Archive for the ‘Stuff we love’ Category

The Great Indoors

Monday, July 7, 2014
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Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

When I think back to my childhood, I realize that I didn’t do a lot in the summer.  I rode my bike through the Kanawha City streets (but never across MacCorkle Avenue), bought Slush Puppies at a  7-11 convenient store, ran through a sprinkler hooked to the garden hose in the front yard, and I watched HBO after my parents went to bed. One day rolled into the next, set to the labored hum of a large window-unit air conditioner that was bought from Sears and Roebuck (yes, both of them).

Some years, we took a vacation to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. or Williamsburg, Va.  Some years we couldn’t.

But never, ever did I go to camp.

And I sort of wish I had.

Last summer, as I lounged by the pool half-watching my girls cannonball off the diving board, I became engrossed in an article in Town & Country magazine.  The writer reflected on his summers at camp — an exclusive, preppy, hard-to-get-into-and-even-harder-to-pay-for place tucked away in the forests of “old” New England.  This sleep-away camp was the place where mosquitoes bit but fish didn’t, canoes capsized but nobody drowned, and hearts ached for home.  For a little while, that is.

The writer still believes that camp is a rite of passage in childhood; a necessary “roughing it” that removes some of the shelter in kids’ lives — physically and emotionally. Back then, going off to camp (for at least three weeks) was a way to connect with the world.  Today, it’s a way of making kids unplug from it.

The article romanticized camp in a way that made me actually look into places for my daughters, ages 11 and 8.  I follow a few camps for girls on Facebook and through images posted on Instagram and Pinterest — all of which make the experience look downright enchanting.

Ava doesn’t see it that way.

“WHAT? No walls?!” she exclaimed, as she leaned over my shoulder to study a large tent with its flaps peeled back to reveal giggly girls sitting on cots.

“What if it rains?!” she exclaimed.

You pull the flaps down, I guess.

“And bugs! Bears! No, Mama. NO,” Ava declared, stepping back from the computer as if it had malaria.  Her idea of camping is a cottage overlooking The Old White golf course at The Greenbrier.

Maryn, our youngest, took her sister’s spot over my shoulder.

“Cool!” she said.  “You get to sleep outside?”

Yes. For a month.

“Hmmm…” she pondered.  “How far away is it?”

You’d go to camp? I asked, shocked.  Maryn is our explorer, but she’s also the one who will sit and hold my hand when I’m bedridden in a nursing home.

It’s about two hours from here. You’d like to do that? 

“Maybe….” she said.

Well, let’s throw this little fish back in the water, I thought to myself.

Tomorrow (which will be “this morning” once the blog is published), Maryn will attend Fun With Words: A Young Writers Camp sponsored by the Central West Virginia Writing Project, a program overseen by Marshall University.  No, she won’t sleep in a tent (or a dorm), and no, she won’t be in the next state.  But, she will be gone during the day and she won’t have her sister sitting right next to her. She’s going off by herself, and I have to admit, I’m a little nervous.

Before I get ahead of myself, Maryn asked to attend camp. I didn’t sign her up for the sake of doing so.  She loves the arts, so this seemed like a good fit for her.  But, I’d be wrong if I hid an underlying motive for paying the rather steep tuition fee.

I wanted Ava, who will be starting middle school in about a month, to watch her little sister walk into a new environment without any familiar faces for comfort. It also takes some motivation to try new things, especially when they aren’t necessary or required.

My girl isn’t going to be sitting at the edge of Walden Pond penning the next great American novel.  Or, maybe she will — just not beside a bubbling brook.  And, she won’t be writing letters home detailing songs sung in unison around a fire, or merit badges won during archery contests or at the conclusion of wilderness survival tests (thank God).  But, she might write a story about meeting new friends and having new types of fun.  It may not be Lake Ossippe backdropped by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but it will be an adventure … for all of us.

 

First Word

Monday, June 16, 2014
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“Say Mama.  You can do it.  Ma-ma.  Mama.”

“Da-da.”

Over and over again.  “Da-da.”

Eventually, both of our girls blended the sounds that formed a name that would be called at least 100 times a day, every single day.  But when they were younger, “Da-da” — promoted to “Da-dee” when they were about three — was the only name that mattered. The most heinous household crime could be forgiven with the artful delivery of two sweet syllables.

Daddy?

And he’d melt into a puddle on the floor (which I’d have to clean up).

Last night, we returned from an 8-day vacation on the Brunswick Islands of North Carolina. Aside from the freshly-hatched sea turtles fighting their way into the great Atlantic, Daddy was the star of the trip. He always is the most important person in our girls’ eyes, and with good reason.  Whereas I’m mostly work and conversation, he’s mostly play and protection. When the girls are sick, they usually stagger toward me.  But when they’re hurt or they’re in need of unconditional support, Daddy is the one they seek.

Apparently, they’re not alone.  If you missed the Dove for Men commercial leading up to Father’s Day, you were left out of one impressive sob fest. As creative mastermind Don Draper explained to young copywriter Peggy Olson in the drama, Mad Men, advertising has one rule:  Make it simple…but significant.

What could be more simple or significant than a three letter word that’s made up of so much strength? As parents, we hear “Mom?!” and “Dad!?” so often that it becomes more of a false alarm than a loaded question.  But in that introductory phrase is a paragraph of wants and needs that only a certain person can decipher and resolve.  And for that, this Ma-ma thanks them.

Dove for Men Commercial

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Monday, May 12, 2014
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It’s the morning after Mother’s Day, and like many of you, I oooh’d and awww’d over school-made cards and objects that we shall call Fifth Grade Pottery.  In unusual fashion, I told my husband not to worry with meals and flowers this year since my birthday was celebrated earlier in the week.  The poor guy gets slammed in the month of May between my birthday, Mother’s Day, and the anniversary of our first date (which I insist we celebrate 23 years later).  Throw in Memorial Day (just because), and he’s ready to commit suicide by paper cut.

One of the handmade gifts came in the form of a Mother’s Day questionnaire.  It’s a good thing my daughters are cute.

All right, girls.  Here’s the essay part. Ready to begin? My mom is as pretty as:

Maryn (age 8) : A rose.

Ava (age 10): I have to think. Wait.

K: It’s that hard, Ava?

A: Right now?

K: Moving on…

A: No! I’ve got it! A diamond ring.

K: I sparkle?

A:  Sometimes.

(It’s 7:35 a.m.)

She is as sweet as:

M:  Candy.

A: (Laughing)

K:  Here we go again.

A:  You’re as sweet as…hold on.  I have to think of what it’s called.

M:  A donut?

A: I know this.  Okay…you’re as sweet as a pomegranate.

K: They’re tart, Ava.

She is as smart as:

M:  A teacher!

A: Umm….hmmmm.

K: I’m kicking you off the questionnaire, Ava.

A: Um…I don’t know what you’re smart at doing.

K: Thanks.

A: You are as smart as a teacher. Like Maryn said. But just in English.

K: Gee, I can’t wait for you to become a sarcastic teenager.

But most of all, she is as special as:

M:  Our whole family.

K:  I’m as special as the rest of you?

M: Yes.

A:  You’re as special as the Kentucky Derby.

K: Great. I bet you mean the infield.

Now the fill-in-the-blank part, otherwise known as short answer, or how you answered the essay portion of this thing. 

1. I really love it when my mom:

M:  Takes naps with me.

K: That’s been a while.  Look at the bags under my eyes. We should do that today.

A: I really love it when my mom is in a good mood.

K: You’re not helping matters.

2.  My mom likes to wear:

M:  Dresses.

A: Pajamas.

K: I don’t like you very much right now, Ava.

3.  My mom always tells me:

M: That she loves me.

A: You tell me a lot of things.

K: Pick the most frequent saying.

A: You always tell me … hmmm…. that I HAVE TO CUT MY HAIR.

(Maryn sneezes three times and needs allergy medicine.)

K: You do. It’s stringy and flat, and as long as I’m doing the arm work every morning, it has to be shorter.

4. My mom’s favorite food is:

M: Tomato mac and cheese.

K: When did I make that?

M:  After the mac and cheese cook-off.  You said you liked it.

A: I don’t know.  What is your favorite food? What do you like to eat a lot? Oh – I know. Steak!

K: At the Chop House, on my birthday, when it’s free.

5. My mom’s favorite household chore is:

M: Doing laundry!

K: Oh, yes. I love that.  I really love it when the dog eats a sock and needs emergency surgery.

A: Cooking dinner.

K:  …which you never eat.

6. The best thing she cooks is:

M: Pepperoni rolls.

K:  I haven’t made those since you were in kindergarten.

M:  But I remember them.

A:  You make good tacos.

K:  They’re from a kit! I add cheese and lettuce!

7. When my mom shops, she likes to buy:

M: Dresses.

K: And I have no place to wear them.

A:  Makeup.

K:  Which I should wear even if I have no place to wear dresses.

8. My mom’s favorite movie or TV show is:

M:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

K:  Yes. I love that movie.  I need to watch it again.

A: Your favorite TV show is Mad Men.

K:  Tomorrow night at 10:00! You need to be in bed asleep by 9.

9. If your mom could go on a trip, she would go to:

M:  The beach.

A: Churchill Downs.  I’d like to go there again since I passed out last year.

K: On the track.  I remember it well.

A: Can we go back?

K:  Maybe after the Paul McCartney concert.

A:  Where One Direction played?! Paul’s going to perform on the same stage as Harry Styles!

K:  I’m sure that’s what Sir Paul said, too.

10. I love my mom because:

M:  Because you love me.

K:  Think hard, Ava.  This one is a toughie.

A: I love my mom because she takes us on nice trips….like the One Direction concert.

K:  Do you love me more than Harry Styles?

A:  I love you both the same.

 

I guess I should’ve stopped while I was ahead.

Happy Mother’s Day After to all of our Mommyhood readers, particularly the ladies who stand in for those moms who are no longer with us.

 

Fondly,

Katy

A Dirty Secret

Monday, April 21, 2014
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Did I save the trip? Yes. Then I guess I saved Spring Break.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people mention that they’re going on vacation. Only spouses and children go on vacation.  Mothers go out of town.

As a family, we have a “travel bucket list” of places we want to visit with the girls.  One of those destinations included a good ol’ retro Spring Break along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. This idea was helped along by a call from a reservation specialist at Hilton, who told me that my husband had accumulated enough VIP membership points to earn six days at a resort in Kingston Plantation. And, since he was such a loyal customer, we qualified for a preview of fractional ownership opportunities at one of Hilton’s newest, most talked about properties.

Could he schedule a showing of an oceanfront condo that might better suit our needs on a future trip?

Oh, all right.  What’s an hour?

But life is never that accommodating. Shortly after securing this throwback week at Myrtle Beach, school board members decided to add a day and a half of classes back into the calendar.  Now the girls would miss makeup time and have additional homework before we could drive out of the zip code.

Oh, well.  What’s a few extra worksheets?

My husband had been traveling on business for the two weeks leading up to our family trip, so I was largely on my own when it came to servicing the vehicle, shopping for the house sitter, washing and packing clothes for four people, and picking up supplies for all of our pets.  I bought 25-pound sacks of dog and cat food to make sure their meals lasted while we were away, but our greedy Beagle decided he’d rather eat a sock. Instead of passing it one way or bringing it up another, the “foreign object” got stuck in the lower stomach and top half of the intestine. He was taken into surgery immediately, and we were left knowing that the next five days would be critical in case the two incisions leaked, or he suffered reactions to anesthesia.  Copper would also need intensive care for the first night, so we’d have to transport him to the emergency clinic for constant observation and pain relief treatment.

The beach was the farthest thing from my mind. Rather, Ava’s final honors music performance was that evening, and she had a snare drum part that I didn’t want to miss.  The concert started at 7:00, which was the exact time I had to transport Copper to the emergency clinic.  I promised I would drop and run — that I wouldn’t miss more than one or two numbers — and I’d see her rat-a-tat-tat her way into The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

I missed every song but the last one.

After getting Copper settled and signing my life away (including my dog if I didn’t come back to get him by 7:15 a.m.), I drove with my flashers on to make it to Ava’s show.  I climbed the steps of the Cultural Center in pairs, a difficult task in muck boots worn to search the woods for our missing cat, which darted out of the house when tree trimmers started cutting down an oak in our yard.  Wearing a dirty shirt stained with my dog’s blood after he bit his tongue, I burst into the packed auditorium to watch Ava and her musician friends sing Sara Bareilles’ hit song, Brave.  Ava happened to look stage left, where I was propped up against the marble wall trying to forget that my back was throbbing from a sciatic nerve flare up.  She flashed a forgiving smile and returned to the hand-clapping tune that brought an entire crowd to its feet. When the show was over, she made her way through other kids’ parents to me.  I hugged her as tightly as I could and repeated how sorry I was for being late.  Ava told me that I could buy the DVD and watch it as many times as I wanted.  After the checks I’d been writing, what’s another $10?

The next morning, I ran into the school counselor who seemed to know I needed a hug of my own.  How’s it going, she asked.  I burst into tears.

“I missed Ava’s performance,” I cried.

After explaining what had caused this lapse in parenting, the counselor put her expertise to good use.

“Did you save the dog?” she asked.

I nodded pathetically.

“Then you saved the day.”

But the day wasn’t over. I had exactly 12 hours to make a decision about the beach.  It would be incredibly insensitive to leave a sick dog behind, but it would be a guilty shame to cancel a trip that two girls (and their dad) deserved.  I’d already missed a concert and class presentation that Ava had worked hard on, and I’d ignored everything at home (including our younger daughter) worrying about the dog. Fortunately, the veterinary hospital agreed that Copper needed extra care for several days, so he could be boarded while we were out of town. My house sitter agreed to visit him every day, and to manage things in case his situation changed.  What’s so bad about that?

I felt miserable for most of the drive down, which was oddly smooth given the time of year.  My back ached and my mind raced, and I fought a sour stomach that was churned by the stress of the last few days.  When we reached the resort, the thick scent of sea water seemed to loosen me up better than any muscle relaxer could, and I settled into “Salt Life” promising to trust that everything would be all right.

That next afternoon, tension returned as we listened to a loud, eager sales associate preach the benefits of vacation timeshare.  With rock music piped into the room full of exhausted-looking couples, we reluctantly watched a flashy PowerPoint presentation advertising the luxuries of 63 Hilton properties that could be ours for approximately 20 days a year after putting $11,500 down and paying $734 a month at 11.9% interest until the $36,000 debt was paid off.  Much to the sales associate’s frustration, we declined all opportunities to “own a piece of the beach” by way of a deed to a “unit in Las Vegas” that could be transferred with the purchase of “at least 5,000 points” for a resort closer to home.

Home.

The rest of our time was spent dodging college students and seeking shelter from bone-chilling ocean winds.  We seemed to invest the same timeshare expense inland, riding the SkyWheel, racing go carts, eating overpriced, underwhelming seafood, and buying souvenir tee-shirts that marked our discounted trip to Myrtle Beach.  While it was nice to order a grande vanilla latte every morning, return from the outlet malls to a room freshened with fluffy towels and crisp bed sheets, and read Southern magazines from a striped cabana, I didn’t want to be there.  Clearly, the timing was off.  Sick dogs, missing cats, work deadlines, homework assignments, school performances, and wayward tree trimmers (that’s another story and another sizable check) were calling me back.  Simply put, I missed my mess.

Despite coral-colored shrimp and cheddar cheese grits baked in a cast iron skillet, pitchers of tea sweet enough to rot teeth, and being called ma’am more than Mom, I was actually homesick for the problems I tried to escape.  And that’s a funny thing about mothers:  We like to tell anyone who will listen that we desperately need to get away.  But the truth is, we don’t always want to make a run for it. We’re fixers. We don’t know how to leave our troubles behind. Contrary to how we act, we secretly love these dirty parts of life, because it reminds us that we play a vital role with a special purpose.  We are important to other people, projects…and yes, pets. Sun and surf can be good for the soul, but it doesn’t always provide rejuvenation.  Sometimes, it provides a reminder.

 

 

 

Hashtag Nailed It

Monday, March 17, 2014
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Every mother wants to be known for something. Perhaps it’s knitting, fly fishing, running marathons…or perhaps it’s being able to peel an apple in one long, perfect spiral like Tom Hanks’ wife in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. We want to be famous for having a spectacular talent — a skill that no other parent can match. I assume my girls think of me as “the writer” when someone asks what I do, but I write so often that they’ve come to ignore it.  I decided to find a new flair so my girls could brag to their friends and teachers with renewed excitement.

“Yeah, my mom makes a mean macaron!”

Macaron? Don’t you mean macaroon? Or, have you dropped off the ‘i’ in macaroni?

Close your mouth! Let’s start at the beginning.

Macaron

Macaron is a French cookie made with almond and egg whites that are sandwiched around a cream-based filling. They come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, such as buttered caramel and Irish cream.

Macaroon

Macaroon is the American word for a version of a flourless egg-white-based cookie. Most often made with coconut, it can also include nuts or nut paste.

mac vs. mac

Courtesy: Pinterest

In other words, one is much harder to make than the other. And expensive.  Tres chic, not very cheap. 

With a little time on my hands this past week, I decided to try these beautiful macaron recipes pinned on Pinterest boards. I’m drawn to color, so I became obsessed with these puffy little pastel cookies that whistled springtime. However, I thought I should cut my teeth on a slightly easier list of ingredients and procedures, so I settled for a salted chocolate variety that promised minimal tears and maximum approval.

Here’s a summary of that particular day in the kitchen, as recorded in Facebook posts:

8:28 a.m.  Off to Lowe’s I goes for tools.

9:32 a.m.  Step ONE: Purchase a new, baby blue KitchenAid Artistan Stand Mixer, thanks to an AuthorHouse royalty check for “Sellie and Sam”.  I shall name her Julia.

mixer

10:28 a.m.  Step TWO: Stop at Kroger to purchase ingredients for “Double Chocolate Salted Macarons”.  Search for almond flour and Celebri-Kitty, but cannot find either one.

kitty kroger

10:34 a.m.  Step THREE: Play Pharrell’s “Happy” song to remind myself that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. Then, search the internet for advice on substituting almond flour.

11:10 a.m.  Step FOUR: Return to Kroger after I learn that almond flour is stocked in the organic aisle. FIND ONE BAG left on the shelf (lots of macaron making today!), notice the price, and drive home to write another book to pay for it.

flour

11:16 a.m. This is major stress. I should have learned to ride a bike first. But no — I have to drive a stick-shift Ferrari.

11:27 a.m. …and if you’re wondering why I’m online, it’s because I’m waiting on three eggs to come up to room temperature. (Comment from a friend: Just run them under warm water.)

ingredients

11:36 a.m.  Step FIVE: Follow all instructions and worry about the humidity of the house, which is a cozy 67 degrees unless you’re standing beside the window, and then it’s about 50.

11:50 a.m.  ZUT ALORS! (Translation: THIS IS HARD!)

12:01 p.m.  Piping bag? WHAT? How about a gallon-sized Baggie? I have my limits!

12: 33 p.m.  “Pipe into circles. 25 total.” Oh. So we’ll have 6.

meringues

12:53 p.m.   “Bake at 350 for 14 minutes, or until little cookie feet appear.” Mine have toes.

1:34 p.m.  Step SIX: Wait for macarons and chocolate filling to cool, match tops of the same size (Yeah, right…); add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, and let set.

Drumroll, please….

finished mac

#nailedit

1:57 p.m. Sing loud and proud!  BECAUSE I’M HAPPY!!!!

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do!

pharrell and paul

Pharrell (and Paul)

That evening, I presented Mike with one delicate, airy, slightly crisp, slightly chewy, chocolatey, velvety, rich, French macaron.  “Mmm,” he mumbled, biting into the little sandwich iced with salted ganache.

“That’s a $400 cookie in your mouth.”

Mike choked and sprayed the counter with crumbs.

Two days later (when he was speaking to me again), I decided to try another batch of my famous macarons.  This time, I paid more attention to sifting and mixing, and I cut a smaller hole in the corner of the gallon-size Baggie to pipe petite rounds of “lava-like batter” onto sheets of parchment.  Following the directions like Martha Stewart and forgiving mistakes like Julia Child, I turned out 26 salted chocolate cookies instead of six.

But I don’t have any to show you. The girls ate them all.

Want to try it? Here’s the link!

http://foodnessgracious.com/2013/04/double-chocolate-salted-macarons/

Homemade take-out

Monday, March 10, 2014
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Right.

Gag me with a spoon.

As far as our family is concerned, the water crisis is over. We’ve been washing clothes and brushing teeth with tap water for weeks, but I do hesitate to drink a tall glass of our city’s H2O. If this isn’t considered “normal,” then I’ll edit my comment to say that it’s our “new normal.”

Another “new normal” is making lunches for our two children every day. At the beginning of the school year, I made a big fuss about our oldest daughter, who refused to eat cafeteria food.  I accused her of being a food snob, and then I fussed at her for being so finicky about frozen chicken nuggets.  She one-upped me by declaring herself vegetarian.

There’s a salad bar at school!

But since the water crisis (which we consider to be over), I’ve changed my school policy.  If they want a homemade lunch, then fine by me.  However, there are slight changes to the law:  1) The girls have to accompany me to the grocery store to choose their lunch items; and 2) They have to assemble those meals by themselves.

I spent a small fortune on plastic baggies at The Dollar Tree. Pinterest to the rescue! Crafty moms offered a simple, stylish solution:  A Bento box! Ever heard of it? I first experienced lunch in a Bento box at a spa in Scottsdale, AZ (many years before kids). My healthy fare was delivered in a little bamboo crate divided into 1/2 and 1 cup servings of bean dip, vegetables, some type of grain salad, fruit sushi, and dark chocolate squares.  I washed the delights down with an overpriced bottle of Perrier and felt like a million dollars — much like my restaurant tab.

Bento box-style lunches are very popular, especially if parents have picky eaters or those who like to play with their food.  I yell at my children for both behaviors, but I can see how much better they eat if the options are pleasing to the eye.  Now friends, let’s keep it real:  This mother will NOT cut shapes into sandwiches.  Why? Because I tried that when our first born went to kindergarten.  1) No slice of bread is ever big enough to cut into the shape of a heart; 2) I refuse to get up at 5:00 a.m. to make goofy sandwich faces with raisins and strips of red pepper. If you’re this type of parent, I’ll compliment you on being Mother of the Year, and then I’ll talk about you behind your back. Pinky promise.

However, I will say that if you have snackers instead of meal eaters, these stackable, washable, lockable lunch boxes are the way to go.  Pinterest also helped ease the stress of shopping by publishing grocery lists that break out grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy desserts.  Can’t I do this by myself? Yes. Well, I used to, until our neighborhood grocery store decided to move everything around and make me spend two hours looking for hummus.

Bento boxes are available online through the Laptop Lunches website, or in somewhat generic form at Target and Walmart in the aisles stocked with leftover containers.  Brown bags and plastic baggies are quicker and easier, but they do start to pile up in the pantry and then in the trash can.  Bento-ware is also a fun way to control portions, Mom, in case you’d like to treat yourself to a spa day at home. It has to be cheaper.

Namaste!

 

 

Two thumbs up

Monday, February 10, 2014
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facebook loveFacebook, you’ve done it again.  To quote The Godfather — Michael Corleone — “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”

I stopped boasting on Fakebook three times in the last six years.  Most often, I thought I was spending too much time online and not enough time with my daughters. I gave it up for Lent, and then I gave it up after being creeped out by hackers and other types of scary people. Techie types predict that Facebook will lose 80% of its users, and much has been reported about teens seeking other places to “communicate”. But this past week, Mark Zuckerberg and friends found a way to worm their way into hearts again.  Facebook’s creators gave users a look back at family and fun with instrumental music that resembled the “In Memoriam” tribute at the Oscars.  Yes, I cried.

It all started in 2008 when I needed information about my high school class reunion.  From that moment on, I was addicted.  Hooked.  Helpless. Hopeless. After about a year, Facebook became a professional development tool, and 100% of my company’s profits stemmed from relationships forged on the social network. After that, it became a place to scrapbook my children’s milestones.  Today, it’s where I promote this blog and rowdy, random thoughts.  Much to my husband’s irritation, some of my rants and raves turned our family into a reality show in print. For all of its faults (privacy standards, to be specific), I have to admit that Facebook is my “water cooler” during the day when I’m working from home and the only noise is the furnace blowing hot, dusty air  — or my faucets flushing MCHM from the pipes.

Facebook is an introvert’s best friend.  You can stalk or talk.  It’s your choice.  But you’re always in the invisible presence, so to speak, of a 100+ people.  Most of these “friends” were in our lives for a very short time a long time ago.  But those relationship labels tend to disappear, too.  It’s a 24-hour party, should we choose to attend. Someone will always be there.

Now here we are in 2014, and Facebook has taken me on a lovely little walk down memory lane. Life’s best moments were sprinkled in moving images: My daughter’s Rainbow Loom designs; my cat drinking out of a Solo cup during the water crisis.  My husband (looking quite handsome I must add), smiling  with his two little girls at the Greenbrier during Christmas break.  A picture of myself holding my first born, and then my first book — which I have to say was easier to bring into the world. Finally, the comical moments of identical anniversary cards, of celebrity crushes, of favorite rock bands, of good luck and bad hair days.

But the best part was getting to the very end of the minute-twenty video and finding the simple blue hand signaling that Facebook liked it.

 

 

 

What’s in the medicine cabinet: Generic miracle workers

Friday, February 7, 2014
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Turned on to a knock off.

Turned on to a knock off.

In keeping with my new year’s writing resolution to develop more blog posts that could actually help other mothers, I’ve decided to write a few shorter pieces related to food, beauty, fashion, and whatever else catches my attention.  For example:

What’s in my medicine cabinet?

What’s in my kitchen pantry?

What’s in my closet?

What’s in my makeup bag?

These little posts aren’t to show off what I’m buying, using, eating or wearing.  The goal is to share little discoveries that might help or bring happiness to your daily life, too.

Focusing on WHAT’S IN THE MEDINE CABINET, I’ll ask you to flip back a couple of weeks to a post I wrote about hormonal acne.  My tweenage daughter and I are suffering from different types of breakouts, but we’ve been spared some of the agony and embarrassment by products made by Rodan and Fields, the creators of Proactiv and Unblemish.

The problem is that both kits can become extremely expensive if you should need the products longer than a couple of weeks or months. But, I was able to save about $30 for the three-step Proactiv set by picking up a generic kit at Walmart for $11.

I’ll be the first to admit that I question generic brands, because I’m convinced that name brands contain an ingredient that the off-brand does not.  But, for $11, I decided to take a risk and give the fake Proactiv a shot.  So far, the Equate cleanser, toner, spot treatment and mask work like a charm.

I haven’t been able to find a generic version of Unblemish, but in time, I’m sure someone in the cosmetics and skincare market will crack the code to stubborn middle-aged acne.  But at least I know it won’t cost a fortune to banish my daughters’ blemishes over the next few years.

Note: Katy Brown was not paid to use or to endorse any of these products or services.  As her husband will tell you, she buys everything.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in the kitchen pantry: Sweet and low priced

Friday, January 31, 2014
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Beauty and the beast.

Beauty and the beast.

During the crisis that left 300,000 West Virginians without tap water, I began making mental notes about the products I use and the ingredients I eat or drink.  I started this little internal survey after opening a box of facial lotion and reading the active and inactive substances that are supposed to make me look 10 years younger.  I held up the box and told my husband, “This may be a good example of the pot calling the kettle black.”

I color my hair three or four times a year, and I bleach my teeth every six months.  I’ll rub an apple on my shirt and then take a huge bite out of it, and every so often, I’ll sneak a few grapes out of the bag and eat them…unwashed. Last summer, my daughter got a chemical burn from swimming in a local pool that had just been treated with a sizable load of chlorine to make the water crystal clear. But our worst offense, one that makes every cancer survivor wince, is the amount of artificial sweetener poured into our glasses of iced tea and mugs of hot coffee … every day.

I know. This stuff has been reported to cause cancer in lab rats, yet I rip, pour, stir and sip anyway.  But I’m trying to do better for myself and for my family, so I’ve taken to the Internet and to culinary magazines to find a solution that won’t sacrifice taste or our lives.

It’s called….agave nectar.

This amber liquid, a type of syrup, is expensive.  This is probably the reason why I’ve ignored it on grocery store shelves.  However, celebrity chef Giada DeLaurentiis swears by it, and if she can wolf down bowls of pasta and chase it with cups of sweetened cappuccino, then I’ll have what she’s having.

During a recent shopping trip, I rediscovered gourmet foods and spices at Home Goods in the kitchen department. I used to walk by these shelves and assume the food was old or so bad the stores had to ship products to outlet centers for a quick sale.  I learned that most of these items are simply overstocks — it’s perfectly good and well within “best by” dates.

And whaddya know? Home Goods at the Shoppes at Trace Fork sells all kinds of agave nectar! Cheap, too!

I forked over $2 and change for a pretty bottle of sweetness and raced home to try it in a cup of Starbuck’s Mocha.  I wasn’t sure how much to use, but the famous chef from Italy tells us to use “just a little bit — just a drop to sweeten it up.”  So I squeezed just a little bit, swirled a spoon to release the color from jet black to chocolate brown, and then I sipped. I waited.  I sipped again.

Maybe just another squirt.

A few seconds later, I had used half the bottle.

Agave nectar may be called “honey water” by our friends in South America, but this girl from Charley West calls it Karo syrup. Conscious consumers rightfully feel better about using natural products as opposed to “packets of poison”, but experts say a dollop of agave contains 60 calories. White table sugar contains 40 calories.  Perhaps less is more.

What’s in the pantry: Emergency supplies

Thursday, January 23, 2014
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Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

A mixture of below freezing temperatures, snowstorms and 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol forced my family to take stock of our emergency supplies.  Once again, we are not Doomsday Preppers.  I can’t even call myself a Girl Scout.  I quit the troop because I hated the green, bellbottom, polyester pants.

All kidding aside, we’re never “ready” for a surprise attack. I always have kitty litter on hand, but it’s never in the trunk of my car to help with tire traction. I don’t even think I have an ice scraper in the glove box.  Come to think of it, I don’t even have a pair of gloves in the glove box. Where’s my insurance card?

If you’re like us, you’re only organized in thoughts and good intentions. But those times are a’changin’.  What do you need to weather the next named storm or environmental disaster?  Here’s a little list, compiled from various websites and crazy people:

 HOW TO BUILD A BASIC DISASTER KIT (courtesy of FEMA)

  • Water; one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation (Writer’s note: I’d up this amount to two gallons per person, per day, for a week.)
  • Food; at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered radio with tone alert and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit, including all-purpose medications for adults and children
  • Noisemaker to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps or a GPS system
  • Cell phone with chargers or a solar charger

For extreme conditions, FEMA suggests additional emergency supplies:

  • Prescription medications and related accessories (such as diabetic test strips, etc.)
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet; leashes and pet carriers
  • Cash and change; a credit card
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes
  • Clean, emptied containers
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Writing supplies
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Keep automobiles filled with gasoline, and if you’re on the move, a bin to haul these supplies

Another website suggested a patriarchal blessing and a Bible.  Ok, I’ll take along King James.

Whenever the media reports snow of any kind, people race to the store to hoard bread and milk.  The bread I understand.  But milk? I seem to be collecting gallons of water these days.  I’m also stocked up on waterless cleaners such as Cetaphil, dry shampoo, baby wipes, toilet paper and fire starter logs.  Despite the worries and headaches of living with tainted water, I kept thanking my lucky stars that we had electricity.  After experiencing a tornado and a derecho, living in the dark without heat or air conditioning seems worse.  We have our gas logs inspected for safety, and we make sure our charcoal grill is kept in good condition, should those items be needed to keep us warm or to heat meals. Keeping cool in the summer is more of a mental exercise. The Waltons didn’t have central air and they lived through years of heat waves.  WWJD:  What would John-Boy do?

Hopefully, this list will help you to keep calm so you can carry on.  But, if you’re like me, you’ll freak out and get carried away.