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Convenience Foods that Should Vanish Forever

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I love convenience as much as the next girl.  I am guilty of stopping by a fast food restaurant for dinner on the occasional busy evening.  I generally have some type of prepackaged foods in my freezer or cabinet in case of emergency.  People are busy, I get it.  I’m busy, too.  I’m a wife, a mom and full-time employee.  My daughter has been ill recently, which has disrupted my routine and my “free time” even further.  So, yes, I tend to appreciate things that make my life easier.

However, I think we could all benefit from an occasional re-evaluation of the value of convenience.  I am currently harboring a secret wish that all fast food restaurants would vanish from the earth.  Not so secret, now.  Don’t hold it against me.  I like bacon cheeseburgers, but I also think my life would be better if they weren’t so darn easy to get.  So, I started thinking about things that I can do the hard way, and improve the quality, save money and not suck up every minute of spare time.

Lunch

photo via ifood.tv. If this were my burger, it would not be around long enough to pose for photos. Hence the concern…

I know that a lot of people buy lunch every day.  Maybe even most people do this, I don’t know.  I haven’t done a sociological study on it, but most of the people I work with purchase lunch from some place every day.  First, this adds up to a huge amount of money, but maybe you’ve got money to burn.  I don’t know, but I’m cheap.  If I can save a few bucks, I’m going to.  Second, any convenience food you’re grabbing during your lunch break isn’t likely to be healthy and nutritious.  Third, sometimes you get really, really busy at work and can’t get away.  Then you’re just a hungry grump and even my bowl of lettuce and cottage cheese that I brought from home starts to look good.  No one in my household buys lunch.  The kids pack lunch for school because I won’t have them eating the garbage their schools serve.  I pack lunch because I don’t want to weigh five hundred pounds, and believe me when I say that I would if I ate a cheeseburger every day.  Hubs skips lunch cause he’s a weirdo like that.  Anyway, it’s pretty easy to take a few minutes before our weekly grocery trip to plan for lunches and it’s worth the time.

Broth

I’m not saying this is bad. I’m just saying you can do better. via swansonbroth.com

I use a fair amount of broth in my cooking, especially now that chilly fall temperatures are upon us and I crave soups and stews.  I am guilty of buying packaged broth, but I feel like an idiot every time I do it.  There’s no good reason to do it.  If you can spare a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, you can stock your freezer with delicious, nutritious broth that makes that packaged stuff look (and taste!) like water.  Yesterday, I made a giant pot of gumbo, for which I needed huge quantities of chicken broth.  I found a whole cut-up chicken on sale for $3.  THREE DOLLARS.  I usually lean toward chicken breasts, just because that’s my preference, but if you’re making broth, you need that chicken back.  Gross, yes, but it is what it is.  So I took my $3 package of chicken, leftover carrots that were languishing in the fridge, half an onion and a healthy handful of herbs and spices and made a gorgeous broth.  Every single time I do this, I swear that I will never stoop to packaged broth again, but it will happen.  I’d be a whole lot better off if I didn’t have a choice.

Chicken Salad

No, no, no, no, no!
via eatdrinkbetter.com (one hopes it’s an example of what not to do.)

As I mentioned, my kids pack their lunches for school each day.  One child is happy with a ham sandwich every day.  The other child is a weirdo freak who won’t eat an ordinary sandwich.  However, he does love chicken salad.  Now, I have to admit that I have never bought prepared chicken salad on a regular basis because I’m picky.  Some of it has celery, to which I’m allergic (I know it’s weird, whatever).  Some other brands use sweet relish, which is intolerable to me.  Even some others add fruit and nuts.  Gasp!  This is supposed to be chicken salad, not waldorf salad!  Anyway, I am frequently called upon to provide chicken salad.  It’s easy to get annoyed and overwhelmed with a constant need to provide something more than a freaking ham sandwich, but I’m up to the challenge.   While your broth is simmering on that Sunday afternoon, roast a couple of chicken breasts, chop them up and toss with some mayo and (DILL) pickle relish.  Done.  See, that wasn’t so hard!  I feel that I must mention that you could, in theory, use the chicken from the broth to make the chicken salad, but I find that roasted chicken, particularly when heavily seasoned, makes a much more flavorful chicken salad.  But even your broth chicken is probably going to taste better than a tub of mushy celery-laden salad from the local supermarket, so go for it.

Instant Mashed Potatoes

Natural? Really?
via facebook.com

Stop looking at me like that!  Yes, I use them sometimes, but I know I shouldn’t.  First, I have a peculiar problem with potatoes.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re not a vegetable and I don’t consider them to have any nutritional value.  I know that’s not true, but I can’t help it.  I have a potato prejudice.  On those occasions when we do have potatoes, they’re usually not mashed, because, by God, no one should ever eat that much butter.  But, of course, sometimes you need some good ol’ mashers.  And they are a royal pain in the ass.  There’s some compound in potato peels that makes my hands all red and itchy when I peel them.  Then I have to cut them all precisely the same size so they cook evenly.  Then I have to drag out the mixer.  Then I have to control myself so I don’t eat a triple-portion.  See, mashed potatoes are nothing but trouble.  Who can resist a package that promises mashed potatoes in five minutes and only requires a little boiling water?  I’m thinking, though, that maybe mashed potatoes should be hard.  Maybe that would make us rethink all that buttery, creamy goodness.  Maybe our arteries would thank us.  Be gone with you, Idaho Spuds!

Rice Krispies Treats

Yes, I took the picture, but I DID NOT purchase the two-pound treat.

I understand the convenience of single-serving packages, but this just takes the cake.  Rice Krispies treats take approximately 32 seconds to make from scratch.  Melt some butter and marshmallows, add cereal and stir.  This is not rocket science, in fact, it’s one of the first recipes that your tiny little children can make with you.  By buying the prepackaged treats, we’re just missing out on the best part.  I mean, let’s be honest.  They’re not that tasty, anyway.  Is there any one of us who doesn’t have fond childhood memories of the snap, crackle, pop when you dump the cereal into a pot of buttery, gooey mess?  A box of treats doesn’t even compare.  This is not progress.

I am often guilty of doing things the hard way for no good reason, but sometimes there’s a lot of value in doing things the old-fashioned way.  After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?  Why not spend a little of the journey covered in sticky marshmallows?

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Under Pressure

September 15, 2012 8 comments

I’ve been neglecting you, my readers.  Only one post in a whole week.  Shameful, I know.  It’s not like me to be so quiet.

It’s been a rough few weeks.  My child is sick.  Not like runny nose sick or sore throat sick.  I mean really sick.  She can’t go to school, she can’t eat, she’s losing weight and no one knows what’s wrong with her.

On the optimistic side, which is where I’ve been trying to live, we have ruled out a number of major problems.  Although she is far less than 100%, she is still in good spirits and feeling reasonably well for someone who has taken in little to no nutrition in the past three weeks.  She has an outstanding specialist on the case and we live relatively near a highly ranked children’s hospital.  I know it could be much worse.  I know there is an end in sight.  I know she will be okay, one way or another.

This is not happening to me, but it’s happening to my child, which, in a way, does mean that it’s happening to me.  It’s my job to find the best doctor, to make her comfortable, to deal with her school (which, with the exception of her French teacher and one kind lady in the records office, has been worse than useless and incredibly un-helpful), to keep her spirits up and to never, ever let her see me cry.  I have been unspeakably blessed to have had two healthy children.  I’ve never had to face a serious health problem before.  I know that mothers the world over do this every day and I’ve often wondered how they deal with it.  Now I know they deal with it the best way they can, day by day, because that’s the only option.

Here’s what I have to do.  I have to be strong for my child, because a child needs someone to lean on.  I have to be optimistic for my child, because I know that there is always hope and she needs help finding it sometimes.  I have to make her smile when she feels her worst, because there is always something to smile about.  I can do these things, I have done these things and I will continue to do these things for as long as it takes.

But you know when you have a pair of shoes that really, really hurt your feet, and you take them off just for a minute?  You know how hard it is to make yourself put your feet back in those shoes?  My strength feels like a pair of ill-fitting shoes.  If I take it off, even for a minute, I might not be able to put it back on and I can’t afford to take that risk.  So, I’m keeping busy sealing up the cracks in the façade.  I know people want to support me and I love them for it, but I can’t allow it.  The slightest weakness will be my downfall.  There’s time enough for my hurt later, right now I have things to do.

But I’d be lying if I said it’s not wearing me down.  Fast.  I have always thrived on stress.  I’m at my best when I’m under pressure.  I have always been pretty darn good at hitting the curve balls life throws at me.  But, friends, this is a whole different kind of ball game.  This is pressure that no one should ever have to bear, not for a day or a week and certainly not for a lifetime.  I am terrified.  I am worried.  I am angry.  I am completely overwhelmed.  And in some irrational, dark part of my soul, I feel guilty for failing to protect my child from this. (Yes, I said it was irrational.)  I am just barely hanging on and it doesn’t feel like I’ve got very much more to give.  But I will find more and I will give as much as I have to.  There’s no mystery or magic in this.  I’ll do it because there is no other option.

via seabreezephotos.com

Being a Redneck. And Doing it Wrong.

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

If you’ll look closely, you’ll see two fellas hanging out, enjoying some time on the boat. In a parking lot. Beside the highway.
This picture was taken less than a mile from my house. A high class neighborhood, indeed.

There’s a lot of stink getting kicked up on my Facebook feed right now about the show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”  I know a little bit about the show, because my daughter is absolutely determined to lower her IQ by watching every piece of sensational garbage that TLC will put on the air.  But look, I don’t really see the problem with this show.  Sure, the kid is unbearably obnoxious, and has a hard lesson coming when the world knocks her down a peg, but, overall, they’re just a regular family living their lives and they’ve found a way to make some money doing it.  I’d put cameras in my house if it meant I didn’t have to carry my butt to work every day and I think you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t.  Also, I’d rather watch these folks than those crazy bitches on Dance Moms any day of the week.  I suspect my feelings about this have been somewhat skewed by the fact that I live in a part of the world where Honey Boo Boos thrive.  We are country folk.  Rednecks, if you will.  We go mud-bogging and four-wheeling and we have pig-pickings.  We say “ain’t” and “y’all” and we bless your little heart.  However, as much as I try to embrace my own redneck-ness, there are parts of being a country girl that I just can’t get a handle on.  Whether it’s something in my yankee DNA, or just a subconscious reluctance to “redneck-cognize,” there are country girl areas in which I fail, time and again.

Nascar

See how confused he is? Someone just called him an athlete. To his face! via nascar.com

I don’t follow Nascar.  Not only do I not follow it, I don’t even understand it.  They’re speaking a whole different language.  For instance, something you often hear is that someone is “on the pole.”  I don’t really know what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what it sounds like.  Unless Nascar is a whole lot dirtier than I ever suspected, in which case, I’m worried about all the races my parents attend.  Furthermore, I take issue with Nascar calling itself a sport.  Does it require a specific skill set?  Yes.  Are the participants talented?  Yes.  Is Tony Stewart* going to beat anyone in a marathon?  Noooooooo.  Look, writing these words requires a certain kind of skill, too, but I don’t call myself an athlete.  (Unless anyone thinks I could get away with calling myself an athlete….no? Oh.)

*I’m calling out Tony Stewart because he’s one of the only drivers I can remember, and he’s a little squishy.  Sorry, dude.

Shoes

Aw, someone grew up in the country! via wellsphere.com

I wear shoes when I’m outdoors.  I am not a big believer in shoes indoors, but I’m just not going to walk around outside barefoot.  This might not sound that unusual to you, but that’s what country people do.  In fact, there is a term to describe it.  “Country feet.”  Country feet are tough and not-so-pretty and they will walk upon any surface up to and including hot asphalt on a hundred degree August day with no complaint.  The litmus test for country feet is gravel.  If you can’t walk across a gravel driveway barefoot, without making faces, then you need to carry your ass back to the city.  Anyway, I do have country feet.  I can walk across any surface barefoot.  I’m just not going to, and I’ll tell you why.  There’s wildlife outside.  There are sticks and snakes and hurty things on the ground just waiting to attack my feet.  In my childhood, I stepped on a bumblebee.  I assure you, there is nothing like having your father dig a stinger out of your foot with his pocket knife to break you of your country ways.

Field Parties

Looks like nothing could possibly go wrong! via mv.com

If you’re not familiar with the term, it is what it sounds like.  A party in a field.  I have never, ever understood what is fun about this.  Hanging out with friends, yes.  A few beverages, sure.  Freedom to spill drinks without wrecking anyone’s house, absolutely.  Exposure to the elements, bugs crawling on you and no bathrooms?  Hell to the no.  We are all civilized people, why must we party in the wild?  I know it has some benefits.  For example, you can build a bonfire.  That’s always fun and incredibly safe.  If you have one too many and can’t drive home, you can just sleep on the ground.  That’s awesome.   I’m totally sure no spiders will crawl into your mouth while you’re sleeping, so don’t worry about that.  You can have the field, I’ll take my parties in a temperature-controlled, bug-free environment, thank you very much.

Hot Dogs

No. Just…no. via sodahead.com

Hot dogs should be brown.  That’s all there is to it.  If you’re eating a red hot dog, why are you not wondering what they’re trying to cover up with all of that food coloring?  What do you have against a delicious Angus beef hot dog without nitrites and nitrates and other baddies?  I swear to you they are way better than that Jesse Jones nonsense and they won’t even turn your hot dog water pink.  And you can get coupons for them on pretty regular basis.  I’ve never seen a coupon for Jesse Jones hot dogs.  Maybe that’s because you can get a pack for about forty-two cents, but still.  Pile on your chili and slaw, but for the love of Pete, stop eating those red wieners.

Music

Red Solo Cup…la la la…Up!…la…la…la…Party! via slate.com

I’m risking unbelievable ridicule, but I’m going to confess.  I have never actually heard the red solo cup song.  I know kind of how it goes, because someone sings it (usually Hubs, but I don’t think he’s ever heard it, either) when I pull out a red disposable cup.  It doesn’t even make sense, because I buy Hefty cups, but there you are.  I’m a 90s alternative girl living in a country music world.  I don’t know the soundtrack of this town.  I don’t know the difference between Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney.  Darius Rucker will always just be Hootie without his Blowfish.  And as far as Faith Hill is concerned, well I’ve had just about enough of her on my Sunday Night Football.  So now you know.  When you make that country music reference, I will smile and nod.

So there you have it.  All the ways (or at least some of the ways) in which I fail to be a proper country girl.  I haven’t told you about my lack of cowboy boots or the fact that I’ve never owned a pickup truck, but I think I covered the worst of it.   Bless my heart.

Backpacks Revisited

September 3, 2012 2 comments

And so we have embarked on the Year of the Backpack.  I feel I owe you an update, since you so kindly shared my outrage of stupid school policies.

I took on the middle school first.  I sent a polite request to the eighth grade principal for clarification of backpack and locker policies.  Surely they didn’t mean to restrict access to backpacks AND lockers?  Well, no, they did not mean to do that.  I received the nicest response within fifteen minutes that the policy would not take effect and students could use their backpacks or their lockers at any time.  I also received an invitation to contact him again any time I needed anything.  Looks like eighth grade is going to be a good year, my friends!

I wish I could say the same about fifth grade, but after two weeks, I’m getting the feeling that fifth grade is going to be one unpleasantness right after another.  I emailed the principal about their backpack policy.  A couple of days later, I received a vague reply about her need to clarify the policy with the teachers.  Um, hello?  You’re the principal.  Why don’t you know what’s going on in the fifth grade?  So.  I waited a week.  A WEEK.  I sent a very brief note asking her to share the insight she’d gained.  Oh, am I sorry I asked.  I got back the most snotty, dismissive reply ever.  It basically stated that the policy is that kids leave their backpacks in their homerooms because it’s easier for the teachers, and anyway, the other kids don’t go into anyone else’s cubby.  Oh sure.  You made a rule?  Tell me about how well each and every ten-year-old respects that rule.  Essentially, she gave me the brush off and she did it in such a way that she clearly expected me to drop this issue either because she’s so intimidating and scary (she’s not) or because she’s the boss of my kid (she’s not that, either).

Okay, here’s the thing.  I know there are a lot of rules that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, but I’m not going to fight every one of them.  If there’s no harm, well, then, it’s not a bad thing for kids to understand they just have to follow rules because.  For instance, I don’t understand why I need to use a turn signal if there are no other cars around, but it’s the rule, right? However, this rule in particular leaves my kid’s possessions sitting out for anyone to snoop through, mess with, or steal.  Don’t talk to me about how kids won’t touch other kids’ stuff.  That’s ridiculous.  So, I still have every concern about this rule and I’m going to continue to fight it, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long year.

Here’s the thing.  I was courteous.  I was polite.  And in return for my carefully worded, valid concern as a parent, the school’s representative blew me off.  Completely.  So, are parents only supposed to be involved if we agree with the administration or if we’re pouring money into ridiculous wrapping paper fundraisers?  Is our principal incapable of having a civil conversation about a disagreement?  Does she believe that she is my principal?

This remains unresolved, and it may for some time to come.  I responded to her in kind, which isn’t to say that I was exactly rude, but I was blunt.  I didn’t bother to hide behind any niceties.  I don’t expect her to grant all of my wishes, but I do expect to be able to have a conversation and explore options and compromises.  If she can’t even discuss these things with me, they why should I trust her with my child’s education?  She’s clearly not open to new ideas or discussion.

I don’t advocate rudeness or picking fights with the school, but I’m not being nice to her anymore, because it gets me nowhere.  She wants to intimidate me, but it’s not going to happen.  I’m not going away.  I can drag this out all year long.  And guess what else.  This is my youngest child and it’s his last year in elementary school.  So, there really aren’t any consequences if I make enemies there.  I have immunity.  I don’t give a damn what you think of me and, happily, the kid I have in your school doesn’t care how much of a stink I kick up, ever.  In fact, he encourages it.  We’re just a couple of backpack crusaders and we’re in it to win it.

Isn’t nice when we can teach our kids about task commitment?

I Enjoy Being a Girl

September 3, 2012 5 comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I work in a male-dominated field.  I’ve been with my company for about a hundred years, and I thought I had gotten a point where my female-ness was no longer an issue.  Not for the first time, I’ve been proven wrong.  One day last week, I had a bit of a conflict with a male co-worker.  I handled the conflict much like I do any problems at work.  I just said what I needed to say, as politely as possible, and nicely asked the man to stop being an a-hole, then carried on with my job.

via zipmeme.com

The following day, he called me at work to apologize.  That was nice of him.  Then he said this.

“You’re so strong all the time.  It’s okay to be female sometimes.  You don’t always have to be strong.”

Excuse me?!  What the (insert your favorite swear)?  I don’t even understand this statement or how it’s supposed to relate to me and my job.  I’m strong??  Why, did I just move a car with my bare hands?  Did someone die?  Am I facing insurmountable challenges?  Does being female equate to being weak somehow?

He took me so completely aback that I could barely form words, so the best I could do in the way of response was this.

“Male or female, it’s my job.  I’m doing my job.”

What I should have said was this.

“Not only am I female sometimes, I am female all the time, because my gender identity is not something that I take off like a pair of shoes.  This is being female, this is who I am and how I behave.  I am not more female if I bend to your will or cower in the presence of your anger or cry when you’re mean to me.  Being female does not equal being a scared little girl.  I am a woman, but you don’t scare me.  I have faced more challenges as a woman than you will ever understand, not the least of which is dealing with your lame-ass flirting and over-the-top compliments, which have no place at work and are condescending and inappropriate.  I am stronger than you because I can conduct myself at work in a way that doesn’t require me to apologize for my behavior.  That’s not because I’m female, that’s because I know how to behave like a grown-up.  The moment you start treating me like a woman instead of treating me like a person, you have dealt me a great insult.  I am female, because that’s what I am.  I have boobs and I wear mascara, but that has no bearing on my ability to do my job.  I realize that it would soothe your ego and your insecurities if I would lose my composure, but it is not the job of the female to boost the ego of the male.  Your feelings about gender do not determine my behavior.  Maybe I can teach you something about what it is to be female.  Maybe I can teach you something about just being a decent, well-behaved person.  Stop waiting for me to start acting like a female and understand that I’m acting like ME.”

This one comment has changed that way I will interact with this person, although I am quite sure he doesn’t realize it.  Now he’s one of those.  My behavior won’t change, because I don’t think personal feelings belong in the workplace, but now I know how he feels.  He thinks I’m less because I’m a woman, and any time I fail to act like less, then he believes it’s a charade.  He thinks I’m steeling myself against the big bad world, because I’m just a girl.  There’s no way I can respect a person like that.  There’s no way that I can look at him and see a well-adjusted, confident person.  I just see an insecure little man who is threatened by women who don’t behave the way he thinks they should.  He’s completely incapable of seeing a female as an equal.  He thinks he’s being courteous, and he hasn’t yet learned that there’s a world of difference between being a gentleman and being a discriminatory and condescending .  He doesn’t know how offensive he is or how pathetic it makes him appear.  He especially can’t understand why he’s single.

Maybe he’d be better off if he would just act a little more female.

via imgfave.com