Monday, May 7, 2012

Sugar Rush

So this week marks the beginning of the birthday parties for the four Cub Reporters.  My 9-year-old turns 10 this week (holy COW I feel old!), and, as I promised myself, I wouldn't necessarily watch my diet on the days of the Cubs' parties.

Now, I don't know if you've figured this out about me yet, but I am a serious planner.  I mean, I do everything I can to plan out the kids' birthday parties at least a year in advance.  They know this, and they're OK with it.  And they also know that, once they've decided on a theme for the party, it's written in stone.  This gives me a year to think and plan and gather stuff for the party.  And, trust me, after several of the parties we've had, I've needed that year to plan for it.

Also, when I've said that I need at least a year to plan for it, I'm not kidding.  My son's birthday party theme this year is M&Ms.  Several months ago, he informed me that he's decided what theme he wants next year, so that I could start gathering the stuff he wants to be able to do.  My one and only daughter has already planned what she wants not only this year, but also next year.  

I love my Cubs.  They're just awesome.

So, this past weekend, we had my 9yo's birthday party (he doesn't actually turn 10 until later this week).  And it was AWESOME.

First off, we had several different M&M themed games to play.  Because he's really into racing, we couldn't pass up playing M&M Kart on the Wii.  That tournament got a little vicious, but it was so cool.  And while kids were playing this, some were in the boys' room playing the M&M Beach Party Wii game. 

yes, my kids are spoiled.  we have two Wiis.  deal with it.

Anyway, they also played outside on the trampoline, had M&M relay races, and a Guess The Number of M&Ms In This Jar (winner got to take home the jar--much to his mother's chagrine).  Typical games, I know, but they still had fun.  Prizes were Medium-sized bags of M&Ms in a variety of flavors.

As for the food, well...  It was all M&M themed.  And all of it was bad for you.  But I don't care.  :)

To start with, I made the 1-point cupcakes that I told y'all about several months ago.  Then, I put a little mock buttercream on it (recipe to follow), and then covered them in one color of M&Ms.  Yes, this means that I did take the time out to separate what ended up being three large bags of M&Ms into colors.  Only the center one of each cupcake had the "m" showing.  The others were all the blank side.  Hey, I tried to make them look like M&Ms.  They were a hit, though.

Mock Buttercream (Typically, buttercream frosting has Crisco in it.  This one doesn't, so is considerably lighter on the fat content.  I made up for it with the use of the M&Ms...  I got this from epicurious.com)
Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted, sweet cream butter, room temperature (IMPORTANT!!!!  DO NOT MICROWAVE IT!)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (not a typo)
1 1/2 tbsp clear vanilla (although you can use real if you're not worried about keeping this white)

Directions:
  1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine a quarter cup of the milk, the flour, and the vanilla, and whisk until there are no lumps.  Then, start adding in the rest of the milk (WHISK CONSTANTLY!), and cook until it comes to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and--still whisking (it'll feel like your arm is about to fall off)--wait for this to thicken.
  2. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, but keep stirring for another minute or two.  If it's lumpy (and sometimes, I'll admit, it is), pour it through a strainer to get the lumps out.  If you've whisked it fast enough, though, it'll be lump free.  Anyway, set it aside and let it come up to room temperature (about an hour or so).  If you're in a hurry, put it in the refrigerator or the freezer.
  3. Cream the butter on medium speed in a Kitchen-Aid for roughly 3-4 minutes.  It will get very light in color.  Add in the sugar, and bump up the speed to HIGH for another 5 or 6 minutes.  You're looking for the sugar to dissolve into the butter.
  4. Slow the speed of the mixer down to LOW, and SLOWLY pour the milk mixture into the butter.  When it's all in there,  increase the speed to medium and beat it until the frosting is light and fluffy (roughly 3-5 minutes).
  5. It's ready to use at this point!

So, I used this as the frosting for the cupcakes. I have no idea how much it is in terms of calories, but it's got to be lighter than the one with Crisco mixed into it.  Also, it's not as sweet.  Which was a good thing, as the M&Ms most definitely are.

Next on the list of foods I had available is something that I could have died and gone to Heaven a very happy man after I had a lot some.

M&M Chocolate Fudge (I adapted this from one I found on foodbuzz.com.)
Ingredients:
12 ounces semi-sweet Hershey's chocolate chips (DO NOT use milk chocolate chips!!!)
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp real vanilla (I used mine that I made with brandy.  Ooooh YUM!)
1 tbsp butter
1 cup mini M&Ms
Extra mini M&Ms to put on top when you're done

Directions:
  1. In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, add the chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk.  Allow the chocolate chips to melt, but stir it occasionally so they blend together well and the bottom doesn't burn.  
  2. Add the vanilla and the butter, and mix until the butter has disappeared and melted into the chocolate (won't take very long).
  3. Remove from heat, and let cool for a few minutes, or your M&Ms will melt too quickly.  When you don't burn yourself when you touch the fudge, you're ready to go on.
  4. Add in the M&Ms, and stir.  It'll be hard, because the fudge has already begun to set.  But that's OK.
  5. Pour the mixture into a 9x9 baking dish that you've prepared by lining with parchment paper.  Spread it out evenly.
  6. Immediately sprinkle your reserved mini M&Ms on top, and press them down into the fudge so that they'll stick.
  7. Place the whole thing in the refrigerator, and let cool completely.
  8. Remove and cut into bite-sized pieces.
The fudge will be dense, yet smooth.  You'll love it.  I guarantee it.  And it is NOT low-cal!!!!

Also on the menu were three different party mixes that I made with M&Ms.  I basically made these up, but I know they're all variations of other party mixes I've made in the past.  No telling where I first saw them.  I also did my best to use the same cereals in all three so that I didn't have to worry about buying nine different types of cereal...

Chubby Hubby Party Mix  (yes, it's a riff on Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but it works.  And it works well!)
Ingredients:
6 tbsp butter
3 tbsp sugar
2 cups Rice Chex
2 cups Corn Chex
2 cups Crispix
1 cup Peanut Butter M&Ms
1 cup Pretzel M&Ms
1 cup dry roasted nuts (any flavor--I used peanuts, but feel free to use whatever you want)
1 lb chocolate chips
2-3 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp salt*

Directions:
  1. In a large microwaveable bowl, mix the cereals and nuts.  Set aside.
  2. In a small microwaveable bowl, microwave the butter (uncovered) on full power for 40 seconds, or until melted.  Stir in salt and sugar.  Pour over the cereal mixture, and stir to make sure it's all evenly coated.
  3. Microwave the cereal mixture at full power for 5-6 minutes, stirring really well every two minutes.
  4. In another microwaveable bowl, microwave the chocolate chips and the canola oil until it's all melted.  Stir every 20 seconds to smooth out the chocolate, as well as prevent burning.  Pour over the cereal mixture, and mix to coat.  Pour out on waxed paper to dry.
  5. When cooled and dry, break apart (if needed), mix in the M&Ms, and place in a party bowl.
  6. Serve and enjoy!
*If you use salted butter, don't use/add in this salt.


Special Dark Party Mix
Ingredients:
2 cups Rice Chex
2 cups Corn Chex
4 cups popped popcorn
2 cups Dark Chocolate M&Ms
3/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans*
3/4 cup dark Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 250ºF.  Lightly grease a large roasting pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix up the cereals, popcorn, and pecans.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and mix with the corn syrup and sugar.  Stir until the sugar has melted completely, and the syrup is warm and bubbly.  Pour over the cereal/popcorn/pecan mixture, then using a large wooden spoon, mix to coat everything as evenly as possible, then pour into the roasting pan.
  4. Stirring approximately every 15 minutes, bake for one hour.  Pour out on waxed paper to cool completely, then mix in the M&Ms and place in a party bowl.
  5. Serve and enjoy!
*To toast pecans, simply chop up pecan halves--or use pecan pieces--and put them in a small stainless steel skillet over medium-low heat.  You'll need to stir them occasionally.  When you can smell the warm, nutty scent, they're done.  Pull 'em off the burner RIGHT THEN, otherwise they'll burn and you'll have to start over.  Pecans are expensive, so you don't want to have to do that.


Caramel Joy Party Mix
Ingredients:
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Corn Chex
2 cups Crispix
1 cup light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
1 1/2 tsp real vanilla
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 12oz bag plain M&Ms
1 12oz bag coconut M&Ms (optional)

Directions:
  1. In a large microwaveable bowl, mix the cereals.  Set aside.
  2. In a small microwaveable bowl, mix up the brown sugar, butter, and Karo, then microwave--uncovered--for 1 minute at full power (HIGH).  Remove, stir, and microwave again for another minute.  The butter should be melted, and everything should be smooth by now3.  Stir in the vanilla and baking soda.  It will probably foam up a little.  THIS IS NORMAL.  Pour the caramel over the cereal, and stir until everything is evenly coated.
  3. Microwave this on full power (HIGH) 5-6 minutes, stirring every minute.  When the cereal is a warm, golden brown, you're done.  Pour out on waxed paper, and cool completely.
  4. When cooled and dry, break apart (if needed), mix in the M&Ms, and place in a party bowl.
  5. Serve and enjoy!
*If you use salted butter, don't use/add in this salt.


I also made (surprise!  surprise!)  M&M cookies.  I found this recipe at the M&M's website.  It's very, very good!  And each cookie has only 90 calories. Although, they're tiny cookies, as this recipe makes about 50...

Red's Ultimate M&Ms Cookies
Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used my bourbon vanilla)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce package M&M’S® MINIS® Milk Chocolate Candies
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional--I didn't use them)


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. In large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla. 
  3. In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt; blend into butter/sugar mixture. 
  4. Stir in M&M’S® MINIS® Milk Chocolate Candies and nuts, if desired. 
  5. Drop dough by heaping teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. 
  6. Bake 10 to 13 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and centers are still soft. Do not overbake. 
  7. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; cool completely on wire racks.
I also made cookies for the kids to take home using these cookie cutters, and the 20-Second Royal Icing recipe I found on Sugarbelle.  If you want it, go there and get it.  It's perfect, and works every single time I've used it.  And I've used it a lot.  Anyway, I made  those as parting gifts, as well as gave each child a small bag of M&Ms to take with them.  I had several different kinds, so they got to choose which one they wanted to take.

Yes, I was the coolest parent on the planet, according to the kids.  I was a real "winner" of a parent with the parents.  (he said, as his words dripped with sarcasm).

Probably the biggest thing I did for the party was the M&M bar.  My family has always been a big M&M fan, so between our house and my parents' house, we were able to come up with ten different M&M dispensers.  Over the course of the past year, I've been collecting ten different varieties of M&Ms--the white chocolate ones that were available at Halloween, the raspberry ones and the chocolate-covered-cherry ones that were available at Valentine's, the mint ones that were available at St Patrick's Day, the cinnamon ones from Christmas, and the "normal" ones that you can find anywhere anytime:  Plain (they'll always be plain in my book), Peanut, Peanut Butter, Pretzel, and Coconut.  I know that Almond is also available, but they're also difficult to use in a dispenser because of their size.  I lined them up, put a label on each, filled them up, and let the people at them.  The ones to go first were all the special flavors (cinnamon and white chocolate were HUGE hits!).

I still have loads of M&Ms left over.  Perfect for my desk at work, as people visit me just to get their hands on my candy.

All in all, I think the party was a huge success.  There were lots of presents, lots of candy, lots of fun, and lots of children crashing after they came down off their sugar rush.

Hope you have a wonderful day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stopping The Madness

After a painful look at everything yesterday, we have decided NOT to sell our house and look for another one.  There were several factors in it--first and foremost my in-laws.  I'm thankful of them for this, because they are people that The Editor listens to.  All along, I've been trying to explain to her that I was worried about being able to do everything financially.  We've got an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World that is going to cost around $20,000 (yes, you read that right).  We just spent a veritable fortune on not one but TWO brand new Mazda CX-9s.  And now she's wanting to spend a God-awful amount on a new house.

I can't do it all.

True, I like change.  Change is good.  But when we're talking a quarter of a million dollars in change, well, that's asking a bit much.  And, yes, between the two cars, the trip, and the new house, that's what we were looking at spending in one year.  

Holy.  Moly.

So, after I've been saying for a couple weeks that I was seriously doubtful we could have the money to do it all, her parents stepped in and started asking all the same questions I was asking:
  • What happens if one of you loses your job?  Not uncommon in this day and age.
  • What happens if your house doesn't pass inspection?
  • How are you going to pay for your children's trip to Disney World, buy a house, and pay on the cars?
  • How much is it going to cost to get the new house ready for you to move in?
  • What if your house doesn't sell?
True, we need to move.  We live in a teeny tiny house.  Six people and three dogs are CLOSE in a 900 square foot house.  We also have a lot of crap in our house.  I mean, do you know how much stuff six people can acquire?  And the CLOTHES!  Dear lord, the clothes.  We have to do laundry every day.

Every.

Single.

Day.

I know it's not going to change when we do get to move.  But I do feel like, if we moved, our house wouldn't look so cluttered.

I know the children really need their own spaces.  I get that.  But at the same time, I can't justify committing financial suicide just to get a bigger house.

So.  Finally.  I--with the help of my in-laws--stopped the madness.

And I feel so much better about it all.

Now I can get back to concentrating on losing my weight (I haven't lost anything, but I also haven't gained anything, either), paying off the trip, saving for the trip, and getting the kids Harry Potter scarves done.

Because that's what counts right now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Real Estate Stress

Since my last post last week (sorry about that, I've been under a bit of stress lately and am having issues with figuring out exactly how to put it into words), we've had a bit of an adventure in house hunting.

For starters, the house that we really wanted got yanked off the market--yet the real estate agent's For Sale sign and all their information on it still sat in the front yard.  Why?  Because they were trying to drum up business.  They figured they could get people to call them, they'd get some clients, and when that house went back on the market (turns out, it went back on five days later, the day after we found another house that we absolutely love), they'd have a client base they could pull from and get the ball rolling again.

I wasn't happy.

So we found another house.

And I'm about to reach through the phone and choke that real estate agent.

Honestly, people, how hard is it to DO YOUR FREAKING JOB?  Do you seriously have to stand in the way of progress every step of the way?  Is it us?  Is it the house?  Why are you doing your dead-level best to prevent us from even putting a bid in on the house?

These were all questions I had until I finally basically forced our agent to call the broker for the other agent and get the information we needed to finally submit our offer.  We'd filled out all the paperwork, written the earnest money check, all that other crap that we have to do, and we couldn't get the other agent to just simply send us the Disclosure paperwork.  She "wasn't going to be in the office until much later."  She "put it online," yet, no, she hadn't.  She "just didn't have time to do it right now."  She asked that our agent text her (which she did), and then we were ignored.  Finally, after four days of this BS, I told our agent that if she didn't call the other agent's broker, I would.  She did, and we got it five minutes later.

Praise Jesus.

We've signed everything and turned it in, and now we're in a waiting game to see if they'll accept the offer.  Unfortunately, I'm betting that this agent will once again drag her feet and do everything she can to prevent the sale from going through.  If so, you'll be reading about it here.

And I'm about ready to tell y'all her name, so you can avoid her like the plague.  

I may do so anyway.

And the closing date we're shooting for?  Yeah, I didn't set that.  Our agent did.  It's next month.  Dear. God. This gives us about a week to get our house ready to sell so we can get it on the market.  It needs a paint job, stuff that we haven't used in a while needs packed so we can show off the size of our house, and it needs a good deep cleaning from top to bottom.  Six people (four of them children) and three dogs can be murder on the cleanliness of a house.

So, I'm stressed.  I never want to do this again.  Ever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Putting One Step In Front of the Other

OK, so we've now gotten the pre-approval for the home loan that I was discussing yesterday.  Praise GOD!

Now we are waiting for the mortgage loan officer dude (I have absolutely no idea what the guy's actual title is) to e-mail the approval letter to the real estate agent so she can get the offer paperwork done and submitted.

I swear, I am aging ten years during this process.

I really, really want this house.  I'm not in love with the house, don't get me wrong.  But it's absolutely the perfect house for us.

First off, it's five bedrooms.  This will mean that each of my children can get their own bedroom (well, kinda), as well as keep one open as a guest bedroom.

Yes, I can see that question spinning in your head--we have four children, why wouldn't they each get their own bedroom period?  Because those bedrooms are upstairs.  There are two bathrooms upstairs.  One is off a bedroom by itself, and the other is a shared bathroom between two bedrooms.  I don't particularly want to force one of my children to go through the bedroom of another to get to the bathroom.  This will complicate matters when they are pissed off with each other.

And since the three that will share two bedrooms are boys, getting pissed off is a regular occurrence.

Besides, the fourth bedroom has a door to an outside deck, and I don't particularly relish one of my children having that kind of access.  This is why this door will get a bolt lock, as well as being in the alarm system.  I'm no idiot.

Also upstairs is a common room larger than the living room we currently have.  My children are overjoyed at the very idea that they would have their own television upstairs, as well as a couch and some bean bag chairs.  I laugh at this possibility, because they'll have to learn how to get along and watch something that they all agree on.

My children have never been able to do this.

In fact, they rarely agree on anything.  And with mornings like this morning?  It spiraled out of control very quickly.

It all started with the death of a goldfish. 

We're not talking about a beloved goldfish or anything.  We're talking about those $.23 jobs from PetsMart.  Or PetSmart.  Whatever it is.  Doesn't matter.

Anyway, a goldfish die, as they are prone to do.  I regularly replace these guys, as they tend to last about two weeks in our house.  There's a reason why they're called "feeder goldfish."  You use them to feed larger ones.  So, it doesn't surprise me that they don't last too terribly long.

But my daughter, however...

So, this goldfish dies, and she goes into hysterics.  She's five.  Leave her alone.  It's her favorite goldfish.  She's named it Rapunzel.  This is my fault, as I should never have allowed her to name a goldfish.  I take full responsibility for that.  But I digress...

So, we have this funeral at sea thing, and it's now time for breakfast.  Because she's still snivelling, I allow her to pick whichever spoon she wants to use.  This, again, is my fault.  She picks the wrong spoon.  She picks the Mickey Mouse spoon her younger brother always uses.  

To make a very, very long story much shorter, here are the highlights:
  • Youngest son gets pissed, grabs a spoon and chucks it at his sister.  He misses, striking the next to oldest child.  This starts another chain reaction that I'll get to in a minute.
  • Youngest son gets even more pissed (because he missed), and bites his sister.
  • Sister screams bloody murder, then bites him back.  He starts screaming and runs to Mommy, who doesn't know what the heck is going on, and proceeds to punish my daughter, completely ignoring my protestations.  Yes, I understand biting is wrong.  Yes, I understand that she's five and he's three.  Doesn't matter.  He started it.  Well, she did.  Well, I did.
  • Next to oldest blames oldest for the chucked spoon hitting him, and he starts yelling at oldest, as well as flicking cereal at him.
  • Oldest gets pissed, and lunges across the table at his brother.
  • The two older boys end up getting into a Taekwondo throw-down, which ends in a tie after I have, um, dealt with the matter.
  • Two older boys bawled the rest of the morning.
  • Two younger children bawled the rest of the morning.
  • I felt like bawling the rest of the morning.
So I came to work.

Just putting one step in front of the other...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Waiting for a Sign

My wife and I have lived in our home for roughly 11 years now.  Now that we have four children, WE WANT OUT.

It's a nice home, don't get me wrong.  It's three bedrooms, and roughly 1000 sq ft.  It was built by a hippie in the late 60s (read:  he was either high or drunk at the time), and we've sunk a LOT of money into this home to get it renovated where it's actually pretty nice inside.  There's still probably about three thousand dollars worth of work that still needs to be done to it, but that's OK.  None of it is critical.

But it's only 1000 sq ft.  And WE WANT OUT OF IT.  Six people and three dogs is a little much for this house.  We are living on top of each other.

So, about a year ago, we decided that we really needed to start thinking about moving.

Well, on Sunday, we found the PERFECT house for us.  Five bedrooms--so each of the Cub Reporters would get their own room--three bathrooms, massive MASSIVE house that I know we don't have the furniture to fill...  It's absolutely perfect for us.

It's also a bank-owned home.  Some poor family couldn't keep up with the payments, and they were foreclosed on.  I do pray for them.

Anyway, this house is a fixer-upper, but it's in the right neighborhood, with the right schools, etc. etc. etc.  And it is MASSIVE.

We want to buy this house.  Really, really bad.

Unfortunately, we can't make an offer on it until we get pre-approved for the loan.  I know we WILL be pre-approved for it, as it's not much more than our annual salary.  And, typically, a home loan is easy to get when it's that close to your annual salary.

The only problem is we can't get the guy who is "working on" our pre-approval to actually work on it.  

The house has been sitting empty for two months (there's a reason for this--it needs about $10K worth of work done to it), and no one has put any bids on it.  Why?  Well, the house market is crap right now.  Truth be told, I'm worried about us selling our house.  But that's not the problem right now.

I *need* to get this pre-approval so the bank will know we are serious about this house.  It's like a gift from God Himself.

Yet this guy will not crunch the numbers to get us this pre-approval. 

He told me it would take him about an hour to get it done.

He's had all our information for 24 hours now.

I'm a nervous wreck.

I need a drink.

I need a sign.  "Sold" would be perfect, if it means that we're the ones buying it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

American Gothic Horror

This past Saturday, we had an appointment to have our family portrait taken by the people who are doing the church's "annual" pictorial directory.

I say "annual," because I have no idea what the actual word is that means "we do this horrible thing once every six years."  

Sure, doing a pictorial directory for the church is a great idea.  In theory.  And I'm sure all those families out there who only have a couple of perfect children have absolutely no problems getting them all dolled up and smiles pasted on their plastic faces have absolutely no issues with doing family portraits like this.

And then there's us.

Do you remember the movie The Klumps?  Or maybe it was in The Nutty Professor.  But I believe it was The Klumps where this happened.

The scene started out with the family all lined up and walking across the parking lot.  It was evening.  There was a light behind them, so all we could see of them was their outlines.  Descending--slowly--on an all-you-can-eat restaurant.  The dad says "Klumps, party of six, please."  And then the mother says "Yes, and we're hungry."

Except she doesn't say it "hungry."  She draws it out.  "Yes, and we're huuuunnnngggrrrrraaaaayyy."

And the horrified look on the poor staff's faces are classic.

This is the same kind of look I saw cross the poor photographer's face as we walked in to take our family portrait.  Me, The Editor, and the four Cub Reporters--ages 11, 9, 5, and 3.  And the five year old and the three year old were...ahem..."excitable."  You see, we had just come off a very busy morning.  We worked out at the YMCA, then ran home, scrubbed the sweat off our bodies, got the children dressed, got ourselves dressed, got the youngest two children dressed again, put the dogs in their cages, got the youngest two children's shoes on again, found everyone's jackets, found the umbrella (because, you know, it just had to rain), put the youngest two children's jackets on again, and headed out the door only to find that it had stopped raining.

Until we got to the church wherein my children decided to descend upon the place like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

For the next twenty minutes, we made this poor photographer's life a living, breathing Hell.  I'm sure he thought we were some of the worst parents in the world, based on our youngest two children's behaviors.  And for that, I truly apologize, Mr. Photographer.  You were wonderful.  My children were banshees.  They were dealt with when we got home, believe me.  That smile you coaxed out of them?  Yeah, it was gone real quick.

Frankly, I'm hoping that they can airbrush out The Editor's and my sweaty brows and make them look fresh and dry.  Maybe take a little of the red out of my face as the Cubs got my blood to really pumping.

But I am grateful to you, Mr. Photographer.  You actually accomplished something I thought would be impossible:  all four of my children were looking at you and smiling when you snapped that picture twenty minutes after we started.

For a ten-minute session.

That's a big reason why we spent more money than I had anticipated us spending.  To reward you for all your hard work.  

I do hope you get hazard pay.  And if you don't, well...  I apologize again.

And, no, I don't expect to see you again in six years...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Soup's On!

Since I'm on this huge recipe kick, and since I watched the Soup Nazi Seinfeld episode not too long ago, and since I'm also seriously excited about our upcoming trip to Disney World (even though it's not until December), and since it's Friday, I thought I'd give y'all a series of some of my favorite soup recipes from Walt Disney World.

Lightened up a bit, because, dear LORD, they like to use some heavy stuff.  I'll note what they use out beside my ingredient substitutions.  And, yes, my family enjoys these every bit as much as the Disney versions.  Also, I have absolutely no idea what the calorie count is on these, but I can guarantee you it's less than the originals...

Butternut Squash Soup (from Boma, the restaurant in Animal Kingdom Lodge)
Ingredients:
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (3 oz unsalted butter)
11 ounces Butternut Squash, cut into chunks (you can find this already cubed at your local grocery)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
2 cups skim milk (1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk)
1/2 tsp Splenda (1oz sugar, adjust if needed)
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 ounces fat-free/skim shredded cheddar cheese (3 oz American Cheese)


Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.  In a small baking dish, mix the squash and the extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, then roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a blender (or a food processor, if your processor is leak-proof), blend up the squash with the 1 cup water.  Pour into a large soup pot, and add the milk, Splenda, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and coriander.
  3. Make a slurry with the cornstarch by taking a tablespoon of COLD water in a measuring cup, adding the cornstarch, and mixing it well.  Add to the soup to thicken (which it will do when it heats up).
  4. Add the cheese to the soup, and continue mixing until smooth.
  5. Adjust seasoning to your tastes.

Ginger Pumpkin Soup (from Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort)
Ingredients:
1 tsp minced shallot
1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cans plain pumpkin (2- to 3-pound pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and diced into 3/4-inch pieces as well as 1 1/4 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree)
(1/2 cup brandy - I skip this entirely)
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tbsp white wine (I skip this)
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp fat free cream cheese (mascarpone cheese)

Directions:
  1. Sweat shallots in oil until translucent in the bottom of a large soup pot.  Add the pumpkin and the broth, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Finely mince ginger and set it aside.
  3. Thirty minutes before serving, add the ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg to reach the desired flavor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a dollop of cheese on top.
Note:  If you add the ginger too early OR you add powdered ginger, it can make this soup pretty spicy if you're not careful.  With the powdered ginger, the soup gets a more peppery flavor the longer it cooks.  So BE CAREFUL.


Big Bowl Chicken Soup (from Pop Century Resort--this makes 12-14 servings, so please adjust for smaller batches!  This is an Asian take on chicken soup)
Ingredients:
2 lbs cooked, deboned, shredded chicken
3 lbs cooked yolk-free egg noodles (udon noodles)
1lb bok choy (Bias Cut)
8 oz canned sliced mushrooms, rinsed and drained (slicked mushrooms--I have no idea what those are, so I'm leaving it as is.  I'm hoping they're SLICED mushrooms...)
6 oz bamboo shoots
10 oz chicken broth, hot
1 oz minced fresh ginger
1 oz minced fresh garlic
1 cup water (10 oz)
1 oz extra virgin olive oil (canola oil)
(2 oz rice wine)
1 oz soy sauce
1/2 oz sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste (3 tbsp house seasoning)

Directions:
  1. Heat wok to 175 degrees and add oil.
  2. Saute garlic and ginger.
  3. Add chicken, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.
  4. Add veggies, soy sauce, wine (if you're using it), chicken broth, and water.
  5. When water is at a boil, add noodles and bok choy.
  6. When the noodles are tender, turn off wok.
  7. Finish by adding some sliced green onions, if you'd like.
  8. Enjoy!

Tomato Bisque (from Sunshine Seasons in The Land in EPCOT)
Ingredients:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (butter)
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 cans diced tomatoes (I use fire-roasted, but the recipe doesn't call for anything specific)
1 tbsp Splenda (sugar)
1 tsp dried basil OR 1 tbsp fresh basil
1/4 cup chicken broth
8 cups water
corn starch (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup skim milk (heavy cream)

Directions:
  1. In a large soup pot, drizzle oil and saute onions.
  2. Add the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, and basil and onions into a blender, and blend until smooth.  Pour everything back into the soup pot.  (This is not exactly how they tell you to do it, as they expect you to have a hand-held blender that you can use in your soup pot.  I don't have one, so....)
  3. Add chicken broth and water.
  4. If it's too thin, make a slurry of the corn starch with a little water, then add to the soup to thicken it up.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the milk, then serve when it's at the perfect temperature for you.

Strawberry Soup (from 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian)
Ingredients:
2 lbs, 8 ounces frozen strawberries in their own juice, thawed
16 oz skim milk (heavy cream)
2 oz sour cream (I use fat-free)
3 oz strawberry yogurt (plain yogurt)
8 oz fresh strawberries

Directions:
  1. Mix first four ingredients in a blender until smooth.
  2. Chill; shake well before serving.
  3. Add the fresh strawberries as a garnish.
Note:  If I'm just making this into a quick snack for me, the Editor, or the Cubs, I cut way back on this and make it in our Bullet.  If I'm making this for everyone, I'll do it all in the blender, though.


Well, that's it for today, folks!  I hope you enjoy making these soups as much as I do.  They are wonderful, as everything from Disney is.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I WANT CHOCOLATE!

Probably the hardest thing about this lifestyle change I've made is the cutting out of chocolate.  I can deal with no sugar, no cookies, some diet cake (I'll tell you about that in a minute), no ice cream, all that kind of stuff.

But when it comes to chocolate, it's a different story.

I'm not talking Russel Stover chocolate--which, I know, a LOT of people love.  I'm talking Hershey's.  M&Ms.  Ghirardelli.  Lindt.  Dove.  Doesn't matter if it's milk or white or dark or semisweet.  

I.

LOVE.

CHOCOLATE.

And I can't have any.

And it's just about to kill me.

I know, I know, you're probably saying "but you CAN have some--you just have to make sure you don't eat but just a little bit."

And therein lies the rub.  I can't stop once I start.  I can't eat just one or two M&Ms.  I have to eat the whole bag.  Not the little snack bag.  The large size bag.

And now I hear that there's good news on the chocolate front--that a little dark chocolate every day improves your life, science has proved.  To those scientist, I just say "WELL DUH!"  I've known this for a very, very long time.  They just want us to cut way way way back on it and only eat like a half an ounce.

Which is like trying to eat one M&M or one chocolate chip.

It's not possible.

So, I broke down and found a pretty good recipe that helps me out.  Kinda.  And it's something that stores easily, too!

3-2-1 Cake
Ingredients:
1 box Angel Food cake (I use Duncan Hines)
1 box any flavor regular cake mix (again, I use Duncan Hines)
2 tbsp water
fruit slices/fat-free or sugar-free or both Whipped Cream/whatever floats your boat for toppings

Directions:
  1. In a one-gallon-sized food storage container (Rubbermaid, Tupperware, Ziplock bag, whatever), mix the two cake mixes thoroughly.
  2. In a microwave-safe coffee mug, drop in three tablespoons of the cake mix, two tablespoons of water, mix it up well, and microwave it for one minute.  Let it rest for a couple minutes to cool off a bit, because you don't want to burn the snot out of your mouth.
  3. Top with your favorite topping(s).
Store the remaining cake mix in a cool, dry place for up to three months.  You can get about 48 small mug cakes out of this recipe, since the mix itself is about six cups.

The basic cake prior to you adding toppings has 80 calories, 1.3g of fat (0.2 g saturated, 0.5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 1.2 g protein, 15.8g carbs, 0.2g fiber, and 114 mg sodium.

And you can eat it out of the mug with your spoon.  

My favorite is mixing devil's food with the angel food.

For obvious reasons.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh the PAIN!!!!

As I promised yesterday, here is my column on the running thing.

My doctor called me an idiot.

I know that I need to lose about a hundred more pounds.  That's my goal for the rest of the year.  Actually, it's not TRULY my goal, as my goal is to fit in 36x30 jeans and an XL shirt by Christmas when we go to Walt Disney World.  If I lose less than a hundred pounds (muscle weighs more than fat), or if I lose more, that's OK.  I just want to be able to wear the size clothes that I just told you.  Plus, it'll mean that I'll be able to wear the same size clothes that I wore in high school.  Which means my letter jacket will fit.

Speaking of my letter jacket, my sweet, precious, loving, innocent daughter saw it the other day and asked me what it was.  I told her it was my letter jacket from high school.  She then sweetly, preciously, lovingly, innocently asked me if there was a high school when I was a kid, as she couldn't believe that they had it "way back then."

I died a little inside.

Anyway, back to the point of what I started here.

I had stopped running/walking for a couple weeks due to my body just seriously rebelling against me.  More specifically, my left knee was really beginning to give me a lot of problems when I went jogging.  So, I stopped to give my body some time to rest, heal, etc., and picked up more exercise by doing more water aerobics and dancing.

Well, Monday, I started back on the walking thing.  I did a 5K (speed walking) in roughly 45 minutes.  About a quarter of the way through it, my left knee started twinging.  By the end of it, it felt like someone was shoving a blazing-hot butcher knife behind my kneecap.

But I finished.

Well, I decided to go to the doctor.

He called me an idiot.

But I did learn several things.

  1. I'm 42 years old.  My body doesn't heal as quickly as it used to.  It also breaks down easier than it used to.  I've got to back off on pushing myself so hard.  In fact, he has told me he will not condone me running/jogging until I've lost at least sixty more pounds.  He told me I can speed walk, but not as quickly as I've been pushing myself.  A sixteen minute mile is plenty fast enough for me at the weight I'm at, as well as the way my knees are acting.  Once I lose the sixty more pounds, I can start working on training for next year's 5K.
  2. When I told him that I wasn't pushing myself any harder than the old people on Biggest Loser, he told me that I wasn't paying a lot of attention to what they were doing on the show.  Number one, they don't run a 5K every day of their training.  We see them run full-out for only a couple minutes at a time, then they get to back off a little.  They are under a doctor's supervision at all times, just in case something were to happen.  And, if they have knee problems, they aren't expected to perform as well as those without knee problems.  And I have knee problems, so I need to listen to him on this.
  3. I need to get me some better walking shoes.  I've been speed walking in running shoes, which is NOT what they were meant for.  They have very little support in them, and that's causing me to put more pressure on my knees than what I need to.  He recommended me get shoes like Vibram Five-Fingers, as they are EXCELLENT shoes that not only support your foot, but conform to your foot.  And they look cool, too.  They're a little more expensive, but he likes them, and has had several of his other patients react better, run faster, and generally perform far better than they did with just some plain Nikes.
So, basically, I need to relax a little on my workout schedule.  I need to back off and not push myself so hard.  I'm frustrated about it, but I've only got myself to blame.  I am looking forward to losing the next sixty pounds, though, so that I can ramp myself back up and be ready to run in the 5Ks next year.  This year, I'll resolve myself to just walk them.

Until next time, dear readers...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weighing Down

Well, it's now been six weeks.  Give or take, I mean.  I think it's been more like six and a half, but that's OK.

I'm actually pretty excited today!  My official weigh-in has me down 34.4 lbs!  w00t!

However, I'm aching today.  Seriously.  Aching all over.  I ache in places I didn't realize I had muscles.

I've mentioned before that I do water aerobics.  Well, last week, I did it four different times, as well as Jillian Michael's Six Week Six Pack DVD, the dancing thing AND I did some--but not much--walking.  More on why I didn't do much in my column I'm thinking about for tomorrow or Thursday.

I seriously over-did it last week, I think.  On the scale, it was pretty awesome.  I mean, I dropped a little over five pounds last week.  Who wouldn't enjoy that?  Well, my body certainly didn't.  

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop.

I'm hoping that I'll get used to the stricter, more active regimen that I'm trying to force myself into.  It's been pretty helpful that I've gone to the lengths that I have to work out.  And with our amazing water aerobics instructor, she's really giving it to us and forcing us to work our butts off.

And it's obviously working.

I've even been told by a LOT of people that they can tell a big difference in me.  My face has slimmed down considerably, and my body has dropped two sizes in pants AND shirts.  Heck--and this is TMI I know--I've even dropped a size in my underwear.  Going to have to go buy some new ones soon.

Speaking of buying new clothes, I finally broke down and bought some new pants.  I only had one pair of 42x30s, and one cannot live on only one pair of pants.  My 44x30s and 46x30s now look like clown pants.  The 42x30s are slightly tight, but they're getting looser.  I'd love to be on 42x30s by April.  I'm hoping to be in either 38x30s or 36x30s by December.

I've dropped enough weight up top to go from a 5XL to a 3XL.  This is important to me, because of our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World.  It's difficult at best to find clothes that are larger than a 2XL available in the shops at WDW, so my goal by the time I get there is to be in an XL shirt.  That way, I know I'll be able to just walk into any clothing store in the World and buy whatever shirt or shorts or pants or jacket or whatever I want, and be absolutely sure I'll fit into it.

But I digress.

I was talking about water aerobics and how our instructor is really killing us.

Take last night for example.  Last night was "Latin" night, so we had to listen to Latin music.  Which isn't a problem for me, except we have to keep up with the beat of the music.

And Latin music is FAST.  

And not only that, she worked in a new exercise that--holy crap--is HARD.  Basically, it's just jumping.  But it's a little more than that.  For twenty (20) seconds, we had to LEAP up and out of the water as fast and as high as we could, immediately leaping up and out as soon as we came back down.  Then, we would get a ten (10) second rest to "catch our breath" (HA!), and then it would start all over again.  

Eight.

Times.

I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.

This exercise is SO much harder than the Patty Cake (well, that's what *I* call it) one she came up with last week.  In that one, you have to pair up with someone about your height.  Then, you both leap up and out of the water, and, at the pinnacle, clap your hands together with theirs.  Twice.  And you had to have clapped twice before you came back down.

And we did it for a minute and a half.

Twice.

With barely ten seconds breather in between.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining.  And, from a certain point of view, I know I am.  BUT!!!!  It's actually working well.  Really well.  I can't expect this fat to melt off my body without me doing something easy.  

In other news, along with exercise, it's also important to eat right.  My family has really been enjoying different types of hummus lately.  Especially since it's so low in calories.  Yes, it is a little high in fat, but that's OK.  It's good fat.  Yesterday, I gave you the recipe for Sun Dried Tomato hummus.  Talk about YUMMY.  Today, I'm going to give you a different recipe.  It's called Black Bean Hummus.  And it's even better than the one from yesterday, if you can believe it.  I found this one on SparkPeople.  I changed it up just a tiny bit to make it where my family enjoys it more.

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground red pepper
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cilantro (optional--you don't have to use it if you don't like it)
1/4 c (MAX!!!) vegetable broth.
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:
  1. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, pour in the EVOO, onion, green bell pepper, and garlic.  Saute until caramelized, about three minutes.
  2. While those are caramelizing, rinse and drain your black beans, and place them into a food processor.  
  3. Drop in the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.
  4. Add in the spices and tear off the 2 tbsp cilantro from your fresh bunch.
  5. Clip on the lid (or whatever you have to do with yours), and pulse until it's all combined.
  6. IF it's too thick for you, add in some of the vegetable broth, about a tablespoon at a time.  I haven't had to do this, because my family really likes it thick.  Anyway, add any salt and pepper you need to it to make it suit your family's tastes.
I typically serve this with some new multi-grain flatbread that I found that has 100 calories per slice.  I cut it up into wedges, then spray it with my EVOO mister, and broil it for a couple minutes to get it toasted.  Anyway, it's called Flatout.  It's a tiny bit more expensive than regular flat bread, but for only 100 calories a slice and I can use three slices to feed my family of six, well...  That's not too bad.  I use this for all my hummus recipes.

Oh!  The hummus makes eight 1/2 cup servings.  Each serving has roughly 123 calories, 1.6 g of fat, and 7.3 g of protien, so it's LOADED with protein and will go a long way.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Talk About A Trek!

I know it's been a week since I last updated.  I apologize.  Life has run away with me and...  Hoo-BOY!  I'll try to do better this week, but I'm not going to guarantee it.  

On a brighter note, I am getting seriously excited about our upcoming Disney World trip.  I know it's still ten months away, but I don't really care.  I'm a planner, and, well, it's hard to NOT plan what you're going to do on a Disney Trip.  Regardless of the fact that we're going for Christmas. 

I found out about a new tour that I'm hoping to sign me and my two eldest Cub Reporters up for.  It's called the Wild Africa Trek, and is a three-hour (mostly) walking tour through the back side of the animal preserve in the Animal Kingdom.

I.

Cannot.

Wait.

Yes, it's $200 a person, but I can deal with that.  It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I know my sons will just flip out over.  PLUS, they'll get to experience some new food while we're on this trek.  Food that I've found the recipes for, and I'm going to try to make so that they'll know sort of what to expect while we're out on this trek.  While they do have an alternative for children if they so desire, I really want my sons to get the full-blown impact of this trek.  And since there's two different times for it (one serves more breakfast-y type things, while the other serves more lunch type things), by making some of these dishes, I'll get a better sense as to what time I should shoot for when I make the reservations for this trek (you can only make them 180 days in advance).

The breakfast consists two tins containing a variety of food.  One tin has a piece of crunch fig cake with almonds, savory slices of bresoala (dried beef) and prosciutto, buttery smoked salmon roll with jicama slaw and lime vinaigrette.  The other contains cubed brie and dried apricots, pineapple/honeydew/cantaloupe/watermelon balls in a ginger-mint dressing, and strawberry yogurt with granola and dried cherries.

The lunch has many of the same foods, but with a few substitutions.  In the top tin, it has bresoala and prosciutto, fruit balls with ginger-mint dressing, and curried chicken salad.  The bottom tin has the salmon roll, sun-dried tomato hummus, and some tandoori barbecued shrimp.

Both contain small pita breads and an edible orchid that supposedly tastes like a slightly sweet lettuce.  Can't wait to try that!

If you're interested in the trek as well and want to try out some of the things that are served on it, here are some recipes I found.  Not totally sure that everything is exactly the same, but I'm hoping it's close.  The only recipe that I'm 100% sure is the same is the curried chicken salad recipe.

Also note that there are alternatives available to you as well.  There are child-friendly alternatives, gluten free alternatives, and even vegan alternatives.  If you have any allergies, please tell them when you're making your reservation, and they'll ensure that you do not get the food(s) you are allergic to.

Breakfast


Jicama Slaw  (Note:  not sure if this is the same recipe as what is on the trek or not, but it's a Disney recipe, and is the only one I can find...)
Ingredients
4 apples
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 jicama, peeled
4 cups mixed greens, washed and spun
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup radish slices
salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz plain yogurt

Directions:

  1. Wash apple.  Cut in half and remove seeds.  Cut all halves into slices.  Place in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place apples on a grill on low heat to caramelize and impart some of the smoky flavor.  Chill grilled apples and set aside.
  3. Wash and peel the jicama.  Cut into slices, then julienne.  Place in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add the red onions, radish slices, and mixed greens.  Remove the apples from the refrigerator and cut into a large dice.  Place in bowl.
  5. Mix the yogurt into the salad.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix and serve.
Note:  The Disney recipe calls for spinach as an alternative to the mixed greens.  They also mix 2 oz of Port Wine into the yogurt before adding it into the salad.  As I serve this to my children, I don't use the port wine.  But I'll let you decide if you want to do that with yours or not.



Lunch

Curried Chicken Salad  (Note:  This is the actual Disney recipe!)
Ingredients
1 tsp coarse salt, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 ripe mango, diced
3/4 cup red grapes

Directions

  1. Fill a large, shallow pan with water. Bring to a boil and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add chicken. Simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Cut into 1/4-inch dice and refrigerate until cold. 
  2. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, onion, lime juice, curry powder, honey, ginger, pepper and remaining half-teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add chilled chicken and stir to combine. Fold in grapes and mango and serve immediately. 
Note: If making in advance, combine chicken with sauce and refrigerate. Fold in grapes and mango a half-hour before serving.  Serves 2.


Sun Dried Tomato Hummus  (Note:  This is not the actual Disney recipe--I can't find it.)
Ingredients
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes in oil
2 tsp parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until smooth and creamy.  If too thick, add 1 tbsp water until desired consistency.
  2. Serve immediately with hot pita bread, veggies, or pita chips.
Note:  This can be stored in an airtight container for a couple days.  It can be made up to two days in advance.

Tandoori Prawns  (Note:  This is not the actual Disney recipe--I can't find it)
Ingredients
20 large prawns - shelled with tail on and de-veined
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh ginger
1 tbsp garlic paste (Note:  you can easily make this yourself by mincing garlic and mixing it with a little salt)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp red chili powder

Directions
  1. Mix all the ingredients--except the shrimp--in a small bowl.  
  2. Add in the shrimp and stir gently to coat.
  3. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Heat a grill pan on high-heat until very hot (or get your grill on!), and grill these prawns until done--between two and three minutes.  They'll curl up when they're done.


Well, that's it for today, kids.  I hope you have a WONDERFUL week!

Friday, February 17, 2012

And So I Learned To Knit

Mock me if you want.  I really couldn't care less.  But yes, the title is true:  I learned to knit.  Recently.  As in, last Thursday night.

It's really not as hard as people make it out to be.  But then, I have worked with my hands for a very long time, and crafting things comes fairly easily to me.  Almost second nature.  I get it from BOTH of my parents.  They are very crafty people.

And they're really cool, too.

Some of the things I have made are the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, a 12" tall replica of the mannequin that stands in the window of the candy shop on Main Street USA (in the Magic Kingdom) complete with the candy wrapper Victorian-style dress, blankets, wooden laundry hampers, cakes, and the list goes on and on and on.

It truly is my parents' fault.  If they weren't so creative and crafty, I probably would be more like The Editor.  Very little creative bones in her body.

So, why did I learn to knit?  Quite simply:  because no one else would do what it was I was wanting.  Well, not without charging me an arm, a leg, and my first born.

You see, I've been a fan of Doctor Who for a very long time.  While my favorite Doctor is now David Tennant, for many, many years it was Tom Baker.  And Tom as known for his scarf.

A 16 foot long monstrosity of pure cool.

And I want one.

I have wanted one for a great many years.

But no one would make me one.

I mean, it's only sixteen feet long.  How hard could it possibly be?

So, after finally just giving up on it, I decided to learn.  I contacted a friend of mine from church, who put me in touch with another friend of mine (also from church), who put me in touch with, coincidentally, someone else from church (I didn't know her), and scheduled a time for me to run out to her house and learn how to knit.  In a matter of about twenty minutes, I was off and running.

Granted, I still don't know a whole lot about what I'm doing, but that's OK.  I now know how to cast on (via a terrific video I found on YouTube), as well as a "garter stitch" (still don't know what that means) via the lady from church.  There's also a "pearl stitch" but I have no idea what that means.  There's a few others, too, but holy crap.  All I want to know right now is how to do the Garter, because that's what you use for a Doctor Who scarf.

I've knitted a hat several times now.  I say "several times" because I have four children who like to see what Daddy's doing while Daddy isn't paying close attention.  I have had to start this thing over so many times that  Casting On is now not a big deal at all.

But I have absolutely no clue how to Cast Off.  So this should be a real trip.

Anyway, since I'm using a circular needle (basically, two needles that their ends are joined by this long thin plastic wire, and as I knit, it just keeps going around and around and around), and I've got to teach myself how to use two long regular needles so I can create a Doctor Who scarf.

On the upside of learning on this needle, apparently, this is the one that you use to make Harry Potter scarves.  And since I have four children, and there are four Houses, guess what they're going to get this Christmas?  They'll be PERFECT for when we go to the Harry Potter thing at Universal Studios in December.

Also--and I just recently found this out, too--it's not uncommon for a man to learn how to knit.  There are even Men's Knitting Groups here.  Kinda creepy, I also thought at first, but they are really nice guys.  Most are married, and they all seemed to get into it for the same reasons I did:  we wanted something and no one would do it for us.  So, we learned and started doing it ourselves.

It's also a great way to keep your hands doing something.  I fidget A LOT, so this gives me something productive to do while I'm sitting there, staring at the television after my children have gone to bed.  Yes, I do have to pay attention to what I'm doing (I'm not that good yet), but most of the shows that I watch, I usually just listen to anyway. 

Except for Doctor Who.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Weasel. Juanita Weasel.

As you may already know, I am a HUGE fan of The Bloggess.  Her latest exploit is that she's bought this taxidermy'd weasel she's named Juanita Weasel.  She's taken some incredible photos of this weasel, and she's now asking for people to caption them.

These are my captions.  Yes, they are movie quotes (I can actually have a full conversation using nothing but movie quotes.  Sue me.), and they are the first things that came to my mind as I gazed on this lovely weasel picture.  True, my favorite caption out there isn't one that I came up with--it was Jenny's.  She captioned it "KHAAAAAAAANNNN!" for the one, the only, Wil Wheaton.  But I digress.  Back to the point.

Here are my captions:
(Juanita channeling Woody)
(Juanita doing her best Buzz Lightyear impression)

(Juanita as Young Frankenstein's Frau Blűcher)

(and in keeping with Young Frankenstein, Juanita as Doctor Frankenstein)
(Anyone remember Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?)

(Juanita makes an EXCELLENT Peter Vincent, IMO. )

(How could I *not* throw a Firefly reference in here?)
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed these captions.  I know I enjoyed creating them.  And yes, I did create some Star Wars references, but that would be pandering...

Have a great evening!

Leggo My LEGO!

The other day, I told you about something that I did special with my daughter.  She's not the only one who gets my undivided attention...

I don't know about you, but I love LEGOs.  I truly do.  They are one of the few toys from my childhood--aside from my Star Wars toys--that I still get a HUGE kick out of.  

And I'm passing this love on to my children, the Cub Reporters.  

A couple years ago, LEGO opened a store here in one of the malls.  It's become a favorite hang-out for the Cubs and me.  We could spend HOURS in there (running back and forth from there to the Williams-Sonoma store to grab a quick sample bite of whatever they have cooking), just looking and playing with the LEGOs they have in the large bins and playing with the designer computer and building the mini figs to get "just the right three" for our hard-earned $10.

But that's not all!

The first Tuesday of every month is LEGO Build Day.  For the first 250 (roughly) children in line, they get to build and take home a small LEGO set.  Each month it's something different.  Each month, it's an exclusive for that day only.  Unless, of course, they have a few sets left over--but I've never seen that happen.

So, the first Tuesday of every month, my schedule is to take off from work at 2:30pm, rush to the north side of the City to pick up my two oldest Cubs at 3:10 (when their school lets out), then drive like a mad-man to get to the mall so we can stake our place in line.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

For about an hour and forty-five minutes.

Do you know what it's like for two ADHD-addled children to have to wait in a line in a mall for an hour and forty-five minutes?  DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE THEIR PARENT?  That's OK.  They're medicated.  It's still difficult for them, but it's still worth it in the end.

This month, the exclusive set was a hockey player.  It was really cool--and it was rather difficult to make  It took the Cubs about twenty minutes to put together.  Why?  They're not mini-figs.  Nope.  These suckers are made of about fifty tiny LEGOs.  

And they are AWESOME.

January's was rather lame, in most people's opinions.  It was a small cobra, made of about ten pieces.  It was supposed to be a tie-in to the new Ninjago series that they have (Ninjago are basically Ninja mini-figs that you put little swords in their hands, snap them into a disk, and then spin at each other to see who flies off their disk first.  There are good guys and bad guys.  They hold my sons' attentions.)

Next month is a garden snake coming out of the ground, with some flowers and grass on top.  It's pretty cool, because it reminds me of Natural History museums displays of snakes in the ground or ant farms--you see the brown dirt, and it has a tunnel on the side.  The red snake snaps into two little holders that are buried in the back side of that tunnel.  The boys are EXCITED about this, let me assure you.

The LEGO store also has--twice a month--a LEGO Club meeting.  Both meetings a month are the exact same things, so you can go to either one you want, provided you pay to go.  I think they're $20, but they come with several things.  Each child gets a shirt, and they get to make a pretty cool exclusive model.  In March, it's Star Wars, which the Cubs are VERY excited about (yes, I'm bringing them up right!  See?!?!?  They're little geeks like me!), and the shirt is AWESOME.  It has a LEGO X-Wing on it.  While I have no idea what the model will be, it is Droid themed.  So, I'm hoping for an Astromech (R2-D2 was an Astromech) type droid.  But it doesn't really matter to me.  Droids are cool no matter what kind they are.

Also, in case you're wondering, they do birthday parties!  w00t!  My 9yo wants to have his 11th birthday party (yes, we plan YEARS in advance if we can!  This year it's M&Ms.) as a LEGO party.  I bought the stuff this past Tuesday, because it was on clearance for $20.  Each box contained 10 invites, 10 thank you notes, 10 birthday-exclusive mini-figs, 10 badges, a magnet, and a pop-up centerpiece.  My 3yo loves it, and now wants to have one for his 5th birthday (this year is Spider-Man).  

And, if you can get to a LEGO store during the second half of the month of March, you'll be able to help build the Death Star Trench Run scene out of LEGOs.  

We!  Cannot!!  Wait!!!
There was an error in this gadget