Gobble Gobble!

fruit turkeyWith American Thanksgiving racing toward us at breakneck speed (next week? SERIOUSLY???), I wanted to share this fun and easy nibbler turkey. It’s a great little snack for those hours of parade watching, while the smell of the real turkey is scenting the air and driving everyone mad with hunger. Plus there are vegetables! So it means you get them out of the way early, leaving your mealtime free for potatoes and stuffing and gravy!

(Fellow Canucks, save this for next October. I’ll try to remind you in time next year 🙂 )

As you can see, it’s pretty self explanatory. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 honeydew melon (cantaloupe would also work)
  • 1 pear, preferably Bosc
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 orange pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • green grapes (red would also work, I think)
  • chunks of any firm cheese (I might leave those out this year and use orange segments or pineapple chunks instead)
  • 2 raisins
  • bamboo shish kebob skewers
  • toothpicks

Cut a small slice off the least attractive side of the melon so it will sit flat on a plate.

Cut the peppers in half, seed them, and cut into lengthwise strips. Use toothpicks to attach to the melon in two rows, alternating colors.

Alternate the grapes and cheese (orange/pineapple) onto bamboo skewers. Stick them into the melon behind the rows of peppers.

Use toothpicks and/or broken skewers to attach the pear to the “front” of the melon. Use raisins for eyes (attach with a broken toothpick), a triangular piece of cheese or yellow pepper for the beak, and a strip of res pepper for the wattle.

Snap a photo, serve, and enjoy.

Catching Up with Casa Kitty

Caesar PotterIt’s been a while since I posted about of life here at Casa Kitty – probably because we’ve been too busy doing life to write about it!

October was one of those months when I was away almost as much as I was home. Things kicked off with a visit to Boston for Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving. We saw two out of three sons, one daughter-in-law, two aunts, one uncle, and one mother-in-law. I was assigned to make tiny dessert treats for our turkey feast, so I went for tiny pumpkin cheesecake trifles. I made mine with gingersnap crumbs and dang, they were a huge hit. cups If you’re looking for something festive and easy for the upcoming holidays, you could do far worse. (I ordered these cute little cups from Amazon. Worked perfectly.)

After Boston it was time for a much-needed writing retreat in Erie PA. The highlight of the trip (other than coming up with a new book idea, watching great movies, and, oh yeah, spending time with friends) was that I found a Tim Horton’s just ten minutes from the cabin where we stay! Can you say Timmies Run? I knew you could. And you can bet that I did!

After Erie it was time for one of those highlights of aging life: a colonoscopy. I know. But folks, they really aren’t that bad. Sure, the prep is No Fun At All, but it all happens in the comfort of your own home, and it’s a great excuse to lounge on the sofa and look pathetic. If you’re of an age where you should have one, and you’ve been avoiding it, please don’t delay. It’s a lot easier than, say, a root canal, and it can save your life.

There. PSA accomplished. 🙂

There was yet another trip in October, back to Massachusetts, though this time we stayed in the western part of the state. HRH is a senior this year, which means we have been visiting All The Schools and doing All The Paperwork and making All The Decisions. This trip included two schools,  one shadow day, one overnight visit, and two interviews. Both schools made her final list, and – oh happy day – all of her applications are now in! bravo congratulationsWe closed out the month, as we do all Octobers, with Halloween and a visit to our old neighborhood, where the trick-or-treating is far easier than it is here in the Casa Kitty skeletonarea. We walked the old streets and caught up with old friends and ended the month on a total sugar/joy rush. Which is a good thing indeed, because you know what happens next: a total holiday blitz for the next two months!

October Read: Hamster for the Win

Little Red Rodent HoodThe best book I read this month was about a hamster.

I adore the middle grade Hamster Princess stories about Harriet Hamsterbone, who is most definitely NOT your average princess.

  • She’s a hamster
  • She used to be invincible
  • She rides a quail
  • She has no patience for fancy balls, fancy clothes, or fancy people (although she puts up with her parents’ need for all of them, since they are, after all, the King and Queen)
  • She is logical, mathematical, loyal, exceptionally brave (even though she lost her invincibility), and incredibly resourceful
  • Adventure is her middle name
  • And she is just plain fun

Officially, I pre-order these books the moment they’re available to share them with my youngest daughter. The reality is that they’re for me. I’m the one who parks on the sofa and reads them in one sitting.

Little Red Rodent Hood had everything I look for in a Harriet book: humor, cleverness, exasperated friends, were-hamsters, and a fabulous role model for my kid to emulate. Highly recommended.

It’s Little Red Riding Hood as you’ve never seen her before in this funny, feminist spin on the fairy tale, from award-winning author Ursula Vernon

Most monsters know better than to mess with Princess Harriet Hamsterbone. She’s a fearsome warrior, an accomplished jouster, and is so convincing that she once converted a beastly Ogrecat to vegetarianism. So why would a pack of weasel-wolf monsters come to her for help? Well, there’s something downright spooky going on in the forest where they live, and it all centers around a mysterious girl in a red cape. No one knows better than Harriet that little girls aren’t always sweet. Luckily there’s no problem too big or bad for this princess to solve.

In this sixth installment of her whip-smart Hamster Princess series, Ursula Vernon once again upends fairy tale tropes and subverts gender stereotypes to brilliant effect. This is a “Once Upon a Time” like you’ve never seen before.

 

That New Book Smell

blurred book book pages literature

Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

First, apologies. It didn’t take much time working under my new blogging/social media schedule to realize that I just plain didn’t have that much to say. I’ve reevaluated my plan, and now have something far more manageable in mind.

Second: I’m starting a new book! This has been a long time coming. I handed in my last pieces of my last contracted work just about this time last year, and then –

What’s that, you say? A year already? How did that happen?

Let me elucidate.

  • First, I took some time to do absolutely nothing but home and family work.
  • Then the holidays were upon us.
  • Then it was the new year, and I started a new book with a new plan.
  • Then I realized that book wasn’t going to work.
  • So I spent time developing another book, with all different characters and an abundance of variations (it’s contemporary! It’s magical realism! It involves a dual timeline!)
  • I finally got a clue, admitted that this wasn’t working, and – wait for it – returned to Book 1.
  • Which I worked at diligently.
  • Then realized it needed more thought, which I did
  • Until summer vacation meant that all my brain power went to maintaining my sanity.
  • Then I dove back into it once school started in September.
  • I wrote words.
  • About 23,000 of them, to be precise.
  • I finally felt ready to share some of it with my agent.
  • She told me, as directly but gently as possible, that it wasn’t working.
  • Um …. Yeah.
  • I spent a few days communing with chocolate.
  • I came up with another idea.
  • My agent said, um, let me show you some examples.
  • I worked up four very basic premises.
  • I sent them to my agent.
  • We talked. She gave me some insights into each of them.
  • I went on a writing retreat weekend, planning to spend a few hours on each premise and then make my decision.
  • I started in on one. And then thought, what if I did this with it? And then what if this happened? And what if ….
  • That took the whole first day.
  • I tried to work on the others on the second day, but they just weren’t doing it.
  • I typed up what I had for Premise #1 (on my phone, because that’s the only way we can access email at this retreat) and sent it to my long-suffering agent.
  • She sent back the magic words:  Run with it.

Honestly, folks, I’ve never been much of a runner. But I think I’m ready to try it now 😊

Everybody (Else) Is Working For The Weekend

SOmeday reAading weekend relaxingEvery Friday (I think), I get an email from Amazon telling me what’s new on Prime that I can watch on the weekend. I also get updates from a couple of local independent theaters letting me know what’s playing on their screens. Oh, and usually somewhere around Wednesday, my husband will start talking about what we’re going to do on the weekend.

All I can think is, obviously I am way out of touch with the rest of the world. Because my weekends stopped being relaxing around October of 1989, which just so happens to be when my first kid was born. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide.

Oh, I do love that joyful feeling of crawling into bed on Friday night without setting the alarm. Weekend meals are a little more relaxed as well – a night of pizza, a lot of leftovers – so that’s a bonus.

But other than that, my weekends are full. For example, here’s what’s on the schedule this coming Saturday and Sunday:

  • selling pumpkins at my church’s annual sale
  • dance lesson for eldest daughter
  • voice lesson for eldest daughter
  • groceries
  • ghost walk through my village (Seriously excited about that one)
  • help eldest daughter make a spreadsheet for the schools she’s applying to
  • prep for/teach Sunday School
  • attend church
  • help youngest daughter with homework
  • and the usual cooking, cleaning, etc that goes into life

To top it off, my husband is on call beginning Friday night. So at any point, night or day, I’ll need to be ready to shift my plans to accommodate him needing to run to a nearby courthouse and represent someone.

The thing is, everyone’s weekends seem like this, at least among my friends. I don’t know anyone who is able to binge watch something on Netflix, or who can plan on more than a couple of hours of fun activities over the weekend. As for flopping down on the sofa with a good book? I try. I do. And if I’m lucky, I’ll manage more than five minutes before I am needed by a kid/cat/husband.

I have hope, though. On Wednesday afternoons, when I volunteer at the local library cafe, I hear the senior citizens talking about the books they’ve read and the movies they’ve seen. It’s like a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, reminding me that life has seasons, and I am (still) in the Family First one. And that, most of the time, I’m glad to be here.

But you know, a little preview wouldn’t be amiss 🙂

 

 

It’s Family Meals Month!

making-meals-easierYes, apparently September is Family Meals Month. Who knew?

Throughout the month, grocers and the Food Marketing Institute are working to raise awareness about the benefits of family meals. They are challenging families to pledge to share one more meal per week at home using items purchased from the grocery store.

Obviously, some (a lot?) of this is self serving. Grocery stores are certainly going to encourage people to purchase food from them instead of getting take-out. That said, there are definite benefits to cooking and sharing a meal together. There are many statistics that link regular at-home family meals with such things as reduced obesity, better grades and self-esteem in kids, reduced substance abuse, and probably world peace.

Sharing meals is not a magic bullet. It’s far more likely that families that emphasize things like education and strong relationships and fitness are also going to place a high value on sharing meals. (My Research Methods professor would be so proud of me right now.)

But that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.

Full disclosure: I’m a stay at home mom with only two kids left in the house and a very flexible schedule, and even I find it a challenge to get a meal on the table some nights. Add in a job, deadlines, after-school activities, and all those other pieces of modern life, and it’s a wonder the country isn’t living on pizza and peanut butter sandwiches.

For me, the best way to make sure we eat a home-cooked meal each night is by planning. I’ve already written about my rotating menu.  I still use one, though I’ve updated it a number of times over the years. Basically, I generate a list of twenty-five meals we’ll all eat, assign one to each weeknight for five weeks, and then repeat.

I’m not wedded to the menu. I shift meals around, skip some completely, and throw in special requests. That’s okay. This is meant to make life easier. Everything on the menu is quick, tasty, and usually healthy. If I need to switch, swap, or skip to accommodate schedule or taste changes, I can do so knowing that most bases will still be covered.

There are lots of links and resources on the Family Meals Month website, so if you’d like to learn more, have a gander. My advice: carve out half an hour, make a menu plan that works for your life (two nights per week is absolutely FINE), and go from there. Every time you can replace What will I make for dinner? with Oooh, I know what I’m making for dinner, you’ll thank yourself.

Tuesday Tip: rotating menus are a Godsend.

 

Random Acts of Intentional Kindness

Random actsFirst, don’t get me wrong: I am a huge fan of random acts of kindness. There is something wonderful and affirming about seeing an opportunity to be kind and then acting on it. We all need to do more of it and we all need to be on the receiving end of more of it.

But …

Maybe it’s just me (though in this case, I doubt it), but I’m slow. I don;t always recognize the opportunities until they’ve passed. I say goodbye and walk away and then, twenty minutes later, slap my forehead as I realize what I should have said/done/offered.

There’s not much I can do about those situations, other than try to be more on the ball, but there are things that come up somewhat predictably where I can be prepared to offer kindness. For example, I read about a woman who made little goodie bags with things like some fried fruit, water, chocolate bars, maybe a deck of cards and a pair of mittens, and when she saw a homeless person on a street corner, she would give them one of those bags. That would certainly be easy enough to do. It wouldn’t cost much, and it would solve that whole dilemma about “if I give them money, they’ll just use it for …”

Some other possibilities: I could pick up a couple of $5 gift cards to Target or the grocery store, and keep them in my purse, then give one to a cashier with instructions to use it for someone behind me in line. I could leave my change in a vending machine for someone else to use. I could help my kids paint kindness rocks, and keep some in the car to leave in strategic places.

You see what I mean? I can’t always predict when a moment will arise, but I can certainly prepare myself to share kindness in some fairly predictable circumstances. In other words, instead of simply intending to be kind, I can be intentional about how I’m going to make it happen.

Wish me luck.

My Lips Belong To ….

I know where your mind went with that title. You expect me to name a person, don’t you? Well, I have news for you. My heart belongs to my husband, and my dreams to Han Solo and/or Indiana Jones, but my lips have a hero all their own.

lanolinThat’s right. Lanolin.

Here’s the story. About five years ago, on a gorgeous sunny day in May, I went outside to work. For hours.  I didn’t use an SPF lip balm and ended up burning my lips. They HURT. And no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them to heal. They cracked and ached and burned, and I was in serious despair. Was I doomed to be in pain with every kiss for the rest of my life?

(Cue the tragic music here.)

In July, while waiting for a bus back to Syracuse from the RWA National conference in NYC, I mentioned my dilemma to my friend Kerrie Strong. She urged me to try lanolin, which had worked wonders for people she knew.

I ordered some from Amazon the very next day. Within days of its arrival, I was no longer in pain.

(I think I fell a little in love with Kerrie that day …)

If you want to know exactly why lanolin is such a friend to your lips, you can read all about it here. Suffice it to say, lanolin comes from the fleece of sheep, it clings to your lips like a teen to her cell phone, and a little bit will last a LONG time.

I managed to do a number (AGAIN) on my lips a week or so ago. They hurt. But a few days of regular lanolin application, and I was smiling happily once again.

Lanolin gets me and the family through chapped lips, burnt lips, and the never-ending joy that is a central New York winter. If it works through all of that, I know it will work for you.

Tuesday Tip: Lanolin can be your lips’ best friend.

Thursday Thoughts: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!Not only are we still barely into the academic year (at least in my area), but this week, we also celebrated Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Maybe it’s just me, but I find this a much more seemly time to start a new year than smack dab in the middle of winter. There’s something about back to school, new books, and gearing up after a long summer that puts me in mind of beginnings. Add in our family’s Rosh Hashana celebration, and yep. Let the rest of the world turn in January. I’m diving in now.

 

There’s no confetti or fireworks, but there are still traditions. Our family always has a special meal for Rosh Hashana – round challah, probably a brisket, always an apple pie. We eat apples with honey for a sweet new year. We take turns trying to get sound out of our assortment of shofars (ram’s horns).

Then there are the traditions that aren’t religiously based, but which center around the academic year. The start of programming at my church; the annual stocking up on school supplies; the paperwork. (Okay, not fun, but still a tradition!)

For myself, I always set goals at this time of year. It just feels right. I’ll do some in January as well, but honestly, this is where it all starts for me. This is when I have the longest stretch of time spreading out in front of me. This is when life picks up the pace after the heat and relaxation of summer. This is when my brain starts to function again after the numbness of summer vacation 🙂

This is when – and where – I begin.