Sunday, May 30, 2010

Persistence

This "bush" makes me smile. I notice it every time I pull into the driveway. At one time, it was a hydrangea.

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Here's what it's supposed to look like:

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After I gave birth to my youngest last April, my Mom gave me a potted white hydrangea as a gift. It was lovely. However, my cat tends to chew on all greenery in our house, so it wasn't lasting long inside. I decided in a pre-dawn, sleep-deprived, postpartum delirium one morning that I was going to plant it outside. I decided to sneak out while the rest of the house slept and uproot one of the two geraniums that was front and center, just outside the living room windows.

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Geraniums. Yleck! Now there's a subject that my husband and I are in 100% agreement on. The smell makes us both nauseated. So, I donned my leather gloves, opened the door to the garage as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone, and rooted around for the shovel. I hoped that it was early enough that the neighbors would not be witness to my geranium genocide. For some reason, I felt guilty uprooting a perfectly healthy flowering plant. I performed the transplant as hastily as possible, dropping blood red petals as I went.

Out came the red flowers, and in went the new into the same hole.

It was quick.

It was convenient.

It didn't work.

Within a week, the leaves began to deteriorate as the indoor plant failed to adapt to the outdoors. After a month or two, it looked like this:

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By fall, it was nothing but five lonely dead twigs sticking out of the ground. The healthy crimson geranium next to it, the one I hadn't uprooted, mocked me. Months passed, and the back yard in our new house met a similar black thumb fate when I took it from the weed pile we found when we moved in,

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down to dirt,

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and meticulously planted and watered grass seed. It didn't work, either, unless you count the crab grass that tried to invade.

I gave up on both projects and turned my attention to decorating over the winter months. It was a long, wet winter. We're still having winter weather here and there. I love it. I've only turned on the air conditioning a couple of times.

While I was hibernating, guess who showed up to the party?

Grass!! It finally came in, a full six months after I planted it.

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And my hydrangea!! At about the same time as the grass came in, little green leaves started sprouting at the very base of the twigs. It's been getting bushier and stronger ever since. It makes me smile to see it sprouting, in spite of being dead for so long.

Miracle Max: See, there's a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead. Now, mostly dead: he's slightly alive. All dead: well, with all dead, there's usually only one thing that you can do.

Inigo: What's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.


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Poor stinky geranium, now that I know the hydrangea is alive and well...

Friday, May 28, 2010

A dollar store tribute to chocolate

I didn't intend to go to the dollar store and buy lots of chocolate, it just happened that way. Impulse shopping is really bad there.

I couldn't help myself when I saw these. For any of you who played games at our old apartment, you know why I had to grab a bag or two. They're usually at least $2.00 at the store, when they're on sale.

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That oven in our old place! I hated that thing. It would never work. For some reason, if it was a warm day, the gas oven had a hard time staying on. I would have to pull the broiler pan out all the way, lay on my back and whack a random pipe in the back with a long grilling spatula (a trick someone once showed me that actually worked) to get the pilot light to ignite the oven. Very graceful. But I really wanted these little cookies.

I also picked this up on my recent trip, which has since been dubbed "chocolate mountains" by my three year old.

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Total impulse buy.

I grabbed some of these too, apparently it wasn't just chocolate I was craving.

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Maybe I was subliminally trying to make myself feel better. Or, I knew that if I didn't get some of these, I'd be having chocolate mountains the next time I needed something quick and easy to eat.

I got a soap dish, too. I couldn't find a non-plastic one at Target for less than $3.00, so I was happy to find this.

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But this... this is almost too good to share.

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I run the risk of depleting the stash at the store by posting this. For the sake of my hips, I'm looking past my selfish desires and sharing my find with the world.

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The kicker? This isn't a standard pint-sized container of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

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This is a quart. "Size matters," indeed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A big day for a little baby

Okay. I admit it. He's not so little anymore. It startles me, how much he weighs, when I pick him up out of his crib. I miss my little seven pounder. Now I lift a hefty baby toddler that weighs three times that.

This week he learned a new trick. He learned to open the doors in our house that have this type of doorknob:

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I've become painfully aware of just how many of these handles we have in our house.

All three bathrooms, the broom closet, the door to Pepper's kitty litter and food bowl, the door to the garage,

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not to mention, the front door. EEK!

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Thankfully, the two super-important doors — the ones to the garage and outside — have upper locks, so that's manageable. It's the bathrooms and the subsequent splashing in the toilets that is problematic. I'm trying to block from my memory the image I have of him climbing into the kitty litter box, his right pant leg soggy from sitting in Pepper's water bowl. I need therapy. Pepper probably does, too. Poor girl.

BUT WAIT!

On the exact same day he discovered his door opening capabilities, he learned to climb onto the coffee table.

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Getting down... well, that hasn't gone so smoothly. One time he sort of rolled off, his tight fist still stubbornly balled around the piece of toast he had climbed up there to get in the first place. He was fine; he barely noticed the flomp onto the ground. Another time or two, he simply stood there and called for me until I got him down. But the most frequent scenario involves his older sister yelling "MOM! He did it AGAIN!" as she grabs him by his widest belly width and Heimlichs him down to the ground.

So, this weekend, we will be conducting the great doorknob switch of 2010. As for the coffee table problem... thank goodness we don't have wood floors!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life with a 5 year old

She dutifully washes the coffee table with copious amounts of water and the dingiest sponge she can find. She sometimes washes other things that don't do so well with a thick coat of water, like her homework folder:

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Speaking of water, she talks me into letting her soak the flowers with the sprayer in the thin blue evening light.

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Speaking of flowers, she begs every day to make a flower cake with the tins I got at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago. Then she corrects me when I do it wrong. She's a tough critic.

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Speaking of... I can't think of anything. But she stalks the neighbors. Pepper the cat does, too.

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Speaking of neighbors, she loves it when people come over to visit, especially when they bring things that erupt. She hates it when they have to leave at the end of the evening.

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Speaking of leaving, she's about to go on a trip to Disneyland but doesn't know it yet. It's a surprise in honor of her finishing up her first year of school. Kindergarten has been the most labor-intensive thing she's done in her short life, and for that, I'm proud of her. I used to make fun of schools that do a graduation ceremony for kindergartners. These days I still make fun of it, but not with nearly the same intensity. I can see now that the beginning is almost as momentous as the end.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chocolate Mint Brownie Bites

To round out my tribute to my teenage years, here's a recipe reminiscent of the chocolate mint brownies my friends and I used to make. Thank you, person who first paired mint with chocolate, for creating a craving that no other flavor combination can satiate.

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Ingredients:

Brownies:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
4 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Mint frosting:
1/2 cup butter (one stick), softened
1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces), softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Chocolate ganache:
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon canola oil

Yield - approximately 24 brownie bites.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325°. Begin preparing the brownies by stirring together the flour, chocolate powder and salt, and set aside.

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In a separate bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar. Mix in the vanilla and the 3 eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, until combined.

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Fold in the dry flour mixture. I prefer to do this by hand, so that the batter isn't over-mixed, just until the dry ingredients are absorbed and moistened. Add in the 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and stir until combined.

Grease and flour a mini-muffin pan (or use that handy dandy baking spray with flour that does it for you.) Spoon in the brownie mixture, filling each depression about half-way.

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These small ice cream scoops are the perfect size for mini-muffin tins.

Bake the muffins at 325° for 15 - 18 minutes.

When the muffins are done, remove them to a cooling rack and place them in the refrigerator.


Mint frosting:

Cream together the softened butter and softened cream cheese. Luckily my microwave has a "soften" button; it makes the process a lot more immediate and less dependent on my faulty memory.

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Add in the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and the 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and mix thoroughly. You could add in some green food coloring at this point or more peppermint extract, if you like. Add in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, to avoid the big white powdered sugar dust cloud that occurs when you dump it into a spinning mixer all at once (not that I've ever done that before...)

Place the frosting in the refrigerator, if you have room, now that there's a big ol' plate of brownies in there.

Once the brownies are thoroughly and completely cooled, frost them with the mint frosting and return them to the fridge — or better yet, the freezer. These puppies do much better with the chocolate ganache phase if they're basically frozen.

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Chocolate ganache:

When your brownies are nice and cold and ready for the chocolate topping, place the chocolate chips into a bowl and microwave for a minute. Stir the chips around to aid with the melting and put the chocolate back in for another 45 seconds. Continue checking every 45 seconds until the chips are completely melted. Then stir in the canola oil to thin it out a bit.

Take each frozen brownie and dip it in the chocolate, rotating the brownie to get a good coating of ganache on it.

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Place completed brownies on a plate to let the chocolate set. Freezing the brownies before-hand helps the chocolate to set up. But if it's still not hardening fast enough, you can place them in the fridge.

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Please note — these little brownies have a tendency to dry out, so try to cover them as air tightly as possible when cooling and storing.

Here's a link to a printable version of the recipe.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Something else you should know about Shanna...

She had a cat. A really fat one. Named Katy.


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Happy Wordless Wednesday! And welcome, blog hoppers! :D

(That cat could jump onto the window sill!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

An atypical senior trip

I had become accustomed to the routine, watching one of my best friends hook herself up to her dialysis machine at night. She had an E.T.-like stack of medical equipment that would roll up next to her bed, complete with a serpentine mass of small clear plastic tubing that led to her belly. She was meticulous about keeping the entry site clean — she had to be, to avoid infection.

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That's Shanna on the left, and me on the right.

Shanna was born with a pair of kidneys that never really grew up. By the time we were juniors in high school, the miniature organs could no longer keep up with the demands of filtering the blood of an adult-sized body. To assist with the process, she would pump a solution into the peritoneal space in her abdomen, which would clean her blood through osmosis. The fluid would then be pumped back out into a drainage bag. The machine helped her cycle through this process over and over as she tried to sleep at night.

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During the daytime, she had a normal life. Well, normal by our standards, anyway. I'm not sure if being connoisseurs of burnt almond fudge ice cream, going on lots of hikes, trying hard to be good daughters of God, and the occasional attempt at guided imagery count as normal for two teenage girls, but that's how we rolled. We did the normal stuff, too — pining over a different guy each semester and wading through all the teenage girl drama.

Shanna's 16th birthday:
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Shanna had a few complications due to the dialysis. She, along with everyone else who was there with her one particular day in the hemodialysis unit, was given a staph infection, iritis, and gout. She also developed a couple of ulcers due to some of the medication that, by the time they figured it out, left her weighing less than eighty pounds and being fed through a nasal tube.  There was also a bout of interstitial peritonitis, which has been described as being worse than childbirth.

Another time, she had some problems with the catheter that was placed in her abdomen and was scheduled to have a temporary one placed in her neck. Her family woke up feeling terribly ill that morning. Her mom planned to stay home with Shanna's brother. She begged her mom to come along, so her mother left Alden with a neighbor and made the pre-dawn trip. Come to find out, a few hours more, and her family would have died from carbon monoxide poisoning. It was a bad day. Thankfully, surgery is a compelling reason to get up and out of the house, in spite of the early hour and everyone feeling like a terrible flu bug had knocked them flat.

For the most part, Shanna was able to function normally. She went to school, and was even allowed to go on vacations. We planned a trip with our friend Beth the summer after we graduated from high school.

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(Beth, Shanna, and me. That's my natural curl. I've spent years and a small fortune learning how to tame that beast!)

We wanted to spend some time in Southern California, to give me a chance to check out my future college, and to go to Disneyland, of course.

We planned to stay with Beth's aunt and uncle who lived in the area. Shanna arranged to have the bags of fluid and everything she would need to perform dialysis shipped to the house ahead of time. Everything went smoothly and we arrived as planned.

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We spent a day at Disneyland (rockin' the fanny packs!) and enjoyed spending time at the pool. We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, hanging out with Beth's cousins.

One night, our vacation took a turn for the worse. Shanna awoke in serious pain. She knew exactly what the problem was, having experienced it before. Peritonitis. We woke up Beth's uncle and informed him that he was about to take one of his guests to the hospital. And no, it couldn't wait until morning.

I went with Shanna. I remember sitting in one of the darkened E.R. patient rooms, waiting an eternity for someone to come and give her something for the pain as she writhed on the exam table. I tried to make the process happen quicker but no one was taking me seriously. They were too busy verifying that the pain was, indeed, what we claimed it to be. I never wanted to be treated like an adult more than at that moment.

I can't blame them; here we were, two teenagers on vacation, one with a tube implanted in her belly and a serious medical history, with no parents or familiar physicians around to authorize treatment. There may have been an authorization letter given to Beth's uncle for just this situation, but it didn't help much. I felt helpless — Shanna felt much worse.

Finally, the condition was confirmed, authorization was given, and Shanna was treated. I spent the rest of our vacation with her at the hospital, standing up to the nurse who wasn't being sanitary while caring for her, and trying to help decipher what the non-native speaking doctor was saying. We had hoped the trip would be eventful and memorable; it was!

Later that summer, I headed off to college and Shanna's health deteriorated even further. Eventually, her mother gave her a kidney and a transplant was performed. Then it became a battle with the prednisone and the emotional and physical toll of being a transplant patient. Prednisone is not fun, from what I've seen. This is what it does to a person:

(Please don't hate me for posting this picture, Shanna!)
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The following picture was taken on the one year anniversary of her kidney transplant. We had a kidney-shaped cake to celebrate.

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Looking back, I don't know how she dealt with this, knowing that a transplant was a part of her future — and then living it — at such a formative time of life. She handled it beautifully and was always one of my favorite people to be around. Her smile and optimism were contagious. I'm sure she must have vented about it, but that's not what I remember when I think back on our friendship.

Years later, you would never know that she had serious medical issues as a teenager.

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She has fought more than her share of uphill battles, has made a career of helping people, and continues to be one of the people I look up to the most, in spite of the falling out we had over her ugly purple jacket sorry — I've been corrected — sweater, and the fact that the boys always liked her more. ;)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chicken and Penne Skillet

The inspiration for this dish comes from a much-loved Pioneer Woman recipe, Penne a la Betsy. This is a family favorite and I make it all the time. It's a great skillet meal because it comes together quickly and feeds the whole family.

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Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts
1 16 oz package penne pasta
1 medium sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 cup spaghetti sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp fresh basil (approximately 5 leaves)
Salt and pepper to taste


Begin by placing a large pot of water on high heat and bring it to a boil, for the pasta. I've seen a lot of different methods for cooking pasta. Here's the method that I prefer, for al dente pasta that doesn't stick.

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Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt,

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and drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil in the water before it begins to boil.

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When it comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir a bit to separate. Set a timer immediately, according to package directions.

I prefer to err on the slightly undercooked side for this dish, since the noodles are added back in and cooked briefly at the end. This package says to cook for 11 - 12 minutes, so I set my timer for 11 minutes. I dump the noodles into a strainer right when it goes off. I finish them by returning them to the pot and stirring in 2 tablespoons of butter and lots of salt to taste.

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While the water boils and the pasta cooks, dice 1 sweet onion,

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mince 2 cloves of garlic,

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and chop 3 chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

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Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and stir, cooking until the onions translucent.

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Add in the chopped chicken and stir periodically.

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Cook until the chicken is done and completely not pink inside. Sprinkle generously with freshly-ground pepper.

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While the chicken cooks, chop 5 or 6 fresh basil leaves,

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yielding 1 heaping tablespoon.

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When the chicken is done add in 1/2 cup chicken broth or water, stirring, to de-glaze the pan. Add 1 cup of spaghetti sauce and 1 cup of heavy cream. Stir until heated through.

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Add in the penne pasta, and lastly, the fresh basil. Salt to taste and stir to combine.

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