Monday, March 30, 2009

Views from Paradise

Which way to the beach?

Yesterday was windy, so we rode our bikes with the wind down the beach . . .

. . . and then we rode through the trees on the way back.

This is my favorite shot of the day. Not only do I love palm trees, I also love the blue sky behind them.

When B asked Abby last night what she'd like to do today she simply said, "This."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bye Bye!

We're headed to our favorite place tomorrow.

Where they have alligators . . .

And funny little beach birds . . .

And the most gorgeous beach I've ever seen.

I may check in from time to time and post a picture or two. But don't have too much fun without me!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amy Called Me a Geek

I spent the morning yesterday at Amy's house hosting a private Travel Tuesday just for her. She's trying to plan a fabulous--and I mean FABULOUS--family vacation for her crew next summer and, can you believe it?!, she's never been on Trip Advisor.


So I went down there to give her a private tutorial on navigating the wonders of travel websites and their forums.

Plus I brought cherry danishes from the little bakery in our neighboring town, and Amy makes the best coffee in a French press, so that was a definite benefit.

So we got to talking about my blog (wow--it looks so BIG and so GREEN on Amy's new Mac!) and about all that stuff I seem to be into these days. Amy's not so much into it, but she's a friend and she listens to me babble on about it.

This morning she sent me this post in an email that said, "Hey, you're not alone!"

Curiosity fully piqued, I clicked on the link to find an article from BBC News titled "The Rising Power of Geek Mums." (It was BBC News, remember?)

Well, the article was interesting. Something about some major techno conference that was recently held in Austin. I had read a little about it on Robin's blog, but didn't really think that much about the conference--just not my thing, I guess.

The article interviewed a couple of bloggers who attended the conference who talked about how great this blogging world is and about how many wonderful new friends they have made through it all. They talked about how their motivation to start blogging was basically to counter the boredom and loneliness the felt as mothers.


Now my curiosity was really piqued.

Sure, I've met a few people through the blog. A couple I'd call "friends" . . . sort of. But that wasn't my motivation for starting in this.

Nor was boredom. Or loneliness.

My life was pretty full before I started blogging.

I guess for me, blogging filled a void. It gave me a creative outlet that I find very relaxing.

The end of the article gave a couple of quotes from a woman that, I have to say, shocked me somewhat. You can read the article yourself, but here's a bit of what she had to say.

"She [the woman being interviewed] said that stuck at home with the children is something that many mothers had found led to feelings of loneliness - but that they were now able to find support and friendship online."

Stuck? At home? Gee, when my kids were little I felt like I was hardly ever home.

And, referring to another blogger:

"She added that she felt being a mother is a 'thankless, horrible, awful job that nobody should actually have to do for free - but we do. So blogging is our outlet.'"

Thankless? Maybe. Horrible? Some days. Awful? Never.

This is the final paragraph of the article, and it leaves a bit of a bad impression. You'd think someone was holding a gun to the heads of these women and making them stay home with their children. Wasn't it their choice?

I felt sad as I finished reading this article. Sad that there are mothers of young children out there who wholeheartedly resent where they're at in life. Sad that they feel trapped. Sad that they hate their role so much that they think it's a "thankless, horrible, awful job that nobody should actually have to do for free."

Now, believe me, I had my days when I felt like that when my girls were small. The days seemed to drag, and I had my moments when I thought I was trapped too.

I've stepped back from those labor-intensive days a bit--my girls are older now. And now that I can see the young women they are becoming, I can say that those tough days were worth it.

Rather than being a worthless job, I'd say it's priceless.

How about you? What are your thoughts about the article?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Oh, To Stay in the Comfort Zone

I love my husband for many reasons, but the reason I’m thinking about right now is that he never lets me get away with anything. See, for weeks I’ve been pestering him about this little conference I’d like to attend next summer. It’s called “She Speaks” and it’s hosted by Proverbs 31 ministries—you know, the “small” ministry that’s run by my “friend,” Lysa.

Well, my dear husband, B, when approached by me about said conference said, “Sure, honey, I’ll send you to ‘She Speaks’ but you have to do something for me first.” (No, it’s not what you’re thinking!)

B threw down a challenge. He said that if I really wanted to attend this conference I’d have to work for it by submitting some of my writing. Ten queries was his “fee.”

Now, if you’re a writer, ten queries may not seem like that much work to you, but to me, who had never in my life submitted an article, ten queries is kind of like climbing a mountain. I’m trying, but I’m not sure I’m going to make it. Air and water are desperately lacking.

So last week, Lysa announced what I thought was going to be my saving grace. She announced a contest—one lucky person would win a full scholarship to “She Speaks” this summer. All we have to do is write a blog post about it.

Surely, if I won the scholarship, B wouldn’t make me finish my quest for the queries, would he?


Like I said, he never lets me get away with anything.

Nope, the gauntlet had been thrown and there was no taking it back. Even if I win the scholarship, I can’t go unless those 10 queries get written.

Well, the story continues, because I’m not giving up. I’m as stubborn as B, and I want to go to this conference . . . BAD . . . so I’m not only going to write those ten queries, I’m also going to win a scholarship. Maybe.

But then I got to thinking about this scholarship contest thing. And I realized something. There are so many more reasons for Lysa to NOT give me the scholarship than for her TO give me the scholarship. And here they are: nine reasons Lysa should not give me the “She Speaks” scholarship and one reason she should.

1. Even though I’ve taught writing for years, and even though I’ve encouraged my students to submit their work for publication, I’ve never submitted anything for publication. So, technically, I’m not really a writer.

2. I have no confidence in my abilities. Zero. So I obviously should not attend a conference which requires people to actually think they might have some iota of ability.

3. I’m terrified of failure. And rejection. Conferences like “She Speaks” are for people who can get in there and try, maybe fall down, but then get back up again. People like me cannot benefit in any way from putting themselves in a situation where they might not regain consciousness if they tripped and landed on their kiester.

4. I’m terrible at small talk. Give me a big topic like politics or ecclesiology and I’m fine. But make me talk to a group of women about shoes and purses, and I’m headed for trouble. These things tax me beyond belief.

5. I’m not much for crowds. Put me in a room full of strangers and my heart starts racing, my hands start to sweat, and my eyes glaze over. I can’t seem to figure out how to maneuver a crowd—do I stand next to the wall or do I walk straight toward the middle? Do I pick out one person to talk to or do I just join a group and act like I belong there? It’s stressful, I tell you!

6. The blog. Oh my. Just look around you—my blog needs serious help! I definitely don’t deserve to win any kind of scholarship based on this very busy, pink-and-green-ness you see in front of you. I obviously have a lot to learn on my own before I attend a conference like this.

7. And speaking of the blog. Do you have to have actual readers to get into this conference? Because I used to have five, I may now have six, but I still don’t have many. Maybe that’s because I’m not great at networking—another fine reason to not let me come to your conference.

8. Speaking of speaking . . . (was I?) I spoke to a group of 300 or so women at my church a couple of months ago. It was fun. I really enjoyed it. I think I did a pretty good job, too, but since then nobody’s been banging on my door to get me to do it again. Maybe I wasn’t very good at sharing my story. Maybe I don’t know how to get anyone to ask me to speak again. Maybe I’m a psychotic mess who should just stay home on the couch and eat mint M&Ms.

9. And then there’s the clothing situation. Apparently women who attend this conference have actual jobs because you have to dress “business casual,” whatever that means. If the conference planners could see me now, they would never even let me near their door: old running shoes, black sweat pants, gray Old Navy 4th of July t-shirt from 2003, and a white hoodie bearing the name of my daughter’s high school mascot. Classy, huh?

So, you see, there is no reason I should win the scholarship to “She Speaks.”

But one.

I’m feeling called. No, not to the conference necessarily, but to sharing what God’s done in my life. My story isn’t earth-shattering. God didn’t pick me up out of life of sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll. But it’s my story, and for some reason I feel God calling me to share it.

Now, lots of people are called to share. Some obey; others don’t. I haven’t done such a good job in the obedience department so far, and that’s why I need to be there.

Recently God has been talking to me about pride. If you look at the list of nine reasons I shouldn’t go to the conference, each one of them in some way is tied to pride. I have for too long been worried about what others think of me rather than of what God thinks of me. I have let my own impression of myself get in the way of doing something that I think God wants me to do.

But that time is past, and I’m moving on. Getting over myself. Trying, bit by bit, to live in obedience.

This blog is a first step, literally. A stepping out of my comfort zone and sharing just a little of my heart. But there’s more. The ten queries will help. And so will saying “yes” to other opportunities to share as they come my way.

Who knows? God may shut the doors for me because of my disobedience—that happens, you know. But I’m praying that doors will open, and that I’ll be rid of myself so that He can use me.

In the meantime, I’ve got some shopping to do.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Don't Even Do This for a Living

I think I'm probably just the sorriest excuse for a literature major that there ever was. Just ask my college roommate, Jen, who was a history/pre-med major, who studied ALL the time, and who used to chide me for not finishing all the books I was assigned.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my major. Loved it so much that when I was finished with my first four years, I went back for two more years of self-imposed torture. I love books, and I love reading them.

These days I actually finish them.

(Just a side chuckle here. When I told me ever-practical father that I had finally decided--after two previous majors--that literature was the one for me, he nearly blew a gasket. To this day we laugh about his reaction to the blessed news: "So, what are you going to do, read BOOKS for a living?!" Without missing a beat I said, "Yeah, Dad, if I have to.")

Often, when people find out that I majored in literature, or that I taught writing for a while, or that I like to read, they will ask me if I've read this or that book. Usually I just smile and shake my head and say, "No, I don't think I've read that."

Because chances are, I haven't.

Unless, of course, the book happens to fall in the chick lit genre of Sophie Kinsella or any one of the Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. Since having kids I haven't stretched myself all that much in the hard core literature area.

One book in particular, though, has continued to pop up in conversation over the past few years. How often I have felt like a complete dolt for not having read this book? How many times have people said, "I can't believe YOU haven't read that! You have to read it."

It's not that I hadn't tried to read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I had tried. I really had.

When the book first came out in 2001, I started to read it, but had to put it down for two reasons.

First, it's beautifully written, and when a book is beautifully written like this one is I have to take my time to savor each and every sentence--sometimes several times. The beauty of the language captivates me, truly, so it's laborious for me to read a book like that. A time-sucker, if you will.

At that point in my life I had three very small children--time was being sucked from me in many other ways.

And the second reason is because about 50 or 60 pages into the book something really terrible happens. Something so tragic that you just wonder how on earth this family is going to rise above the challenges it now faces. Honestly, my heart couldn't take it. The sadness of it all, the desperation, just got to me, and I stopped reading the book.

Leif, I'm so sorry.

But this week, before I got the flu, I started reading it again. This time I was determined to finish it. And then God made it possible for me to have plenty of time on my hands to read it.

I have to be honest, the first 50-60 pages dragged for me, just like the first time I read it. Then I got to the terrible spot again, and I wondered if I could continue. My heart was starting to ache again.

But I pushed on, determined to figure out why so many people I know count this among their very favorite books of all time.

Yesterday, amid basketball games and family goings on, I read Peace Like a River. I read and I read and I read. Until I finally put the book down, like a victorious conqueror, at midnight. With tears running down my face. As a changed person because of this book.

You just have to read it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Frankly, I'd Rather Be Eating

One of my favorite commercials on T.V. right now shows a mom in a doctor's office, flipping through her planner. She keeps flipping pages, looking for a date to fit something in. Finally, in desperation, she shrugs her shoulders and says, "Nope. Nope. I just don't have time for the flu."

That's how I feel right now.

I had my week all planned out. I had stuff to do. People to see. Places to go.

But the flu had other plans for me.

So, instead of enjoying some of the most beautiful weather we've had in a LONG time, I've been enjoying the softness of my sheets and barely even noticing the sunshine. Sort of.

In my flu-induced fog, I've had a lot of time to flip channels and surf the internet. And over the past couple of days I've learned some interesting stuff that I thought I'd pass along to you. I mean, just in case you weren't in bed all week flipping and surfing.

1. "Outrage" is the word of the day. Democrats are outraged. Republicans are outraged. The president is outraged. Americans everywhere are outraged. Geesh, you'd think we were a country of complainers or something.

2. Bankers are still being demonized all over the place. How has an honorable profession been suddenly turned into something nearly as evil as prostitution? It boggles the mind.

3. We live in a world of anachronisms. MRI. AIG. NCAA. TARP (does anyone besides my husband know what that stands for?). Good grief!

4. I really want to see Julia Roberts new movie, "Duplicity." I saw a preview for it a few weeks ago when I saw another movie (which I can't even remember now), and I thought it looked good.

5. One movie I do NOT want to see is "The Haunting in Connecticut." At the same movie I can't remember where I saw the "Duplicity" preview, they showed a preview for this, and I couldn't even take it. I almost had to leave--it was SO scary! Who needs that? Not me, that's for sure. I'd rather stick pins in my eyeballs.

6. I'm not good at returning phone calls. And I'm especially bad at it when I'm sick. I need to work on that.

7. The Osbournes are back. Be afraid, people. Be very afraid.

8. One of my bloggy friends, Michelle, just got home from a wonderful trip to Sedona. I enjoyed looking at her pictures and thought you might too.

9. I spent a good portion of my time digging up potential scholarship money . . . just planning a year ahead here. The very best (in the humorous sense) scholarship I found was one that's giving $500 to TALL people! Now, my Kate is 6' 1", and she's never found it to be a great advantage (other than, of course, it's better than being short). But finally, it seems that being tall could finally pay off. Woot woot!

10. The nemesis of my older two children and the happy place of most parents I know is an internet invention called "Edline." Basically, it's a website where teachers update students' grades and parents can check--daily if they're like that--to see how their student is doing. While Edline can be a great thing, it can also be a nasty thing from which I need to pull myself away occasionally. Enough said.

So, there you go. Just a smattering of random things I've learned while lying in bed this week.

Frankly, I'm tired of all this learning. I'm ready to get out of bed and start living again. Hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life, Interrupted

Anybody getting sick of looking at ham and cheese loaf yet? I know I am!

Just in case anybody's wondering where I've been these past couple of days, the answer would be "in bed." While minding my own business yesterday morning I started feeling a little sickish. Nothing too terrible, but something that could have hampered a lunch with a friend that I had been looking forward to.

Thankfully, I made it through lunch (I absolutely love being with this friend and come away encouraged every time I'm with her, so I was desperate to make it through). Barely.

I came home, did a couple more things around the house and headed straight to bed. B called in the middle of the afternoon, heard the weakness and sorrow in my voice, and came home early to help with the after-school stuff. Bless him.

I think I slept from about 2:00 yesterday afternoon until this morning. With a few interruptions.

Not that I want to ruin your morning coffee or anything, but let's just say I lost 5 pounds in the past 24 hours. Yep, it's been bad.

And you want to know the worst part of all? It's going to be 70 today. The nicest day we've had around here in 6 months! I had such big plans for the day. I was going to clean my screen porch, get all the furniture out, and actually enjoy sitting out there.

Now, if I'm lucky, I might drag a chair out there and sit for a few minutes before heading back to bed.

Which is where I'm going now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Oldie, but a Goodie

When B and I were newlyweds, some . . . oh . . . 24 years ago, I used to scour magazines looking for something new to make for dinner. Very few of those magazine recipes ever made it into my repitoire. Because, you know, I just don't keep a jar of roasted red peppers on my pantry shelf.

Or capers. Who really cooks with capers? Yuck.

But one recipe I found (I still remember that I found it in Better Homes and Gardens in an advertisement for dijon mustard of all things!) has become a family favorite. You know how, when you just can't think of what to make for dinner and you ask your family, they say all the things that you don't feel like making? Every time I ask my family, "What do you want to eat next week?" they all say, "Ham and Cheese loaf!"

(Oh, except for Abby who is my Contrary Mary who asks for spaghetti.)

So last week, when I asked Maggie all those questions about me, she thought my favorite food was Ham and Cheese loaf for a very good reason--I make it a lot. Because I love my family and I want to feed them nutritious foods that they just love every night of the week. I'm nice that way.

It's not that I don't like making this dish--I just have to be in the right mood to deal with the mixer and the yeast and all that. It's not hard to make. Just takes the right frame of mind. And a couple glasses of wine, maybe. I'm just sayin'. . .

So, for my sister, Jodi, who mocked my Ham and Cheese loaf in her comment last week, here is the recipe.

(I promise, this isn't turning into a recipe blog. I just happened to make a couple of things I wanted to share. I'll keep the blog as random as it always is--just to keep you on your toes.)

Ham and Cheese Loaf (a.k.a. "Dijon Ham and Swiss" by the makers of dijon mustard who gave me the recipe)

4 Cups flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages rapid rise yeast
1 Cup water
1/4 Cup dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 Cups chopped cooked ham
1 Cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 egg, beaten

Set aside 1 C. four. Mix remaining flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Heat water, mustard and margarine to 125 to 130 degrees; stir into flour mixture. Mix in enough reserved flour to make a soft dough. Knead 4 minutes.

On a greased baking sheet, roll dough to a 14" x 12" rectangle.

[Note: I used coarse grain mustard last night because it's what I had. It was yummy! But that's why it looks grainy.]

Sprinkle ham and cheese down the center 1/3 of dough.

Make cuts from filling to dough edges a 1" intervals along sides of filling. Bring strips from opposite sides of filling together. Twist and place ends at an angle across filling.

Cover with towel and let rise by placing pan on top of a large, shallow pan half filled with boiling water. Let rise 15 minutes.

Brush with egg wash and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

Isn't she beautiful??

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just give me a minute to complain . . .

Last night. 8 p.m. 60 degrees.

This morning. 6 a.m. 17 degrees.

I feel like I'm living in Narnia under the rule of the White Witch where it was said to be "Always winter, never Christmas" except this time it's "Always winter, never spring."


[Addendum to this post: This afternoon I decided to fight those winter blues by taking Thunder the Wonder Dog for a nice long walk. Even though it was cold, it was still sunny, so I thought, 'Why not?' As we were coming back home, there in my front yard was the most amazing sight: A ROBIN!!! Where is the camera when you need it?!]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Travel Tuesday - Buttercup Cake Shop

The day that Kate and I were to leave London was it. THE DAY. We had been looking forward to this day for our entire six-day stay in London.

We had walked past it . . . several times. We had waited. We had anticipated.

But the timing was never right.

Finally, we knew we had to do it. We were out of time.

And so, on that last day in London, just before checking out of our hotel, we stepped into the Buttercup Cake Shop. It was the shop of our dreams, literally, because we had been dreaming about it long before we left the States. We had found this shop online and, to our great delight, it was not far from our hotel--in the very neighborhood we were staying! What luck!

Isn't it just the cutest little shop you've ever seen?

We took a picture of the package because we just knew we'd never see anything that adorable back home.

After about 10 minutes time, all four of our cupcakes were gone. Devoured. But delighted over completely.

If you're ever in Kensington, you absolutely must stop by the Buttercup Cake Shop. You won't regret it.

They have a website, but I doubt they'd deliver to Chicago. Not that I've asked or anything.

And here's a fun travel story to go with our ultimate cupcake experience. The young man who waited on us in the shop had an American accent, so we asked him where he was from. He said Chicago--turns out he was a Northwestern student working in London on a six month student work visa.

So that was fun.

But sitting in the corner of the shop was a young couple who overheard our conversation--the only other people in the store. They started laughing when they heard that we were all from Chicago because they were from Chicago too! Oak Park, I think they said.

So for one small moment in one small cupcake shop in one small neighborhood of London, five people from Chicago came together.

It was surreal.

And sweet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blame it on Daylight Savings Time

I woke up this morning feeling guilty because what actually woke me up was the sound of the back screen door slamming. Which meant that Kate and Abby were on their way to school.

Normally I get up about 30 minutes before they leave so I can at least touch base with them, find out how they're doing and what's going on for them that day, but this morning, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I was disoriented. It was dark. And cold. And I was still fighting whatever bug is going around our house.

So, as I heard the car start and listened to the girls head out, I did what I often do before getting up. I prayed.

I started through my laundry list of things to pray for . . . my kids, my husband, the day ahead. And then I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I thought about our crumbling economy and the problems facing our nation that seem just too big to even be imagined.

And just as suddenly this thought came to me. Rather than praying for our financial situaion, and for things to be "alright" in our world, what if I prayed "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done"? What if everyone started praying that prayer?

So that's how I started my day today and the funny thing is, I kept thinking about it throughout my busy morning. It helped me realize that I can't control my finances, I can't ultimately control my children, I can't control my circumstances. I can, however, change my perspective.

So I'm wondering, how would it change our perspective if we just prayed that simple prayer each day? "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done."

What if we all believed that that was enough?

Just thought I'd share . . .

Friday, March 6, 2009

When boredom gets the best of me

Oh, alright, since Maggie and I were stuck at home last night watching the most exciting basketball game in my alma mater's history on T.V., I decided to do another "meme" with her. I saw this last week on Michelle's blog and thought it was so cute. Of course, her daughters are quite a bit younger than my youngest, but I thought it would be interesting to try it with older kids.

So anyway, here's the deal with this one. I asked the questions; Maggie gave the answers. Hope you enjoy it.

1. What is something mom always says to you?
M: Wash your hands.

2. What makes mom happy?
M: Food

3. What makes mom sad?
M: Politics

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
M: When she acts funny.

5. What did your mom like to do when she was a child?
M: Read.

6. How old is your mom?
M: 45

7. How tall is your mom?
M: 5'9" (she's right!)

8. What is her favorite thing to watch on TV?
M: The news??

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
M: Laundry

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
M: Writing a book.

11. What is your mom really good at?
M: Cooking

12. What is your mom not very good at?
M: I don't know. (She's always been my favorite child.)

13. What does your mom do for her job?
M: She's a stay-at-home mom.

14. What is your mom’s favorite food?
M: Ham and cheese loaf.

15. What makes you proud of your mom?
M: How she wants to teach me about the Bible.

16. If your mom were a television character, who would she be?
M: Kate Gosselin

17. What do you and your mom do together?
M: We read.

18. How are you and your mom the same?
M: We like to read.

19. How are you and your mom different?
M: I don't get riled up about politics.

20. What does your mom like most about your dad?
M: That he's a Christian.

21. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
M: Home.

One Word

Happy Friday night. While most of my family is attending the most exciting basketball game in my alma mater's history, I'm sitting at home with a sick little girl. Not that I'm sad about that or anything.

So, in honor of boredom, I thought I'd just try this little "meme" that I've seen around the blogosphere and on Facebook. You're supposed to use only one word for each. One word? That's nearly impossible for me, but I'll give it a whirl.

Where is your cell phone? purse

your hair? cute

your father? great

your mother? friendly

Your favorite thing? family

your dream last night? none

your favorite drink? Coke

your dream/goal? published

the room you are in? family

your fear? failure

where do you want to be in 6 years? here

muffins? fattening

one of your wish list items? backsplash

where you grew up? farm

the last thing you did? dinner

what are you wearing? sweats

your tv? flat

your computer? appreciated

your life? Wonderful

your mood? tired

missing someone? Sarah

your car? minivan

favorite store? Nordstrom

your summer? bliss

your favorite color? red

when is the last time you laughed? today

last time you cried? noclue

someone who emails me? Mom

a favorite food? pizza

place I would rather be right now? Kiawah

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ah, the comfort of Oatmeal Cake

Whenever my friend, Amy, gets together with her mom and sisters their "girl talk" centers around laundry. Can you believe that? Laundry!

(I try hard to not think about laundry for six days out of the week. On one day of the week I actually have to clean some clothes, but I sure wish I didn't.)

Amy swears that she and her home gals love the laundry talk. The latest in stain fighting techniques makes them giddy. I cannot tell you how many times I've spilled on myself in front of Amy and she's offered to clean my shirt.

Know what they don't talk about when they get together? Food. Can you believe that?!

Now, this is a completely foreign concept for me because for as long as I can remember (and this goes back to growing up on the farm), my mom, sisters, and I have talked food. Every time we get together we talk about what new recipes we've tried lately. We talk about our favorite Food Network shows (Paula Deen, of course!). We even help each other plan menus for parties.

We are a family of food lovers.

Probably about once a week someone in my family will send a group email asking for a recipe, a menu idea, or a "what's-for-dinner?".

So last week when Jenn asked for the recipe for Mom's Oatmeal Cake, we all chimed in with an "ooooh, that sounds so good!" Mom's Oatmeal Cake is a very old fashioned recipe for rich, dense, chocolate cake with white frosting. It's my dad's favorite cake.

Suddenly, a plan was concocted and kitchens from Chicago to Dallas to Tucson started firing up their ovens. All four of us made Oatmeal Cake last weekend, and I have almost all the pictures to prove it. (Somehow Jenn's pictures didn't make it. Sorry.)

Jodi and I used regular oats for ours, and we both thought it was a little dry around the edges. I don't know what Jenn used, but she thought her cake was dry too. Mom used instant oatmeal, and hers, of course, was perfect.

So now, here are some pictures of the Great Oatmeal Cakeathon of 2009.

Mom's beautiful cake:

Jodi's artistic endeavor (with her husband Matt in the picture--isn't he cute?!)

And my sad contribution:
(and don't even start with me about how my photos are bigger than theirs. I don't know how that happens!)

Should you have a craving for some good, old fashioned comfort food, you should try this recipe. And don't forget to trace some diamonds in the frosting on the top of your cake.

Oatmeal Cake
1 C. oatmeal
1 1/2 C. boiling water
1/2 C. shortening
1 1/2 C. white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 C. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. cocoa

Combine oatmeal and boiling water in a small bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Cream together shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add oatmeal mixture.

Sift together flour, soda, salt, and cocoa. Add to creamed mixture.

Put in a greased 9 x 13" pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

White Frosting
1/4 C. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
1/2 pound powdered sugar
about 1/4 C. milk

Note: I doubled the frosting recipe because, well, I like a lot of frosting!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why I may actually be forced to read one of my high school novels again.

True confessions time . . . I am not as culturally savvy as I should be. There are lots of some books I should have read that I haven't read. There are other books I've read that I wish I hadn't read.

I have a Master's degree in English, and I confess that I'm not a Tolkien fan.

There, I said it. It's out in the open now. If this makes me culturally illiterate, and I'm sure it does, you can stop reading my blog now. Click the "X" in the corner and never return.

But I feel much better. Like a load has been lifted from my shoulders.

I remember reading "The Hobbit" as a freshman in high school. I'm sure this is where my dislike of Tolkien began because, as I think about it now, I don't think I've attempted to read another of his books.

"The Hobbit" put me to sleep. I couldn't keep the characters straight. I didn't understand this make-believe world of the Hobbits. And what kind of a name is Bilbo anyhow?

Reading "The Hobbit" was sheer torture to me.

So when Maggie's fifth grade reading class read that same book a few weeks ago I was really worried. How could a fifth grader understand that book if I didn't get it as a freshman? And, worse, what if she needed help with her homework?

I talked to B about it, and he confessed that he, too, wasn't much of a Tolkien fan for the very same reason I wasn't. He had read "The Hobbit" somewhere down the educational line and didn't much like it either. Needless to say, we haven't seen "The Lord of the Rings" much less read it.

One night over dinner we got to talking about how Maggie was beginning the great Hobbit adventure, and Kate and Abby both confessed that they hadn't liked the book either. Yes, we're a family of Hobbit-haters!

But Maggie started reading the book every night, along with a tape we got from the library. She has an excellent reading teacher who explained the setting and the characters and even the subtle moral lessons along the way. A couple of weeks later, at dinner again, Maggie sheepishly confessed that she was actually sort-of-kind-of enjoying "The Hobbit."

(We haven't yet decided whether or not to kick her out of the family.)

This week she showed me her final project from her class's study of "The Hobbit." To say I was impressed is an understatement. She had filled a legal-sized page with all of the trials and confrontations Bilbo had encountered on his journey. Next to each trial was the lesson that Bilbo learned from it.

At the top of the chart was a large circle in which each student was to write the "most precious insight" that Bilbo learned through the book. Maggie wrote this: "Adventures (big or small) are important because you learn things."

I love that!

Have you read the quote at the top of my blog? Have you noticed my subtitle?

I wonder if, in some small way, Bilbo Baggins crept into my subconscience all those years ago and instilled in me some sense of adventure.

I wonder if I might actually be a Hobbit-lover after all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

College Choices

B and I are in the throes of choosing a college.

Just kidding! Kate is in the throes of choosing a college--even a college to which she just might send an application. It's a big, confusing maze.

So we did what every good set of helicopter parents would do, we bought college guides. One is called "The Insiders Guide to the Colleges" and the other is the "Fiske Guide to Colleges." Both are the 2009 editions.

Fiske is a little more technical, giving lots of statistics and information that parents probably want to know about the schools, like HOW MUCH THIS IS ACTUALLY GOING TO COST ME.

But "The Insider's Guide" was a hoot. I highly recommend this book if you have a high schooler. You'll get the "inside scoop" from real students, and whoo doggy, some of it is truly insider info. More than we parents would like to know, believe me.

Anyway, we read the entry for our alma mater (dubbed one of the places "Most Likely to Find Your Spouse"), and we found the information surprisingly accurate.

So we headed to some of the schools our daughter is checking out these days and found some very interesting information.

School Number 1, although academically rigorous, is also rigorous in other activities as well. The social scene is dominated by Greek life, and weeknights, as well as weekends, are often spent bar-hopping. But, the book also reassures us that, "Yet, despite the apparent prominence of alcohol and Greek life on campus, students insisted that those who prefer not to participate in either activity could still manage to find their own ways to have fun." Ah, sure.

Let's move on to School Number 2. This school is located in the South. We've all been kind of pulling for this one because, frankly, we'd all like to move. I mean, if Kate goes to school somewhere warm we'd all feel like we should come along. Just call us the Clampetts.

So the write-up on School Number 2 starts out great. It talks about how academically challenging the school is. In fact, many students "lament that if they had gone elsewhere they would have had higher GPAs." The student-teacher ratio is low, another plus.

The campus itself sounds like a paradise with beautiful gardens, lush meadows, and even a lake in the middle of campus. I can't wait to see it--we have a visit scheduled in a few weeks.

And then "The Insider's Guide" goes on to say this about School Number 2: "Students generally agree that random hook-ups are significantly more common than official dates . . . but despite all this arbitrary 'messing around,' students report that STDs are not rampant." Well now, that's a relief.

School Number 3? Well, apparently School Number 3 is too small (or too far out in the boondocks) to even make it into these books because there was no write-up in either book on School Number 3. Hmmmm.

School Number 4, then. Well, School number 4 happens to be, as we've been told, Kate's "backup" school. Did you even have a "backup" school when you were applying to college? I know I didn't. I was just happy to get accepted somewhere . . . anywhere. (Funny thing was that after I got accepted to my School Number 1, I changed my mind and started the search all over again. That's how I ended up at my alma mater.)

Now, I know that there is no perfect school, and college is what you make of it. Heck, I've been around college students for years--I should know that better than most parents. But now the professor hat comes off and the parent hat goes on, and some of this stuff is a little unsettling.

My daughter, bless her heart, has a great head on her shoulders. She is an amazing kid who makes me proud every single day. I have no worries about her--it's just everyone else out there I worry about. Will they be good to her? Will they see her as the wonderful, beautiful girl I know she is? I could drive myself crazy with the questions.

And so, the list continues to grow. Tonight Kate started reading up on a couple more possibilities. We may have to make a few cross-country trips to figure out if any of these schools are even application-worthy.

But first we'll check the books . . . if my heart can take it.