Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eat This: Summery Salad

SWEET CORN, RED PEPPER AND JACK CHEESE SALAD

1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated black pepper to taste
3 cups fresh sweet corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, sliced, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
4 whole scallions, thinly sliced

Whisk together first five ingredients in large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients, tossing to coat.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Toss before serving.  Yield:  6 servings.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Southern Girl 101: Bespoke Beverage Delivery Systems

Okay, so "bespoke" (meaning "custom") is a British term, not a Southern one.  But it's one of my favorite words lately, so deal with it.

Southern girls like to accessorize and personalize.  They are also fond of beverages.  So, natch, we accessorize and personalize our beverages.

Here is a partial list of things that my friends and I obsess over, and acquire in mass quantities:

Koozies.  We carry them in our purse and keep baskets of them handy for when friends come over.  We monogram them.  We even buy them for our wine glasses.  (Really.  They are called Woozies.)  They are so darn handy, because they maintain the temperature of your drink (critical in the South) while also allowing you to distinguish your drink from someone else's.

Koozies are such a big deal around here that (1) people have them printed for special occasions (among the items in my personal collection:  wedding koozies and 40th birthday koozies) and (2) women's groups distribute them among their members as a means of branding.  I have three or four different styles of Junior Woman's Club koozies, and the Junior League has gotten into the koozie game as well.  (I like my Junior League koozie, because it is teal.  Lately, lime green has been the go-to shade of koozie green, so teal stands out in a crowd.)

Charms.  It started with wine glass charms, and then wine glass charms begat beer bottle charms, and so on and so forth.  You must have several sets - can't be handing out the Christmas-themed charms in July.  Unless, I guess, your party is a "Christmas in July" theme.  Then that would just be too gosh-darned cute.

Personalized bottles.   I cannot tell you how many personalized water bottles and "grown-up sippy cups" I have given as gifts in recent years.  For the uninitiated, a grown-up sippy cup is a plastic water bottle with a snack cup that screws in to the base, a pop-up straw built into the lid, and a double-walled construction allowing for the placement of a monogrammed liner (might be fabric, might be oilcloth) around the center.

Beverage, oilcloth, monogram - it's a Southern girl hat trick.


Lately, I have been getting my adult sippies from Sweet Caroline Designs on Etsy.  SCD is from Mississippi.  Told you, it's a Southern girl thing.  (But not, I guess, a girl-only thing, or a grown-up only thing, as sweet Parker James has a SCD sippy to take to soccer games.  It has his name embroidered in orange dot letters, on a Batman-patterned fabric insert.)

Personalized glasses.  The latest trend is the double-walled acrylic cup that mimics a disposable one (shaped like a fast food cup, with a screw-on lid and straw).  You can get these personalized with initials - another hot gift item.  Here's an example from The Palm Gifts:


The Palm Gifts is located in South Carolina - but you could have guessed that, right?

Also a perennial favorite:  styrofoam cups with sayings on them.  Cruise by the Junior League's Christmas in Cowtown bazaar, and you will see the women walking around dragging ginormous sleeves of styrofoam cups - juggling maybe seven or eight of them.  Because you cannot have just one style.  You need cups with your initial on them (I am partial to the ones that say "Mc", rather than just "M"), cups for tailgating, cups for the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas) and cups for everyday.  See?  That got you to six sleeves right there.  Popular slogans include:

If I die at Wal-Mart, please drag my body to Neiman Marcus.

Mommy's sippy cup.

Does this cup make my butt look big?

(For Halloween) Witchy Waterford; Boo Brew.

(For Thanksgiving) Gobble 'Til You Wobble; Turkey Toddy.

(For Christmas) Reindeer Roadie; I Believe!  I Believe . . . I'll Have Another Drink!; Dear Santa, I Can Explain.

School-spirited phrases like Tech Tonic (for Texas Tech) and Horned Frog Hooch (for TCU).

I think the Tech folks should market a cup that says "Raider-Ade."  You know, because they are the Red Raiders?  Anyway . . . .

I think that these may be my next Christmas purchase:


If you knew my friends, you'd understand the appeal.  Found these on Crazy About Cups' Web site. Not sure where Crazy About Cups is located, but - judging from the "school spirit" section featuring mascots primarily from the former Southwest Conference and the number of Cajun references (like "Heaux, Heaux, Heaux") - I'm guessing that they are from these here parts.

Can't forget the stadium cup.  Fraternity boys gave 'em to us, and we never outgrew 'em (I'm talking about the boys AND the cups).  Had a bunch of cups printed for my birthday, and handed out cups that said "I'll Get My Elves Right On That" for a Christmas party a few years ago.  It's possible that my children are unaware that glasses exist other than personalized stadium cups.  The best part - Friend Melanie, whose "big birthday" was a few weeks after Elizabeth's and my combined shindig, had cups printed as well.  They were turquoise, just like ours.  I acquired several of them.  So now both boys can drink milk out of a turquoise stadium cup at dinner, the turquoise totally matches my dining room colors, and - since one has Mom's logo and one has Mel's - THEY DON'T GET THEIR DRINKS CONFUSED. 

Again, this is just a partial list of blinged beverage options.  There's a lot of room left to cover - and, I'm sure, products yet to be developed.  Personally, I think the market is ready for a stadium cup koozie.  You know, for when one layer of personalization just won't do.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Potpourri: Solidarity for Alderaan

Proof that just about anything can inspire a blog post . . . .

Pandora played the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication" for me the other day, meaning that a link popped up on my computer screen with the lyrics to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication," meaning that I actually read and paid attention to the lyrics of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication" for the first time.  Well, not for the first time as to some parts of the song (the phrase "first-born unicorn" has always come through loud and clear), but I did, for the first time, take note of the passage, "Cobain can you hear the spheres, singing songs off station to station/and Alderaan's not far away, it's Californication."

This was the second pop culture reference to Princess Leia's home planet to cross my radar in a month or so, and the timing was ironically appropriate, as "the other day" referenced in the above paragraph just happened to be May 20th, also known as "the day before the predicted last day of life on Earth."  I found myself wishing that I had this t-shirt to wear on the 21st:


Get it?  Monday, 72 and partly sunny; Tuesday, sunny and 74; Wednesday, 15,000 degrees due to a well-placed Death Star strike at the heart of the planet?  Okay, you've SEEN Star Wars, right?

I don't know why this t-shirt (from SnorgTees) made me laugh so hard when I saw it, given that I don't share my children's love for all things Star Wars, but laugh I did, and I found myself chuckling at the gallows humor aspect of it yet again on the 20th.  Difference between us and the Alder-what?  Alderaanians?  Dang, the kids are asleep at press time, or I'd have my answer in a flash.  We'll go with Alderaanians:  difference between us and the Alderaanians is, they never saw it coming.

Best way to go, if you ask me.

Just pulled up the "Alderaan" page on Wikipedia (Google also provided me with a link to the parallel page on WOOKIEpedia, but I took a pass on that one).  Yup, Alderaanian is correct.  Also, kind of amused that whoever wrote the content for the Alderaan page, perhaps confusing Wiki with Wookie, basically played it straight and wrote the piece as though the planet existed.  (There is one fleeting reference in the first sentence to it not being an actual planet.)  REALLY amused that a Wikipedia editor saw fit to put this impassioned plea (bulleted by a giant exclamation point) at the top of the page:  "This Star Wars-related article describes a work of element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style.  Please help rewrite it to explain the fiction more clearly and provide non-fictional perspective."  Allow me to paraphrase:  "Does someone who isn't a sci fi geek know anything about this subject?  No?  Okay, will a more highly functioning sci fi geek please step forward and ungeekify this shiznit?"

My kids, of course, would take it completely at face value.  Oh, and for the record - the Big Kid thinks that it is totally uncool that SnorgTees sells the weather forecast shirt in adult sizes only.  I may have to buy one for him to put up for a year or so from now.  I have a feeling that we'll still be a card-carrying expert on Alderaan a year or so from now.

(This just in:  The SnorgTees shirt has added the shirt in a kid size.  Wondering if the Big Kid didn't put a comment on their Web site . . . right after he submitted some content to Wikipedia.

Also, the "Alderaan gallows humor in pop culture" wave continues . . . click here for a hilarious piece on The Mary Sue Web site about a Star Wars-themed wedding.  Alderaan-related payoff is in the final frame.)

Potpourri: Waging War on "The Scary Area"

I love most things about our 84 year-old cottage house.  Not all things, though. 

I don't particularly mind that we don't have a garage, although this has become more of an issue now that Stripling and Cox is no more.  For the un-Fort Worth-initiated, Stripling and Cox was a local department store, with some really quirky buyers.  You could get some really cool treasures if you sifted through all of the old lady clothes (think Koret of California) and country-"cute" (I use "cute" loosely) housewares.  Also a point in S and C's favor:  the covered parking lot.  Couldn't call it a garage, because it was all one level, but the housewares section was built all over it, making it the perfect place to park a car when you knew that a hailstorm was coming.  All Arlington Heights, North Hi Mount, Monticello and Ridglea dwellers lacking parking garages seemed to know about the S and C thing, judging by how many cars you found crammed under there on a bad weather day.  If you didn't want to drive up there and wait out the storm, then general policy was to send a family member of driving age up to S and C in the car that you deemed to be "the keeper," and another family member would follow behind, retrieve the first driver and chauffeur him back home.

Then they leveled S and C - meaning that residents of our particular neighborhood now jockey for six choice positions under the I-30 overpass when the sirens go off.

Our driveway is shaded by a ginormous tree - ginormous enough to shelter two cars - so we don't get direct sun on our cars, and the upper branches tend to deflect hailstones.  In fact, our front yard trees are dense enough that you don't really get rained on when you are standing under them.  So, basically, "no garage" and "ginormous trees" offset each other.

I do mind that the people who built our home chose to orient the carriage house some ten feet or more off of the back fence line - notwithstanding that the deed restrictions didn't provide for a setback.  As a result, we have a decent-sized backyard between our house and the carriage house, then the carriage house, and then a bunch of unused space behind it.

Yes, we could rebuild the carriage house in a different location - maybe spring for a functioning garage, even.  But that would be quite expensive, based on our numbers.  And we already oriented a large patio based on the carriage house's orientation.  So, pretty much, it is what it's gonna be back there.

But I would like to use that dead space.  Problem is, much of the vegetation on our property has been growing for as long as the house has been in place, if not longer.  As a result, said vegetation is - um, I would say "entrenched," but entrenched is not a strong enough word.  Searching for a metaphor for the war that we have been waging against unwanted plant life since moving in twelve years ago.  Um, Vietnam?  Afghanistan?  Iraq?  Pick your favorite unending conflict.

I hack at stuff until there's nothing left to hack.  Then I dig - but the roots are too flippin' deep.  So I get out what I can, thinking, "I'll just monitor it and remove stuff as it grows."  And then, I SWEAR AFTER NO MORE THAN A 24-HOUR TIME LAG, it's all back to full height again.  No, not just full height - it's gotten bigger.

I have begged and pleaded with my spouse to recruit his brothers for a work day.  We're due, I think - they helped us move in, but that was twelve years ago, and we've helped several of them with similar projects since.  It's our turn.  And I would be totally fine with them calling it my birthday present, and/or my Christmas present.  I know that they can do the job, because they grew up on a ranch, and I have seen them attack brush.  That's what this is, really - brush and woodland undergrowth.  Crazy-invasive vines, "woody weeds" (this is, apparently, a technical term - just saw it on a bottle of vegetation killer), and what my husband refers to as "crap trees."

So, my thought was, recruit the brothers-in-law, feed them, provide them with tasty beverages, and turn 'em loose with shovels, pole pruners, etc. 

My spouse had a different take on things:  "Brothers?  I don't need no stinkin' brothers."

So, armed with a grubbing hoe, my weekend warrior (actually, this took place on a Friday), attacked the long and narrow space between the side of the carriage house and our neighbor's fence.  And, not too surprisingly, after removing most of the green stuff, he determined that what I have been not-so-affectionately calling "weeds on steroids" were, in fact, the various branches of a tree.  Specifically, we appeared to be fighting a banyan tree.  A BANYAN TREE, people. 

Banyan trees grow like this:


See all of those skinny parallel trunks?  Yeah, we were dealing with THAT.

Did you know that banyan trees will actually eat humans?  Seriously, take a look at this one in Indonesia:


Okay, so most likely, someone placed the skulls there - but I'm fairly sure that our tree would have eaten you if you stood still long enough.

That was before my husband killed said tree. 


This is the location of the former tree, now deceased.  Well, it's mostly deceased - like the dude protesting his placement in the Dead Wagon in "Holy Grail," it's not quite dead yet.  There's still some stump there, but it is about to meet its maker, in the form of stump killer, or bleach, or stump killer followed by bleach, or bleach followed by stump killer.  Then I'm putting black plastic down, and then mulch, and possibly some ground cover (I'm thinking that ground cover has shallow roots and wouldn't ever come in contact with the poison - but I'm going to ask the guy at the garden center first).  But, ultimately, there will be ground cover.  And paving stones.  And that's about it.  Maybe some potted plants, but, really, the highest and best use for this space is a road to the "scary-area-behind-the-carriage-house."  Which, I guess, makes it the Road to Nowhere.

Except that the scary area is not so scary, now that my own personal Paul Bunyan took his grubbing hoe to it.  Here are before and after pictures of what I refer to as "the scary-possible-snake-habitat."


Okay, I realize that the "after" picture still looks pretty green, but most of that is stuff that needs to be raked up.  Also, once "Paul" has recovered from his exertion, he will be donning heavy work gloves and boots and doing something with that pile of bricks (the bricks that WEREN'T EVEN VISIBLE in the "before" picture - they had disappeared into the undergrowth!).  Then, I guess, we're putting down more chemicals, more plastic, more mulch and, ultimately, ground cover.  Or . . . vegetables?   I tend to think of the space as being shady (in more ways than one), but I'm not sure how much of that shade was being cast by the overhead trees and how much was coming from stuff on the ground, vines, etc.  So I'm going to watch the sun patterns, and then maybe do a little pruning (or, you know, ask the spouse to do some pruning).  I want to do SOMETHING back there.  But - what? 

Soliciting suggestions . . . .




Friday, May 27, 2011

Potpourri: Deep Thoughts on Religion

Okay, I've got to comment on this whole "End of Days" things.

I'm interested to hear Harold Camping's clarification that last Saturday was actually an "invisible judgment day." Also, I'm relieved to hear that the next five months won't be characterized by fire, brimstone and mass human suffering (well, no more than you typically get in Texas in July and August). Excerpt below is from the Washington Post:

[Camping's] former assertion was that a faithful three percent would be physically pulled into heaven by God through the Rapture on May 21, to be followed by a five month period of great suffering known as the Tribulation, ending, finally, on October 21. On Monday’s broadcast, Camping speculated that perhaps a merciful God decided to spare humanity five months of “hell on earth.”

(Emphasis added.) Is this kind of like double-secret probation? Also, Harold, did I just hear you acknowledge that these things are FLEXIBLE? Did I hear you admit that maybe, just maybe, God retains some measure of free will in this administration-of-Earth thing? (Hey, if ANYONE has the ability to chart their own destiny and all, HE does.) So, if God doesn't take every word of the Bible literally, and if we're supposed to be following God's example . . . um . . . I'm just saying that maybe, just maybe, there's a lesson in that for you, Howard.

I also enjoyed the Pew Research Center poll that established that 41 percent of Americans think Jesus will “definitely or probably return to Earth before 2050.”  Who said that Americans are indecisive?  "We totally think it will happen . . . unless, you know, it doesn't."

I love Pew Research Center polls.  Love pseudoscientific polls, generally.  What I also love:  Americans with a sense of humor.  And, if nothing else, the Rapturegate caused them to come out of the woodwork.  (We can call it Rapturegate, right?  Based on our grammatically and contextually inaccurate cultural love for adding "gate" to nouns?) 

Loved the comments to various Internet stories about disillusionment among Camping followers, many of whom came out of pocket BIG TIME to advertise the coming Rapture. "Wow, a guy spent $140,000 to advertise the Rapture in Times Square.  Hope he kept some in reserve to buy himself an a**-kicking machine."  But my favorite Camping-related comment had to be this one:

"So the Rapture didn't happen on Saturday.  That's okay, Howard.  It's not the end of the world."

Also appreciated the various invitations to post-Rapture looting parties - some of them extended by Southern Baptists.

Here's what I got out of Rapturegate:  with the exception of a couple of manicurists at my nail salon who were threatening to call in sick to work because they wanted to spend their final pre-Rapture moments with their families, most folks took this all in stride - and some seized the opportunity to take a searching moral inventory of what makes them a worthy person.  (I won't use the word "Christian" here, because "Christian" and "worthy" in my experience aren't always synonymous, and my personal belief is that worth overlaps denominational boundaries).  I certainly did some thinking, and I reached some conclusions.

I don't live my life a certain way because of the promise of a better life to come.  I live my life a certain way because it is the right thing to do.  I can honestly say that I would live that way no matter what.

I do respect the historical context:  centuries ago, life was tough.  People died young, and brutally.  They lost family members.  The only way to raise their standard of living was to do so collectively.  That took cooperation, and a higher degree of respect for one's fellow man, and the community leaders in those days had a couple of options for trying to sell the benefits of loving one's neighbor:  convince people that their lot in life would improve during their lifetime (a hard sell, given the life experience of those people to date) or convince them that a better life awaited them, after death.  The latter had to resonate, because death, perhaps more than anything else, was a constant - the only sure thing (well, other than taxes).

Fast-forward to the present day.  The promise of a "perfect" life doesn't sound that good to me.  I watch the tabloid shows, and I've seen Lindsay Lohan.  There is something to be said for not having a perfect life - the bad stuff gives you a basis for comparison, and an appreciation for the truly good.   To me, the perfect state of being is a state of perfect perspective:  to know, from moment to moment, that everything around you is happening for a reason; to recognize that there is good and bad in everything; and to have the proper perspective to pick out the good mixed in with the bad.  What's the phrase?  "The devil is in the details?"  Well, God's a big picture guy - and a complete understanding of the big picture is, to me, the end game. 

But I don't plan to wait until Heaven to get my reward.  Okay, fully recognized that I might not achieve perfect perspective in this lifetime, but every day, with every life experience that I process and compartmentalize, I get a little closer to the goal.  And I think that that is what God wants me to do.  I'm not supposed to wait for Him to hand it to me, tied with a neat little bow.  I've always loved the joke about the flood:  the righteous man, marooned on the roof of his home, prays for God to save him from the rising waters.  He waves off the pontoon boat and the helicopter, proudly proclaiming his faith that God will save him.  Then he drowns.  When he gets to Heaven, he is six shades of ticked.  "Why didn't you save me, Lord?"

"Well, I sent you the pontoon boat and the helicopter."

So, every day, I seize on the metaphorical pontoon boats and helicopters that God sends my way.  And, every day, I get a little closer to . . . enlightenment.  Nirvana.  Yes, I realize that that is what I'm describing.  Maybe I'm an Eastern mystic at heart.  But not really.  Buddhist monks don't have a monopoly on these concepts.  They are available to people of all faiths.

And my husband points out that what I am describing, really, is faith.  True faith - the kind that God wants us to have.  Not the faith that God has us on a short list of special people who are guaranteed VIP seating in Heaven, or the faith that a certain number of virgins have been earmarked for us (really, what would I do with all of those virgins - are they up for some light housecleaning?), but, rather, the faith that we are living our lives the way that God would want us to live them.  And, also, a faith in God Himself:  faith that He is not arbitrary, or capricious, or hard-headed.  Faith in a New Testament God, not an Old Testament God.  A God that does not want us to be driven by fear, but a God who wants us to think, and to process, and to pity and pray for old men who delude themselves into thinking that they know God's will. 

So, when Saturday arrived, I thought about all of this, and I discussed my thoughts with some close friends and family members, and I felt better, on a number of levels.  And then I took my kids swimming, and I did some yardwork, and I ran some errands.  In fact, I was out running errands at 6 pm, which, apparently, was the predicted time for the Rapture.  I made a point of not being home at 6 pm - as a show of faith, in God and in my understanding of Him.

I was not disappointed.

Things I'm Digging: When High Fashion Goes Tragically Bad

I almost categorized this as a thing I wasn't digging, but here's the skinny - snickering at fashion faux pas is one of my guilty pleasures-slash-bad habits.

Therefore, I am really enjoying the Maison Martin Margiela collection at Neiman-Marcus. Specifically, this ensemble:


Oh. My. Hell. Where to begin?  This looks like (pick one):  (1) something Tootsie would have worn (no, that's not right - it's missing the ubiquitous floppy female bow tie thing); (2) something a ninth-grader might make in home ec - back in the Eighties, when Tootsie was popular; or (3) the "after" shot in a weight loss commercial.  You know, the kind where the people pose in their fat jeans or skirt and then turn sideways to show you just how much room they now have in the waist?  Except nothing that Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem could offer would explain the over-long sleeves.

Then there are the peeptoe ankle boot thingamajigs.  They really make the outfit . . . a whole lot worse.  I love it when stylists introduce ankle boots into a look like this.  The subtext:  "Hey, hey, look at me.  I'm so MODERN.  I'm wearing short, clunky boots with a short dress."  "Modern," I think, being the Latin word for "lacking a floor-length mirror."

Also not helping:  the model's clubbed baby harp seal expression.  Is it an homage to Rocky?  Because she's making a "Yo, Adrienne" face.  And she kind of looks like Adrienne.  Wait - now I'm seeing Scarface.  Maybe it's the tilt of the head.  Very Pacino.

The whole thing is just so tragically bad that I.  JUST. LOVE.  IT.  Not in the sense of wanting to actually OWN it, but - you know.

Want to know what makes it even more awesomely WORSE?  The outfit is actually a jacket and a DRESS, the dress on its own is almost as much of a trainwreck as the jacket, and the two pieces collectively will set you back $2,180.00 (the jacket is $1,340.00, and the dress is $840.00).

Okay, so don't everybody rush out to get their own tremendously overpriced misshapen blazer and dress combo all at once.  But if you do succumb to temptation, use your Neiman's card - if they are doing a four-for-one point promotion, you could almost jump an InCircle level with just the one tragically bad purchase!  How's that for a silver lining?  You know, silver.  Like gray.  Like this misshapen blazer.

Things I'm Digging: Expedit Bookcases


Hello, my name is Kathryn, and I am a serial Expedit bookcase purchaser.

Each of my boys' rooms features two of these IKEA workhorses - one standing upright, and one oriented horizontally. When turned on the side, the long top surface is perfect for displaying LEGO projects and other collectibles, and collapsible storage cubes fit in them perfectly, holding clothes and toys of all types. I [heart] them so much that I got one for my work office, bringing our Expedit total to five.

Apparently, I am not alone in my admiration of the Expedit. June's Elle Decor magazine featured this custom loft bed, constructed around what appears to be the same birch model that graces my kids' rooms:


The day after my Elle Decor arrived, HGTV ran an episode of "Design on a Dime" that involved a redo of a basement family room.  The designers faced two challenges:  splitting the space into separate areas for adults and children, and working around two ugly load-bearing columns.  Their solution:  create a divider by paneling the columns with wood stained to match a low bookcase unit spanning the between-column space.  Except they didn't start from scratch on the bookcase unit . . . .   Yup, you guessed it - they bought an Expedit, plopped it in the middle, built shelving on either side to tie in to the columns, and stained everything to match the Expedit's "black-brown effect."  (Swedish to English translation:  "espresso stain.")

So that's two - count 'em, TWO - big-time designers in as many days who thought that the eight-square Expedit model - at the bargain price of $69.99 - was enough of a design star to merit building custom furniture around it.  Feeling pretty justified in my devotion now.

Found one more interesting use of an Expedit on the Pawsome Web site:  this Expedit-turned-hamster-habitat-on-steroids


Proof that even rodents appreciate classic Swedish design.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fun on the Interwebs: Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Program

If you haven't already seen them, you need to check out the Center for Disease Control's emergency preparedness guidelines for surviving a zombie apocalypse.  Not overly concerned about the undead?  The same tips could help you get through a hurricane, flu epidemic or other non-zombie-related crisis.

Click here to be taken to the CDC's blog.  What a great way to grab people's attention.  And how nice to know that some people within the federal government have a sense of humor - and a general understanding of good marketing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Bubblepalooza

Blowing bubbles is kind of a last day of school thing at our house.  Don't remember how the tradition got started, but come 3 pm there you will find us, sitting on the front sidewalk, maybe doing some chalk drawings on the side, and eating popsicles and blowing bubbles.

This year is a graduation year for both boys - one departing kinder and one departing fifth - the only time that our household will mark two such milestones at once.  So I'm thinking that a full-blown bubble party is in order.  Toying with the idea of getting a baby pool, filling it with bubble solution (LOTS of bubble solution), and letting the boys use a hula hoop to create bubbles big enough to stand in.  I may also arm each of them with a fly swatter (a NEW fly swatter - otherwise, eww, gross!), as I hear tell that the fine plastic mesh creates lots of Don Ho-worthy "tiny bubbles."


Found these bubble cookies on a stick on Remarkably Domestic's blog site.  Really cute, and I have the perfect shades of blue food dye in the baking cabinet to make these really pop.  Um, small pun intended.  POPsicles, soda POP and POP Rocks will complete the theme.  (Yes, I realize that that's a lot of sugar.  No, I'm not worried that they will stay up all night.  It's the last day of school.  They will be exhausted from all of the excitement and will be out by 8 pm.  Seriously, this is not my first last-day rodeo.) 

You could build a great birthday party around this idea.  Find some polka-dot gift wrap (I found white paper with turquoise polka dots of various sizes at Dollar Tree a few months back) to use as a table runner, fill a glass jar with gumballs to match your party colors, and let kids fill their own treat bags.  Bubbles and bubble wands are the other obvious choice for favors.  If you want to take it to another level of fanciness, lots of boutiques are selling pewter bubble wands in whimsical shapes (stars, hearts, etc.).  Whether you choose "fancy" or "plain ol' plastic," fill cylinder vases with clear and iridescent marbles (to mimic bubbles), intersperse those with the bubblegum jars down the center of the table, and display the bubble wands with their handles stuck down in the marbles.

I remember doing a craft with the kids involving food coloring and bubble soap.  You mix colors, give the kids a straw and have them blow bubbles onto a white sheet of paper, capturing the splatter pattern of the bubble as it pops.  This really only works with school-aged kids, as little ones will (pick one, or two, or three) drip the colored bubble solution onto their clothes/somehow pop the colored bubbles on their clothes/suck instead of blow, ingesting a bunch of colored bubble soaps that they will throw up, in a Technicolor mess, on their clothes.  No matter the means to the end, the end will involve you, a bottle of Shout and a sink.

Bubble on, party people . . . .

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eat This: Potato Chip and Onion Dip Reboot

I crave sour more than sweet.  Vinegar, sour cream, sour gummi candies - it's all good in the sour 'hood.

I particularly love vinegar potato chips.  "Love" as in "cannot stop eating them once I start."  As an accommodation to the fact that I no longer have the metabolism - or arteries - of a hummingbird (come to think of it, I don't want hummingbird arteries - no doubt they are incredibly narrow), I have started making this baked variation.  I don't think you'll confuse them for fried chips, but they are good in their own way, and they have that oh-so-important pucker factor.

Also including the recipe for one of my favorite "onion dips with a twist."  Because you have to have onion dip with potato chips.  It's the law.

SALT AND VINEGAR POTATO CHIPS

4 medium Yukon Gold or red potatoes (about 2 1/2 lbs.), scrubbed
2 T olive oil
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Malt vinegar, for drizzling

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place two nonstick baking sheets in the oven, and let heat for about 10 minutes.  (I may break out the Silpats - nonstick coating is great, but it only goes so far.)  Slice potatoes into ¼-inch-thick rounds, and toss potato slices with olive oil, salt and pepper. Remove baking sheets from oven, and arrange potato slices on sheets in single layer. Bake until potatoes are golden on the bottom side, about 30 minutes, then turn potatoes over and bake about 15 minutes more (until golden on both sides).  Remove from oven, drizzle with vinegar and serve immediately.

BAKED VIDALIA ONION DIP

2 T butter or margarine
3 large Vidalia onions, coarsely chopped
2 cups (8-ozs.) shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups mayonnaise
1 (8-oz.) can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. hot sauce

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onions, and saute until tender (about 10 minutes). Combine Swiss cheese and next 5 ingredients; stir in onion, blending well. Spoon cheese and onion mixture into a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Yield:  6 cups.

Cupcake of the Week: Banana Pudding

People love my banana pudding - to such an extent that an attorney with whom I used to work actually requested it for his office birthday party dessert a couple of years running.  Some have mistaken it for sour cream banana pudding, but that's not how I roll - I'm of the "cream cheese banana pudding" camp.  This recipe captures the flavor of my banana pudding, but not the texture - they are goo-free.  Because, personally, I'm not a fan of gooey-filled cupcakes.  If it's goo you want, there are several banana pudding-themed cupcake recipes floating around the Interwebs that incorporate either a gooey banana filling or a pudding filling.

If absence of goo is not a deal-breaker for you, read on.

BANANA PUDDING CUPCAKES

1 box yellow cake mix, plus ingredients to make cake (as shown on box)

2 ripe (brown) bananas
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box Nilla Wafers, divided
Kathryn's Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Lemon juice
2 ripe bananas for garnish

Prepare cake mix according to package directions.  Mash ripe bananas and baking soda in separate bowl and stir banana mixture into cake batter, stirring in vanilla last.  Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan and spray with nonstick spray.  Place Nilla wafer in bottom of each liner and pour cake batter over top of each wafer, filling each liner 2/3 full.  Put cupcake pan or pans into cold oven, set temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.  While cupcakes are baking, crush several Nilla Wafers in zip-top bag (using hands or rolling pin).  Cool cupcakes before frosting.  Pour Nilla Wafers crumbs into dish and roll sides of top of each frosted cupcake in crumbs, creating a "halo" effect.  Slice bananas, dip slices into lemon juice (to slow browning) and garnish each cupcake with a banana slice.  You can also insert a whole Nilla wafer into the top of the frosting for additional garnish.  Serve immediately.

Kathryn's Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:  Beat together 6 ounces softened cream cheese, 4 tablespoons softened butter and 1 tsp. vanilla extract on medium speed with a heavy-duty mixer for 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.  Increase speed to medium and beat for an additional 3-5 minutes.

The cold oven tip comes courtesy of the Your Cup of Cake blog; YCoC's simple banana cupcake recipe can be accessed here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kid Stuff: Limo Lunch

Connor and Parker collectively sold fifty (actually, fifty two) units of cookie dough as part of the PTA fundraiser, entitling them each to a lunchtime limo ride to CiCi's Pizza.

They would like me to inform the blogosphere that:

1) The limo was a stretch Hummer.


2) They look darn good riding in a stretch Hummer.


3) The interior of the stretch Hummer was AAAAAAAAAAAAAAWESOME. (I have to agree that this is about as boy-friendly of a limo as you could dream up. This photo looks like a still from Star Wars.)



I believe that there were twelve or so kids in all who went on the CiCi's excursion - but I am advised that my six year-old was the life of the party.

(I did not attend the pizza lunch, as it was only open to parents who had gotten their background checks through the school district.  I never got around to getting a background check this year, because getting a background check renders one eligible for PTA service, and PTA service leads to madness.  Seriously.  I have sworn off PTA for health reasons - mental health reasons.  Also, how sad of a commentary on our society that background checks are required of parent volunteers?

The send-home said that "parents cannot eat at CiCi's without a district background check."  Um, PTA powers-that-be (of which I am no longer one - happy, happy, joy, joy)?  I respect that you can prohibit me from riding along in the limo without a background check, but CiCi's Pizza?  Public.  Place.  I can so totally dine there during regular business hours without your permission.  Just sayin'.

Also, PTA peeps, background check or no, you should be HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS of anyone who asks to ride in a limo with a bunch of elementary school students.  I love taking pictures of my children and their friends being silly as much as the next parent, but here's the thing:  kids being silly tend to be loud, and spastic, and the notion of being in a confined space with a bunch of loud and spastic, "amps-on-eleven-'cause-WE'RE-IN-A-LIMO" kids - well, there's no picture cute enough, you know?   Sane people in their right minds do not sign up for this.

In case you were wondering, sane people in their right minds send their spouse to the school with a camera to capture the departure, then call it a day.)

No doubt the eleven year-old will be dusting off his old business plan:  boys' party limo.  Why should the Sweet and Sassy crowd have all of the fun?  Connor's party limo would have lights, music and three different gaming systems.  Also, the limo would be a hearse, and the interior would have a spook house theme.
Not a bad business plan, actually.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Southern Girl 101: Delivery Meals

Earlier in the week I found myself putting together dinner for the family of an under-the-weather friend.  (A long overdue dinner, I should say.  I am behind on bringing meals to several folks similarly situated - you know who you are - but I am SLOWLY getting caught up.)  At some point in the process, I realized that I was, basically, operating on autopilot.  And this made me happy, because it reminded me that (1) I am Southern, (2) I am a girl and (3) I am the type of Southern girl who assembles delivery dinners for sick friends and new mommies on autopilot.  I consider distinction #3 to be a badge of honor (although I'm generally pretty proud of #1 and #2, too).  Pondering distinction #3 got my mind going, re:  all of the other badges of honor that Southern girls of a certain type tend to display.

I decided that the quirks of being a Southern girl of a certain type merited their own blog series.  Sunday seemed like a good day, because it was open, and because it was Sunday - a day of the week on which many Southern quirks tend to manifest themselves.

Starting off the series . . . a primer on delivery dinners:

1)  Scheduling.  Beginners should - um - begin, I guess, by contacting the deliveree (if that isn't a word, well, darn it, it ought to be) and making arrangements to deliver food on a certain day, within a certain time window.  It's also important to determine how many people you will be feeding and whether anyone has any dietary restrictions.  Advanced course:  If you travel in certain circles (Sunday school classes, women's groups), you will not need to have this conversation with the deliveree, because a friend of the deliveree will have set up a page for the deliveree on a Web site like Meal Train or Lotsa Helping Hands.  On this page will be a calendar, showing dates on which meals are desired.  You click on a date to reserve it, insert your name and what you are bringing (important so that people on either side of your date know what not to bring, lest the deliveree find herself floating in chicken soup or buried under mountains of spaghetti) - boom, done.  The deliveree's page will also tell you when to make your delivery, whether to call first, and whether anyone is allergic to peanuts, or wheat, or dairy, or shellfish, or strawberries, or avocados.  (Until recently, I was unaware that you could be allergic to avocados.  But, in fact, a new mommy friend is allergic to avocados.  How did I learn this?  From her meal delivery page, silly!  Aren't you paying attention?)

2)  Meal Selection.  It is customary to provide an entree, possibly a side dish, a salad, and bread and/or dessert.  The exact configuration of the meal really depends on the entree.  Italian food, for example, lends itself to salad and bread.  A meat-only dish (grilled chicken, barbecue brisket) calls for a side of vegetables.  I am Methodist.  This means that I tend to make casseroles, which means that my veggies tend to be inextricably intertwined with my meat as part of the entree (bound together, usually, by some creamed soup product).  This week, I made West of the Pecos, a beef, vegetable and noodle dish that is Mexican-ish (but mild enough for nursing mothers; see advanced course, below).  It was one of my favorites after Connor was born, and I have been making it for others since then.  It is unique among my go-to casserole recipes in that it doesn't feature any part of the creamed soup trinity (chicken, mushroom and celery).  It does feature canned soup (tomato) and something creamed (corn), but the soup and the creamed stuff are separate.

For a Methodist, this constitutes thinking outside of the box.

Along with the casserole,  I provided a salad with Ranch dressing (I was cooking for a family with multiple boys, and Ranch and boys just go together) and dessert.  Advanced course:  If you are cooking for a nursing mother, you should give thought to what you are putting in Momma that Momma will be putting into Baby.  Translation:  cut down on the chili powder, or cut it out entirely.  Consider omitting onions and garlic.  Since I wasn't cooking for a new mom, I had a little more leeway.  I also had a little fun with dessert, making cutout sugar cookies with silly messages on them (using my Williams-Sonoma "Message in a Cookie" cutters) out of pink-tinted dough.  I also threw in breakfast for the next day - sweet rolls with a brown sugar, cinnamon and marmalade glaze.  I topped these with pecans.  OF COURSE I topped these with pecans.  Remember, I AM A SOUTHERN GIRL.  But I chopped the pecans fairly coarsely, and I only added them to the top, so picky kids could - well, pick them off.

3)  Packaging.  Think disposable - foil pans for a casserole, those little "take-n-go" plastic containers that they sell next to the zip-top bags for salad dressing, and so on.  The idea is to make things easy for the deliveree.  Washing and returning baking pans does not constitute "easy."  Be sure to include reheating instructions.  Advanced course:  Providing recipes is a nice touch.  I like to throw in paper products, if I have them on hand or remember to buy them when I am buying my ingredients.  This week's deliveree got a little handled gift bag containing styrofoam cups (decorated with a Groucho Marx mustache design and the phrase, "Be yourself - everyone else is taken"), paper napkins and the sugar cookies tied in individual cellophane bags.  To the front of the bag I attached a card with the food prep instructions.  The card had our address stamp on the top.  This was not a fishing expedition for a thank-you note - the card happened to have the stamp on it already - but providing at least your name on the package is a good idea, given that your recipient may also be a Southern girl, and therefore may have thank-you notes on her mind (and will write you one, even if you insist that a note isn't necessary).

What the address stamp does demonstrate:  my affinity for personalized address labels, and my affinity for monograms (specifically, my spouse's and my blended monogram).  Both of these, I think, are terribly Southern.  And, therefore, will be highlighted in future posts.

4)  Extras.  If the deliveree is a new mommy, and Baby is not her first child, a lot of Southern girls will include a small gift for Big Brother or Big Sister (doesn't have to be elaborate - a coloring book and some crayons or some bath toys).  Advanced course:  When Parker was born, one of my best college friends delivered (a) a meal, (b) a present for the baby, (c) a present for the big brother and (d) flannel pajamas for Momma.  Not just any flannel pajamas, but a three-piece set with drawstring-waisted pants (very forgiving), a matching (roomy) button-down top and a color-coordinated, more fitted knit camisole.  Her explanation:  she wanted me to have something to wear while my stomach was "going down," and also something to wear after.  Brilliant.  No, it was not her first rodeo - she'd just had her second child not long before.

5)  DeliveryLet's skip right to the advanced course:  If you are REALLY ADEPT at being a Southern girl of a certain type, you will have married a Southern boy of a certain type, who grew up watching his mom cook for funerals and bake pies for newcomers, and the boy that you married will understand why you are doing all of this work for someone else.  He will appreciate the "pay it forward" aspect of your efforts, recollecting how nice people were to you (and to him) after your children were born.  HE MAY EVEN OFFER TO DELIVER THE FOOD FOR YOU.  As my Southern boy has done on numerous occasions - including this last week.

He is what we Southern girls refer to as "a keeper."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Potpourri: Dear Subway Sandwich Artists

I'm getting signs laminated. To take with me to Subway. I need "signs," plural, because I have a lot to say, and I'm tired of repeating myself:

"I would like a 6-inch turkey on wheat, without cheese. I do not want it toasted, because, really, what's the point? Did you get the part about no cheese? Okay, so asking if I want it toasted is, to me, sort of a non sequitur, because the reason that we toast sandwiches is to make them "melts." Oh, don't tell me that some customers like their cheese-less sandwiches toasted, on account of how they want their sandwich on toasted bread. What you do isn't really toasting - it's not like you put the bread in a toaster oven, and THEN you make the sandwich on the toasted bread. You're heating an already-assembled sandwich. Which doesn't do much except to MELT ANY CHEESE INSIDE OF IT.

"Did you catch the part about my sandwich not having cheese?

"Good. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I would like to ADD AVOCADO, and I want ALL OF THE VEGETABLES. I am mentioning the avocado first, because if I mention it second (which would be somewhat logical - 'I want everything that comes on my sandwich, plus I want to add seomething to the list'), you freak, because THE AVOCADO, you have informed me, IS SUPPOSED TO GO ON BEFORE ANY OTHER TOPPINGS. Notwithstanding the fact that: (1) the avocado is at the end of the toppings line; and (2) there is at least one among you who is capable of putting on all of the other toppings, then using the ubiquitous Subway knife/spatula thing to move the turkey slices out of the way, creating an opening between the turkey and bread into which avocado can be inserted.

"Yes, I am aware that avocado costs 75 cents extra. That is precisely why I said that I would like to ADD avocado. I accept the charge, and I hereby waive and relinquish any and all avocado upcharge-related claims that I may assert against Subway, you the sandwich artist (individually and in your capacity as agent) and your respective heirs, legal representatives, successors and assigns (hereinafter, the 'Releasees').

"Yes, when I said that I wanted ALL OF THE VEGETABLES, I understood that ALL OF THE VEGETABLES means ALL OF THE VEGETABLES. Including all three varieties of peppers - bell, banana and jalapeno. I hereby waive and relinquish any and all pepper-related claims that I may assert against the Releasees.

"I don't want salt and pepper, but I do want red wine vinegar. Okay, so you claim not to have red wine vinegar - just "vinegar." News flash: your ingredient menu says that you have red wine vinegar, and what you consider to be "just vinegar" is, actually, factually, RED WINE VINEGAR.

"First context clue? IT'S RED.

"No, I do not want chips and a drink. I know that you're supposed to sell me additional product if you can, but you really need to stop insulting my intelligence. I put this line of question right up there with Sonic's "Would you like some cheddar peppers to go with your [insert order item]?" Seriously, if I want cheddar peppers, I'm capable of ordering them myself. And if I wanted chips and a drink, I would have said so."

Told you I needed multiple laminated cards.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Cool Virtual Invites



Forgot to share the invitation from Christi's party.  I "hired it done," via Veronica at Inviting Printables.  Check out her Etsy site here - lots of great products, but the Western invitations were just the ticket for Christi's shindig.  She customized the colors for me and sent it to me as a jpeg, so I could print it or incorporate it into a virtual invitation.  I opted for the latter, using Paperless Post:


Love Paperless Post - it offers the convenience of Evite with the look of Crane.  When guests clicked on the link, they were treated to an envelope with their name on it, and upon clicking on the envelope, it flipped over, unflapped, and the invitation popped out of the top.  (It's an invitation AND a show!)  Can't duplicate it here, but I included a screen cap (captured mid-"invite pop").  Love, love, LOVE the piping on the envelope and also the envelope lining.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fun on the Interwebs: Def Facebook Slam

Another funny, courtesy of The Oatmeal (which, counterintuitively as it may sound, goes great with The Onion):  a guide titled "How to suck at Facebook."

Recognize any of these?

The Event Coordinator. "You should come to my cat's birthday party!"

The Horrible Photo Tagger. "Matt has tagged a photo of you.  Matt writes:  'I snapped this photo last night when you barfed up nachos and peppermint schnapps into that hooker's eyes!  ROFL.'"

The Quiz Taker:  "Christy took the quiz:  What kind of rancid meat are you? [Answer:  I AM A ROTTING BUFFALO CARCASS!]."

[I'll spare you the answer to the hypothetical quiz, "Which Backstreet Boy testicle are you?"  I'll also attempt to refrain from creating on Facebook a quiz, "Which Backstreet Boy testicle are you?"  But only because I don't know enough about the Backstreet Boys to complete this task.  But there's always Wikipedia.  Okay, now I'm fighting the urge to research the Backstreet Boys (all of them, not just their genitalia, but I guess it would be relevant to find out if any of them has an . . . anomaly . . . down there).  Also fighting the urge to log onto Facebook to see if anyone has beaten me to the quiz-creating punch.]

It goes on.  I was particularly amused by the observation that people who use photos of their babies as profile pictures and then post adult-ish nuggets about being hung over, or proclaim their affinity for female mud wrestling, are "annoying and a little bit disturbing."  Agreed.

Okay, I caved.  Apparently, no one has created the Backstreet Boys Facebook quiz - yet - but my search turned up, via Bing, a link to the Web (not FB) posted question, "Who has tried testicle pizza in Serbia?"  This is only slightly less bizarre than the Backstreet Boys question.  I predict that both will be FB quizzes soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Insect Party

As a follow-up to my insect Easter, here are some ideas for an insect party, three ways . . . .

For girls, a butterfly party. Idea board #1 (clockwise from top left):



Martha Stewart for Grandin Road butterfly wreath: They have a matching garland, too. Neither comes cheap - $80 and up – but they are pretty darned cute.

Butterfly-studded paper lanterns: Also courtesy of the divine Miss M. She cut her butterflies out of paper, if memory serves, but I would just buy feather or paper butterflies (both can be purchased off of the Pearl River Trading Web site) and break out the glue gun.

Butterfly straws: Martha again, and also cut from paper (with a slit in the center for the straw to go through). You could make these out of scrapbook paper – or, if you have purchased butterflies left over from the lanterns, attach them to straws with glue dots.

Paper butterfly accordions: From Pearl River, these are a steal at $1.50 each and would make great favors.

Butterfly-print oilcloth: $12.50 a yard from Pearl River, three colorways, and 48” wide, so three yards would get you two 48” square tablecloths (for card table toppers) plus a 12” table runner for a refreshment table.

Idea board #2:


Scalloped cupcake toppers: These come from Mary Had a Little Party’s Etsy site. Another option would be to top a cake or cupcakes with edible paper butterflies, available from a variety of Etsy sellers.

Butterfly fabric: This print is from Michael Miller and would look so cute covering little tin pails for favors. A rectangle of fabric (or patches of several coordinating fabrics), a little Mod Podge – done. A little ball fringe glued around the top would finish things off nicely.

Butterfly kite: From GZ International. Their Web site has both paper and nylon kites, starting at $1.50. Any of them would look adorable hung over a party table, and they would make great favors, too.

Polka dot cupcake liners: $5 for 12 from Holiday Home Keepsakes on Etsy.

Other ideas:

Garlands made from origami butterflies strung on twine, or paper butterfly cutouts clothes-pinned (for bodies) to ribbon.

Butterflies glued to party hats.

Antenna headbands (plastic headbands, wire springs and pom poms) for each guests.

A “decorate-your-own-wings” craft (nylon wings, available from party supply retailers, set out with fabric paint, pom poms, buttons and other add-ons, and bottles of craft glue).


I have been carrying around a picture of these favor bags (Martha YET AGAIN!) for eons. Couldn’t be easier – white paper bag, scrapbook paper grass – and, in lieu of butterflies, you could glue on any rubber insect of your choice, thus making this a design that could also be used for . . .

. . . the boy party:


Dragonfly and spider notecards: From Good Indian Girls on Etsy. Silkscreened and graphically cool, not cutesy – perfect for boys. 8 for $20, and other designs are available, as are assortment packs.

Fondant toppers: Kids Cakes (Etsy again) sells these a la carte and also packaged with polka dot cupcake liners in coordinating colors.

Specimen box party favors: STILL MORE MARTHA. Boxes can be obtained from bigger craft retailers, and Martha coated hers with rubber cement and then affixed wrapping paper to the sides, using a craft knife to cut off excess. From there, it’s just a matter of attaching toy bugs to the inside of the box, using glue dots.

Other ideas:

As a centerpiece, a cluster of mason jars filled with dirt and plugs of grass, topped with toy bugs.

Cupcakes topped with green icing (applied with a “grass” tip); let the kids add bugs using candy (Twizzler and licorice whip segments could form a stick insect, those spearmint gumdrop leaves could be wings, etc.).

Chocolate ice cream served in clear plastic cups, topped with Oreo cookie crumbs and a gummi worm or spider.

Magnifying glasses and plastic shovels as party favors, so kids can dig for critters at home.

The final variation of the bug party – a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” theme for the little ones:


Clockwise from left, you have:

Caterpillar toppers: From Adora Belle Designs. (Cute butterfly toppers are available on the same site.) I love the chew holes!

Name banner and confetti: Both come courtesy of Lillian Harper Events. The confetti is flippin’ adorable, and a bargain at $3.50 (free shipping with another item!).  Enlarge the picture if you're confused, or I'll just tell you - it's comprised of paper caterpillar parts (legs and body segments), so the kids can assemble their own caterpillars.

Felt caterpillar crown: How cute is this? $25 from Better Than Normal’s Etsy site.

Insect crayons: These come 9 for $9.95, courtesy of Etsy seller Lil Doodlers. I have also seen candy molds shaped like insects (I’ve seen them in my house, actually - not sure of their current whereabouts), and you could melt down your kids’ broken crayons and make your own critter colors.


Finally, I found this hungry caterpillar pull-apart cake on the The Teaching Heart Web site.  This would be great for a first birthday, because the caterpillar’s head (covered in red fondant) is an ideal “smash cake,” and the cupcakes could be served to the guests.  You can also find instructions for this caterpillar (made of segments of Bundt cake!) through The Teaching Heart:


The cupcake cake is from Coco Cake Cupcakes, a Vancouver, BC-based business.  One of my favorite cities in the world, and now I have another reason to visit!  Check out their blog (roll over the name above for the link) - the Angry Birds cake made me laugh out loud.

Caterpillars probably don't think birds are funny, come to think of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cupcake of the Week: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut

This one is for my spouse - a big fan of white chocolate, with or without macadamia nuts.

WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA NUT CUPCAKES

1 box white cake mix (WITHOUT pudding in the mix), plus ingredients to make the cake (as listed on box)
1 (4-oz.) box white chocolate instant pudding mix
3/4 cup macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 cup canned vanilla frosting

Prepare cake mix as directed, adding pudding mix. Fold in nuts and white chocolate chips. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  While cupcakes cool, toast coconut on a baking sheet in the 350-degree oven (5-6 minutes).  Frost and top with toasted coconut.  (Note:  If the idea of a chip-studded cupcake doesn't appeal, you can melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave and stir the white chocolate chips into the icing.  But do one or the other, because two cups of white chocolate would be overkill.  Unless you are my spouse.  They are also good with some toasted coconut on top of the icing - just spread 1-1/2 cups of coconut onto a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.)

Eat This: Sunny Banana Pie

Didn't have to think up a cutesy name for this post, since the name of the recipe is pretty gosh-darned cute on its own.  This is my mom's recipe, and it was one of my favorites growing up.  Hadn't thought about it in years, but now that it's crossed my radar I am definitely planning on making it for Parker.  I suspect that he'll add it to his list of favorites as well.

SUNNY BANANA PIE

1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust
2 bananas
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese
2 cups milk
1 (3.4-oz.) pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix

Slice bananas onto crust. In bowl, gradually add ½ cup milk to softened cream cheese, mixing well until blended. Add pudding mix and remaining milk. Beat slowly for 1 minute. Pour into pie crust and chill.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kid Stuff: Cult of Personality



So for the last few weeks, Parker has been driving us crazy singing a (self-penned) ditty (to the tune of the ABC Song) that goes a little something like this:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G,
Gummi bears are chasing me.
One is red, one is blue,
One is peeing on my shoe.

(Repeat first verse, ad nauseam.)

It's a catchy tune - one that, unfortunately, gets stuck in your head after the fifteenth or sixteenth consecutive performance.

The Friday before Mother's Day, the boys invited me to "Muffins with Mom."  Line into the library was out the door, and Mom prefers proteins to carbs in the morning, so we opted to go to the cafeteria, and Parker "bought" me breakfast (on his account, which we fund - but he wanted to show me that he knows how to punch his code into the little pad).  As we were eating our eggs and bacon, one of Parker's classmates walked by.

Classmate:  "PARKER!"
Parker:  "Hey, dude."
Classmate:  "GUMMI BEARS!"

And then my six year-old son pointed at his friend, winked and said, "Gummi bears, man."

Awhile later, the process was repeated.  This time, the shout-out came from a first-grader.  I finally had to ask:  "So, I take it that you taught your classmates your Gummi bear song?"

At this point, the eleven year-old self-appointed PR rep for the six year-old pipes up:

"No, Mom, Parker's written a second song, and ALL of the little kids are singing it."

"Ohhhkay.  And how does this one go?"

Parker starts to sing:

Gummi bears, gummi bears,
GUMMI GUMMI GUMMI bears,
Gummi bears, gummi bears,
GUMMI GUMMI GUMMI bears . . . .

It went on . . . and on . . . for a long time.  Choreography may have been involved.

I occasionally remind myself that this was the child who I worried would never develop a personality.  The one who might be a bit of a wallflower.

Yeah, what the heck do I know?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Potpourri: Date Night Surprise for Mother's Day


Went into Mother's Day weekend wondering how I was going to work in Mayfest, a family wedding, lunch with my mother and grandmother and some badly needed yardwork, all while having some semblance of fun - this being "my" weekend and all.  Leave it to my sweet mom to provide the glue to cement all of the pieces of a great weekend together.  She had agreed to watch the kids on Saturday night while we were at the wedding - the hub dropped them off while I was getting ready - and it wasn't until we were pulling up in front of the wedding venue that he mentioned that she had offered to keep them overnight.  Yes, please!    One quick cell phone call and date night was officially in session.

The wedding, which could have been a whipping - given that it was being held outdoors, in the country - ended up being a ton of fun.  During the ceremony, I was particularly taken by the flower girls (and - not shown - the cattle dog that circled the wedding party during the vows).


The blonde curlytop appropriated several bouquets and spent some quality time rearranging them, while the oldest flower girl sighed and smacked her lips - clearly, the service was going on a bit too long for her taste.  (The one in the middle is related to us by marriage, through my sister-in-law, and I definitely claim her, because:  (1) she is adorable; (2) she kept it together during the ceremony and, when the flower girls started to get out of height order during the recessional, she very discreetly injected herself between Taller and Shorter; and (3) girlfriend can bust a serious move.  Not shown here:  her highly enjoyable dance routine during the reception.  Don't worry, we got it on videotape.)

Pictured below:  The Lip-Smacker, mid-fidget, and The Future Florist, working her magic on some gerbera daisies.


Reception was held poolside, adjacent to the Wedding Field.  I have an odd affinity for pool shacks like this one:


I also appreciate that the bride and groom (who are in their mid-twenties) kept everything light-hearted and reflective of their own easy-going personalities.  In hindsight, I was WAY too concerned about propriety as a bride, to a certain degree at the expense of my own enjoyment of the experience.  If I had it do over, I might (no, I WOULD) inject a bit more whimsy into things.  For example, this was Courtney's cake:


Mine was very minimalist (squares stacked off-center, with only flowers for decoration - fresh ones, because that was the style at that time).  Parnell's was similar to mine, but chocolate, with the ubiquitous "mid-nineties chocolate-dipped wedding strawberries" for topping.  Compare and contrast with Brandon's groom cake (I should point out that he customizes cars for a living, a la "Pimp My Ride"):


Likewise, I am fairly certain that our gift table did not feature a carton of beer with a bow on it, but if I had it to do over I think I would have registered for beer (can you do that?) as opposed to the very bland china that I talked myself into because it was "versatile" and that I never use because it is VERY BLAND CHINA.


I could go on.  Our afternoon wedding featured Classical music and standards.  I love Classical music and standards, but I also really love a good booty-shaking tune.  I recall discussing with my then-fiance the relative merits of the throw-down dance party wedding reception and the "high tea at the Ritz" wedding reception, and we decided that, while we enjoyed making fools of ourselves at the former, we wanted our own nuptials to be marked by the latter.  (We didn't have much of a choice, really -  the church where we married was in high demand, and - notwithstanding the fact that we reserved more than a year in advance, our options were an 11 am ceremony or a 1 pm ceremony - so "high tea at the Houstonian" it was.)

Looking back almost fifteen years later, I kind of wished that we'd held out for a nighttime time slot, and an R&B band.  Or a DJ spinning tunes like the one that got the groom's maternal grandmother onto the dance floor (dance lawn?):


I also deeply regret not having a Chris Brown lookalike in our wedding party:


And I definitely regret not having wedding koozies.  Contemplating throwing a fifteenth anniversary backyard barbecue for P and me in the fall, so that I can justify having some made (to match the stadium cups from my 40th birthday bash).


I love the pictures below because they feature (from left to right) my mom-in-law, me, my sister-in-law (the groom's mom) and P's baby brother's girlfriend - I think the first time that someone managed to get all four of us in a shot together.  I also love the pictures below because the "someone" who got the shots was my spouse, who always takes - um, INTERESTING - pictures.  Like the ones below, in which my mom-in-law appears to be balancing a pink paper lantern on her head, and Patrick's girlfriend appears to be wearing a white one as a fascinator.



I departed the wedding rather reluctantly - kind of wanted to stay and dance, but the more grown-up among the grown-ups were clearing out, and my spouse pointed out that we had overnight child care AND were already dressed for a night on the town, so, really, we were MORALLY OBLIGATED to go somewhere.  But where?  This always happens - total mental blockage when called upon to decide on a venue for dinner and drinks without the kiddos.  We ultimately agreed to steer the car towards the West 7th valet stand - nine restaurants, closely clustered together, and we would make a decision once our feet were on the pavement.  We opted for Hacienda San Miguel, the latest addition to West 7th, and I have to say, we made a great choice.  Sat out on the patio, sampled some delicious food (definitely coming back for a full meal), drank some delicious drinks (I had a tamarind margarita and a cocktail made with Woodford Reserve, honey, lemon and jalapeno - leave out the jalapeno, and you have the ultimate sore throat remedy!) and listened to some great jazz music.  REALLY liked the jazz music - mostly Latin stuff, of the "Girl from Ipanema" ilk, all very sophisticated while somehow being casual at the same time, and played at a volume that encouraged actual conversation.  They got a big tip.

When we got to Mom's for lunch the next day, I was ready to plant a big one on her to thank her for our spontaneous date night as it was, but I turned to total mush when I saw the surprise that was waiting on the driveway:  "Happy Mother's Day" in chalk, spelled out in bubble letters.  My mom's bubble letters.  The accompanying illustrations clearly were Parker's, but those letters were all Nana.  I remember those letters from PTA carnival posters and birthday signs from my childhood.  Seeing them again reminded me of lots of great times, back in the day when I was the kid and she was the mommy.

Evidently she has clear memories of those days as well - specifically, of the awesomeness that is Date Night when you have dependent children underfoot. 

Thanks for everything, Mom - and, most recently, thanks for paying it forward.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Pop Tarts and Pop Tarts Accessories

My kids love Pop Tarts. Specifically, untoasted Pop Tarts. I think it's safe to say that my mother would have been caught dead before she fed her baby girl a RAW Pop Tart. However, I have boys - boys who have managed to convince me that there are worse things in the world than an untoasted Tart.

You learn to pick your battles.

Parker has a bad habit of leaving half-eaten Pop Tarts . . . everywhere. Apparently, he is only good for a half of an untoasted Pop Tart. So I got him one of these:


It's a Pop Tart case. Now if only I can train him to use it.

If you aren't a big fan of actually eating Pop Tarts but like the look of Parker's Pop Tart case - and if you have an iPhone - then go to Gadget Gear's Etsy page and beg the proprietress to whip up another one of these:


Or, if you have declared jihad against prepackaged kid food, buy yourself a toaster pastry press from Williams Sonoma and make your own.



At $9.95, I'm tempted to take it for a test drive. Maybe Parker will take better care of a tart that he had a hand in making?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fun on the Interwebs: The Oatmeal

I discovered the book that was spawned by the subversive cartoon site, theoatmeal.com, before I found the site itself - but now I am a fan of both.  The book is called "5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides)."  If ever a title was designed to suck me in - that would be the title.  Among the guides in the book, which also appear on the site:

"8 ways to tell if your loved ones plan to eat you."  (Among the eight ways:  "Fattening you up," "Slipping strange objects in the shower" - accompanied by an image of a bottle of steak sauce next to a bottle of shampoo - and "Sneaking vegetables into the bathtub.")

"6 reasons bacon is better than true love."  ("True love only happens once in a lifetime.  Bacon can happen seven times a day, if you want it to.")

"6 reasons man nipples are awesome." ("WILDERNESS SAFETY!  By showing your nipples, you can trick predators into thinking you have compound eyes."  This caption is accompanied by a drawing of a man exposing his nipples - the "How You Look" image - and a drawing of a ginormous spider - "How A Predator Sees You.")

I could go on and on.  Seriously, I could go on for days.  Save me the trouble, and check out the site.  Or the book.  Or both.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Christi's Rhinestone Cowgirl Fortieth

My best college friend Christi just achieved - ahem - a major milestone.  I missed her 80's themed Austin shindig but made up for it by helping her mom throw her a second, Cowtown-centric get-together the weekend after her birthday.  Okay, technically she grew up in Crowley, and now her parents live in Burleson, but both towns are Cowtown-adjacent - and her parents still raise racehorses, so we had a barn to work with, inspiring the cowgirl theme.  But this is Christi - my bright, sunny friend who, like me, is easily distracted by shiny objects - so "cowgirl" became "rhinestone cowgirl," which also tied into the seventies as the era of her birth.  Color palette had to include burnt orange (she's a UT grad and huge UT sports fan), bright yellow (to match her kitchen and personality) and red (her favorite color, if she had to pick just one), and I threw in some hot pink for good measure.  Also a must (in addition to some sparklies):  a little bit of funkiness, in honor of (1) her adopted Austin home and (2) her love of kitsch.  She comes by that love honestly:  thanks to her dad, and the THREE jukeboxes that he keeps in the rec room, the iPod full of seventies and eighties tunes that I brought along "just in case" never made it out of the monogrammed oilcloth bag.  The kids, in particular, had a blast grooving to the jukebox - that is, when they weren't fishing in the stockpond, riding horses or driving the golf cart through the pasture.  Wondering when Connor will be old enough to take over the mantle of family party planner (I know that he'll be up for it eventually), so that MOM can take a turn driving the golf cart.  Because it always looks like loads of fun.

Anyway . . . entertainment was covered (see above), and food was a no-brainer as well.  Barbecue, fried okra, the usual condiments, and I made a metric ton of potato salad the night before, and a couple of batches of barbecued beans the day of.  And cupcakes - lots and lots of cupcakes.  To justify cupcake toppers.  We also had Black Forest cake from the Swiss Pastry Shop - kind of a go-to dessert with our crowd, particularly given that Christi's childhood friend Hans runs the place - and was a party guest. 


That's Hans posing with the cake, and the birthday girl, above.  I should say "one of the cakes," because there were two.  Always best to have a back-up.

Remind me to tell you about my spouse transporting a Swiss Pastry Shop BF cake to Houston for our wedding rehearsal dinner, packed on dry ice.  And about the ten minutes I spent crying in the bathroom at said rehearsal dinner because my husband-to-be was too busy worrying about the cake, and getting it to the restaurant, to fully engage in the rehearsal, and then he spent the first few minutes of the rehearsal dinner POSING WITH THE CAKE, and THEN - seconds after being presented with the thoughtful and sentimental wedding gift that I had lovingly picked out for him - he confessed that he forgot my present at the hotel, on account of all of the excitement about THE DAMNED CAKE.

But I digress.  Hans:  you make a great cake, and it inspires a loyal following.

Decor-wise, I didn't have much of a cohesive plan going in, because we weren't sure whether the weather would cooperate, and thus weather we would set up inside or outside.  (Due to wind issues, we ended up doing food indoors, but folks congregated both places.)  Basically, I decorated a bunch of random stuff and figured that we would pull it together the day of.  I started with a hat:


Zebra-striped blingy longhorn hat ornament started out as a pendant; I broke it at some point but held on to it.  Used it to decorate a cheap straw hat from Wal-Mart (this one, actually) as part of my Sue Ellen Ewing Halloween costume last year.  The kids had sort of mangled the hat, so I manipulated it back into shape and then painted the heck out of it.  Then I added another hat - zebra, to match the first one.  I also picked up several bandanas to put - wherever - as well as several yards of a black and hot pink batik fabric (clearance aisle at JoAnn) that was bandana-ish and tied in the black in the zebra stripes.


Then I painted a "Longhorn Princess" canvas for Christi (with hot pink stripes around the sides, not shown):


And a second canvas for people to sign with a Sharpie at the party - like a permanent birthday card.


This tin planter was in the craft closet - I painted it burnt orange and added glass jewels to it.    At some point, I remembered the orange-and-pink dotted table runner (okay, actually it fell out of the sideboard and landed on me.)


Bought zebra-striped cupcake liners and made cupcake toppers out of circles of bright-colored scrapbook paper, backed in black, and accented with these really cool mulberry paper flowers (with the addition of rhinestones in the centers):


The paper flowers also made an appearance on a scrapbook that I decorated as part of Christi's birthday present (forming the "4" in "40" on the front - you can see the scrapbook in the background in the picture below).



I spent quite a bit of time making bandana bunting flags - which you can barely see in the pic below, snapped by one of the guys.  Didn't have time to take a better one.  I had planned on stringing them between the barn and the fence or trees, but because of the aforementioned wind, we ended up hanging them high and tight.


Christi's momma had a lime green tablecloth already out in the kitchen, and after we decided that food needed to be indoors I flipped over the table runner (which - happy coincidence - had green rick rack on the other side) and threw together a little tableau:


I think that it's a hallmark of a successful party to have a basket of koozies sitting out.  I'm just sayin'.


My yard art longhorn did go outside, since he's made of metal and, therefore, was pretty wind-impervious.


Christi's daughter graciously dressed to match the party decor:


While the adults ate, drank and toasted the birthday girl, the kids had fun on the golf cart (which ended up becoming a shuttle to and from the stock pond, where some fishing was going on).


The little ones also took turns riding horses.  Here's my youngest in the saddle:


And my sweet big boy taking Allison (with supervision, of course) for a ride:


Connor also enjoyed serenading The King in the jukebox room.  If that IS The King - it's like the artist imagined Thin Elvis in the Fat Elvis jumpsuit.  Personally, I see a distinct resemblance to Adam Lambert.


In case you were wondering, the B side to Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" is . . . "I'm Too Sexy."  If was any dispute that they were a one-hit wonder. . . .


All in all, it was a good day:  the birthday girl got caught up with old friends, much cake was consumed (and, to my husband's delight, a big chunk o' Black Forest came home with us), and the storm clouds that you can see collecting in one of the horse pics stayed away until well after the party had come to an end.

Happy birthday, Christi!