And they Called her Mellow Yellow

As stated…and stated…and stated: I have three girls.  Yes, we have a lot of dresses.  Yes, we have a lot of tears.  Yes, we have very busy social calendars.  Normally, I don’t mind the busy social calendars too much.  I enjoy conversing with all of you cute mommies while doing the Pick-up-from-the-Party Polka, and as my daughters get older, I’ve discovered one of the best ways to learn about what is truly going on at school is to offer to load up thee carpool, and then shut up thee mouth.  Secrets previously untold will fly forth from the backseat, and you will suddenly be in the know and prepared to either initiate appropriate conversations or react thoughtfully to tough tween questions.

What I do not like about the Super Social Shuffle are the goody bags.  I know.  Now you think I’m a party-pooper.  It’s just that most of the time, what finds its way home from the party and into my house is candy the girls don’t need, and little trinkets my girls hoard until we are almost buried alive in superballs, cootie catchers and plastic moustaches.  I try to edit the bags as much as possible, but I confess, I usually get caught (hence the statement above about “lots of tears”).

Yellow GlowsticksRecently, what came home in said goody bag was a yellow glow stick.  Sounds harmless, right?  Maybe even a little helpful when playing an evening game of hide and seek or when trick-or-treating.  Yeah…nope.  This glow stick, much to my daughter’s surprise, broke when she snapped it, and the yellow goo exploded everywhere – including all over her face and into her eyes.

What ensued is enough drama to make a Shakespeare play look “tame” (get it?)…

My now yellow daughter was screaming that she had been rendered blind – the kind of gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, dear-god-maybe-she’s-right kind of screams.  And then my littlest one, never to be outdone in the drama department, pushed the accelerator to the floor.  Running through the house, stopping only to stare at her banana-esque sib, she began screaming even louder than her sis, and the chant went something like this: “You’re yellow!  She’s yellow!  She is always going to be yellow!  Her cheeks are yellow!  Her eyes are yellow!  Her lips are yellow!  Everywhere yellow, yellow, yellow!”  As I’m sure you can imagine, Big Sis didn’t find this reaction particularly reassuring.

Folks, we all have our finer parenting moments, and our not-so-finer parenting moments, and I confess, how I got this situation under control definitely falls into the latter category for me.  The bad news is that I think I stooped so low as to tell my youngest daughter she was beginning to turn purple (from all of the yelling, of course) and I instructed her to go look in the mirror.  The good news is that I am now the possessor of sage medical advice for broken-yellow-glow-stick-syndrome.

The answer…

A warm shower for the skin, warm water in the eyes.

And the moral of this story…

Have boys.*

*Just kidding, angels.  I love you, yellow and all.

Lovin’ Me Some Lemons

LemonMy family loves lemon bread. It’s a go-to snack and sometimes even breakfast at our table, and we like to enjoy it with fresh strawberries and a glass of milk. I have a couple of recipes for lemon bread, but this one is relatively easy to make, and since I have kids who like to assume control of the kitchen (except when what’s taking place in the kitchen is cleaning!), the more simple the recipe, the more likely our success.

What you need:

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh is better!)

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup lowfat lemon yogurt

1/3 cup canola oil

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

What you do:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another bowl, combine the egg, yogurt, oil and lemon juice. Stir into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Pour into an 8x4x2 inch loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 325 for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Enjoy!  And hey…what’s that?  Leftover lemons?  Guess what you can do with those?

  • Keep them for a day by the sink.  Use them to remove fish, garlic, onion and other strong odors from your hands.
  • Stick them on your elbows while you’re reading to soften your skin (seriously!).
  • Rub lemon rind on chrome faucets to remove mineral deposits.
  • Pour 3-4 teaspoons of lemon juice into your humidifier to deoderize it.
  • Make a paste of lemon flesh and salt to remove stains from marble.

And here you thought I was going to say, “Make lemonade.”  Come on, I can’t always be a foregone conclusion!  😉

Hazelnuts: a Universal Language

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Luxembourg. I know.  This seems obscure.  And some of you may need to google a map of Europe.  Just be sure to also put on your glasses.  It’s the teeny tiny country squished in between Germany, France and Belgium that while small in square footage, is by no means small in history or charm.

I had the opportunity to live with Marie, a delightful, elderly woman whose sons forced her to board college students so that she would not be on her own. I think, in all honesty, Marie would have been just fine on her own. Marie read. Marie loved watching Oprah. Marie could cut up a chicken with a few simple snips of the kitchen scissors, and once I observed her dismantle and repair the pipes underneath the bathroom sink as if she were a licensed plumber. Marie painted her nails a new shade every night before she went to bed, and when I returned home, I sent her a box of the trendiest colors OPI had to offer. Marie was independent and “old school” self-reliant, and I suspect that somewhere inside her head she pitied her female college boarders who were helpless in the world by comparison.

Despite her many American boarders, Marie spoke no English. I of course was double majoring in Marketing and Spanish – not much help in the “communicate with Marie” department. And yet somehow we got by. She loved to show me the flowers in her garden, where there was always common ground to be had: tulip- tulipe, rose-rose, gardenia-gardenia – a ha! We understand each other!

shutterstock_61418674We also managed to limp through conversations in the kitchen. Yogurt-yaourt, croissant-croissant, chocolate-chocolat – a ha! Now we really understand each other, especially on this last one! Marie always placed a small square of chocolate next to my plate – with tea, with lunch, with dinner…and breakfast of course was nutella spread on croissants, toast and even crackers. I’ve never met a hazlenut I didn’t like since, and though I’m older now and have to eat healthier breakfasts if I want to fit into my jeans, every once in a while I’ll still buy a jar of Nutella out of nostagia.  It’s certainly cheaper than a ticket to Luxembourg, but for the record, it’s also far less enjoyable than a lovely European woman who can paint her nails and snake a drain with equal aplomb.

Take Your Best Shot!

I do not own a camera.  Yep.  I heard that collective “gasp” out there in the blogosphere.  Admit it: your image of me as mom extraordinaire is totally blown.  I take all of my pics on my iPhone 3G, which means a) The quality of most of my pics is pretty darn pathetic by most photographic standards. b) I have no flash, and so all of my pics must either be taken outdoors on a sunny day, or in a light store.  c) I am lazy about moving my pics from my phone to my computer, and so if I ever accidentally drop my phone into the seal pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo, proving to my children 20 years from now that they did in fact have a happy childhood will be difficult.

Today, I say “no more” to this camera depraved lifestyle I lead.  I am taking a stand against my phone pic habit and embracing real photography.  And camera manufacturers everywhere are even enticing me with cute cameras in fab shades.  Case in point: a red Canon PowerShot digital camera, which would of course look adorable with these cute Prada flats.

And to show how truly committed I am to using my phone exclusively for phone calls (and texting, and GPS, and email and…) I even did a little research on how to take a good picture:

1. Get down!  Hold your camera at the subject’s eye level.

2. Before taking a picture, check the area behind your subject.  Look out for trees or poles sprouting from your subject’s head!

3. Use flash out doors.

4. Move in close and fill your picture with the subject.

5. Take some vertical pictures.  Many subjects look better!

6. Lock the focus to create a sharp picture of off-center subjects.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Center the subject.
  • Press the shutter button halfway down.
  • Re-frame your picture (while holding the shutter button halfway down).
  • Finish by pressing the shutter button all the way.

7. Move it from the middle.  Bring your picture to life simply by placing your subject off-center.  Since most cameras focus on whatever is in the middle, remember to lock the focus on your subject before re-framing the shot (see tip #6 above).

8. Know your flash’s range.  For many cameras, this is only 10 feet (or 4 steps away).

9. Watch the light!  For people pics, choose soft lighting (think cloudy day).  For scenic pics, use long shadows (think really early or really late daylight).

10. Be a director.  Add some props, rearrange your subjects or try a different viewpoint.  Hint: bringing subjects together tends to let personalities shine!

And always say “cheese!”

Channeling Jane

I’m going to start with a confession – baring my sole via Footnotes is highly therapeutic (and inexpensive!).

I love Jane Austen.  I know, Mark Twain (another fave author of mine), despised her.  In fact, I think he said something akin to “I detest her characters,” but with all due apology to Mr. Twain, I disagree.  I enjoy Elizabeth’s wit, Darcy’s hauteur and Lydia’s woeful behavior.  Emma’s immaturity makes me laugh, and Anne Elliott’s constancy makes me cry.  I think Marianne’s journey to love is as touching as Fanny Price’s journey to self-esteem is courageous.

I once received a beautiful set of Austen’s books in hardback, and I re-read two or three at least twice a year.  With each re-read I discover something new – the books were truly a gift that keep on giving.  And just the experience of re-reading them is a self indulgence.  I look forward to a glass of wine, a cozy throw and a chapter or two after my own little heroines have gone to bed.

This is not to say my pleasure in Austen’s social commentary on English society in the 1800s is derived solely from print.  No folks, I have to really fess up now – I watch the movies too.  And I’m a harsh critic.  Anything deviating too much from the actual plot and dialogue annoys me to no end, and therefore my favorite versions of Jane’s tales on screen usually hail from the BBC.  Most of the time, I can count on the plot and dialogue to stay true, and in my experience, the BBC does a nice job of casting actors who render character portrayals that meet my “great expectations” (I know, it’s a Dickens pun, but I couldn’t resist!).

Fortunately, I don’t have to land a plane at Heathrow to get my BBC fix.  In fact, the best way to channel the BBC acually comes via B’nN.  ‘Tis true.  Barnes & Noble has an entire section of their website (and their stores) dedicated exclusively to the BBC-produced movies and television programs.  They offer the complete set of Jane Austen, which includes her lesser-known works as well as Emma, Persuasion, the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice (yummy!) as well as my favorite rendition of Sense & Senibility (sorry, Hugh, you’re not it).

And just in case there are some of you who channel Twain, not Jane, there’s Poirot(mystery!), Monty Python (humor!), and Top Gear (cars!) to whet your anti-Austen whistle!

Cheerio mates!

I’m Full of Beans

I love jelly beans. The ORIGINAL jelly beans, not the Jelly Bellies. (You can underscore that for effect.) The problem with this little love of mine, is that decent, traditional jelly beans are very hard to find. Occasionally I get lucky and find a large bag of Brach’s Original jelly beans at a random drug store, and I try to stock up, but they never seem to last as long as I’d like. And the best, absolute best, are produced by See’s Candy, but these beans are only sold during the Easter season, and they only come in very small bags, so you have to order like 100 if you’re shooting to satisfy cravings throughout the remaining 11 months of the year.

My girls and I always jump into little boutique candy stores in our version of a “Holy Grail filled with jelly beans” quest, and though we can find Jelly Bellies in every flavor from cherry to vomit (which my Harry Potter groupie thinks is a riot), we can never just find the good old-fashioned beans. This creates some sort of existential candy dilemma for me. I want to fall to my knees and scream to confectioners everywhere, “When did the world get so complicated? Can’t we just hold on to one last simple thing? Does everything have to be doctored, enhanced and super-sized (or in the case of the jelly bean, miniaturized)? Is there nothing left that is pure? Why is this happening? Where is this going? Am I all alone in my search for the original jelly bean?”

Yeah…I should have gone to Juilliard.

At any rate, in the absence of actual jelly beans, what my daughters and I have accumulated instead is jelly bean trivia.  Apparently we’re full of beans as well as useless information!

Did you know…

My friend the jelly bean hails from a Middle Eastern confection known as the Turkish Delight, which was also made of soft jelly and coated in confectioner’s powder.

Get this…

The earliest known appearance of the jelly bean was during the American Civil War, when William Schrafft, of Boston, led a program to send jelly beans to soldiers.

Try this on for size…

The standard flavor of a red jelly bean is cherry. Yellow? Why lemon, of course.

And for your next Trivial Pursuit party…

In U.S. slang in the early ’20s, a “jelly bean” was a young man who made great efforts to dress very stylishly, presumably to attract women because he had nothing else by which to recommend himself.

Here’s one for ya’…

The outside of a jelly bean is basically the same colored hard candy coating found on a Jordan almond (which I also love!).

No way…

It takes seven to 21 days to make a single Jelly Belly.

Get ready…

April 22 is National Jelly Bean Day! That’s only eight months away!  Yip-Yip-Yippppppeeeeeeeee! (And I’m not even on a sugar high!)

Holy cow…

16 billion jelly beans are produced each year before the commencement of Easter festivities.

You don’t say…

Though everyone knows Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans, who knows Ronald Reagan started eating jelly beans while trying to kick his smoking habit? He never gave them up (the beans, not the cigs).

And now, dear friends, you can never say you don’t know beans about beans!

The Gift of the Magi?

I don’t know about you, but I come from the family that has everything. And yes, I do mean everything. It makes my holiday/birthday/Mom’s Day/Dad’s Day shopping a little akin to the Imagination Olympics.

Case in point? We’ll start with my mom. My mom decided to collect roosters one day. She has hundreds of them. Okay, maybe that’s conservative. I’ll put it out there and venture a guess at thousands. (Millions might be pushing it). I don’t know why she started collecting roosters, and it’s a real sticking point with my dad – maybe because he doesn’t like roosters, or maybe because if the rooster cookie jars, rooster dish towels, rooster spoon rests, rooster trivets and rooster wine stops were ACTUAL roosters, the U.S. poultry count would reach an all time high and the Department of Agriculture would have to enforce some sort of population control measure. But you can imagine, it is very difficult to buy a unique and meaningful gift for someone who already owns a set of ceramic rooster wall hooks.

And my sister? She actually owns all of those crazy things you see in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. I’ll send a shout-out the next time she has a garage sale. I would hate for anyone to pass on the opportunity to own a High Definition Video Pen, Remote Controlled Rolling Beverage Cooler and a 33-in-1 Golf Club at yard sale prices! But again, what could I possibly purchase for my little sis that says, “Relax, enjoy and feel loved” when she already has a Frozen Fruit Soft Serve Processor?

Enter Etsy.  I love this site. I love how unique everything is, I love how you can shop anywhere on the price point range, and I really love the idea that I’m supporting self-employed individuals across the world. From cufflinks to fine art to personalized tees for the kids I find I am always able to come up with a little something that is inexpensive yet classy, and that says: “Hey. We both know you already have everything, but I’m thinking about you and I love you and I wanted to say Happy Birthday!”

This year, my sister and my mom are both getting monogrammed stacking rings (hundreds of shapes, sizes and materials from which to choose) for their b-days.  I might even buy a set for myself, I love them so much! But be forewarned, while these rings will of course feature the initials of their children and grandchildren respectively, I am also throwing in an “H” for each of them (as in hen…and hoard).