Friday, November 28, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Self Awareness edition

The backstory: We spent part of our Thanksgiving break cleaning out two rooms that seem to become the repository of crap in my house: the guest bedroom and the downstairs study.  JT helped in the study because most of the things abandoned in there belonged to him.  One of those things, a plastic red devil’s pitchfork, attracted his interest.

JT:  We got this for a Halloween costume I never wore.

Me:  No.  We got that for you when we were at a Halloween store because you wanted to march around with a pitchfork and protest.


JT:  Really?

Me: Really.

JT: Huh.

Left unsaid: JT was a little kid with one hell of an imagination.
Related: he was sometimes a tad weird.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Supper has been served and now we rest, thankful for our many blessings.  Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Getting the Feast on the Table: Thanksgiving Day

Yesterday, I detailed the planning that goes into getting together our Thanksgiving supper.  Today is feast day and there are a few more chores to complete.  The list isn’t too long and I had a good time tracking events yesterday, so today I am doing the same.  Updates as warranted!

The tasks ahead of us (items in bold are completed):

1.  Roast the turkey.
10:00 am: Turkey is out of the fridge; being drained of brine, rinsed and prepped for roasting.

10:30 am: Oven is on; set for 400 degrees.

10:50 am: The bird is in the oven at 400 degrees.

11:10 am: Lowered the roasting temp of bird to 325 degrees.

1:15 pm: Lowered the roasting temp of bird to 225 the final hours of roasting!

2:25 pm: Turkey is out of the oven; resting.

2:50: Carve turkey.

2.  Bake rolls.
8:15 am: Rolls set out to rise.

2:50 pm: Rolls are in the oven.

3.  Peel and boil potatoes; mash them just before supper gets set on the table.
2:05 pm: Peel and cut potatoes; set to boiling.

2:50 pm: Drain and whip potatoes.

4.  Assemble cornbread dressing.
10:50 am: Chopping onions, celery, and jalapeno for cornbread dressing.

11:00 am: Boil water for dressing broth.

2:00 pm: mix broth into cornbread dressing.

5.  Bake rolls, cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole, and green bean casserole.
1:55 pm: Side dishes set out in preparation for baking.

2:25 pm: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees for casseroles.

2:30 pm: Casseroles in the oven.

6.  Assemble cheese tray.
11:40 am: Slice cheese for cheese tray.

2:15 pm: Set out brie; assemble the rest of cheese tray & crackers.

7. Make gravy.
2:55 pm: Start gravy.

8.  Set the table.
9:50 am: Dining room table cleared off.

10:00 am: Set dishes; serving bowls on table.

11:00 am: Assemble centerpiece for table.

2:30 pm: Set the table.

3:15:  Supper is served!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Feast: The Pre-Planning

I secured all of my holiday supplies last weekend, so that I wouldn’t need to be at the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving, when the madness is well beyond my patience level.  This year’s supper is a traditional feast and will feature all the usual suspects:  roast turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, yeast rolls with butter, a cheese tray, and pumpkin pie.

I am blessed enough to have the day off from school and while the icy snow falls, I will be completing the advance work that makes Thanksgiving Day go smoothly.  I spread the tasks throughout the day, so I can get other things down as well.  I love this process and find cooking to be among the most pleasant parts of my holiday celebration.  This year, I am posting my preparation checklist here on the blog and as tasks are completed, I will live-update.  

The tasks at hand for today (items in bold are completed):

1.  Brine the turkey…….I do this for anywhere between 15-24 hours before I plan to put the bird in the oven.  I buy a fresh turkey from a local butcher so that I don't need to worry about defrosting it.

9:45 am: Mix the brine for the turkey.  Boil and let cool.

10:30 am: Rinse turkey and set in brine bag.

11:00 am: Pour brine in the bag; refrigerate brining turkey.

2.  Make cranberry sauce.

11:00 am: Start boil of sugar, orange juice, and water for cranberry sauce.

noon: Cranberry sauce cooled and in the fridge

3.  Prepare and bake the pumpkin pie.

12:10 pm: Make pie crust; start pumpkin pie custard.

12:40 pm: Pie is in the oven.

2:00 pm: Pie is out of the oven; cooling.

4.  Roast sweet potatoes; assemble sweet potato casserole.
1:45: Wash sweet potatoes for roasting

2:10: Sweet potatoes in the oven for roasting.

3:00: Mix together the ingredients for sweet potato casserole; place in the fridge until tomorrow.

5.  Assemble green bean casserole.
1:50 pm: Cook green beans for casserole

2:01 pm: Assemble casserole; cover and store in fridge for tomorrow.  

6.  Make cornbread (tomorrow, I will mix together the cornbread dressing).
12:45 pm: Set out cornbread ingredients.

1:25 pm: Mix together cornbread.

2:10 pm: Cornbread is in the oven.

2:35 pm: Cornbread is cooling.

3:20 pm: The day's cooking chores are complete and I am turning my attention to the tidying up the guest bedroom. Let's hear it for holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spice, Spice, Baby

A few weeks ago, T tackled the mess that was my spice shelf.  I say was because she found shelves and organized the whole operation.  Now I can easily find the things I am looking for, a very handy development now that the holiday cooking season has arrived.

That’s happy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Winter’s Rest

In my perfect world, happy endings always occur.  For this reason, I sometimes read the end of a book first, just to prepare myself for the prospect of an unhappy ending.  Of course, life doesn’t always offer happy endings and, even when it does, it may be that there is difficulty and sadness along the way.  To remind me to be patient with this uncertainty, I like to garden.

A garden demands some labor in exchange for a reward a few months later.  The growing season alone is a lesson in waiting.  Of course, I’ve also planted my fair share of seeds that don’t sprout.  So I know that gardening is not a guarantee of a happy ending.   But it is an investment in the idea that patience may bring beauty.  Seasonal change is its own reminder of constancy and on the coldest and darkest day of the year, the promise of a warm long day to come is as certain as life gets.

I thought about this last weekend as I got out my garden shoes for one last set of garden chores before winter.  I dug up my dahlia bulbs and stored them in the basement for next spring.  Tomato cages were put away for next season.  I ran the mower over the leaves on the lawn to mulch them up; this disposes of the fallen leaves and feeds the lawn over winter.  This particular chore also had the double  purpose of running the mower out of gas for the winter.  

Many of the leaves in my yard have already fallen and the stark beauty of winter has begun to take hold.  The peach tree has just two leaves left.

The apple and pear trees are not quite done dropping their leaves.

The garden had a few roses that had survived the cold.  I brought those inside for one last bouquet.

The cold temperatures that are settling in are a reminder that Winter’s season of rest is nearly here.  Gardening chores are shelved for a little while.  

On the front porch, a few pots have bulbs hidden in the dark soil.  These porch plantings will be the first sign of spring when it arrives in a few months.

Until then, Mother Nature has ordered that we rest.  It is a welcome respite.

Friday, November 21, 2014


On Thursday morning, JT and I left the house a little later than I would have liked and we were rushing.  Needing to rush in New Jersey is never a good idea and, naturally, things went poorly.  By the time we got to the traffic circle in South Bound Brook, I was not amused.  I was in that circle when a large garbage truck entered in front of me, forcing me to stop quickly to avoid being hit and crushed.  In that second, I shouted and immediately flipped off the driver, who was looking right at me as he cut me off.

I was wearing mittens.

A few seconds later, out of the traffic circle and now crossing the bridge over the Raritan River, my headphone-clad offspring looked at me and said, “that was fucked up.”


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All Grown Up

In the eleven years that I taught in the Upper School, I coached the Model Congress team at my school.  Each November, the team made a trip to Washington D.C., site of the real Congress, and participated in a contest to see if a Congress made up of high school students could do a better job than the actual Congress (hint: Yes, they could).

For most of the years that I made that trip with my team, JT joined us as the team mascot.  Here’s a picture of his first Model Congress trip, in 2006, when he was 6.  That year, I brought some babysitters to watch over the boy while I wrangled teenagers into bed at 1 am.  That’s the amazing J and C pictured with us at the Washington Zoo.

Over the years, we developed traditions during the trip.  Here we are in 2007, the year we started watching an IMAX movie on our annual visit.

When he was 8, he tried his hand at ordering room service.

And we visited the Jefferson Monument.

In 2009, we staged a Viking invasion of the Congress.

The year he was 10, we brought a friend and sought to avoid the scary beasts in the Museum of Natural History.

In 2011, we took a walk to the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt monuments.

Our last trip was two years ago, when JT was in the 7th grade.  We messed around in Union Station and took a trip to the Zoo, as if things had come full circle.

Last year, I moved to the Middle School and a new coach took over the team and accompanied the students to the capitol.  This year, as a 9th grader, JT wrote a bill and he's joined the Model Congress team as a member.  His team mascot days are over.  Tomorrow, he heads south to D.C. with his teammates and plans to explore the city with his friends.  He has a good bill to propose and he’s practice debated.   He’s leaving his Mama at home, as befits a 14 year old learning to make his way in the world.  At home, I'll mark the quick passage of time and wonder just how fast the next few years will fly by.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Your Moment of Floral Zen

For my birthday, the principal and assistant with whom I share the office gave me these lovely flowers.

They sat on the table in my dining room last week and provided much-needed beauty and a reminder that even when the job is hard, I have some great colleagues, the kind that know how to laugh off the rough edges of middle school life.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Subtle Asides edition

The backstory:  JT was at the mall with me, a trip he made voluntarily because he had something he wanted to buy himself at the Apple Store.  After the errand at Apple, he found himself at Talbots with me. I had stopped in to purchase a scarf that was on sale.  I treated the mission as a strategic strike and was in the store less than a minute before I located the scarf and stepped up to the counter to make the purchase.  Talbots has a shopper’s reward card that offers occasional discounts.  This fact matters to the conversation that ensued. 

Clerk:  It’s your birthday month.  Would you like to use the 10% off on this purchase?

Me: (knowing that the 10% off can’t be combined with the 25% off I was already using):  No thanks.

Clerk:  Are you sure?

Me (wanting to get out of the store as soon as possible):  Yes, I’m sure.   I’ll come back later this month.

JT:  You’ll come back WITHOUT ME, right?

Apparently, when I return, it will be without the boy. The clerk was distinctly unamused by our  mother-son communication, a fact the boy noted when we left the store, as if it's a character flaw to not get (or enjoy) sarcasm.