Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trade Secrets

In the 15 years or so that I've been traveling to Maine for Christmas, there's been an old Currier & Ives popcorn can full of Nuts & Bolts there to welcome us. Nuts & Bolts are the Reed family version of Chex Mix, and like all good family recipes, there's an extra special secret ingredient that makes the concoction irresistible. 

The can starts out full and generally hits empty before we leave. Which is fine because we always have a bag sent home with us.

This year's production was apparently halted early and never got back on track -- a discovery made on Christmas Day. While the lone daughter in the family received not one, but two bags of the treat, her poor brothers (occasionally considered to have a few screws loose) were also bereft of Nuts & Bolts.

It was a great mistake, in my opinion, though, because Grandpa not only insisted on getting back into full production, he also agreed to share the recipe -- and the secret process -- with Alison, his more than willing sous chef. 

The follow are excerpts overhead from the kitchen:

"Hey, Grandpa, is it OK that the Rice Chex box is bigger than the Wheat Chex box?"

"Grammie always said the Chex people had made exactly the right size boxes for our recipe."

"How many mini pretzels?"

"What does Grammie's recipe say? Two gray bowls and a handful. That's what we need because we always have to follow Grammie's recipe."

"How's our mah-gerine doing?"

Hey, Grandpa, what's "whis-tis-chir usually used for?

"Well ... it's used in Nuts and Bolts."

Alison was in charge of mixing. "We need a good cultural diversity. Give it a good stir. Ah, excellent: you're an expert Nuts and Bolts maker."

They got it in the oven and apparently were quite pleased with themselves.

"I like making Nuts and Bolts with you Grandpa."

"I like making them with you, too. I don't have Grammie here to help me anymore so this is kind of special."

"I think it's kind of special, too."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Planes, Trains and Fallen Woodpeckers

OK, so there aren't any trains in this particular story, but we almost had a John Candy moment getting to Maine.

We set out on our annual journal on Saturday hoping to get to Portland before the entirety of New England iced over. Or at least that was what the weather people were predicting. As we taxied in Charlotte (you can't get directly therah from herah anymore) I overheard a young woman complaining to someone that her flight to Portland had been cancelled so I was aware before my earbudded companions that we had to regroup.

We opted for forward motion and were able to get to Boston, arriving at midnight. Alison immediately started assigning shifts for who could sleep at the airport and who would guard "our stuff." 'Cause you, know, Mom, we have to be careful." We decided Jeff should be the last one on the wall because he's always up later than we are. I was designated as the weakest link.

But thanks to my currently favorite BIL, his quick thinking (and sibling tracking) wife and excess travel points, we crashed for a few hours at the Logan Airport Hilton. I'm sure it was a lovely hotel. Not sure I'd be able to pick it out of a line up given that we had to get up at Zero Dark 30 to catch a bus to Portland. And then, finally, one apple and 126 hours since our last meal, we arrived at Grandpa's house. 

(Jeff negated my bid to have the taxi make a drive thru run.) His luggage was still in Boston so he was extra cranky, and if you've ever traveled with the Captain, you know Ali and I deserve more in our stockings this year...

It'll go down as one of our more adventurous trips out, but we're all grateful we weren't the girl we met one year who discovered on board that she was headed to Portland, Maine when in fact she wanted to go to Portland, Oregon. While I don't remember her name, I do remember she was training to be a nurse, so if you're ever sick in Portland, Oregon, uh, watch out.

Since arrival, we've shopped like Tasmanian devils, wrapped faster than Jay-Z and generally made a mess of things at Grandpa's house. He's tolerant, thank goodness. Of course, it IS the season and Santa's still watching.

Speaking of messes, Auntie Jen's cookie factory was going great when to our wondering ears did appear a big, fat, thunk against the window. Alison rushed over to find a woodpecker, which we'd just seen nibbling at Jen and Peter's bird feeder. I don't know what they're slipping into that feed, but the woodpecker looked like he'd tied one on and was passed out on the ice-covered deck, wings splayed like Blake Shelton's arms after a night in the honkey-tonk.

Alison was ready to rush out with first aid, but we waited a while and the bird shook itself awake, tested its parts and eventually flew off, a bit wobbly, perhaps, but it got airborne. So we assume it's OK.  A baby squirrel at Grandpa's house kept Ali entertained for a while in the back yard. None of the feed here must be spiked as all the wildlife seems happy and healthy.

Jeff and Ali are glued to the latest Dr. Who marathon so I'm checking our list and trying to be ready for tomorrow. Frankly, I'll be lucky to have put the right tags on the gifts. I did manage a walk this morning. My current theory is that when it's below freezing outside and you move enough to sweat, you've had a fine work-out. We'll see if the scale agrees post-holiday.

Merry Christmas, everyone, near and far. We're blessed to have you in our lives and we hope you know that we know that and are grateful every day.  Wishing you happy travels and healthy and happy new years...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Go Dog. Go! and other transportation tales

It seems like a million years ago when I used to drive Alison to day care. 

It was only a bit more than 12, but those were wonderful mornings. I’d strap her in, toss her stroller in the back of my behemoth SUV and drive to park at the Indiana Statehouse. I’d stroller her over to the Day Nursery across the street.

Our only problem those mornings was dodging the hordes of smokers who congregated in front of the doors. Most of them were helpful, waving away the clouds of smoke from the stroller as I’d approach and smiling at the bald little baby inside.

As she grew older, we’d chatter a bit. One day, I stopped at a red light just short of the Statehouse. As the light changes, I heard from the back seat: “Go, Dog. Go!”

And that began our tradition of “reading” her thick-paged books on the way to “school.” She’d memorized “Goodnight Moon” “Pajama Game” and “Moo Boo Lalala” from Sandra Boynton along with the PD Eastman’s classic.

Those were wonderful days. Eventually, I left state government and Jeff got to drive Ali to school. Yes, I was totally jealous and missed the conversations that just got better as she grew more verbal. When she started school, I got her back, and he was totally jealous.

We’d bike on good days. There’s a lot of intel dished on those little drives, let me tell you. It’s a time to treasure. She’s captive there in her seat and she’s a chatterer by nature. So if you’re smart, you learn to drink it in.

So I got her for kindergarten and part of first grade. When I started at Angie’s List, Jeff got her back. I go in earlier than he does, and it fits better for him to take the morning and me to take the evening. It’s only a three-minute drive, but still. It’s 1-on-1 time.

Jeff had an overnight business trip this week and I got to take her to school Wednesday morning. I’d had her to myself the prior night as well and we snuggled and watched Big Bang Theory re-runs. She even convinced me to play Mario Kart with her. 

I’m beyond terrible at video games. She said I’d never get better if I didn’t try. I really, really, didn’t want to try. But I did. And guess what?  I was TERRIBLE. 

I died a thousand deaths, hit more walls than track and was completely befuddled when she bellows at me to push the button on the back, "You'll get a rocket!!!!"  What? Where's this button. Damn. Into the lava again!

When I muttered that Rosalina was a sucky driver, she put her hand out and said, “Mom. She’s not a sucky driver. YOU are. Don’t hate the character.”

I tried not to curse. I actually tried to drive. But that Rosalina doesn’t know how to steer, man.

Anyway, we had a lovely time. After I’d turned out the lights she wanted to have a little girl chat in the dark. We talked about her potential love life and stories about how Jeff and I had met and become a couple.  “Mom, you know you’ve told me that story like, 100 times, right?”  she said after I’d finished, being careful to edit the story of when I’d tried to set Jeff up with a friend of mine and he hadn’t appreciated it because he was ahead of me in the “I think we should try this” game. 

She waited until I was done, though, so I think she likes that story.

On the drive to school the next morning, I almost wanted to drive past the school. She was strapped in. She was “Hey, Momming” me. She was making note of the squirrel activity in our neighborhood, talking about her upcoming day and reminiscing about our girls night.

Of course, she was still fixated on my Mario skilz -- or lack thereof. 

"You said so many bad words, Mom. You said the 's' word the 'd' word , another 's' word and you almost said the 'f' word."

I demurred, sure she was mistaken.

"And the 'g' word, and a word I haven't even heard before."

I didn't even think to shout, "Stop, dog. Stop!"  

Sure, I might have used some in appropriate words. Sure we laid around watching too much TV and eating take-out food. I won't win any parenting awards, but it was fun. And when your kid can tease you about using bad words at least they know they are off-limit words. Right?

Eh. I'll risk it. I want credit for her early-years vocabulary skills -- not her most recent ones.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Holiday decorations are going up all over, December snow is falling down and the holiday season is nudging my pocketbook.

It must be Christmas. I am not the person who finds Christmas treasures in hot weather and puts them away for months. If I buy early, I give early. Life's too short, man.

It takes me a while to get into the spirit but I think I'm there. We decorated Thanksgiving weekend, and we've been playing X Marks the Spot ever since. Last week, we had snow, we each had work parties, and we went to the annual Champagne & Shopping event at Kahn's Fine Wines with our great friend Cheryl -- a visit so good that even the tapping of her car by our neighbor's girlfriend didn't dampen the spirit.

I also had my first gift-giving smack-down of the season. 

The first of those events may seem normal. The last was from my friend Amy who was chastising me before I even thought about what Alison would give her BFF Jenna for Christmas. She was reminding me that Jenna had already been given her gift -- a trip to Wicked and a small shopping trip.

This lecture came after Jeff gave me the lowdown of a conversation he'd had with Amy and I was giving her grief for violating the Girl Code and siding with the captain.

They both have ice in their veins when it comes to child rearing. If the opportunity to say "no" comes their way, they don't just embrace it will full hearts, they're loud about it.

Alison is 12.5 Her current winter coat is a gift from a neighbor whose daughter never wore it. It's purple with black fur and makes her look like a grape-flavored Michelin Man. Sure, she's warm, but it's at least two years old, and is starting to get short in the sleeves. It's made of some indestructible plastic that cockroaches will call home after the Apocolypse.

So Ali asks me if she could possible get a new coat this winter. Maybe one from North Face, which can be expensive but is very well made and will keep her both warm and within sight of her normal size.  We found one at a reasonable price that she just loved. It's that really thin, but warm quilted material and it's trim to her body.  She loves it.

"You did what?!" Jeff said, listing things like: it's Christmas; it can wait; she already has a coat; it's white.She doesn't NEED a coat and if she NEEDS a coat, did you even shop around?"

I did, actually. Well, I went to an outlet instead of the actual North Face store, and I had looked around a bit. It's my opinion that a girl occasionally needs to have something that she wants. Not all the time. Not always what's on trend. It's a winter coat for God's sake. It's fricking winter!!!  Parents buy shoes and coats and mittens and food and stuff for their children. It's kind of what we're supposed to do.

Ugh. He's such a boy. But when he ran into Amer, he spills the details of our, uh, discussion, of the coat and she AGREED with him!  She was MY friend first. We are Bunconians. We are girls. But she sided with HIM. Worse, he comes home to tell me that after their chat, "I got mad all over again."

Worse than THAT, she's not even apologetic. Blah, blah. "you're too lenient." Blah, blah. "You're a pushover."

Whatever, Amer. Jeff's the one who bought her Uggs already....Bet he didn't tell you THAT.

In other news, Ali, Jeff and I went to see Thor and dropped into 5 Guys after for our first taste of the trendy hamburgers. It was awesome. (Thanks, Lisa Tabor)  
On the way out into the bitter cold, Ali and I left as a man with a wife and kids was coming in. He held the door. Jeff held the door for the family and then urged the man in, too.

"You know, he's really a nice guy," Alison said as we walked to the car and she observed her father. "When he's not being annoying, that is."

My laughter might have cracked a few windows.