Monday, August 31, 2015

That's Gonna Leave a Mark

My husband is the youngest of three boys in his family. He grew up in a house full of boxing gloves (the real kind), hiking boots and soldering irons. They built club houses and went duck hunting. It was all testosterone, all the time. I grew up with two sisters and a brother. Our family was more about building forts inside than outside. You can thank the blazing heat of Oklahoma for that. During the Indian Summers, the only thing that would draw us outside was the lure of banana popsicles from the neighborhood ice cream truck. So I think it's fair to say I was a bit unprepared for how boys find ways to stave off boredom. More than once, my husband would say, "Don't worry about it. Let them play. That's just how boys are."

Boys seem to have a crazy, wonderful way of adding peril to everything they do. I remember one day in Austin, looking out the back window while I was washing dishes. My oldest boys were about 12 and 9 years old at the time. Reagan was standing at complete attention while Ian was about 30 feet away. They were laughing hysterically at each other. (Word to the wise here- when boys are laughing this way at one another, ALWAYS check it out. This kind of hilarity invariably ends with a visit to the Emergency Room.) As I was drying my hands, I saw Ian wind up and pitch something straight at Reagan's body. It whizzed right past his ear by inches. They both fell out laughing like crazy people. I rushed to the door, opened it and hollered, "Hey! What are you boys doing??!"

They were laughing so hard they could barely answer me, so I said it again in my "I Mean It" voice. "Hey! What in the world is going on out here?" Ian finally caught his breath and managed to put a few words together. "It's no big deal, Mom," he said. "We're just playing Pain Ball."

 "Pain Ball"?!!? I beg your pardon?? I was almost too afraid to ask.  But when you're the mama, that's your job, ladies- you have to ask. So for those of you without boys, here are the rules of this game as they were explained to me.

  1. Stand at least 30 feet away from your opponent.
  2. Each player gets a turn to throw a ball at each other.
  3. If the opponent moves, they lose a point.
  4. If the player hits the opponent, they win a point.

I must have had a baffled look on my face, because Reagan piped up with these words to comfort me. "It's okay, Mom. So far, he's only hit me once. See?" To prove his point, he pulled up his shirt and showed me a red mark the size of a lime on his chest. The kid had an enormous smile on his face- so proud of himself he could almost bust. I turned to Ian and told him we were done with this game.  As in, totally done for all time with this game. Both their faces fell like I had told them there was no Christmas this year.  They stared at me in stunned silence- until Ian, ever the negotiator, offered this compromise.  "If we quit using golf balls, can we still play?"

Yep. That's just how boys are.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Norman Rockwell Lived Here

Southern New Jersey has gotten a bad rap. This place is nothing like what I expected it to be. Most of what I thought I knew came from TV or the internet- not the most reliable of sources. It's kinda like how everyone thinks all Texans ride a horse and wear cowboy hats to work.  Great imagery, but not based in fact. When we started looking for a house, one of the first things that struck me was how picturesque all the little towns were here. Not that Texas doesn't have little towns, but I'm not sure "picturesque" is the word I would use to describe Whitesboro, TX.  Nothing against the sweet folks in Whitesboro - but we all know it's true.  

One of these adorable little towns is Medford, NJ. It's just a bit down the road from me and looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It has brick lined sidewalks and tree lined streets. I've driven through it at least two dozen times to get to the grocery store, but have never had the time to stop and look around. Things have finally settled down a bit, so I thought I'd go check out some of the shops.

 In particular, this baby right here. This place has been screaming my name. Look at all that great stuff outside. How could you not want to stop and dig through all this?  They sell every type of thing I love- windows, doors, chairs, mirrors, chandeliers. 

 They seem to do it all. They repair and sell furniture. They organize estate sales and offer classes. Just look inside this shop. I mean, really, could it get any more darling?

I struck up a conversation with the girl behind the counter (I know- shocking! Cindy talking to absolute strangers?? Why, that sounds nothing like her.) Anywho, she was very friendly and I told her we had moved from Austin, but now lived in Shamong.  She said, "Well, you know that makes you a Piney."  

Uhhh..... excuse me?

It turns out "Piney" refers to the fact that I live near the Pine Boroughs of New Jersey. It also seems that Piney's are more "outdoorsy" than their city neighbors in Medford. 

She tippy toed around it for a bit and finally just cut to the chase. "I guess you could say Piney's are considered the rednecks of this area."

And there it was. Now it made perfect sense. This was the reason I had felt so welcomed by my new neighbors. This was why I had felt so at ease in a state 1700 miles away from my home in Texas. The state's name may have been different, but the people weren't. The folks in my neck of the woods were all the things that make the word redneck a compliment and I had been the one to benefit from it. So now, if you ask me if I live in the sticks, I'll have to say no - I actually live in the Pines.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A PSA from Me to You

When we lived in Colorado, we used to drive to Lincoln City, Oregon for family vacations.  My in-laws had (and still do) a wonderful "home away from home" there. It's the kind of place where you can go crabbing, walk to the beach, and stuff yourself with clam chowder- my favorite place in the world. It would take us 6 days round trip to drive our pack of wild Indians there-and we looked forward to it each and every time. Weeks ahead of leaving, I would scour the library for tips and tricks for road tripping with little ones. (I know I am so giving away my age here. How in the world did young mothers survive before Pinterest?? We were just amazing like that, I guess.) 

This summer we went to Washington, D.C. as a family trip. I was scrolling through the pictures and it got me to thinking. How come there are no articles with tips and tricks for traveling with teenagers? That would be some seriously valuable information. Our trip to D.C. was first-rate and I feel like it's my humanitarian duty to pass along the steps that made it this way.

 I have always been a bit skeptical when experts suggest bringing other people on family trips - mainly because we are already our own biomass. However, this trip, we had my BFF and my oldest boy's buddy with us and it was a blast. The key to this success, I think, is that everyone in my crew really likes both Cissy and John.  They are funny, easy going, and kind. So pick wisely - no one likes to travel with a Mariah Carey.

No trip is complete without photos. The great thing about being a tourist is everyone around you is also taking pictures. When someone asks if you want them to take your snapshot- say yes! Here's your chance to finally be in front of the camera instead of behind it.  

But here are a few words of wisdom when it comes to getting shots of your older kiddos. You need to exercise restraint here- two or three stabs at a time, tops. These guys have a notoriously low tolerance for "Just one more shot, sweetie. This time put your arms around your brothers and smile real big." Get in and get out of there, Lara Croft-style.

       Last but not least, a short list of do's and don'ts:

1) DO buy more food than you think you need. Then double it.
2) DO ask for 3 times the amount of towels they provide. Trust me, I'm a professional.
3) DO NOT schedule anything to happen before 10am. This will always end badly.  No sunrise activity is worth it. 
4) DO NOT forget to relish these days with your family. It is a gift to be treasured - even if they do leave a mountain                   of soggy towels on your floor.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stay Where I Can See You

Every child is born with their own unique kind of wiring. Before I had my own kiddos, I genuinely believed that if I fed them organic food, bought them board books illustrating classic works of art, and taught them baby sign language they would grow up to be philanthropic neurosurgeons. I had grand visions of herding my brood into the local library. There we would all sit and quietly read-occasionally glancing up and smiling over the the tops of our books at each other. Okay, okay. You know I can hear you snorting, right?  I get it. I'll give you a few minutes to catch your breath.  Just let me know when you're ready to move on.

I have been blessed with four young'uns. I'm not saying I'm Mother Hubbard, but I am only one player short of a basketball team. By the time my youngest son came around, I was feeling a bit big for my britches. I can honestly say I was probably that obnoxious woman at the bus stop passing out words of wisdom to "new moms". For this, I can only beg forgiveness and assure you, life has a way of doling out warranted irony.

 Look at this sweet face. This is my red headed munchkin. From very early on, he was what my kindhearted friends would often refer to as "high spirited" and "so energetic". His absolute saving grace was (and is) that there is not a single mean bone in his body.  He genuinely loves people and they love him. 

Don't let that smile fool you, though. He was what we always affectionately referred to as my "Line of Vision" child. As in, if he was not in my line of vision, there was gonna be bedlam. He had a crazy way of managing to destroy everything in his path. It was never on purpose, but it did happen with troublesome regularity. He was my risk taker. He was the reason I had poison control on speed dial and knew the E.R. physicians on a first name basis. He's also the reason I know you can eat Crayola watercolors like Necco Wafers and it won't poison you. A free fact from me to you.

But now he's older and things have settled down considerably. I can report he successfully enters and leaves all manner of stores without carnage. I don't have to always set my laser vision on him anymore.

Although, maybe I should pay more attention. This is a picture of him at the shore. I took it a few weeks ago. And I just realized something. He's wearing the same swimsuit I bought him when he was three years old. Don't believe me? Scroll back to the top of this post. I'll wait. 

See? *sigh It's the bus stop all over again.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Boy Moms and the Chicken Dance

Little boys are easy to buy gifts for- all it requires is hitting the Lego section of Target and selling a kidney to pay for it. Buying for bigger boys is a bit tougher. You will spend endless moments trying to find ingenious ways to wrap basketballs, hockey pucks, and baseball bats. Even Martha Stewart gets stumped at this stage in the game. No amount of hand stamped wrapping paper can help you camouflage those babies. But high school and college guys?? Those guys are in a league of their own. They are notoriously hard to shop for. How in the world do you find that magic gift that walks the line of cool/gross/funny/weird???  I'll tell you how. With my help, of course. Here are some of my favorites. Because I adore you, I've done all the leg work.  I've linked each one to the store's website because I'm all techie like that.

1. Boombox Bean Bag- Seriously, how cool is this? This would make the perfect guy gift for any occasion- graduation, birthday, Christmas - you name it. This is the kind of gift that shoots you straight to the top of the Cool Aunt List.

this would be rad!

2. T-Rex Taxidermy If an elk looks good on your wall, you can't tell me this doesn't look better. And bonus? No dinosaurs were harmed in the making of this product.

Glow in the Dark Nuclear Element Soap

3. Glow in the Dark Nuclear Element Soap- This gift falls into the "Hope Springs Eternal" category. Perhaps if the soap glows in the dark, maybe- just maybe - they will actually use it.

Schnoze Power

4. Schnoze Electric Outlet This gift scores super high on the gross/funny scale. You are so lying if you say your first thought wasn't "Holy Cow. That is so obnoxious and I totally want one."
5. Cool Daddy Nose and Ear Trimmer Just keeping it real here, folks. We all know wack-a-doodle nose hair is an issue with our guys. This hipster can help keep all that crazy under control. 

CLING BLING Our Window Solar Charger For Smart Phones And More

6. Cling Bling Solar Phone Chargers- Full Disclosure- this gift is techie but a bit utilitarian. You will definitely win points for appearing to understand the geek world. But if I were you, I would add a sticker on the back of this baby.  Maybe from their university or a band we old people have never heard of.

Beardski Pirate Ski Mask- Beardski

7. Bearded Ski Mask- This is the foolproof gift for any guy who snowboards or skis. My favorite version of this is the one with the red beard. What can I say? I've always had a soft spot for Gingers.

8. Carpe Diem Tshirt- If you have ever tried to buy a shirt for a teenage guy, you know why this shirt is a winner. 1) It is gray. 2) It has block letters. 3) Most importantly, it is gray.
ThinkGeek :: NERF Nuke- Each Nuke holds 80 micro NERF darts and shoots them (up to 30 feet) in all directions. Every Nuke also comes with a Launcher, which propels the WND (Weapon of NERF Destruction) up to 40 feet.

9. Nerf Nuclear Bomb- There is no way I can spin this. This gift is crazy expensive. It comes in at just 1 cent under $100. That being said, every guy you know will want one of these. Including your husband. As in yesterday. 

Parks and Recreation Ron Swanson Bobblehead

10. Ron Swanson Bobblehead- Do I really even need to explain this one? If you are a guy over the age of 14, you know who Ron is and he is your hero. And as a hero, he deserves a designated spot on their desk.

So there you go. Ten great choices for any high school or college guy in your life. Just a few more words of advice before I let you go. Number one, do not, under any circumstance, attach a mushy card to any of the above presents. This automatically eliminates any cool factor points you have gained in picking the ideal gift. Number two, when they look at you in awe after opening your present, try not to strut around like a chicken. Nothing kills the moment like a grown woman doing the chicken dance. No matter how cool she thinks she looks. Trust me on this one. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Taking the Ferry

 My mother used to tell us she had grown up as an Army Brat. As a child, I was never really sure what this meant. I knew the basics, of course. I knew her father had been a colonel and they had moved all over the world when she was young. I knew she had lived in Japan and Belgium. But I didn't really know anything about her - the young girl smiling back at me in all those black and white pictures.  I didn't know what her friends' names were. I didn't know what her favorite games were. I only knew the cursory details of her childhood.  

My nephew married his true love on Long Island in June. My parents had started making plans to fly up months ahead of time.  We were talking about the details of her flight when my mother tentatively asked if, perhaps, we could visit Governor's Island while they were "in town". 

"No worries," she said, "if we can't fit it in. It's just kind of been on my bucket list to see the island one more time. Oh, and the United States National Park Service was hoping to interview me for their archives."


Turns out that little girl in the pictures with the open smile was more than just my mom. Apparently, her family had lived in this important place, at an important time. So important, in fact, two Park Rangers interviewed her for over an hour and a half.

See that sweet faced girl on the far right? That is my mom. She lived in Bldg 54 for three years with her brother and sister. When we visited the island, our Park Ranger, Hillary, let us walk through the house my mother had lived in. She even took a picture of us in the exact same spot.

We walked around behind the building and my mom started pointing out all the little details of her life on the island. "This was the garage roof we climbed up on to perform 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' for the neighborhood children." "That window on the left up there was my bedroom window. I could see the Statue of Liberty every morning when I woke up."

She told us stories of how she and her friends would climb up on the old cannons and pretend they were space rockets.  Rockets that would shoot them into outer space to explore new worlds.  Stories of how those years had been wonderful and magical.

So here we were, full circle- over 60 years later. I felt like I had met that little girl with braids for the first time that day. I had sat on her front porch. I had seen where she ate breakfast every day. I now knew which way she had walked to school and I knew where she had learned to dance. It was wonderful and magical.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chicken Little Peanut Brittle

My sister, Christi, has a mother-in-law with super powers. I'm not even joking. Her name is Mildred and she is a gentle, unassuming woman- but don't let that fool you. Mildred has super skills in all things related to making a house a home. First of all, she is the ultimate bargain hunter. This is the girl you want on your team on Black Friday. She once found me the perfect shirt, in my size, at 80% off in a bin the size of a small European country. All in less than 5 minutes. This woman has game.

She is also a fabulous cook- as in, from scratch, best thing you ever put in your mouth kind of cook. She makes this cream cheese, danish-like, kolache-esque  pastry she simply calls "cheese roll". It's about a foot and a half long and I once ate the entire thing all by myself while at her house. I think this was the first time my sister had introduced me to her. Clearly, I'm all about making good first impressions.

  Anyway, this is how incredible Mildred is. She once baked one of these cheese rolls, froze it, and carried it across state lines and time zones just because she knew how much I loved them. This woman is definitely using her powers for goodness.

Before my sister even married her boy, Mildred took me under her wing and gave me this cookbook. I've had it ever since. When we moved from Austin, I must have tossed over 40 cookbooks, but definitely not this one. As a matter of fact,I only kept 8 cookbooks and this one was in the top three. One of the recipes I use most often in this book is the peanut brittle recipe. This is the thing about peanut brittle - people are so impressed when you make this stuff. It's like they think you have nuclear chemistry knowledge of candy or something. It's actually very simple and I'll walk you through all the steps.  As always, the recipe will be at the end of this post. I have to give a shout out to Lisa Garrett from Geary High School. According to the FHA Cookbook of 1984, this was her recipe. You rock, sister.

This is all you need. Again- shelf stable is a good thing in my world. You will also need a candy thermometer. Invest in a good one with a strong clip. This will make things easier when you are stirring. You can find one online for about $10. Trust me, it will be worth it and you will use it for years.

The main key to the success of this recipe is prep work. Once things get rolling, everything happens pretty fast, so you want all your ingredients measured out and ready before you begin. Butter a piece of foil about this size. You can use margarine, but where's the fun in that?

 Place your ingredients close to your cook top, within easy reach. Clip your candy thermometer on a heavy pot and have your cooking mitts close by.

Put the water, sugar, and corn syrup in the pot and crank up the heat.

Stir until everything is dissolved.

Keep cooking and stirring until it hits the hard crack stage. That is around 300-310 degrees. It will begin to make small bubbles first and look like this. Kinda frothy like egg whites. This is all the water evaporating.

Now it is around 260 degrees - bigger bubbles, slower boil.

Once you hit 300 degrees (the hard crack stage), add the peanuts while it is still on the heat.

Stir those babies for about 1 minute until they start popping.

I put the vanilla, butter, and salt all in a little cup. It's just easier to add this way. Dump it in and stir like you mean it.

Take the pot off the heat and add the baking soda.

Again, stir it like you mean it. Keep stirring until it gets light and airy like this.

Pour it out onto the buttered foil. Be careful here- it is seriously hot and super sticky.

Wait until it is totally cool (this is usually about 20 minutes) and then snap it into smaller pieces.

Here it is all done.  Gorgeous, impressive and relatively easy.  When people find out you made this from scratch, they will name their children after you- it is that good.  Just make sure you tell them your name is Mildred.

Here is the recipe as promised.