Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's back-to-school week and I'm just so darn overjoyed about it that I've decided to share my favorite cookie recipe with you.  These incidentally are the cranberry chocolate chip cookies I pulled from the oven to serve warm to the kids when they arrived home from their first day. Enjoy!

What you'll need:

1c and 2 tbsp flour
1c chocolate chips
1/2 c dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c butter (room temperature)
1 egg
6 tbsp white sugar
6 tbsp brown sugar (not firmly packed)

Before you begin I should warn you that I've made this recipe at least 100 times. Maybe 85 times they were very good, but on the 15 other occasions they were downright magical--as in super fluffy and of a certain melt in your mouth fantastical scrumptiousness that weakens the knees.  My problem is that I don't know why sometimes they're just good, and other times they're to die for.  I've experimented with various items and techniques--butter temperatures, the consistency to which I beat and cream the batter at various stages, cookie sizes, and cooking times--but yet I can't seem to pinpoint what the trick is. If you figure it out, I beg of you to share.

Anyway, here goes:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
3. Cream butter.
4. Add sugars gradually and continue beating until creamy.
5. Beat in egg and vanilla.
6. Stir in sifted ingredients.
7. Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries.

8. Roll batter in small (teaspoon size) balls and place on cookie sheet.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.


10. Let cool just slightly and serve with a big glass of milk.

Good, huh?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

All-Star Kids

A demanding nine-year old, two teenagers and a menopausal mom have emotions running a little wild in our house, these days, as the back-to-school jitters set in. Lately, it seems someone is always mad at somebody, but there's nothing like the promise of new shoes to make everybody get along for a spell.
"What do you think?"

"Do I look like a star?"

Hollywood getting smart.

"Sob. I can't find the shoes I'm looking for."

"Those ones, near your head?'
"Oh, ya, those ones. Thanks, Mom." 


And, with our shoes tucked safely under our arms, the shoe shop magic wears off and the camaraderie disintegrates.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lousy Myths About Some Not-So-Monkey Business

I'll always remember the spring of 2012 as the time I went nearly went buggy over lice.  The Storm brought it home and spread it about with her fantastic hugs, until we all had it. You can read about our hell here:

Finally, after five months, the lovely Carrie Burts of LiceDoctors arrived to rid us of the nasty things, once and for all. 


The ordeal left me a bit of an expert on the subject, so here are so many myths dispelled; the truth about this not-so-monkey business, if you will:

1. Only people who are dirty get lice. Not true. Lice is attracted to clean hair, where the nits can more easily adhere to the hair follicle.

2. You need to bag everything up (stuffed toys, pillows, etc.) for two weeks, or a month. Not true! Without a scalp to feed on lice will die within 48 hours.  Nits, or rather the larvae within them, also cannot survive for long out of the nice warm nesting ground of the human head.
3. Lice can jump and fly. Nope! But they can crawl really, really fast, and when you are digging through hair to find them they do this, instinctually racing from the light that moving this or that strand brings. It’s the reason you don’t often see live lice. 

4.  Lice carry disease. Yes, if embarrassment is classified as disease. Besides the itch (or possible rash) the social stigma of having lice, and the frustration associated with ridding one’s family or self of lice, is the worst of it.
5. Lice aren’t particularly common. Not true.  Lice are very common. Only the common cold is more common than lice. The thing is people aren’t apt to complain about it in public because of the negative social stigma associated with it. (See #4)
6. The most common way to catch lice is by sharing hats, helmets, and hairbrushes, etc.  It’s true that this is one way to catch lice, but head to head contact is the most common way that lice spreads. You want to avoid lice? Skip all physical contact--but I've got to say, as sucky as lice is, my babies' hugs are worth it.
7. I’m not itchy so I can’t have lice. That would be wrong. Just like some people go itch crazy over mosquito bites and other people don’t, so it is with lice. It’s an allergy thing.

8. Pets can get lice. Nope. Not even if your pet is a monkey.  Human blood is the feast of the head louse.
9. I used a lice shampoo, so now I'm in the clear. No way.  You also need to do a thorough comb through of each infested or even possibly infested head. (Get a quality micro-grooved comb! I can't emphasize this enough) You also need to launder all contaminated bedding; bag or put away all pillows and stuffed toys that might be contaminated; or stick these in the dryer on hot for 30-40 minutes; boil all hair brushes; thoroughly vacuum carpets and furniture; and don't forget about hair ties and carseats.  Then you need to do it all again approximately 10 days later.   
10. I did everything in #9, so now I'm definitely in the clear. Not necessarily. There is significant and mounting evidence that lice has developed immunities to the over-the-counter products, so it isn't a given that they work at all. The point is: You need to continually monitor the beautiful heads in your home. If you discover that you are not in fact rid of the critters, you need to find an alternative treatment. Definitely do not use the lice shampoos beyond the recommended dosage. There is also significant and mounting evidence that these are dangerous the first time round, forget about the second and third time you use them..  
Here's the deal: There is a ton of confusing, conflicting, controversial and political information surrounding these shampoos, and getting to the bottom of it is a bit of a chore, but do some homework before you expose your children to what is very probably a treatment far more dangerous than the disease.  Remember, lice is a nuisance but it can't make you sick or kill you.
If I had to do it all again, I most definitely would skip the trip to the drugstore--which proved futile, anyway--and head straight to my kitchen cupboard for the olive oil. Actually, if I had to do it all again, I'd call the LiceDoctors on Day One:

One final note: What it really means to contract lice is that: a. You  have clean hair; and b. You are sociable. Nothing more. Get over it, and get out the olive oil.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Conversation With a Teenager

"So, I'll never be allowed to have boys in my room?" said Sunshine.

"Never," I said

"Don't you trust me?"

"Oh, Honey, of course I trust you," I said. "You’ve never given me a reason not to trust you. You’re good and you make good choices.  You’re smart and you make smart choices.  You’re wise and savvy and kind, and you bring all of these wonderful traits to your decision making, and I believe, I hope, that you will continue to do so."

Then I couldn't help but jump in: "But, Sunshine, you are coming into some very different territory where the terrain gets tricky to navigate. There will be pressures, social pressures and pressures from boys, beyond any pressures you’ve come up against already.  And your head and your heart will conflict, to leave you uncertain. Forget about the wild hormones that will throw everything off kilter to mess with your thinking.

Yes, I trust you, Baby, I really do, but I’m afraid for you, too.  I’m terrified.  The choices you’ve made in the past have been of mere training ground for the choices you’ll need to make in the future, grown-up choices of the adult world, where the consequences are real, long-lasting, and life-altering.

And while you make good choices, the whole set up is unfair because you’ll be forced to make choices that, as a teenage girl, you’re not even equipped to make. You’ll be forced to make grown-up, long-lasting, life-altering choices, wrought with social and sexual pressures—and yet, you aren’t psychologically, emotionally or even mentally fully equipped to handle these choices because, Sunshine, the human brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches something like 25 years of age. 

What this means, Beautiful Girl, is that even though you are a good girl, a responsible girl who makes good choices, until you are older and more experienced, you can’t fully understand or completely appreciate the potential consequences of your choices—the life-altering consequences.   

So, Baby Girl, while I trust you—I really, really do—I’m afraid for you.  It’s the instinctual fear of a parent and I hope that you can forgive me for it because, Sunsine, this fear of mine might be the only thing to level the land a little, keep you from tripping early on this new path.  Make sense?”

I breathed, hoping that she understood what I was saying, hoping that at least one or two words registered.

One or two words did: "Speaking of fully developed, can we go bra shopping?”  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Rain Dance

There sits a decorative block on the dresser I share with Balthazar, that I picked up several years ago. It reads, Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's learning to dance in the rain.

I don't usually buy home decor with inspirational quotes. It's not really my style. But we were going through a rough patch at the time. Balthazar was working in Vegas, coming home weekends only, and I suddenly found myself a single parent from Monday to Friday, in Des Moines--while we waited for the house to sell, so we could get on with things. Things being our new lives in the desert, where he had a new job. 

This went on for a long time, until the job wasn't new anymore, and our situation was just old.

It was hard. We began to lose faith in one another, and in ourselves.  Money was tight. Time was tighter.  And life was hectic as all hell.  Then, when finally we found buyers for the house, our basement flooded to chase them away.  In ten years, the basement had never seen water, but the Iowa rains were unusually heavy that spring.

Anyway, it was right about that time, on another cloudy day, when I'd been waiting for a full year for Balthazar's plane to land, and the house to sell, and our lives to continue, that I came across this inspirational knick knack, probably in a Hallmark store. 

I set it front and center in our bedroom, and I quoted it often to Balthazar when he'd hold his forehead in frustration, or hang it in misery. I said it to myself, sometimes my morning mirror mantra, other times while I cried myself to sleep, alone in our bed. It helped.

Then the storm passed. We finally sold the house and came together as a family in our new home in Vegas.  Balthazar and I have grown close again. (God, I love that man!) And life is a little easier for us. For now.

But I keep the Hallmark block around anyway, not so much as a source of inspiration anymore as a reminder of who we are and how we persevered. Of how hard it is to dance sometimes . And how important it is to cup your ear, listen for the beat in the thunder. Sway to the rhythm. Move your feet.

Anyway, there arrived a fantastic storm on our desert doorstep this afternoon. 

It made me smile to find Hollywood dancing in it.

Life is short. Drink it up!

And dance!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Jack-in-the-Box Remedy

June was busy with activities (soccer, lacrosse, junior guarding, acting, the ballet performance) that weaned off in July. Now, August has arrived to leave us in the thick of the Vegas summer with hardly any structure to our days at all. These dog days set me on edge.

I'm annoyed by late mornings and pj's at lunchtime. And each time one of my little darlings flops on the couch to point the remote, I seethe a little inside.  I find myself scrambling for chores and projects to fill their days.  In Iowa, I would have sent them outdoors, but Vegas is too hot, and it's not that kind of place, anyway.

This lack of commitments has Sunshine floating in freedom, so that she's barely in the door before she's asking to go back out again. Outings and sleepovers turn marathon while her dinner chair sits empty, and we see less and less of her.

I know this is the way of things, the way it's supposed to be, the way it needs to be for her to develop the independent life that it's my job to groom her for. But, I don't like it.

I miss her. 

I want to scoop her up on my lap, tuck her curls behind her ear and read her another fairytale. 

I want to lock the doors and ban her from going out. Again. Ever again!

"But, you just got home...."

"I need you here," I say, which is the heart-filled truth, but I get pragmatic, turn it into an excuse--to clean your room; to help with chores; to play with your sister while I work.

At the very worst of times, I'll snap at her, "No. You're staying home. End of story."

Sunshine's never been one to snap back, but suddenly she is... snapping back. 

I thought to blame it on her quitting dance. Partly this might be true. Without a physical outlet, she's moodier--more like me, if I'm honest.  But this push back, this teenage rebellion that has arrived, jack-in-the-box like, a few times already, this summer, must be instinctual, self-preservational, a railing at the bars.       

In any case, it's exactly the remedy for a mother who wants to stop time, turn it back even: How about Peter Rabbit? It's one of your favorites, isn't?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On an Ordinary Wednesday

Is there anything more wonderful than a teenage sister to whisk you up to her bedroom on an ordinary Wednesday evening and turn you into a princess, just because?

I think not.

Dress, hair, makeup, photography and, especially, magic, by Sunshine.