Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Is For Applesauce

For the first time, in a very long time, I'm living in a part of the United States that actually has a season called Autumn. Texas likes to brag that it also has fall, but we all know that just ain't true. At the very best, in late October, the Lone Star State will have a week of temperatures in the 70's. At this point, all the trees will drop every leaf they own like a bad habit and then it will be a full on rush into winter. No changing colors of the leaves. No cool, foggy mornings. One minute you're in shorts and flip flops and the next it's coats and jeans. To say I'm happy about getting to live on the East Coast in October would be a serious understatement. It's more like I'm wicked excited. See what I did there?? Just like a native.

This little man and I went grocery shopping this weekend for apples to make homemade applesauce. It was one of my September goals and with only a few days to spare, I needed to get on the stick. I let Graham pick out the apples he thought would be best. As I watched him take such care in finding just the right ones, I had an "aha" moment. Applesauce is so easy to make, I should let him do it. He thought this was a great idea and suggested I put it in my blog. His exact words were, "I think everyone needs to know how to do it. Don't you?" I think he was right, so here's how you do it.

There are lots of ways to make applesauce fancy, but I think it tastes best when you keep it simple and healthy. This recipe is absolutely delicious and makes the house smell amazing.

Core 9 apples.

Now peel those babies. I love how serious Graham is taking his job in this picture. Apparently, being a chef is a no nonsense kind of occupation to this young man.

Cut the apples into small pieces. Since you cook the apples until they're soft, the size and shape of how it's cut doesn't really matter. This makes it a great recipe for kids to practice their knife cutting skills.
Add one cup of apple juice or apple cider- your choice.

Add one and a half tablespoons of ground cinnamon.

Squeeze in the juice of one lemon. Some recipes don't include this step, but I like how the lemon juice brightens up the overall flavor of this dish. Stir it all together and put it on the stove on medium high until it boils. Once it boils, turn it down to low, cover it, and cook for about 25 minutes. 
After 25 minutes, it should look a lot like this. The apples will be soft and cooked through. Mash it with a  potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until you get the perfect amount of chunky or unchunky-ness that you like.

 Here's how we like it - heavy on the cinnamon and medium chunky. This is wonderful hot or cold and is good for breakfast or dinner. It's something you'll always want to have on hand - a lot like my red headed kiddo.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Beach Hair, Just Don't Care

I've been fortunate enough to travel to all kinds of places in the world over my lifetime. I've lived in South Korea as child, with all it's massive temples and markets. I've eaten fish and chips in Scotland on my honeymoon. I've even walked through the Louvre and seen Mona Lisa's lopsided grin in person. But nothing speaks to my soul quite like the damp air and overcast days of the Oregon Coast.

There are just certain places that leave a definitive mark on your heart. Places that connect you to the times in your life that were full of joy and laughter. For me, one of those places has always been a small town in Oregon called Lincoln City. My in-laws have had a beach house there for many years and have kindly allowed my entire brood (and random Wade family members) to descend on them for weeks at a time. Brave souls indeed. 
Before I married Graham, I'd never been to the Pacific Northwest. Every beach I had ever visited was hot. They were the kinds of beaches where the sand would burn the bottoms of your feet if you forgot your flip flops. But the Oregon Coast, now that was something entirely different. The beaches there were all about campfires and sweatshirts. The wind seemed to blow from all directions, leaving my hair a wacky mess, damp and curling on the ends. A few hardy people braved the water, but most were content to relax on the shore and watch their kiddos skim board. And here's the thing- from the first time I walked out on that wet sand, I knew I was hooked.

Mary and Gene spent many years searching for the right house to call their own at the beach.  Despite their efforts, most of the houses they saw didn't have "it". You know what I mean here. It's that gut feeling you get when you know something is just "right". It defies logic and relies solely on a feeling you get in your bones. There were a couple years I was lucky enough to tag along on this house hunt. And even though I do like to think of myself as modest, the truth is I recognized which home would end up being theirs the minute I walked through the little side door. The floor tilted a little to the right, the stairs were a tiny bit steep and it was love at first sight as far as I was concerned. Luckily for me, Mary and Gene loved it as much as I did. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Whenever we go to visit Mary and Gene in Oregon, Graham and I always get to stay in what we call the pink room. It's the bedroom at the top of the stairs, behind the pocket door. It has a huge picture window that takes up almost all of one side of the room and overlooks the ocean. You can lie in bed, open the side windows and hear the surf crash on the beach all night long. It is, without a doubt, my favorite place in the world to be.

But this home is so much more than just it's incredible views. This is the house where we stay up late at night and play scrabble after the kids go to bed.  It's where we solve the New York Times crossword puzzle together over coffee and cereal.  It's where a puzzle table stays up all week while we work our way through 750 pieces. It's a slower, easier, more restful pace of life. It is a gift my in-laws have lovingly  given me and my family for over 20 years. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Losing My Pilot's License

You know what they say. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so here goes.  Depending upon the day, I may or may not be what is commonly referred to as a helicopter mom. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I can hear my sisters snickering in the background right about now.  Pull it together girls. Listen, you're supposed to be on my side. Even if what I'm saying makes no sense. That's just the way the sister code works.

When she never stops worrying:
 In my defense, I am getting better at not intervening in my kids' lives when issues pop up, but it still goes against my nature. I was an Occupational Therapist by trade before I became a stay-at-home mom. In the simplest of terms, this means my day to day job was to help people break down problems into small, attainable goals. That's a hard thing to turn off when you move out of the work force and into raising a brood of kids. It's just a tough habit to break. As they get older, I'm getting better at stepping back and letting them figure out their own way to of doing things. I'm still taking care of them, but in different ways. That's why I'm a huge fan of the ever popular "Care Package From Home".  I still get to mother them, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Here's the finished care packages I sent out yesterday- all boxed up and ready to go to Texas. When putting these babies together, I always follow the same formula. It's a sure fire way to cover all your bases and let them know how much you love and miss them. As with most things in my life, this magic formula is short and sweet. Here's what you need to put in each box.

1. Something Practical - This is the work horse part of the care package. Here's where you send them the things you know they'll need, but probably forgot to take with them. There's nothing glamorous here, but they'll definitely be glad you thought to put these items in the box.

2. Something Fun -This is why Wal-Mart is one of my best friends. They always seem to have what I need. Toss in anything that is funny/goofy/cute. I like to put in things unexpected or that reminds them of home - hence the Flarp for Ian. I'm pretty sure I don't have to explain that one to you - particularly if you are a boy mom.

3. Something Nutritious- There comes a point when they're going to need to eat something that doesn't come out of a vending machine. The kicker here is that it needs to be yummy and healthy. I found these super cool Minute Corn packs at the store. You get hot corn on the cob from the microwave in a couple minutes. They're shelf stable and have only 2 ingredients- corn and water. I'll let you know what the kids think of them, but my hopes are high.

4 & 5.  Candy and Money- The key to this part is to get the candy they loved to eat when they were small. If you're having trouble remembering exactly what that was, a good rule of thumb is to pick the candy they used to beg for in the grocery store check out line. For my kiddos, it was always anything and everything banned by their orthodontist. Last, but not least, tuck in some cash. My grandmother, Nanny, used to call this "walking around money". It's not enough to break the bank, just a few bucks to keep in their pockets in case they need something. It's a college kid's favorite kind of gift.

So that's all there is to it - easy peasy lemon squeezey. It definitely lets them know you're thinking of them even though they're out in the world on their own now. It's not quite as satisfying as taking care of them every day, but at least you aren't hovering. Which is too bad, because I looked really great in that flight suit.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Radio Silence

I love living in this computer age and having access to all kinds of information. Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Instagram- you name it, I'm in.  It keeps me connected to all kinds of people- people I know a little bit, people I know a lot. I get to stay in touch with girls I knew in my MOMS group, my huge extended family, and even people I worked with right out of college.   I'm the kind of person who really wants to see photos of other families on vacation and eating ice cream together. I'm one of those people who adores first day of kindergarten and birthday party pictures. It's just one of those things that does my heart good.

But here's the thing I've noticed. As our children have all gotten older, there are bigger gaps of time between my friend's posts. There are less pictures, less stories, and more links to articles or the news. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing those things too. It just seems like we've moved into a new stage of doing things. 

I have a friend named Jerilyn. We met almost 15 years ago in Colorado and now stay in touch through Facebook. She posted a link to an article written by Rachel Anne Shift that I think explains this change. In it, she talks about how we enter this phase of "radio silence" on the Internet as our kids get older.  How, as mothers, we become their confidants as well as their caregivers. They need to know that we won't share the details of their bumps and bruises of teenage life like we did when they lost their first tooth. So, in a very good and real way, this quiet time on the Internet means we're doing something right.

But it can also leave us feeling lonely. When, despite my greatest efforts, I couldn't  teach my youngest to tie his shoes, social media came to the rescue. Women across the country sent me dozens of great ideas to try within hours. However, in my new role as confidant to my kiddos, I can't use that same strategy for solving middle school and high school angst. This filtering of what we share with other women can leave us feeling like we're the only ones walking the path of adolescence without a map. But here's the hard truth- there is no map. At the most, there's a compass that's pointing in a general direction. The path is left for us to blaze, but there's no need to do it alone.

So as much as I am wild about social media, I'm encouraging you to put it aside every now and then. Ask for advice, but in a way that is still protective of your children's trust in you. Meet your friend for lunch instead of messaging them. There's nothing more comforting than the presence of another mom who has been there, done that. No amount of "Likes" can take the place of a kind word meant for your ears alone. Some things just need to be hammered out with Kleenex and Starbucks. So, go soak up the positive support of other mothers who are in the same boat, using the same compass. It will do your heart good.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake

I am what is often referred to as a cake snob. Even the most beautiful cake, if not homemade, holds zero appeal to me. It can be from the most expensive, most exclusive bakery in Manhattan and I'll just walk on by like it was made of straw. However, if I know a cake is slathered with homemade frosting, all bets are off.  I can not be held responsible for my actions in that case. There's just something about homemade frosting- nothing compares to it- nothing. No one should ever have to eat that plastic stuff sold in tubs that they call frosting. It may be placed next to cake mixes, but it really belongs in the glue aisle. 

So, since we are such dear friends, I am going to save you from the misfortune of ever having to eat that stuff again. I'm going to show you how to make THE BEST Mocha frosting on planet Earth. It is so easy and it's absolutely fabulous on brownies, cakes, or sandwiched between cookies. Heck, you could put it on Polish kielbasa and you'd think it was the best thing you've ever put in your mouth. I may even know that from experience. Just keeping it real here, ladies. I've put the recipe at the end of this post, as always.  So let's do this thing!

Here's everything you need. Definitely use butter, not margarine and make sure the coffee is completely cool. 

Beat the butter for about 2 minutes until it is smooth and light colored.

Add the cocoa and beat until it is completely combined.

Starting with the powdered sugar, alternately add the sugar and coffee in thirds. 

Make sure you completely mix everything between each addition.

This is how it looks after the first addition of coffee and sugar. Don't worry - I know it looks weird, but this is exactly what is should look like at this stage.

Keep adding the sugar and coffee until it is all gone.

Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Whip it for about 1 minute and you're all done.

Look at how smooth and light the mocha frosting is after all that mixing - gorgeous! 

Just a few tips on how to frost a cake. Flip the bottom layer upside down so you have a level surface to frost. This makes it so much easier to match up the two layers. Smooth the frosting a little bit away from the edges so it doesn't smoosh out when you add the top layer.

Add the top layer and frost the sides first.

Put more frosting than you think you need on the top and smooth it out and over the edges of the cake.

And here she is in all her glory. I like to pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes so the butter can set up a bit. After that, you can keep it in a cake dome on your counter where everyone can adore it. I always save any leftover frosting and put it on graham crackers for the little and big kids alike. You definitely don't want any of this good stuff to go to waste.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Still Boyfriend and Girlfriend

Some of the best marriage advice I ever received was from a woman I sat next to at a retreat. We had never met before, but were in the same small group. She was a quiet kind of woman, so when she spoke up, you knew it was because she had something important to say. The question posed to our group was "What would you say describes a happy marriage?" She paused a moment, and replied simply, "Don't ever quit being his girlfriend." Just six small words. After 25 years of marriage, I can tell you, there is incredible wisdom in her little sentence.

Share your favorite marriage quotes!: Share your favorite marriage quotes!

So how do we hang on to that gift of each other? How do you stay his girlfriend? Many details have to work in coordination to keep the fire alive- some more complex than others. But sometimes, I think it's the little acts of kindness that are most meaningful and not the grand gestures.  Oftentimes, it can be as simple as having things in your home that, when you see them out of the corner of your eye, remind you of the love you feel for each other. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Remember the Day - Burlap Pillow - Personalize with a  special date in your life - Date Pillow

Remember the Day Burlap Pillow- This is a darling idea that is romantic without being frou-frou.  Just pick any date that's significant to the two of you. It could be the date of your first kiss or when you got married or even the day you got matching tattoos. All that matters is when you see it, it reminds you of that special day.

DIY funny & cute gift: DIY funny & cute gift

This one is so witty and unexpected. The picture originally came from a post on the website  That DIY link isn't active anymore, but it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult to pull off. A quick run to Goodwill for a picture frame and 2 silver spoons; some spray paint and Liquid Nails to hold everything in place and you're good to go.  Even Martha will be impressed with your skill when you're done.

custom canvas map geezees

Where It All Began Print- I love everything about this print. It would look great in an office, family room, or even the laundry room - it's that precious.  Again, for those of you who are crafty, I don't think this would be too hard to do on your own. A little Mod Podge, a map and some lettering, and you're all set. Just send me a picture when you're done so I know who to ask to make one for me.

bananas: bananas

But let's make it even more effortless. This is one of my favorite ideas- a simple and sweet way to surprise anyone you adore. I found this on Pinterest and thought it was so clever.  Just a few seconds with a Sharpie and you're done. Ingenious.

          Favorite Blanket Stealer:             

Last but not least, the ever popular "Leave a Note Where They Can Find It". I know this is nothing we haven't all heard before, but when was the last time you actually did it? My guess is it's been some time. Your note doesn't have to be a Shakespearean sonnet, just something short and sweet to let them know you'd choose them all over again. The one pictured above is my current favorite.

So there you have it. Just a few ideas from me to you. Nothing too complicated. Trust me when I say it's definitely worth it to stay his girlfriend- just don't get caught passing notes in class.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

And the Secret Ingredient Is.....

In their early years, my kiddos were obsessed with anything from Walt Disney or PBS. We had boxes and boxes of VHS  videos tucked in the corner of the living room supporting this habit. We would troll the local library, checking out any movie featuring princesses, dinosaurs, muppets or the alphabet.  Graham and I knew every song and every line of those shows by heart. Not a bad thing, but there were times we longed for entertainment that did not involve dancing letters or talking animals. Then, in 1999, Food Network came to our rescue. That was the year we stumbled across this stroke of genius.

You remember this don't you? Iron Chef America?? It was a cooking show from Japan that was dubbed in English.  It was fast paced- knives and ingredients were flying all over the screen. Our whole family was entranced, even my toddler couldn't take his eyes off the TV set. We never missed an episode. The head honcho was a man named Chairman Kaga who ran the whole thing like P.T. Barnum.  Our  favorite chef was- hands down-  Masaharu Morimoto. He's the gentleman in the silver outfit and he specialized in Japanese cuisine. He was all business, all the time.

Fast forward sixteen years. Lots of things have changed since those days of blankies, pacifiers, and green shag carpet. VHS videos are now a thing of the past. Movies from the library can be checked out while waiting in line at the grocery store.  And I think Ariel now qualifies for an AARP discount at IHOP. But here's the thing I never saw coming. These days, I am crazy about sashimi - as in, I would eat it every day if I could afford it.

I never used to understand when people would talk about how they loved sushi. I couldn't imagine why anyone would  choose to eat something uncooked, let alone something that wasn't covered in cream gravy. But the first time I finally got the courage to try a tiger roll, I was hooked.  And from that point on, everything picked up speed until I was completely devoted to raw fish. 

When my birthday rolled around a few months ago, Graham said, "I know exactly where we should go to celebrate. It's in Philly and you're gonna love it. Trust me." Graham is the best at surprises- it's one of his super powers. So I knew it would be good. I put on some lipstick and out the door we went.

And sure enough, Graham totally knocked it out of the park. This year he took me to this gorgeous place- Morimoto's. Needless to say, things have changed a lot for my favorite Iron Chef since the '90's. He now owns ten restaurants and no longer wears a silver uniform to work. But the one thing that hasn't changed? He still makes stunning, delicious food.

This is the meal he prepared for me that night. That is some crazy impressive talent.  And even though Chairman Kaga wasn't around to run the show? Bambi knows there's no way he can compete with a meal that.