Friday, October 31, 2008

"Soul, Soul for a Soul Cake"

I've always loved the annual tradition of trick-or-treating. When my boys outgrow this tradition, I may have to borrow some neighborhood kids so I can still go out with the little ghouls and goblins! It turns out that trick-or-treating dates back to the English All Souls' Day parades, where poor people would go door-to-door asking for food. Families would give them "soul cake" pastries in exchange for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. Churches encouraged this practice, thinking it was a nifty way to replace the age-old tradition of Samhain, where people would leave out food and red wine for dead spirits. This new tradition was called going "a-souling" and kids eventually took over the task - they would visit homes in their neighborhoods and call out "Soul, Soul, for a Soul Cake: pray you good mistress, a soul cake."

Wearing costumes also has ties to Celtic and European cultures. Winter was really frightening for people hundreds of years ago. There was little food, the days were short, and most people were plain afraid of the dark. Most people thought ghosts came back to earth on Halloween, and they were obviously terrified of leaving their homes. They wore masks if they had to go out in the dark so that the ghosts would think they were fellow ghosts. Big bowls of food were placed in front of their doors to keep the ghosts happy and to prevent them from entering their homes.

In honor of all this craziness, I've decided to make soul cakes for Halloween. I'm hoping they'll make for some interesting breakfast food in the morning! Tomorrow night's recipe? Pumpkin Lasagna!

Soul Cake Recipe

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk
(see measure conversions for more information)

- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
- Beat in the egg yolks.
- Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
- Stir in the currants.
- Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
- Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
- Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Romance vs. To Do List

This is a true story. I am highly prone to exaggeration, as I am a mostly SAHM with 3 kids. However, this romantic comedy is 100% The Truth.

My husband and I managed to farm out above mentioned children, the dog and cat (the lizard was on his own!) for an entire weekend. We secured a cute little cabin on the Metolius, we made reservations at Jen’s Garden, and we brought along a few things that we both hoped to do over the two nights and three days away. Here’s where the plan starts to go awry. I kid you not, here is what I brought along for the romantic getaway: my computer, 2 DVDs, a journal and pens, a few magazines, a book I’d hoped to read, ipod, needlepoint, candles, red wine, radio, Crest Whitestrips, walking shoes, groceries, a copy of my old resume that needed updating, thank you notes, camera, sketch pad (also charcoal and colored pencils), Christmas list, lingerie, toenail polish, tweezers, and Tylenol pm. I was one piece of luggage away from my husband canceling the trip!

Needless to say, once we got down to the cabin I calmed down a bit about all the gear. I became philosophical instead of frantic. But then I thought how great it would be for the two of us to talk about our 5 Year Plan, school for the kids next year, career goals, a book I’d been thinking about writing, the next summer’s vacation plans… What is wrong with me?

In the end, we had a relaxing time, a great meal, a 3 hour walk along the river, some lovely time alone together, and I read all of the magazines.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Friendly Clerks

I wanted to follow up on Miss Julie's [love the name] commentary on her numerous encounters with a chronically friendly clerk at a local grocery store chain here in Bend. I am here to report that sadly, this clerk is living with me now.....

It started out innocently enough, with standard-fare comments such as, "Will you be needing any help out today?", or,"Great weather we're having, isn't it!". Statements that require an effortless nod of the head while swiping my credit card.

But the moment of truth always arrives as over achieving clerks like this are about to hand me the receipt."Go ahead, just hand over the receipt, come on....", I say to myself, and at the same time trying out hypnotic suggestion. As always, I am a nano-second too late.

The 'trained to be friendly' friendly clerk prides herself in JUST That last bit of effort. A pause, then a narrowing of the eyebrows, followed by direct eye contact. "Thank you Mrs.......Stien-hoff?" At this point I am usually experiencing an elevation of anxiety - I know all too well how this is going to play out.

"Yes", I say a bit too confidently, reaching for the receipt . Again, a nano-second too late. She's quick.

She always knows - knows I am pacifying her somehow, and she just won't have it. She tries again, hanging on to the receipt firmly now, with both hands.

"Is it Sern-kop?" she asks as if prize money were at stake. People are starting to form a line behind me, and pretending to be interested in Brittany Spears latest fiasco, but I see the glares - as if it's MY Fault. This clerk will pronounce my name as if her life depended on it!

I try my hardest at politeness after her third or fourth try. "Close enough", I say cheerily, and reach for the receipt. Once again, her reflexes are too fast for me.

Driving home, I listen to her read it again and again from the passenger seat, "Stienup? Sternkope? Sternberg - it's Sternberg right?!"

Flossing my teeth that night, I watch her reflection in the mirror, seated on my bathroom counter reciting, "Sterhuff? Stienhopp?..."

The next morning after our third refill of French Roast, I firmly take her chin in my hand and patiently mouth "S-t-e-r-n-k-o-p-f. It's Sternkopf. And you can drop the Mrs. part"

The friendly clerk repeats my last name in an almost whisper and a nod of satisfaction, then gently hands me the receipt, and with a friendly smile and a gaze over my shoulder says, "I can help the next person."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fighting the Blob: Chubby Mommy Gets Organized

Well, I did it. I called my friend who's an extraordinary organizer and a perpetual neat freak and I asked her to help me deal with my life, which seems to have spread out into every single corner of this 3150 sq. foot house.

My stuff has become like the Blob, I tell you. Remember that movie from the 1950s? The big glob of goo would ooze around town, swallowing everything in it's path.

Of course she said yes. I mean, she drops her kids off for play dates quite often, and she probably wonders if she'll be able to find them three hours later in the jumble of chaos that my house has become in the past few months.

But, she's one of those gracious people who knows that despite my clutter, I'm still a nice person. And she secretly breathes a sigh of relief when I finally call her, once a year or so, crying uncle.

"Help! Help!" I whine "I'm not sure where to start! The baskets of unmatched socks have gone Factorial on me! I think they are replicating! I shove them in a corner and get a new basket, but I'm running out of corners!"

And she shows up with a smile and a plan. A plan that surely she has been crafting every day for the past year. A plan that outlines systems and order for a fresh start. And although she may roll her eyes and sigh quietly when she opens the closet doors, it is not sigh of judgement. Just a sigh of acceptance and knowledge.

Because here's the the thing: my family needs ongoing clutter maintenance. We will not be fixed with bright colored bins and garage sales and carting 7 truckloads of stuff off to Goodwill. Eventually, the clutter Blob comes back again.

And my friend knows that. She's given up on changing us over the years. She's just happy when we let her organize us for a little while. She likes it when we can find a video or a game or a sweatshirt that her child has left behind quickly and easily.

She also likes it when she can find her kids when it's time for them to come home.

These professional organizer types have a genetic difference, I think. I'm sure their blood flows in neat and tidy orderly rows through their veins. Back and forth, in lines, like a marching band, probably.

I think my blood splashes around like water in a toddler's backyard wading pool in the heat of summer. My blood isn't bad or anything, don't get me wrong. It's just always looking for corners.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Top 10.5 Ways to Keep Your Sanity In a Crappy Economy

Financial times are tough for everyone. But don't panic. There are lots of things you can't control, but you can control how you react to it, and how you manage your finances.

1. If you have financial advisors, meet with them and make sure you have the right balance of stock and bond funds. Whatever you do, don't panic and cash out your investments and hide the moolah under your mattress.

2. Put your daily spending on a diet. Most financial advisors can help you set up a budget that will cut your spending and put more money into your emergency savings.

If you don't use Quicken to track your spending, there are some great personal finance web sites such as Wesabe, Mint, and Yodlee that will do it for you for free. Remember when you were dieting and had to write down everything you ate during the day? That approach really works with spending, too. I use a wallet-sized spending tracker sheet from Charles Schwab that I keep in the car. I write down every little purchase. It's quite an eye opener. There are things that I won't give up, like "de-graying" my hair. I also save a lot by drinking fewer lattes (great for the waistline, too), which saves me around $500 annually.

3. I shop at Safeway and save an average of $50 every week by planning my menu based on what's on sale. Go to Safeway's web site and type in your zip code, and click on weekly specials. Browse by category, and select the items you want to buy. It automatically generates a shopping list. You can also directly print manufacturer's coupons from their site - I usually save an extra $5.00 that way. All in all I can save about $2,400 every year in groceries if I plan ahead!

3. Do you really need to buy brand-new Polo and Quicksilver shirts for your kids? Sign up for TJ Maxx's store alert service and you'll get a text message or email when items come in that you're looking for. Our town has a few really nice used clothing stores for kids, such as Stone Soup - you'd be amazed at the quality of their clothes.

4. Leave your credit cards at home! If you have a clothing budget and saw a must-have winter coat on sale, bring cash just for that amount. That way you won't be tempted to buy makeup, jewelry and other crap you don't really need.

5. Look at your credit card bills and get rid of all the monthly or annual charges for stuff you can do without. Monthly movie rentals, online greeting card memberships, credit reports, all add up to a lot of moolah.

6. I'll admit it, I had an Amazon addiction. Turn off Amazon's evil 1-click setting and delete all of your credit cards. That way you have to enter in your credit card number every time you make a purchase. Better yet, buy local! If you're in Bend, check out Pegasus Books, one of my favorite stores on the planet.

7. Whatever you do, don't give up exercise. If anything, you should amp up your exercise activity during stressful financial times. However, if you're paying for a gym membership and you haven't been there in six months, it's time to cancel. Go for a walk/run outside with your friends, work out in your home, or ride a bike.

8. Make your own stuff. I go crazy for anything that has to do with Halloween or fall. Instead of buying that $150 cool autumn wreath from the florist, take a picture of it and go to Michael's. They'll help you make something similar for a fraction of the price. Halloween costumes are another thing - why are we paying $50-$80 for your child's poorly made, plasticy Halloween costume when you can make something cooler for a fraction of the price? Check out Instructables for some amazing ideas. For other home decor ideas, check out Thrifty Decor Chick's amazing blog.

9. Connect with your friends and do dinner and a movie at each other's homes! It's much cheaper than spending over $100 on a night on the town, and it's infinitely more fun.

10. Choose your vacations wisely. Instead of going to Italy this summer, we've decided to visit national parks. That's a huge cost savings, and I'm sure our kids will have a great time on our road trip. (They better, dammit!)

10.5. If you're a stay-at-home mom and are looking for some freelance gigs, check out Guru and elance for some ideas.

Stick to this mantra: spend less, exercise more, eat healthy, listen to music, read more books, and spend more time with friends and family. Blogging helps, too!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cheerful Check-Out Girls

I want to tell you about the OVERLY friendly check-out girl at Safeway who absolutely WEARS ME OUT with her cheer, and of course I feel like a HEEL for it, and every time I leave that store I am exasperated with myself for not being cheerier, even though I try, and maybe she just catches me on a bad day, every time I happen to go through her line.

She never has a bad day. She is like a Stepford check-out girl.

And then as I walk to my car, I think maybe I will just go to Ray’s Foods next time, even though it’s more expensive, since it’s never crowded and the checkers are friendly in a REGULAR way, like NORMAL-people-friendly, who might be having a bad day, but they’re doing their best to cover it up since it’s their JOB to greet people in a pleasant tone with a normal smile, and just a flick of eye contact. Sort of like I might do if I were a check-out girl.

Ray’s always has a bagger available, a bagger who always remembers if you said paper or plastic, and doesn’t just automatically give you plastic which you hate, because the food rolls out of the bags all over your car, unless you tie them, which they never do at Safeway, and you feel so bad about the ENVIRONMENT and you know you should just buy more of those cloth shopping bags, even though you have 4, but they’re never in your CAR when you have to run in and get EMERGENCY WINE before the kids get done with swim team, are they?

But if you get paper bags, it’s somehow better for the oceans, and you can shove all your unread Wall Street Journal newspapers into those paper bags and recycle them eventually, which makes you feel good for so many reasons, on so many levels.

I swear that Safeway Girl is so cheery, she must be a Mormon missionary in disguise, probably sent out to field test the happiness vs. crabbiness of certain target markets, in order to measure the effectiveness of a new brand of essential oil air freshener Safeway plans to release into their stores soon. The kind of custom designed scent that will subtlety cause middle-aged Chubby Mommies to stop being so crabby to the nice check-out girls who are just trying to earn a living, by the way, and would it kill you people to smile and be friendly for 20 seconds in a grocery store for Pete’s sake?

I’ve never met a crabby Mormon, except for ex-Mormons like Dooce, but she does not count because I haven’t met her in person, and I have a feeling if she were working at Safeway, she’d probably try to be nice, since she was raised that way. And she’s not crabby all the time, either. Just sometimes, like when people send her death threats or leave nasty comments, or her dog is throwing up or her kid is having huge tantrums in furniture stores, and of course that would make a person crabby, no questions asked.

Dooce is probably much nicer than me, since I was always more of a Lutheran, and even though I’m not an ex-Lutheran, I’m not sure I’m really a regular Lutheran any more because I stopped going to church when my 3 year old screamed “STOP SINGING” over and over in the aisle on Christmas Eve, and the whole charade was just too much for me, because deep down maybe I’m more Jewish or Buddhist or something, but when I took a religion test online, it said I was actually a Secular Humanist, which seems about right, but don’t tell my mom, it might hurt her feelings, since I’m the one that sort of got her going to the Lutheran Church back when I was in 7th grade and it seemed like a great idea.

Seems I was only there on that one Christmas Eve for the singing anyway, and the screaming sort of ruined that. And my kid is 14 now, for the record, and I'm not blaming her for my non-church going ways, not in the least. For the record.

So maybe some of you Parking Lot Mama’s readers will have clever ideas to help me be a better person to the Safeway check-out girl, so I’ll feel better about myself. I want to learn to fake CHEER at the grocery store and I need helpful hints. I’m obviously not doing it very well on my own. My mom says I should pray about it.
Hey ladies,
Super enthused to be a part of this group...more later!Susanne

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thank God for Girlfriends!

Have you ever had one of those days where you desperately needed girlfriend time....and I mean desperately? That was my day yesterday. I didn't care where it was, what we did or even if we talked to each other at all. At about 4:00 in the afternoon, it hit! If I didn't do something other than my normal routine, I was going to burst. It wasn't even about the kids. I get plenty of time during the day without them, but I am still at home working in my home office by myself. Me, Myself and I have had many wonderful conversations, have enjoyed LOTS of quiet time, and more often than not have quite productive days. Probably sounds great to some, but trust me, it does get monotonous after a while.

So, yesterday I went to my girlfriend Jen's house and knocked on her door..then I pounded on the door, then I yelled up to her window, then I knocked again....NO RESPONSE. At that point my 2 year old side kick said "why don't you just call her mommy?". Brilliant! I proceeded to call her, text her and email her.....still NO RESPONSE. I started to feel panicked and now was officially becoming a stalker! But she was the only girlfriend I could think of who didn't have other obligations and as I said before, I was desperate. I finally calmed myself down, went back home and decided I just needed to make the best of my afternoon with my kids and husband....and dinner and dishes and laundry....AAAHHHHH! Just then, a knock on my door. It was Jen and an ice cold bottle of white wine. At that point I felt a huge sense of relief. I proceeded to apologize for stalking her. "What do you mean?" she asked. She hadn't read her email or text message and hadn't heard the pounding on the door. She just needed some girlfriend time. Needless to say, some adult conversation and half a bottle of wine later, I felt revived!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are Birthday Parties Getting Out Of Hand?

I've thrown some pretty awesome birthday parties in my day. The most over-the-top one was for my oldest son when he was six. The theme was "Spy Academy." I spent two months, yes, TWO months working on it. The kids came in and were promptly photographed and fingerprinted. Spy Academy ID cards were quickly printed out and laminated.

The first course in the academy was disguises. They were led to four huge trunks packed with costumes and accessories. After they were properly disguised, they separated into two teams and went through the woods using GPS handhelds (with the help of two spy instructors), looking for way points where they were given scrambled "clues" to find the location of the stolen birthday cake. After the completion of that "course" they came in and created a custom spy gadget. Each spy kid got a small cereal box covered in foil and got to choose from a slew of craft supplies to "decorate" their gadget. Then there was a showing of the spy kids movie followed by a huge sleepover. The party favors? Each kid went home with a plastic spy briefcase with their spy academy certificate, spy i.d., handcuffs, spy sunglasses, and a bunch of other spy-related stuff. The invitation? A cassette tape with the party info on it that would "self destruct" in ten seconds, delivered in a confidential envelope.

It was creative and fun, yet very exhausting. I started to think, "Do my kids even enjoy these crazy themed parties"? Can we tone the parties down a bit and still make it a fun experience for everyone? And who invented the idea of these outlandish party favor bags, anyway? I certainly don't remember getting them as a kid.

Luckily, as my kids have gotten older, we've gotten away from the uber-theme parties and have had good old-fashioned soccer games in the park or sleepovers with just a few friends in the back yard.

At least I thought that was the trend.

Until my seven-year-old wanted to have a "Indiana Jones party with an obstacle course in the back yard where we could launch a giant ball at the guests as they leap off the hay bales....and can we do a treasure hunt in the woods with GPS devices like Tommy did when he was seven? Oh, and Mom, let's put fake snakes in the party favor bags, with gold coins, an Indy hat, a whip.....OOOOOH! Let's put the Indiana Jones DVD set in each party bag! And we can dig holes in the back yard and bury crystal skulls! And we can fill the front yard with sand with a sign that says "Dig Site" and hide skeleton bones in it! And we can decorate the inside of the house with spider webs and snakes to make it look like a cave and hide the holy grail in it! And so on.

Calgon, take me away........
Note to husband: for my 50th birthday, I want Cirque du Soleil to come to our house and put on a custom "clown school" for all 500 party guests. Or we could just make a batch of chili and watch "E.T." with the boys. I think I'll go with the latter.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Wild and Creative Gals Do Lunch

What happens when four smart, energetic women meet for lunch and wine at Merenda's? You end up with a list of some incredible new product ideas, along with a few ideas for solving the financial (and political) crisis. While we didn't revive the stock markets or get you know who elected yet, we were rather amazed at the amount of good ideas we could generate just over lunch. We're all committed to figuring out how to use our passions and talents to come up with a brilliant business idea! Stay tuned. The journey's just beginning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Funny, Intelligent, Hyper Moms Looking For.....A Project

We're looking for something to do besides the 89 school volunteer projects we're working on. Our parking lot discussions have led to lots of, ahem, ideas. Such as: Stand up comedy! Blogging! Starting a company that only requires 20 hours of work every week! Something that pays the bills! Suggestions?