The Man Has Figured Me Out

I have this horrible paradox in my personality:  I love surprises and hate it when they’re blown.  But I also compulsively try to figure things out, even when I have next to no information to work with.

Many times over our almost sixteen years together (that counts dating), Pete has said seemingly benign things about gifts he’s gotten for me, or surprises he was planning.  Without fail, though half of me wants desperately to leave the thing alone, my overactive little mind has worked the puzzle until the secret is no longer a secret and the element of surprise is obliterated.

But this Christmas, everything is different.

First of all, he apparently got my present more than two weeks ago.  I hadn’t even found one for him yet.  That’s remarkable from the guy who bought his brother’s birthday gift (a t-shirt) about two hours before we lit the candles on the cake.

More importantly, he has been astonishingly, admirably, stubbornly mum.  All I have heard from him, after the initial admission that my gift has been purchased, is the mumbled sentence fragment, “Don’t know.”

“Where is it?”

“Don’t know.”

“Is it in your car?”

“Don’t know.”

“Have you wrapped it yet?”

Head shake.

“Is it a weird shape or something?  Is that why you haven’t wrapped it?  Are you having trouble finding a box or a bag for it?”

“Don’t know.”

The man will not even look at me during the mumblings because he knows that I can interpret the tiniest smile or twinkle in his eyes.

Frustration has never been so much fun.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

It’s off to a wedding we go.

Or went, actually.  Sticking to my commitment to not tell the blogosphere that we’re going to be out of town until we’re already back, I didn’t post about my cousin’s impending wedding, but I can post about it now.

This was my last cousin to walk down the aisle.  Or, in his case, walk out the side door and wait for his bride to walk down the aisle.  For the first time since anyone could recall, every single living member of the family was there (and the nonliving ones were fondly discussed and remembered).  At any rate, it was a great party.  Great music, romantic sentiments, raucous laughter and incredible food (we’re southern, remember).

Some of the best moments were in the hours leading up to the wedding, when we were just hanging out together as a family.  Some of us were in the hotel lobby watching football games; some were by the indoor pool, supervising kiddos and reminiscing.

One of the most interesting things for me as an adult is to get to know the spouses of all of my cousins.  It is fascinating to see the differences, and to see how the spouses blend in seamlessly with everyone else.

My three oldest cousins, a set of brothers, is the perfect example.  They have always been totally different from each other, so the differences in their wives is no huge mystery.  The crazy youngest brother has a strong, keenly intelligent, hilarious wife.  The quieter middle brother has a lovely, conservative wife who takes her mothering extremely seriously.  And the oldest, always grinning and teasing brother has a wife with a marvelous sense of humor and a passion for sports that rivals any man’s.  When we all get together–the six of them, Pete and me, and my sister–it is loud and fun and my stomach and cheeks hurt after about 30 minutes from all the laughing.  (At this trip, the boys decided to nickname Pete.  We have no idea why, but they’re calling him “Tex.”  That should be exceedingly hilarious for my readers who know Pete.)

This weekend’s wedding was the joining of one of my younger cousins–a fiercely loyal friend and brother–to a lovely, graceful, generous young woman who could not be a better match.  She will fit in perfectly with her fun-loving brother-in-law and his easy-going wife; and, yes, even her hippie, once-vegan sister-in-law and her mild-mannered husband.

I would love to actually have a point with this post.  Perhaps I will come up with one at a later date and link back.  For now, I’m just enjoying the afterglow of time with family, celebrating a happy, romantic occasion.

Now I have to fit in an extra workout because of all the aforementioned incredible food.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em

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I grew up in a football-loving household. And I’m not just talking about the men. My mother whooped and hollered right along with my dad–even louder. It was the perfect training ground for my future role as wife to a Cheese-headed Packer Backer.

I have often heard women complain about their husbands’ fascinations with sports, and it’s not that I’m unsympathetic. Pete likes every sport there is, which mean there is always something to watch on ESPN. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but hockey season, basketball season, baseball season, and football season overlap. And every couple of years, they throw the Olympics in there for good measure. I admit I’ve been frustrated at times when Pete’s attention is so thoroughly engulfed by watching grown men fight over some ball (or puck).

But I also admit that I cringe when I hear wives discuss their mates’ interest in sports as if it were a character flaw. I don’t recall ever hearing men stand around and discuss their wives’ love for scrapbooking as if it were something to be concerned about. It’s quite simple: they have fun watching sports. It makes them happy.

Instead of fighting the sports fanaticism, or going off somewhere to pout about it, I jump right in. In fact, I have been known to thoroughly embarrass my daughters when they have friends over on Sunday afternoons. Particularly when one of my fantasy players catches a long pass. Let’s just say I could give my mom a run for her money in the hollering department.

If you just cannot fathom the idea of trying to understand the intricacies of blitzes, screen passes, laterals, turnovers, and the tricky strategics of “going for two,” that’s okay, too. (In fact, some husbands would rather not sit there and explain it to you. Have I told you lately that Pete and I are a perfect match?) If you don’t want to join in, just find something else to do. Scrapbooking comes to mind.

Enjoying sports with my husband has worked for me for fifteen years now. Head over to Rocks in My Dryer to see what works for Shannon!

WFMW: Jazz for Kids

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Since my girls were tiny, I’ve always tried to play lots of different types of music around the house and in the car. You know, the whole “well-rounded” thing. I have never been a huge fan of “kid” cds. For the most part, I find them annoying and oversimplified. I just don’t see the need to have a whole separate genre of custom-made kid music–whether it’s original or altered–when there is so much great stuff out there to expose them to.

This cd, Jazz for Kids, is not your typical “kid” cd. None of these songs were written for kids, or altered to make them marketable to kids. They are in their original, delightfully jazzy form. And, if you don’t happen to know it yet, jazz just happens to be the happiest, bounciest, giggliest music out there.

There are two selections from Ella (whose voice both of my girls can recognize even if they hear a song they’ve never heard before), two from Slim Gaillard, one each from Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong (I bet you can guess which song), Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae, and more.

The girls and I absolutely adore playing this cd in the car, and with all the fun we’re having, I’m fairly certain that we’ve entertained numerous passing motorists as well.

This cd most definitely works for me! Want to see what works for Shannon? Click here!

Oh. And in case you didn’t guess, the Louis Armstrong is, of course, “It’s a Wonderful World.”

WFMW: www.allrecipes.com

Ever have one of those days when you have lots of stuff in the fridge and pantry, but no clue how to put them together? Hmm… shall we have ricotta cheese and mushrooms? Or scrambled eggs and garbanzo beans?

I recommend www.allrecipes.com. You can browse through the pages at random, or you can click on “More Searches” and do an ingredient search: type in several ingredients that you have on hand (and specify ingredients you want to avoid–like anchovies). Click “go!” and in a matter of seconds, you’ll have oodles of ways to use up that jar of artichoke hearts and the can of pureed pumpkin from last Thanksgiving. Preferably not in the same recipe.

If you want to be a regular, you can register and set up a virtual “recipe box” with recipes from the site that you’ve already tried. You can leave it all virtual, or you can print them out. (They even let you choose full sheet, or 3×5 or 4×6!)

If those aren’t enough options for you, you can also scale the recipes up and down. Let’s say you’d like to serve gazpacho to 400, but the recipe you’ve found only serves 6. Just put in the number you want to serve, and the recipe will be recalculated for you!

But the best part about the site is the reviews and comments. First, they help to weed out the not-so-great recipes (I never even look at a recipe that’s only averaged three stars). And the reviews almost always have ideas from people who’ve tried the recipe–suggestions to make the recipe better, or lower in fat or calories. (Sometimes this is good for a laugh, too–reviews that say things like, “I loved this recipe! I happened not to have pork on hand, so I substituted ground buffalo. I also used half the salt and twice the creamed corn and I pureed the tomatoes instead of chopping them and I boiled everything rather than frying. What a great recipe!”)

Works for me, when my cookbooks aren’t cuttin’ it. Click here to see what works for Shannon.

Why I Love to Teach

I got into teaching purely by accident. My husband is the one who felt called to teach. I was not interested. I spent all my days home schooling our girls, which I loved. But I had no desire to attempt to capture and hold the attention of more than, say, two students at a time.

My husband applied at a few schools between 2004 and 2006 and had no takers (his desire was not matched by classroom experience). Then, last summer, God led us to move many, many miles from home in order to be a part of a brand new school in Colorado.

The thing is, since it was a brand new school, it needed lots of new teachers. So, as a favor to the school and an act of solidarity with my husband, I signed on to teach a few English classes. I was anxious, sure I’d fail, horrified that I’d scar these kids for life. And absolutely positive that I’d hate every minute of it.

(Great attitude, I know. Don’t you wish your kids were in my classes?)

I’m still not sure whether I’ve scarred anyone for life, but I knew from the first half hour in that classroom that I most assuredly did not hate this teaching thing. Even when the kids were squirrelly little terrors (one class was chock-full of seventh graders), I was energized and pretty much full to the brim with joy.

I have two reasons, both simple.

First, I love kids. Head over heels, over the moon, I love them. I love to hear them say they “can’t” write and then show them that they really can, even though it never gets easy. I love to see their surprise when they realize they’re enjoying a book that was written in the 19th century, set in the 18th century. I love it when a parent emails me and tells me that she’s afraid her son won’t be able to get through the book he’s chosen for his book report; and I tell her to sit back and watch him triumph over what he (and she) thinks is impossible; and she does; and he does. I’ve got chills right now, just sitting here remembering.

Second, I love words. Put them in poetry, prose, essays, or transcendent, brilliant books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Gilead, Peace Like a River, Light in August or even The Velveteen Rabbit. I don’t care where I find them, read them, hear them, or write them, I love words. There is nothing quite like the feeling of finding precisely the right word. Unless it’s reading someone else’s precisely-right words. Words can be brusque, brutal, harsh, cruel. They can soothe, comfort, heal, inspire. Some words are inherently hilarious. Like flibbertigibbet. Come on, you know you just laughed.

So, now I spend my days with fabulous kids and marvelous words. It’s the very definition of a happy accident.

Quick and Easy Meatballs

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Here’s a really simple tip to make dinner time a little easier (and we all want that, don’t we?): when you’re making meatballs, you don’t have to scoop them out and roll them one by one. For one thing, it takes forever. For another, I always wind up with meatballs of different sizes which bothers me to no end. Hey, it’s not about cosmetics–they don’t cook evenly!

A few years ago, I came up with a solution. I mix the seasonings in with the meat and then turn the mixture out onto a sheet of wax paper. I shape the whole mess into a large, flat rectangle, which I score with a table knife until I have a reasonably even grid. Then I cut through the scoring, leaving me with lots of little squares. Now, all I have to do is squish each square in my palms for a second or two, and they turn into perfect little balls.

Taking it one step further, since it’s so quick, I like to make triple batches and divide them into freezer bags (this works best if you first lay the meatballs out on a cookie sheet, making sure that they’re not touching, and let them freeze a little–that way, they won’t stick to each other once they’re in the bag). If I use seasonings that are basic enough (salt, pepper, garlic powder, minced onions …), then I can use the different batches of meatballs for completely different meals. Spaghetti and meatballs, of course, but also cocktail meatballs for a pot luck, or Italian wedding soup.

Works for me! Check out what works for Shannon.

(This tip also works for shaped cookies, such as Pete’s favorites: Snickerdoodles.)