Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Day

Today was a better day.

Helps that I did finally get myownself to the doctor yesterday between dropping off my middle child to get her hair done and getting groceries.

The doctor, a nice man btw, said.....

Are you ready?

"You're sick!"

He said I have bronchitis, sinusities, pharyngitis and some other itis I can't think of right now. "I got it from her!" I said as I pointed to my youngest who was in the exam room with me spinning on the doctor's stool.

Then, that nice doctor had the nerve to ask me if I wanted a SHOT!!!

Missie must have called him before I got there.

NO WAY! NO SHOT!! So, he gave me a bunch of drugs, patted me on the head and sent me off to bed to rest (I wish).

After some serious sleep brought on by some serious, and I mean serious, cough syrup (which God created btw), I woke up early enough to see the sunrise. With my first cup of coffee in my hands, my robe and my favorite slippers, I stood outside and watched the sun come up.

I didn't miss the opportunity to tell God how much I appreciate HIS sunrise...I felt it was the least I could do since He sent it just to remind me that every new day is a blessing to be cherished :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just One of Those Days

Today hasn't been the greatest day.

First of all, I physically did not feel well. My youngest who was sick all week last week generously passed her germs on to me. She jumped out of bed fever free on Sunday ready to see her friends in Sunday School while I could barely lift my head off the pillow. Great. Just great.

Second, after missing 3 days of work last week to take care of my youngest (which I do not regret one iota), some serious stuff piled up on my desk. I had a list of immediate to-dos, paperwork, forms, no show reports etc. that without exception had to be completed first thing this morning. I also had 3 classes to teach...3 classes of students who haven't seen me in over a week. 3 classes of students who are understandably tired of showing up for class and finding a note on the door that says "Dr. Smith's classes are cancelled." They'd rather receive that kind of information before their alarm clocks go off.

All morning I kept asking my co-worker, neighbor and friend Missie, "Are you hot?" to which she repeatedly answered, "No, it's not hot in here; you have fever; you need a shot!" A shot! Where the heck did that come from?? Missie's a take the horse by the reins kinda girl...if you're sick, you get a shot...CHECK!...problem resolved. Me...not so much. Especially when we're talking about needles!

Around 1 p.m. I finally gave in and came home. I'm lucky to live only about 7-8 minutes from the community college where I work. That means a quick trip home for lunch is not out of the question...not that I ever take advantage of it...but it's there if I want. Today I did. I came home and started a pot roast for tonight's supper. After blowing my nose a gazillion times and coughing up my spleen, I took my temperature. Sure enough that bossy Missie was right. A stinkin' temperature! I don't have time for a temperature!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After I put the roast safely in the oven to slow cook over the next several hours, I choked down some Ibuprofen, popped another cough drop, grabbed my Vicks tissues and jumped in the car to go back to the office. Sick or not, I had left my window up...since I was hot and no one else was, I had lifted the window to get some fresh air. There was, of course, no one left in the office to close it for me so I headed that way.

I arrived at the office, pulled down the window, grabbed a textbook that I needed to finish a semester agenda, printed out a recipe, answered a quick email and left the office again. I swung by the post office; then, finally I headed to get the youngest from school. The youngest and I met the firstborn and middle child at home.

My middle child and youngest stayed home playing Wii while the firstborn and I set off for a doctor's appt. in a town 30 miles away. Not for me...for her. My beautiful talented firstborn somehow looks at herself and doesn't see what others see. She cut herself the first time in the 8th grade to ease the emotional pain of not measuring up. If she can't be perfect, she feels as if she's failed. We just found out about a year ago when the self harming behaviors became more noticeable and have had her in therapy ever since...We don't miss these doctor appts.

I'm crying I'll need to save more of the firstborn's story in another blog...not sure why I felt led to share it here and now.

Her original appt. had been that morning, but I knew I didn't need to miss another class; my firstborn's doctor graciously let us shift the appt. to an afternoon slot that opened up. My firstborn was quiet on the trip up as well as back home. The appt. went well, but still I worried...I can't imagine where my firstborn gets her anxiety issues.

We walked back into the house and smelled that wonderful aroma that can only mean pot roast... then the firstborn and middle child left for show choir practice.

The ever courteous Head of the Household also sent a blackberry message that simply said, "bkb tonight." That's shorthand for, "There's a basketball game tonight at school so I won't be home for dinner." This message arrived at approximately 5:45 p.m. :(

I wanted to scream, "WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO EAT POT ROAST?????"

Please be sure to notice that I said I wanted to; I didn't say I did.

While my youngest daughter played Wii Fit, I made homemade mashed potatoes. By this point, I was damned and determined that SOMEBODY was going to have a good supper. I fixed myself and my youngest a plate. My youngest sat down at the kitchen bar with me and politely announced that she was not hungry.

My youngest daughter, who will be henceforth known as "I cannot tell a lie," then spilled the beans. While my firstborn and I were gone to the doctor, my youngest and her big sister, Miss Middle Child, had ordered a pizza from Dominos and had it delivered to our home!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because there was no sign of pizza anywhere, I made the correct assumption that they had eaten every single bite!

I didn't yell...I didn't slam the cabinet doors...I just kissed my youngest and told her I loved her.

Because I do.

I love them all.

I am blessed beyond measure.

I can't imagine my life any different...even though they wear me slap out sometimes.

I am reading a book by Joanna Weaver called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. I am learning to be still and wait for God.

I am learning to quit rushing around and trying to force everything to happen.

I am learning to leave the worry and anxiety to Him because He knows every hair on my head.

I am learning that I am not in control, and that actually feels give it all back to Him.

I am learning that life is not perfect...because it's not meant to be. Life is busy. Life is inconvenient. And, sometimes we have bad days. For those days I remember a song by Amy Grant called Arms of Love:

Lord, I'm really glad you're here
I hope you feel the same when you see all my fears
And how I've failed

I fall sometimes
It's hard to walk on shifting sand
I miss the rock and find there's nowhere left to stand
I start to cry

I fall sometimes

I have found a place where I can hide
It's safe inside your arms of love
Like a child whose held throughout a storm
You keep me warm in your arms of love.

I have to believe that God has us all in his arms. It is the safest place I can imagine. I will continue to strive to be a Mary and be still. I want to see the squirrels, watch the sunset, spend time with my children, cook a pot roast...even if there's nobody home to eat it, and sit at the feet of my Savior.

Hold me in your arms today, Lord.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Menu Monday

One of my main new year goals was to be more organized and to cook more for my family. I haven't quite accomplished that yet, and January is almost over. I did some cooking this weekend and it made my family rise up and call me blessed :) hee hee - I'm so far from the Proverbs 31 lady that it's not even funny...but I have been dreaming about her all my life. I'm all about forgiving myself in 2010 though :) and even though I may not rise at dawn and sew all my children's clothes, I'm a pretty tenacious ole gal (girls raised in the south and all that's cracked up to be) so I'm going to give this Menu Monday thing a try. Here goes:

Monday: pot roast, carrots and potatoes, caesar salad and crescent rolls

Tuesday: Roan's crockpot lasagna

Wednesday: Gumbo cook-off for Wednesday Night Supper @ church (my middle child is helping me with this :) We've found a Paula Deen recipe that we think we can handle. It will be my first attempt at making gumbo! What better way to experiment than with a bunch of hungry folks trapped together at church who have to eat!

Thursday: meatloaf muffins, lima beans, mashed potatoes (my kids love it when I put barbeque sauce on husband, not so much...have I mentioned yet how picky he is? If not, I'm sure I'll be mentioning it later )

Friday: Invitational Food (show choir competition)

Saturday: Invitational Food (show choir competition)

Sunday: ? not sure yet...I will be zonked after the show choir stuff

I made a couple of new very successful recipes this weekend, Ree Drummond's Potato Skins from her cookbook and Apple Dumplings from her blog. I'll post on them soon, but that success is definitely what's behind this inspiration to cook this week. Even my picky husband was pleased!! We'll see what happens this week...

The Lovely Bones

When this book was first published in 2002, I read about the subject matter and knew then and there this was not a book for me. I am an avid reader (to say the least) and do not shy away from much...I'm willing to try any genre and work tirelessly not to be a snooty English teacher who tells her students which books are worthwhile and which ones are just trash or fluff reading...I happen to wholeheartedly believe that if students are reading, PLEASE PLEASE LET THEM READ!!

But I have to draw the line somewhere to keep my own sanity, and a book that deals with the violent death of a 13 year old girl and how her family deals with their loss is where I draw the line.

My firstborn, one of the three reasons I chose not to read this book in the first place, was younger than the main character, Susie, at the time of the book's publication. How ironic is it that my firstborn is the one who read this book 8 years after its original publication and suggested that I read it as well?

My firstborn and I have conversations about books...we love books on our shelves (we're currently arguing about who gets to keep this one on her shelf), and we see no problem spending our last dime of the month on a good book. We were in BooksAMillion one day when she picked up The Lovely Bones and put it in her pile (All 3 of my children learned long ago that I am physically unable to say "no" when any of them asks to buy books). My firstborn also likes to read a book before she sees the movie. The movie The Lovely Bones was released Jan. 15, so I assumed she was planning on seeing it. Not me.

While my firstborn was reading The Lovely Bones, I walked through the rooms where she was reading and saw her crying. Not me.

Once I even got worried about her because she refused to put the book down even though her face was all puffy and she was obviously experiencing great emotional upheaval. Not me.

Then, she finished the less than 2 days. Not me.

Then, she said, "Mama, you've GOT to read this book!" Here we go.

As parents, we know the importance of reading...we read our kids board books when they're babies, storybooks at bedtime and encourage them to read other texts as they get older (sorry about the word "text" since this blog is supposed to non-academic...the PhD thing is a disease).

So, when my kid says, "Mama, you've GOT to read this book" guess what I've GOT to do. Yep, read the book.

Susie is the main character, and as is evident from all the book reviews and now the movie previews, she is raped and murdered by a neighbor who unbeknownst to the neighborhood is a serial rapist and murderer. The entire book is written from Susie's perspective from "her heaven" as she keeps watch on her killer, her family members and friends as they deal with her death and the violent crime that caused her death.

Now, let me just say this...I did NOT read this book in 2 days. I could not. I could not because I had to recover every couple of chapters from the emotional turmoil. But, I could not stop reading it either.

Susie's murder, even from her own perspective, is horrific to read. But, it is only a very small part of the book...In hindsight, I think it would have been very hard for Alice Sebold to leave out this scene...but thankfully the evil scene that would tear out anyone's heart, whether that person is a parent or not, is not the focus of this book. The crime is certainly the impetus that sets the book events into motion, but unlike other books about violence and its effects, the crime was not replayed again and again and again.

The Lovely Bones is not really even about the crime.

Wait, didn't I just tell you it was? Ok, I lied.

It's more complicated than that...complicated may actually be too strong of a word because the word has a negative connotation (more academic stuff, sorry)...multi-layered is probably a better word to describe this story. I've never been one for remembering detail....I'm more of a big picture kind of gal. If a story has too many characters, I have trouble remembering them by name. However, in this story, not only do I remember these characters, Susie, her father Jack, her mother Abigail, her sister Lindsey, Samuel, Lindsey's boyfriend and eventually husband, her brother Buckley "Buck, Grandma Lyn, Ruth, the girl inadvertantly "touched" as she left Earth for Heaven, Ray, Susie's first "love," Detective Len, and of course Mr. Harvey, Susie's killer, but I feel like I know them...and know them well.

The book begins with the crime and spans a lifetime...Susie's death has, as expected, incredible impact on the lives of those who knew her well but in very different ways. The "bones" in the title are not referring to something gruesome but the bones that literally hold this group of people who share the same grief together. All is not beautiful, sunny and happy at the end of this story...Susie is dead and nothing can change that. This book is also not about chasing and capturing Mr. he is eventually suspected but never found out. So, don't read it for that kind of closure.

My firstborn and I connected with different characters. Duh, right?

She with Susie and Susie's friends...I with Susie's parents. Duh again, right?

I was surprised, however, by my connection to Susie's father, not her mother.

Both of Susie's parents are devastated by her death. Their relationship suffers, as expected, as do their relationships with their surviving 2 children. But, Susie's mother leaves. I could not forgive her for that. Even in the end when she comes back, I could not forgive her. I understood that the depth of her grief was so intense that she was looking for a way to dull it, a way to make it go away, a way to take her next breath and put one foot in front of the other...because as a mother, I cannot imagine losing one of my children...but to leave?? I also understand that it might have been necessary for her to leave in order for some of the other "bones" to grow, particularly the bones associated with Grandma Lyn. I still just could not forgive her. I guess I'm just mean and heartless like that.

Susie's father Jack was the one who opened his eyes every morning and year after year faced another day without Susie. He was the one who held onto his own grief but also chose to keep going despite losing one of his daughters and then being abandoned by his wife.

The following excerpt is the point of the story where I absolutely lost all control of my emotions. This scene takes place more than 10 years after Susie's death. Buck has decided to use some of Susie's clothes in the garden he is planting. Jack, who cannot comprehend why an increasingly agitated Buck doesn't understand why he can't use Susie's clothes, suffers a heart attack.

"Calm down, Buck," my father said. He was being as generous as he could as the air from his lungs evaporated out into his chest. Then a little voice in him said, Let go, let go, let go. "What?" my father said.

"I didn't say anything."

Let go. Let go. Let go.

"I'm sorry," my father said. "I'm not feeling very well." His feet had grown unbelievably cold in the damp grass. His chest felt hollow, bugs flying around an excavated cavity. There was an echo in there, and it drummed up into his ears. Let go.

My father dropped down to his knees. His arm began to tingle on and off as if it had fallen asleep. Pins and needles up and down. My brother rushed to him.


"Son." There was a quaver in his voice and a grasping ontward toward my brother.

"I'll get Grandma." And Buckley ran.

My father whispered faintly as he lay on his side with his face twisted in the direction of my old clothes: "You can never choose. I've loved all three of you."


I was sobbing uncontrollably as I tried to read. The head of the household was eyeing me with funny looks...he's not big on understanding feelings, remember? My youngest even approached me and said angrily, "Kendal shouldn't have made you read this book, Mommy!" Once I reached this portion of the book, I couldn't stop reading...emotions or not.

Am I glad I read this book? Yes.

Do I wish I'd read it in 2002? No. I think the experience of reading this book was even richer given that I could share it with my firstborn and listen to her different reactions and perspectives in the very same story.

Are we going to see the movie? No. The Lovely Bones is a rare find. Alice Sebold's writing and the depth of her description is unlike any I've read in a long time. You FEEL her characters...even as Susie swaps back and forth watching the characters, you easily make the switch with her. I think those seamless segues are intentional by Sebold; in some figurative way the reader becomes a part of the bones of the story. This is a book that I was completely involved in, heart and soul. That may sound corny but so be it. I can't imagine a movie being able to portray that same depth and emotion and I'm not going to see it...for now.

Smith Saturday

When our girls were little, Saturday mornings were the day that I cooked breakfast. Pancakes, eggs any way they wanted (within reason, of course), toast, biscuits, bacon, sausage...patties and links, etc. It was a real smorgasborg!

Now that our girls are older and involved in outside activities, we seldom get a long drawn out Saturday morning anymore. It's been so long, in fact that when I woke up this past Saturday morning a little on the sad side because my firstborn and middle child had spent Friday night away at a show choir girls' bonding sleepover (God bless this child's mother), I didn't even realize at first that we didn't have any place to go! Understandably so, the show choir mom who had a houseful of high school aged girls in her house all night, sent them all packing pretty early. Mine were home by 9:00 a.m. and "STARVING" as only teenage girls can be. That's when I realized we had a morning together!

The youngest and I have been home since Wednesday. She ran fever all week and tried to cough up a lung several nights in a row. Our pediatrician diagnosed a sinus infection and some kind of respiratory virus which mimics asthma. Our middle child has asthma that was diagnosed when she was 18 months old and rears its ugly head every few years; I spent many sleepless nights in my middle child's bedroom making sure she was still breathing, so the word "asthma" sends me into Mama Bear protective mode. I hadn't been out of the house much since Wednesday in an effort to quarantine my youngest from any further invasion of nasty germs, so I didn't have any groceries. We had a rare opportunity to have a leisurely family breakfast together, and I didn't have one single egg or slab of bacon in the house!

I decided there had to be some way to make breakfast work. When I surveyed the kitchen, I realized that even with steady eating, we hadn't made much of a dent in the fruit my mom sent home with my middle child last weekend. Sending home more fruit than we can ever eat before it rots was my mom's way of saying we need to eat healthier snacks. She sent the fruit after she mentioned that a picture of me on Facebook looked "puffy." Ouch!

Anyhoo, my people won't necessarily ask for fruit...but if it's there, they'll sure eat it. And, if you chop it up, mix it up and make it look like a special dish, they'll eat even more of it. Funny how opening a carton, rinsing berries and pouring them in a bowl does that.

My mom sent several of these little dynamo packages of fruit. If I had read my friend Sharon's post about homegrown fruits, spurned from reading the book Animal Vegetable Miracle, I would have noticed where exactly this fruit was produced, how far it had to be shipped to me, how much fuel was used in those transportation efforts, etc.

I also wholeheartedly agree with Sharon that fruit bought in a Mississippi grocery store in January is anything but at its peak and can also be downright expensive! We keep a bowl of fresh fruit salad in the summer, but in the winter, I don't even try. Thank goodness my mom paid for these!

I started breakfast by cutting the tips off the strawberries and cutting them in half. I didn't expect much from January strawberries, but these were very sweet and juicy.

My mom also sent a package of sausage, which I discovered when I was digging the creamer for my coffee out of the back of the refrigerator. Sausage patties, whoo hoo!! I unwrapped the package of Jimmy Dean and sliced the sausage into patties. I'm sure you're supposed to slice them evenly and all that, but I just slice 'em.

I did not have one very important product in my arsenal of cooking utensils, non-stick cooking spray. I hesitated before cooking these sausage patties in one of my good pans with no spray...but decided in the spirit of family to go ahead with it.

Sausage goes really well with biscuits, so I started digging around in the freezer to see if I had any...I found 4!!! When Ed and I were first married, I made homemade biscuits. Yes, I really did. With buttermilk and everything. When we started producing offspring, however, homemade biscuits became more and more unrealistic, and toast took the place of biscuits.

Not too terribly long ago, some brilliant folks started figuring out how to make lots and lots of homemade biscuits and freeze the dough for those of us who really enjoy a homemade biscuit but just can't always go to all that trouble. I love these people. I would kiss them if I knew who they were.

At the same time I was singing the praises of the homemade biscuit people, I was keeping a really close eye on these sausages because of my pan and all. It was time for the sausages to be flipped. I decided the best way to cook sausage in a non non-stick pan with no cooking spray was to sear the sausage patties on both sides, then turn the heat down, cover the pan and let the sausage cook through slowly. It was touch and go while I turned the patties the first time, but finally they were cooking on the reverse side.

Once I was sure the sausage was ok for a few minutes, I turned back to my fruit. Have you noticed that breakfast is a schizophrenic kind of meal? I really have to be on my toes because most breakfast food is the fast-cooking kind. Cooking breakfast is the epitome of multi-tasking!

I also love the people who came up with the little fruit containers like this...all you do is open them up and rinse them right in their containers. The containers have holes in them and everything! The blueberries and blackberries were ready for the fruit bowl in a snap!

Looks like a fruit trifle!!

If there is pineapple in the fruit bowl, my children will eat every piece of fruit in the bowl, whether its pineapple or not so I try to use pineapple whenever possible. I used to be scared of pineapple. I really was. A pineapple is just not the most inviting piece of fruit. But, there is no comparison between the taste of fresh and canned pineapple which means I had to get over my fear of the spiky, tough covered fresh pineapple.

I almost bought an expensive pineapple cutter doo dad from Williams Sonoma (a store I LOVE by the way) but decided that was silly; I got over my fear and learned how to cut up my own pineapple. It's actually a pretty simple process. With a very sharp knife the first thing I do is cut off the top.

Next, I cut off the bottom...I do this so that the pineapple part will sit solid on my counter while I finish the process so I don't cut my hand off during the next part of the trimming process.

I then set the pineapple on one of the flat ends and begin slicing off the outer have to cut kind-of deep to get all the little pokey things off...nobody wants to eat those. I'm sure those pokey things are called something scientific and all, but I'm an English teacher, not a scientist.

After I slice off all the sides, I have a nice yellow tower left. The core is still in the middle though, and it is too tough to eat.

I simply take my trusty RADA knife and cut in 4 swoops on each side around the gives me 4 slabs of fresh tasty pineapple to work with and the core all alone to be thrown away. (BTW swoops and slabs are also parts of my English teacher repertoire of scientific vocabulary.)

The piece of pineapple on the far left side of this picture is the core. Sorry that this picture doesn't really give you much to go on as far as telling the pieces apart, but you'll know it when you are slicing.

After I throw the core away, I cut each slab of pineapple into need to cut each piece individually...just cut horizontally and then turn them around and make a couple more cuts vertically...

and you will have these beautiful little chunks. For the record, I do not know how to wield a knife like Rachel Ray...this is easy, I promise.

This is the point of the fruit salad process that at my house gets dangerous. Dangerous because if I'm not careful, by the time the entire fruit salad is done, there is no pineapple left. My children can smell fresh pineapple almost as if it was frying bacon...From the moment it becomes these little chunks, hands start coming from all directions.

One of my little tricks, if I can get the pineapple into the bowl before anyone notices, is to turn the bowl over into another bowl.... that the pineapple ends up on the bottom! Hidden from prying fingers! This strategy is only successful for so long. The kids will eventually just start digging!

With the fruit done, I opened the pantry to get out some bread. 4 biscuits were not going to satisfy my people. I didn't find any bread, but I did find an almost empty box of pancake mix, the kind that just needs water :)

I poured out what I had, measured, guesstimated how much water to add and stirred.

That's when the first kid entered the kitchen. "Is there any pineapple, Mama?"

Before I could answer, the youngest spotted the bowl of pancake mix. My 5-year old finds it difficult to resist something to stir, so I relinquished my spatula in order to save the pineapple.

Look at this little mixer go! Who needs the electric kind??

Unfortunately, it is actually possible to overmix pancake batter; once the fluffiness goes out of it, the batter has been known to produce pancakes with texture similar to those communion wafers some churches use.

Since I only had 4 biscuits and this little bit of pancake batter, I had no choice but to confess to the pineapple...this time in order to salvage the pancakes.

My youngest immediately started digging for the pineapple in the bottom of the bowl. I guess I'm just not as sneaky as I thought.

"Mommy, the strawberries and blackberries are in the way!"

Ok,'s your own kid down!

Once the youngest was satisfied, it was time to go back to the stove. I had to cook the pancakes in another non sprayed skillet, but I cook my pancakes in butter and they don't cook anywhere near as long as sausage patties, so I wasn't as worried.

I melt the butter in the pan and then pour the batter in 3 small plops. We like smaller pancakes rather than larger ones. Pancakes are difficult to keep warm while more pancakes cook, so it's easier for me to start serving and keep cooking once the first pancakes are done when I make smaller ones. 3 smaller pancakes cooked means at least 3 people can start eating.

When the pancakes have bubbles on the uncooked side, it is time to flip them. Once they are flipped, they are only cooked on the other side for just barely a minute. I actually don't leave them at this point. Pancakes can be overdone quickly.

Uh-oh! Look what happened!! Another kid in the kitchen! This time it's the firstborn. Check out the look on the youngest child's face and the warning stance of her body. "Don't get all the pineapple, Kendal!!"

Time for 3 people to start eating!

The biscuits and sausage were also ready so I put them out so that everyone could get started eating while I kept making pancakes. Once the pancake process has begun, it's important to not have anything else going that needs a lot of your attention. I guess if I ever get tired of teaching, I can go work at the Waffle House or IHOP!

It is also important when cooking pancakes with butter that you control the temperature of your pan...butter scalds and can make your pancakes looked burned. When I flipped this batch, I knew my pan was getting hot because of the color of the pancakes. Once these were done, I took the pan off the heat, wiped it clean with a paper towel, and gave it a minute to cool before beginning again with fresh butter.

AhHah!! Another kid!! Notice how the firstborn and the youngest have now brought their crayons and an anatomy worksheet to the bar. Some folks would get all excited about crayons at the table and all that...but I just don't. I want 'em with me...crayons and all. I'm a firm believer in choosing your battles with kids wisely, and this just isn't one I choose.

Even the head of the household crawled from his den (he really does have his own little's his own little world inside what he calls "the girls dorm" that is our house). Even though I was still flipping pancakes at this point, I was immensely satisfied with our morning. We were all in the kitchen together, eating, laughing and having some much missed family time.

I love family breakfasts!!