Friday, March 08, 2013

Moving.... Again! Part 1

We're moving again. This time we'll hopefully stay put for awhile. I don't know how many times I've moved in my adult life (I lived in the same house until I was 18), and it would probably be depressing to count it up, but I bet it's close to two dozen times. One was cross country.

I've never used movers, and with all those moves I've acquired some expertise. Doesn't it seem like the best lessons are learned in the most painful fashion? Anyhow, maybe my pain will save you some pain.

So start at the beginning. The more notice you have of your move, the more you can plan and get things done in an orderly fashion, avoiding the whole throw-it-all-in-a-box-and-figure-it-out-later issue. Or opening a box in your new house and wondering why you bothered to move something you are now throwing out.

The first step, if you have time (maybe even if you don't), is to go through your house and get rid of anything that doesn't fit, is broken, you don't need, or you're not using. Those things that you hang on to "just in case" are costing you in labor, time, and even money (boxes, moving truck or storage space fees). So be ruthless. You'll rarely regret it.

Currently, I'm boxing up and giving away books, clothes, household goods. If you have time and weather to have a garage sale, do it. Clothes and books can go to consignments stores for a bit of cash and the rest donated.

Packing and moving is a bit like eating an elephant. It's better to do it in small bites at a time. Take one room and go through one closet or one bookshelf at a time. Pack, give away, or toss one section at a time. Then take a break.

A couple of tips to remember through this whole process: One, while you're doing all of this purging, collect whatever boxes you can find. Smaller boxes (think those that hold copy paper) are the best size for books. Books are heavy! Big boxes are better for lighter things like linens and clothes.

Two, keep garbage bags in the rooms you are working in. It's amazing how much trash you have in rooms that you don't even know about.

Next installment: smart packing!


Friday, February 15, 2013

Jen's Famous Salsa

I don't know about you but I have my go-to dish for any kind of potluck or get together. It's become even more important now that we're gluten free. I have to be able to bring something that I like and that might end up being the only thing that I eat.

So I bring salsa. I grew up in Southern California and spent four years in Arizona so I love good Mexican food. When I moved to the Midwest, I made salsa and tacos to anyone who would eat them. And got a lot of requests for my salsa recipe. Which is more of a taste-as-I-go-along than a real recipe. But for all of you who asked, I actually decided to take pictures and make notes when I made salsa this last time. So, in all it's glory, here's my salsa recipe.

Yummy salsa ingredients

  • 6-8 ripe, flavorful tomatoes
  • 1-2 bunches of green onions
  • 1-2 bunches of cilantro
  • 1-3 jalepeños
  • 1 lime
  • kosher salt
Before you begin you need to roast your jalepeños. I turn my oven on to 400 degrees and spray the peppers with olive oil and put them directly on the rack. By the time I'm ready for them, they're usually nice and roasted. You could also use your broiler, but you'll need to watch them so they don't burn.

Start with 6-8 tomatoes. The flavor of the tomatoes will have a huge impact on the flavor of your salsa. I had horrible experiences trying to get good tomatoes in the winter in the Midwest. I had slightly better success with Roma tomatoes and even tried some canned tomatoes once (not too  bad if you're desperate). Now I generally get the expensive, vine-ripened ones.

Chunk up the tomatoes and throw them in your food processor. You can make salsa without a food processor but it's hard to get the onions and jalepeños small enough so they blend seamlessly with the tomatoes. You don't want a big bite of spicy (or maybe you do!)

Pulse the food processor so you don't end up with tomato soup. Keep the tomatoes chunky.

Dump the chopped tomatoes into a big, non-reactive bowl. If you put tomatoes in a metal bowl, they will start to taste like metal. Use glass, ceramic, or plastic. Liberally add kosher salt in a layer over the tomatoes. This will pull the juices out of the tomatoes. You will need more salt than you think. A lot more.

Next comes the cilantro. It looks like flat leaved parsley but it has a peppery flavor. Rinse well and chop off most of the stems. Cut into a couple of big chunks and throw in the food processor. Pulse, dump in the bowl with the tomatoes.

Take a bunch of green onions and cut off the roots and any of the tops that are ugly and raggedy. Cut into  several big chunks and put in the food processor. Pulse, but not all the way because you want to add your jalepeños with them.

Your jalepeños should look blackened and crispy when you pull them out of the oven. You'll want to cut the stems off then cut them down the center. Scrape out the seeds and the pith with the edge of your knife, since these are the spiciest parts. If you want that, great!

Chop into a couple of pieces and add to the green onions in your food processor. This time you want to finely process them so they will blend nicely and evenly with your tomatoes and cilantro.
I like to squeeze half a lime in my salsa to give it a fresh kick. Plus, I just like lime. To make squeezing easy, roll the lime with the palm of your hand against the countertop to loosen the juices. Cut in half and pop out any seeds that are visible. Squeeze or use a citrus reamer.

The finished product. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips or make your own by frying cut up corn tortillas in hot oil.


Friday, February 08, 2013

Epic Mom Fail Part 2

Last week I talked about a recent epic Mom fail. This week I'll share another time I inadvertently risked my child's life about seven years ago when we lived in Arizona.

We had just finished returning books to the library. I buckle my son in, toss all my stuff on the front seat, and close the door. I go around to get in my side.

The door is locked.

Oh crap.

Through the window I can see all the doors are locked, but I still pull on the door handle like somehow reality will change. I can see the keys sitting on the driver’s seat, along with my purse and cell phone.

But I know my son can unlock the doors. Except that he’s strapped in his car seat. However, childproof things have never deterred him before. I tell him how to get himself out of his seat. “Just push that red button.” He pokes at it, sucker in his mouth. Then he pushes harder, but he just doesn’t have the strength to get it. We try seeing if he can unbuckle the car seatbelt and free the car seat, but he can’t reach it.

There’s no hope. I’m going to have to call and get help. But my phone’s in the car, too, so I have to leave him to go back into the library. It goes against every instinct to leave my son alone in a car while I go inside. But, I think, if someone can break into the car to steal it (and who wants a 1998 minivan with 180,000 miles on it?) I could at least get my son out. So I hurry inside to try to find a pay phone. Apparently pay phones don’t exist anymore. I finally ask the librarian.

She laughs. “Oh, I don’t think it works.”

Not funny. “I need a phone. I’ve locked my keys in the car with my son. I need to call somebody.”

“Oh, I guess you can use this then.” She moves her desk phone toward me. I call AAA and go through the whole explanation of how I can't supply them my membership card number because it's in my purse which is locked in my car with my son.

Anyhow, on my way back to the car, there is this guy who has been outside the library trying to get people to sign his petition. I don’t know what for, and I don’t care. He’s seen me walk by now four times and starts pestering me to sign his stupid petition.

“I’m a little busy right now.”

“Doing what?”

Oh, the things that went through my mind. I didn’t say any of them, however. Let’s just say that the next time I need to write a dead body in a book it will be a guy that looks a lot like him trying to get people to sign a petition. I just kept walking to the van where I hoped my son wasn’t a sobbing hysterical mess. He was frowning, but I think that was because he had dropped his sucker.

So I lean my head against this really dirty window—when was the last time I washed this thing anyway?—and talked to him. People driving through the parking lot stared at me. What was this crazy woman doing talking to a car? A police officer drove by. I watched him, half hoping he’d stop. He didn’t. I tell my son to go to sleep, and for once in his life, he minds me.

I'm really thankful it's only the upper 60s and not 112. I start thinking which window would be the cheapest to replace and look around for a big rock. Nothing. If it were 112, I have no idea what I could use to break the window. Well, he's asleep, AAA should be on the way, and other than people thinking I’m nuts, there isn’t any problem with waiting. Just that my daughter gets out of school in 30 minutes and since our neighbors moved, there's not a house for her to go to if I'm not home.

After about 25 minutes a tow truck pulls into the parking lot. They guy gets out with all his equipment. Then he sees my son. “Hey, if we’d known there was a kid in the car we would have gotten here in five minutes. Why didn’t you tell us?”

I'm pretty sure I mentioned it.

The guy gets his equipment out and starts prying open the door with this little inflatable device. Very cool, though frankly I don’t care if he rips the door off.

The door opens. My son wakes up. The tow truck guy packs up his stuff.

I think I’m going to throw up.

So from the desert of Arizona to the upper Midwest, I'm capable of the epic Mom fail. Somehow my children survive my best attempts to raise them properly.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Epic Mom Fail Part 1

You ever have those times where you think you should get the worst mom award? I had one of those last week. My son, eleven, got dropped off at home from school, just to find that the door was locked and his key and his phone were in the house. And none of the stay-at-home neighbors had stayed at home that day. And it was 17 degrees.

I drove up an hour later to find him sobbing, crying ice cubes as he told me later. He'd kept himself busy trying to pick the lock with a stick, opening the garage to see if he could start the barbecue, kicking snow off the porch.

This one was sort of his fault. He knew to the keep the key in his backpack, but remembering is not a strong suit of Asperger's kids. And if I'd thought about it, I'd have left the side door open. But with my daughter in the hospital with a juvenile arthritis flare up, I'm not thinking too clearly either.

It did remind me of another epic Mom fail when my son was a preschooler and we were living in Arizona also involving keys and locks.

It was about seven years ago. We had just finished returning books to the library, the last on a long list of errands that day, and had gotten back into the minivan....

More to come next week. Anybody else want to share memorable epic Mom fails?


Friday, January 25, 2013

How to offer practical help to a friend in crisis

In my previous post, I talked about how to make the best use of your time and energy while waiting with a loved one during medical visits and procedures.

In this post I want to talk about how to provide practical help to friends and family members dealing with any kind of crisis. Maybe they are having surgery, or their child is in the hospital. Maybe they've just lost a loved one. Or their job. It's so hard to know what to do when someone you love is hurting.

Having been on the giving and receiving end of practical help, here are my thoughts on how to best provide practical help, comfort, and support when a friend or family member is going through a difficult time.
  • Don't ask, "How can I help?" By the same token, don't say, "Call me if you need anything." Because guess what? We won't. We're pretty overwhelmed. Half the time we don't know what we need until we're staring into an empty refrigerator or an overwhelming pile of laundry. Then trying to remember who offered to help, if they really meant it, and would they really be willing to tackle your sink of dirty dishes... well that's more than our emotionally over-taxed brains can handle.
  • Instead offer specific help that you are willing to do. Offer to pick up their laundry and do it with yours. Or do it at their house if you have the time. Offer to clean bathrooms, mop floors, run the dishwasher, cook up several meals for the freezer, run to the grocery store, pick up kids from school, shovel their driveway and walks, mow the lawn.
  • Realize that many times when you offer to help we'll say we're okay or that we're managing because it's hard to admit we need help, let alone ask for it. Feel free to offer specific help several times. One of the best things my friends did for me (twice!) was to make several weeks' worth of meals in single portions and stocked my freezer with them. A group got together to do it so they could socialize and have fun while they were doing a huge favor for me!
  • Think about all the things you have to do in your day and how each of them would be impacted by a family crisis. What things would you need help with? Go offer to do that for your friend. It's amazing doing something simple like running the dishwasher, wiping down the bathrooms, or throwing in a load of wash can lighten the load of someone who is already emotionally drained when they come home.
  • Call ahead before visiting. Patients either at home or in the hospital don't always feel up to visitors. They don't look their best (which can be embarrassing to some people), they are in pain, tired, or scheduled for tests or therapies. Make sure your visit is a blessing, not a burden.
  • When you do visit, be ready to leave if it's not a good time. Don't expect to be entertained or for the patient to carry on a long conversation. Some people will love the company and be happy for the distraction. Others would prefer a short visit. Be sensitive to that.
  • Do send cards, notes, Facebook messages. Even if they don't get acknowledged, people really are encouraged when they know others are thinking of and praying for them.
  • Some of the most welcome gifts we got were blankets, stuffed animals, mylar balloon, socks, fun nail polish and stickers, head bands and hair ties, magazines, puzzle books, posters (for long term hospital stays), card and travel board games, lip balm, lotion, and favorite snacks.
  • Don't forget the caregiver. Taking them out for a quick bite to eat or a cup of coffee can do wonders for their spirits. Or giving them time to go home for a shower or a nap while you stay with the patient can also be another great break.
  • Mostly, the Golden Rule is a good guide. Do for your friend what you would want done for you if you were in their situation.


Friday, January 18, 2013

What to do when waiting at a hospital or other medical facility

This past year has been a medically difficult one for our family. All told we've had five surgeries, a very long (one month and counting) hospital stay, and countless hours of physical therapy.

All this adds up to a lot of waiting if you're the one accompanying the patient. Here are a few of my tips to make your time a little more comfortable, if not exactly productive.

My good friend, Diana Brandmeyer has some tips over on her blog too.

Here are some things to consider bringing along.
  • A sweater or a hoodie. You never know what the inside weather will be like :)
  • Something to occupy your time: a book, magazine, Kindle, Nook, iPad, laptop, knitting/crocheting, etc. Don't bring something that takes up a lot of space or takes a lot of time to set up or put away (i.e. jigsaw puzzles). Bring something that you don't mind being interrupted in doing.
  • Do put together a tote bag or backpack if you're going to be doing this frequently. That way you don't have to stress out your already stressed-out brain cells trying to remember everything each trip.
  • In your tote bag put in a notebook, your calendar/day planner, note cards, bills, or anything else that could be helpful in making you feel productive. Write that note you've been putting off to your grandma or friend that isn't on Facebook.
  • Use a page in your notebook to list specific things you need help with (return library books, a grocery list, find a ride home from school for your son). That way when someone offers to help you can bring out your list.
  • Along those same lines, take help when it is offered. It's hard to admit we need help, even harder to ask for it. But if people are offering, take them up on it. You need it!
  • Bring something to drink. Water, your favorite soda, coffee, tea, whatever. 
  • Get a portable snack, a healthy one if you can, like nuts, fruit, cut up veggies, fruit leather, your favorite nut, fruit, cereal or protein bars. Even a baggie of dry cereal can be helpful. Some places have vending machines for snacks or drinks but if you are doing this a lot, that can be expensive and not very healthy. Some places 
  • Your Bible, a Bible study or devotional, a notebook or note cards for journaling and verses. I've spend more time working on my Bible study at my daughter's hospital bedside and journaling what God has been revealing to me than I had since I'd had my surgery on my ankle. I take great comfort from God's Word during difficult times.
  • Get to know the staff. They see people at their worst, in pain, tired, grumpy, and grouchy. Anything you can do to be kind to them, to smile, to thank them, goes a long way.
  • Also ask the staff about the availability of nearby microwaves, coffee shops, sandwich shops, etc. They often know the best places around and can point you to them faster than you could find them on your own.
Next week, I'll post my tips on how to help someone who is going through a crisis because they have a loved one in the hospital or going through an illness.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Mom. Still the best title

Sitting next to your daughter's hospital bed will give you some time to think. My daughter is fifteen, but she still wants her mom with her. So I spend as much time as my job, and my needs to be with my son, allow. And while I'm sitting next to her, holding her hand, encouraging her through the pain of physical therapy, comforting her, letting her beat me at mancala, I'm struck by how much she just needs me to be mom.

Much of my time is consumed by being the provider for my kids, putting a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food on the table. I spend hours each day making sure everything at work is functioning properly so books and Bibles get published on time. Much of what I have wanted to accomplish with my life and my time has had to be set aside for the time being. And I was reminded of the importance of this when I ran across this quote by GK Chesterton. Just ignore the references to British government.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.
(What’s Wrong with the World, quoted in Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Nelson Books)

The last two lines are my favorite because, especially when my children were small, I was everything to them. I am still their world, and the import of that can be staggering. I am continually grateful that I was able to stay at home with them when they were small. And now that they are older, they still need me greatly. Though instead of wiping noses and tying shoes, I'm helping with homework and making sure chores are done. And sitting by my daughter's hospital bed while she learns to walk again.

I have many titles: wage earner, managing editor, small group member, friend. But the one that means the most is simply mom.