WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!!

It’s fine if you politely decline to answer that question. If you know me in real life, you probably have an entire list. It’s cool with me if you keep it to yourself. No, I insist. Seriously, STOP TALKING!

So here’s my problem. I am home alone. Okay, that right there is not the problem. Home alone means getting stuff done. Or it should. I had a list of wanna-do kinds of things. I want to write some, do a bit of NaNo prep, work on my digital scrapbook, get some exercise, make a pizza, do some dishes. You know, nothing much.

But here I sit, bound, tied, gagged by anxiety. The worst part if it is, I don’t even know WHY. There is no single, logical thought that has become my tripping hazard. So in an effort to contain this prickly beast that feels like electricity in my chest, I blog. It’s a Sunday, it’s beautiful weather, people are busy with Halloween parties and their own NaNo prep, so I don’t even have the pressure of having people read this post. So it’s good.

If you have never experienced inexplicable anxiety, this is kind of what it looks like.

Why am I anxious? It could be because…

  • I haven’t processed the Padawan’s new diagnosis and made my peace with it
  • The Girl-Child is on a camping trip
  • The Girl-Child seemed ill-prepared for this camping trip
  • The Girl-Child may get eaten by a bear
  • If Girl-Child isn’t eaten by a bear, I have to drive her to Chattanooga when she gets home
  • The boys are on a hike without me to try to complete their 100 mile challenge
  • Their dad may poop out early and call it quits and they won’t get their 100 miles
  • I will be forced to rally the troops next Sunday and lead them to the finish line myself
  • If I am forced to lead them across the finish line, I will be missing valuable NaNo writing time
  • This is the first NaNoWriMo in which I have absolutely zero ideas speaking to me
  • What if I start NaNo and can’t finish for the first time ever?
  • What if I start NaNo and I struggle every, single night to get the words down?
  • I have not managed to stay awake past 9pm for the last 3 months. How will I complete NaNo?
  • I should be working on my mom’s scrapbook, but it means I have to upload photos
  • Once the photos are uploaded, I have to arrange them on the page
  • After the photos are arranged on the page, I have to CAPTION them
  • What if I die during the scrapbooking/NaNoWriMo/Hiking challenge?
  • Can I arrange to be eaten by a bear?
  • What if the baby kitties get fat?
  • Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

    Who you calling fat, lady? This is technically a ruff, not a double chin.

  • What if my cinnamon tree cutting dies?
  • Can I order cinnamon trees online?
  • What if it gets too cold and dies in transit and the company I bought it from refuses to refund me because I should have known better?
  • Can I grow cinnamon from seed?
  • If I grow cinnamon from seed, I’m supposed to plant them immediately because they have limited viability. But they aren’t supposed to be planted until Spring. And then it takes a month or more for them to sprout
  • What if the seeds are all dead and it’s too late to complain and leave feedback on Ebay?
  • What if I never own the Charlie Brown Funko figure where he’s dressed as a ghost?
  • Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can't have you!

    Curse you, Walgreens exclusive! I missed you! And you remind me of the Padawan, and it makes me sad that I can’t have you!

  • What if I spend all day worrying and never get anything done?
  • What if I don’t get good pictures of the new Radiata hatchlings at the zoo?
  • Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

    Best egg tooth photo I have ever taken. Boss man hates the banana leaf background, though, and what if he sees this, gets mad, and burns my blog to the ground?

  • Speaking of new hatchlings, that reminds me I’m supposed to scrapbook for the department. I need to compile photos into a concise album to make that process easier. Easier? Suddenly it feels the very opposite of easy
  • Also speaking of new hatchlings… My new baby Neon Day Gecko – what if the parents eat it?Are there two new ones? What if they are eaten by spiders?
  • Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

    Phelsuma klemmeri, Neon Day Gecko. Extreme close-up. This kid is an inch long.

  • What if we are ALL EATEN BY SPIDERS?
  • What if one day while I am hanging upside down to do water changes in the big exhibit, the driftwood becomes so weak that it collapses and everyone sees me fall into the water?
  • What if NO ONE sees me and I drown and my face gets eaten by the turtles?
  • What if I can’t find all the fun photos I want to add to this post?
  • What if I do find them, but my storage is all eaten up and I can’t post them?
  • What if I have to wash my hair again tonight?
  • What if I am out of shampoo and CAN’T wash my hair tonight?
  • What if my ENTIRE family is eaten by bears? It’s bear season, and maybe my whole family put on their best acorn underwear for their big hiking/camping trips?
  • What if Sonic runs out of dark chocolate/potato chip/pretzel Blasts?
  • What if I eat the Blast and it goes straight to my bum and none of my pants fit me anymore?
  • What if it never gets cold again?
  • What if it gets cold and I am very, very sorry that it is cold because I wear shorts all winter and end up with chilblains?
  • What if I never learn what chilblains are? But spellcheck does, so I know it’s a thing
  • What if my headache/anxiety/neuropathy/memory loss never go away?
  • What if I never get an idea for NaNo and the muse has left me and I never got to write again and my new computer sits on my writing table sad and dejected?
  • What if I go outside to go for a walk and a walnut falls out of the tree, hits me on the head, and renders me unconscious in the middle of the road?
  • What if I go to the gym to work out because walnuts typically don’t fall in the gym, but the bean burrito I ate last night makes its presence known and all the other members die of methane poisoning and I go to jail for premeditated foofing?
  • What if I don’t make it to Target in time for the post-Halloween 90% off sale and all the pet costumes are gone and Ravenclaw and Pandora are stuck being naked for the rest of their lives?
  • Okay, so maybe they won't be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    Okay, so maybe they won’t be TOTALLY naked, but bat costumes have limited use.

    pandora_the_bat

  • What if I can’t figure out a super-cool Halloween costume?
  • What if we go trick-or-treating and kids come by our house and no one is home, so they egg the place?
  • What if we buy a million bags of candy and we have no trick-or-treaters, so I am forced to eat the candy myself because I take one for the team, and then I get fat?
  • What if the MRI costs $10,000 and insurance doesn’t cover it and we are stuck in debt again?
  • What if my chest actually bursts apart with the electricity that is building in it?

Is it too late to sign up to get eaten by a bear? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about a costume because I would be Winnie’s Poo. Also, now I want a hermit crab.

 

 

Taming the Mountain

We’ve talked about it for years. We both wanted to do it. We would do it. Someday we would pack our gear and get it done. On Saturday, someday arrived. We hiked to the peak of Mt LeConte.

For weeks prior, I was plagued by doubts. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve done the Alum Cave Bluff portion a year and a half ago, and I remember it being a real challenge. This time around, we would be in the company of the Padawan’s Webelos den. Would I be able to keep up with the kids? Would I be that mom who slowed the whole group down? I didn’t want to ruin it for my husband or my son, especially since our den leader had planned the whole trip so he could award the boys their Webelos rank at the top of the mountain. It was a big deal.

Husband and I had some disagreements prior to stepping off the trail. I let him win on both counts, but I still resent it a little. He talked me out of taking my “real” camera, and I had to settle for my daughter’s point-and-shoot. He also balked when I packed my book in my backpack. “You’re not going to have time to read, and you’ll be sorry for the extra weight.” Yeah. I did, and I wouldn’t have. But whatever.

On the way up, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s not every day I get to cross something off The Dream List. The trail was so much easier than I remembered, maybe because I didn’t have a thirty pound preschooler dangling off my back this time. We got to Alum Cave much faster than I expected, and it was actually fun. It wasn’t a fear of heights that made our last trip so terrifying, it was a fear of Squish plummeting off the side of the mountain. No Squish, no worries.

Yes, it's as steep as it looks.

Yes, it’s as steep as it looks.

 

We tagged about 1/10th of a mile behind the Padawan’s group, well ahead of the middle-of-the-pack. My husband and I hiked essentially in solitude. We talked. We are at our most honest on the trail. Being in the moment brings the things that matter into clearer focus. We can solve the world’s problems at 6,000 feet. As the path grew more difficult, the talking stopped, and our thoughts turned inward.

We hit the top after just under three hours of hiking. Actually, we hit it sooner than that, but we missed the trail to the lodge and kept hiking another 1/4 mile before I realized our mistake and we got turned around. While we waited for the last group, we took a side trip to the actual peak.

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

I must have framed a thousand shots that I did not take. The breathtaking peaks and valleys; tiny deer mice scurrying across the trail; tangles of tree roots spilling downhill like so much water; my husband, rosy-cheeked and smiling, mist hanging over the hills; my son grinning with the triumph of 11 conquered miles.  I carry those images in my heart.

old_glory

Goodbye, Dear Friend

Oh, sweet friend, I will miss you. We have shared special times. You have been there for me, I wake in the darkness and find comfort in you. And now you will go, cold, unyielding rejection in place of your warm embrace. A scream in the night. I knew you couldn’t stay. Our time together is always too fleeting. I see the falling leaves as a sign that we will soon be parted. Not forever, I know. Spring will bring our joyous reunion. Until then, my friend, goodbye.

Farewell, warm toilet seat.

So You Think You Can’t Bake

It’s fall, and nothing tastes or smells more like fall than ginger and cloves. One simple and tasty way to add that aroma to the house is to whip up a batch of little gingerbread dudes. I promised an easy recipe to my blogging buddy, and it’s time I make good.

My beloved husband cooks like an art major, feeling in his soul that a recipe is only a suggestion, a mere jumping off point in a quest for self-expression. It makes his cooking interesting and his baking inedible. Therefore I offer a step-by-step guide with pictures for those creative spirits who aren’t sure why their bread has the consistency of a black hole.If you already know what you’re doing, copy the recipe and have a great day! Everyone else, follow me.

Here’s what you need:

1/2 C Butter (softened, not melted)

1/2 C Sugar

1/2 C Molasses (NOT blackstrap)

2 egg yolks

2 C Bread Flour (you can use all-purpose, but your men won’t be as fluffy)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cloves

2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

And here’s what to do. In technicolor.

1) Cream your butter and sugar.

"Cream" on low speed. Sounds violent, but if you keep your fingers out of the way, no one gets hurt.

2) Combine in Molasses

Molasses was intended by God for use in gingerbread. Alone, it tastes awful. High in iron, though.

3) Beat in egg yolks. You don’t need any special gadget to separate the yolks. Save the whites. You can use them in the bread recipe I’ll post soon.

To separate, hold egg a bowl and gently pour from one half of the shell to the other.

4) In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and blend well with a fork.

Baking calls for exact ratios. Use a knife to level off your flour and spices.

Can't you just smell it?! Yum!

5) Add dry ingredients to your butter mixture in small amounts. I use medium or high speed since the batter is thick. Blend until smooth.

A little at a time so it blends well.

This is what it looks like when you're done. It has little waves in it.

6) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put it in a small, air-tight bowl and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. It seems unfair to have to wait. Leave the house if you must. It makes the time pass faster. You can put it in the freezer if you have to, but I am always afraid that the butter will crystallize. No idea what that would do to the taste, but I avoid unnecessary crystallization in my life whenever possible as a matter of principle.

So close, and yet so far away. An hour. Take this time to catch up on all those shows on DVR.

And now, the fun begins! Here’s the creative opportunity you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s what you need:

Yes, I do recommend wax paper. Buy some now, thank me later.

1) Lightly sprinkle some flour on a piece of wax paper and on your rolling pin. You can roll if out directly on the counter if you want to, but, wax paper makes it easier to remove even the most reluctant gingerbread dude and get him  to your baking sheet.

2) Roll out your dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use your cookie cutter of choice. Or use a sharp knife and create your own amazing shapes.

In ten minutes, I will EAT you! Be afraid, little gingerbread dude!

3) Remove your shape from the wax paper and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, depending on your oven.

4) Cool for a minute or so, and then remove to wire rack (if you have one).

Five reasons why life is worth living.

And that’s all there is to it. Here are a few tips.

Buy your spices at a place that sells them in bulk and lets you scoop them yourself. I paid about 1/4 the price I would have paid for prepackaged stuff. And it’s way fresher.

The spice amounts can be adjusted according to taste, but try the recipe as-is a time or two first. Too much cloves or ginger will burn your tongue. No joke.

An air-tight wrap or container is important in the fridge. It keeps the dough from drying out.

Put your cookies in an air-tight container before they have cooled completely. The stay softer that way.

Make friends only with people who have no sense of smell. If they can’t smell your cookies, you won’t have to share.

Enjoy, and let me know how they turn out!

Adventures in Gardening, Part 1

I am not a gardener. I can grow things in pots to beat the band, but an actual garden is beyond my experience/capability/attention span. And this is one area in which I am in no danger whatsoever of becoming my mom. She loves to garden, and she spends a great deal of time planting, seeding, researching, mulching. She spent my entire childhood trying to tame the wild undergrowth on the bank in her backyard. A few years and a backhoe later, she has the garden of her dreams. And a knee that needs replacing. That’s a bad combo, if you didn’t already know.

Last week she asked me if I’d like to come help her “get some weeding done” and get the plants to bed before the first frost. She’s not as fast as she used to be, and there are some things she just can’t do right now with her bum knee. I would rather stick a garden rake in my eye than tend my own garden, but of course I was happy to help her out. There’s just one complication: Mr. Squish.

Who? Me? I not do nuthin.

Where I go, Squish must follow. Sounds like it would be no problem at all. Small child, large fenced yard, what’s the issue? If he was an ordinary youngster, he might play happily while I worked. Ordinary, he is not. Creative and with a nose for trouble, he is. Throw a cocker spaniel with barely two brain cells to rub together into the mix, and you’ve got yourself some fun.

Mom had an appointment, so she showed me where to start and left me to my work. The first ten minutes were fine. I did the rough work with her claw, the most amazing tool ever found on a late-night infomercial. A few twists, and the top soil and mulch are loosened, weeds are yanked up like so much spaghetti. Fabulous. I look up, and Squish is nowhere to be seen. The next few minutes go something like this:

Scream loudly for small child.

Locate him indoors playing with the remote control.

Bring him out of doors.

Remove can of insect spray from his hands.

Place small child in pebbles with toy dump truck.

Remove pebbles that he has buried in the very, very bottom of the raised vegetable garden.

Begin to hand-weed a tricky patch on hands and knees.

Remove skunk-breathed dog from face, repeatedly. Attempt to convince her I do not wish to give her a kiss.

Come up for air.

Return to hands and knees and commence to weed.

Feel sudden weight on back as small child becomes “baby gorilla” and asks for a ride.

Crawl to compost barrel to dump weeds, so as not to disturb baby gorilla perched between shoulder blades.

Remove skunk-breathed dog from face.

Remove child from back and take him back to the rocks to play.

Hear child say “I have a rock for you, Mommy!”

Notice sudden movement out of the corner of eye and move just in time to avoid small child slam-dunking rock the size of a dessert plate directly on my head.

Curl into fetal position.

Scream at skunk-breathed dog to get out of my ever-lovin’ face and beg child to quit bouncing on my kidneys.

That was all before Squish discovered that the five foot retaining wall is an easy climb.

And Mom wonders why I didn’t get much done. I think I remember why I don’t garden.

 

The Flavors of Fall

I usually don’t post on weekends, but my blogging buddy tweeted yesterday that she went apple picking, and another pal posted on Facebook that honeycrisp apples (which I suspect were the delicacy responsible for the fall of  The Very First Lady, and may actually have been worth the consequences) have hit stores, and I am inspired! One of my favorite fall traditions is making apple butter in my slow-cooker, and the time is ripe.

Let me dissuade you of the illusion that I have always been steeped in traditional homemaking skills. I grew up watching my great-grandmother pick, cook and can her own fruits and vegetables and create beautiful quilts, and my grandmother sewed many of my dresses and was a skillful knitter,  but in my opinion, those skills were for old people. And since my mother was a single-parent who worked 45-50 hours a week, all that domesticity skipped a generation.

When I got married, I didn’t even know how to cook. Hamburger helper and canned green beans constituted fine-dining in those early days. I could scramble and egg and bake cookies, but those dishes do not exactly make for a balanced diet. Over time, I have branched out, and I am happy to say that I am now an adventurous cook, and definitely not a bad one.

Now I am a stay-at-home mom (and arguably rather old),  I am beginning to appreciate those skills possessed by the matriarchs as a lost art. One by one, I am trying to revive them. Since I am but a slow knitter, and I can’t sew a straight line, cooking is currently the skill at which I am most successful. Enter apple butter.

Here’s my confession. I love eating the stuff. And it makes a great gift for family members. At least the ones who know I actually like them and won’t look at the jar and wonder if I’m trying to do them in. Actually, I’m not above messing with anyone’s head, but I hate to waste food, so I stick to the people I like. What I love most about apple butter, though, is not the taste or the mind games. I love the way it makes my house smell. Like cinnamon and the spices. The fragrance of fall. It’s  simply incredible. Unless you burn it, but I’m not going there.

I do things a little differently than my Nanny. She stirred apples on the stove-top for hours on end, until they were a delicious, caramelized mush. But face it. She raised her kids during the Great Depression. They didn’t have access to the many and various ways to do bodily harm that my kids do. I use my crock pot.

I do bow to tradition in one way. I don’t use those gadgets that will peel/slice/core an apple for you in 30 seconds. My apples are peeled and sliced by hand. It takes an hour or two, but here’s the cool part. My daughter joins me. The time that we spend together here is magic, time we spend actually talking. She is now fourteen, and I find myself greedy for these interludes of conversation and laughter. She may eventually become suspicious and wonder why we are making 6 batches of the stuff, when we normally make only two. I hope she doesn’t catch on for awhile.

So here it is, the recipe you’ve all been waiting for. Or skipped all the other drivel to get to:

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

4 1/2 – 5lbs of apples (no exact measure, but you want so many apples that the top doesn’t quite fit on the cooker) peeled, cored, and sliced thin

4 C sugar (you knew it was going to be good, right?!)

3 tsp cinnamon

1/4  tsp cloves

Combine sugar and spices. Pour apples in large bowl and pour sugar mixture over it. Mix it all up.

Dump in slow-cooker and cook on high for an hour

Decrease heat to low and cook for 9-11 hours, stirring occasionally

Uncover and cook for another hour

Whisk until smooth (I sometimes use an electric hand mixer, but really hot stuff will go flying)

Can in half-pint jars immediately (I’ll post instructions in another blog, if anyone is interested