A Thanksgiving Smidgeon

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Until this year my family has always gathered at our house to share Thanksgiving.   I clean, cook, stress and repeat, until everybody has had at least one disagreement and the house is a mess. This year I skipped the “cook, stress and repeat,”  and turned this into one Thanksgiving  for which I will always be grateful.

This year we hauled our fivesome to NY to watch the Macy’s Balloons inflate while navigating ourselves through a a sleet storm.  We stayed in what might have been a hotel room or a closet with a bed, we’re still not sure.  We ate really bad food in what seemed like a nice place and my daughters and I walked 35 blocks from our hotel to Bryant Park the day after,  just window shopping and stopping once for hot chocolate.

On that long blustery walk  we stopped to help an elderly lady near Central Park.  From a half block away I noticed her.  She wore a navy blue buttoned up wool coat with  a nice white hat and scarf.    She stood on the sidewalk waving while taxi after taxi passed her by and picked up the more aggressive people who were able to whistle or step out from the curb to be more visible.   My guess is they didn’t see her tiny frame and passive gestures, and as we got closer  I could see that her hands, one gripping her walker and the other in the air were red and chapped.

I asked if she’d like help getting a cab and she said yes, her voice brittle and the relief  nearly bringing her to tears.   We got her a taxi and I watched the driver help put her walker in the back of the cab.  I noticed how shaky she was as  he tucked her in the back seat and she told us how hard it is to be so helpless, and how kind we were to stop.   I told her to have a nice holiday and stay warm and we waved goodbye.

This morning, back at home, we talked about the weekend, the funny people on the subway, the celebrities on the parade floats, the bad food and the teeny hotel room but we didn’t talk about the lady in Central Park probably because for us, for the kids, it was so small in terms of effort, but in reward it was huge.   It took so little for  us to help her.  She needed  an inch from us to go a mile and the intangible reward of her happiness wont be broken or lost or forgotten.

It makes me wish we could always move just one smidgeon in a kinder direction not because it’s Thanksgiving, but because it’s a good idea.

 

The wisdom oldself gave myself for my birthday


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My birthday is looming and yesterday morning I had a little  pity party for passing youth.  At first it felt like bereavement for my younger prettier and thinner self, then it turned into wistful wishing for a smarter or richer life. I wished I still had a mother to cry to,  and then I thought about  Oldself.

Oldself isn’t in the dictionary but I’m using it anyway.  It’s just the younger version of our true selves but it’s not the truth.  It’s the one we choose to remember.   Not the one who suffered the  agonies and anxieties and mistakes of growing up, but the one who was happy and colorful and carefree and glorious. Oldself had no bad days, except maybe the darkest ones but even those are edited.  Oldself is pretty and young and is running in slow motion through a field of daisies, rushing in for a  hug that will last a good long time.  She doesn’t have acne, or arguments, she’s so happy she doesn’t even have a Christmas Wish List.  Oldself is completely content.

My kids have bad days sometimes and I remember that it was a thing once, to have a bad day.   I guess with age and experience in relativity,  you realize that  bad days are seldom if ever entirely bad, and that bad moments happen, and soon pass.   When my kids are having those down days I’m sometimes at a loss to help them because I surely can’t fix everything.   I can hug them and listen to them and hope the rest fades away.  I can talk about how they’ll forget all this one day but they don’t understand.  They can’t.   They don’t have an oldself yet.

Today when I look in the mirror I don’t see a young pretty energetic girl.  I see someone  who is certain that wealth isn’t measured in dollars and happiness surely doesn’t come from a store.   That’s where oldself and myself align, as I expect it will for my kids one day. But oh, for now in this in between time it’s true that for my young daughters,  sometimes life will be a real bitch.

So I am saying thank you to Oldself for a birthday present called perspective.  Try putting that on a wish list and you’ll see what I mean about aging,  I hate getting older but I don’t mind being wiser.

Grape Debate

grapesLet’s talk about grapes for a minute, okay? They are tasty, fun, versatile, but not free.   Even so I do admit to having my own free sample grape taste now and again and yes I have allowed my kids to try a green AND a red grape before deciding on which grape would make the cut for that week. But now after 16 plus years in the supermarket with kids, I wonder just how many grapes I’ve sampled with, and without my children ? Should I run out and give the supermarket a check for one pound, maybe two? And do I offer that money on a day when they’re on sale or do I price gouge myself?

I googled this earlier and as I expected, opinions on the grape sample run the gamut from “of course it’s okay” to “you deserve jail time.” It’s a safe bet the grape police aren’t parents, and that the liberals are mostly exhausted parents of young children who think there should be a free grape buffet at the store’s entrance.

I’m somewhere in the middle of the great grape debate but in my perfect world there’s a store with goody bags of juice boxes and grapes for all  the hard working and tired moms who could do with a little less guilt.

But wherever you stand on the great grape debate, I encourage you to enjoy this recipe from Real Simple that requires grapes, but just a few…

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/couscous-salad-grapes-feta

Potato Chip Crusted Tilapia it’s gOOd

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This dish was given six thumbs ups by my three daughters.  I’m not a food photographer so you have to trust me.

Before we start here are two tips I learned by failing twice.

First: heat the baking pan before you put the fish on it.  Just put the plain pan in the hot oven for about five minutes before you cook the fish because whether you use oil or a non-stick spray, the fish will crisp much better if the pan is already hot.

Second: use crinkle cut kettle chips for the best crunch.

You will need two or three shallow dishes for breading, one large Ziploc bag for crushing the potato chips, and one cookie sheet for baking.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds of tilapia (if you buy the frozen kind, make sure it’s defrosted)
3/4 cup flour in a shallow dish
1 egg & two egg whites – beaten and placed in a shallow dish
3 (or so) ounces of potato chips – put in a zip top bag and crush them

Step one – preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Step two – rinse and pat dry the fish.  Fish should be in reasonable sized pieces. I like cutting them into wide(ish) strips. 

You, or your kids can crush the potato chips by putting them in a zip lock bag and either bulldozing them with a rolling pin or a can, but my favorite method is to take turns hitting the chips (while in the bag) with the bottom of a frying pan.  Moms – you know your kids – they may need  a watchful eye here.

Step three – lay out the process by setting up your dips.

- dip fish in flour, coat both sides
– dip fish in egg, coat both sides
– dip in crushed chips, coat both sides (use a dish or just use the bag)
– place fish on foil covered serving platter  (Use the serving platter to hold fish before cooking, then remove the foil and you have a clean platter for the serving)

Spray the baking sheet with non-stick spray or brush lightly with oil and stick the pan in the hot oven for five minutes.  While the pan is heating up, clean up the mess from the prep.  Remove the heated pan, quickly arrange the fish leaving space in between the fillets for even cooking.  Put it back in the oven for ten minutes, turn the fish and put it in for 5 more. As an option, you can turn the oven to broil for a few minutes at the end to ensure crispiness.  Serve with a salad, a slaw, or steamed vegetables from your freezer.

enjoy!  (6 points plus per serving for the weight watcher fans!)

 

A gOOd Way To Eat A Cupcake

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I rarely give a thought to cupcakes.  I try to avoid them altogether but cupcakes do have several advantages after all, like built in portion control and unlimited mix and match for those of us who like variety.  If you are lucky enough to have a good bakery nearby  you can also take yourself out for an inexpensive indulgence too. Ask them to put your cupcake in a box so it ‘s more like a present and bring a bow.

Years ago, we had a silly party with the kids in the neighborhood and for desert I made  a big platter of cupcpakes.   When our family friend Lisa showed us how to get frosting in every bite, it forever changed our cupcake eating habits.

Step 1 – get yourself a cupcake.

 

Step 2 – remove the wrapper and separate the top 1/2 from the bottom, use your fingers.

 

Fingers make the best tools for this step

 

Step 3 –  Place the bottom half on top of the frosting.  It should now  look like a whoopie pie.

Step 4 – Take a bite and  enjoy!

 

A new cupcake shop recently opened near our home and my oldest daughter has become a  devoted  customer.   Her favorite  flavor is Peanut Butter Explosion but mine is Pancakes and Bacon.   I was a little wary of the crumbled up bacon on top but as it turns out it’s a really gOOd cupcake. Try the Frosting In Every Bite technique for yourself on any old cupcake and tell me if you do.

If you’re ever in Red Bank, NJ stop in at the Cupcake Magician  and find your own fave.

And special thanks to you Lisa for being a really cool friend and neighbor and sharing this gOOd idea.  I miss you all the time but I’m happy you settled so well in your new state.

 

Apples

Apples

Apples

Because it’s fall I think of apples and apple pie, followed by pie crust, crescent rolls and then my mind goes straight to the Official Pillsbury Bake Off. I always wanted to enter that contest but never have.  I also never completed the apple tasting chart that I once thought was a good idea.

But all that has changed as of today.  Luckily my kids are used to my impulse projects so when they came home from school and I told them we were doing an apple tasting they just shrugged and went with it.  I had six apple varieties, a list of categories for rating, a marker and a hopeful look on my face.  Even my pickiest eater participated and finally admitted that she likes the apples we’ve been suggesting to her for years. We rated the apples for taste, texture and appearance.  Hands down the winner for taste, (and highest price) was Honeycrisp in the sweet category, and for tart apples we liked Jazz.  After the apple rating was completed I dismissed my helpers and set out to make an apple and crescent roll masterpiece.

Winner winner chicken dinner!  Yes, I made a whole chicken dinner with my crescent rolls.  Inside I put ground chicken, apples, onion, and pumpkin!  I can’t share the recipe yet because if I’m being honest it needs a little help and maybe, hopefully I’ll send it to Pillsbury for the next bake-off.   But for today, my kids gobbled it up!

I think I might play “Chopped” at Home later this month.  I don’t know if that’s a thing yet – Chopped at Home.  Well, I guess now it is!

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The Instagram Diet

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My most devoted dieting happened in the four months before my wedding.  There is nothing like a wedding dress and a photographer to give you willpower and nothing like having a few kids to take it all away.   Before my children were born I did stay on a pretty strict diet of  healthy foods for the sake of a healthy baby, but that all changed when they were old enough to request a grilled cheese sandwich, and young enough to eat just four bites from the middle, leaving the absolute best grilled cheese crusts on their plate.  Need I say more?

I turned to the help of the professionals at Weight Watchers for some assistance in finding a smaller waistline but I’m pretty quick to forgive myself a late night brownie and a glass of red wine.  It’s definitely not in the best interest of weight loss to do that, and for those of you serious about shedding pounds, indiscretion is not recommended. In addition to Weight Watchers, I’ve also tried Jenny Craig, Atkins, the grapefruit diet, the liquid diet, and every combination of fat carb and fiber you can think of.   I haven’t however, tried the Instagram Diet.

I googled Instagram Diet and as is turns out this was not an original term. It was however, an idea that occurred to me while on vacation last summer.   And while I’m a not a fan of food pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all the rest of the social media sites, I have to admit that there may be something to it when it comes to our diets.

So here’s my version of the Instagram Diet.  Do NOT eat anything that isn’t worthy of a post on Instagram.  Simple right?   I am hoping it will make me put down the food and pick up the camera, take a minute to appreciate the work that goes into food prep, and maybe use a fork and a pretty plate instead of my fingers and a coffee filter as a tray.

I have no idea how this will work out but I’m going to try it starting tomorrow. For those of you weight watchers fans, I will do my best to do the food calculations but for the most part, this is about making my picture foods “pretty enough to eat”  and I’m making a commitment to a seven day trial.  We’ll see how this goes.

If you are interested in watching what happens feel free to follow me on instagram and twitter, at helensgoodideas.   So, here’s hoping that this is in fact a good idea…  the proof will be in the pudding, or more accurately – in the picture.

 

 

 

Have a Good Snow Day!

This is Doris.

Brenda   b. 2/3/14   d.  2/5/14  

 

 
There is nothing like a snow day.   It’s inconvenient and stressful  when you must shovel, go to work, or seek help with the kids, but how can you fail to see the beauty in a snow day?   What a lovely fluffy white gift from above!   I get happy just thinking about the chill from outside that makes me turn up the thermostat and dress a little warmer.   Wet socks and mittens drying on  the heater vent  gives me a craving for tea and good movies, baking and card games.    Call it snowstorm mojo – Snowjo.  

 

Another snow day  tradition I embrace is the pre-storm grocery trip.  The parking lot is packed, milk and bread fly off the shelves like they have wings and you get to feeling like kids at the end of the movie High School Musical when they sing “We’re All in This Together.”   Of course, none of us would starve if we were snowed in for a day or two but it’s the camaraderie and tradition that trump all else, people giving you permission to go off your diet and throw in that box of chocolate covered donuts that you would otherwise never.

 

Snow days  make exercise fun too.  It’s paramount that those of us lucky enough to experience snowman building pass the skill down to our children.   Making a snowball and rolling it through wet snow to get it just the right size, then packing and forming it to just the right shape.   Lifting it up and setting down just so requires skill and luck, and failing at least once.  But when the large snow ball breaks up falls in pieces on the ground, there is no deterrent for success.  You just start again.   But the best part of the snowman is when you add the eyes and the nose, the hat and the scarf, and you see a personality there, even if it’s gone by dark from a warming trend.  For the short term, you have a friend. 

 

On my very short list of reasons to accept life in the suburbs, snow days are number one.  Unlike cities where you can get most anyplace using a subway system, we rely on cars and  school  busses which require safe and passable roads, and plowed parking lots.   So there’s the  bonus.  When the snow makes our roads impassable and requires plowing, we pass the time shoveling out our cars along side of neighbors, offering hot coffee and talking about what we all can talk  about in the suburbs — the weather.

 

Here’s a couple of links to get you motivated for this weekends predicted 10″ snowfall.  If you are lucky enough to have a snow day soon, make the most of it. 

 Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookies   and   How to Build the Best Snowman in the Neighborhood  .   

 

If You Ever See Me Knitting

Old loves. We don’t talk about them much do we?   How the one who gazed so  lovingly into our eyes went ahead and ripped our young hearts to shreds, leaving us broken and sad and searching for answers?  How do we recover from this unbearable pain?  How indeed?   I’m afraid there is no pat answer because the variations of breakups, makeups, and moving on is far too diverse. But in time we do recover and most often completely  intact.  Like a skinned knee that bleeds and stings so badly  at first that we can barely walk until the soreness eases, the bleeding ends, and a scab forms.  Then there’s just a slight itch and soon you  look down to find that it completely healed while you were busy doing other things.

 

When my first love left me for another I was devastated.  Friends and family granted me a  reasonable mourning period during which my days were mostly apathy and sad movies.  Letters to nobody in particular filled my need to immortalize the misery.  Finally sick of supporting  my extended post-mortem grief,  my mother suggested that I stop staring at the phone and  use it to call a friend, but all I wanted was to continue the pity party from which my friends had long since departed.  Eventually mom handed me two knitting needles and  a bunch of yarn and said “here, make me something.”  I considered the project while she stood there, gift in hand, until it became abundantly clear that she wasn’t moving until I accepted her offer.

 

I tugged the loose end from a skien of yarn and wrapped it around my hand.  With the other hand I picked up the smooth shiny knitting needle and manipulated the yarn, one stitch after another, until I’d assembled a tidy row of thirty small woolen soldiers.  I had to focus on two needles and ten fingers and yarn all at once in order to make the next set of stitches the exact right amount of tight and even.  I knitted  until I saw a shape, a square that turned into a rectangle and then a scarf.  But I wasn’t done.

 

I remembered how my friend’s grandmother made afghans from similar thick stripes of yarn.  She made them in  combinations for team colors, school colors, baby colors, etc. I could certainly find a color combination that was suitable for mourning.  But my thinking must have changed at the store where I was met with endless colors of and styles of  yarn, plushy and inviting,  a big rainbow that I wanted to hug and take home with me.  I didn’t realize the shift in my thoughts at the time but I walked out with ample supplies in happy colors of blue and yellow,  not exactly mourners hues.  And so began my healing.

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I started  knitting compulsively and the full sized blanket took about a week.  As soon as it was finished I gave the handiwork  to my mother who raved about it and encouraged me to make another.   The second one took a little longer, with different colors and shapes joined together for a larger afghan.   Slowly and surely like a skinned knee, my broken heart mended while I was busy doing something else. 

 

I stopped at the second blanket, the one I still use today, over thirty years later.  I remember thinking  if I ever had that heartache again  I would combat  the sadness by making another.   I suppose I should be happy to report that as of today I still have just  one.

 

 

Pick a number, any number.

I tried to start this entry by typing in my real, true age, but I can’t. Either my finger reflexes block my brainwaves or my brainwaves block my finger reflexes but every time I try this I have a synapse misfire. It all stems from the fact that I hate growing older. I really do.

My coping mechanism for aging is denial. I recently read an article about denial, defined more or less as a human defense mechanism against accepting an obvious truth. The article referred mainly to those with a plethora of harmful and uncanny addictions, but it was plainly put, an obvious truth.

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When I turned 50 my husband thought it was a good time to pay attention to my birthday. “Do you want a party,” he asked, “or a special present?” “What I want” I replied, “is to not be fifty.” When he said that he couldn’t actually do that, I said, “then I want nothing.”

I find very little good about aging. I’m wiser yes, but more bruised. I’m wealthier too, but more tired. Am I happier? I guess it depends on the day.

I’ve noticed a trend lately from women of a certain age who claim that being older is better because they are judged for their smarts and not for their sex appeal — really ladies? I can’t think of a single time when a little sexual tension didn’t work in my favor, but only if I had the goods to support it. Then again, those of us who have relied solely on sex appeal to for recognition probably aren’t the ones saying “thank goodness that’s over!” Personally I still want a little sex appeal but I have to appeal to a different crowd, the elderly will still flirt with me you know.

My good friend is a professor at a local college. She gets me. She told me that one of her students recently commented approvingly about a sweater she was wearing. This made her feel smart and trendy and welcome for ten to fifteen seconds until her student added, “Can you tell me where you got it because I think my mom would like one.” Shot down again. It’s not that we want to spend our social time with twenty somethings – we just want to know that we could do so without being considered the chaperone.

I had a recent epiphany however in dealing with these advancing numbers. You don’t actually have to celebrate your chronological age. Just pick a number. Next October I am going to celebrate my 32nd birthday. The good news is that I don’t remember if I ever celebrated being 32 so it won’t be a repeat performance. The bad news is that I have to write this all down on my calendar because otherwise I will never ever remember.

ideas to enhance your day