The Snow Lounge is Open

DSC_0838Another 18 inches of snow, another day at home, and another day for snow creations and expansion of the terrain park. Yesterday the snow lounge opened, complete with couch, club chair and ottoman.  Lunch special was barbequed pork, fried onions, pepperjack cheese and banana pepper paninis (what else are you going to feed a bunch of teen-aged boys?).  I was happy to see that Jack was able to get a little reading in as well.  By the end of the day, two large igloos had been constructed, and the snowboard riding off the deck onto the rail was ongoing.

Ahhhh, not a bad life at all for these kids….

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Snow Day!

DSC_0840AM:  Any one up for a backyard barbecue?  Kids are home from school, my office is closed although my husband still managed to leave bright and early for work.  Kids are outside shoveling – probably 18-20 inches of new snow.  Apparently it’s snowing in 48 states today – even the high elevations of Hawaii.

PM:  And what did some teen boys do in their spare time today?  Built a ski ramp off my deck complete with rail at the bottom of the slope.  I wondered what David’s (my 16 year old) emergency trip to Home Depot was all about last night.  Rail construction obviously.  So that once peaceful table on my deck quickly turned into the launch pad.  And I upped my home owner’s insurance.

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Slow Cooker Friday

beef_stewA snowy morning on the East Coast begs for a warm simmering stew.  Earlier this week I set out to find a beef stew recipe that I could make in the slow cooker before work.  There is nothing better than a GOOD slow cooker recipe, but I do think they are hard to find.  I have a handful of slow cooker recipe books, and I feel that most of the recipes I have prepared have been just so so.

I decided to turn to the internet, and the first Beef Stew recipe that turned up had literally over 1,000 very positive (many times raving) comments, and it looked easy.  So I gave it a try.  It wasn’t too much effort to assemble before work this past Wednesday morning, and when I got home just before 7:00, the kitchen smelled wonderful, and I was able to eek out one serving of beef stew from the bottom of the pot.  Obviously, this dinner had been a success with my kids.

So I thought I would share it.  I have included modifications from one reader (which she took from a compilation of other readers), which I did follow for the most part.  However, I believe the reviewers overall conclusion was that following the beef stew recipe as originally written yielded very good results, and it’s a tad easier since you don’t go through the process of browning the meat first.

Anyhow, following is the recipe as is, followed by suggested modifications.  Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy.  Serving over egg noodles or with warm crusty bread is highly recommended!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 onion chopped

1.5 cups beef broth

3 potatoes, diced

4 carrots, sliced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1.  Place meat in slow cooker.  In a small bowl mix together the flour, salt, and pepper.  Pour over meat, and stir to coat meat with flour mixture.  Stir in the garlic, bay leaf, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, onion, beef broth, potatoes, carrots and celery.

2.  Cover, and cook on Low setting for 10-12 hours or on High setting for 4 to 6 hours.

THAT’S IT!  How simple is that?  Now for the modifications if you so choose:

Modifications:

1.  Increase flour to 1/3 cup and substitute seasoned salt for regular salt. Put flour mixture into gallon sized, zippered bag.  Shake beef in bag to coat.  Saute coated beef in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil until browned.  Add chopped onion to beef to saute and soften.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2.  Mix beef broth with 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 1/2 cup red wine.  Pour into hot skillet to deglaze, then pour over beef and onions in cooker.

3.  Add remaining ingredients with these additions:  Increase garlic to 2 cloves minced, 2 bay leaves; add 1 packet McCormick’s Beef Stew Seasoning (the Beef Stew Seasoning was the only thing I didn’t do, since I didn’t have it on hand.  It probably would have added nice flavor, but also a lot of salt).

Anyone who has a slow cooker recipe that you would like to share, it would be most welcome!  There’s nothing better than walking in the door at the end of the day knowing that dinner is already.

Enjoy the weekend!

Source:  allrecipes.com

One Woman’s Trash Is Another Woman’s …

clutterOur church had a White Elephant sale this past weekend. My daughter volunteered at the sale and ended up being the person who sold large paper bags for $5 to prospective shoppers. Armed with their paper bags, the bargain hunters were allowed  to fill the bags up to the brim with as much stuff as they wanted. Caitlin encouraged me to take advantage of the great deal and stock up.

No offense, fellow parishioners, but the LAST thing I want in my house is your old stuff. I have nothing against used items – witness the used cars, DVD’s, clothing, games, etc. in and around our house. However, there was absolutely nothing I needed (or even wanted) to buy on that Sunday morning.

In fact, I need less stuff, not more, in my life. That’s one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the blog of a friend of a friend. This wise woman decided to get rid of one item per day for an entire year (in 2006, to be exact). The interesting and entertaining account of her shedding 365 items can be found at A Year of Trash.

Back here in 2010, my “trashy thoughts” were reignited when Wise Women Laurie passed along a blurb from a personal organizer outlining ways to declutter. Below is the target list of things that can be tossed out, recycled, or given away.

I’ve highlighted in green the things I know should be exiled from my home. What’s in your home/office/car that just needs to GO?!?!?

Let go of:
All spice and most cooking supplies that are over a year old
T-shirts or ball caps that haven’t been worn in six months
Keys that you haven’t used for a year and don’t know what they unlock
Sheets, towels, and throw rugs with rips or stains or no longer fit current beds. (Hint: Your local animal shelter may be able to use them.)
Old or worn shoes that you do not wear
Half the books you have already read and half the books you have had for a year without reading
Jewelry and clothing that need to be mended
Any clothes you haven’t worn in a year or that do not fit
Kitchen utensils and serving pieces that you would be embarrassed to use if you were having the boss to dinner
Receipts, bills, and statements that are more than 16 months old
Your toothbrush after three months, and your bed pillows every year
Computer files and email
Old electronics like phones, computers, and monitors that can be recycled; anything electric that you don’t use.
Any magazine more than 2 months old; newspapers more than a week old
Any more than 2 plastic garden pots in each size, or no more than a shopping bag full of plastic grocery bags
All medicines and vitamins that are past their expiration dates, or that you have not taken for a month
Cosmetic and grooming products that are less than half full, or that you haven’t used in 2 months
While you are at it, weed out obligations; dump energy-sucking or stress-contagious friends and think seriously about banning that junk food. Once you get started, isn’t this simplification just so satisfying?

Laundry Paralysis

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Here are a few quaint rules familiar to most baby boomers:

#1 Wear clean underwear; you never know when you’ll be in an accident.

#2 Before swimming, wait at least an hour after you eat; otherwise you’ll cramp up and possibly drown.

#3 Never leave the house with a big appliance running (i.e., dishwasher, washing machine, dryer); if it malfunctions, your house can burn down or flood while you’re away.

Being a glass-half-full type of gal, I’ve blissfully ignored such convention. Who wants to go around anticipating a car accident, drowning or destruction of a house? Not I!

Now, after this week, I want to amend that third rule. Never mind leaving the house. Don’t leave the room when an appliance is running! This wisdom was learned, of course, the hard way.

Tuesday night, I hear a sound that reminds me of Niagara Falls wafting up from the bottom floor. I fly down the stairs to discover water literally gushing out of the washing machine. Quick thinker that I am, I pull the plug to stop the evil, possessed appliance. No matter. The geyser continues, and I feel the water from the floor beginning to drench my shoes and socks. I try to close the valves connected to the machine’s hoses to cut the flow of water. The valves don’t budge, much like a window that’s been painted shut. Finally, Wise Hubby runs down and shuts off the water to the whole house so we can stem the tide of destruction and give ourselves a moment to think.

The next 24 hours are devoted to dealing with the mess: ridding the laundry room of water, moving water-logged boxes and clothes outside so they don’t form mildew and stink up the joint, calls to and visit from the plumber, a frantic search for an appliance part, and literally hours on the Internet reading conflicting consumer reviews of new washing machines.

Despite this flurry of activity, I am no closer to having a working washing machine in our house. For someone who’s usually decisive, I’m stuck! Repair the 20-year old machine or buy a new model? If the latter, how do I decide when I can’t find a brand/model that receives consistently good reviews?

Clothes are still draped in my yard, and a new dirty clothes pile has started in the now-dry laundry room. Tick, tock. I need to make a decision NOW!

Wrestling with Neighborhood Etiquette – Once Again!

swing-setSally’s baaaaaack!

You remember “Sally”? Sally and her husband “Bob” are the neighbors with the massive, aging tree that threatened to demolish our house with the next strong wind … until they removed it this fall after some neighborly back-and-forth.

Two weeks ago, I received this email from Sally:

Are you at all interested in selling your swing set?  We would love to take it off your hands and move it to our house.
If not no worries.  Just let me know.
Thanks ~ Sally
Background information: Our swing set is similar to the one pictured above. Sally’s kids wander over to our yard every now and then and play on said swing set, which we have invited. As our kids are older, the only other times the swing set is used is when our young nieces and nephews come over, which is just a few times a year. I also know that Sally previously approached another neighbor about selling their swing set a year or so ago and was rebuffed. Reportedly, Sally was not gracious in her reaction.
Knowing this was a family decision and we couldn’t get back to her right away, I sent a quick response:
Let me talk to Mike. We head out this morning for a road trip to look at colleges with Caitlin, so I’ll get back to you right after Easter. Enjoy spring break! ~ Elaine

To which she replied:

heart in stomach! Colleges? my did it go that fast? I keep thinking she is at XYZ Elementary School ; )

Ahhh, isn’t that nice … a little neighborly bonding over email. A few days after returning from our trip, I got back to Sally:

Sally ~ We did a family pow wow and every one’s on board with your moving the swing set to your yard. A couple of caveats/disclaimers …

(1) The swing set is due to be resanded and sealed. The wood’s getting a little brittle and splintery.
(2) There’s a wood panel missing from the rope ladder section.
(3) We had Creative Playthings (where we bought it) install it back in 2001. I’m not sure how you would move it over, but it is staked pretty deep into the ground to keep it stable. Something to consider in both your removing it and reinstalling it in your yard.
(4) Moving the swing set will probably leave holes in our yard. We’d just like you (or whoever moves it) to fill them in so the ground is flat and stable. We’ll throw grass seed on afterward.

If all of the above and the swing set’s “as is” condition is OK with you, have at it!  $100 sound fair? And, if you don’t want it after all, no worries.

College trip was fun and informative although it does feel like my kids should still be in elementary school! ~ Elaine

This last email was sent on Wednesday. On Friday we hear banging in the yard next door. A quick peek through the trees (No, that was not me craning my neck for a better look) revealed that Sally and Bob have gone out and bought their own swing set and are having someone assemble it.

Which is exactly what we would have done, if we were in their shoes!! The only sticky part is that Sally never got back to me to say “never mind.”  Now the exchange feels awkward and unfinished.

Is my reaction rooted in lingering bad karma from the tree incident? What’s your reaction? And, what (if anything) should be done to close the communication loop?

Losing Yourself Along The Intuitive Way

Elaine-houseThat rumbling in your mid-section? Is it intuition talking or heartburn from the chocolate cake you ate late last night? Sometimes it’s hard to know.

I still remember the surge of intuition I experienced nine years ago when we were house hunting. We saw a For Sale sign in front of an ugly duckling brick rambler in a great part of town.  I excitedly called our Realtor so he could get us an appointment to view the house the following day. Later that night, I had a vivid dream of hosting my daughter’s bridal shower (she was 8 at the time) on the spacious, green lawn of the ugly duckling house.

So, imagine my crushing disappointment when the next day our Realtor called and advised us the house was suddenly off the market. What?!?!? I had plans for that house! Big plans. The Realtor speculated that the owner canceled the listing and decided to stay put as the house had been on the market for a while. (You thought I was joking about the ugly duckling moniker. No, really! The unkempt house had a jungle of overgrown bushes in front of it and little curb appeal.)

The following Saturday morning I woke up early to scour the real estate listings. My heart skipped a beat when I saw “my” house listed for sale – no longer through a real estate company, but For Sale By Owner. I rushed upstairs to wake up Wise Hubby with the news. We saw the house later that day, and I was smitten. Wise Hubby was less enamored and accused me of “stalking” the house. However, intuition carried the day, and the ugly duckling house has been our home for almost a decade.

I had a similar ah-ha moment when I recently looked at office space for my new venture. Comfy, spacious and light-filled space in a charming office complex on a quiet, tree-filled street. This was the office I was meant to be in! Never mind it required more of a leasing commitment than I was looking to give. Never mind I had been looking for space for less than a week and seen just a few properties to compare it to. My intuition was speaking, and I had no choice but to listen.

As I told Wise Hubby about the beautiful space and the powerful intuitive hit, he asked, “You mean the same intuition that told you Caitlin would end up at College of Charleston?” (An urban campus she hated when we toured it recently.)

WHOOSH. (That’s the sound of the wind being knocked out of my sails.)

Hmmm … come to think of it, my intuition has not been 100% reliable.

So, Wise Women, do you have any intuition stories to tell? (I remember Anne shared how she once ignored her intuition about a tree, only to have it land on top of her house.) Any tricks on how to discern if it’s intuition speaking or the chocolate cake?

Gadgets, Apps and Fridges – Oh My!

fridge-peekWhen it comes to food storage, I’m a tosser. I’m vigilant about ferreting out food items that are past their prime, and I only save leftovers that are likely to be eaten. Thus, the space-hogging cups of blue jello that Caitlin made last week that remain untouched in our fridge – GONE in my clean sweep from last night!

I believe this is an inherited trait from my maternal side. As I think back to forays inside my mother’s fridge and my mother’s mother’s fridge, I recall easy navigation among the relatively few, but always good, foodstuffs.

In Peek Inside Elaine’s Fridge, a post from nearly two years ago (!), I chronicled the contents of my fridge and noted some differences between tossers and keepers (those folks who have overflowing refrigerators and throw out items only duress).

I was reminded of these musings when I recently read about a new gadget that could help with my vigilance: a digital day counter that attaches to food and monitors the number of days it resides in the recesses of your refrigerator or freezers.

My inner tosser is delighted!

At $4 a timer, I won’t go crazy, but I am ordering a few of these today. Other uses for the gadget? On plants (“Hmmm, when did I last water that  plant?”), furnace filters, bottles of wine, Toby’s heart worm pill, just to name a few.

The icing on the cake (still fresh, of course)? The DaysAgo counter was “born” when two Wise Women had a Eureka moment. The new moms were taking a break from their brainstorming session about business ventures to feed their babies and couldn’t remember which of the many jars of opened baby foods were still OK to use. Talk about necessity being the mother of invention (and good timing!)

Don’t you just love new gadgets? It reminds me of the excitement generated when there’s a cool, new app for a phone or handheld device. Of course, I don’t know how to use most apps, so I’ll just be enthused about the brilliantly simple DaysAgo counter.

What gadgets do other Wise Women use?

Cleaning For The Cleaning Lady

bucket-and-spongeLast night, I engaged in my bi-weekly ritual of motoring through the house and announcing in a purposeful voice, “Carmen’s coming tomorrow.” Everyone in the household understands that this is their cue to clean their rooms before they go to bed (i.e., remove all items from the floor, shove into any available closet or drawer space, and close the door/drawer tight.)

After 20 years of having a cleaning lady, I have made peace with the paradoxical yet timeless tradition of “cleaning for the cleaning lady;” my family members, not so much. Although, to their credit, while they may still grumble, they no longer require my nagging to cooperate, nor do they continue to demand an explanation of why exactly they must do the job that the cleaning lady is hired to do the very next day.

I am absolutely clear that our family has an unequivocal NEED to employ outside assistance to keep the house clean. During budget belt-tightening times, this expense has been and will be among the last to go. I learned that it’s a lot cheaper to pay a house cleaner a couple hundred bucks each month than to write weekly checks to a marriage (or family) therapist. Plus, not only is there family peace, I get the pleasure of walking into a completely clean house (it even smells clean!) on a somewhat regular basis – it never fails to thrill me.

For the last four years, 65-year old Carmen has been our cleaning lady. When she arrives every other Tuesday morning, we catch up on each other’s lives during 15-minute chats. I hear about her son’s adopting a child … her enthusiastic attendance at her grand kids’ soccer games … her menu for Christmas dinner. She gives me advice on allowing teen-aged children freedom (but not too much) and asks about the health of various family members.

My only complaint about this arrangement – which isn’t even fair – is that I feel guilty when I have to dash out the door before Carmen arrives. It feels rude to forgo my chat with this woman who clearly enjoys the limited social contact she gets at her job. It seems wrong to not indulge in chit-chat with the woman whom I’m expecting to clean the scum out of the sink and notice the cobwebs around my lights.

Anyone else feel occasionally trapped by a chatty housekeeper? Other stories (good or bad) about those women and men who help keep us Wise Women sane and our houses clean?

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part III

tulip-poplar-tree2Here’s the latest (and for now final) update on the back-and-forth with my neighbor about the humongous tree on their property that is at-risk of falling on our house.

After a Saturday morning walk with a wise friend who gave me good advice and a shot in the arm of courage, I call over to my neighbor’s house and “Bob” answers.

Elaine (as friendly-sounding as possible): Bob? Hi! This is Elaine, your neighbor.

Bob (in an unenthused monotone): Hello.

Elaine: Bob, are you and “Sally” free tomorrow morning around 11? I was wondering if you could come over for coffee so we can talk about the tree.

Bob: Are we around tomorrow morning around 11 am? (I hesitate because I don’t know why he’s repeating back my question. Then I realize he’s repeating it so his wife Sally – who must be close by – can hear the question and indicate her response to him.)

Bob: Yes, we’re around tomorrow morning.

Pause. I wonder was that an acceptance of the invitation for coffee or not. Clearly, I’m going to have to work harder to nail this down.

Elaine: So, does that mean you and Sally can come over for coffee at 11 am?

Bob: Can we go over for coffee? (Now, I’m on to the fact that Bob does not have a disorder that causes him to repeat things; he just needs Sally’s sign-off.)

Pause. I remain quiet. Pause continues. Finally …

Bob: Yes, we can come over.

Elaine: Great! (said with great animation and none of the frustration/anger I feel at this point.) See you tomorrow!

I go find my husband who’s watching some movie on cable for the zillionth time. I ask him to mute the TV and then, once there is silence, start crying. I sniffle and snort about the neighbors’ lack of responsiveness and apparent unwillingness to deal with this tree issue. “Clearly, our neighbors are a**holes who don’t care that their damn tree is going to kill my kids.” I conclude it’s a lost cause even before we have the conversation.

Coffee with the Neighbors

It’s 11:01 am on Sunday morning and Sally and Bob knock on the front door. (I had already figured out that I would give them until 11:30 before calling to remind them about coffee. I also worked up Plans C, D, and E for other non-cooperative behavior they might display.)

I pour coffee and bring out a plate of bagels. We start chatting about our respective lawns. After five minutes of small talk, Sally brings up the tree.

And … we end up having the nicest, most civilized neighborly conversation. Turns out that tree is one of Sally’s favorites, and she hopes there might be options for saving it. She wants to call another arborist for a second opinion. Bob wonders whether, if the tree must be removed, others could remove it for less than the quoted price of $4,000. All good questions to explore, I think. Then, Sally says the magic words that melt my resentment away: “Of course, safety is paramount. I couldn’t live with myself if that tree fell on to your kids’ bedrooms.”

Lessons Learned

I learned that Bob always speaks in a monotone, even when talking about his favorite football team. He’s just that type of guy.

I learned (or, was reminded) that 99% of life’s drama results NOT from actual conversations, but from the imagined conversations I have in my head.

I learned that, if something’s important to me, I have to chill out when others do not share that priority and just accept that it’s up to me to take steps to make something happen.

I learned that it’s not good fences, but good communication that makes good neighbors.

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.
Samuel Johnson

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