Thursday, February 28, 2013

the time i surprised my best friend by showing up at her wedding shower

My best friend Amanda (who wrote a fantastic guest post awhile ago, meditating on the stresses of adult life) is getting married next month.  I get to officiate!  How fun, and what a perk it is, to get to join so many of my friends in matrimony with one another.  I also got to marry Amanda's brother and his wife almost five years ago - the first wedding I did!

Amanda still lives in New York City, where we met and forged our very strong connection at Columbia.  I love visiting her there, and still manage to make it just about every year.  Vicki Jo hasn't been yet . . . but soon!  We might have to wait until our imaginary RV shows up because I wouldn't subject an airplane to her for the next several years.  Traveling with newborns > traveling with toddlers.

So anyway, back to Amanda.  Her sister-in-law, sister, and other friends invited me to her bridal shower in New York on February 24.  It's no secret that money has been tight for our family, and I reluctantly declined the invitation, knowing that two flights to New York within a month just wasn't in the cards for our budget.  One of my great budgetary sadnesses has been the many weddings and other events that we have had to skip because we just don't have the funds to cover the trips.

But then . . . but then!  An amazing friend who shall remain nameless (okay it's Audrey!) emailed me and offered to buy me a flight up for the shower.  I could surprise Amanda, and make the shower all that much more special!  Audrey and her husband Hal have been such kind and generous friends to me and to Jeff, always offering rides and help when we come to visit in the city.

So we booked the flight, I bought some spatulas off their registry at Williams-Sonoma, and away I flew on Saturday morning.  I'm glad I'm not pregnant enough yet to have this be a big issue.  Flying up for the wedding in three more weeks is going to be another story, I'm afraid . . . but it will still be fun!

Okay, photos.  Here is the grand surprise!  Amanda was having the makeup trial for her wedding at Saks 5th Avenue . . . it was fun for us to guess which counter she might be at.

She was totally shocked.  It was great!  (And I was right:  it was MAC.)

And it was a great little solo vacation for me.  Thanks to my husband, I got a chance to run free and wild (okay hobble around the city like a woman 30 weeks pregnant) for a few days before settling down with a newborn again.  It was really refreshing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Here we continue with our monthly series on personal finance and budgeting, where I lay out real figures and percentages of income in an attempt to clear the collective air around these "highly sensitive" matters.  After all, until we get real about money, how can we ever resolve some of the class conflicts that are so prevalent in American society?

We've talked about insurance and health care.

We've discussed home ownership and the American dream.

Today, the digital revolution:  phones.

Let me preface all of this by saying that we are kind of phone snobs.  This is a luxury that we allow ourselves.  We have no land line, no home internet, and no cable.  But we have top of the line phones.  I have a sleek black iPhone 4, and Jeff has a nice Android.  I don't talk on the phone that much, but I use it for data constantly.  (It especially saved my sanity when I was spending hours and hours a day trapped in bed with a newborn.)  Jeff talks on the phone more than anyone I've ever met in my life.  In the past, when we have had plans with a defined number of minutes, he always uses them all or exceeds the limit.

We were with Verizon for years.  After we married and my contract with AT&T ended, I switched over to his plan.  We were satisfied with the service.  And then we bought our house.

Our modest little home, in the middle of a city block in the middle of a city neighborhood, gets absolutely no service from:  Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or Net10.  I mean, you can't make a call.  I couldn't have called the police if I needed to.  I couldn't send a single text message.  We spent several months after we moved trying to resolve this with Verizon.  It made no sense.  Our friends who live across the street have flawless Verizon service.  The best I can figure out is that we live on some kind of Indian burial ground or radioactive forcefield.  (Could this be related to the field of glass bottles that we live on?) (Sidenote:  we also have a ridiculously hard time receiving signal for basic television access with the bunny ears.)

After telling us that we lived in a "KTA" (known trouble area), and that the only option for reasonable service was to buy their expensive home internet service and a signal-boosting tower, all on our own dime, Verizon released us from our contract.

We cycled through the gamut of cell carriers, and nobody worked.  Nobody.  It was bizarre.

The one provider that we eventually discovered provided some semblance of coverage at our address was Cricket.  That's right - the ultra-budget pay-as-you-go no-contract service.  And we've never looked back.  The customer service has been great, we get reasonably good speed, and mostly - it works at our house.  The coverage area is drastically limited compared to Verizon, though.  When we go on road trips, we are without service for any length of time that we are in rural areas.  There are also a lot more dropped calls and missed texts.  I guess you get what you pay for.

We pay for Jeff's grandmother to be on our plan.  She has a very simple little phone with the most basic, utilitarian features.  She does so much for us - it's our little way of saying, "Just don't worry about this one thing."

I have an unlimited data and minutes plan.  Jeff also has an unlimited data and minutes plan.  No contract.

For the three of us, each month, we are paying $147.59.  This is a savings of almost $100 over what we paid for the same phones and less usage per month for just the two of us on Verizon.  And like I said, this is still with very nice phones.  We did have to buy the devices out of pocket, since Cricket isn't able to offer the same kinds of deep discounts on phones along with contract purchases.  But, I sold my Verizon iPhone on Craigslist quickly and only had to pay a bit to buy the Cricket version.

This $147.59 represents just 4.7% of our monthly income.  Grouped together with other utilities (water, electric, gas), we fluctuate from 10-12% of income, depending on floating factors like weather and season.

The move from a "name-brand" cell phone service to a budget carrier was a good move for us, and one that we never would have considered if we hadn't been forced into it by our strange signal-receiving situation.

What do you pay for cell phone service?  Do you like to have a flashy phone, or keep it simple?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

frozen s'mores

This is an old favorite recipe that I've been making for about six or seven years now.  (I ripped if off of adapted it from Real Simple, which I used to love but have discovered is neither real nor simple.)  I had kind of forgotten about it, but it was my turn to bring dessert in the family dinner rotation, and this is a good one to make ahead!  All the work is done beforehand, and then you just freeze until you're ready to serve.  I would caution against leaving the prepared sandwiches, with the graham crackers, in the freezer for too long (like over 6 or 8 hours) - because the crackers will lose their crunch.

I didn't make my own marshmallows this time (although you certainly can).  I tried to make my own graham crackers, but they didn't turn out well for this application - too thick.  I will say that my husband loves them as a snack on their own, though.  They turned out almost more like biscotti - great with coffee.  Look for that recipe to come your way soon.

Frozen S'mores
3/4 C whole milk
24 regular-size (not mini) marshmallows
10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used chips because they are cheaper)
1 1/2 C heavy cream
24 graham crackers (or 48 square graham cracker halves)

Graham crackers not pictured because I was in the middle of unsuccessfully trying to make them.
Line a 9x13 pan with aluminum foil that overhangs on the short edges by an inch or two to make a "handle."

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and marshmallows.  Stir until the marshmallows are melted and it is blended thoroughly.

Remove from heat and mix in the chocolate until it is totally melted.  Place mixture in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream in a cold bowl with an electric mixer or a whisk, until it forms stiff peaks and looks like . . . well . . . whipped cream.

Fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate mixture, a spoonful at a time, being careful not to deflate all the cream.  Fold until it is blended and no traces of white remain.

Getting there . . . 
(By the way, if you want to stop here and just serve this for dessert, this makes a great fake-out chocolate mousse.)

Pour the mixture into the prepared 9x13 dish and freeze, covered, until ready to make sandwiches.  (Can be done the night before.)

When ready to make sandwiches, break whole graham crackers in half so you have 48 square crackers.  Remove the chocolate mixture from the pan using your "handles" and cut into 24 squares.  Place one chocolate square between two crackers, and serve!  You can freeze the prepared sandwiches for a few hours.  Be sure to eat fast - they will melt quickly!

Voila!  Excuse my husband's scary hand.

Friday, February 22, 2013

it's 35 cents off of ground round . . .

baby cut that coupon out!!

Anybody else remember that terrifically horrible country song from the mid-oughts entitled "What I Love about Sunday"?  Nashville, the land of "new" country, tends to spin the same five or six songs on the big country radio stations, ensuring that everyone is good and sick of the earworms before the season is out.  "Sunday," a paean to relaxing on the front porch with your family after church on Sundays, was just such a song.  Jeff still discusses the thrill of the singer in instructing his wife to clip a coupon for 35 cents off ground round on one of these leisurely afternoons.  Gotta love it!

Anyway, you can't deny that ground beef is cheap.  In our meat CSA, we get a good mix of cuts, like pork chops, steaks, roasts, whole chickens, and chicken parts.  But we also get a good amount of sausage and ground beef.  When you think about eating the whole animal, it just makes sense.  We haven't been brave enough yet to delve into the deep dark land of eating organs, although I know they're really good for you.  But ground beef, made from the trimmings and other leftovers after the cuts are packaged, is a staple.  We pretty much always have it in the freezer.  We tend to eat the cuts first because they are . . . well . . . more exciting.  But not every night can be steak night.  Not every night can we slow-roast a chicken.

My three favorite things to do with ground beef are:

1)  Taco salad, or tacos, or whatever Mexican-ish thing I can make with ground beef and my taco seasoning.  I featured this on my Brewer Diet update post earlier this week.

2)  Pasta with meat sauce.  Surely you don't need a recipe.  I don't usually make my own tomato sauce.  It's actually one of the few ready-made foods that you can find with a short ingredient list, although it probably has too much salt and sugar.  If I got my behind in gear and canned my own tomatoes, I would totally make my own.

3)  Shepherd's pie.  Sort of like meatloaf but with all the sides included!  It's a winner.  Here's my recipe:

1/4 C butter, divided
1 lb ground beef
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped (which I totally steal off my neighbor's bush as I'm walking home from the bus stop.  I hate buying fresh herbs.  Biggest rip-off)
1/2 C fresh or frozen peas
1 C chicken stock
1 T tomato paste
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch cubes
1/2 C whole milk
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cool water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt half the butter (2 T) in a big cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Stir in onion, carrot, and rosemary.  Let it cook 10 minutes or so, until very tender.  Add the peas and the ground beef to the skillet.  Break up the beef and stir it frequently, until it is cooked through (about another 10 minutes).  Stir in chicken stock and tomato paste and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat off.

Drain the potatoes and mash them with the milk, salt, pepper and remaining 2 T butter.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the ground beef mixture.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until nicely browned on top.

I love, love, love this meal because it is dead cheap, and I usually have everything on hand in the freezer, fridge, and pantry.  You can also make it ahead up to the baking point, and then just pull it out and bake it the next night for dinner.

4)  This doesn't include ground beef, but my absolute favorite pennies-per-serving meal is red beans and sausage.  Served with rice or cornbread.

Now go save some money!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

toilet learning . . . a process

It started with the toilet.  Once she learned how to flush, and what the toilet paper was for, she was obsessed.  Then it became telling me when she had urinated or eliminated.  With pretty fair accuracy, improving all the time.  Then it became going to the toilet, wanting to take off her pants and diaper, sit on the toilet, wipe, flush, and wash her hands - but skipping the vital step of actually depositing something in the toilet!  Washing her hands became a whole separate obsession. 

Is someone dropping some hints, or what!?

I'm feeling a bit like lazy mama over here, knowing that she is exhibiting pretty much every sign of readiness for toilet learning, and yet I don't have a plan together for how to deal with it.  Thus, the text conversation I had with my sister a few months ago:

Me:  "So um how do I do potty training?"
Me:  "Vicki keeps wanting to sit on the potty, flush, wash her hands, and tells me when has peed or pooped (most of the time she is accurate).  I just don't know how to connect all the dots."
Nelle:  "If you dare, let her run around naked and see if she'll tell you.  Also use cotton training pants."

There was more, but the jist was:  you just have to dive in. 

I have had some Gerber cotton training pants for several months.  When I know we will be home for several hours, I put those on Vicki instead of a diaper.  So far, she doesn't really seem to care when she wets them or makes a puddle on the floor.  We just cheerfully clean it up together (she loves wiping things with rags - thanks practical life!). 

Styling her underpants for us.
I know people have many differing opinions on this, and I'm certainly not trying to force anything.  Our previous childcare provider told me that she had the best success in waiting until her daughters were three or four, and they basically just said they were done with diapers and started using the toilet - there was no "training."  That sounds fine, but . . . using diapers until she's four!?  No thanks.  Plus we want to send her the Montessori school up the street this fall, which requires daytime dryness to attend.  Additionally, I'd love to have her out of her one-size pocket diapers in time for baby brother to use them in a year or so.  (I'm buying some separate newborn fitteds and covers for him to start.)  I'm not expecting perfection, by any means, but it feels like I'm behind the ball in getting started on this learning experience.

So . . . I'm thinking that once we turn the corner into spring, we're just going to go for it:  naked.  No pants or underwear, and just take her to the toilet every thirty minutes.  She will pick it up fast, I have no doubt.  We just need to stay at home and be consistent.  We have all hardwood and tile, so cleanup won't be as big of a problem as with carpet.  Really, this will rest on Jeff, as he's the one at home now.  Advice is welcome!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

brewer(ish) diet updates

I wanted to give a check-in on how our (as in, me and fetus) diet is doing this time around.  I really appreciated the emphasis on sound nutrition and whole foods that the Brewer Diet offered, when we learned about it as part of our Bradley classes.  What I didn't love was the scrutiny I had to pay toward how many grams of protein I was eating per day, checking foods off a list, and feeling some guilt about eating Chinese takeout now and again okay a lot.  There was a great deal of accountability because we had to turn our diet checklists in to our Bradley instructor each week, and she gave us feedback on what we should have more or less of.

I decided that for this second pregnancy, I would continue to implement the principles (many of which have just become a way of life for me now) of the Brewer Diet, without the strict attention to a very proscripted diet.

It turns out the accountability became an easy thing for me, because my own body is providing very clear checks on what I should or shouldn't be eating!  If I slip on my good diet for a few days, I feel awful.  Digestive troubles, low energy, skin breaking out, sore.  If I have too much salt or restaurant food, I puff up like a little muffin.

So, here's a sort of "day in the life," where I give you a snapshot of what and how I'm trying to eat.

Breakfast:  two pasture-raised eggs mixed with a little raw milk and salt, and scrambled in butter.  A slice of homemade toast with butter.  A clementine.  Coffee with a lot of raw milk.  Pregnancy tea.  I eat this same thing literally almost every morning.  I never get sick of eggs, toast, and coffee.  Sometimes I have fruit, sometimes not.  Sometimes I put tiny cubes of cheese in with the eggs to melt.  Sometimes I add bacon.  Every couple weeks or so I make pancakes so the family doesn't die of boredom. I figure that the fact that I eat this every day, and never get sick of it, and in fact crave it in the morning, means that this meal is doing really good things for my body.

Mid-morning snack:  At a meeting.  Homemade crackers, a few slices of cheese, some carrot sticks.

Lunch:  leftover cider-braised pork chop and cabbage.  Smoothie made with strawberries, banana, peaches and yogurt.

Supper:  taco salad.  Tortilla chips, shredded lettuce, sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, and ground beef and kidney beans with my special house taco seasoning.  Milk chai.  (I've been making our own chai concentrate and it is divine.  Recipe to come soon.)  (Also, sorry - I don't know that there's an attractive way to photograph taco salad.  It is just not a dish known for its beauty.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

lentil salad

I've shared my love and admiration of Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen with you before, yes?  I have really never had a bad recipe from either of these shows.  On Saturdays, when I'm able to sit down and watch them on public television, I always have my computer out and ready to take down the recipes.  See, they don't have free websites where you can go get all the information later.  You really have to be aware of what's going on and get it all jotted down.

Last Saturday, they did a lentil salad.  It looked like just the thing that I wanted for lunch.  We had some green lentils (not as nice as the lentils de puy they recommended, but also cheaper!), and a few other ingredients to toss in and make a beautiful warm or cold salad.

The whole point of the segment on the show was to recommend a different method of cooking lentils:  in the oven!  Who would have thought?  But they said the slow, steady heat of the oven was perfect for cooking them without the turbulence of boiling water that tends to split the skins.  I didn't have the patience to try the new method (I was really hungry and cooking in the oven takes about twice as long), but the salad still ended up delectable.

Lentil Salad
1/2 C green or brown lentils, or lentils de puy
2 T olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar
5-6 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 C chopped kalamata olives
1 oz chopped or crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper

Rinse and drain lentils thoroughly.  In a medium pot, place lentils and enough cool water to cover.  Bring to a gentle boil and then barely simmer (we're talking seeing a bubble or two every couple of seconds here).  You may have to replenish the water a few times.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, until you try one and it is tender and no longer crunchy.  Older lentils take longer to cook through.

Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.  Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar in a medium bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste, to make a dressing for the salad.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them well and add to the bowl with the dressing.  Toss in the roasted garlic, olives and feta cheese.  Eat immediately as a warm salad, or refrigerate for later.  This would be a phenomenal dish to take for a picnic.  Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side.

Monday, February 11, 2013

28 weeks and "how many?"

28 weeks!  Here we are.  If you've been wearying of my chipper attitude, rest assured that things are starting to get a little more . . . uncomfortable.  Mostly I just feel kind of crowded.  No surprise, as I've got a little cabbage in there.  I can't eat as much as normal (and if there's one thing I love, it's eating a lot!).  It's becoming a bit taxing to bend down and tie my shoes or pick up Vicki.  But still, in all - things are really going well.

It's been interesting to note the reactions when we say that we are having a baby boy, in addition to our daughter.  Several people have remarked, "Oh, then there's your family!"  As if having two children, one of each sex, is the perfect combination.  I always want to ask some follow-up questions (like What if it were a girl?  Should we have more then? or Is more or less than two children bad?), but I don't.  I just leave it alone.

People also like to ask if this will be all the children we will be having.  To which I usually respond, "Yes!  For now."  Of course, I have no idea how many children we will be having.  We have one now.  I hope that another will be born safely.  Any more than that is really kind of out of my hands.  We did always know that if we had one child, we wanted another.  Siblings are such an important thing for me, and for Jeff too.  Even if we couldn't have another biological child, we would have tried to adopt another.  But beyond two?  God knows.

I never had much anxiety about whether I would be able to have children or not.  Of course, I never faced infertility, so I can't know what that feels like.  I got pregnant both times very easily.  I have never, that I know of, suffered a miscarriage.  I have a lot of other problems in life, but this doesn't seem to be one of them.  After we had Vicki, I did kind of want to have another child within several years, just to make sure that we could.  I felt a bit of time pressure on that.  But after Todd is born, I feel no clock ticking.  If there are to be more babies, they will come later.  After one or both of the other children are in school.  Because frankly?  Having kids is costly, in terms of money, time, energy, and more.

In light of all this, I heard a great NPR piece on To the Point the other night.  The discussion centered on the United States' fertility rate, which is dropping.  Many of our economic programs depend on the replenishment of the population at the current rate.  Think social security.  Apparently, for sixty or more years, the "ideal" fertility rate (the number of kids most people say they want to have) has been 2.5.  However, we are dropping below that.  We are down into the high 1's now (like 1.8, I think?).  That is not a sustainable rate to maintain our population.  There are many factors in this.  Things like immigration reform (there are many babies born here that are not recognized as being born in our population figures), unpaid and short maternity leave, unsubsidized daycare, the persistent earnings gap between men and women, and so on.  Western European countries, which faced stagnating population decades ago, have somewhat successfully implemented many of these programs as a way to incentivize fertility.

It's kind of a weird thought, because we tend to think of the number of children we have as a very personal matter.  But it's really not!  Children are private as well as social goods.  We invest social resources in them (education, public health), with the anticipation that they will re-invest in society when they come of age and work.  But that may be breaking down.  Of course, the government will never be able to mandate family size (hello fascism!).  But we can make it more attractive to have more children.  One way we do this now is through the dependent tax write-off, which increases proportionally with the number of dependents in your household.

For a long time, I had only thought of family size in terms of environmental effect.  I thought the less children we had, the better, since we have limited resources globally, and the United States already hogs them.  But apparently these economic effects that are in the pipeline will be quite detrimental.

So, maybe we had better have more kids to do our American duty!

Friday, February 8, 2013

impromptu sorting

Sometimes when I think "Montessori," it becomes equated with "fussy" in my mind.  Like I need to pick the right time, with the right materials, in the right setup, to introduce an activity to Vicki.  But then I let the perfect become the enemy of the good and I never do it!

I was cleaning the bathroom last week and had my back turned.  In the time I was scrubbing the toilet and mirror, she set up her very own sorting activity!  She went to the kitchen, grabbed a towel off the oven handle, spread it on the edge of the bathtub, brought in her bag of different clothespins and sorted them into piles.  Then she took each pile and put it back in her bag.  And again.  And again!

See how fun this can be when you just let it unfold?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

consumer conundrum

So, I just found out last night that the lovely ladies at church are going to give us a shower.  What a blessing!

I truly was not anticipating a shower this time around.  I know it's not customary for second or subsequent babies, and we got so much stuff with Vicki that we never ended up using.  We had two showers when I was pregnant the first time, and they were both really special.  We are still working through some of the stuff I got over two years ago!  Things like lotion, bath wash, and diaper cream (which we have never needed because Vicki doesn't really get rashy).

So, I spent several hours on Amazon this morning, trying to think of things we need.  I can honestly say I'm really struggling!  We still have a crib that we never used the first time.  We have a little cradle that Jeff's granddaddy made for him to put in our room.  We never used a baby bath - I just got in the bath with Vicki. We have tons of unisex newborn clothes, and then family and friends to supply boy-clothes hand-me-downs forever.  We never used a changing table or mat.  We still have a monitor and all our bottles and brushes and pacifiers and all that.

The few things I feel like we do actually need are very pricey.  A new carseat (we are just getting a convertible this time around - not messing with the bucket since Jeff ran over it on accident), a new high chair (the Tripp Trapp I want is a little exorbitant), and some diapers and covers.  I will need a breast pump, I know, but the one I like is $1600 and it makes much more sense to rent it from the hospital for the time I need it!  A double stroller would be lovely, but again - costly.

This Bob Duallie would be sweet - only $471!!
So, I ended up with 22 items - 10 of them cloth diapers or diaper covers!  I've decided to stock up with a few more Thirsties size small covers, and then get some Fuzzibunz extra-small pockets to start.  I just scored 13 Fuzzibunz size smalls from a lady in town (30 bucks!), so I think we will be covered, diaper-wise.  I registered for the Tripp Trapp, and the carseat, a Moses basket, a few little toys like a ring stacker, a gorgeous Flensted mobile, and just a few clothes.  And if we don't get any of it - I will still be happy with what we have.

The mobile.  I love it!
I remember feeling very overwhelmed when I registered the first time around.  Was I getting the right things?  How would I know what the baby needed?  A lot of it stemmed from not knowing what our parenting style would be like.  Well, now I know:  it's minimalist, just like the rest of our lifestyle!  Honestly, gift cards would be as helpful, or more helpful than anything.

And then there's the gift my mother-in-law got us the first time around:  eight weeks of housekeeping from a professional service.  I would trade all the other gifts to get that one again!  It was a dream.

I feel like I'm forgetting something vital.  And yet - when I think back to what we needed in Vicki's first year, that was it.  We have a Moby wrap and an Ergo carrier.  She slept in bed with us.  She needed just clothing, diapers, love, and closeness to the two of us.  And those things will be non-negotiables for any of our children!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

superbowl dip-off

For family dinner on Superbowl Sunday, the idea came about for a dip competition.  This is a crew that certainly enjoys a friendly (or not so friendly) competition.  So, we agreed that each person could bring one entry.  Savory dips would all be judged using Tostitos scoops.  Sweet dips would all be judged using graham crackers.  We created a rubric for judging including the following categories:  presentation, scoopability, taste explosion, creativity, and name (+ discretionary points for favorites).  We stewed over our entries for a few weeks.  And we gathered, some with hot dips, some with cold.  We served them one at a time, giving each person a chance to present and make some remarks about their dips.

There were some amazing entries!  We sampled eleven dips in all.  My favorites were: a Greek-style dip that layered hummus, tzatziki, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and diced cucumber; a buffalo-chicken style dip in a cream cheese base; and (I'm biased) my own entry.  I brought my sister's spinach-artichoke dip.  Every time we gather at my sister's house for a holiday or a party, I demand that she make her little mini Crock Pot full of this dip.  It is to die for.  It is great with chips, spread on toast, thinned and used as a pasta sauce, as a pizza topping . . . or just eaten with a spoon.  It's pretty simple and if you got crazy, you could make all your own base ingredients from scratch:  cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream.  Roasting the garlic ahead of time is an essential step that gives the dip a ton of extra flavor.  Also roasting garlic is super-easy and it tastes amazing in just about anything.  Next time you have the oven running, just pop a head of garlic in there wrapped in foil and let it get nice and golden and soft.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip
8 oz cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/2 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream
1 10-oz box frozen spinach, thawed
1 head roasted garlic, cooled
1 14.5-oz can artichoke hearts (could also use 2 C frozen, thawed)
1/4 C chopped water chestnuts (about half a small can)

To roast garlic:  take a head of garlic and slice it in half through the equator, so each clove is cut in half.   Place it on a small piece of tin foil.  Drizzle with about 1 teaspoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Wrap up tightly in the foil.  Roast at 350 or so for about an hour, until it's very soft and golden-brown.

To make dip:  Mix together cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream in a large oven-safe bowl or casserole.  Press all the excess water out of the spinach using a fine-mesh sieve, or just by taking fistfuls of it and squeezing it over the sink.  Add it to the base mixture.  Pop the garlic cloves out of their skins (they slide out very easily if you pinch the bottom), and roughly chop them.  Add them to the casserole.  Drain the artichoke hearts and chop them roughly and add to dip.  Mix in water chestnuts.  Give everything a thorough stirring.  Taste and add salt as needed (remember that the chips will be quite salty, too).

If you're making this in a little Crock Pot, just set it to low and let it warm for several hours.  If making in the oven, pop it in at 350 for about thirty minutes, stirring halfway through.  Serve warm.

I forgot to take a picture of the dip in its original glory, but here it is with some chopped roasted chicken, resurrected into a pasta dish for dinner last night:

Monday, February 4, 2013

he did it!

One of my favorite "the time that . . ." stories I have on this blog is about Jeff losing three different wedding bands within three years of marriage.

For his birthday in September, I half-jokingly gave him an IOU for a tattoo of a wedding band.  Jeff loves tattoos and always wants to get more, so he cottoned to the idea immediately.

Well today he went to Clarksville to see his buddy Matt - who happens to be a great tattoo artist, as well.

And then he sent me this picture!!

Along with the message, "You can never leave me!"  Ha!  Now that's an "I love you forever" statement!

Well, no more wedding bands for anniversary presents now.  The traditional fourth wedding anniversary present is apparently fruit or flowers.  Fruit or flowers!?  This will be the lamest one for Jeff by a long shot.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

27 weeks and "the baby"

Things are good here.  I have finally recovered from my long series of cold-flu-sinus infection-etc, and have my fingers crossed that things will remain healthy in the household!  The worst part during the illnesses was thinking about if I were to go into labor with a pre-existing misery like one of those.  Imagine trying to focus on birth, when you feel like absolute crap to begin with!  No thanks.

Blood pressure is good (I snagged an automatic wrist cuff from Jeff's Memaw just to do some checking on myself).  Swelling is minimal.  Body is not very achy.  Appetite is good and actually not all that much larger than normal (which just means that I eat a lot when I'm not pregnant too!).  Weight gain is still unknown.  Baby moves a lot - pretty much on my right side.  He has started to respond to prodding with kicks of his own.  Outlook and attitude pretty peachy.

I've been thinking a lot about Vicki.  We mostly just call her "the baby" or "bub."  As in, "Did you pick up bub from your mom's house?"  Or "I need to give the baby a bath and get her in bed."  Suddenly, this week, it's like, boom.  Soon there will be another baby.  Things are going to get confusing.  I also call her "sis" a lot.  My mom called both my sister and me "sis" or "sissy" very frequently.  It was just sort of a natural nickname.  Maybe she will just have to be sis.

But she is the baby.  She will always be my baby.  She will always be one day old and gorgeous.

She will always wake up in the morning chanting her mantra:  Where Mama go?  Where Mama go?  Where Mama go?  And now I'm crying thinking about her theoretical college graduation and imaginary wedding.  Oh parenthood.  Enough to reduce the most stoic among us to a blubbery mess.  This little girl shreds my heart into ribbons every day - in the best possible way.

And I know that her brother will do it too.