maybe it was just my family, but the males in our house had a chronic inability to "hit their mark." All five toilet seats in our house suffered from a ubiquitous ring of dried pee.

Nearly every week I protested cleaning the toilets. I'd throw fits, stomping my feet, yelling to my mom about how unfair it was to make me clean the dried pee, when, clearly, I was not one of the culprits. In the time it took me to enact my protestation of the dramatically unfair, I easily could have cleaned all five bathrooms from start to finish. Finally, my mom's threats and demands succeeded, and I would resign myself to my Cinderella-eque fate, mumbling, between bouts of gagging, about the inequalities of life while scrubbing toilets on my hands and knees. The worst part about cleaning the toilets was that, inevitably, the minute I finished restoring one to its sparkling white state, one of the males would have to use it, and would, in true male-destructiveness, get pee on the seat. I assume the reason my mom didn't force them to just wipe down the seat every time after they went was because, like most males, they were not overly good at either remembering to do all those small tasks that greatly simplify the larger chores (rinsing dishes after using them, pushing in chairs, etc), or cleaning in general.

In contrast, my brothers had very few weekly chores. They had a habit of sneaking out of the kitchen on nights when they were supposed to clean the dishes (and some how getting away with it), and, in many cases, when my parents told them to do something, they would cheerily agree to it (as opposed to my overly dramatic refusals, followed by stubborn compliance) and then would simply "forget." For some reason, my parents both never figured out my brothers' schemes to avoid being productive members of our family, nor followed up on the agreed-upon chores and forced completion. In retrospect, I really should have just followed their example, instead of storing up so much resentment.

There was one chore, however, that my parents routinely forced my older brother to do: take out the trash. This was one he couldn't easily shirk and avoid, because it didn't take them long to revisit the kitchen trash can and realize it was still full. My brother hated taking out the trash about as much as I hated cleaning toilets (although, considering it took 2 minutes at the absolute, most stubbornly, slow pace, I don't see how the two are even comparable).

On a semi-weekly basis, my parents would engage my brother in battle over the trash.

"Brian, the trash is full. Go take it out."

Upon hearing this, Brian had two general choices of action: run from the room and pretend he didn't hear them, or begin to throw his own dramatic fit over the cruelties of life. If he chose the first path, he would inevitably end up heading down the second within a matter of minutes.

"But I HATE taking out the trash!!" he would wail.

My parents would insist.

He would stomp his feet and yell about the evils of "taking out the trash."

My parents stood firm.

Finally, realizing his defeat, Brian would sulk his way to the trash can, tie closed the bag, lift it out, and carry it out to the garage. In a matter of seconds, he would return, uninjured, and whistling happily to himself, only to leave the room and return to his video games. One of my parents usually replaced the garbage bag.

I sat through this occurrence countless times, observing his obvious distress, heartfelt protest, eventual crushing defeat, and the thirty seconds of labor required to get the trash bag to the garage. And then he would disappear into the garage.

Recognizing his performance as being remarkably similar to my own toilet-cleaning-induced frenzy, I had the utmost sympathy for him. However, from as far as I could tell, "taking out the trash" involved less than a full minute's worth of effort. To me, this clearly implied there was some devastating step I was missing - and this step obviously took place in the garage, the only place I couldn't witness the tortures of his chore.

This mystery of the required protest to taking out the trash endured in my mind for years. It was only exemplified by the countless jokes on sitcoms about lazy husbands who also dreaded this mandatory task. If so many people hated it so much, it simply had to be more complex than merely taking the trash bag out to the trash can. Surely an entire gender of mankind wouldn't react so violently against carrying a plastic bag twenty feet out to a plastic receptacle. There was something to "taking out the trash" that I was oblivious to. And it must have been absolutely dreadful (like cleaning a weeks' worth of your brothers' dried pee off of five different toilets, while on your hands and knees and breathing in the fumes of week old brother-pee).

For years I was thankful I had avoided this task falling to me. Not only must it have been truly terrible, but I was terrified I wouldn't be able to do it correctly, had it ever fallen to me, since I was blissfully unaware of the dreaded garage-phase of the chore. Had my parents ever asked me (which, fortunately, for my self-esteem, they didn't), I would have had to admit that I simply didn't know how.

In college, we had small trash cans in our dorm rooms, but all we had to do was empty our trash into the large dumpsters outside the dorms. To me, this meant we weren't really "taking the trash out," since it was so easy. Living in a dorm wasn't the same as living in a house. We weren't responsible for our own trash pick-up, and, consequently, we never had to perform the secret step. While living in Germany, I was provided with countless laminated pages on instruction on how to "take out the trash," since they separate and recycle every item of waste into five different colored bags. This was also so different than the traditional American experience, I assumed it was just in its own category of chores.

It wasn't until I got married and we lived in our own house that I ever had to face this dreaded chore on my own. Husband deployed to Iraq just six days after our big church wedding, so I was left in our house alone. Fortunately, we lived on an Army post, so we didn't have to arrange for our own trash pick-up; we were simply given a large trash receptacle and instructed that pick-up was on Wednesday mornings. After discreetly observing our neighbors, I learned that most people kept their receptacles on the side of their house (we didn't have garages - just car ports). Mimicking my neighbors (I'd make a good Stepford wife), I, too, kept my large receptacle by the side of the house. On Tuesday evening, I put my half-full bag of trash into it, wheeled it down to the curb (just as the neighbors had done with their own), went back in the house and restlessly slept, nervous I'd done something wrong, as I hadn't performed the mystery step.

Early Wednesday morning, I heard the garbage truck creaking its way around the neighborhood. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window, peering out between two slats of the terrible, 70's style blinds (ahh, government housing). I held my breath as they neared my house. I felt a cold sweat break out all over my body as they grabbed my trash can, turned it upside down and dumped the contents into the truck, returned it to the curb, and... drove on. I'd done it! I'd taken out the trash!! All by myself!!

Wait. It hit me. That literally was all there was to "taking out the trash." Somehow, in spite of the universal hatred of the chore, it actually only involved taking the trash out. I suddenly felt a stab of hatred toward my brother. All these years I'd pitied him. Thought his torture was similar to my own. Felt genuine camaraderie with him. And, as it turned out, he was just exceedingly lazy. But worse, my parents seemed to think his thirty seconds of work were equal to the weekly hour I spent scrubbing the bodily wastes of my brothers. Clearly, life is not fair.

It's been several years now since my first triumph with the American system of trash removal. I've lived in four houses, dealt with three different trash pick-up services, and, for the most part, have achieved a level of comfort with my ability to successfully "take out the trash."

Although, I do have to admit, Husband and I still regularly get into arguments about what we can and cannot throw away. Just recently, after our move, I called our new trash pick-up service to inquire about getting rid of all our extra boxes (both the empty flattened boxes, and the two dozen or so giant wardrobe boxes full of used packing paper). I was informed that the garbage truck "will not take more than 10 flattened boxes a week." I resigned myself to finding a recycling center in the area, ensuring they would take the large wardrobe boxes full of paper, and making dozens of trips out to them. I figured, within two months, we should be able to get rid of all the boxes.

Husband, however, insisted we just try to throw the boxes out. Start out small. One wardrobe box at a time. The first week, I found myself once again, hunched down by my windowsill, peering out at the garbage truck, holding my breath, sweating profusely, and watching in fear as they pulled up to our house. And there, before my very eyes, I watched them as they... took our trash. Just like we pay them to do. Fascinating!! The next week, Husband put out four large boxes. Again, the anxious wait in the shadows of my curtains. And again, another successful "taking out the trash" incident. By the fourth week of putting out boxes, I was less nervous, but still snuck peeks when I heard the truck rumbling down the street. Eventually, the garbage men (and woman) cleared our garage of boxes (I posted an ad for the empty, flattened boxes on some local website and got rid of them in a matter of hours).

And so it was that I uncovered the truth about "taking out the trash." Clearly, the only conclusion to draw is that men are ridiculous. If Husband or Boy ever try to complain about performing this simple duty, I'll be sure to put them on toilet duty for a month. Although, the fact remains that it's still their pee on the toilet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Day I Defeated Peer Pressure

In third grade, my school began our lengthy D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness and Something-that-starts-with-R Education, or something equally as catchy) program. We spent hours in class learning about drugs. Mostly cigarettes (because to us naive 8 year olds, cigarettes were by far the worst drug in existence). We learned how they can give you lung cancer, and how the smoke can be harmful to other people. In my mind, that translated to "only bad people smoke cigarettes."

We also learned about Peer Pressure. This terrified me. To me, this was something that didn't happen until high school - but it was an inevitable horror I was doomed to face. Nameless high school bullies would corner me in the massive, yet deserted hallways between classes, and they would force drugs upon me. Because, to me, drugs were cigarettes, this meant these bullies (usually boys with long, scraggly pony tails and ominous black t-shirts, in my visions) would be literally trying to force cigarettes into my mouth and lighting them, and I would have no choice but to smoke it, or risk never breathing again (as I couldn't logically breathe without smoking if a cigarette were being held to my mouth).

After learning of the dangers lurking in those thin, white tubes, we were sent home with a survey sheet and instructed to ask both our parents the questions, so we could come back to class the next day and discuss the realities of drug abuse in our personal lives. The survey included a few memorable questions, including: "Do you smoke cigarettes?" "Did you ever smoke cigarettes?" "Were you ever negatively affected by Peer Pressure?"

I, being the very straight-arrow, goody-two-shoes little girl that I was, was beyond eager to go home and question my parents on these most intimate details of their youth and early adulthood (it didn't occur to me that my parents could have actually smoked before they were 18, seeing as how that would have been illegal).

I questioned my mom first. But I had the upper-hand through our interrogation, as I knew already that my mom had smoked. She'd told me before that she smoked until she got pregnant with my older brother, and then she'd quit.

Smugly, I asked her, "So, Mom. Have you ever smoked before?"

She calmly gave me her feeble story of knowing the dangers of smoking and quitting when she knew she would be putting her child's health at risk. I wrote down her answers with a feeling of superiority. Clearly, I had never smoked, so I viewed myself as better than her in a way - Peer Pressure hadn't gotten to me. Oh, my poor, simple mother and her misguided cigarette smoking ways. She just wasn't strong enough to stand up to Peer Pressure! (I learned later in life that, more than likely, my mom was the one who pressured her friends to smoke - in high school, nonetheless - as she was a bit of a rebel. She staged walk-outs at college, was out there burning her bra with the best of them, and actually smoked things other than just cigarettes; though, fortunately, our survey didn't ask that, as I believe my innocent little school girl head might have exploded at that prospect.) The rest of her answers were insignificant to me. I already had all the information I needed. My mother had been a smoker.

I waited with such eager anticipation for my dad to come home that night. Finally, after dinner, I got my chance to interview him. Approaching the questions with true curiosity and no bias whatsoever, I asked him the first question, "Dad, have you ever smoked cigarettes?"

"No," was his clear and simple answer.

I was stunned. My father. Had never smoked a cigarette.

"Never?!" I screeched incredulously. "Not a single cigarette? Not even a cigar??"

"No," he said smiling, proud of his lungs' clean bill of health and the studiousness of his youth.

In light of this revelation, my father became a super hero in my mind. He had never smoked anything. In. His. Life. He was invincible. He had stared Peer Pressure in its cold, dead eyes, and he had come out victorious. Nothing could stop him. He was... My Dad.

At that moment, I made a promise to myself. No matter how great the Pressures offered by my Peers, no matter my age, location, or situation, I would not smoke cigarettes (or anything else, for that matter). If My Dad could do it, surely I could, too. I would build on the strength I had inherited from him to say "no" to Peer Pressure, and my lungs, too, would remain smoke free for all time. Together, we were an unstoppable force of Peer Pressure negation.

Years later, while working at a t-shirt printing store in the local mall, my worst fears came to fruition. I worked with a boy around my age who, ironically, had a long, scraggly pony tail, and frequently wore black t-shirts. One day, he told me he was going out for a smoke break. I expected him to be gone shortly after informing me of this, but when I turned around, I noticed he was still there.

"Why don't you come with me? You could borrow a smoke from me." Oh, Peer Pressure, you sly beast, you. Taking on the form of Austin's body, just to try and press your evil wears upon me. Knowing this with the pinnacle of my D.A.R.E. training, I looked him straight in the eyes and, squinting ever so slightly against the glare of his dark temptation, I stated, "I don't smoke."

"What? Sure you do. Everybody smokes. Come on." Trying your best, I see, Peer Pressure. Well it won't work on me!

"No, I don't. I never have. I'm not going to start now." Taking out the big guns now.

And to my absolute surprise (but surely, somewhere in my subconscious, I knew this day would come - I'd dreamt about it since the third grade), Austin actually stepped closer to me, and literally tried to shove a cigarette into my mouth.

I pushed him away, and, in the process, broke his cigarette. He told me I'd have to buy him a new one, and I just laughed at him. Poor, defeated Peer Pressure. One last attempt to get me on your side, but it won't work. I will not contribute to that filthy practice. Austin left to go on his smoke break without further incident.

A year or two later, one evening, when I was home with My Dad, he made some snide, joking comment about me being a "bad kid," implying that he believed I smoked and drank (thus further propagating the wrongly assumed belief that so many people have of me as a pot head). I laughed and informed him that, not only did I not drink, but I had never, not even once in my entire life, smoked anything. All because of that D.A.R.E. survey in third grade, and My Dad's unique ability to defeat Peer Pressure. "No, Dad, I've never smoked anything, because I wanted to grow up and be like you - and you told me in third grade that you'd never smoked. Anything."

My father got a surprised look on his face. "I told you that?" He said while starting to chuckle. "Well, that was a lie."

The sound of your known world crashing around you can truly be defined as a "deafening silence." The room stood still as everything I'd ever known, the very principles upon which I'd based my entire life's ethic shattered with those simple words: "that was a lie." I couldn't breathe. How could he have lied? He was My Dad! He was a super hero! Together we could defeat Peer Pressure! And yet, it had all been an innocent lie to guide a third grader on the right path through life.

That part of the lie, at least, succeeded. And quite well. As of that moment, I was determined to rebuild my life's principles. So everything had been a lie. I had still conquered Peer Pressure, even without My Dad at my side. He may have lied, but I'd inherited the strength and will power, nonetheless. I could continue our saga even in his absence. I made a new vow to myself that I would never smoke anything, not even once, in my entire life, so that when my own children were in third grade and came home with a D.A.R.E. questionnaire about cigarettes and smoking, I could tell them in all honesty that I had, in fact, not ever, not even one little time, ever in my life smoked anything.

I could feel the super powers begin to flush through my veins.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Brother Doesn't Keep His Promises

I am about five years older than my younger brother. Because of the age difference, we never really fought, but we also didn't have much in common. He, like my older brother, is a very intelligent person, but he has a few social quirks. I'm not sure if it's a result of being so much younger than Brian and I, or if maybe something we did contributed to it (we used to like to throw a blanket over his head and pretend to hold it down over him. Evidently, he was claustrophobic, so we wouldn't actually have to hold it down, and he would just lie in a lump under it and scream. In retrospect, I think we were terrible older siblings), but for whatever reason, he's always been a very independent, relatively quiet person.

He, much like me, suffers from being a "stupid smart person." I once asked him what month was the 8th month (he was at least in junior high at this point), and he not only couldn't tell me off the top of his head, but he had no idea that months had corresponding numbers with which to identify them. He was, however, currently reading Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time." After talking on the phone to someone, if asked what they said immediately upon hanging up, he couldn't tell you if his life depended on it. But he can build a computer from scratch.

He's also always been a very contemplative person. When he was just two years old, he would sit quietly in a chair in a room by himself and think. If you asked what he was doing, he'd calmly reply, "just thinking of something."

Because of his known thoughtful demeanor, it was especially disconcerting one day when he was three years old, sitting calmly and thinking by himself, and turned to me and said, "When I'm 21, I'm going to get an ax and cut your head off."

We hadn't been arguing or fighting (and I don't think we'd started the blanket-torture game yet), and he had stated his intentions so matter-of-factly, I got chills. I remember running to my mom and screaming, "Brett said he's going to cut my head off with an ax!!"

My poor mother sighed. "Where is he going to get an ax? Does he have one now? If not, you're probably safe." I explained that he said he would do it when he was 21 (most likely, he figured he'd have to be 21 - a legal adult - before he could purchase his own head-cutting-off ax; he really had put a lot of thought into this) and she brushed off my urgency, "Well then, you've got a few years left."

My mother might not have been concerned about the future of her children, but she hadn't seen the completely calm, sane, rational look in his eyes when he made his fateful promise. He'd thought out the logistics, and his plan had been set in place. At the innocent young age of three, he set our destinies in stone.

Over the years, I thought on and off about this incident (more off than on), and occasionally counted down the years I had left to live. I didn't really believe he was going to get an ax and cut my head off, but the thought did frequently resurface, just to remind me of its existence.

A year and a half ago, when I was planning a gigantic Thanksgiving feast at our house, a terrifying realization dawned on me. Brett would not only be attending our festivities, but he would be celebrating his 21st birthday just six days prior. I tried to push the thought out of my mind, reassuring myself that he had not only not meant what he said, but surely he'd forgotten it nearly 17 years later. But I hadn't.

I told Husband about my fears. He laughed at me (in retrospect, the logical reaction to have), and told me I was being ridiculous. Of course Brett had forgotten. Such a sympathetic man I married.

We had 17 adults and two kids at our Thanksgiving-fest-o-rama. I figured this was the best protection possible. Even if Brett had remembered, and had been serious, it would be hard to get me alone to cut my head off. He clearly wasn't insane enough to cut my head off in front of 15 other people. Plus, he'd had to fly into town - an ax was blatantly not going to make it through TSA security (he'd only brought carry-on luggage). I made sure we didn't have a ax lying anywhere around our house, and double checked to ensure the neighbors' garages were all closed, in the unlucky scenario that they had axes stowed away.

Thanksgiving evening, after everyone was full of delicious food and drink, and we were sitting around playing Mexican Train Dominoes, my fearless protector thought it would be an appropriate time to reminisce.

"Hey Brett!" Husband called out. "Do you remember telling Laura you were going to get an ax and cut her head off when you were 21?" Brett, maintaining his composure, laughed and simply said, "no."

After recollecting for him the story of his calm 3-year old coolness as he swore to be the purveyor of my demise, we all had a good laugh. Brett claimed not to remember the incident and found it especially humorous that I'd been mildly concerned about his threat for the past 17 years. A good performance, for sure.

The weekend ended without head-chopping-off incident. I saw Brett again once during that year, but didn't bring up the ax-promise, and managed to keep my head secured to my neck through the visit.

When his birthday rolled around again last November, I breathed a sigh of relief. Brett was no longer 21. I was free! He hadn't cut my head off with an ax (not that I ever really thought he would, right?). In my state of jubilation, I excitedly told Husband the good news - my life was no longer at risk!!

Husband greeted my enthusiasm with his infuriating logic, "Yeah, unless he just meant at least 21 years old. Since he didn't specify that it would happen 'during his 21st year,' he feasibly could have meant any time after he turned 21. Guess you're not safe after all."