Sunday, September 30, 2007
First Day of Expedition Starts Early with Flank Steak Tacos, Crew Optimistic for Remainder of Fall
Day One:
The Great Culinary Expedition of Fall 2007 kicked off early when, buoyed by a drop in the price of flank steak on Saturday, I decided to make this.

The Natives were restless with hunger, thanks to the celebration of a birthday at a gymnastics outpost. The constant activity and their ability to burn off massive amounts of cake, fueled their hunger to a new extreme.

Without garlic salt in my possession, I was forced to improvise with kosher salt and garlic powder for the meat. The Natives couldn't tell the difference. Was unable to locate enchilada sauce and thought chipotle sauce would substitute in the rice. It does not, for it is spicy and the Natives are of the bland palate variety. However, I added a mere tablespoon and the rice had a lovely zing which pleased the Expedition crew, who are of the bored palate variety.

Foraged in the garden for fresh tomatoes with which to top our tacos. Also used prepared salsa and shredded cheese.

Experiment went well. The Natives at first dismissed the meal given to them but quickly adapted by deconstructing the tacos into recognizable items (ie: meat, cheese, taco shell, rice).

The aim is to get the food, which is different from what they are used to, in their stomachs; deconstruction helped the Expedition achieve this; rice sampled but not enjoyed by the Natives. Lesson learned: success is achievable if the Natives arrive at the table very hungry as they are less likely to refuse food. Also, the Expedition Crew will not have to resort to drastic measures to get the test subjects to eat what is put in front of them.

Experiment a success!

Friday, September 28, 2007
Happy Fall
Through MUCH trial and error, I redesigned this thing.

I'm happy with it but I would have done more. I just got tired of constantly struggling with it. So, this is my fall template, I could just change it to green for the holidays but there are other things to work on, like feeds, which I know nothing about. So, we might be stuck with a fall color scheme through spring.

October 1st is Monday. I've been sneaky in the kitchen lately and my game plan for the Culinary Expedition of Fall 2007 is "baby steps." When we make our mexican pizzas (or whatever), I'll let them help cook. It might ease the transition for them (and me).

We're preparing for the Expedition by laying in supplies of wine and Advil. Also earplugs.

I might post over the weekend, but if I don't have a great one! See you Monday!

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Slightly Psychic
Yesterday morning I posted about toy recalls. By the afternoon, more toys had been recalled. Thomas! Again!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Toy Recalls
In case you hadn't heard, lots and lots of toys over the past several months have been recalled due to hazards that could kill your child or just give them a third degree burn.

The Easter Bunny brought Harry a James tender-type train that has mysteriously "disappeared" because it contains lead. Polly Pockets and other various toys were recalled because tiny, tiny pieces could pose choking hazards. For some reason, Polly's microscopic shoes don't pose this hazard but her embedded magnets do.

We are also owners of the Easy Bake oven which was recalled earlier this year because it could burn the little baker's fingers. My little baker's fingers never got burned but mine did because I stupidly stuck my hand into the little opening. This toy is not intended for children under eight and apparently not for adults three times that age!

We're finally getting around to turning in all the defective toys for replacements or credits/refunds. Hasbro, manufacturer of the EB oven, sent me a kit to retrofit the door onto the oven as well as two bake mixes. Before I could install the kit and bake up the mixes they sent me a box to ship the thing back in. Once they receive it, they'll credit me $32 to spend at their online shop.

So which is it? Keep it or ship it back? A visit to their website shows that the instructions are to ship the toy back. Yay! 3 square feet of NYC apartment living reclaimed!

Of course this means that whatever space I reclaim will be exceeded by the Littlest Pet Shop bobble-headed plastic pets that will be purchased with the $32.

And, because its not enough that you've spent money on defective toys already, toys may be more expensive this holiday season. Fantastic.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
12.5 Years Worth of Stuff
At work, our department is moving to another floor in the building. We've been given ample warning so that we could take our time filing, organizing, packing, dumping, etc.

I've been at the same desk for 12.5 years. That's a long time. In that time frame, I've gotten engaged, married, given birth twice, moved once, had four supervisors, worked on eighteen+ accounts and accumulated a boat load of crap in my office.

Here's what I found:

1 blacklight lightbulb
1 breastpump
2 rolls wrapping paper
2 boxes of Jolly Rancher stickers
4 vases
3 skeins yarn
6 shipping boxes (for all the packages I might one day send out)
1 Thermos
3 terra cotta planters
1 bottle opener
7 copies of the August 1999 issue of George magazine (I must look to see if these are of any value)
1 roll magnetized paper
1 ravioli maker
1 container bubble bath petals
2 unopened, brand new picture frames
1 ceramic thimble with "San Francisco" printed on it
1 Chico's catalog, from August 2005
1 book of knitting stitches
6 novels
1 automobile insurance policy from 1996

We are expected to either throw this stuff away or bring it home with us. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 23, 2007
Hello, Collections Agency?
"Hi, remember me? You closed an account under my SS# for fraud back in July?"

"Yes, we have you here in our system. How can we help you?"

"The woman who stole my identity has been arrested. I have her permanent address, her phone number and her SS#. Would you like me to fax it over?"

"Really? Yes, please do."

"Done. It's probably already there."

"You've called before so you probably already know this but it is mandatory we tell you each time we speak that ANY information we receive can and will be used to collect on a debt."

"Good! Have at her!"

Thursday, September 20, 2007
God Speed, Lovey.
On Tuesday, Harry lost his most prized possession in the world. His Lovey.

We've lost Lovey before and it's always turned up but this time I'm afraid it is really gone. Two trips to the park in the dark with a Lightning McQueen flashlight, retracing the sitter's steps, searching the fenceposts all over the neighborhood and we still haven't found it.

We've been able to get him to accept his new Lovey but we're still hoping, although that hope is fading fast. Say a novena, whisper a prayer, tie a knot in a bit of string....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Now It's, Like, Serious
Last week I mentioned the Culinary Expedition of Fall 2007. Once a week or so I will make something new, something the kids haven't eaten and there will be no chicken nugget safety net.

They say the best way to accomplish a goal is to say it out loud to someone who is listening. It is supposed to give you a sense of ownership and obligation. I feel obligated now to make good on this ever since Katie made me the subject of one of her posts over at ice cream is not for breakfast.

Now I really have to get rid of my chicken nuggets!

But seriously folks, October 1st draws nigh. The kids think I'm bluffing. I'M NOT. The other day Sophie told me "OK, I'll try new things. I've been wanting to try new desserts anyway."


It's not new desserts, kiddo. It's lunch-y, supper-y foods that are on the menu and it's only once a week. There WILL be soup. Homemade. They will help and they will eat it. I have a great "recipe" which is nothing more than:

Saute onion and garlic
Add broth
Add other vegetables and canned tomato product
At the last minute, toss in green peas and zucchini
Maybe some beans
It is soup

Seriously, if you get a good can of tomatoes (San Marzano crushed tomatoes are a good choice) and you use very fresh ingredients, the soup is really good and simple, sweet even. The hardest part is cutting the veggies into small dice.

There will be other foods that normally I bypass when leafing through recipes because I don't want to go through the trouble only to hear complaints at the table. I'm thinking chicken and dumplings. Cold sesame noodles (which would be great for the lunch box, don't you think?), Waldorf chicken salad, barbecue chicken pizza, chicken marsala, beef brisket. Nothing off the wall, just foods my kids swear they hate. Wish us luck!

And thanks, Katie!

Monday, September 17, 2007
Mad Skillz
Harry has new skills. Two of them. The first is break-dancing. As a child of the 80's, I'm so proud.

His other skill is singing along to Hannah Montana songs, which drives his sister just crazy.

Last night he was belting out "Girls Night Out" and dancing around the living room.

The song's chorus goes like this:

Cause it's a girl's night
It's alright
Without you
I'm gonna stay out
and play out
Without you
You'd better hold tight
Cause girl's nights
Without you

Then the bridge:
Hey boy don't you wish you could've been a good boy?
try to find another girl like me boy
feel me when i tell ya i'm fine
and it's time for me to draw the line

The funniest part of his performance was the "Hey, boy" part. He said it with this deep, almost seductive voice that just cracked us up.

That kid is a card.

Thursday, September 13, 2007
Identity Theft Update II
So yesterday I was at work and I get a call from the police and I'm instantly in a state thinking something awful has happened. Everything was fine. As it turns out they arrested the woman who stole my identity! Incredible!

I met with the detective on my case and was shown her picture. She isn't anyone I know. She also looked remarkably "normal." I had half-expected her to look a little nutso, maybe with a hint of thuggishness but she looked like an ordinary person.

I signed some paperwork and was given a copy of the report to keep with my growing ID Theft folder. The kicker to all this is that she is a naturalized US citizen WITH HER OWN SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER. How do I know this? It's printed right there on the report, along with her permanent address and her cell phone number. She (Merlene) has been using my SS# since 2004. It was only in 2005 that she also assumed my last name. Using this last name and my SS# flagged something in the IRS computer system. The rest, as they say, is identity theft history.

My next step is to file copies of the arrest report with the FTC and the IRS. I'm also planning on calling up the company she defaulted with on that gym membership and let them know what's transpired. I'm sure they'd all like to know where to find her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
There are No Words
There are no words
that could adequately honor our friends
Sean Fegan and Jonathan Randall.
We miss you and think of you all the time.

Monday, September 10, 2007
Pants on Fire
Another nail in the coffin of Summer 2007 has been fastened. Saturday was our 2nd block party of the season, the final, completely unnecessary but oh-so-fun party we insist on having the 1st Saturday after Labor Day.

After spending much of the day inside thanks to a stomach ailment, (remind me to pay closer attention the next time Sophie tells me "everyone had a stomach ache at school today, mom."), I headed out and sat for awhile watching the kids ride their bikes and scooters, jumping rope, running the through the opened hydrant and more or less keeping my distance from my unsuspecting neighbors.

Later on, our friends and neighbors came out for their popular after-party, the party that happens after most of the block party is almost over. Better food, lots of wine, good company. I joined them after putting Harry to bed and when I arrived, I was offered chili which, thanks to the delicate nature of my stomach over the past two days, I politely declined. "Oh, right. You're a vegetarian, right?"

I reacted as if I had just been accused of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Me? A vegetarian? Certainly NOT, sir! "What ever gave you that idea?" I asked.

"Sophie said she was vegetarian and I assumed you were."

I looked over at Sophie who became bashful when she'd been caught in a white lie. (To her credit, at least she was doing it to avoid hurting the cook's feelings.) I set the story straight for the chili chef. "Kevin, we eat meat. Sophie is six. Don't you remember how hard it is to feed a six year old?"

This past week it seemed a little harder than usual to feed our darling daughter. She scoffed at anything that wasn't pizza or Chinese takeout. On Thursday, she complained about having to eat chicken, AGAIN. "All we eat is chicken or turkey. It's the same. EVERY WEEK."

On this she is correct. There's only so much this kid willingly eats, and at the end of a long day who has the energy to fight? So that's what I told her. I said "Listen, you won't eat a whole heck of a lot. I make what you WILL eat to help keep the peace but if I only make what you will eat, you really can't complain."

Then last night at dinner there was much complaining over the edamame I made, even though she eats it at the Japanese restaurant around the corner. "It's hairy!" was the top complaint, but Harry was happy watching me pop the beans out of their pods. Finally, she tried one. "I don't really like it," she declared.

"That's OK. You tried it. You don't have to like it. And now I know you don't like them. I won't make them (so much)," I said.

Then I dropped the bomb. "This fall there is going to be a lot of new stuff to try," I explained. "Everyone is getting bored with this rotation of chicken/turkey/burgers/pasta/take-out. We have got to try new things. All of us."

Sophie did not look happy. I continued. "There will be soups and stews. Sandwiches, even. Not every night, but once a week or once every two weeks there will be a new dish to try. Nothing crazy, I promise."

"What's stew?" Sophie asked.

"It's meat and vegetables, all cooked together."

"Together? In the same pot?"

"Yes. It's good!" I said.

"Sandwiches!?" she asked, incredulously I might add.

"Yes, soup and a sandwich is great on a cold, fall night."

Sophie rolled her eyes at us. I can see her twenty years from now, lying on the therapist's couch, telling him how her parents made her try new foods and how, during the Fall of 2007 her mother embarked on a mission to broaden the nightly dinner repertoire, of how mentally, emotionally and culinarily scarred this has left her. With any luck, the therapist will have a six year old of his own and he'll tell her get over it, no meds for you. Go have a cup of soup.

So there it is. The Great Culinary Expedition of Fall 2007 begins October 1st. Once a week or so I will make something the kids have never had and THERE WILL BE NO CHICKEN NUGGET SAFETY NET. They can have cut up vegetables and a cup of yogurt if they're that hungry. The first dish I am planning is Mexican Pizza, which they can help me make (tortillas, shredded cheese and a little salsa cooked on the George Forman; black beans for extra protein), or a chicken pot pie (I usually don't like back of the box recipes but the Bisquick CPP recipe is actually pretty good). Wish me luck. Join me if you like. Bring wine. I'm going to need it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007
So Long Summer, Hello First Grade!
We closed out Summer 2007 by spending it in the Poconos.

The first order of business was to ditch the kids and go for a hike. We drove to Highpoint State Park in Northern NJ (this was also the site where we spent our last day of vacation last month).

We stopped into the Ranger Station which itself is a really cool building, and picked up a map. We decided to hike the Iris Trail because it was short (less than a mile) and it links up at the end with the Appalachian Trail. We drove out to the trail head, sprayed ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray and started walking.

Had this been a bad 70's TV show, very ominous music would have started playing as we walked right past the sign that said the Iris Trail has a very high difficulty level. Then the camera would have focused on our footwear, which was of the sneaker variety and totally unsuitable for what we were about to do.

So we headed out on the trail and it has wooden planks you can walk on and I thought "Gee, these are nice!" when suddenly there were no more wooden planks to walk on and I was practically tripping over tree roots.Then the terrain got rocky and it seemed we were just rock-hopping. We stopped to consult the map, which said the trail is steep. We didn't think it all that steep, just very rocky so we pressed on.

A little later we noticed the grade and agreed, that yes, it is getting steep but not so bad so let's have a water break and keep going.

Now, if you are a novice hiker like me, let me tell you the first rule of hiking (beside being prepared with the proper gear): once you think "Hey, this isn't so bad," it is about to get a whole lot worse.

At one point I could barely catch my breath and John wondered aloud why he didn't pack his hiking boots. We were not so much hiking as we were scaling the side of this mountain just to hook up with the Appalachian Trail. (Damn you, Bill Bryson!) At the steepest point, there were little pockets beneath the rocks we were climbing and I couldn't help but think that there was probably a bear sleeping in one of them, just waiting for two dumb, poorly prepared hikers to happen by.

But there was no bear, only a gorgeous view view from the top of the large rocks we just climbed over. And running, almost perfectly perpendicular to the Iris Trail, was the Appalachian Trail. We began walking the trail when I suddenly I realized "Cool! I'm walking the Appalachian Trail!" (Love you, Bill Bryson!)

After our hike, we headed back to the family homestead and had an afternoon swim, followed by a lovely dinner at a restaurant we'd been wanting to try for a long time now.

On Sunday, we drove around looking for a farmer's market that is reportedly held every weekend in town only to discover it is held Friday nights and Saturday mornings only. Who the hell opens a farmer's market on Friday nights? We head back and spend a few hours at the pool but not before stopping to eat at a roadside hot dog stand called Jersey John's. Hoo boy, all dishes ought to come with a side of Lipitor.

A lovely element to this weekend was the no/low water pressure thanks to the community only having one working water pump. I was doing my best to conserve water by doing things like not bathing during peak hours and holding off on doing dishes until the early morning hours but when you see your annoying neighbors doing wasteful things with water, like washing their two SUVs and hosing down the road so passing cars didn't kick up dust, well, that's when I realized that I truly dislike them.

A result of the water problem was the fire ban, but we made a campfire anyway (take THAT, Property Owners Association!) and let the kids toast marshmallows for s'mores. It must be noted that that is a very sweet way to end the summer, I don't care how cliche it sounds.


As of 8:40 this morning, Sophie officially became a 1st Grader. We were fully prepared, having labeled supplies and packing them up in her new backpack weeks ago. We left the house and walked together, and I was able to take some pictures despite Sophie's protests. She is even smiling in some.

We arrived at the school yard and I suddenly became nervous. My little girl is no longer chaperoned to the classroom door. She is just left to fend for herself in the schoolyard with the entire school population. Alright, she isn't fending for herself but still. It was a mighty nerve-wracking scene to leave her and not worry if she will be OK and wonder if she will remember to follow her new teacher to the proper class room. I realized I never told her that the room number is above each door.

The tightness in my chest is gone, the sitter hasn't called to tell me they can't find Sophie, neither has the school and the only thing I've been able to do is buy the kids cupcakes for tonight's dessert because
it seems like cupcakes would be a sweet way to end the first day of first grade.