Archive for the ‘Stuff we love’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zit Happens

Monday, January 13, 2014
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There are collections of expressions that promise hardships for those lucky few who never seem to suffer.  I suppose we should feel guilty for hoping the bottom drops out of their seemingly eternal happiness, but instead, we manipulate our thoughts.  Rather than hoping “she’ll get hers one day,” we secretly pray that God will humble the proud.  As if that’s better.

And I was one of those girls who had it all.  Yes, I lived through my teenage years with…clear skin.

In junior high, girls in homeroom would stare at my face and announce that they hated me (just kidding!).  Girls in high school asked why I never had a blemish of any kind.  The truth is, I don’t know.  I wore the worst makeup on drugstore shelves, and I rarely washed it off my face at night.  I don’t remember drinking gallons of water, and I don’t remember using any special lotions or potions.

But then, as the promises promise, life changed after Senior Week in Myrtle Beach, S.C.  Simply put, my face exploded.

My luck, and a bottle of Coppertone Dark Tanning Oil, had run out.

Speaking of the South, there was nothing more difficult than being the daughter of a woman who practiced perfectionism like medicine or law. She had four strict rules: Don’t get fat. Don’t slouch. Don’t talk back. Don’t get zits.

I followed rules one, two and three, but the fourth rule was almost impossible.  My mother, God rest her old soul, was convinced that problematic skin was connected to problematic behavior. To some extent, my mother was correct:  I didn’t take care of myself while on vacation.  If you’ve seen the movie, Shag, then you’ll be reminded of what senior weeks were like along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach.  No Mother, we weren’t touring historical Fort Sumter. But the battle followed me home and into a dermatologist’s office.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with her skin, doctor,” my mother said.  “She seems to have some sort of allergy.”

The doctor, who could’ve easily fought in the American Civil War, tilted my face toward the morning light of a nearby window.

“Whiteheads. Loads of them,” he said gripping my chin. “I can’t count them all.”

My mother dropped her head in embarrassment.

“You’ve been eating junk and touching your face, haven’t you?” he asked.

Yes, that’s right.  I wrung all the grease out of my mother’s fried chicken and smeared it on my cheeks, I thought.

I looked at my mother, who pulled at the clasp on her purse, which was about to become much lighter after a prescription pad of medication was handed to her.

“And stop using whatever you’re putting on your face and get bars of Lever 2000,” he ordered.  “Cleanse twice a day.”

After that, we traveled to the Medicine Shoppe in Kanawha City, where I waited for a miniscule tube of Retin-A, a bottle of Tetracycline, and some other type of bacterial killer that could’ve removed mold from the school’s locker room walls. From there, my mother drove to Stone & Thomas and bought another hundred dollars’ worth of cosmetics to cover up the “places” on my face.

By the tenth day, my face was falling off.  The pills were causing stubborn zits to turn into full-blown cystic acne.   That, too, was promised by the dermatologist.  “It’ll get worse before it gets better,” he scowled.

No foolin’. My face itched. It burned.  It tingled.  It festered.  I was too ashamed to leave the house, which might’ve been a good thing considering what happens if a pea-sized amount of Retin-A is heated by the sun’s damaging rays.  The “places,” as my mother called them, ached to the touch of fingers dried out from the so-called miracle soap.  To this very day, I gag when I smell its “original scent,” which should be no scent at all.

While I was away at Ohio University, and I do mean away in that I never left my dorm room other than to eat and attend class, I dumped all of the products and pills into the trash.  How I wish I had that tube of Retin-A now!

By Christmas, my face improved thanks to a new product called Proactiv. I found an advertisement for the three-step program in the back of Parade Magazine, shoved inside the Sunday newspaper.  I figured nothing else could hurt — not my skin and certainly not my feelings — so I sent in a money order for $49.99 and waited for the mint green liquid to arrive.  It did, and after two weeks of careful application, my skin was as clear as a teenager’s.  Well, some teenagers.

The point of this dreadful walk down memory lane is to announce that Proactiv is in our medicine cabinet once again, for mother and daughter. Now that I’m 40, hormonal acne has kicked into overdrive, and I’ve had to change everything about my skincare routine.  My hairstylist turned me on to the Rodan+Fields collection of anti-aging products, which seemed to be working wonders until the summer. I simply switched to the Proactiv creators’ adult line of acne treatment, Unblemish, and waited for middle age to settle down.  It did the job.

My daughter, now a tween, is experiencing the first few “places” that have popped up on her forehead thanks to bangs that could be used to season a cast iron skillet.  What an ugly image, I know, but it’s true.  I’ve actually considered washing the child’s hair in Dawn dishwashing liquid to help clarify her changing tresses.  If it cleans oil off a duck, then it has to strip overactive oils from a tween’s scalp.  But for now, we’re spot-treating her “places” with the formula that fixed my face.

However, I did make one drastic change in the course of treatment. As opposed to getting madder than a wet hen because life isn’t flawless, I’ve found a kinder, gentler way to help my daughter deal with inevitable growing pains.

“Bless your heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

Bite the bullet

Monday, December 30, 2013
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Phasing out the toaster as I aim for more fruit and less grain.

Phasing out the toaster as I aim for more fruit and less grain.

In the fall, I wrote to our editor and fellow Mommyhood blogger, Lauren McGill, and told her that I wasn’t sure if I should continue writing for the newspaper once our daughter goes to middle school. I’ve been worrying that blogging about my family’s life might cause her embarrassment in the junior high ranks, and I’m concerned that I’ll start writing repeats of milestones to be experienced by our younger daughter who’s in second grade.

A professional writer never runs out of material, and I certainly haven’t emptied my heart or brain, but I wondered if it was time to close my online diary to protect the girls’ privacy.  Heaven knows my husband doesn’t have a thread left!

Lauren pulled me off the ledge and reminded me that I could start writing about other topics. I don’t have to share so much personal stuff. Mr. Husband just might have the best year of his life!

Hmmm…write about something other than myself?!  Can it be done? Do I actually have the ability to help others instead of airing out my own emotional house of comedies and dramas?

In 2014, I’m gonna try.  It’ll be my writing resolution:  Think about other moms (and the dads who read from time to time). 

It won’t be easy, dear friends and foes.  This blog has become my half-hour on the couch.  I’ve spilled secrets and shared concerns, tattled on a few people and poked fun at others.  I’ve given you a peek into every room in this home and office, hoping that you could find yourself in some of the scenarios.  And, I won’t stop all of that cold turkey — I can’t change gears quite so quickly — but I’ll work to give you information that you can actually use.

I’ll dip a toe in this Monday by reviewing a new kitchen tool. Stick with me, readers! It’ll be worth the read!

During the nights when I can’t sleep, which is at least three or four per week, I watch infomercials. I’ve bought more crap from QVC and HSN in the last few years than I can give away to Goodwill. I’ve also become a frequent customer of Guthy Renker, the sales company that distributes products like the Wen Haircare System and Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty skincare line. I’ve bypassed the Insanity DVDs and anything endorsed by Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley.  I mean, Chuck Norris makes onions cry! How could I possibly get in better shape than that powerhouse? And the former Uptown Girl has been through four nasty divorces.  I don’t trust her judgment.

But one product catches my eye each time it’s aired:  The NutriBullet food extractor! I’m mesmerized by the pitch man’s description of miracle foods that will cure inflammation, migraine headaches, PMS, hot flashes and, without a doubt, insomnia. All anyone has to do is tell me that I’ll cut my cancer risk by so many percentage points, and I’ll fork over a credit card without a second thought.

The NutriBullet can be purchased in most stores (Target, Walmart, Macy’s, etc.), and it’s priced anywhere from $89.99 to $150.00.  I don’t know why there’s such a jump in price, but I decided to ask my mother-in-law to buy it for me for Christmas (I’m WICKED smart!).  She delivered, and on December 26, I fired up the pimped-out food pulverizer to cure my sleepless nights and aching joints.

Using the formula of 50% fresh greens (I chose baby spinach), 50% fresh fruits (I chose a berry medley), and a cup of spring water (I chose Kroger’s brand), I whipped up a thinner smoothie to boost my immunity before winter colds have a chance to set in.  After gulping the purple-y sweetness, I wiped my mouth and smiled at the girls.  There must’ve been 500 seeds stuck in my teeth.

But it sure did taste good!

The NutriBullet differs from a blender or a food processor (marketers say) in that the faster motor and sharper blades liquefy foods (including nuts, rinds and peels) that other machines chop or tear.  They’re correct: I tried making a green smoothie in my Cuisinart, and I had to chew half of it.

Another great quality is the mixing cup that turns into a drinking cup once the recipe comes together.  Rather than pouring (or scooping) the mixture into a glass and having multiple pieces to wash, the NutriBullet comes in two parts, which rinse clean after each use.

Despite the berry seeds that didn’t pulverize as expected, I dearly love this machine.  It comes with a sizable nutrition guide that breaks down the types of smoothies (from milder tastes to mega-veggie strength), and it offers a series of plans that are geared toward the user’s goals: lower cholesterol, increase energy, detoxify, lose weight, and so on and so forth.  It’s also an excellent way to get children to “drink” their veggies — and I do mean Swiss chard and collard greens. Who knew that a banana could mask almost any flavor?

If you received a gift card as a present and you want to do something nice for yourself, consider taking a closer look at the NutriBullet, or any other brand that’s labeled a close second. I actually look forward to whipping up something new every morning, and I really love crossing daily requirements off the healthy food pyramid.  And, this sleek, stainless steel gadget is a great tension tamer.  At the end of a hard week, I can pretend that I’m pulverizing people’s heads.

But, to abide by my New Year’s resolution, I’ll keep those thoughts to myself.

Have a healthy and happy 2014!

 

 

Fruitcakes and nutcases

Monday, December 16, 2013
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The cryptic recipe.  A little of this, a little of that, at 250 or 300 degrees.

The cryptic recipe. A little of this, a little of that, at 250 or 300 degrees.

It has a terrible reputation and a whopping 450 calories per slice.  It’s often called a brick or a doorstop. My dear husband confused it with a box of fire starters.  But it’s none of those things.  Friends, we need to show more respect for….The Fruitcake.

(That means showing me a little respect, too.)

It’s the joke of the holiday season, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I love fruitcake.  I savor the sticky, chewy, sugary fruit bits that stud my teeth with candied jewels.  I love the thickness of each slice, which feels like a slab of cement in a man’s hand.  I love the stained glass look of the ingredients shining through a molasses-colored sponge soaked in artificial flavorings.  I love topping a (very) small square with a mound of whipped cream; a cloud to brighten a citrusy brownie in disguise.

Yet just try to find a good one.

This week, I’ve searched high and low and near and far for an authentic fruitcake.  The few stores that carry them stamped the seasonal dessert with a “use by” date of 2015.  That competes with the shelf life of a Twinkie, so I left the confection in the display with the other 50 that remained untouched.

I called bakeries and different sweet shops to see if I could pay somebody to make one.  “We decided against it this year,” most of them said.  A few laughed.

Oh, no, dear bakers.  You are mistaken.  There’s always one nut in the area who will pay dearly for a slice of Christmas past.  But since these pastry chefs have chosen to turn their noses up, I’ll put my head down and make my own.

Do I have a professional KitchenAid artisan stand mixer?  Why, of course not!  Do I have a finished kitchen outfitted to support such an endeavor? Why, of course not!

But I do have a vintage recipe box that contains the handwritten instructions from a few Brown and Keeney women, and I intend to make those classy ladies proud.  I can do this! 

Every Christmas, my mother would open the folded square of yellowed notebook paper to reveal the secrets of her mother’s famous Nut Cake.  Two words  — not one. It’s a cake and it contains nuts.  (Even my grandmother tried to hide her embarrassment by changing the name from Fruitcake to Nut Cake.)  And every year, my mother would send a prayer up to the great kitchen in the sky to ask for a little help in turning this harder-than-childbirth cake into a Christmas spectacular.  Then, she would begin grating, sifting, chopping, stirring, pouring — and praying — as it was delivered into a 300 degree oven for the rest of a wintery afternoon.

More years than not, my mother would pull the Nut Cake from the oven, where her face would fall just as the cake had.  Deep red maraschino cherries always sank to the bottom, creating a cake full of craters that resembled a tire stabbed with a hunting knife.  My mother referred to it as The Keeney Curse.  Only her mother, God rest her soul, was allowed to make a perfect Nut Cake.  And if we tried, well, we’d pay for it.  As in 35 dollars’ worth of wasted groceries.

I would stand near Mom’s shoulder, or in time, over it, to avoid the disappointed expression on her face.  She would linger at the counter for a moment, steaming her pores with the heat of holiday hell, and then she’d toss the cake — sometimes fluted pan and all — into the trash.  My father, sitting in the breakfast nook smoking his life away, would scream like a girl.

So now it’s my turn.  I’m pulling out the Nut Cake recipe, and I’m trusting my new LG oven to bring great tidings of joy.  But before I scoop dark raisins or crack the first of four eggs, I’ll tilt my head toward the heavens, close my eyes and silently ask my mother to once again, help me keep all my cherries in the air.

 

Dedicated to Mary Keeney, who passed on December 12, and to Betty Brown, who passed on December 18.