Friday, August 30, 2013

What the devil is pancetta . . . ?

I think I've mentioned before that I can cook. Not like Iron Chef, no, but I know my way around a kitchen and can cook for my family. I'm from a family of 5 kids, and my mom always cooked homemade meals for us every day. I had a great upbringing that way, so when I got married and moved out on my own, while I didn't know how to cook EVERYTHING, I knew enough to wing it and make things work without eating out every meal. One of my proudest moments was making a delicious ham sandwich using leftovers of an amazing ham roast I had cooked the previous night without even having to call my mom for instructions (no really, it was a FANTASTIC sandwich).

It's been seven years now since I first got married, and for the past several years I've been living with my husband's family, and for the past two years, I've been cooking for us all five nights a week. So I'm confident in saying that I'm now a capable cook. I've collected tons of recipes over the years, learned a lot of my mom's cooking secrets and tricks, and I'm comfortable with my abilities.

I am not, however, a fancy cook. I wrote a post awhile back about how I nearly went into paroxysms when I found out I could substitute the long shelf life evaporated milk for perishable half and half or heavy cream! It changed my life! I see things in recipes like fresh herbs and not commonly used produce and immediately start figuring out in my head what the measurement of dried herbs would be and what I can substitute for shallots. (Onions, btw. Substitute onions.)

So, when I came upon this delicious-looking recipe on Pinterest for Winter Minestrone Soup (I've been craving soup this pregnancy), you can imagine the internal monologue I had going on as I read through it. Just for kicks and giggles, let's go through it and I'll tell you what I thought. Because this could just be me being all narcissistic, but I thought it was pretty darn funny. My thoughts are in the parentheses.

Winter Minestrone & Garlic Bruschetta
Serves 6 to 8

Good olive oil (I don't know about "good", but that we have.)
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2 -inch-diced (Pancetta . . . what the devil is pancetta?)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (Dehydrated onions = 3/4 c)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash (Ha. I've attacked a squash before. Also blogged about it. That's not likely to happen again.)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves) (Score for the bottle of minced garlic in the fridge!)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (Dried thyme = 1/2 tsp-ish)
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi (How big are those normal size cans? 14 ounces? Eh, I can just do two of those.)
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (page 62) (Chicken base and water, that counts as homemade since I have to dirty a dish.)
1 bay leaf Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (Bay leaf, table salt, and normal ground pepper, check)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (White beans in sauce work, right? I don't really like beans anyway. Maybe we don't need those.)
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note) (So . . . elbow macaroni it is!)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves (I still have that frozen package of spinach in the back of the freezer, woot!)
1/2 cup good dry white wine (Make extra chicken broth, we don't have wine.)
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto (Pesto is just basil in some kind of oil or liquid, right? Yeah. 1 1/2 tsps of dried basil it is. Wonder if I should add an extra trickle of olive oil or something.)
Garlic Bruschetta (recipe follows) (White bread and butter on the table when dinner is served, check.)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (Freshly opened grated Parmesan in the plastic bottle. Because everyone loves a garnish.)

( . . . we never did figure out what pancetta was . . . *Googles* . . . Oh! Fancy bacon! I like bacon! We have breakfast bacon!)

So . . . yeah. That's pretty much exactly the thought process I had with this. I didn't even read the directions, but I know I'd have some sacrilegious thoughts about those as well. At the end of this recipe, I'd have a Minestrone-similar soup, definitely, but there are no promises that it would in any way be the SAME as this recipe. Would it be edible? Yes. Would it taste good? You bet your britches. Would it look like a passable imitation of the picture? Yep. But Julia Child I am not, folks. I never met a recipe I couldn't simplify, and never met a corner I didn't try to cut. Because that's how I roll. How about you? Do you put fancy chefs and cooks to shame, or is condensed cream of chicken soup your best friend? Do you have desserts or dishes that are constantly requested at parties and functions, or was mastering the can opener the greatest advance to your culinary career to date?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This Hormonal Train I'm Riding

Oh, my darlings. It has happened. I'm pregnant. Now, I'm sure that those sentences came across with a positive vibe with them, a happy tone to the words. Sadly, nothing could be further than the truth. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm way excited to be expecting and that come St. Patrick's Day I'll have a little leprechaun on my hands! We've been trying for another baby for a few years now, so this is very much a happy thing! There is just one problem . . . and that is PREGNANCY. *Dun dun duuuun!*

I was sooo not prepared for the onslaught that has occurred these past two months. Like, whoa. With my first pregnancy, I was one of those women that every other pregnant woman in the world hated: I had a perfect, easy pregnancy. My morning sickness was like 15 minutes of vague nausea every other week or so. That's it. My aches and pains were limited to my pelvic bone disliking it when I first got up in the morning, a charley horse I got one night, and a brief struggle with prenatal vitamins because they are of the devil. (Don't worry, I won the struggle . . . but I still had to take the pills. So maybe that's half a win.) My whole pregnancy was this bubble of happiness, because I got to ENJOY it, unlike a lot of women who pretty much suffer from day one. And lemme tell ya, first time pregnant women have it so easy. Because NOTHING is expected of a first time pregnant lady. "You can't lift that! Do you need a nap? Oh, come sit down, you must be so tired! Are you sure I can't help you with that?" All day, every day, it was awesome. No, I did not take advantage of this in any mean ways, because I was in a pregnant bubble and had no bad symptoms and nothing could hurt me but it was still nice to have zero expectations on me!

Second pregnancy? Psh, the bubble is over. I am so not this woman. Even if I wasn't suffering every bad side effect and symptom IN THE FRIGGING BOOK, second pregnancies are so not the zero-expectation cakewalk the first one is. Number one reason? Because if you are pregnant a second time, know what that means? You've already been pregnant. And you now have a little rugrat running around that sooo does not care that you are going to throw up if you have to sit up and put Barbie's shoes on one more time. And once you have kids, it's like the magic goes away and people assume that psh, so you're pregnant, whatever, you've already got a half-grown kid that can help you. Except, well, five year olds can't exactly haul the 50 pound bag of dog food out to the car, now can they? Nope. They are really good at holding the cart still while you try and shimmy said bag onto the bottom of the cart in an extremely ungainly way, though.

So yeah, second pregnancy, and I presume following pregnancies, just don't have that magical glow that the first one does. It's so unfortunate. Because I could totally use a zero-expectations cakewalk this time around. My first pregnancy, I worked the whole time! Yeah, it was just part time, but still! I could totally have handled full time! This time around, I'm lucky if I manage to get all the laundry through both machines in one day, and I'm even luckier if I get it folded before I need to do it all over again. One day last week I felt really good and not only got it all washed, but folded and put away in one day! I felt like Super Woman! Which is extremely, really sad because that's just a typical Monday for me when I'm not experiencing the joys of being "in the family way".

Maybe it's because my body remembers this pregnant thing, remembers where it's going to end up at the end of this. And it's surrendering early. My lower back is under the impression that I'm already massively pregnant, because every time I do something that aggravates it, it sits up and complains right off the bat. I'm not even going to discuss my boobs, but let's just say they're acting very immature. I've got this tiny little fetus in me that isn't even the size of a lime at this point, but my pelvic muscles are putting up this huge fit like I have a bowling ball strapped down there! But the worst part is the nausea. Holy balls, it is insane. Morning sickness, ha. ALL THE TIME SICKNESS. Morning, noon, night, and every hour in between. I am sick when I eat, I am sick when I don't, I'm sick when I'm full, and I'm sick when I'm hungry. I cannot win! My best friend right now is my bottle of Tums, and I've had more Tums in the last month than I've ever had in my entire life, times ten!

Thankfully, I have one saving grace and that is my amazing control over my gag reflex. I do not throw up unless I give myself permission. Not even kidding. I was once playing in a concert in high school (clarinet), had to throw up since I was sick, and not only did I walk out of the gym entirely, but I walked AROUND to the OTHER SIDE of the commons to throw up in the women's bathroom. I also locked my stall door behind me before I gingerly knelt on the floor and made my offering at the porcelain altar. So, when I say I don't throw up unless I want to, I sincerely mean it. I've only thrown up once while pregnant this time around, and I only did because I figured it would calm my stomach faster. Which it did. So at at least I'm not throwing up all over the place all the time, which I'm very grateful for. I really, really hate throwing up. I'd take almost any ailment over throwing up.

I think the part about this morning sickness that sucks so much, is that there's nothing I can do to get rid of it or settle my stomach except lay down. Not sit down. Not lay back and lounge. But full-on LAY DOWN. And lemme tell ya, there is not exactly a lot of stuff that you can do while laying down, except for sleep and stare at the wall. I got so bored that I figured out a couple contortions that still kept me lying down while I got on my laptop, but when you're laying down for half the day, even having the entire internet at your disposal is not enough. You still get bored. Extremely bored. "I'm gonna go whine on my blog because I've already annoyed everyone on Facebook" bored.

Yeeeeah . . .

Pregnancy. The miracle of life. The misery of enduring it. Now, don't misunderstand, I wouldn't change my mind about having this baby, and there's no way I'd trade him or her for feeling normal again (and we did have a close call). But I am very desperately looking forward to the day when I am able to feel normal again. I'm counting down the days to my second trimester when the morning sickness SHOULD ease up or go away entirely. And if it ends up not happening . . . I will cry. Big, fat, pity party tears.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Books and Reading, A-Z

My friend Caitlin just posted this on her blog, and since I actually ADORE doing these kinds of surveys, guess what I'm making you put up with? Oh yeah, you guessed it . . . And this is long, kids, so brace yourselves.

Author you've read the most books from: I had to count, but Julia Quinn is the winner by a few. She's a romance author, BTW, and my very favorite romance author. She always has those moments in her book that make me laugh out loud, which is a trait I much value in my reading. In case you're interested, second place goes to JR Ward, my guilty pleasure of the reading world.

Best Sequel Ever: And thus starts the Harry Potter devotion. No book or series, in my opinion, has come close to how amazing and consistently awesome those books are. No one else can touch that.

Currently Reading: Speaking of Julia Quinn, I just started reading her again. I'm on her first book, Splendid. I finally finished the Harry Potter series while I was camping a couple weeks ago.

Drink of Choice While Reading: Water is my drink of choice 90% of the time, so that's usually what is on hand.

E-reader or Physical Book: I am a die-hard physical book girl. I don't have a Kindle or Nook, but I do have the Kindle app on my phone and the program on my computer, so it's not like I haven't used e-readers at all. I find them handy, to be sure. But there is a magic to a real book, the feel of the pages and the smell of the paper and the way you can take a moment to close the book and cry or laugh if you need to. Also, it's hard to read ahead on an e-reader. (Oh yeah, I'm THAT person.)

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: *Takes a moment to consider this* Okay, this is a hard one. First of all, I have many friends who are writers, I myself am a writer, and I am emotionally attached to a whole lot of characters that don't even exist in a published forum. I actually fictionally dated a version of Orlando Bloom for quite a while in junior high and high school, courtesy of a dear writer friend that indulged my Lord of the Rings inspired fantasies (I've mentioned this before, there were vampires and Michael Jackson involved). So, if we are only counting characters that have been published, and we're not limiting this to books I had only read by high school, I would say that the character I would have dated in high school would be . . . one of the Weasley twins from Harry Potter. They were hilarious, unruly, had a family as bonkers as mine, I think I would have done very well with one of them. If we're counting unpublished literature as well, I do have a few characters of my own and a few creations of other friend writers that I would have dated without a second thought.

Glad you Gave This Book a Chance: Julia Quinn pops up again. I had never read a romance novel until my honeymoon (don't worry, the irony is not lost on me), and it had not occurred to me to take anything to entertain myself on said honeymoon. I figured we'd be busy watching movies and lounging around when we weren't, erm, pursuing other activities. Well, by the end of day 2, we were starting to get bored. So I bought a movie magazine that featured a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean material, and a book I picked at random from that aisle of the grocery store. I figured if I picked a pretty safe-looking cover and didn't stumble across anything scandalous during my brief skim through it, I'd be fine (I was leery about romance novels, since I'd never read one). Well, everything checked out, so I unknowingly bought my first romance novel. And I LOVED it! Opened up a whole new genre of books that I absolutely adore! Regency romance (Regency era of England, about 1815 and the years surrounding) is my favorite, and I've written quite a bit in this era as well, but all romance novels have appealed to me thus far. I love the characters, the plots, and I'm such a sucker for romance anyway. Throw me a hero that is professing his love to the heroine using the most flowery or simple words, it doesn't matter which, I love it.

Hidden Gem Book: Greek mythology. Not any specific book, not really, because there are probably dozens if not hundreds of books about Greek mythology, but there is just something about reading those stories, from whatever book I find them in, that I love. Gods and goddesses and heroes, beasts and monsters, tricksters and mortals, this convoluted web of interconnected characters and stories that are so very epic in every kind of way! With no end of tragedy, to be sure, but still, I love them. I love reading these myths, they are my favorite in all of mythology.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life: I don't remember it, but it was probably the moment I really discovered a library. I mean, come on. A voracious reader like me, just a kid, going from the bookshelves at home to a LIBRARY? Shut up! Libraries became frequent visitations for me after that, and still are. I take my daughter to story time at the library I worked at for two years, and she loves it there. We always go home with a huge bag of books, and even some movies, and she always has a favorite. Libraries are such a big thing for me, I discovered some of my greatest reading loves from the library, and I still do. If you don't have a library card, go get one immediately, and use it weekly. I promise it will be worth your while.

Kinds of Books You Won't Read: Stephen King. Don't get me wrong, I think the guy is amazing, and no way he has as many books and movies as he does without being an amazing writer. But horror, thriller, disturbing, all that is just not my thing. Which also cancels out Mary Higgins Clark and other writers in that genre. I'm also not all that fond of mysteries either. I live for fantasy, love, and comedy.

Longest Book You've Read: Probably the fifth Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix. That's 870 pages.

Major Book Hangover Because Of: Yes, this is going to keep cropping up. Harry Potter, definitely. Although, I'll definitely give second place to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. I finish those books (several hundred pages) as fast as possible, and have to wait a whole YEAR for the next one. Thankfully, I only had to wait for the last few of Potter since I was later to the game on that one. But I do fantasize about JK Rowling doing another Hogwarts series, featuring either the Four Founders, or the Marauders, or the Progeny of the Harry/Ron/Hermione generation.

Number of Book Cases You Own: Actual cases? I have three 6-shelf bookcases with doors, and three 3-shelf open cases. One of them doesn't actually contain books because I moved them to shelves on the wall in my room, but there you go. Six book cases of varying sizes.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. I don't know why, but I adore this book. I have read it over and over, and it's the book I never get sick of. It's the story of a teenage girl in India dealing with an arranged marriage, being widowed, and starting over her life from nothing, and I love it so much. Probably because it has a happy ending.

Preferred Place to Read: Someplace quiet. I'm a peace and quiet nut, and I can't write or read when there's lots of noise and activity going on. I don't even listen to music when I read and write, I like silence.

Quote That Inspires You: Oh, there are so many. No, really, I'm a quote collector. I have journals, Pinterest boards, and Word documents full of them, and I love them all. But this one pertains to all of life, and it brings reading into it in a special way. "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." - G.K. Chesterton. This is on my closet door, which is kind of my shrine to, well, happiness and beauty and things that inspire me.

Reading Regret: That I do not have or do not make enough time to read as voraciously as I have before in my life. I have a daughter, and another baby on the way, so being mommy takes up a lot of time, and just being an adult takes up even more. And I have my computer and internet, where I waste far more time than I should, and there's also my own writing. So reading time, just reading, is precious and rare, which I hate. But I will never, never cease this fierce, abiding love for books and reading. I just have to treasure those moments I have for it.

Series You Started and Need To Finish: I have a few, actually. The Tennis Shoes series by Chris Heimerdinger (intensely interesting, historical, exciting, and fascinating look into biblical times mixed with the modern world). the 13th Reality series by James Dashner (it reminded me a little of the feel of Harry Potter and I already know I love this author from reading his Jimmy Fincher series). I know I have more, but I'd have to go peek at the rest of my books to find out which ones I'm still working on.

Three of Your All Time Favorite Books: Uh oh. This is so problematic. Alright, first off, I am going to give my three favorite authors, because I literally CANNOT choose favorites from them. They are JK Rowling, JR Ward, and Julia Quinn. If we are looking outside those three authors, my three favorite books after those (that I am listing off the top of my head to save time) would be Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Yes, they are all young adult or children's books. I'm a kid at heart.

Unapologetic Fangirl For: Harry Potter. There, I said it. Potterhead to the end, I will go down with this fandom. Always. I beg you, Ms. Rowling, give us more!

Very Excited For This Release Over All The Others: Since this is the series I've been hooked into most recently and it is the most emotionally wracking, laughter-inducing, tension-cranking series I've ever read (not even exaggerating), the most anticipated book I am looking forward to is JR Ward's new Black Dagger book, The King. It comes out in March. Over half a year away. I go through this every year with her.

Worst Bookish Habit: How long it takes me to finish them. Soooo not kidding. Last year at a camping family reunion, I took the 5th and 6th Harry Potter books with me, both to color the pictures (yes, I do that) and to finish 5 and start on 6. This year at the reunion, just a couple weeks ago, I finally finished 7 and read Tales of Beedle the Bard. I know. I know. Don't even go there. Also, I dog-ear pages if I don't have a bookmark right there. So guilty.

X Marks the Spot: One of my earlier memories of my childhood involves my mom and dad reading to me and my little brother and sister when I was probably no more than five or six years old. We were reading Little House in the Big Woods, the first book of the enormously popular series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have a very clear memory of being together in the bedroom us kids shared, sprawling around while my mom and dad took turns reading chapters to us. That boxed set of books was the first book series I ever owned, as a gift from my mom. I've read them over and over, all of them, all nine books. We were bookworms as kids, and we certainly had plenty of books to choose from. Shelves and shelves of Disney books and Little Golden Books and The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and Berenstain Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Little Critter, I could go on and on. Our house always had books, all kinds of books, everything from Baby Mickey board books to little chapter books to the Shannara series by Terry Brooks for my dad and scores of LDS authors for my mom. I grew up on all of them, all kinds and genres and lengths of books, and I still have that widely varied base guiding my reading today. I will be as happy reading picture books as I would reading adult nonfiction, because from a very early age, I was encouraged to read. I was the kid that read James and the Giant Peach during recess at a new school before I had friends, and I was okay with that. It has been a lifelong treasure and gift, that was started from the time when I couldn't even read yet. I will always appreciate that.

Your Latest Book Purchase: Ah, book fairs. At my daughter's school, I went on the sale day of the book fair and got three books. A Clifford the Big Red Dog 6-book collection (for her), a book about the life of Darth Maul from Star Wars (my husband and I), and a book about 100 Most Amazing Animals (mostly for me, but it's COOL!), I think is what the title was. I love books, I love buying them, I love having them. I also loves sales and the clearance section of Barnes and Noble.

Zzz-Snatcher Book (Last Book that Kept You Up Late): It was while we were camping, I was up late separate times reading the three books I read while up there, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Splendid by Julia Quinn.

That was actually a ball to write! I told you I love these surveys! I love thinking about books I've read and loved, revisiting memories that they hold. It's the same feelings I get when I write. And I didn't even touch of most of the books I've read that I adore, and believe me, that list is long and ridiculous. So, anyway, please do this survey if it interests you, I loved it! Also, feel free to comment about anything and everything that comes to mind, I also love comments.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day and a Tribute to Mothers, Part 2

Part two belongs to the other half of the mom coin for those who are married. It's the mother-in-law. Now, this title brings terror to many people who did not have the good fortune of marrying into a family that, well, liked them. Thankfully, I don't have that problem. We did have a rough start, my in-laws and me, since I'm kind of an acquired taste, I think, but now we get along like family (which means sometimes we all can't stand each other, but we love each other like crazy).

My mother-in-law, Rita, is a lot of the reason for that. Imagine, if you will, a very short woman with the most Mrs. Santa Claus face you can imagine, and give her short black hair and the most hilarious, recognizable laugh in the world. That's Rita! She has even, honestly, been compared to Mrs. Santa Claus before, and you can't help but see the resemblance.

It is nearly impossible to not like this woman (I know of one person who doesn't, and she is a whack job). Rita is sparklies and smiles and a twinkle in the eye rolled up into a little ball of shortness, put on this world solely to prove that the best things come in small packages (she's only barely five feet tall). She's also somewhat age-defying. When I first met her and my future sister-in-law, I could not tell which was the mother and which was the sister. Not because my sister in law looks old, but because Rita look so YOUNG! She's barely sprouting silver hairs, and she's past 50, it's disgusting. (They were both wearing bandanas when I first met them, so hair wasn't a distinguishing feature.

The first time I saw Rita, I was technically spying. I had been cleaning an older lady's house, and I hadn't known that a guy I was crushing on lived right across the street. And I wouldn't have known, except when my mom came to pick me up, down the street came walking that guy, Peter, and a short lady that had to be his mom. They were both wearing those tape thingies they put on you after you give blood, and when they got to the house, Pete opened the door for his mom and they went inside.

Um, cute. Not only was this guy totally okay with being seen with his mom, but he had gone with her to give blood, and was obviously polite and well-taught enough to know to open the door for her. I was all twitterpated, my mom was gushing with approval, and just over two years later, I married that guy.

Rita was always miraculously tolerant of me while Pete and I were dating. My father-in-law and I butted heads on a frequent basis, since we're both similarly strong-willed, just slightly off-kilter from one another. But Rita and I usually got along very well. She has an unparalleled enthusiasm for the little things in life, like anything sparkly or glittery, flowers in spring, the miracle of air conditioning, and finding a pair of slippers that is just right.

She finds these moments, the little ones scattered liberally through life, and she celebrates every single one of them. Things that no one else thinks about or notices, Rita sees it. She is of the opinion that God must be awfully fond of sparklies, because he put them everywhere. Yes, I live with this woman, and it is a riot.

She also tells the best joke in the world, about a bell ringer. And the joke, really, is not THAT funny. You know what is funny? The way she tells it! She gets so into telling this joke, and she starts laughing halfway through, and we are all beside ourselves because she is just so FUNNY!

And it doesn't get old, having her tell it. It gets funnier every time! I had her tell it on my wedding day, when we were standing in my backyard after the ceremony, and we have a video of me standing there, holding my bouquet and twirling my dress around my legs because it's so hot, while Rita tells this joke off-screen. She's wonderful at humoring me.

Another thing she's wonderful at is being a mom. She turned out three kids that, while they are quirky enough to pull neck and neck with my family's particular brand of weirdness, they're all awesome. Awesome people don't just happen, they take a lot of work to make sure they don't end up screwed up somewhere.

And then I jumped into her lovely work and set about messing things up as quickly as possible, but I think she likes me anyway.

I don't think anyone could ask for a better mother-in-law. She accepted me into her family, and treats me like I've always been here (I live in the same house, so she definitely has plenty of opportunity to make my life miserable if she wants). She is unfailingly supportive of the people in her life, no matter what kinds of successes or failures or whatever come to pass. She's a perfect grandma to my daughter, who is growing up in the most loving environment anyone could come up with, surrounded by people who adore her more than words can say.

Rita is right in the middle of that, being the good-humored, easy-going, loving glue that keeps it all together and functioning properly. Heading off arguments before they get going, dishing out gratitude and praise when it's deserved and even sometimes
when it's not, doing her best to keep our home a peaceful, welcoming place for those who live here or just come to visit. Despite the dog hair she utterly loathes, balling up on the hall floor.

So this is a tribute to Rita, and everything she has done and still does in the name of Mother, even to kids like me that aren't her own, that she isn't required to love. The unconditional love she shares with the people around her is something they remember her by, that and her singular, unique laugh that you can recognize even across a huge, crowded room. She's just a woman that makes you smile, even if the last thing you feel like doing is smiling.

Happy Mother's Day, Rita. And thank you for letting me be one of your kids.

Mother's Day and a Tribute to Mothers, Part 1

Seeing as how Mother's Day was this past Sunday, and true to my typical self, I'm going to take this opportunity to write a late post about said holiday. (Don't look at me like that. You know me and punctuality really only exist in public with actual, live people around witnessing it.) I am blessed to have both an amazing and awesome mom and mother-in-law, so I'm going to entertain us all with (hopefully) amusing anecdotes that either directly or indirectly have to do with both women, and then one of my own. And since I tend to, erm, ramble a bit (a lot) I'm splitting it up into three posts for you convenience. You can slip me a $20 on your way out as thanks. *Smiles brightly*

First up, is my mom. That's her with my little girl and my youngest sister.

Don't tell her I posted a picture of her, she'll freak. She hates pictures of her. I don't know why, I've always thought my mom was pretty, and I look just like her. She, myself, and my younger sister are all strikingly similar, and I'm glad for it.

Now, I may have mentioned before that my mom is the SuperMom of moms in a lot of ways. Not that perfectly primped soccer mom wearing Nordstroms sweaters and perfectly manicured nails with impeccably behaved kids, no. Because that mom is not real. She's an alien, or she is a celebrity with a whole platoon of nannies, stylists, trainers, and chefs behind her. No, the real supermoms are the moms that you see sitting on the porch, sipping a soda while she talks with a fellow supermom, and the kids are playing in the yard, and somehow dinner is in the oven, and despite a hairstyle that looks like it was done, oh, yesterday, and pants that were probably supposed to be in the load of laundry going right now, this mom is in complete control. She may look like crap some days, but you know what, she's got things handled.

You scraped your knee trying to jump your bike off a ramp? Supermom not only has bandaids, neosporin, gauze, first aid tape, three different kinds of pain relievers, an actual first aid kit, and an x-ray machine stuffed in that hall closet, but she's also got a bag of popsicles to hand out to your friends while they wait for you to get patched up. Oh, and she's also got that magical kiss for your owie that somehow makes everything all better. Mom magic, that's what it is.

Have you had the hairiest day in middle school known to man and it's not even lunchtime yet? Supermom knows. And she will either A) Have you pulled out of class for a "doctor's appointment" that turns into a day of playing hooky with your mom, or B) Have chocolate chip cookies and milk ready for you when you hit the door. She's like a best friend. She just knows. Again, mom magic.

You just mouthed off to someone you shouldn't have, or vandalized property, or looked at Supermom right in the eye and told her, "No"? Well, hold onto your britches, baby, 'cause you're getting spanked. And grounded. You will be apologizing if you offended anyone, you will be making restitution, and you will be feeling the heavy cloak of shame on your shoulders when Supermom tells you that she is disappointed in you. Because that's how Supermom proves that she loves you. She doesn't let you get away with crap, and therefore makes you a better, more responsible human being.

And if, maybe, after this nightmare of backpedaling and apologizing and swearing to yourself that you will NEVER incur Supermom's wrath like that again (although you will), you maybe break down and cry? Supermom will be there. Hugging you. And making you feel better. Because even if you did something bad that made her angry, she still loves you. And you will never understand, until you are a parent, just how super that particular power is.

This was my mom. The mom that would whop me with a wooden spoon when I seriously stepped out of line, gave me my freedom to become the person I am today, very sneakily taught me skills that I'd be a useless human being without, kissed my owies, pulled me out of school to play hooky, and still hugs me with that mom magic that somehow makes everything okay, just for a second. Because nothing can hurt you when your mom is holding you.

My mom was the one sitting on the back porch, in a lawn chair, chatting with our next door neighbor while we ran around in our front yard in our bare feet with the neighbor kids, playing our hearts out, and knowing not to do anything stupid. Because even though mom appeared to be focusing solely on the Coke in her hand and the friend at her side, she would catch you if you were an idiot. Every time. "Young lady, knock that off right now!"

The difference between now and then? Now, I get to be that friend sitting next to her, keeping one eye on my own daughter and one eye on my mom, Dr. Pepper in hand, sitting on a lawn chair out on the back porch while Sammy and my youngest sister, closely followed by two dogs, go running helter-skelter around the yard, hair all a mess, having the time of their lives. And my ponytail is as close to ungroomed as you can get when you actually brushed your hair that day, my jeans should have been washed last week, and there are undoubtedly a million other things I should be doing. But they can wait. Because what I experience in those moments is more important than having all the laundry done in one day and having every dish sparkling clean and put away before bedtime.

My mom taught me . . . everything. And even if she didn't teach it to me, she taught me how to be teachable. To observe. To take things into my own hands and learn how to do it myself. I would not be able to cook today if I hadn't grown up my whole life eating home-cooked breakfasts and dinners every day, made by her. Half of my recipe collection right now is straight from my mom.

Tonight, I made a cheesecake, just like my mom makes (because I actually had 2 packages of cream cheese AND a pie crust in the house at the same time, heck yes!). I'm not talking a fancy-shmancy baked New York style cheesecake, I'm talking a creamy, cold, delectable concoction of cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and vanilla smoothed into store-bought graham cracker crust. It's my favorite cheesecake, and the only thing bad about it is that it takes about 2-3 hours to chill in the fridge before I can proceed to eat the entire thing in one sitting.

I think of my mom every time I make one of her recipes. Even if it isn't technically her recipe, it's one of the dozens she's collected over the years from all kinds of places. I still think of her. Of how lost people would be without their moms. Especially moms themselves. You are not truly a mom until you call your own mother, who you of course have on speed dial for just such an occasion, and practically cry to her over the phone. Because you messed up the spaghetti sauce and can't figure out what you did wrong. Because your baby has a fever and you don't know how much medicine to give her. Because your favorite pants just ripped and your sewing machine isn't working and you just can't handle it! (Also, my mom taught me to implement sewing in my life. Sure, technically home ec taught me HOW to sew, but my mom taught me how to use the skill. I can't count how many items of clothing hang in my or my daughter's closet that are made by my mom or me.)

And Supermom listens, she agrees with your frustrations, is sympathetic to your pains, says many a comforting and calming word, and then offers you a solution. Whether it be how to fix the spaghetti sauce, how much medicine you can give a 4 month old, why your machine isn't working, or to simply throw out the sauce, pack up baby, grab your pants, and come to mom's house. And mom will feed you, because that's what mom does. Mom will cuddle her grandbaby to her chest that you fell asleep on countless times, and rock and sing to her until the baby-sized dose of medicine kicks in and allows baby to sleep, because that's what mom does. And then, mom will get you both a chocolate chip cookie (either store bought or homemade, neither of you are picky), and mom will get out her sewing machine and fix your pants for you while you sit and talk and laugh uproariously about every little thing. Because that's what supermom does.

You'll get home later that night, baby asleep in her car seat, a tupperware container of food in the passenger seat, and your pants folded up neatly next to it, all fixed. Baby is even holding a brand new stuffed animal in her little hand, because grandma cannot help herself. She spoils you both rotten. Somehow, in just a few hours, Supermom just fixed everything.

That is my mom. My perfectly imperfect mom who has loved and tolerated and humored and amused and taught all these years. I was a beastly child, especially in my pre-teen years, but somehow my poor mom not only managed to get through it, but she got me through it as well. My teen years, too, although I was a completely different kind of beastly then. Problem child vs. Supermom, and Supermom definitely won. Because I turned out well, thanks to her. I screwed up and made all kinds of mistakes, every color of wrong and stupid, but here I am. On the other side of that. With my own little girl, my own family, my own life, and although it's so not perfect that it skims downright dreadful some days, I still love it. I wouldn't trade any of it for anything.

My bed is covered with folded laundry that I have to stuff into my drawers, but they are clean and folded because my mom taught me by example. I have a cheesecake chilling in the fridge, and the dishes drying in the drainer, because my mom taught me how. I have a stack of clothing items to mend on my desk, but I can fix them instead of throwing them away, because my mom taught me how. I am looking at a free night, with no little eyes peering through a crack in the door telling me she needs another drink of water, because my mom is watching her so I can work on some projects. There is no teaching for that one. Because no one has to be taught how to love my mom. Even my friends loved my mom best.

So, this Mother's Day, I'm not lacking in needing a woman to look up to and respect and love for being the astounding woman she is. She has always been that way. Even when I was a snotrag little 11 year old that hated my life and everything in it, I knew my mom was amazing.

Happy Mother's Day, Supermom. I can count my life a success if I am ever the kind of mom to my daughter that you were, and still are, to me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Superheroes: The Way to Get a Compliment

I just realized the funniest thing. Over the past couple weeks, I've worn a couple of the superhero shirts that I have. And I have a nice selection. Iron Man, Avengers, Batman, the Flash, and I have plans to make at least another two or three. Probably more. Why is this important, you ask? Well, it's not. I just love my superhero shirts.

Anyway, to the point of this superhero shirt thing (yes, there is a point). I'm not typically the kind of girl that gets lavish compliments about my wardrobe. Or any comments at all. Why? Because I wear jeans and t-shirts, with very few exceptions. That's it. The most daring and creative things I do to my outfit could easily be outstripped by a slightly fashion-conscious ten year old boy. My selection of cool, printed, colorful shoelaces are kind of the highlight of my footwear on a normal day. Therefore, really not all that much to swoon about.

And yet, twice in these past weeks, I had two men comment on my wardrobe choices. Yes, men. The last time a man commented on my outfit in a positive way, other than my husband asking me if I had shoes on, I was a teenager. And, come to think of it, it was my husband that made those comments as well, only he was my boyfriend or fiance in those scenarios. So having two complete strangers give me positive responses on my outfits was a pretty bizarre thing!

What was I wearing? First time, the Flash.

It's the comfiest shirt I own, I'm serious. Second time, Batman.

And what did I say to these men that smiled and commented on my awesome shirts?


I am soooo creative.

Of all the times to throw out an excellent, clever, or witty response . . . and I flubbed it. The taglines I could have used. The whole wide world of superhero material, and I said "thanks". *Facepalm* At least, when the first guy mentioned my Flash shirt, I think I also said, "Of course!" (Like, who wouldn't wear the Flash?)

At least, on the bright side, we know that superhero shirts are a definite go. And what can I say? It's a superhero world out there. Even if I've never read the comic books (which I'm sure purists will say doesn't mean I'm a true fan), I'm still a superhero fan. Marvel and DC alike. I have my favorites, I know trivia, and I'm waiting with bated breath for the new movies that are set to come out in the next couple years (23 DAYS UNTIL IRON MAN 3 OMG!!!!!).

I love you, superheroes. You rock my world. Keep being awesome so I can wear your shirts.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How the Idea Became the Vivid Reality - The Quadrilogy

Alright, kids, this is the story of how four mischievous characters snuck under my skin, took over my life, and have also brought me some of the most joy and grief a writer can suffer. They collectively have added up to well over 300 single-spaced pages of material, spanning the hysterical to the dramatic to the sexy. And that's nowhere near what the finished product will yield. This set of muses has been my baby for a long time, always lurking in my mind waiting for new material to spring on and take home with it. Those characters are always lazing about up there, poking their noses in at the least opportune times, urging me to write some more.

First I'll tell you how this all came about, these particular characters. In junior high, I became friends with a girl who was simultaneously the weirdest and most intriguing person I'd ever met, for a variety of reasons. She was obsessed with the vampire characters written by Ann Rice, as well as Michael Jackson, she had an absolutely fearless personality, and I'd never seen anyone so quirky and confident about it. She could go on for a solid 15 minutes on a topic that I would have absolutely no knowledge of, or in normal circumstances, interest in, but somehow she would still keep me entertained just by listening to this endless stream of oddness coming out of her mouth.

Anyway, one of the things that intrigued me about her was that she was a writer, and a freaking good one. She has improved greatly over the years, but she was still brilliant even as a teenager in eighth and ninth grade. And one day at lunch, I can't quite remember how, she just suddenly started a doodle, basically, of a story of me living in a mansion with four vampires. Lestat and Louis from the Ann Rice vampire series, Michael Jackson, and Orlando Bloom, whom I had a massive crush on at the time thanks to Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.

And this spiraled out into this whole, chapters-long story about how an older me met and moved into a mansion with these four vampires, and then fell in love with Orlando Bloom. I can tell you this, the fictional version of Orlando Bloom is very sweet and charming, and of course the much more witty and cute version of me fell for him immediately. However, the movie and book versions of Lestat and Louis were very much changed to suit our purposes and my friend's vision of them. They're awesome.

Well, in high school, this story morphed, retaining the same characters except for Michael Jackson who got replaced by a selection of other characters. In this version, all the characters were in high school, except I was Lestat's cousin and I had decided to move in with him and go to his school, of course taking on all his friends and dating the SBO, Orlando Bloom!

I had a great time. Both in the stories and out, reading about all these adventures I got to have. Those stories kept me entertained all through junior high and part of high school. Fast forward several years, and that's where things started to morph again, just in this last year or so. I had decided that I wanted to create my own spinoff of the high school story my friend had invented, maintaining all my favorite parts of the characters (save myself, which got replaced by someone far more entertaining, in my opinion) and the circumstances, just making them my own and going from that original idea of cousins going to school together and snowballing from there.

And then, I can't remember exactly how this happened, or even if this happened before or after I'd started my spinoff, I had another brainwave. I was writing a scene about an actor playing a part in a stage production in the musical Cats (which I had just fallen deeply in love with). For a long time, that character and that scene just sat in my muse folder, on it's own, when that same friend that had started this whole thing in the first place (the brilliant writer), saw Cats herself. And she immediately agreed with my assessment that our versions of the Lestat and Louis characters perfectly matched the characters Rum Tum Tugger and Mr. Mistoffelees! So I let my friend read that lonely Cats inspired muse, and our Lestat got the part, with Louis starring as well.

Which takes us back to my spinoff. (I know, we're jumping around like kangaroos, bear with me.) After joint-writing more with that Cats scene with my friend, it still just sat there for another long time. And then I had an idea . . . what if my Lestat (his name is Aidan in my universe) got to have his own story? What if there was more to my spinoff than what I had originally planned?

Thus, this monster was born. And it is amazing. After Aidan got his own story, and Savannah (the replacement character for me, the cousin) already had her story in high school, what about Ryan/Louis? He had to have a story! Those three were my main characters, my little beloved trio, but I also had squeezed in there a fourth character, Josh, the friend. At first he was much more of just a supporting character, more there for the entertainment that his cheeky, inappropriate, incorrigible self lent to the story, but as I kept thinking about him and his role in Savannah's story, I figured that he deserved a story too.

So we went from three to four. Savannah got her story with the very changed Orlando character that I named Chase in high school. Josh got his story in the first few years of college. Ryan got his after college in his mid-twenties, and Aidan, true to his somewhat commitment-phobic and womanizing ways, didn't find his match until his late twenties, and she burst in on his life like a firecracker!

To sum up . . . I just spent forever telling you backstory on a set of muses that you probably won't ever read. Why? Well, because I love telling the story, that's why. And I love the characters. Don't get me wrong, I love all my characters. Like right now, I'm working on a muse about an ex-spy who is dragged back into the spy life and hijinks ensue! Yes, I said spy, don't judge me. She's awesome, and I have learned more about guns, spy training, and espresso than I ever wanted to know, thanks to her.

But my quadrilogy characters have a special place in my heart. They hold a lot of memories, the original four and all those that have come from them, spanning into a group of many, all of whom are wonderful. So, I just wanted to share the story of how it all came to be, this beast. This life-overtaking monstrosity. It has consumed me. And I wouldn't change a bit of it.