Am I a Bird Brain, or what?

canaryIf I had to associate myself with any one type of animal, I would say I’m a dog person, even though it has been many many moons since I’ve owned a dog (I’m constantly grappling with the logistics, but one day my time will come).  So rather than a dog, somehow we have adopted several feathered friends over the past year and a half, including 8 chickens (down from a high of 15) and one canary.

Somehow, we’ve had a problem with sexing.  Out of our initial “flock” of 10 baby chicks, all supposed to be hens or girl chickens, we were surprised to wake up one morning to the crowing of a rooster.  Likewise, our canary was supposed to be a boy. Boys are the ones that really sing and trill, and while I convinced myself that the chirps and peeps of our canary “Peep” were in fact songs, I now realize that they were in fact just peeps.

How do I know this?  Well, one simple word – an egg.  But let me take you back in time. Our canary, for quite sometime, has been exhibiting signs of what I labeled depression.  She has been feather picking, and looks quite ragged at the moment.  So what better idea than to put a mirror in her Christmas stocking (no, the stocking was not my idea).  That mirror went into the cage, and immediately Peep took to it. He (She) had a friend!  He (She) would sit in front of it and talk and chirp and peep. He (She) must have been so excited by this, that those sexual feelings blossomed, and an egg was laid.

Because of Peep’s ragged appearance, I finally decided that it was time to find a vet that could literally take a peep and let me know if Peep was in fact suffering from depression or some skin disease.  I was having the rational argument in my mind of whether or not it was worthwhile to take a bird to a vet.  I know I would take a dog to the vet if something was wrong, so I ultimately decided to go for it, despite my guess of a $200 bill.   Consequently the few days leading up to the appointment, Peep seemed to take on a whole new level of lethargy, pretty much nesting in her food bowl most of the time.  Maybe just a nesting instinct?  I wasn’t sure.

Enter Dr. Laurie Hess, a Yale educated veternarian specializing in birds and exotic pets.  Only the best for this little yellow bird.  After hanging in the office for over 2 hours, I had to leave Peep behind to go pick up kids and get them to their activities.  I returned at the end of the day with Jack and Sam.  We were greeted by a man leaving an exam room with a wallaby in his arms.  Turns out that Peep has a reproductive blockage, and after a series of x-rays, calcium shots, Vitamin D shots, and a shot to shut down hormones and hopefully cut off egg laying, I left with a very haggard bird in my possession, and a $1005 hole burning in my pocket.  Apparently due to the stress of x-rays and shots during the day, they thought at one point Peep had died, as she laid keeled over on her side. An oxygen machine revived her.  I couldn’t help thinking about whether or not I would still owe them if Peep had died.

The reaction from the four kids was at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The oldest two, when they found out how much I had spent, suggested that maybe we should have just let Peep fly away.  Sam, driving home from the vet’s office, said:  ”I’m so glad Peep didn’t you know what.”  (Apparently the “D” word is similar to that of Voldemort – that which cannot be named).  Jack called my husband and I three times that evening during a dinner out, expressing his concern over Peep.

Dr. Hess graciously called the next day to check on Peep, and of course wants to see her in a week.  I can’t help thinking that I’m getting more attention from this doctor than my own internist and pediatricians.  Of course I never paid those doctors that much money either.

I did find out along the way that Peep was probably malnourished.  The Pet Store’s recommended feeding regimen was far from adequate – and she was lacking important nutrients and vitamins.  So now I catch her twice a day to feed her calcium through a dropper, I’ve clipped broccoli florets on the side of her cage (which she does love), and I even made little mini bird muffins.

And there in lies the story of the impromptu impulse purchase at the pet store. Although I do admit, when feeling well, this little bird loves to chatter and keep you company.

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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Get on Board the Meal Train

mealTrainBadge275275Lately I feel a day doesn’t go by when I’m not amazed by technology.  Probably a lot of this is driven by the fact that I just came into the modern cell phone era, and treated myself to an iPhone.   The ease of texting with my kids to facilitate their daily schedules has opened up a whole new world to me.   Texting on my old cell phone was just short of torture.

The latest very smart  website I just became aware of can be explored at mealtrain.com.  I’m sure many of us have brought dinner over to a friend or a neighbor in the past due to illness, a new baby, or a death in the family.  I’m sure many of us have organized neighborhood meal offerings as well – coordinating times, days and types of food being delivered.  Well, enter mealtrain.com – a website that makes this undertaking so amazingly easy for everyone.

Once registered on mealtrain.com, the recipient of the meals can specify any special needs, time/schedule requirements, and of course likes and dislikes.  The link is then sent out to a chain of friends and/or neighbors, who can then sign up for a specified date, and write in the menu that will be delivered.  You can see the schedule of meal deliveries, as well as the types of meals being prepared, so as not to duplicate.  You then will receive an email reminder before you are scheduled to deliver your meal.

Having been on the “manual” end of orchestrating a “meal train” – I think this concept is brilliant.  I just signed up to deliver a meal to a neighbor, and it was completely user friendly and hassle free.

This is the type of news I like to share – ways to make what we like to undertake as simple and straight forward as possible!

What’s in Your Christmas Stocking?

DSC_0834Before Christmas becomes a distant memory, at the prompting of my friend Stacy, I thought I would share with you just what Santa brought me in my Christmas stocking just a few short weeks ago.  My living room is still “littered” with the remnants of six stockings, well seven, including the stocking for our canary which six year old Sam insisted we hang by the fireplace.  One day these kids will understand the parental chaos they create when they pull out one more stocking for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve.

This year, Santa brought me a few of my favorite things.  To start, I pulled a mini bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and Maker’s Mark out of my stocking.  That was followed by a mini ice cube tray and then loads of peppermint patties and altoids.  I guess Santa thinks if I’m going to take a nip, I better wash it down with breath freshening mints.

This made me think of what Santa left in my stocking as a child.  Not your standard fare of candy, although I did receive my fair share of that as well.  Every year, Santa dropped a can of smoked oysters and a wheel of Camembert into my stocking (“Santa left you a can of beer” Sam exclaimed with surprise as I told him this story). I cherished both of those items, and would save them for a special occasion.  How did Santa ever figure out that I might even like those delicacies, I still wonder today. Another Christmas tradition was started by my next door neighbor, who would give both my sister and I a large jar (half gallon sized) of Penrose spicy sausage.  I have not seen them since, which is probably a good thing, as independently demolishing a whole jar of these sausages on an annual basis is sure to decrease life expectancy. They were essentially a bunch of full sized hot dogs pickled in a jar. I would keep them in my closet, and when my parents sat down for their nightly cocktails, I would grab a paper towel, go into my closet and pull out one of those sausages, and then sit on the couch next to my mom and eat it.  If you don’t think that’s weird enough, I also loved anchovies.  While anchovies weren’t connected to Christmas, it was a late night snack that my mother and I would sometimes have – a saltine cracker, a bit of butter, and a nice fat anchovy on top. She learned to eat anchovies when she journeyed from Norfolk, VA to Europe on an Italian Coal Freighter to visit my Dad who was in the Navy on a Med Cruise.  She was the only woman on board this ship, and dined with the Captain every night. Reportedly she could speak Italian AND loved anchovies by the time Europe was on the horizon.

The other funny food that I loved as a child was blue cheese.  When visiting my grandmother in Syracuse, we would go to the Valle Steak House, where I always ordered a salad with blue cheese dressing AND extra blue cheese.  This salad arrived with about an extra 2 inches of blue cheese on top, and I relished every bite. (While my eyes popped open wide in anticipation of eating that salad back then, my stomach turns over when I picture this sight today – albeit I’m still a blue cheese fan). I can’t imagine my kids eating any of these aforementioned items (except the spicy sausage probably would be a hit).  And to close out, I was also a caviar fan.

Now tell me, what 8 or 10 year old kid loves anchovies, caviar, blue cheese, Camembert, smoked oysters and spicy sausage?  Well, other than my sister, we might be hard pressed to identify another.  I still am personally amazed that my taste buds were so willing at that age.  Of course I did sit at the dining table for two hours one evening stubbornly refusing to eat the asparagus.

So what about you?  Any surprises in your Christmas stocking?  Any unusual food fetishes as a child?

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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Ted Williams – My Superstar

Today’s Blog brought to you by Guest Blogger WW Ann….

Homeless-Man-With-Golden-Voice-Ted-Williams-ICEDOTCOM1When it comes to baseball I am now a Mets fan. In the distant past I was an avid Brooklyn Dodger loyalist.  Friends and family, especially those in New Hampshire, are raving Red Sox followers.  Some of the older ones still talk about Ted Williams – a success at baseball but, in my opinion, pretty much of a failure where it counts the most on my scorecard—off the field.

But in the last week major television networks have featured interviews with another Ted Williams who when perhaps dreaming to figuratively get a base hit has been talented and fortunate enough to hit a bases loaded grand slam. Unless you’ve been put into a hibernating state for the duration of winter (not at all a bad idea, you’d save on electricity and calories) you have most likely seen Mr. Williams and/or caught Facebook’s enthusiastic entries about him.

My Ted Wiliams has been living in Columbus Ohio for a number of years, most of his recent ones, homeless.  I won’t repeat all of the now well known details but I am curious if you became as enthralled in his saga as I did.  I really hope that his achievable happy ending will endure, as well as his “clean” record of no drugs, no drinking.  What endeared this Ted Williams to me was his honesty, his lack of pretension, his confidence and his sincerity.  His excitement at meeting Matt Lauer was childlike (click here to see Ted with Matt).  Maybe it’s that childlike joy that makes his story so appealing as well as his simple wish for one good job and home.

Our country has been characterized as one that likes the underdog and cheers for those who make a comeback.   Maybe our hopes and prayers would better be directed toward those everyday heroes who, unlike Ted Williams, will not become household names.

I believe we would all do better to congratulate those who struggle to make difficult comebacks rather than expend energy or even curiosity about a Lindsay Lohan or Mel Gibson, the former being a sad unstable young woman and the latter a hate-ridden star who managed to fatally tarnish his own reputation just by being himself.

So without further discussion of the baseball Ted Williams’ foibles, let’s rejoice in a true “feel good” story of Ted Williams of Columbus, possessor of a golden voice with golden opportunities ahead.

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

Brett Favre and The Art of a Graceful Exit

retiring-the-cleatsVikings Quarterback Brett Favre is the poster child of how NOT to make a graceful exit.

In the past few years, the 41-year old football player created an unbearable media circus by announcing his retirement at the end of two different seasons, only to change his mind and come back both times. After a phenomenal 2009 season, Favre’s 2010 has been a downward spiral marred by inconsistent play, bruising injuries, missed games, and, to top it all off, public humiliation from sexting allegations. The consensus is that Favre will finally don his ”retirement watch” at the end of this season.

Brett, Brett, Brett … I bet you wish you could hit the rewind button and end your career on a higher note. It seems he was simple unable/unwilling to walk away from his beloved career (and the limelight and money) before things sadly slid south.  

While Favre gives a very public (and embarrassing) example of overstaying your welcome, all of us have had difficulty exiting a situation at some point in our lives. We’ve stayed on a vacation or been a houseguest a day or two too long. We’ve stuck it out in a job we knew wasn’t a good fit until we were miserable enough to leave. Hey – we even do it when we remain at the dinner table for that one extra serving, only to be uncomfortably full afterward.

Why is it so hard to know when it’s time to leave when no one (or nothing) else is pushing us out the door?

All this leads me to share some upcoming changes to Wise Women Coffee Chat … After this month, I will stop writing posts for the blog. Anne will fly solo and serve as primary Wise Blogger.

Why am I exiting now? It’s hard to explain, and I can’t point to any concrete reason. Just a growing realization that it’s time to move on (although I don’t have a next stop in mind). I’ve so loved launching the blog, collaborating with Anne, sharing myself with you and having you be part of the Wise Women community, maybe I just don’t want to tarnish the experience by leaving too late. 

I will write a few more posts in January and then visit the blog and weigh in with comments in the future. This online community of wise, insightful and humorous women is a touch point for my day/week. I definitely want to keep the connection, even though I’m hanging up my cleats as a regular contributor.

If only Brett Favre had been as wise …

Let’s All Be Coffee in the New Year

3083584491_92429932ea1Happy New Year to everyone! Hope all had a peaceful and relaxing holiday, and while I know most can acknowledge a wonderful few days with family and friends, I’m sure there are a few exhausted souls out there.  I’ve been secretly waiting for this first week in January to arrive, a week that signifies new beginnings. And like many people I’ve talked to, there’s a good feeling about the year 2011.

I haven’t quite figured out what my goals are for this year.  Like everyone, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to establish a regular work out routine.  But I almost don’t want to mention it – seems a bit boring and trite… and since this is on my list every year, I obviously haven’t mastered this one.

I caught a snippet of the Today Show this morning.  Ann Curry’s resolution is to wake up every morning and be thankful for all that she has been blessed with.  Matt Lauer’s resolution is to become more involved with his children’s school work.  If any of you have anything to share, please do, as I continue to create my own list.

In the meantime, I came across this passage about Carrots, Eggs and Coffee.  I thought this provided a nice foundation of inspiration to kick the year off right.  For those of us who have faced and struggled with adversity this past year, take these words to heart.  It may get your 2011 off to a great start.


A carrot, an egg, and a cup of coffee….You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up, She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen.. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word…

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners.. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ‘ Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hardboiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, mother?’

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

‘Which are you?’ she asked her daughter. ‘When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.  The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.


And onward we march into 2011…



Whoopie! Another Dessert Discovered…

Pumpkin_Whoopie_Pies1For Thanksgiving this year, I asked each of my kids to make one recipe to contribute to the Thanksgiving table.  Sam made jello, Jack made cranberry bread, and David made deviled eggs.  Eliza discovered a new use for pumpkin, and this recipe is definitely a keeper – Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.

In case any of you are still in a pumpkin mood heading into the holidays, here’s the recipe:

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 1 stick melted, 1/2 stick softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree

1 T pumpkin pie spice

1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp plus 2 pinches salt

1-2/3 cups flour

4 ounces cream cheese, chilled

1 cup confcctioner’s sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice, one tsp vanilla, the baking powder, the baking soda and 3/4 tsp salt.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour.

3.  Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheets.  Bake until springy to the touch about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely

4.  Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and the remaining 2 pinches salt and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

5.  Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting.  Top each with another cake.

Source:  Rachel Ray

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Aristotle

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