A Few Things to Look Forward to in 2011

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a partly cloudy, glass half empty kind of gal by nature. I tend to look on the down side of things first despite my attempts to turn that frown upside down. It’s who I am. Maybe I like to be pleasantly surprised when things don’t turn out as badly as I expect… (how’s that for a bad attitude?!) Since this ’tis the season to look back and look ahead, I figured I’d try to put some of my many thoughts down, perhaps to be accountable to the many aspects of my life I’d like to change.

The first on my list is that in this house, we must. spend. less. money. It makes sense to spend less than you make, and we do that, but we can do much better. We need to spend way less than we make, and since neither of us is rolling in the dough, it’s time to get creative. 2010 was not a terribly fruitful year for us financially, but it was a year to see how God continually provides. With gratefulness for being taken care of despite overwhelming situations, we both have been convicted that we’re not being good stewards of what we have been given, and with 6 young and impressionable pairs of eyes listening more to what we do rather than what we say, it has much further-reaching consequences than right now. The place I can start to save more money is our grocery bill. There’s no way around it; we spend too much on food. Since I’m the main grocery-getter, meal planner and preparer, it falls to me to tackle this challenge. I admit that I’ve been rationalizing how much I have been spending over the past year and it must change. Up until now, I have been resistant to couponing for a couple reasons, but I may have to walk through that valley here soon. The time aspect of couponing is my main concern: I homeschool 4 kids and need to spend even more of my daily hours with them than we’re doing now; plus classes, tutor prep, my annual editing job that’s hopefully coming up in January-March, the book I’m only partially finished with, and the normal domestic engineer stuff that needs to get done. To add even one more requirement to my week is exhausting just to think about. My meal planning the past year has gone like this: Get the ad for the supermarket that I shop at, go through the sales and plan my meals according to what’s on sale. In some ways it’s worked, but I’m still spending too much. It’s time to bite the bullet and get back to a simpler plan.

My change in January is going to be simple–and it may end up only lasting one month. I’m going to try and shop at Aldi’s exclusively for the month of January. Just switching to cash will help me spend less, I’m certain, but I’m going to limit myself and my meal plan to just what’s in the store. Besides, I also have a fairly well-stocked pantry and freezer with several meals of frozen meat and veggies, so I’m going to use that as well. I’d like to cut my bill by 1/3 to start just by making this change, so I’m anxious to see how it works.

Another change we must make (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘me’, because let’s face it, the food prep is my jurisdiction) is to waste less food. I’m amazed at how much we tend to throw away–the last little bits of leftovers or produce and veggies. If I can change my thinking to realize that I’m not throwing away old food as much as I’m throwing away money, perhaps this bad habit will begin to change.

So, since we spend so much money on the food we eat, I feel this is a good starting point. My Korean mentor teacher always joked about “living to eat instead of eating to live.” Starting with me, I think my family could do a little more eating to live and less living to eat. 🙂

After we get this area of spending under control, we need to move on to cutting utilities, but I need to think about that more. I’m going to leave that for a mid-year post.

What else would I like to see change in 2011? I need to extend grace to more people, the kind of grace I would appreciate receiving in my life. The people I need to start with are our children. In every area of their lives, they are more or less beginners. They are still learning basic aspects of being a person, and if I could remember that, I pray that I would be so much more forgiving and gracious towards them. That doesn’t mean, however, that they get a free “sorry, Mom, I didn’t know” pass. We are all trying to work towards very specific goals in this house: we all need to know God and make Him known, and to give glory to Him in all areas of our lives. When I look at my own life, I realize that I am sorely lacking in certain areas that I should be so much further ahead. How can I be anything but understanding as my children make that same journey? Grace for everyone. More grace than is necessary. More kindness than is necessary.

To achieve this, I must tame my tongue. I have got to get control of my thoughts and words and work, through God’s grace, to only say things which build up, not tear down. Again, this is not my nature. I am a critical, perfection-seeking person, first in myself and second in the entire remaining population. What a ridiculous notion to think that any of us is perfect! To help me in this goal, I plan to read the book of James at least once a week. It reminds me more than any other that the tongue is a powerful for tool and from it often come both blessing God and cursing men, that which should not be. I pray that I will grow to be slow to anger and quick to have a kind word.

Lastly (for now), I’d like to enjoy my children more. I want them to know that they aren’t an inconvenience nor are they too much to handle. They aren’t a handful, I don’t have a ton of kids, and I am quite aware of ‘what causes that.’ I would like them to be able to say “We’re glad you aren’t our mom too!” when people say “Better you than me!” (OK, that last one was a little over the top snarky). Yes, they are a lot of work, and yes, I am constantly concerned that I’m not teaching them the right things or the things we are learning well enough or quickly enough, but it’s worth every bit of the work. The work is actually cancelled out by the benefit and joy, but we sometimes lose track of the good aspects while staring down the hard work. My goal is to accentuate the positive. Before we turn around, Hannah will be an adult; she’s already 13. Where did those years go?! The years are only going faster and faster and I don’t want to miss a singe thing–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I don’t want to make this totally schmaltzy. In some ways I wish I could have listed that I’d like to watch more movies or resolve to get my car washed more often. Alas, that’s not in the cards. If 2011 is going to be a fruitful year, there are some hard things that have to be done, at least in the corners of my life that I can change. So…with the last few hours of 2010, I’m going to go and slack off for a bit. Anybody want to chat or text me while I play Bejeweled??

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Memories of Christmases Past

The weekend before Christmas we enjoyed a visit with my side of the family for a few days, including my two brothers and one of my sister-in-laws (one had another commitment that was unavoidable). This meant that we traveled the 365+ miles from our home to my parents’ house in Michigan, a house that only gets smaller with each visit mostly because the people we bring along for the visit keep getting bigger. We’re just about at maximum capacity as it stands right now, with little or no extra wiggle room. As Todd put it as we tried to see how many Fennells and their families could fit in the kitchen at one time, “Christmas is about being close together.” We definitely achieve that.

This is not the story, however, because the visit itself was quite peaceful and enjoyable (at least from my perspective; my family reading this post later on may have their own comments to make regarding their take on the weekend!). As we drove up I-75 as Todd and I have for more than a decade as a family and as he has since he was a youngster traveling with his family to see relatives in either Toledo or Monroe, thoughts of Christmases past came back to me. There have been some memorable–and not so memorable–ones to reflect upon. Let’s face it: other than the remarkable view as one comes into Cincinnati where you can see the entire city spread out across the skyline, the drive is about as exciting as watching paint dry. “Look, kids! More flat lands!” and “Check it out over there! Corn fields!! And factories are coming up in about twenty miles!” At least for me, with this drive, the joy is not really in the journey. Maybe that’s why I start to think about the circumstances surrounding past trips up and down the interstate.

The first Christmas of our married lives we were supposed to spend in Korea. We moved to San Francisco a short two weeks after we got married, and before we could tell anyone we’d been married for three months, we found ourselves expatriates living in Taejon, South Korea. Somehow we got a great deal on flights back to the US for Christmas and flew home on December 21. We weren’t well-versed yet on how to handle our two families and who to spend which holiday with, but it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly than it did that year. My parents and brother Mike had plans to fly out to Colorado to spend Christmas week with my older brother Tom and his wife Melissa, so they would be gone when we arrived stateside. We worked it out with Todd’s friend to pick us up in Cincinnati and drive us back to Kentucky so we could show up as unannounced as possible at his mom and dad’s house. It went off without a hitch and I do believe that was one of the best surprises I’ve ever been a part of. Todd called his mom and while we were on the phone, we walked up to the porch and knocked on the front door. They were speechless! We enjoyed surprising his sisters and had a wonderful Christmas with his family. On Christmas Day, I planned out my fib details and called my family in Colorado, lying that we were nestled in our Taejon home feeling very homesick all by ourselves. They had no reason to doubt us, so it went off without a hitch.

Our next surprise included driving up to Michigan to meet my parents and brother at the airport as they returned home. Despite a few glitches (the largest one being that the arrival gate switched three times between two gates on opposite ends of the very large Metro Airport which helped us to get our exercise for the week), we met up with them in the baggage area and the surprise was complete. For a while we thought we’d have to leave the airport altogether and head to the hospital due to the reaction my mom had when she saw us! She was more than a little excited to have us in the US and didn’t care who heard her! We spent the rest of our Christmas break in the States traveling back and forth between KY and MI and saw everyone we could squeeze into our schedule. It was a busy but worthwhile trip that we still look back upon fondly.

The next time we traveled on Christmas was two years later. The Christmas after Hannah was born in 1997 we stayed in Korea. That’s another story altogether, so I’ll leave that for a different time. By December of ’98, we had been back in the US since April and were expecting another baby. We had our little family’s Christmas a few days before the 25th and planned to travel up to MI on Christmas Eve. Packed into our silver Saturn SE, we made the trip with our one 14-month-old baby and thought we had it so rough. Turns out, when she projectile vomited all over herself, the back of the passenger seat of the car, and exactly half of me when we were about three miles from my parents’ house, we did indeed have it rough. I had never seen anyone expel that much from themselves (except for those gross SNL skits, but those were fake!). I can’t imagine what my parents thought when we got out of that stinky car in their driveway, Hannah crying and all of us on the verge of puking ourselves. Good times. It took forever to get the upholstery cleaned in that car. Blech. BUT, the rest of the Christmas visit there was fun! Hannah wasn’t sick and never had another incident, thankfully.

I can’t think of anything noteworthy on trips to MI until 2002–at least for the purposes of this post. If there isn’t anything icky or troublesome, it must have been a good visit, right? Christmas of 2002 found us as a family with four children 5 and under, with Ben being a mere 8 weeks old. That was a tough trip, not only because it’s just a challenge to travel with four kids, but also because we slept in the same room. My parents don’t have a big house and for some reason, we all slept in the basement that visit. Even though Ben had been on his way to sleeping through the night and was doing great stretches at night, during that trip he seemed to go backwards and woke up multiple times a night. Because the younger kids were also in the room with us, I remember always getting him up and trying to keep the noise to a minimum. I wonder if my parents remember it or not, but I just recall being exceedingly grumpy during that time….mostly because of sleep deprivation!

2004 may have been the most memorable journey up to Michigan so far. On the day we planned to leave, a huge snowstorm was forecast to arrive across the entire Ohio valley region and up through the Great Lakes–pretty much all the way across the portion of I-75 that we had to travel. We hemmed and hawed and really made our list and checked it twice, but in the end, decided to leave and try to beat the storm rather than wait and run the risk of having to miss our time with my mom and dad altogether. If we knew then what we know now, I don’t know that we’d make the trip again.

We left around 2pm on December 23, thinking we’d arrive at our destination 365 miles away before 11pm or so. Little did we know that when the snow started, it came with a vengeance. We almost made the 90 mile trip to Cincinnati as usual and it went downhill quickly from there. By the time we were a little south of Cincinnati, the roads started to become treacherous and we had to slow our interstate traveling speed down to 35 mph max. The number of cars, SUVs, and even semis off the road and into ditches was staggering. We stopped soon after 8pm just north of Cincinnati to feed the kids some dinner and allow Todd to take a break. He had already been driving for six hours, white-knuckling it the whole way, and we were barely 1/3 of the way into the trip. It was going to be a long night. We talked about stopping altogether, but the thought of getting snowed in and stuck in Podunk, Ohio did not appeal to any of us. While we ate at the local Frisch’s, the snowfall covered our van. After making sure every child either had a clean and dry diaper or had used the potty, we piled back into the van, prayed for safe travels, and headed back out.

In the short time that we had stopped, the snow-covered roads had become even more slippery and precarious and at times our speed was reduced to as little as 15 mph. At times the drive up 75 seems to crawl by, but that night it actually did take us seemingly forever. The snow was falling too quickly for road crews to keep up with it, though there were a few times that we caught a break and got behind a salt truck or snow plow and had a slightly easier ride. The kids seemed to sense that this was not a good situation and were amazingly quiet and well-behaved throughout the trip despite not sleeping very much. Todd was the closest thing to a nervous wreck that I have ever seen, but it was absolutely warranted. I was about 12 weeks pregnant at the time too and just remember roasting and feeling nauseous for the entire trip. It was so hot inside the car, but if I remember correctly, Todd had the defroster on full blast so the window didn’t freeze up. I also remember us having a lot of trouble keeping the windshield wipers clean. The only way I could keep from burning up was to keep the back of my hand up against the cold window on my door. I didn’t dare complain, however, because I knew Todd had his hands full trying to keep his family from ending up in a ditch somewhere between the Ohio River and Toledo.

After what felt like forever, we finally arrived at my parents’ house after 5am the next morning. Todd was a basket of nerves and complained the rest of the day about his hands hurting from grasping the steering wheel continuously for 15 hours. We were so thankful that we actually arrived at our destination and hadn’t got stranded somewhere. When we watched the news later that day, we learned that almost all of Ohio was under a snow emergency and parts of 75 were actually closed completely. When I looked back just now through weather archives online, I found out that snowfall amounts through the Ohio Valley region ranged from 10-20″. We had definitely been protected on our trip and were acutely aware of how many other people did not make it to their goals. By the time we planned to go home, the roads had been cleared enough to get home in less than half the time it had taken us to go up north.

Since that adventurous Christmas trip, we haven’t had too many noteworthy forays to the Wolverine state. In my opinion, if I can’t remember it, it must have been OK. This past trip up, however, reminded me just a tad of expeditions of Christmas past when Chloe complained of her tummy hurting only seconds before ralphing up her lunch. Thankfully she had made some noise a while back and I happened to have an empty storage container that I had her keep in her lap. Unfortunately for Hannah, she was the kid sitting next to her baby sister when her upset tummy got the best of her. While driving through downtown Detroit (about 20 miles from my folks’ house), it happened. Poor Hannah had to hold the container until we stopped because there really isn’t any place to pull off downtown and get rid of the goods if you know what I’m saying. In fact, the faster one moves through Detroit, the better. Hannah was grateful that the container also had a lid. If she hadn’t put us through the same thing (and worse!) many years before, I may have had more sympathy for her. But as it was, the timing was bad for all of us. I’m happy to report that we all made it in one piece to “Grandmother’s House” and no one actually got sick(er) because of the unfortunate turn of events. I think Chloe may have been carsick for the first time. Whatever the case, I’m so glad we didn’t bring a stomach bug as a Christmas gift for my side of the family! We actually went on to have one of the best visits that I can remember. We ALL thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, had fun playing games, playing in the snow and ice, eating good food and sweet treats, enjoying each other’s company, and generally relaxing around the Christmas tree. It was such a blessing to spend time with my parents and the kids had a ball. With the health concerns we had over the past year, it was an extra sweet gift to have the time with everyone, and one I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

The party continues

By now it should be painfully obvious just how much we enjoy our sweets around here. I love baking for Christmas, but this year I’m really behind. Not to worry, though…despite having a laundry list of things to do before we leave for Michigan tomorrow morning, I had to carve out some time to make one of my favorite cookies of all time, let alone the “most wonderful time of the year”: Christmas Moo-Moos.

I have to give credit where credit is due. The name of this cookie, Christmas Moo-Moos, is a variation on an absolutely sinful cookie that my friend Lynsay makes. Coming in at more calories than I can even bring myself to type here, the original Moo-moos are a chocolate chip cookie wrapped around a mini Milky Way candy bar. “To die for” doesn’t even begin to describe them. When thinking about Christmas cookies last year, her Moo-Moos came to mind and I started searching for a slightly different variation. What I came up with is easy and delicious. They don’t take that long to make, but take even less time to gobble up (especially when they disappear in groups of 8 like they do around here!).

If you’re looking for something different, try these!

Christmas Moo-Moos

Start with the sugar cookie dough of your choice, either prepared or from scratch:

Unwrap a bag (or 12) of Milky Way minis (Snickers would probably be great too, but I’m a nut-free chef)

The recipe I have says use 1.5 teaspoons of dough, but I just eyeball it. Take a smallish bit of dough and press the candy bar into it. Wrap the dough around the bar until it has a more or less cylindrical shape, with flat bottoms and a rounded edge. When I first made these last year, I rolled them into balls, but their end result shape was NOT appealing. Trust me and shape them like cylinders.

You definitely don’t have to, but I usually roll mine in some sort of colored sugar. Place on lined baking sheet and bake in 350 oven for 10-13 minutes (depending on how much sugar cookie you surrounded the candy bar with). I let them sit on the baking sheet for a minute or two (or 15 if I forget and walk off to switch the loads of laundry or holler at my kids to pick up their dirty socks…again)

Enjoy! As for me, I’ve got to get back and packing and cleaning before we leave. I’m not sure why I picked today to strip everyone’s beds and wash all the sheets and blankets in the house, but here we are. In addition to that, I’m supposed to be cleaning the kitchen and washing the floor and I wanted to have the buckets packed before Todd and I leave for a Christmas party tonight. And yet…I blog….

Crack Track–Help me keep counting

Todd suggested I keep track of how many batches of Christmas crack we make this season. So here goes, since I’m a little behind.
Current number is 4.
We brought the first batch of the season to the CC Essentials Christmas party. There were a few pieces left, but thankfully I forgot the tins at the host’s house, so it was gone for a while.
Two more batches came up this past Friday to take to the Halbrook Christmas Party. We made one mint-flavored and one regular. I think reviews were mixed about how the mint tasted. My sister-in-law said it tasted like Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies and I thought that was spot on. Honestly, I thought that tasted better the second day, but I’m not sure exactly why.
Hannah is taking the 4th batch to her CC Challenge Christmas party tomorrow. She requested mint, so that’s what I made. I’m not expecting to have any come home, and that’s just as well.

I’m trying to decide if I should make some to take to MI when we go on Friday, but unless I pack it in the trunk, it won’t make it past the Ohio border.

UPDATE: I had a great suggestion from my cousin Becky who commented below. If you feel like adding your own amounts to the comments section, we’ll count how many of us fed our addiction this Christmas season!

The weight of words

A joke among our friends (and most likely, everyone before and everyone after us) at college was the sign that greeted anyone who came into the city of Hillsdale: “It’s the People”. The longer we lived in Hillsdale, the truer that statement became for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. Suffice to say with friends even more sarcastic than me, we still use that statement to describe certain groups or instances.

The phrase came to mind today as I thought about this post, but in a much different way than the snarky remark we used to describe “townies” in Hillsdale. Since Todd and I began teaching childbirth classes in 2003, 182 couples have come through our class series–and two of them have come through twice! It’s given me the chance to meet many rather interesting people from all different walks of life. Many of them have come and gone through that time, but I have several that I not only keep in contact with, but have come to call them close friends. Some of the more notable people have included:
*policemen and firemen (that’s for my 5 year old; they’re just cool)
*several seminary students (there’s something in the water out there in Wilmore)
*US Air Marshall
*former UK football player
*football coach
*college professors
*chiropractor
*lawyer
*chef
*SAHM
*cake shop owners (mentioned in earlier posts)
*Duke fans (a big step for me)
*social workers
*speech therapists
*ophthamalogist
*Ironman contestants
*architects
*engineers
*real estate agents
*worship leaders
*teachers
*small business owners
*med students
*nurse practictioners

I’m sure I forgot someone. I still remember the first time a med student called me about classes. Nearly going into a panic in the car while I spoke to her, I didn’t know how that was going to work out. I’m not anti-doctor by any means, but I’m also not medically trained and felt instantly inadequate. My mentor and good friend Guinever helped me get over that insecurity, and for that I’m forever grateful. As an aside, I’ve found that med students and PAs have been some of the best students and have added their experience to bolster many of the topics we talk about in class.

This is a long way to get to the point of my post. It’s not really about my classes…. One particular couple that came through my class has been a part of my life since I first met them in early 2004, though not continually. They asked me and I had the honor to be at the birth of their first child (it was the first birth I had ever acted as doula in…what a learning experience that was). They were one of only two couples to come back for a second round of classes when they were pregnant with number 2, a baby that was born in the car on the way to the hospital.

While they attended the second set of classes, after class one night they asked me if they could keep a few things in our basement over the Thanksgiving weekend since they planned to leave from our house on their way out of town to see family. I didn’t really think much of it and said yes. They proceeded to haul a bunch of toys into our basement guest room–much more than I expected. Briefly he explained that they were selling toys online and had picked up a few on their way into town for classes. Again, didn’t give it much thought.

That was 2006. Skip ahead a few years to April 2009 when we ran into them at the Midwest Homeschool convention in Cincinnati and caught up over lunch. We always enjoyed talking with them, but then went our separate ways among the seas of fellow homeschoolers.

I have tried to remember how and when it first came up, and maybe we spoke briefly about the subject in Cincinnati, but in early May while we were on vacation at the Tighe family extravaganza, I got an email from Steven about an idea he had. Since those few toys they stashed in our basement several years ago, apparently the two of them had become a successful internet toy business. Because the progression was involved and frankly, exciting, he was toying with the idea of writing down their story so that his children and employees could have a memory of how the company began and grew, along with the ups and downs that came with that amazing growth.

While I was astounded that he contacted me, I knew I wasn’t the only person he had in mind for this project. To be honest, after the excitement died down a bit I realized that I probably shouldn’t even put my name in the hat to be considered at all. Me!? A book?! I “had my hands full” (as the people in the grocery store always seem to say!) with six kids, homeschooling 4 of them, teaching classes, and generally trying to keep the laundry from taking over the house. How could I add this? But still…. it’s always been one of my life goals, no matter how out of reach it seems. I want to write a book. I even included it on that ridiculous Facebook survey that was going around a couple years ago, “25 Random Things.” It is #2 on my list.

No matter how the cards fell, without knowing the first thing about how to go about bidding on a book project or how to begin the writing process or anything but good grammar, somehow out of the several people who had expressed interest in working with Steven, he and his wife chose me. (I know Steven well enough now to think I must have landed it because I was the lowest bidder, and I say that with nothing but love!) Again, after the initial enthusiasm and flattery wore off, the realization that this was going to be a lot of work began to set in.

Over the summer of 2009, I spent many Wednesdays driving back and forth to his house to interview him and Jessica at first, and then his employees. I quickly learned that their story was definitely one to write down and remember; they have had astounding success in their ventures. It was enjoyable to have the chance to spend time with them and their employees and hear about the obvious family-like atmosphere the company had. Although it was a lot of work and time, I grew increasingly excited by the possibilties of the end result. By August, we had conducted several intereviews and had a lot of information to work with.

Then… I totally dropped the ball. School began again and at some point before that (in early June), we joined the Classical Conversations homeschool group and I agreed to become a tutor. This meant I had to attend a parent practicum and a tutor training to learn what in the world I was going to do. Jumping into CC really pushed this book project not only to the back burner, but off into the freezer. I was totally overwhelmed every week trying to prepare for my class as well as homeschool my own kids and teach my childbirth classes. (Don’t forget that laundry, just lurking and biding its time before it took over the house) I did not work on the book again until just before the company’s Christmas party. I had been invited for research, and it was nice to be there to see first hand the most talked about event of their company’s year. I left with mixed feelings, however; on one hand I had a renewed sense of motivation to work on the project, but that was combined with an overwhelming feeling a guilt because I really had gotten so little accomplished.

Enter 2010 and more ball dropping. It really began to weigh on me every time I thought of the book. I wanted to do it, but I either didn’t make it a priority or every day life consumed me…probably a little of both. There were many times that I came extremely close to contacting Steven and crying uncle, admitting that he had chosen the wrong person for the job. Part of me wanted to give him back all the research and work and just walk away, but another part of me still really wanted to do this for them…and for me. Besides, it would have been a headache to transfer everything to a new author.

At the busiest time of the year for our family, October of this year, I got an email from Steven. I was teaching two classes, Todd had his hand in three different business ventures, the kids were in the thick of their homeschool semester, and again, the laundry just wouldn’t go away. He asked if we could salvage the book project and reiterated how much he wanted to have it completed. I spent several agonizing days praying about what to do, and by agonizing, I mean stomach-hurting, no eating, then too much eating, cold sore, wringing my hands kind of agonizing. After all that, I put my tail between my legs for my lack of productivity and set a goal to produce something before the end of this year. Truth be told, as much extra work as it would be to take it on, I didn’t want to give it up.

As soon as my double classes ended in the second week of November, I dragged out the recorder Steven bought to keep record of the interviews and started working. It was embarrassing at first to remember just how little I had done after we did the initial interviews. I kicked myself for not just sitting down and transferring the recordings to written word right away, but I hadn’t so that was my first order of business. For two weeks, whenever I had the chance (and sometimes at the expense of other household duties, like *gasp* the laundry!), I listened to the interviews and typed them out, all the while trying to formulate the book’s outline in my mind. Although I was making progress, it wasn’t really getting me anywhere close to my goal of writing ten pages a week. Finally, and with a few interviews still left to go through, on December 3 I needed to do something. The Christmas party was looming, and I had agreed to do my best to have something for him to read at the annual Christmas party, their biggest event of the year. December 16 was not that far off!

Sparing you all the gory details of my day by day litany of distractions, as of Friday night I had a paltry 34 pages. My goal before Saturday had been 50 pages and it seemed almost impossibel, but I still had some time. Todd was going to be gone during the afternoon Saturday and Patrick, Brendan, and Ben were with him. Hannah helped out tremendously with Andrew and Chloe. Somehow I managed to produce almost more words in that 11 hour period than I had the entire previous week. Thankfully, I not only made but surpassed my goal of sending 50 pages to Steven before Saturday night. I’m pleased with what I have so far and excited that there is still so much more material to use for many additional pages.

All this to say that wow, I am writing a book. Most likely you will not see it on the New York Times best seller list, and the main audience is for my friend, his family, and his employees. That is not a concern for me, as we discussed that in the beginning. I’m not interested in hitting the big time, but after a few more months of work, I may be able to cross one big ticket item off my bucket list. It’s a great honor to do the work for Steven and Jessica, and I’m so relieved that there is actually something to report. For a long time I didn’t want to even tell anyone that I was attempting to write a book for fear that it didn’t work out. Time will tell.

I know how heavy 15,167 words can be now that they have been lifted off my shoulders.

Uh…honey, do you know where I’ve been keeping my fat pants??

Yeah…so it seems that my posts lately have been centering around food… I’m going to use the holidays as an excuse, but everyone who knows me well knows that I love to make food. If I could, I’d gladly pass off the housekeeping chores and the laundry, but I don’t think I’d like to give up the cooking in my home. Having said that, I wish I didn’t have quite the sweet tooth that I’ve been given. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Today, though, I’m choosing to call it a blessing and share this second recipe of the day with you. I found this recipe just after Chloe was born over three years ago. Because of it, in my immediate postpartum period I was able to still look pregnant! (It’s not necessarily because of the cookie itself, but when you make a double batch every other or every third day, it tends to stay with you….) Again, my kids really like this cookie–especially Hannah, who has been asking for them since I brought home my 12-can cache from Aldi during the Great Pumpkin Scare of the week of October 12, 2010. That was a rough time…I’m glad we all made it through…..

Enjoy! Perhaps you’ll be able to eat them in moderation unlike me, who has apparently become the sponsor of the Leave No Cookie Behind policy.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. pumpkin
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
1 egg
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. milk
1 c. chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
Nuts (optional)

Dissolve baking soda in milk; set aside. In large bowl add pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg; stir. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Spoon onto cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until done.

http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1810,154175-254200,00.html

Let them eat knots!

I am embarrassed to share that I brought dinner to a friend today. The boys and I made a chicken and rice casserole, rolls, a salad, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. That isn’t the embarrassing part, though: the part that makes me cringe is that I put her dinner in dishes and bowls that she brought to my house when she brought me dinner for my birthday…..six months ago. How does that happen!? True, we don’t see each other that often, but how difficult can it be to return a few things to a friend that lives about ten minutes away? Throughout the summer, I shuffled her dishes around my kitchen from one corner to another, and every time I moved them, I would think “Come on. Just take them back already!” But summer turned into fall and those three red bowls and 8×8 pyrex remained in my kitchen!

After I heard that she was scheduled to have carpal tunnel surgery, I came up with a plan to finally return those pieces to her, and today was the day I could finally cross this particular thing off my to do list. It was much less embarrassing to give her back the dishes because we filled them with a dinner that she and her family could enjoy while she recovers. While the boys and I rolled dough for the bread we brought to them, I thought maybe others would like to try preparing these sometime this holiday season. They are easy to make because they start with refrigerated biscuits, though they do require some time to roll them out and tie up. My kids love them and they’ve been a hit at the other gathering(s) I’ve taken them. These can be made and frozen, too, if you’re a forward thinker (like I dream of becoming).

Parmesan Knots

1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
dash pepper
3 cans (12 oz each) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

In a small bowl, combine oil, cheese, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, and pepper; set aside. Cut each biscuit in half. Roll each portion into a 6-in. rope; tie in a loose knot. Place on greasted baking sheets. Bake at 450 for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately brush with parmesan mixture, then brush again. Serve warm or freeze for up to 2 months. To use frozen rolls: Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes or until heated through.
Yield: 5 dozen

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