Thursday, December 26, 2013

Life Lessons Month of December: Blog 4- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Hi Ellie,

Oh how I love this time of year!

Life Lessoned Learned #43: Continue holiday traditions.

You had so much fun with Griz, our Elf on the Shelf this past month.  We have now had Griz in our life for 4 Christmas seasons. 

This year, he was very creative!  He hid in the cup holder of your car seat, in the freezer with your pancakes, in Will’s swing looking at your photo album, and so many more places.  When he was sitting on your desk in your playroom, I later found out that you had garnished him with glasses and a cell phone (swearing that you never actually touched him in the process).  

You know that Griz’s magic wears off if he is touched, which is why you were in a tizzy when we had some friends and their children over.  Their one year old daughter saw Griz hiding in your advent calendar and grabbed him (after all, he is very friendly looking).  But I reassured you that Santa understands that some children aren’t old enough to understand the elf rules so that doesn’t count. 

On day one, you found Griz on the couch with his Elf on the Shelf book and your own Elf on the Shelf mug with a hot chocolate packet.  You desperately wanted Will to meet Griz but remembering the rule of no touching, you came up with a unique idea: your Dad’s grilling tongs!  So instead of bringing Will to Griz, you brought Griz to Will!  You are always so sweet to your brother! 

Griz has even left you a few personally written letters on sticky notes.  One when he was upside down on the light above the kitchen sink, he wrote that you did a fabulous job dancing in the Nutcracker (which was true, you were amazing in those 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  My favorite part was when your class came out in a very small box… it was kind of like a clown car as they kept pulling each one of you out)!  

Another note was on your bed next to an outfit that Griz must have pulled from your closet.  He asked you specifically to wear that holiday get-up for your Dad’s Christmas party, which was a good idea because you probably would have chosen your very worn and beloved fleece-on-fleece outfit.  Despite saying it was a little itchy and a little tight, you wore the new reindeer outfit for Santa and Griz (and you looked adorable!!!).  

Griz is getting manipulative!  And on one of the days, Griz even left you a note saying that Santa gave his approval for you to play with him for that day only (he must have known that I had a lot of wrapping to do and didn’t have much time to play with you that morning).  This was like Christmas for you.  You smothered Griz (and told him repeatedly, “I love you!”) and you kept each other busy for hours.

For the past two weeks, you have found it amazing that somehow Griz has ended up on my nightstand every evening.  I wonder if that’s because Griz knew I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night on the same day that we found Griz in the car (and left him there).  I bet Griz thought I would be worried that he wouldn’t be able to find a new place to hide in the house and that you would be sad if he were still in the cupholder of your carseat the next day.  Good thing he always reassures me by reminding me at bedtime!  

Christmas this year was filled with so much magic Ellie.  You are at the perfect age because you have such wonderment and excitement.  And to have Will here with us too made it perfect.

We will for sure see Griz next December!

Love you Ellie Bean and Merry Christmas my sweet girl!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life Lessons Month of December: Blog 3- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Hi Ellie!

Well, after reading your Mom’s blog last week, it seemed only apropos to piggyback off it with a few recipe blunders of my own!  Like mother; like daughter… you will see that the apple did not fall far from the tree in our yard!  I think that is good news for you El as ‘perfection’ in our two kitchens is not even on the grid!  So for my blog this week let’s go with:

Life Lesson Learned #42:  After 50 years, practice still doesn’t make perfect!

I will be the first to honestly admit that I am not chef material in any category El.  My recipe blunders come freely in the comfort of my very own kitchen!  You might be surprised by this admission, but if you have ever seen the cupboard above my stove you would think I was a Julia Child wanna-be!  Up till recently I have had it stocked with thousands of magazine recipes such as main entrees, soups, side dishes, salads and of course desserts all of which I have had every intention of someday creating.  You see El, I read recipes like romance novels… their words are a seduction to my palette.  And each time I find one that I fall in love with, well…. I carefully cut it out and store it in a place that is easily accessible to retrieve for all the times I plan on pretending to be a kitchen guru.  Well, Julia Child’s I am not, and those so called ‘times’ I thought would come never have as of this date.  In fact, not one of those numerous recipes have ever seen a mixing bowl, a baking dish, my stove or refrigerator, not even my kitchen counters and I can say with 99.99 percent accuracy that they probably never will!  And I am sure you are now thinking, “So why collect them?”  And the answer to that Ellie is, “I don’t have the slightest idea!” I would like to believe that with all the recipe reading I do, my kitchen skills would improve over time.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I am an eternal optimist!
Until then, the best I can do at the moment is add to your Mommy’s list of a few cooking tips that I have learned of what not to do in the kitchen:

1.)   Don’t try to double your great-grandfather Bud’s fudge recipe.  That’s what I did Ellie, and the reason I did it was to cut down on time (my first mistake)… and it backfired on me big time.  I had two big pots going full boil on the stove, one hand stirring the right pot clockwise and the other hand stirring the left pot counter-clockwise.  My arms got tired quickly so I upped the heat (my second mistake)… Don’t do that.  Make sure to use the candy thermometer properly (my third mistake).  Don’t round up.  And after pouring the fudge into a pan and refrigerating it for the proper time frame… don’t be so surprised when you take it out and it’s still ‘soup’ consistency.  My fifth mistake came when I asked your Great-Gram Bubbles what I should do.  Her answer was to pour the fudge into a jar, refrigerate it, and use as an ice-cream topping.   Sounds like a perfectly great idea right?  Wrong!  When we tried serving it this way, the ice-cream tasted as though it had a gritty sandpaper burnt chocolate taste drizzled all over the top of it.  At that moment, four pounds of fudge went right into the trash.

2.)   When making a turkey for dinner, check the bird’s cavity to see if there are little paper bags filled with the bird’s organs and remove them before placing the turkey in the oven.  All I will say is … Ooooops, your turkey may have a livery taste to it… not horrible, but not yummy delicious either!

3.)   If a recipe calls for 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, don’t add a ‘0’ to the end of either number just because the original recipe doesn’t look like it called for enough of them.  Apparently garlic does not have to be seen in a dish to give off a wonderful presentation (who knew???).  After serving your Poppy spaghetti and clams with 40 cloves… well, let’s just say it creates a 2 day upset stomach.  Knowing that I felt kind of bad for his illness, your Poppy found a perk to eating this revised dish.  He commented afterwards that if there were such a thing as vampires, he would be exempt from their bite in at least a 40-mile radius.  Leave it to Poppy to find words of kindness! 

4.)   When making Cajun fish, don’t ‘Cajun it to death.’  Your Poppy said I lit his butt on fire.

5.)   And lastly, when cooking, don’t train your family that the smoke alarm is the ‘call bell’ for “Dinner is Ready!”

So I guess the lesson I have learned Ellie is that mastering a recipe is definitely possible, but be ready for another mouth-watering challenge to take its place.  Remember, “Practice doesn’t always make perfect.”  It’s more like, “Practice paves the way to evolving.”  Like your Mommy said, “Kitchens are a great place for friends and family to congregate.  After all, food brings people together.”  So “blunder” away my little Ellie Crocker… and do it with love.  If you cook, people will come.

Love you bunches Ellie-bean,

Friday, December 13, 2013

Life Lessons Month of December: Blog 2- Letters from Mom & Mimi

Hi My Sweet Girl,

I find this lesson to be particularly important during the holiday season.

Life Lessoned Learned #41:  Food brings people together.

Food preparation is not as easy as it may seem but it’s worth the effort.  Good food encourages company to stay and come back again.  It makes your house warm and smell delicious.  Don’t be afraid to try new things and practice.  However, I can save you some time with five tips I learned first-hand.     

1.     Don’t substitute summer sausage for regular sausage.  I don’t like to cook meat (nor eat much of it) so I didn’t realize that they have completely different tastes and can change the flavor of a dish in a not-so-yummy way.

2.     Be careful when you try to make a butterfly out of waffles and bananas.  You and I were making this scrumptious and beautiful creation when your Dad pointed out with quite the smirk that ours didn’t look like a butterfly.  You didn’t notice and gobbled it up!

3.     Just because you like an ingredient doesn’t mean you should put more than what the recipe asks for.  Your Dad calls my meatloaf an onion loaf (I used 3x the amount of onion).  And for a chicken bake I tried recently, I added extra cans of fire roasted tomatoes, which just made the whole casserole soggy.

4.     Definitely tear the minute rice bag to vent.  There was a terribly loud popping noise before rice exploded all over the microwave.

5.     Make sure you add water to the Kraft microwave mac n’ cheese.  The smell of burnt noodles and plastic along with some smoke stayed a few hours that afternoon.  Unfortunately, it was during a play date with some of your friends.  I can only imagine what the other mom must have thought!

6.     Have the local pizza delivery restaurant on speed dial.

Based on what I just wrote, it’s obvious that I don’t like to cook (your Aunt Samantha and Mimi should be your guides in that area).   However, I do love to bake.  And I’m sharing my passion for that with you.  You help me make all kinds of truffles (the latest being nutella flavored), chocolate covered pretzels, many varieties of cookies, and a range of different muffin types.

Kitchens are natural places for people to congregate.  Don’t ever feel like you need to spend a lot of money either.  Recipes that are made with love are the best.  Put dishes out when people come to visit.  Oh and offer hot tea, and when you are old enough, make sure you always have a bottle of wine on hand.  When bellies are full, people are happy. 

I love you my little chef!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Life Lessons Month of December: Blog 1- Letters from Mom & Mimi

 Hi Ellie!

The other day I went rooting through every room of this house in search of your 0 to 12 month age appropriate toys.  Poppy and I wanted to bring them out for Will to play with when he is ready.  But for the life of me, I was having a difficult time finding their hiding place.  At one point I ended up in the small storage room in back of the garage.  It was there that I found two very old large brown barrels that we had brought to State College from Philadelphia 25 years ago.  Curious as to what was in them, I immediately forgot what I had originally set out in search for and instead got a screwdriver and pried the lids off of the barrels.  To my surprise one of them was loaded with oodles of your Poppy’s old baseball shirts, a hanging tiffany lamp, a few toddler holiday outfits that belonged to your Mommy and Uncle Ryan, and an ankle length coat.  (Whatever was I thinking when I packed that barrel?)  Anyway believe it or not it was the ankle length coat that caught my attention!  Ellie, it was plum purple, filled with lots of goose feathers and enough seams to make me look like the Michelin Tire Man!   As I stood there in awe (and a bit stinky because those ‘stuffed quackers’ had been sitting idle for over 2 dozen years), it was at that moment that I knew what my blog was going to be about!  Ready?

Life Lessoned Learned #40:  There is something wonderful to say about nostalgia.

El, first let me explain the meaning of nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  With that being said, ‘nostalgia’ was all around me this past week.  The ‘coat’ was just the beginning.  As I held my breath in 30-second increments (remember I said the coat smelled), I couldn’t help but go in search of a mirror.  And upon finding one, it wasn’t the Fruit of the Loom Grape man that kind-of stared back at me (that came later), but rather an image from 30 years ago when your Aunt Phyllis and I would spend an early December day at a huge and extremely fun outdoor flea-market called Englishtown.  I wore that purple coat to keep warm as we trudged up and down aisle after aisle in chilly weather looking for great bargains in what would become Christmas gifts for family and friends.  Now I know I only had that coat on for a few minutes, but it seemed a lot longer as I reminisced.  And for whatever reason, unbeknownst to even me, I took that coat to the dry-cleaner in hopes of it becoming clean and fresh.  Will I eventually wear it?  You’ll know the answer to that question if a picture of it shows up in a future blog!  Anyway, on to more nostalgia.  On Friday as I decorated our Christmas tree I came across a few special handmade ornaments given to me by your Mommy and Uncle Ryan.  The first one I picked up was a royal blue tin heart with x’s and o’s etched into it along with To Mom From Ryan.  I believe he was in second grade when he created that one-of-a-kind masterpiece that this very Mom fell in love with.  The next original creation came from your Mommy.  It was a 4 inch baked plaster candy-cane painted red and white with a K. R. on its backside.  In another bin I found 2 small plastic Christmas trees obviously colored by small hands with crayons.  On the front of each tree were a picture of your mom at age 7 ½ and your Uncle Ryan at age 5.  As I stared at those precious photos, they took me back to the days when Wheeler Street was our life.  It was a wonderful time Ellie where everyone watched out for each other.  It was a street like no other… always filled with excitement, stories and laughter.  Ahhhhh… those were the days.  There was another nostalgic moment on Wednesday Thanksgiving Eve.  You helped your Mommy make your Great-Grandmom Bubbles’ stuffing recipe that she had been making for the past 60 years.  You know El, every time I bite into a spoonful of that delicious dressing; it brings back happy memories of so many Thanksgivings gone by.   

Oooooo… I just remembered another nostalgic moment.  On Saturday morning Poppy asked me if I would like to go to the State Theater, and of course I said yes.  He wanted to take you, but you had a prior commitment with your family.  The theater was showing an hour of Looney Toon cartoons for free.  We watched Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and the Roadrunner all of which I think were made in the 1940’s.  Ellie they were hilarious and corny.  I think I most enjoyed the Roadrunner because that was my Dad’s favorite cartoon.  It brought back memories from when I was a child.  Faithfully every Saturday morning when we awoke, my dad would be watching the TV in his recliner and laughing as the scheming coyote with his bag of Acme equipment could never catch nor outsmart the crafty roadrunner!   Remembering my dad during a nostalgic moment sometimes brings tears El.  And yes, they are tears with a bit of sadness because I would love to still have him here.  You see my dad was a gentle soul and when he laughed even his eyes smiled.  But those tears are also tears of gratefulness for at least I have some wonderful memories of him.  You know Ellie, if I really took the time; I think I could walk from room to room in this house and pick up something nostalgic in each one.  I know there are oodles of nostalgia in the photo albums downstairs, and I’m sure I can find some utensils in the kitchen drawers that hold a family memory too.  And a guaranteed place to find something nostalgic would certainly be the closet.   But what you need to remember is this; it is not so much the item itself that is important; it is what memory the item brings with it.  And it is because of those memories, the ones with great sentimental value, that make us want to create new ones for those we love (maybe yours and possibly Will’s nostalgic moments Ellie will come many years from now when you pick up an old faded Disguised Turkey from a new tradition that we started at your home this very Thanksgiving!).

So Ellie, I guess the lesson I have learned this week is that we all need nostalgia in our lives.    And when a nostalgic moment comes upon us, we should give thanks for those memories past and take great care in shaping future memories for those who come after us.

I love you Merry-little-one!