Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Crepes!

Birthdays are big in our house. Well, I make them big anyway. Everyone gets to choose the birthday dinner and the type of cake ... and I'll make it. We've done everything from Peach Cake to homemade bagel dogs to pasta with carbonara and more. Thursday was my birthday. So of course I got breakfast in bed. Well, I at least had breakfast made for me. Ok ok ok, so I had to make my own special birthday breakfast.

That's ok, because it was worth it. I know Melisa thinks I made these for her, but really I made them in honor of her, so there's no reason for her to be upset that our double recipe was gone by the time we finished our meal. Besides, she was in Tennessee and far away; they would have been gross if I'd saved them for her.

Easy Crepes

2 eggs
1 c milk (rice milk for us)
1 c flour
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 t butter (or in our case dairy free dairy substitute), melted

Place all the ingredients into a blender - the eggs, flour, milk, salt, and melted butter. Turn it on, starting at low and moving it up until it's blended. This will take only a few seconds. You want it completely mixed but don't want to keep mixing it so that you don't have tough gluten filled crepes. This is going to be an extremely thin batter. Don't panic that it's too thin. Trust me.

Once you have the mixture blended, stick it in the fridge for a half hour or so (or do it overnight - covered - if you want to have these when you first wake up. Yes, everything is already cold, but when you let mixtures with flour (pie crust, pizza dough, pasta, etc) rest after mixing, it allows the flour to relax so that it isn't as tough and that you can keep it from snapping back together as you work with it. Just trust me and do it.

I have an actual crepe pan, which is nonstick and very shallow. If you don't have a crepe pan, you can use a frying pan, but try to use the shallowest one that you own. Heat the pan on medium heat, and brush the pan with oil so that your crepes don't stick. With my pan, I have to brush it once (and this is just a tiny tiny bit of oil) and never again for a batch. Depending on your pan, you may need to reoil it as you go.

I always use a measuring cup to do my crepes. I dip a one-third cup measure into the batter then pour it in a circle at the center of the pan. Immediately, you must pick up the pan and twirl it in a circle. Don't do it slowly, or your batter will cook where it is an not spread across the entire pan. That doesn't mean you have to toss the crepe, but your goal is to have it reach the full circle. It takes a little practice, but you'll get it. Once you've twirled it and had the batter cover the entire pan, place it back on the stove and let it cook.

It will take only a minute or so to cook on the first side. You'll know it's ready when you see the edges start to get almost crispy and begin to pull away from the edge a little. I use a wooden fork to flip my crepes, as it's the easiest and most effective tool I've found. Use a tine of the fork to pull the edge of the crepe away from the pan, then slide the fork under it (use your fingers to hold the crepe in place, as needed) and lift. Flip it over, then let it cook on the other side for another thirty to forty-five seconds.

Remove the crepe to a plate and decide what you're going to fill it with. Some suggestions from my family? Nutella, Nutella with sliced bananas, cherry preserves, cherry preserves with Nutella, maple syrup, maple syrup with bananas, bananas with Nutella and whipped cream. Whatever your filling, place it in the center of the crepe in a line from one end to the other. Carefully fold the crepe over the line, then roll it up. Serve immediately.

If you're making these for later, you can separate them with waxed paper to store. They actually store great in the freezer, which had been my original intention when making the double batch. Silly me. And yes, it's possible to make these into savory crepes (mmm Thai chicken or creamed spinach). But I need some Nutella in my birthday breakfast crepes.

*This is a single batch. For my family of four, I made a double batch (about 16 crepes) that was a good meal for us but were all gone with no leftovers. I figure I'll be doing at least a triple batch by the time Mister Man is a teenager.

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Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

There's A Myth Out There That Running Is Good For You

People say all the time that running is good for you. Once you've been running, it releases these wonderful endorphins that make you feel so good and blah blah blah. Yay, exercise is wonderful.

I'd like to tell you the truth about running. It is not good. Running is bad, and I have proof. Do you see my poor toes?

When I took off my shoe this morning, I not only had my usual chip through the middle of my big left toe, but the nail on my right big toe had been ripped and torn, and the polish on another toe was completely missing. sigh

So the next time someone tells you that you should try running because it's good for you, just point them in my direction. It's not. Just look what it does! But ummnmm, that said, I'll see you at the gym tomorrow morning?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dear Tooth Fairy

It's been a tooth losing week here at our house. Last Thursday, Mister Man tripped over a friend in gym and out popped his tooth. On Saturday, Little Miss called me from my mom's house to announce that her tooth had come out all by itself, Mommy! It just fell out all by itself, and there wasn't even any blood!

The tooth fairy managed to come, but there's a twist now. First Mister Man announced that he was waiting for Thanksgiving to give his tooth to the Tooth Fairy in the hopes that he would get a bonus. I giggled but said nothing. In the end, he decided on his own to put the tooth under his pillow, but he had something extra to add. He wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy.

Let me translate:
Dear Tooth Fairy,
Why do you always give me a quarter? Please write back. PS How big are you? If you don't know, try my poster

Awww, right? Except that he expected an answer. And our Tooth Fairy does only give a quarter because forty teeth and a child who needs for nothing who already doesn't have a strong respect for the value of a dollar. But how do you explain that to a child? And I do my best not to lie to him... so he received this response in tiny gold bring.

Dear Mister Man,
I give you a quarter as a way to say thank you for the gift of your tooth. Every household has a different amount that they receive. You get a smaller amount because you have lots, need little, and are well loved. Time to move one

So when Little Miss arrived home Sunday morning, proudly sporting her tooth in a plastic bag because she didn't want to have her tooth taken when she was at Grandma's house, she had a note that she'd written, as well. Her note was of course folded up like a card and had a front and an inside. And yes, her spelling was atrocious, but hey - she's in first grade. Spanish first grade.

Dear Tooth Fairy,
If you don't know, try my growth chart of Hancock Tower. Do you have any fellow tooth fairies? And please don't write mess up my room. And please don't write back in small letters. Thank you. Love, Little Miss

Yeah, I've got precious kids. Who knew the Tooth Fairy was into messing up kids' rooms? (Little Miss claimed that the Tooth Fairy had never done so when questioned, by the way.) There is great fascination about the size of the Tooth Fairy but no answer yet. The response to this note came in tiny letters, too, although in purple ink instead of gold. Little Miss was irritated that the Tooth Fairy didn't follow the instructions of such a great personage as herself. Go fig.

All I have to say is that I really hope no one loses any teeth for a long, long time.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Banana Split S'mores

Mister Man had a playdate today, because of course he has no school all week long. The boys played together so nicely, and they asked very politely if they could have a snack. Mister Man, knowing me better than the other boy, asked if it could be an extra special snack because "after all, Mommy, we don't have school tomorrow and it's a holiday and a special occasion and could we please please please have something special?"

So of course I had to come up with something. And they were pleased. Who wouldn't be pleased with Banana Split S'mores though?

Banana Split S'mores

Graham Crackers
Large Marshmallows
A Banana
Nutella (or ok, a decent bar of chocolate)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Break your graham crackers in half, and place one half of each cracker on a sil pat on a cookie sheet or other baking surface. Place the marshmallows on the graham crackers. I like them on their sides because they spread better for me that way, but feel free to stand them up if you're worried about them rolling all over.

Place them in the oven and bake for three to four minutes or until a beautiful toasty brown color (note that mine are softer and shinier than yours will be because I forgot to take out my water bath from when I was making bread yesterday making it very humid in the oven).

While the s'mores are baking, slice a banana and set it aside. You want two slices of banana per s'more. Slather the other half of the graham cracker with Nutella (or place a piece of chocolate on it if you lack Nutella).

Once the marshmallows have come out of the oven, place the two slices of banana on each s'more, and press down gently so they stay in place. Top with the Nutella slathered graham crackers and press firmly. Flip them upside down so that the hot graham cracker doesn't get soft from all the heat being trapped by the plate. If you don't have Nutella and are instead using a chocolate bar, the heat from the baked marshmallow will melt the chocolate beautifully. Eat immediately, and keep the napkins handy!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Never Lose Faith

As I drove out of the city late Saturday night, I was shaking. It was not a good weekend, I kept telling myself. It was all things that were my fault, but that didn't help. Two moments of stupidity in a twenty-four hour span had caused a lot of panic, and the adrenalin was still flowing.

My first issue had come Friday night. My quarterly girls' night out with my shelter friends (we all volunteered together for years, until I moved too far away) in the city meant we were having dinner at Viand - a restaurant I highly recommend with Nick as our awesome server. We stuffed ourselves silly, and chatted after our meal since the restaurant had died down at that point and no one was waiting for our table. We paid our bill in a leisurely manner. Once we figured out the tab, I realized that I didn't have enough cash, so I paid with a credit card while my other friends paid their tabs in cash.

One friend kindly drove me to the train station, and I boarded my train. As it pulled out of the station, my phone rang. It was another of the friends from dinner who asked if by chance I'd left my credit card at the restaurant. Ummm, why yes. Yes, I had. I'd been full and distracted and tired and talking and ... since I was the only one with a credit card, I hadn't even thought of it. I grumbled to myself but realized I'd be in the city again the next night and could get it then. I called the restaurant and made the arrangements, explaining I'd be there a little before seven and getting confirmation that I could illegally park in front the restaurant with valets watching my car while I dashed in to get my card after showing my ID to prove it is me. Phew.

On Saturday, I headed into the city - driving this time. I debated filling the car with gas (a loaner from GM, mind you, so not my car) before I went or waiting until after I picked up my credit card where I get a larger gas rebate. It dawned on me that I was really not likely to want to stop late at night, so I decided to suck it up and deal with a lower rebate for one tank of gas. Of course, at the gas station, I couldn't find the fuel tank release. Anywhere. I ended up having to call OnStar to ask them who transferred me to Chevy who eventually explained that there was no fuel tank release and I simply needed to press the back of the tank and it would pop open. Umm hello, yes, I am an idiot, and it didn't even dawn on me to try that, but there went fifteen minutes that I would have liked to have spent driving.

As I got downtown, traffic backed up significantly. It quickly became apparent that I was going to get to Viand near 7pm and would be late for the event a few blocks the other way, but I simply sighed and crept through traffic. As I continued to creep forward, I eventually came upon a sign explaining that Michigan was closed now due to a parade, which meant there was no time effective way for me to get the half block on the other side of Michigan that I needed to be to pick up my credit card. I grumbled but called the restaurant to let them know that I'd pick it up closer to 10pm. They asked if I could be put on hold, and after eight minutes on hold, I gave up and called back - whereupon I went straight to voicemail. I left a message explaining the situation and headed into the 8pm event, just a couple minutes late.

I had a great time at the event with lots of friends I hadn't realized would be there and headed out after the event to pick up my credit card at Viand. I drove over, happy that Michigan was once again open, and parked directly in front of the restaurant. I ran in and explained the situation to the hostess who went to find her manager. While waiting, I dug through my purse to get my driver's license so I'd be ready for them. Hmm. Not my wallet is not where it belongs. Hmm, my wallet appears to not be in my purse at all. I know it was there because I had to pay for parking right before the other event and remembered putting my wallet inside my purse. I took everything out, but no wallet. With the hostess still not back, I ran to the car in a panic, hoping that it had somehow fallen out there but knowing that it hadn't tipped over. No wallet in the car.

My mind raced, "Holy cow! My wallet has been stolen, and it had to have been stolen at the event and I know most of those people. How is that even possible?" I was absolutely crushed, my faith in humanity shaken. I went back inside and explained to the hostess that my wallet was missing. She asked if I had anything with my photo on it. And no, apparently my bloggy business cards don't count. She said she'd take my car registration, except that of course I wasn't driving my car right now, so I had no registration. Seriously?

I had held my purse the majority of the night, only putting it down briefly at my feet twice. Hoping against hope, I tried to find the number of the place Craftsman Experience where I'd been earlier in the night. I somehow found the number and expected to leave a message begging if they had heard anything about a wallet. Instead, a voice answered. As I started to explain that I'd been there earlier for a blogger event, he interrupted and asked if I had lost a wallet. I almost wept with joy. I verified that it was my information inside and thus my wallet, and they explained that someone had found it outside and just turned it in a few minutes earlier. I have no idea who did it, but I am grateful beyond belief.

Unfortunately, I still had no photo ID, and the hostess couldn't release my credit card. I explained that my wallet had been found and that it was at the Craftsman Experience where I had been earlier. I suggested they check their voicemail from earlier in the evening to find my message and call the number I'd left - since it would ring to my phone in front of them, that would prove that I'm me, right? No can do. I asked if they could call the Craftsman Experience and verify that they had my lost wallet and that it was mine and use that in conjunction with everything else. I showed them the card with the phone number on it, so it wasn't like they were just calling a "friend" who would say anything. She agreed and spent a few minutes on the phone with them using an unorthodox was to verify that I am who I say I am - oh and my photo is on the back of the credit card, which matches my photo on my bloggy business cards though it was of me with long hair, which also helped slightly. In the end, I was able to get my credit card back, though the hostess kept my bloggy business card (so hello if you're reading your story!) which I found interesting.

I am grateful that they don't simply give out a credit card to anyone who happens by, but I was thisclose to being denied my own card even though: 1) I knew whose card was there, 2) knew when it had been left and when I was supposed to pick it up, 3) matched the photo on the back, 4) had a business card with my name and photo, and 5) had left a voicemail earlier in the night where they could have verified it was me and my phone. And then of course there's the sheer panic when I couldn't find my wallet; would someone really make that up?

Once I got back in my car, which fortunately had been neither ticketed nor towed in the twenty minutes I spent there, I drove back to the Craftsman Experience where the very nice folks were waiting for me. My wallet was fully intact with no items missing. They couldn't tell me who turned it in, but I am extremely grateful regardless.

In the end, I drove out the city shaking from all this but grateful that my faith in humanity was not misplaced and that there are still good people in this world. And that even though I may panic and I may do stupid things, taking a deep breath and dealing with them instead of freaking out and getting upset always has a better outcome. In this case, it's as good as I could have hoped. But is it wrong that I'm still going to monitor my bank account and the credit cards that were in my wallet?

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Friday, November 18, 2011

It Could Have Been Us

It's been a week full of bad news around here. Everyone everywhere has heard about Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, and that's been covered beyond belief, so I won't belabor it here. Then news came out that a teacher was arrested and accused of fondling himself in front of students and had been doing so for ten years prior to this. And then came the news that a daycare worker was convicted of killing a sixteen month old boy by throwing him to the ground while at work.

There but for the grace of God....

Mister Man is in a private school. He's in a Catholic school that I visited and reviewed before enrolling him. I talked to other parents about lots of questions I had in the effort to make sure it was the best place for him. And we're happy there. I can only imagine that the parents at that Christian school were happy with their choice prior to last Friday, too. How do you see something like that coming? I feel for the families there, and I can't imagine how they're reacting.

The daycare incident, however, hits even closer to home. Before Mister Man was born, I knew we'd need daycare coverage once I went back to work. I looked around at a lot of options. I called and researched many centers, ruling several out before even setting foot inside them. I visited four centers to meet the staff and see how the centers operated. The one I chose was the one that made me feel the most secure. To get into or out of the facility, you had to scan your fingerprint. The reception desk was in sight of all the infant rooms and one of the toddler rooms, and everyone had to walk past the reception desk to leave the building. The staff was sweet, and they were accommodating when I expressed some desires that were outside the norm. I wanted to send my own baby food when he was old enough (homemade), and I didn't want him to use an Exersaucer - I'd rather he play on the ground. They assured me that I wasn't the only parent who did things that way, and they were fine with it. I felt comfortable there, and I was confident that he'd be loved.

We had a great experience there, too. He enjoyed going, and the staff was great. We moved when he was two, however, which meant we went to a different daycare center. That first daycare center, however? That's where the daycare worker was convicted of killing a toddler, in a classroom I'm sure Mister Man spent time. She's twenty-five now, which means she was too young to have been working there when Mister Man attended, but how do you know?

How easily could it have been Mister Man either there or at another center? Or at his preschool? Or at his current school? Or you hear about the children who get lost on field trips. Or are hit by cars when playing outside. Or are kidnapped or abused by strangers or those close to them. The sheer number of possible disasters is staggering, and it's hard for me to even sit at my computer and categorize them.

At some point, I need to take a deep breath. I need to decide if I trust that I've done my very best and need to hope for the best or whether I'm going to spend my days hovering and worrying and prepared constantly for that phone call. For the sake of my sanity, I've chosen the former. I have to. This last week has truly shaken my faith, however.

How do you deal with all the potential disasters out there?

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

BlogHer Book Club: Sea Change

When I read a book I love, I tell everyone about it and I expect that everyone will love it because well, duh, it's awesome. And when there's a book I don't like? Generally it falls into one of two categories. It's either something that I recognize as something that just isn't for me or - rarely - I label it as drivel. Sea Change by Jeremy Page falls into the "just not for me" category.

The book is based on the life of Guy who has a wife and younger daughter Freya. He is currently living on an old boat in the North Sea and has been for the past five years. The narrative of the book, however, starts with a family outing when Freya was four years old, a gorgeously written chapter that shows such insight into the family and their interactions with each other. I could feel the tension rising as the chapter continued and read on with great expectation.

The remainder of the book proved to be a disappointment to me, however. And I do recognize that this is a me issue - that the style just isn't for me. The narrative meanders between Guy's current life on his boat where he keeps a journal detailing the life and history of his family, but hte life and history as Guy wishes it had been. It's work to figure out what in his journals actually happened and what Guy imagines has happened. I know it's lazy, but I don't want to work when I read fiction.

Books that appeal to me are plot driven, though not the ones that follow a formula. They have richly developed characters with depth that isn't always immediately apparent. And while I love descriptions that really put me in the place of the book and take me away from my everyday, I lose interest after a few pages when they're too dense with detail. That was some of the issue with Sea Change for me - so much of it was internal and reminiscing rather than developing a story for me. For you? Maybe a great book, but unfortunately with Sea Change it was a good thing I had a long lead time to read it because it was a slow go.

Whether you've read it or not, come join in the book club discussion at BlogHer!

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "Sea Change" by Jeremy Page as part of the BlogHer Book Club review program. I was compensated as part of this campaign, but all opinions remain my own. Obviously.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not My Cup Of Tea

I'm one of those people who goes through the local coupon magazines and envelopes when they come once a month or so. I generally don't keep any of the coupons, as they tend to be for places I don't or won't frequent, but periodically my favorite nail place has a mani/pedi coupon that I'll clip or something else will catch my eye.

This month, there was one that caught my eye all right. There's a tea place near me that is now serving lunch. I always love finding new little local places to check out, and I'm a huge fan of tea. (Today's tea? Hibiscus blueberry, and it was wonderful!) There aren't many places by me that offer white tea, which is one of my favorites, so I was excited to see that this also offered that - and it has the herbals and other fun teas and coffees that I'd be game to try.

Or not.

All my enthusiasm went out the window as I saw what else they sell in their store. Not only do they offer gifts (ok, that makes sense sorta) and jewelry (eh, ok so a tea store might have some funky looking jewelry, ok) and soft serve which I admit is where I started to scratch my head more (I'm all good with ice cream though) but well, just read the ad for yourself. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll be sticking to my tried and true favorites instead of testing out this one.

But hey - at least it made me giggle!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

How Do I Fix A Broken Doorbell?

That was the question I was asking myself last week. Initially, my solution was to add it to my husband's "honey-do" list, but that was back in April, and we're currently in November. Obviously, it's time for a new solution - mostly because my doorbell looks like this:

I took a deep breath and put on my big girl pants and decided to tackle home repair myself. After all, I'm the one who changed out every single doorknob - and more relevant - every single light switch in my house before we moved in. Surely I can fix a doorbell, right?

I quickly learned some important things. First, doorbells appear to come in a standard size, so my very careful measuring of both the doorbell and the screw holes was not necessary. I also intended to cut the power to the doorbell to ensure I didn't get shocked, but I wasn't sure which fuse connected to the doorbell. After some quick googling, I discovered that the voltage that goes through the doorbell is so low that disconnecting the power isn't necessary, especially if you don't have the wires touch. (And yes, I verified this at the home improvement store, though I don't think it's a bad idea to cut the power anyway!) This is a one tool job; all you need is a flat head screwdriver, something every house should have lying around.

This is my type of home repair.

Wanna learn how?

First, shut off the power, just to be completely safe even though the nice people at the hardware store assured me that it's not necessary. It's fun to go through your house and check what each fuse does then label it on your fuse box anyway. Someday it will come in handy, and you'll be glad you've done it.

Unscrew the doorbell from the house where it's attached - using that flat head screwdriver. Gently pull it a few inches from the house so that you can turn it onto its back and see the wires that provide the power required for it to ring.

Carefully loosen the screws holding the wires in place. Once they're loose enough that you can move the wires, pull the wires away from the broken doorbell using the coated portion of the wire, not the exposed copper portion. Make sure you keep the wires in their curved shape, as you'll need to wrap them around the screw again on the new doorbell.

Once you have the old doorbell completely unhooked, you will reverse the process to attach the new, working doorbell. Simply loop one wire on the screw and then tighten the screw so that it holds the wire in place. Repeat with the second wire on the second screw. You want the screws tight enough that the wires will stay put but not so tight that they'll damage the wires, so don't go crazy.

From there, you want to gently tuck the wires - again, only touching the colored coated parts - inside the housing of the doorbell so that you can place the doorbell flush against your house. Make sure that all the wires are on the inside before you screw anything in. Because the screw holes in the same position, you want to ensure you line the screw up with the existing hole (as in the picture below).

When you screw the doorbell back to the house, you want to tighten the first screw a few twists then start the second screw, alternating which one you tighten until they are all the way tight and the doorbell is flush with the house. If you don't, it makes it a lot harder to tighten the second screw and more difficult to keep them aligned - just a general recommendation whenever you're tightening something that has multiple screws.

You want to be sure that it's completely flush with the house to help keep water from getting inside. Water and electricity - even at such a low voltage - aren't a good combination. Plus, water getting inside the doorbell is going to shorten its life and also damage the house where water sits against it as its collected inside the doorbell if it has a gap between it and the house.

And voila, you have a brand new doorbell. If you're anything like me, you'll want to test it out once or twice to make sure it works - although you'll know it's working even before you reattach it to the wall because the button you press will glow once you've correctly attached the wires and power is flowing through them.

Five minute fix. Hours of pride. And my UPS man is very happy, although Mr. Fed Ex unfortunately hasn't yet realized the doorbell works and is still knocking. Next task? Fixing up the cracks in the wood so that no water seeps in and starts rotting them.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Angels Abound - Just Keep An Open Eye

Mister Man is a special needs child. As "normal" as he appears to many, especially at first glance, he isn't. He's autistic, although happily he's very high functioning and we're anticipating that he'll grow up to live a "normal" productive adult life, albeit with a quirky personality. He isn't your typical child, however, and I've known that for a long time.

I was part of a playgroup from the time he was about eight or ten weeks old. Most of the moms in the playgroup had children who were a few months older than Mister Man, but they were relatively the same age. Even when he was a year old, however, it was apparent that he wasn't the same as the other children in the group.

He didn't play the same way they did, side by side and often interacting. He was off doing his own thing in his own way. As much as I tried to tell myself that it was because he was a little younger than they were and because by that point, he was just about the only boy in a group filled with girls. Of course he was going to be a little different.

As the other children all talked and he remained silent, that little niggle poked at me. As the other children started picking up crayons and wanting to color while Mister Man's interest in color remained purely walking around with a yellow block in his mouth, that niggle prodded. As they made friends and he didn't know how to interact with them, I felt it. I knew.

My friends didn't say anything to me, of course. Who's going to be the one to ask what's "wrong" with your child, after all? I could see the looks that they'd give him - and me - periodically after he'd done something that just wasn't typical. There's something wrong with my baby, and even when my pediatrician assured me I had nothing to worry about, I knew.

Somehow, the right people are always in our lives. We just have to be open to letting them in. They are the people who you can call in the middle of the night when you just can't deal anymore. They're the ones who show up at your house with exactly what you need, even when you didn't ask them. They're the ones who call just to check in and offer a shoulder, not even knowing you'd need it.

I was lucky - am lucky - to have many friends like this who appear at just the right times. When Mister Man was just over a year, one of my friends continued to open up to me about her daughter who is a few years older than Mister Man. Her daughter had troubles in preschool, she was challenging for my friend at home, and for years she knew there was something but didn't have the help or support she needed. It wasn't until her daughter was four years old that she learned about the preschool program that would be the start of a 360 change in her daughter. Finally, her daughter was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder - it wasn't that her child wasn't behaving but that she quite simply only heard a portion of what she was told and it made no sense to her. The therapies she received both in preschool and elementary school made a huge difference for her.

I'd never heard about preschool programs like this - and besides, Mister Man was only a year old, so he wasn't going to preschool any time soon, and besides, her daughter's issues at the time were very different from Mister Man's issues. My friend was the one, however, where I could open up about my concerns regarding Mister Man. She was the one who encouraged me to share what just didn't feel right to me, even after that pediatrician told me everything was just fine. It wasn't just fine. He wasn't just fine. She shared information about the Early Intervention program that exists not just in Illinois but throughout the country in various configurations. She was the one who encouraged me to keep after my pediatrician and ask him specifically about having Mister Man tested for the program - something that the pediatrician initially brushed off saying there was no cause for concern but finally agreed that I could have him tested if it was that important to me. (And I've since found out that there's no need for your pediatrician to a) say you need the testing or b) be the one to initiate the process.)

With my friend's support that this is something I can do and the reassurance that the earlier I get started the more results we will see, I took the plunge and started the process of having Mister Man tested for the Early Intervention program. To qualify for any therapy, a child must have a 30% of more developmental delay. Although my concern was with his speech (it wasn't just that he didn't talk - he didn't babble), any testing required that they examine at least three areas, which I thought was silly. It ended up not being so silly, as part of his speech issue was relate to his lack of core strength - without being strong enough to sit up straight and support himself when taking breaths deep enough to push through the air required to speak, he simply couldn't speak. Oh. Thus, physical therapy was added to the speech therapy he began at 17 months old (though we started the process when he was not quite 14 months).

When we heard the news that yes, he had not just the areas of delay that we'd expected but additional concerns, my friend was there again to offer support and help me work through how I felt about it. She was the one who helped me navigate both what to do next and my emotions about it. I wouldn't have been nearly so stable, wouldn't have had nearly the sang froid that I did. She was the one who encouraged me with the stories about the changes her daughter was making and what I would expect, too. As I drifted further from the playgroup as he grew older and was more and more obviously different and not fitting in with the other girls in the group, she was there for me, making that break much easier than it would have been otherwise.

But yet how easy would it have been for me to brush her off when she talked about her daughter - not even knowing that first time that I was so concerned about Mister Man? How simply could I have not asked those questions that she so honestly and thoroughly answered for me? It never ceases to amaze me how the right people appear when we need them. The trick is to let them in, as hard as that sometimes is, especially for people like me who are so very used to doing things on our own without any help from anyone.

Who has been your own personal angel walking into your life?

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In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of the book "Expecting Adam" by Martha Beck as a part of the From Left To Write book club where we don't write book reviews but instead write posts inspired by the books we read. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own - as for the book, I'm mixed on it. Parts of it I loved and parts of it drove me nuts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - No Knead Bread

I had fresh bread for dinner last night. And the night before. And the night before. And possibly the night before. Now that fall is here and the weather has turned cooler, I'm using my oven again which means that I'm back to baking bread on a regular basis. While I sometimes make a traditional French baguette or a quick flatbread.

There are times, however, where I want a traditional bread with its crackly, crusty exterior and nice soft inside steaming from the oven. But I don't have the ten minutes to get everything together, twenty to knead, hour and a half for rise one, five to shape, another hour for the second rise and a half hour to bake. Fortunately, I found a great solution.

And that's why I'm having fresh bread almost every night of the week. No, my solution wasn't a time machine, handy as that might be.

No Knead Bread

3 c warm water
1 T salt
1 1/2 T yeast
6 1/2 c flour

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found in a book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. They have an awesome methodology that I absolutely adore and use all the time. I love that they've turned a fun but somewhat lengthy task into something I can whip together almost every day.

I use a large sealable container, though you never seal the dough when making it. I do use the top to keep the dough from drying out in the fridge, however, by placing it loosely atop the container.

So, step one is to get those three cups of water from the tap and place them in the container. You want the water to be warm but not hot. If it isn't warm, that's fine, but it will take a little longer for the little yeasties to wake up and rise. Add the salt and yeast and flour. Yep, all at once.

Use a spatula to stir it. Yep, just stir it. This is the no knead thing, remember? Stir it until the flour is all incorporated. You don't want any wet or dry patches, but that's about it. It will be sticky, and there's truly no kneading, which is very unlike any bread I generally make. Trust me though. It works. These people have a whole series of books on making tons of different breads using this methodology. (So anyone looking for a birthday or Christmas gift for me, ahem.)

That's it. Once you've gotten the dough to this point - which will take you all of eight or nine minutes - place the lid carefully on the container (remember, this is a five gallon container that you're using) so that it is covered but not sealed, as you want the air circulating in the container to feed the little yeasties. Let it sit out on your counter for a couple hours to rise.

Yes, that's the same dough. I didn't touch it, but it's so different. Once it's risen and is nice and flat on top, then stick it in the fridge. It's now ready for you to make bread whenever you want over the next week - whenever you have one hour in the house. Or most of an hour anyway.

When you're ready, prepare your pizza peel that you use to get the bread in and out of the oven. This is where the bread will rise, as well. Sprinkle it with cornmeal. This is what will keep your bread from sticking to the peel and losing all its rise when it goes in the oven. Make sure you're generous - far more generous than you normally are when doing this. I learned this lesson the hard way the first time I made this bread.

Once you've done this, sprinkle some flour atop the dough to make it easier to handle without sticking to you constantly. Carefully take a hunk of dough from your container. Think about how much water and flour and such you used to make this dough. This is plenty of dough for several loaves of bread, and I generally take about a quarter of it for each loaf. And yes, I say about. You don't have to be exact; it'll all be ok.

If you need to, sprinkle a little more flour atop the hunk you removed. Form it into a ball by stretching the dough outward from the center and pushing it under, not by rolling it. Once it's formed into a semblance of a circle, place it on your peel to let it rise. You do not need to cover it with this recipe. Let it rise for twenty minutes, then start preheating your oven to 450 degrees with a stone in the bottom third of the oven. Have a small pan below the stone where you can add water, as well.

Once your oven has preheated for twenty minutes (see - most of this "work" is time you can be doing laundry or making the rest of your dinner) for a total of forty minutes rising time, you're ready to bake it. Use a sharp knife to add slashes to the top of the bread dough to a half inch depth. I do mine either in a tic tac toe pattern or like a shell. Add a cup or two of water to the pan in the oven, then quickly slip the dough onto the stone.

Bake it for 30 minutes, then remove it. Technically, you want to wait until it cools before cutting it, but really? Does it ever happen? Tell me it isn't just our house where we can't wait for our bread to cool before we eat it. Don't store it in the fridge. Please don't store bread in the fridge. Don't put it in plastic either. Let it cool completely before you cover it.

And that leftover dough? Back into the fridge it goes until the next day when you make more fresh bread with almost no effort. When you've used up the last of the dough, there will be a little bit left in the container sticking to the edges. Don't bother washing it out. It's ok. Just make another batch, and the bread will start to have a sourdough flavor to it, yum!

Are you convinced yet?

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Why You Should Always Carry Jumper Cables In Your Car

Of course, with me, the answer is "because from time to time, you're a complete idiot" - but you probably already figured that out from the title of the post, right? Ironically, I have really cool jumper cables that don't need another car and are super easy to use that an old boyfriend gave me years and years ago that live in my car. Well, they did until I had my car thoroughly washed and cleaned inside and out about three weeks ago and I took everything out of my car before that. Not everything has been put back in yet. And to be honest, I just went to go look for them in the garage, and ... I can't find them.

Mental Note: Add jumper cables to the list of things to buy from the hardware store along with a new doorbell and a lightbulb for the garage door opener.

You know there's a story behind this, and who am I to keep you from enjoying a laugh at my expense?

On Saturday, Little Miss attended a play for Daisies about an hour from our house (yay for those of us who live twenty minutes north of where most people from her school do). It was to be a fun experience where Little Miss got to have a backstage tour and learn about how plays are produced before the play commenced. Of course, only she was allowed to attend the backstage tour for the hour and a half before the play started. Parents and siblings would cause too much crowding. No worries. Mister Man and I could easily hang out in the car and read while we waited for the play to start.

Luckily, it was a gorgeous, sunny day on Saturday, so once we checked Little Miss in with her troop, we headed back to the car where I plugged in my phone to charge while we listened to some football on the radio and read. We passed quite the pleasant hour where I caught up with a few friends on the phone and Mister Man finished his book for his November book report. Happily, we trooped back to the theater and met up with Little Miss for the play itself.

Once the play had ended, we said good-bye to our friends and headed out to the car. I put my keys in the starter, plugged in my phone again - something I do almost out of habit now considering how quickly my phone eats its battery - and waited for the wee one to buckle up.

Any guesses what happened next?

If your guess has anything to do with the dashboard blinking a couple times quickly then shutting off, you'd be correct. I knew already, and my stomach sank, but I tried it anyway. I turned my car's power all the way off, shut off the radio and unplugged my phone. I took a deep breath and turned the key and heard the expected "click click click" of a car with no battery remaining.

I had just watched one friend pull out and waved while waiting for the wee ones to buckle up, but surely someone else was still in the parking lot, right? Actually, yes. I had three friends who I got ahold of who were still in the parking lot or just outside it. None of them had jumper cables. All of us agreed that jumper cables were something we should all probably carry in our cards going forward.

I turned around to the wee ones and smiled calmly at them. "Ok guys!" I said in a falsely cheery voice. "We're going to head back into the theater to see if someone working there might have jumper cables who can help us get our car started again. Sound good?"

Fortunately the wee ones are pretty adaptable, and they unbuckled their seat belts and climbed out of the car like this was a normal thing - which fortunately it isn't, at least not with me. We saw another friend in the parking lot while we walked to the building, but no, she had no jumper cables either. She offered to have the wee ones hang out in her car and watch a movie while I got help, however, and I took her up on that offer.

Once I entered the theater, no one working there had any jumper cables. I carefully interrupted a few conversations strangers were having to ask if anyone might have jumper cables - the in person version of dialing for dollars - and was sadly told no. I kept trying and got to the concession area where the dads were selling treats as their volunteer gig. Finally, I had some luck. A very nice dad had jumper cables and offered to get me started. We both pored over the instruction manual to make sure we had it right since neither of us had jumped a car in a very long time (which is probably a good thing, right?).

On the plus side, we got it figured out, and my car started right away with the very generous jump. The plus side - see, you've always got to look for the positive lining - was that we were far from home, so we had plenty of time to drive and recharge the battery. And yes, it started again later that night. And several times yesterday. And this morning, too.

So what did I learn from my experience?

1) When you take things out of your car, put them back in. If you don't need them in your car, deal with them.
2) Jumper cables should always, always be in your car. Hopefully I won't ever need them again, but I'd love to be able to help someone else in the same situation someday.
3) It really isn't that hard to jump start a car. The directions are clear, and it works just fine so there's no reason to think you can't do it.
4) When sitting in your car waiting, either have the car running (which I never do because it's such a waste of gas) or make sure you aren't sucking all the power from your battery with your plugged in items and listening to the radio and the like. While waiting for Little Miss to finish Sunday School yesterday, I sat in silence in my car with no radio on and nothing plugged in because ...
5) at the very least, learn from your mistakes and share them with others because ...
6) if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

And that ends the lesson for today. You're welcome.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Thank Goodness For Retakes

It happens every year. I get the wee ones all dressed and prepped. Their hair is done perfectly, and their clothes are chosen to complement the background. I hope and cross my fingers that they will have their annual school photos turn out ... decent. Not even great, my goal in life is down to just "decent" school photos.

Little Miss's photos arrived yesterday. As I pulled them from her backpack to peruse them, I smiled. I looked through the little (operative word) window in the envelope and saw that she was smiling and her headband was still in - keeping that nutty hair from falling into her face. Her eyes looked tired, but that's not a big deal. And that particular headband in that photo made her look very 60s-ish, but that's ok; it's cute. We escaped this time around.

Then I pulled them from the envelope to begin the task of cutting them.

Wait wait wait.

Seriously, what photographer took this picture and thought it would work? Where was the parent volunteer who straightens the clothes, makes sure the hair isn't sticking up, and generally manages to minimize the need for retakes?

My mom saw it and thought it was cute. It made Little Miss giggle. My mom thought it showed personality. Little Miss giggled again. I have plenty of photos that demonstrate her personality. It sounds shallow, but I'd like a picture to share with my family that shows not just her personality but show how beautiful and perfect she is in my eyes no matter what she's doing.

The photos have been returned to their envelope and soon will return to the school for retakes. If the next photo comes out like this, so be it. It will be an interesting memory from her first grade year and will show her personality. But I'm still trying for a different picture and yes, selfishly, a "better" picture.

Unfortunately, I know from our experience that the photo she first took - the photo with her hair doing some weird and bizarre sticking out thing that it does not normally do, mind you - is the one that will be in the yearbook. And in the class photo distributed to all her friends. Of course.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

BlogHer Book Club: Theodora

I first picked up Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy almost two weeks ago. The book is only 336 pages, but it took me until this morning to finish the book - not because I didn't like the book or because it was boring but because it was so chock full of information and emotion and pain that I could read it in only small doses. That's very unusual for me, as I generally devour books.

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore follows the life from Theodora - who was an actual historical figure - from the time she is a small girl the the daughter of the chief animal trainer in ancient Constantinople through her training for the theater to adulthood as a celebrated entertainer then governor's mistress and finally reformed woman who marries the eventual emperor. The theater life is far more brutal and raw than anything I would have expected, but still nothing that should have shocked me. The rules and laws in place at the time were harsh and rigid, and both child labor and child prostitution were common.

When I began reading the book, I knew it was a novel. As I continued to read, I realized how much of it was based in truth. Theodora was a historical figure, though obviously her story was somewhat fictionalized for this book considering how little was truly known of her real story. The book shows so much of what could have happened and shares so much of life in the ancient Empire. I learned a ton from the book, as challenging as it was for me to read.

Join in the discussion about Theodora: Empress, Actress, Whore with BlogHer Book Club.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore" for review purposes only. I was compensated for participating in the BlogHer Book Club, but as always, my opinions are my own.

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