Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Strangest Gifts of All

The Christmas season never goes by that I don't receive a really strange gift. Now, I should say that I am always happy to receive any gift, and I'm thankful and grateful for even the strange ones. But, these strange gifts somehow find their way to me.

Take for instance, the year I received a silver Southwest medallion. I wear very little jewelry. And, the jewelry I do wear, I try to keep pretty simple. Occasionally, I bust out the pearls. But most days, I call it good with a simple pendant, my wedding rings, and two other band-style rings. My watch, if you call it jewelry, I wear almost every day as well.

So the Southwest medallion, in all its sunbursting, two-inch diamater beauty was strange enough on its own, but the fact that it was supposed to be worn as a choker notched it up into the upper realm of strange. Add to that fact that it also had three interchangeable "chains." One "chain" each of silver, amethyst, and jade allowed for customizing the medallion to any wardrobe.

This year, in the same "Native American"/Southwest vein, I received a box of incense made from natural wood. My boss ordered it from New Mexico, complete with an incense burner. I'm wondering if I'm channeling a "western" vibe to my friends and family.

However, some of the strangest Christmas gifts I've ever received involved, of all things, teeth.

Last year, for instance, Buzz and I received a package in the mail. We opened the box, and inside was a beautifully wrapped box. The gift tag said, "To Buzz and Martia," and included a little Merry Christmas note. We opened the box and it was a electric toothbrush. Albeit, a really nice electric toothbrush, but still just ONE electric toothbrush. We had a great laugh and wondered if the couple who blessed us with this toothbrush shared a toothbrush on a regular basis.

But, the strange "tooth" gift that takes the total cake came years ago when I was working a one-hour photo lab in Alabama. It was a very small one-hour photo lab, independently owned until one of the huge conglommerates bought it. We had four employees, and we were all women, which made us a fairly tight-knit group. So, every year, we had Christmas Eve breakfast together before we opened the doors for the big day's shopping rushes. (I still can't believe how many people buy cameras on Christmas Eve!)

As we had breakfast and exchange gifts with each other, I noticed that our boss, Becky, gave everyone an identical little box in addition to another gift. I opened my little box and inside was a tiny trinket box with a little hummingbird on top. It had a hinged lid and looked like the perfect size to store a ring or two. I tucked the trinket back into the box and opened the rest of my goodies.

I woke up on Christmas morning at my parents' house and had a great time exchanging gifts with them. Just before breakfast, the phone rang and Momma told me that Becky was on the line. My thoughts raced from, "Oh no, we ARE open on Christmas and everyone is wondering where I am" to "Holy crap, did I forget to drop off the bank deposit on the way home?"

But, no. Nothing quite like that had happened. Instead, Becky casually but very nervously says, "Merry Christmas, Martia." I could tell, though, that she had something else to say. "Hi, Becky! Merry Christmas."

"So, that little trinket box I gave you. Did it have anything inside it?" she asked.
"Hmmmm... I don't think so," I said. But I was trying to remember if I had even opened it yet.
"Can you just take a look and see for me?" she asked again, very, very nervously.
"Ok, hang on a second." I ran to look through my stuff, hoping that I had it handy. I found it, opened it and lo and behold there WAS something inside it.
"Uhhh... Becky, I think there's a tooth in it."
"Oh, thank God," Becky positively squealed into the phone. "It's the first tooth my daughter pulled. I'm giving all my kids their first tooth back this year for Christmas in little trinket boxes. We just opened gifts, and Sherry's tooth wasn't in hers, so I realized I must have mixed up the boxes."

So, I received someone else's baby tooth for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jesus loves the little penguins...

Tomorrow is Spark's "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" party at school. Anytime the words "preschool" and "party" arrive in the same sentence, I get a little antsy.

First, let me just say that I am so thankful that Spark's school has a new party policy. Instead of posting a signup sheet to the door of the classroom and having the parents sign up to bring something for parties, this year they decided to have everyone contribute a set amount at the beginning of the year for a party fund. Then, for each party, one mom is assigned to acquire all the items for the party. This seems like a much simpler solution than several people scavenging for strange requests from teachers. I speak from experience, of course.

It seems every year, the "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" party sneaks up on me. I mean, yeah, I know Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, but December has to be the most incredibly fast month in the world. So, I get sort of blind-sided by the "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" party.

Last year, I signed up to bring one small item for the party: the cupcakes. More specifically, the "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" cupcakes. Just a teensy little thing, right? WRONG. Cupcakes are the magical centerpiece of a birthday. Even if kids don't like them and won't eat them or just lick on the frosting a bit, the cupcakes are what matters most. Because I was about two-thirds of the way through my gestational period with Flower (aka, fat and bloated), I decided to order the cupcakes from a local bakery. I checked with the bakery, and they only needed about 48 hours notice. Well, guess who forgot to order the cupcakes? Guess who totally forgot about the cupcakes?

That's right! I forgot Jesus' cupcakes. I realize this when I am sitting at my desk at work. It's 11:45, and I'm looking at my calendar. I had plans to go to the party all along. I open the calendar notice, and there in the description it says, "Bring 14 cupcakes." Ohhhhh, yeah, that was smart. Put the cupcake reminder in the calendar entry for the DAY OF the party.

At this point, of course, there is no way or time to make any homemade cupcakes, hand-decorated with little Happy Birthday Jesus messages or little baby Jesus figures. There's barely time to make a backup plan. Instead, I found myself cruising around town during one of the most hectic times of the year, looking for cupcakes, anything, I could turn into Happy Birthday Jesus cupcakes by 1:00. 

The first two places I went were out of cupcakes. That's right! Can you believe it? Out of cupcakes? What bakery just runs out of cupcakes?? 

In these kinds of self-induced stressful situations, I find myself calling my mom. I'm on my cell phone, tearing out of the local grocery store's parking lot, wondering where I'm gonna go next to find some cupcakes. She has the brilliant idea of trying Target. So, still on my cell phone, trying to avoid hyperventilating, I swerve around and into the Target parking lot. I raced into the store, hoping to find cupcakes as it was now 12:38. Lo and behold, I found some mini-cupcakes there, a pack of 16, with bright blue icing and little penguin ring toppers. Not exactly Happy Birthday, Jesus, but I have a feeling that Jesus loves some penguins. They're cute, festive and the kids loved them.

Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus!

When the Easter party rolled around, I decided to do something very sane and signed up for egg-shaped cookies...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All-Natural Deodorizer

I love a good-smelling house, but I don't like all the chemicals in most commercial deodorizers. Here are some recipes that work for me.

Simple Room Sprays
In a small (3 - 4oz) mister bottle, combine water and about 10 drops of peppermint essential oil.
Then, shake and spray.

Herbal Citrust Carpet Deodorizer
1 box baking soda (or about 2 cups)
4 drops of lavender essential oil
4 drops of sweet orange essential oil
2 drops of lemon essential oil

Either add the drops right to the box, or use a shaker.

Sprinkle on top of carpet. Wait 5-10 minutes. Vacuum. Breathe deeply!

Tip: This deodorizer works great in trash cans, too. Just sprinkle some in the bottom of the can the next time you change the liner.

Vaccum Filter Scent
Put 3 drops of lavender essential oil on the filter in your vacuum cleaner. Then, every time you vacuum, you get a fresh scent. Do this every time you clean/change the filter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


When my parents got married, they had very little to their name. At their wedding, my dad borrowed $10 to pay the minister. So, by the time they were expecting me, they used a lot of government programs to put food on the table. We had a wonderful garden full of vegetables, but food stamps, WIC vouchers, and government cheese and peanut butter handouts kept other items on our table, like meat, milk, and cereal. Most of the time, we scored. In fact, the government cheese tasted much better than the wimpy Kraft singles wrapped in plastic. The cheese was a huge brick of cheese, which we had to slice ourselves.

But when it came to the cereals, man oh man, life was bad. I still have a beef about the WIC-approved cereal. These cereals were not "normal" cereals by any stretch of the imagination. They served as yet one more way to separate the rich from the poor. The wealthy (and by wealthy, I mean not on food stamps) kids got Lucky Charms. We got Kaboom.

Have you ever heard of Kaboom? Probably not because no one in his or her right mind actually eats Kaboom by choice. We ate Kaboom because we had a WIC voucher that meant my family did not have to pay for the box of Kaboom cereal. Of all the WIC-approved cereals, it was the closest to Lucky Charms. But, Kaboom had some serious differences.

Instead of a leprechaun, Kaboom had a demented looking clown on the box. Instead of fun-shaped marshmallows the size of pencil erasers, Kaboom had marshmallows the size of baby amoebas. Instead of simple frosted cereal pieces, Kaboom had dark multicolored, scary smiley-shaped cereal pieces. Some of the cereal pieces were a deep shade of eggplant; others were about the color of a dark forest at night.

Even though I really wanted Lucky Charms, and we could have used the food stamps to buy Lucky Charms, my frugal mom made us eat the WIC cereals first. She never let a voucher expire, and I swear we ate our weight in Kaboom cereal. The stuff was dense, not light and fluffy like Lucky Charms. And, you could really taste the added vitamins and minerals that all poor people's kids surely need more of. I wonder if they sprayed the iron right on top of the marshmallow bits because those things always had a mysterious sheen to them.

I found myself wondering if Kaboom cereal still exists. Not that I plan to buy a box for my own personal enjoyment, but Buzz (who grew up in a much more privileged, Lucky Charm type of cereal eating household) has never heard of Kaboom, much less tried it. I kind of want him to experience it. Just once.

So, I did a little research (Googling) about Kaboom cereal and found some interesting facts:
  • Kaboom cereal is indeed available, for $4.30 per 10 oz box.
  • In Kill Bill, a Kaboom cereal box makes a cameo.
  • Kaboom is also the name of a toilet cleaner.
  • Kaboom cereal is part of the General Mills family. And so is Lucky Charms.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Foodie Friday: Two Quiche Recipes

I love quiche. It's one of those things I never had while growing up, but like guacamole has become a favorite in my adulthood. Here are two of my favorite quiches to make.

Hash Brown Quiche
This recipe is fairly hands on, but it's very easy to double. The quiche freezes and reheats very nicely.

About 12 ounces frozen hash browns
1/3 cup melted butter
2 cups of shredded cheese
1 cup of either diced ham, diced turkey, diced veggies, or a mix
1/2 cup cream (half & half)
2 eggs
1/4 t. seasoned salt

Grease 9" pie pan with butter or shortening. Pressed thawed hash browns between paper towels to remove moisture. Fit hash browns into greased pie pan, cutting and trimming to make a solid crust. Brush with melted butter—top edges, too.

Bake at 425 for 25 min.

Remove from oven and fill with layers of cheese and ham. Beat cream with eggs and seasoned salt. Pour over. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Insert knife near edges to test until it comes out clean.

Vegetable Quiche

These quiches freeze well and make easy breakfasts for during the week. Depending on the kind of cheese you use, these quiches can have as few as 85 calories each!

10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup chopped bell peppers
3 large eggs
3/4 cup grated swiss cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350
Cook spinach according to package directions drain excess liquid
Line a 12 cup muffin pan with foil baking cups. Brush each with oil using 1 Tbsp
In a skillet saute onions and peppers in remaining 1 Tbsp oil until tender
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the cheese ann half-and-half and salt and pepper. Stir.
Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin cups bake for 20 minutes or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean

Find more yummy recipes at The Grocery Cart Challenge.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Love for Dictionaries

I love a good dictionary.

Perhaps because I grew up with a father who would never tell me what a word meant, I fell in love with the big book of words. Instead of defining a word for me, Daddy's pat answer was "Go look it up." I looked up many words because I wanted to know what everything meant. Sometimes, a lookup turned into another lookup and into another lookup as I came across other unknown words in the definitions. Before I knew it, I had spent a good half hour with the dictionary. For a 12-year old girl, this had to be strange at best.

One year, Daddy asked what I wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted a dictionary, one of my very own. And, if possible, I wanted the biggest dictionary he could find. That year, the heaviest box under the tree on Christmas morning was Webster's Third New International Dictionary, which I have dragged across the country for college, grad school, and work. My husband affectionately refers to it as the 86-pound dictionary.

I still have a penchant for dictionaries. At a yard sale, I cannot pass by a 50-cent dictionary without buying it. If someone is cleaning out his or her office, I cannot allow a dictionary to slip through the cracks.

I'm trying to come up with some creative ways to use these dictionaries. It almost seems sacrilegious to do anything that would involve removing, cutting, or otherwise destroying a page out of a dictionary. But some of these dictionaries are old, coffee-stained, already torn, crinkly (ok, VERY crinkly), and I have been on a quest to get rid of about 60% of our stuff. So, I am ready to consider what I can do with pages of an old dictionary other than apply for a spot at the Smithsonian.

Wrapping Gifts
It's Christmas time, and I have blogged about ways to avoid using gift wrap this year. I don't know why I didn't think of using some dictionary pages until just now. How beautiful would a gift wrapped in dictionary pages with red ribbon be?

Borders, embellishments, the list goes on. I don't really scrapbook, but it seems like a good idea. Maybe there are reasons not to, though, for arhival purposes?

Ok, so maybe not. But wouldn't it be awesome to have dictionary wallpaper?

Cute little swans out of dictionary paper? Ohhhhh, yeah!!

Something else?
What ideas do you have? All serious inquiries that preserve the integrity of the dictionary will be considered...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gift Tags

To add to my gift wrap post from a few weeks back, I saw a really cute way to make gift tags in one of my cooking magazines. Using leftover and/or received Christmas cards from years past, cut the front of the card into gift tag sizes. You can use scissors, or if you have some shape punchers, you can use those, too.

Then, simply use a regular hole punch to punch a hole in the top, run some ribbon/string through it, and you're done. Write your note on the blank side and attach it to your gift.

This is so easy it works for me. Other gift wrap tips abound at today's Works for Me Wednesday over at Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Prayer of a Preschooler

Spark has recently acquired a Frosty the Snowman DVD, courtesy of his grandma. He LOVES this movie. A couple days ago, he looks at me and says very seriously, "I want it to snow so that I can make a snowman with my Daddy."

I looked at Buzz; Buzz looked at me. Oh, boy. As parents, we want our kids to have what they want within reason. And what is the harm in playing in the snow with Daddy?

The problem with this request is that we live in south-central Texas, a place where it has snowed barely one inch in the almost 5 years that we have lived here. It's December 9, and we finally broke down and turned on our air conditioner last night. Yes, after Flower woke up for the second time with a sweaty head, I said, "Buzz, go ahead, turn it on." He very willingly obliged.

So, I couldn't tell Spark with any certainty that it would snow. The weather here is unpredictable. And, if it does snow a few flakes, it's highly unlikely enough will accumulate to provide what's necessary to build our very own Frosty. How do you explain this to a four-year old? Instead of trying to discuss climate patterns, I told him, "Spark, you're going to have to pray and ask Jesus to send you some snow."

He and Buzz prayed right then for some snow so that they could make a snowman.

Later that night, I tucked Spark into bed and told him as I always do, "Don't forget to pray." A little while later, I walked past his room, and I heard him praying, "Dear Jesus, please let it snow so I can make a snowman with my Daddy." He paused. "And please let it be on Christmas Day."

My first thought was, "Gee, Spark, you're already asking for snow in a snowless land, and you want to be specific about the day?" But then, I realized how completely innocent his request is. He's asking God for what he wants, but more than that, he's sweetly trusting that he will get some snow to make a snowman with his Daddy. We've been talking a lot about Christmas, and he's very excited about this special day. (He's also learned about the magic of Christmas snow from Frosty, and I think he might think his snowman will come to life if he is made from Christmas snow.)

It would surely take a miracle for it to snow here at all, but I have added this request to my prayers as well. I'm also praying that I will have the sincerity of my preschooler in my own prayer life.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Foodie Friday: Food Blogs

I have confessed to having a tiny little cooking magazine addiction. My recipe-a-day emails are handy, too. But some of my best recipes come from friends and family. My famous chicken and rice tacos (recipe at the end of this post) originally came from a high school friend of my mom's. THE FUDGE I make every Christmas has been handed down in my family for years.

The overflowing magazine racks in my house and the bulging recipe folder in my email program often get neglected as I tend to favor the "tried and true" recipes from "real" people. Food blogs, written by real parents with real kids, have brought to me some wonderful recipes here lately.

One of my favorites is Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. I stumbled upon this site through Rocks in My Dryer, and now I totally am hooked on Lynn's great recipes. The two I have tried in the last week or so have both been winners: nut clusters and granola bake.

I made the nut clusters very quickly for a last-minute party at my house. Everyone loved them. And, the granola bake was a fantastic way to warm up the house in the morning without having to turn on our heater... not to mention it smelled heavenly while it baked.

Another favorite is The Grocery Cart Challenge. I don't know how she does it, but this woman feeds her family of 6 on $60 a week. Gayle's Goulash reminds me of a dish my mom used to make fairly regularly when I was a kid. Gayle uses soy sauce and tomato sauce. My mom used ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. But everything else was pretty much the same.

Famous Chicken and Rice Tacos
They're famous because Welby and I lived off these through grad school.
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cans 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 can Mexicorn
1 onion (optional)
1 can of diced green chiles
1 packet of taco seasoning
1.5 cups of instant rice

Heat a large pot to medium-high.
Add a little olive oil.
Cook chicken for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
If using onions, add them.
Cook until chicken is completely done and onions are tender.
Pour in the cans of tomato sauce, corn, green chiles, and taco seasoning.
Stir until seasoning is well blended.
Bring to a boil.
Add rice.
Cover and reduce heat.
Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve over tortilla chips with cheddar cheese melted on top. Garnish with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.
**You can also serve inside flour tortillas as burritos.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

TV or not TV

About a year ago, a typical afternoon/evening included Spark watching about 30 minutes to an hour of TV. Then, after Spark was in bed, Buzz and I would watch up to 4 or 5 hours of TV. I didn't even realize how much TV we were watching until I started paying attention. If we were in the house, Spark or Buzz would turn the TV on.

Buzz and I decided to remove the TV from the family room. He claims that I had nagged him about it for years and he finally just caved. And maybe I did mention it a few times, but I think "nag" is a strong term. I suggested we might try it.

A few weeks before Flower was born, we were rearranging our home. We currently had two offices (one for me, one for Buzz), and we had to move all the items from one of those offices into other locations in the house, either in the one remaining office or the family room. Our house is not too terribly large (~1300 square feet, 4 bedrooms). In the throes of trying to arrange the family room to accommodate our monster of a TV, I again mentioned that we might just get rid of the darn thing. Buzz thought I had lost my mind. Why in the world would we get rid of the TV? We rarely fight, but we came close on this one. He couldn't imagine life without TV. I was getting tired of living life with it.

When he asked why we should get rid of it, I of course, I had an arsenal of answers.

More time together as a family.
It would make arranging the family room a whole heck of a lot easier without having to think about the TV being the center of the room.
We would be different.
Less noise. (I hate background noise.)
We would save about $65 a month with no cable bill.
The void would open up time for more fulfilling activities, such as playing music together.

It was the last point that made Buzz soften a bit and consider the request. We would put a small one in Spark's room so that he could still watch an occasional DVD. I offered a trial run of a couple weeks or so. If we decided that we just couldn't bear life without the TV, we could just bring it back in the family room. No big deal. It wouldn't mean we had miserably failed or that we were suckers to the biggest lie in culture. Buzz accepted the challenge.

It's been about 9 months now, and we haven't missed it. In fact, we put the big monster in our bedroom in case Buzz and I ever wanted to watch a movie together, but we still haven't watched a movie together. Sometimes, I put a movie in and let Spark get on my bed and watch it. He thinks that's so special. And, I can get a lot of laundry done while he's watching a movie.

Our time together in the family room is filled with music, toys, wrestling on the floor, tickle contests, and (now that Flower is crawling) crawling races. We enjoy a circle of furniture without a TV being the center of family room or our family life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Green Wednesday: Saving Baby Food Jars

While I make most of Flower's baby food from fresh produce, I do keep some jars of fruit on hand for emergencies, dining out, and convenience. For some reason, I find baby food jars especially intriguing. I never throw them away. I know there have to be a gazillion good uses for them. But the majority of the time, I find that I only save them and pile them in boxes. I still have some baby food jars that I used with Spark years ago! My city recycles glass, but I just can't bring myself to throw these jars out. It's hard enough to throw out the other glass jars (pickles, pasta, applesauce, jams, the list is long). In fact, I rarely throw them out either! Glass jars are taking over my house!! (Feel free to send me great ideas for reusing glass jars, especially baby food jars!)

Finally, I have found a way to offload some of my jars. Spark's teacher needs some baby food jars for a project she is having her class of 14 four year olds do. I offered to save Flower's jars for her.

I have tried a few different methods for removing the sticky labels from the jars, and of all of them, the following method works the best for me:
  1. Rinse the baby food jars and lids.
  2. Place them in a large bowl in the sink or right in your sink.
  3. Squirt 1-2 tablespoons of liquid castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner's) over the jars.
  4. Turn on the hot water and add water until all the jars are completely covered.
  5. Leave the jars in the water for at least 3 hours. Letting them sit overnight is best.
  6. After at least 3 hours, take the baby food jars out of the water. The labels should rub right off.
  7. If any adhesive still sticks to the jars, dab a drop or two of Eucalyptus essential oil on a cloth or cotton swab and rub on the adhesive.
  8. Rinse and let the jars air dry, or run them through your dishwasher.
Go to Works for Me Wednesday on Rocks in My Dryer for all kinds of tips and tricks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Morning After

The morning after a holiday usually starts with grunts, groans, and growls, not to mention the gnashing of teeth. So, last night, I talked with Spark (our chief grunter, groaner, and growler) and told him he had to be nice this morning when Momma or Daddy woke him up. We talked about how he should act in the morning (smile and say "Good morning") for about a minute, and I asked him if he understood. He said yes.

This morning, I got off to a slightly late start. But, I nursed Flower and then flipped on Spark's light. After about 10 minutes, I went back into his room to begin the prodding. "Spark, it's time to get up and go to school," I said as I started trying to wake him up gently but firmly. I removed one of his blankets, and he stretched all fours out like a cat. Then, a miracle occurred. THE BOY SMILED AT ME. Granted, he did not say "Good morning, Momma" or anything angelic, but he SMILED!!

I had planned out his clothes for today, which was easy because it's school t-shirt day at his school. He whined some about having to get dressed, but didn't grunt, groan, growl, or gnash. He also ate his cereal in record time. Some mornings, Spark labors over his Cheerios like he's painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But this morning, he noshed one-and-a-half bowls in less than 15 minutes.

I had planned for the worse last night, thinking that Buzz would have to leave before I even had Spark halfway ready. When I have to take Spark to school, it throws my whole day off. I have to get Flower bundled up because, yes, even though it's in the upper 40s here, that's still very cold to us. Then, I have to walk him into school because they don't allow drop offs after 8:10 a.m. After we get into the school, he has to get a tardy slip. Then, we sometimes have to search high and low for his class. After I finally deposit him, I often start talking with the office manager, which puts me out another 30 minutes because I enjoy talking with her.

But, I got Spark out the door with his dad by 8:55, enough time for Buzz to drop him off and get to work on time. And time for me to get Flower settled in for her two-hour nap without interruption. Today, I celebrate this morning after miracle for so many reasons.
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