March 20, 2012

Pancake revelation

I am fairly honest when it comes to admitting I don't like to cook. I can do it, but it's not my happy place, not the way a trip to Bermuda in the spring time with frilly umbrella drinks would be. But when it comes to breakfast foods, I not only don't like to cook, I just can't.

I botch scrambled eggs, my french toast is soggy, and omelettes are just plain laughable. My waffles are ok, but that's mostly due to the machine and the batter I make is pretty inconsistent. Pancakes are my real debacle, though. I have NEVER made good pancakes. I burn them or serve them raw or they come out so runny they're practically just really bad crepes.

This morning, though... oh, my.

It's been raining hard since last night, a nasty 12 hour thunderstorm. No one slept well (except Kurt, who's immune to sound at night). We have some dentist appointments today so Anna's staying home from school, since the only time I could get the kids in was mid-day. We are all out of cereal and I couldn't even offer to butcher some eggs since we only had one.

In desperation, I flew to the 'nets and found this recipe. Doubtful but with hungry kids clamoring at my heels, I threw it together. And guess what? It took about 5 minutes to make and another 10, maybe, to cook the entire batch.

I poured them into the pan and they... fluffed up. LIKE REAL PANCAKES. They browned smoothly ON BOTH SIDES. Even with my failure at timing and flipping, they didn't burn or come off raw in the inside.

And then, miracle of miracles, my children actually ate them, even Jack, with gusto, asking for more. Murmuring through full mouths that they tasted like the best banana bread ever.

I made pancakes, everyone. And they were GOOD. I even got all wild and adjusted the recipe a little bit (not that adding vanilla is an adjustment, but it made me feel adventurous). Not sure how my day could get any better. They're so easy I'm going to go ahead and make a double batch up and freeze them. The possibilities are endless: topped with peanut butter or fruit or just warmed up to eat on the go as is.

It's a sad state of affairs in the kitchen when a fluffy pancake can make me so happy, but I don't care. I'll take it!

Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
(makes about 12)

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup oatmeal

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp sugar

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2)

Sift together dry ingredients and stir in oats, mixing well. In a seperate bow, mix together the wet ingredients and sugar. Fold wet into dry until just combined. Let batter stand for about 5 minutes to soften the oats. Over medium-high heat, pour 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Cook about 1 minute or until bubbles start to appear, flip and cook another 1 minute or so on other side. Serve.

Ta-da! As my grandmother used to say, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Only there's no lemon, but whatever.

March 15, 2012

I love Bikinis

It’s 6:30 PM. The girls have just finished up not eating dinner and returned to their regularly scheduled running-around-like-crazed-lemurs while Jack tromps about in Silvia's sparkly Cinderella shoes. As always, it’s loud. Kurt has just returned from a long business trip and we're both tired.

I sit down at the counter with a sigh, dishes ignored for the moment, and gently cradle my wine glass as I turn to smile at Kurt, who’s relaxing next to me with a matching glass. This is the first time all day we've had the hint of an uninterrupted moment.

“So Bob took me to this new restaurant at lunch today,” he begins, head lowered and eyes casting about for a place to look, anywhere but my face.

“Okay.” I’m a little bit puzzled because of the suddenly confessional air coming off him in waves. Uh-oh, I think. $100 bottle of wine? The best fish and chips in town and he went without me? Kurt has a developed a habit of sampling Dallas's diverse restaurant offerings during the week while I'm left at home to snack on the kids' leftover PB&J's. "Where'd you go?"

“Well… it’s called Bikinis.” He looks up, a sheepish grin on his face. My 43-year-old husband is BLUSHING. “It’s kind of a theme restaurant.”

The theme is, you guessed it, scantily clad young waitresses in bikini tops. They finish off the outfit with a pair of cut-off shorts than take “short” to a whole new level of cheek. Imagining my basically introverted husband there brings a grin to my face.

“Interesting! How was the food?”

“It was okay. Nothing special.”

Kurt finally catches my eye and we both start to laugh. He said he had a lot of trouble just looking up from the menu, especially since the waitress seemed hell-bent on hanging around, chatting and bending over the table. The whole time he kept thinking about how these girls were practically the same age as our babysitters. He kept thinking about me. Not so much that I need to be running about in my unmentionables tossing french fries (though I’m sure he wouldn’t complain), but just that as a married man he shouldn’t be there. A strip-club-party-with-the-guys kinda man he is NOT.

“I have a confession of my own, actually,” I start. “I took the kids to Chik-fil-a for lunch and to play. I just needed an easy distraction and said what the hell.”

And that right there is my marriage. He confesses about lunch with boobies, I confess about lazy fast food parenting. He thinks about the big picture (see the picture below), more intangible (the waitresses are all look, no touch) actions that could impact our relationship. I fret about little day to day things that might get on his nerves. The fun part is the only reason we’re bringing it up at all is each of us feels guilty personally, not because we actually think the other would be upset. A long-standing tenet of our union is mild self-imposed castigation.

In fact, Kurt felt so bad after the experience that yesterday he offered his support to another co-worker who wanted to try the place out, too. Yes, despite his discomfort, my husband went to the half-naked restaurant not once, but TWICE. In the name of office solidarity, of course. He’s noble like that.

I’m not above taking full advantage of his shame. I left him with the kids on a moment's notice last night and went out by myself for a quiet night of writing, coffee and frittering away a few bucks to wander aimlessly around Barnes and Noble.

Without a shred of guilt. Thank you, Bikinis. Feel free to mortify my husband any day of the week.

March 08, 2012

The Big Bag

Crouched in my closet, it lurked. Every now and then, I’d peek up at it and then, with a feeling of perverse joy, give it a shove further back into the shadows. Ha! Take that, stupid big bag!  I’ve moved on! I don’t need YOU anymore.

Only now, it seems I do.

For the past year (more than that, really), we’ve had a little problem around here. I mostly don’t talk about it in public because I have this strange feeling that Silvia would be embarrassed. But at five, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog and by the time she can, well, hopefully the issue will be long-forgotten history.

Silvia has accidents. Like, wetting herself on a regular basis accidents. It’s been an up and down cycle for a long time. There’d be months at a time where she was totally fine every day, not a drip or drop. Then suddenly, it would start to pick up; little mini-accidents here and there and then the occasional full-on puddle.

We’ve gone over everything, tried lots of different approaches. In the beginning when she was hanging off the tail end of potty training, we spoke sternly to her every time. Obviously, if you know kids at all, that is the WORST way to handle it. Since then we’ve done incentives, the “potty timer” to beep a reminder, tried to talk quietly about how she feels when it happens. We make sure she goes before we go out, while we’re out and when we get home and many moments there after.

These days, however, I just get her changed into clean clothes, send her to the bathroom to finish up and move on. What else can I do? I’m not going to yell at her. I’m pretty positive she’s not doing it on purpose. I’m not going to lecture her or punish her. I sometimes implore her to just TELL someone so we can get her changed before she gets a rash, but that’s it. Ordering her not to do it is ridiculous.

But none of it is helping. She’s having more problems, more incidents and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve brought it up with her doctor at the latest check-up. The biggest conundrum is that she doesn’t wet the bed at night. Ever. It’s only during the day. She says she doesn’t feel it until it’s happening, but if there is a muscle problem then why is she staying dry at night?

I won’t lie, I get really annoyed, even embarrassed, sometimes. I’ve even gotten mad (not my proudest moments). But most of the time, lately, I just get sad. Why is this happening? What is the problem? Is she sick? Is she scared? Is there one thing in particular that set her off (so to speak)? Am I not paying enough attention to her? Am I paying too MUCH attention? I’ve googled the hell out of it, talked it out with the doctor and friends. Kurt and I have had long discussions about the what, why, how, and if of it all. We’re not just sitting here aimlessly, but in the end, there’s just not much someone ELSE can do to make a person control their own body.

It’s a frustrating mystery. Probably, hopefully, she’ll get over it as she gets older. For her sake I really hope she’s doing better before she starts kindergarten in the fall. Kids can be really unkind sometimes.

In the mean time, I’ve pulled out The Big Bag. It’s a diaper bag I got when Jack was born. It has a billion pockets and holds all the diapers, wipes, cups and snacks a kid could ever want with room left over for my wallet, phone and chapstick. Most importantly, it has space for a full set of clean clothes for my daughter, something I just cannot fit in my regular purse.

It also tends to knock over displays at the grocery store and mildly concuss any child who has the misfortune of standing behind me when I turn around. It leaves a dent in my shoulder and has rearranged my posture to a Quasimodo-style hunch after only a day. But I’ll do what I have to do to help her out, even if it means The Big Bag has to momentarily emerge from retirement.

My hope is it’ll be buried back in the dark closet, gathering dust, problem solved, before the summer has past. I don’t want to think about lugging that behemoth about in 110 degree weather.

March 05, 2012

I have a plan

Since moving to Texas, especially over the crazy hot summer, we fell into the habit of going out for dinner on Friday nights. Until it got colder (and I use the term loosely), we could sit out on the plethora of patios, sipping our margaritas whilst the children ate quietly around us (in my blissful margarita-hazed imagination). There are several really nice outdoor malls around here, one of which has a splash park and fountain right in the middle of it. We’d dine, walk around, the kids would attack the fountain, we’d hit the ice cream shop and call it a night.

As nice as that sounds, a few things have come up that sucked the fun out of Fridays. First off, Jack is no longer complacent in a restaurant, not that he ever really was. Now, though, it’s more of an exercise in torture trying to go anywhere with him where he’s expected to remain in one place for whole minutes at a time. On more than one occasion I have simply grabbed him and walked, leaving Kurt and the girls to sort things out on their own.

Speaking of whom… the girls. They had gotten to the point where they expected to go out as a given. Not going out brought on a fit, even though they rarely ATE their dinner and often came home in an over-stimulated crying mess. The treat had turned into a belief in their due entitlement and that is a big ol’ no-go in my playbook.

Family Fun Night, not so much.

The major issue, though, is more practical. Simply put, it costs money to go out on the town. Doing it every week, well, that adds up.  With our house in Colorado still lingering on the market, living the Dallas high life doesn’t really fit. Don’t get me wrong, we’re fine, but living in reality is something we should all practice from time to time. You know, in small doses.

So last month I started a new tradition: hangin’ at home. Novelty!  In an effort to find something else fun (and cheap) to do, I started to plan some festivities to ring in the weekend. Right off the bat, I informed the girls that there would be no eating out anymore except for very special occasions, like birthdays or really bad PMS.

To keep it fun, I planned out every Friday with a special “event”. We’ve had a fancy-dress Tea Party with hors d’oeuvres and pink lemonade, Make Your Own Pizza night (that sort of failed, actually, I am not so much good with dough),  Sundae Funday, Breakfast For Dinner, and so forth. Granted, these don’t SOUND very fascinating but to a couple of little girls it has been the bees knees.

Amidst all that planning, in a fit of mad efficiency, I threw caution to the wind and planned out the rest of the time, too. As in, I sat my butt down and made a dinner menu for the whole month, five nights a week. Recipes noted, side dishes listed, grocery lists prepared and EVERYTHING.

I know. I was shocked at myself, too. Feel free to applaud, I’ll wait.

Done? OK. I realize there are fancy people who have been doing this forever, all the time, without even thinking about it. They are more awesome than me. I bow down before them as they tower over me in coolness.  But for me, this is a big thing. BIG. I've struggled with the "what's for dinner" question since settling into housewifely-ness years ago. it's no secret I hate cooking. But for a month now I have not been consumed with panic at 5 PM, staring blindly into an unhelpful pantry. That right there is worth the hour or two of irritation it takes to get it all sorted out and down on the calendar.

I did the whole shebang again for March this weekend and found myself with, get this, more dinners I wanted to try than I had days in the month. We’re in the Twilight Zone over here. I ended up popping on over to April and penciling a few days in ahead of time.

It’s madness and it feels so good. The best part of the whole experiment, though, is the way the girls have embraced their new Fridays. Every week they’re all a-twitter for the Special Event. Just adding all caps (Taco Night! Ice Cream For Dessert Night!) seems to make it a party in their eyes. They’ve lost that little bite of spoiled attitude that was starting to really turn my stomach. For them, the treat is doing something as a family and making a big deal about it— just because. That alone is worth every second of organizational angst I get from having to put it all together.

I’m running low on ideas, though. There are only so many tea parties I can stand. Any suggestions? What’s a fun little tradition your family has?