Build A Perfect Snowman

 

Geroge

Meet George 2015. Our first snow person of the new year.

I wish I’d cataloged all the snow people I’ve made over the  years.  I remember being a young girl rolling giant balls of snow, first the big one, then the middle one, and finally the topper… and the face.    My  brother gave me lessons in rolling this way and that through the snow until I had a nice round boulder.

All bundled up, I could barely move in a black wool coat buttoned to my chin and my favorite hat tightly tied with pom pom strings. I set out in the storm to build a perfect snowman.   My father was there to help assemble and decorate, and as I look back I find it remarkable that he did almost everything while holding  a lit cigar between  his teeth.

The most memorable snowman I ever made had no name because I, like the weather bureau, only recently started naming winter fallouts. Making that snowman seemed like an all day affair and I remember how hard I worked.  The snow was a little dry so dad  sent me in for a bucket of warm water.   He rubbed the  water over each snowy body part to make them stack better which I guess was some kind of magic boy scout remedy that only he knew about.   The snowman once assembled felt ten feet  high  (probably because I was only three feet tall) and  had the perfunctory hat and scarf, stick arms, and button eyes.

My mother stayed inside.  She had all the power over the snowman adornments.  After much debate, she gave me the lone carrot that was intended for the middle of the meatloaf.  She handed it over grudgingly and with a warning that the meatloaf just wouldn’t hold up without it, but I needed a carrot nose, nonnegotiable.

Proudly  we stood back to admire what we built and I will never forget when my father, who’s cigar was now reduced to a mere nub,  walked over,  took the slobbery chewed up end from his teeth and shoved it right in the mouth of our snowman,  snow-dad.

We stood there, my brother, my father and I, and nodded in sync at the creation, then my father picked up the empty bucket, put his arm around me and back in the house we went where we could smell the meatloaf baking in the oven.

I’ll only admit now that I missed the carrot.   Everybody said it was the same but it wasn’t.   The carrot was back for the next Sunday supper but that afternoon it’s absence was unimportant.   The meatloaf took one for the team.

The “30 days” Resolution Revolution

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January 1st brings me the same kind of hope as Monday mornings.

Invariably throughout the year I decide to eat right and exercise my body and brain better, maybe try organizing a closet or fix the household budget, and Monday  is almost always a good day to start. So I go to sleep Sunday night fully prepared to turn over a new leaf right?   Then things deteriorate  (or never get started) as they sometimes do and I surrender for a fresh start on the next available Monday.  But today isn’t a Monday morning, it’s the first day of a whole new year.    There are colossal things to change, to build, to overcome,  to do!  But sadly, the enthusiasm will wane and my colossal ambitions are most often also colossal failures.   This year however, things will be different.

Last year I divided my annual “what could I improve” list into three areas:  Home, Health, and Hobby.   I will rate myself a 5.5 for overall all success since life is about the journey after all.  Here’s my report for each of the three categories.

For home I inventoried the house, I made  a list of all the things that I thought needed to be done and prioritized them  as a  1,  2, or 3.   Between my husband and I we did most of the 1’s, some of the 2’s and I’m not sure what happened with the 3’s because we lost the list.

To improve my health I squeezed in a physical on December 29th and no surprises there.   My cholesterol is too high.

As for hobby, look for my article in a soon to be released issue of Family Fun Magazine! I revived my blog, started a new Facebook page and have two regular writer’s groups… go me.

That all sounds pretty good but I still think that in 2015 I can  still be more successful.   Not that I feel bad about last year but can’t we all find room to improve?  So in an effort to find some coaching and inspiration, I turned to some self help books and here’s what I discovered.  There is help for  everything  and it only takes  30 days!  I mean they claim a total transformation in just 30 days.  I’m not kidding about this.

When it comes to home, there are many 30 day programs to help you declutter, fung shui,  or clean up.    Here’s my favorite all in one –   How to fix your cluttered, messy house in just 30 days

According to the book titles in the health category, you can fix your waistline, your heart, memory, buns and butts in thirty days.  This book however claims it will take you to perfection.   Click here for perfection 

Hobbies are always good idea. In addition to writing, I enjoy a good crochet project,  a card game, maybe even a game of chess,  or I can continue to work on my favorite thing and  finish my novel in just 30 days.   All good links, go look.

 

But the mother lode of change – habits – can be address in this  30 day remedy!    I’ll have to see if it’s in the library and break my worst habit of one-click amazon shopping.

Good luck to everybody with your quests to self improve this year.  I  know it’s possible, after all, look at all the books they’ve written!

Happy New Year 2015, good health and happiness for all 365 days !

 

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

TTilapia

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  .   

 

ideas to enhance your day