Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sandwich Love

I came across this recipe in the newspaper the other day and Keith and I are smitten with this sandwich.

Italian Country Sandwich
Spread an 8-inch precooked pizza crust with 4 ounces cream cheese. Layer with 4 thin slices each of tomato, green bell pepper, pastrami, salami; 2 thin slices red onion; and 4 slices provolone cheese. Top with another crust. Wrap in foil; set on a baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

I skipped the tomatoes and onions because we didn't have them on hand and cut the cream cheese back to 2 ounces, which seemed like plenty. A quarter pound of each the pastrami and the salami and a half pound of the provolone was enough to make two whole sandwiches. We had the first one with some pesto pasta for dinner and then made another over the weekend for lunch. I took step-by-step photos of how to put the sandwich together and then realized it wasn't that hard. I wouldn't be giving all of you enough credit if I thought you needed visual aids to construct a sandwich.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Silly Rabbit

Soon after moving in a few years ago, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of rabbits in the neighborhood. It didn’t take long to figure out that they were living under an evergreen tree down the alley; though, they seemed to spend a lot of time in our yard. We didn’t have the garden built at the time so we thought maybe it was because of the flowers and small garden in our neighbor’s yard. Or, maybe it was the nice plush carpet, uh, I mean Zoysia grass we have in our yard. What a pain that is – that’s a whole other story which should probably be told from the perspective of our lawn mower – poor thing.
We never really thought much of the rabbits except when we took Bailey (our beagle) for walks. One glance at a rabbit and she would nearly rip your arm off trying to chase it. Yep, she was a beagle all right. I remember one winter walk, after a big snow fall, she was digging through a pile of snow built up along the side of the road after a plow had gone through. I couldn’t figure out why she was digging so furiously but it was hilarious so I let her continue. Then came the answer. When she pulled her head back out of the hole she had dug, she had a rabbit in her mouth; completely flattened. It seems it had been run over by a car, then it snowed and the plow pushed it to the side of the road, where Bailey apparently smelled it a mile away and had me fooled. I didn’t enjoy having to tear it back out of her mouth at the time but it’s a funny memory thinking back today – though, probably not for the rabbit.
When we built the garden and the area for the strawberries and blueberries, we put up chicken wire (rabbit wire?) fence to protect those areas from the rabbits. Everything worked just fine – no issues with the rabbits.

When we planted the apple trees, we never gave the rabbits any thought. I mean, we probably won’t have apples on those puny trees until Bert goes off to college so what would the rabbits want with them? Oh, they like to chew on the bark… who knew?!

That’s right, after coming home from work one evening I noticed a strange discoloration on the bottom eight inches of each of the trees. When I got a closer look, it was clear that something had chewed all the bark off, exposing the trunk of the tree. We thought maybe it was a squirrel until I saw a rabbit having our trees for breakfast early the following morning. I fired my sling shot at him, hitting him in the rear end on a lucky bounce. The rabbit was fine (no animals were injured during the making of this post). I know because as he ran back to his evergreen tree, he paused for a moment in the neighbor’s yard, turned and gave me a look as if to say, “You haven’t seen the last of me.” I believed him.

So, we decided to put some rabbit wire (yep, I’m going with it) fence around each of the trees – as well as the tiny rose bush they also had eaten half of. I bet those thorns went down real smooth. After cutting sections of fence, I simply twisted pieces of the fence together at each end to form a circle. That meant that I didn’t need to use any wire, string or zip ties to hold the fence together. Because the trees were so small, I was able to slip the fences over the trees. I dug out the dirt around the trees a bit so that the bottoms of the fences would sit a few inches below the dirt and mulch to discourage tunneling to our trees.

Finally, I used bamboo rods (found in any garden supply store) to hold the fences in place. I cut the rods so that each was about twice as long as the fence was high. The fence is pliable enough that I could weave the rods through the fence for support and then push them into the ground. The fences have held securely in place for several weeks now and there are no signs of additional damage to the trees.

But, I know that rabbit is still out there, scheming with his bunnies – I mean buddies. I vow to stay a hop ahead of him.

Friday, January 27, 2012


That's what our pennies say when we pinch them.

I thought a good follow up to telling you about our luxuries would be to explain a little about where we save money and how we are making one income work for us. Granted, we are only a little over six months into it but I think we have a good start.

1. Coupons. I'm not anything like those people on on Extreme Couponing. Not even close. But I don't hesitate to use coupons anywhere I can. The grocery store is the most obvious place, but I use them at restaurants, department stores, the farmers' market, and even for discounts on car inspections at our mechanic. Don't be embarrassed to whip them out; merchants wouldn't print them if they didn't want you to use them.

2. Don't Do Disposables. You already know all about our cloth diapers and wipes and our savings there, but I think a big part of saving money is replacing one-use items with things you can use over and over again. For example, a couple years ago we bought a dozen plain white washcloths at Target (they might have even labeled them as bar towels). We use them for napkins instead of paper ones. We keep some paper napkins around for when we have guests, but for daily use, it's the washcloths. Then we just throw them in anytime we do a load of laundry. You could also trade in your dixie cups for a juice glass in the bathroom.

3. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse. Give things a second life whenever possible. When our underwear, socks, and t-shirts have outlived their usefulness as garments, they become dust rags or rags for Keith's work bench (after one final trip through the washing machine, of course). We wash out freezer bags and use them over and over. And over. Aluminum foil that isn't messy is flattened, folded, and put in the drawer to be used again.

4. Don't Be Trashy. We recycle any packaging and containers we can, and compost almost all of our kitchen scraps (except meat scraps). Not only does this save a lot of stuff from ending up in landfills, it saves us garbage bags. We have a twice-weekly trash pick-up, but we typically only have one bag to put out each week. If we didn't compost and recycle, we would be using a lot more trash bags and even though it doesn't seem like a big deal, all those little things add up.

5. Second-Hand Savers. Some of the best deals out there come in the form of used goods. I grew up with a lot of hand-me-down clothes and didn't mind a bit (though it helps to have cousins that like Gap and J. Crew). We still aren't adverse to hand-me-downs, mostly furniture. In fact, Bert's crib and dresser and our dining room table and chairs are the only newly purchased furniture we have. Bert has toys and clothes from yard sales and thrift shops. I even bought a three pairs of shorts, a pair of capri pants, and a t-shirt, all maternity wear, for about $5 total when I was pregnant. Keith loves to score well-made tools at flea markets. He is also not above pulling something out of the trash, like the glider chair for Bert's room that he refinished. I admit, I do cringe sometimes when he comes home and says, "Look what I found on the sidewalk!" It's only a good deal if you'll use it, but don't be afraid to scour thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets for stuff you need.

6. Know What's For Dinner. I'm not always the most committed to planning meals in advance, but when I do, it makes grocery shopping and cooking so much easier and more cost-effective. I like to plan at least a week in advance, though I have been known to do a whole month at a time. It helps me to take stock of what we have in the pantry, fridge, and freezer and use things up, and also to make sure we don't end up with more leftovers than we can use up before they go bad. Which leads me to my next topic...

7. Eat Your Leftovers. We try really hard not to throw any food out. Most days, Keith packs leftovers from the night before for lunch, and I eat them at home as well. If the recipe makes more than we will eat in the next day or so, we will freeze the rest. Having things like lasagna and soup in the freezer works out well because if we aren't going to be around to cook, we can just thaw something out and heat it up. Saves on take-out.

8. Speaking of Take-Out... We don't order food in nearly as much as we did before Bert's arrival because it can get expensive. Plus, now that I'm home, I have more time to think about and prepare dinner than I did when I was going to work every day. But when we do decide it is time for take-out, we go pick it up and save a couple bucks by not having to tip the delivery guy.

9. Feeding the Baby. Bert has been breast-fed since day one, and we are really fortunate that it has gone so smoothly. Well, smoothly after the first week. Anyway, nursing Bert has saved us a lot in what formula would have cost. Now that he's eating solid foods (are they still called solids if they're pureed?), we have been able to save by making most of his food ourselves. We have bought some packaged food for him, mostly so we don't have to take his frozen food with us when we are out and about or away for the weekend, but the bulk of what he eats is homemade. I would guess it saves us more than a dollar a day by feeding him homemade baby food rather than purchasing jarred food.

10. Put It On the Card. We use our credit card for most of our purchases, then promptly pay it off each month. This way, we rack up points that we can cash in for gift cards. Most recently, we got $100 worth of gift cards to JC Penney so Keith could get some new clothes for work. The trick here is to put those points towards things you would otherwise be spending your own money on. So don't save up all those points just to buy an electronic wine guide or something ridiculous.

11. Pay It Early. We make sure to pay all our bills on time so that we don't incur any late fees, but in one case, it helps to pay it early. When we have our tank filled with heating oil, we get a discount of four cents per gallon for paying the bill within ten days. That comes to eight or ten dollars we can save each time we have it filled, which is two or three times every winter.

12. Beg, Borrow, and Steal. Well, don't beg or steal. Really, just borrow. As in, borrow books and movies from the library or borrow tools from a friend. If you aren't going to read/watch/use it frequently, see if you can borrow it from someone. But be sure to be a good lender then too, even if all you have to lend is a hand.

13. Keep It Hot. Minds out of the gutter, people. I'm talking about Keith's thermos. Keith likes to have coffee all day long at work, but cup after cup at 50 cents each from the office pot was adding up, so he got a thermos and fills it each morning at home. Imagine what you could save it you switched from a Starbucks habit to a thermos.

14. Keep It Short. The first Christmas we were married, I bought Keith a set of hair clippers. Ever since, I have been cutting his hair. I wouldn't say it's particularly stylish, but he seems happy enough with it. And when you figure a guy's haircut costs $10-15 with a tip, the $40 investment in the clippers has probably saved us about ten times that much. Someday, Bert will also be getting his hair cut by me. Now if only I could trust my hair to Keith...nope, not going to happen.

I was just going to do ten tips but once I got going, it was easy to add a few more. Kind of like college football's Big 10 and its twelve teams. I hope these ideas help you save some money and I would love to hear how you stretch your dollar. Let me leave you with a Depression-era saying that has become our budget mantra: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chick Flick Lit

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now
by Claire LaZebnik

It takes almost as long to type the title of If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now as it did to read it. Light and fun, with a sprinkling of touching moments and keen observations, it is the story of a young, single mother living at home with her parents in L.A. Rickie is navigating motherhood surrounded by women wearing stilettos while picking up their kids at the expensive private school her son attends (on her parents' dime). Her son, tenderly referred to as a runt, struggles to make friends and keep up with the other kids. Mother and son both come out of their shells thanks to a considerate teacher.

If You Lived Here is the literary equivalent of a chick flick. I say that in a good way. I enjoyed reading it and it gave me the same satisfaction as a Sunday afternoon Lifetime movie. It's not powerful, or earth-shattering, but it is warm and heartfelt, despite being a little cliche and predictable. But we watch chick flicks because we want to see everyone happy in the end, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Lap of Luxury

As many of you know, Keith and I decided that once Bert arrived, I would leave my job and stay home with him. We know this is a choice that doesn’t work for every family, but we weighed all the options and decided this would work best for us, though it would mean some changes.

The biggest change is financial. Leaving my job reduced our total income significantly, but we are really fortunate that Keith has a job that pays well and offers good health insurance that makes being a one-income family possible. We certainly did a lot of number-crunching and saving before Bert’s arrival, and I worked as long as possible (up to the day before he was born) to sock away as much as we could before we took the one-paycheck plunge.

To be honest, tightening our purse strings hasn’t seemed too tough, at least not yet. Things like cloth diapering and breast feeding along with many, many generous gifts of clothes, furniture, and baby supplies from family and friends, have definitely reduced Bert’s bottom line. We weren’t big spenders before Bert, so scaling back hasn’t felt like we’re giving up a lot. In fact, it makes the little splurges feel like real treats. We definitely define luxury differently than the Kardashians. Here’s just a few of the things that feel like luxury these days on the quarter-acre:

• Enjoying a cup of coffee from one of Main Street’s coffee shops on a weekend walk with Bert
• A pizza on Friday night (our grocery store has a Friday night special: $5.99 for a large cheese pizza)
• New underwear that doesn’t come four pairs to a plastic pack (new underwear is only allowed around here if the elastic on your old ones is falling off)
• Our Netflix subscription (we cancelled the “watch instantly” package when they upped the prices but still get dvds by mail)
• An occasional meal out (usually breakfast at a diner, with friends if we're lucky)
• Checking out yard sales and flea markets just for the fun of looking, and maybe spending a few dollars

The number one luxury around here would have to be a full night's sleep and that doesn't cost a thing. What little luxuries are all of you enjoying these days?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Check Up

This morning was Bert's 6-month check up. Just to keep you all updated on the little man, here are his latest stats.

Weight: 18 pounds 13 ounces
Length: 27 inches
Head circumference: 17 inches

He is now all up-to-date on his vaccinations and the doctor says his growth is right where it should be. He is sitting up very well on his own, and is beginning to crawl. It's a crawl punctuated with belly flops. It's adorable. He is an eating machine, evident in his chubber legs and Buddha belly. Today he had half an avocado for lunch. On the changing table, sans diaper, he can get his toes in his mouth. I guess all that passes for normal development, right?

And here is a picture of him, because what's a post about the baby without a picture?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Humorous Homecomings

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
(A Memoir of Going Home)
by Rhoda Janzen

After reading Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites, I've been mostly sticking to lighter fare. It only seemed fitting that I should read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress when I saw it sitting on my Mom-mom's shelf. First off, it was a much quicker read than Horse-and-Buggy. The Mennonites of Rhoda Janzen's memoir are a much more light-hearted, modern bunch. She shifts easily from tales of her childhood in the Mennonite community as the daughter of a Mennonite leader, to her return home after a difficult marriage and devastating car accident.

As a child, Janzen was mortified by the clothes she was required to wear and the traditional foods packed in her lunch box. At times, her recounting of her upbringing seems quite scathing. Seeking a scholarly and worldly life, Janzen left the Mennonite faith after college. Returning home in her early forties, she rediscovers old friends and finds solace in many of the traditions and habits of her family and faith. She attacks the most difficult times of her life with humor and an undeniable sense of self, and keeps her eyes and heart open for new opportunities. Even if it means being set up on dates with Mennonite men decades younger than herself.

It was fun for me to be able to compare the Mennonite community of Janzen's life to the Wengers of Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites. Certainly different orders of Mennonites approach modernization and worldliness with differing perspectives, but the sense of community and inter-dependence was evident in both groups. Even though Janzen broke from the faith as an adult, she remained close to her family and in her own humorous and irreverent way, enthralled by the Mennonite lifestyle. In looking back and examining her childhood, she ultimately is able to move forward with her life, knowing she can draw on the strengths of her Mennonite upbringing.

I should note that this book does have some crude and raunchy parts, especially as Janzen discusses her ex-husband and his new relationship. So if you aren't up for some cursing and vulgarity, pass on this one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Spoons and Such

I'm not a neat freak, I'm not obsessive about things (generally), and I can live with the disorder of everyday life. But every once in a while, I find myself doing strange, slightly neurotic things. Like matching the color of the baby spoon to Bert's meal.

Carrots and apples anyone? I mentioned this to Keith and was quite relieved when he admitted to spoon-matching as well. So maybe I'm normal. Or the more likely explanation is that we are both a little nutty.

We got this set of six spoons at the baby shower and we use them every single day. (I'm sorry I can't remember who gave them to us but thank you!) Just so you have a clear picture of what I'm talking about, there's a feeding key below.

1. I think this blue-and-purple beauty had a stint out of the drawer for prunes.
2. Our carrot-and-apple favorite. Also seen in sweet potato and nectarine combinations.
3. Used for one of Bert's new combinations: pears and green beans.
4. Our butternut squash and anything else standby.
5. A morning yogurt classic. Yogurt is cold, purple and blue are cool colors; in this context, that passes for logic.
6. Having made a few early appearances, our green friend is ready for his breakout role with the broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower baby food I made this week.

Just so you know, I am not to the point where I will wash a dirty spoon just so I have it to match Bert's food. No, I'm too lazy to be that neurotic. And let's face it: Bert really doesn't care a bit. He would eat yogurt off of a credit card like his Popper and not bat an eye.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Decoding Kids

Nurture Shock
New Thinking About Children
by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

As a first-grade teacher, my mom often tells me about articles and books she runs across dealing with child development. Now that I am a parent myself, some of that information is sinking in and hitting home more. Over the course of a few weeks, she relayed parts of Nurture Shock to me and I kept thinking, "I've got to read that." When I got my hands on it, I sent her a text saying, "This book is blowing my mind."

Nurture Shock addresses ten different topics dealing with the development of children and upends conventional thinking on how, and especially when, children develop. Subjects such as discussing race, testing for school gifted programs, and teenage lying are examined in meticulous detail, referencing studies and quoting experts at every turn.

The most intriguing chapter for me was about language development in infants. As Bert continues to babble and make new sounds, I can't help but wonder what he's trying to say. Nurture Shock delves into the science of why some babies and toddlers have such large vocabularies and others lag behind. I'll give you a hint: it's not Baby Einstein DVDs. It's instinctual to talk to your baby, holding up what often feels like a one-sided conversation, but the science shows that talking to and even more importantly, responding to, your baby can make all the difference in how he or she processes language early on.

Nurture Shock deals with ten specific areas of study, but the overall lesson is that as adults, we assume that children, from infants to teenagers, are processing and decoding the world around them the same way we do. But they are not, and there is science to prove it. The brain develops so differently over the course of childhood and adolescence and as parents, we have to recognize that and learn to work within the constructs of our children's understanding. I have a feeling that by the time I figure out how to do that, Bert will have moved out of the house. But at least this book gives me a fighting chance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Not Your Mom's Stuffed Peppers

Well, if you are Bert, then these are your mom's stuffed peppers. I'm going to be bold here and say this is my own recipe. Someone else out there might be doing it, but I haven't seen it yet, ergo, it's my recipe. But I'm sharing it with you, because I like you.

We typically have some pretty prolific pepper plants in the garden and as we harvest them, we just cut the tops off and empty out the seeds and freeze a bunch of them whole to use for stuffed peppers. But we needed a twist on the standard stuffed pepper. What to do, what to do? Hmm...how about Mexican stuffed peppers?

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

6 bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds and membranes removed (I don't thaw mine because they would get mushy; just stuff them frozen)
1 box yellow rice, cooked according to package instructions
1 pound ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1 egg
Salsa (about 1 jar)

Cook the rice according to the instructions on the box.

Mix half the cooked rice, ground beef, taco seasoning, and egg in medium bowl.

Fill peppers with meat mixture and place in baking dish. Pour salsa over stuffed peppers. (I used Keith's sort-of salsa. A jar of store salsa should work fine or maybe you could try taco sauce.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Use a meat thermometer to be sure they are cooked all the way through (internal temperature should be 165 degrees, so says Keith, our resident food safety monitor). Serve with remaining yellow rice and cornbread.

Inevitably, I get these in the oven later than I anticipated and we end up eating dinner at about 6:30 because I forget how long they take to cook all the way through. Maybe they taste so good because by the time they are ready, we're really hungry.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Six Months In

Today marks six months since this amazing little man entered our lives.

How can six months seem to have gone by so quickly, when they held some of the longest days and nights we have ever known? Those first couple days, even weeks, made us look at each other and say, "What were we thinking?" Sleepless nights, cluster feedings, and projectile pooping across brand-new carpeting made me sob. Milk coming out nostrils made me panic and call the lactation specialist to ask if that was normal. (It is.) And record-breaking July temperatures made us hole up in the bedroom, our only room with air conditioning, leaving only for food and the bathroom. Somewhere in those first few weeks, we started to gain our footing and feel like we could handle this parenting thing. Because it was definitely too late to give him back. Not that we really wanted to.

We found that he loved his swing and it bought us time to make dinner, or take a shower, or take a nap. His feedings started stretching out a little and he started to like to lay on his play mat and I didn't feel like he needed me every single second of the day. I ventured out to the library for story time when he was just two weeks old and breathed a little easier just knowing I could leave the house with him. And it helped to see moms with toddlers and realize he wouldn't be a teeny tiny baby forever.

And then around the six week mark, swaddling worked. And we all started sleeping. The whole night. Mary was onto something when she wrapped Jesus in those swaddling clothes. That woman wanted her sleep, even if he was the Christ child. Oh, and we started to see smiles. Real smiles, not just hey-you're-going-to-love-this-diaper smiles.

Keith weathered one evening a week on his own so I could get out of the house to go to yoga. So I could lay on my mat and pretend to meditate and really just think about my baby, who screamed from the second I closed the door until the moment I walked back through nearly two hours later. I learned to grocery shop with a baby strapped to my chest. I started to settle into my new role as a stay-at-home mom and we made the transition to being a one-income household. We started to find a routine for walks and naps and mealtimes and we started to feel more like a family instead of a couple of caretakers scurrying around a miniature tyrant. Our house started to feel like a home instead of just baby central.

Now he's on solid foods and loving them. And we're scraping poop into the toilet and rinsing diapers like pros. He's trying really, really hard to crawl. He has two teeth! He loves songs and toys that make noise and when he laughs, our hearts warm up.

We've learned to let him cry it out for naps and going to bed. Boy, that was tough but now he usually only whimpers for a couple minutes and then rolls over and falls asleep. Unless he's teething. Then he might get up at 2 a.m. and cry until 4 a.m. no matter what we do. He goes to bed sometime between 7 and 8 every night, and it makes a world of difference to have our evenings back. To sit quietly on the couch together. To not flip a coin to see who has to miss "The Middle" this week to rock him to sleep. Yeah, teaching him to go to sleep on his own was worth it.

Those first couple weeks, I had this idea in my head that it would be the better part of a year until he changed significantly. That he would still be as needy as he was in the beginning, that the nights wouldn't get better, that he would always be so fussy. I am continually surprised by how much he changes day to day, week to week. Sometimes I fail to notice it, until somebody visits and picks him up and I think, "He looks really big!" To see him bat at a toy for the first time, learn to roll over, recognize and reach for his toys, get excited to see Keith come through the door each day after work, all of it delights and amazes me. They aren't all good days. I guess I could say it another way: some days, every diaper is a poop-y diaper. But we are really excited to watch him discover and learn, and to discover and learn right along with him.

You should know we never felt like we were doing this alone. Everybody loves a baby, and we are incredibly fortunate to have so many family, friends, and neighbors who love our baby. From baby gear and bibs and blankets, to casseroles, coffee and encouragement, we've been surrounded and supported by a pretty amazing group of people. We're so thankful to have all of you in our lives, and touched that you want to be a part of our baby's life. We're excited about what the next days, months, and years will bring, and look forward to sharing all of those moments with you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Weekly Photo Outtakes

For every weekly photo you see, I take about ten shots. Here's a few of this week's, plus some other cute baby pictures. Because who can't use a few cute baby pictures after a long week?

First, Bert was wearing his geezer socks...

And then I took them off and a meltdown ensued...meltdown 12 of 26 today...

He figured out how to pull books off the shelf...

Taking a picture for one of Keith's work projects...

And just being cute in general...

Hardcover Hat-trick

Deal Breaker
By Harlan Coben

There are two genres of fiction I don't pick up much: sci-fi/fantasy and murder-mystery. So a couple months ago when my book club read Gone for Good by Harlan Coben, I was skeptical about how much I would enjoy it. Much to my surprise, I was along for the ride and got a kick out of the witty dialogue. I thought I would be turning my grandfather, an avid reader, onto someone new when I told him about Coben. Should have known better; he already knew all about him and has many of his books and lent me a couple of them. After Gone for Good, I read Tell No One, and most recently, Deal Breaker.

The first two were "stand alone" novels, if you will. Deal Breaker is the first of Coben's books centered around Myron Bolitar, a sports agent who seems to run into mystery and trouble at every turn. But he's not just a sports agent; he is a former FBI investigator with a law degree. That and a best friend with some lethal martial arts skills seem to keep him one step ahead of all the seedy characters he encounters while trying to sign his professional athlete clients to lucrative contracts and rekindle the romance with his lost love. Who also happens to be the sister of the missing (maybe dead? maybe not?) girl Deal Breaker's story revolves around. 

All three books were similar in that I was asking the same questions: Is she dead or isn't she? How does this guy know all these low-lifes and manage to escape death at every turn? How do these people with full-time jobs have time to dig around in old murder cases and come up with things the police don't? Somehow, though, they weren't completely predictable. There was one last turn in each of them that kept me guessing until the end. Maybe the endings weren't entirely believable, but is that really why anybody picks up a murder-mystery? We want to be shaking our heads in disbelief. I may have rolled my eyes a few times as the story lines got a further and further fetched (far-er and far-er fetched?) but what really kept me reading is that Coben is funny. Like laugh-out-loud-and-worry-I-woke-up-the-baby funny. Even in the darkest moments of danger, his characters are keeping up an inner dialogue (and sometimes a dialogue with their tormentors) full of witty and sometimes scathing observations. Think Seinfeld with a gun to his head. So while three murder-mysteries in as many months might be my limit, Harlan Coben kept it fun and interesting.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Whole Enchilada

It's January and I am in the midst of accomplishing a garden-goal. Gardening in January? Not quite. The goal is to actually use up everything we stashed away in our freezer instead of emptying out year-old produce as new stuff is ready to harvest. One of our most prolific plantings is always spinach. We eat as much as we can fresh, give loads away, and still have plenty in the freezer. No surprise then that I am always looking for a recipe to use it up. And it has to be a good one because I am not a big fan of cooked spinach. Enter Creamy Spinach Enchiladas. I'll preface by saying Keith loved these and I give them about a 6 or 7 out of 10. Keith loves vegetables; me, not so much. So a 6 or 7 is pretty good.

Creamy Spinach Enchiladas
from Real Simple, January 2012 (look, a recipe that didn't sit in my box for a year before trying it!)

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
6 ounces Cheddar, grated (1 1/2 cups)
2 4.5-ounce cans chopped green chilies
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
8 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together the spinach, corn, 1 cup of the Cheddar, and 1 can of the chilies.

In a small bowl, stir together the cream, remaining can of chilies, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Dividing evenly, roll up the spinach mixture in the tortillas (about 1/3 cup per tortilla).

Place seam-side down in a shallow baking dish. (I greased my dish first.)

Top with the cream sauce and remaining 1/2 cup of Cheddar.

Cover with foil and bake until bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Oddly enough, our grocery store was out of heavy cream when I went, so I grabbed the light cream and it seems to have worked just fine. Next time around I might add more cheese to disguise the spinach. Or maybe throw it in the food processor with some beans or something so the spinach flavor isn't so strong. Either way, this is a good recipe for us to use up some of our spinach and corn.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Frosty the Glassware

Do you remember how I wanted to frost my front door with spray? And Keith said no? Did you think I wouldn't get my frost-in-a-can fix some other way? Chalk it up to another dose of the Nate Berkus show.

This project is totally ripped from one of Nate's holiday episodes. (Yes, we are on a first name basis, even if he doesn't know it yet.) It's really simple and can be done in the space of a baby's afternoon nap. Even a cat-napping baby like mine. Here's what you are going to need:

• Clear glassware – vases, candle holders, anything you like. I found mine at the dollar store.
• Window frost spray – I used Rust-oleum Frosted Glass. You should be able to find it at any hardware or home improvement store.
• Rubber bands – If you are crazy like me, you have created a giant rubber band ball from the ones that come on the newspaper every day. Please tell me there is someone else out there who does this.
• A well-ventilated area – I used the garage on a mild and sunny afternoon.

First, you are going to want to wash and dry your glassware. If you have to pull a price sticker off, be sure to get all that residue off. I used Goof Off on mine.

When the glass is good and dry, wrap the rubber bands around the glass in whatever arrangement you like, using however many look good to you. Be careful to keep them pretty flat and not overlap them too much. The flatter the bands lay, the crisper your finished lines will look. I say this from experience.

Take your glass to your well-ventilated area, turn it upside down on some newspaper, and spray the outside of it. My brand of spray said to do several coats a few minutes apart but that might vary from brand to brand so be sure to read your can.

Sorry, no good action shot but I figured I didn't want to frost my camera lens.

Once the frosted glass is dry (it only takes about 15 minutes) you can pull the rubber bands off. Then you get some chic, custom glassware. And if you are really classy like me, you put a battery-operated tea light in it.

In my defense, I made these for a gift so I didn't want to light a real candle in it and get wax everywhere. Mainly because I didn't want to have to clean it. You know me.

The whole project cost less than $10 and I have lots of frost spray left. Hmm...what can I spray before Keith gets home?
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