About Me

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I'm the mother of four children who hopes to raise them to be productive, compassionate, humble citizens of our planet...who will also use their turn signals.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hooray for....

I guess there are people who discover a hobby, learn more about it, and spend their lives enjoying it. I'm not one of those people. As part of what I have self-diagnosed as adult-onset ADD, I seem to flit from one thing to another, with high hopes of finding something that will provide me with a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps, even some relaxation.

Through the years, I've test driven many a hobby. My basement "studio" is filled with remnants of what I see as failed attempts at a life outside of court reporting, medical transcription, motherhood, and housework. If you are someone who found your hobby niche quickly, I commend you. It's not so easy for the rest of us. And if you continue reading, you'll get an idea of how, for some, it takes a little trial and error.

If you know me, you'll know better than to look for any athletic-type hobbies in this line-up. Even as a child, my very first hobby could be practiced indoors and in a sedentary manner, two things I still consider as positive criteria when evaluating a future hobby. And what SCREAMS sedentary more than ...

stamp collecting. Yeah, I'll admit it. As a youngster, I experimented with philately...but I swear, I never inhaled. Along with screaming sedentary, I'm fully aware that stamp collecting also screams DORK. Just the thought of me clutching my allowance in my sweaty palms and heading, on a Saturday morning with my mom, to the Joppatowne post office, makes me giggle. They had themed kits for the low, low price of just $2.00 (which was probably four weeks of allowance, back then). I'd come home and carefully hinge each stamp into place.

And don't EVEN get me started about the time I found the "Mystery Cube" at K-Bee Toys! For only one dollar more, you got a cardboard cube filled with 1,000 stamps from all over the world! If that ain't the stuff dreams are made of, then I just don't know what is. Who cares that they were all cancelled stamps that were still attached to part of the envelope and you had to soak them all in warm water first? That was part of the FUN! Yeah, you read that right...I said FUN.

I've held on to my collection through the years. And just between you and me, one of the reasons I've kept having children was in the hopes that I'd produce an offspring that might find the same delight in postage that I did. Instead, I've gotten nods of the head and questionable looks from my kids when I dust off the old albums and give my "You, too, can STAMP out boredom!" presentation. And now that my ovaries are winding down in their production, I'll just have to tuck these gems away and hope that I can one day amaze my grandchildren with how people used to actually WRITE letters on paper, with a pen, and adhere a colorful stamp to them.

Only a few years later, I set my sights on a hobby involving textiles:

It began, and ended, during a seven week summer vacation I spent with my cousin in Austria. She was (and is) quite a talented knitter and I was envious of her beautiful creations. I think the Alpine air must have been clouding my judgement, because I was delusional enough to buy several skeins of yarn to make my first sweater. God bless her, she did try her best. And I did complete two grey and one white stripe of what could have possibly been a lovely piece of apparel...that is, if I would have remembered a single THING that she taught me after I returned home. It's as if when customs searched my luggage, they also picked out of my brain every single knitting nugget she taught me.

I purchased yarn again, years later, thinking maybe knitting was too difficult and I should try my hand at crochet. I learned the chain stitch in about 30 seconds! I was a chain-stitchin' fool! I even made a chain that stretched for the length of my living room. Unfortunately, there's not a big demand for a ten foot long yarn chain. So, in case you're keeping score, sports fans, that would be Yarn 2, Stephanie 0.

That was, until I remembered you could make tassels with left-over yarn!

We used to make them in cheerleading and attach them to our shoes. Give me a "C", give me a "U", give me a "T", give me an "E"! Whaddya got? CUTE! Unfortunately, when I offfered them to my 21st century daughter, she gave me an "N" and an "O". And honestly, even if I did add them to shoes, you only ever needed two. Not really a long-term hobby. And the only other purpose I could think of for them still only required two:

When I was pregnant with my first child, my quest for a hobby turned to something related to motherhood and my new little bundle. I took up cross-stitching and made this piece for my son's room.

Some people call it CCS, counted cross-stitch. I called it contraceptive cross-stitch. I never wanted to have another baby if it meant I had to do THAT again. Next!

Before scrapbooking was the rage, there was stamping. I wasn't a hard-core stamper, but I did dabble in it a bit. It would allow me to make cards, invitations, gift wrap...and all for less money! Or at least that's what I was told. I invested in a few good stamps and stamp pads.

I cut and I folded. I went to demonstrations and classes. I got stamp cleaner and embossing powder and a heat gun. I flipped through idea books and went to websites. All of this research, just to find out that my stamping

And then, when I had just about given up on my hobby search, along came scrapbooking.

I was always a fan of photography, so it seemed like a natural fit for me. And when you've got a lot of kids, you NEVER run out of material. Or catch up, for that matter. But that's okay. A layout here, a layout there, albums for family or friends, it's gratifying. And it's INSTANT gratification. I especially like that.

So finally, I've found two things that make my creative juices flow and give me inspiration. And not to sound too hokey, but scrapbooking and photography truly do make you look at life differently. When you look for the beauty in the everyday, you see it more readily. Even the little details become special.

So if those future grandkids start looking for the door when I start to show them the amazing and colorful stamps from Romania, I'll have all my scrapbooks, with their stories and images, waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Houston, we have a problem...

Even though I've got child number three entering elementary school, I'm still excited each day to open his backpack and see what he's done while away from me and in the care of his lovely kindergarten teacher. I'm thrilled with his progress and have never second-guessed our decision to send all of our kids to public school. That is, until I reached in his backpack today and pulled out this:

What in God's name are they teaching my BABY? I thought the Family Life unit wasn't until fifth grade! Was this an art project? Was there a model? Get me the number of Jayne Miller, that investigative journalist from Channel 11 News! Breathe in, breathe out...

After deciding how to hold this sculpture in the least offensive manner, I figured I should calmly ask my little Michelangelo what he had in mind when he created this masterpiece. As it turns out, while my mind was thrashing around in the gutter, I completely forgot that they are working on a space unit. And it's a ROCKET.

I'm terribly ashamed of myself. As I should be.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Good Eats....

After that thoroughly depressing post about diet food, I'm back. This time, I'm bringing with me some ideas for foods that are diet-friendly AND satisfying.

Because I love to cook and bake, I've been on the prowl for dishes to add to my repertoire. I consider it a bonus when it is something that not only I will enjoy, but the rest of my family as well. I'm not going to drag them, kicking and screaming and clutching their bags of M&Ms, into my diet world. However, if it's nutritious AND tastes good, I think it's a win-win! Okay, so there was that ugly situation with a Weight Watchers chocolate cake recipe I was able to PEEL out of the pan and actually FOLD, without breaking it. But let's be honest, where else can they go to get three squares a day for FREE? Other than prison.

The problem, I find, is that often low-fat or fat-free often also means flavor-free. I frankly don't care if it is a magic concoction that will allow me to be a skinny supermodel that lives to be 127, if it has no taste, I'm outta there. In order to stay with this gig, Mamma's gotta have some good eats.

So, here they are. Some of the "staples" in my dieting desk drawer. Even if you aren't looking to drop a few hundred pounds, you might want to give them a try! After all, with the state of America's arteries, I think most of us could use a few more healthy meals in our lives. So, without further ado, and before I launch into my "Fiber Is Your Friend!" speech, let's enjoy some food porn.

You'll look forward to breakfast when it's this fast, easy, and good! If you haven't tried the sandwich rounds, you should. They are super low in fat, high in fiber (and we all know why that's good), and much more nutritious than that lousy white bread. I fry an egg, sometimes add a piece of Canadian bacon or low-fat ham, and put it on the sandwich rounds that have been slathered in:

Laughing Cow Cheese. My fridge ALWAYS has at least three boxes of this cheese. I'm not really sure why the cow is laughing, and it's quite possible she's laughing all the way to the bank with the price they charge for this stuff, but when it's on sale and I have a coupon, I'm laughing right along with her. I also use it to make omelets, baked potatoes, and on pasta.

And speaking of pasta, here's another one of my favorites:

This is super easy and very filling. Just boil some whole-wheat pasta (which I think is much more satisfying than the traditional pasta). While that's cooking, spare yourself from folding yet another load of laundry and, instead, saute some mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and fresh spinach in a pan with a splash of whatever red wine you have lying around, left over from breakfast. I mean leftover from the last time your mother-in-law came over. When the pasta is done, toss it together with the veggies and add a tablespoon of Alouette Light Garlic & Herb cheese. Another one of my stand-bys. This stuff is SO good and melts into a much creamier sauce than the Cow. I make this for lunch for my nanny (or, as I call her, my mom) and she gobbles it up. It's delish!

Something else that will have you saying, "Oishii" (and no, that's not short for "Oh, Shi----". It's Japanese for delicious, you bunch of sailors).

A steaming bowl of udon! It is just a basic beef broth, toss in some mushrooms, thinly-sliced carrots, some lean slivers of beef, and some green onions. Ladle it on top of cooked udon noodles, throw your meat cleaver up in the air, and you're one of them there Japanese chefs!

Another stick-to-your-ribs lunch or dinner, which is crazy easy, is black bean soup.

Now, if you're not a fan of the black bean (Hi, Stacey!) then you'll want to pass this up. If you are, this is a great recipe from my dear friend, Kathy. And take it from me, she KNOWS what's good! Just throw two cans of beans into a crockpot, a cup of chicken broth, one cup of salsa, and the juice from a lime. THAT. IS. IT. Seems too good to be true, I know, but when you smell this simmering away, you'll have to put a combination lock on the lid of your crockpot until it's finished (I know of what I speak). You can put a dollop of sour cream on top and some shredded cheese, if you're feeling daring. If you live in a home with a high census, as I do, you'll need to double this. In addition, make sure your sheets, blankets, and upholstery are not flammable before you take a seat after soup consumption.

And last, but certainly not least, dessert.

I guess this would be a good time to emphasize my INTENSE love of chocolate. I can't remember a day in the last 30 years that I haven't digested chocolate in some form. If you are shocked and horrified, that's a shame. I knew if I was going to be even minimally successful, I'd have to find some alternatives to the triple chocolate cake, dark chocolate truffles, and chocolate peanut butter cookies that served as the base of my food pyramid in the past.

I can't pretend that these are out of this world magnificent. They're not. I can think of probably 50 other forms of chocolate I'd RATHER have. But apparently this whole dieting thing isn't all about ME. There's some greater good I'm supposed to be keeping in mind...something about cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, erectile dysfunction...oh, wait. Never mind the last one. Anyway, I've had to settle for these chocolate muffins in an effort to stave off those not so attractive maladies that come along with packin' on the pounds.

If you are willing to give these babies a try, just stir together a box of low-fat brownie mix and one 14.5 ounce can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix, but just PUMPKIN). Spoon them into cupcake liners (I usually get about 16 per batch) and bake for approximately 15 minutes at 350. That's it! If the mention of pumpkin made you recoil, I'll say that you really don't taste it that much. There are definitely hints of it, but it isn't overwhelming.

So that wraps up the latest dispatch from my little corner of the planet. I'm working on my next post, where we'll leave diet-land (you're welcome) and enter the hobby graveyard, a.k.a. my basement "studio". Before joining me, you might want to make sure your affairs are in order and your immunizations are up-to-date.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dieting isn't as fun as it sounds....

Approaching week seven of my dieting experience, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and observations.

I think one of the first things you realize when you are dieting is how much time you actually spend THINKING about food. I don't know about you, but when I look at the clock, 9 times out of 10 it is to see when my next meal or snack will be. And this society we live in sure isn't doing a SINGLE thing to help me out. Food on every corner, drive-thru access, Food Network on television, covers of magazines with pictures of decadent treats, food courts in malls with people EATING, refrigerators in EVERY home. What the heck? How's a girl supposed to be successful at silencing the hunger when the whole village is shoving all its tasty goodness in your face 24/7?

Of course, there are exceptions to the "tasty goodness". Unfortunately, those exceptions are what I'm supposed to be eating. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of lovely vegetables and filling grains to choose from, but some of the other options just leave me hungry, angry, and asking why. Here are a few that come to mind:

I'd like to first introduce you to this UFO...Unidentified Food Object. It is actually marketed as food, but between you and me, I have my doubts. Here's a flattering photo of what I'm speaking of.

Right about now you are probably wondering if the lack of calories I've been consuming is somehow affecting my brain function. You are thinking, "Surely, she's kidding!" Maybe you are even trying to guess what this REALLY is.

Perhaps a manufactured fire-starter, eliminating the need for kindling and newspaper?

Or is it some sort of new building product, sold in aisle 6 of Home Depot?

Something that was left behind by a square dog?

Alas, my friends, it is a nutritional snack! Who wouldn't want to turn down the sleeve of Oreos or pass by the sack of Doritos when you can have THIS kibble! I mean it even has JOY in the name of it, how bad could it be? (Hint: BAD).

And it's not just the looks of things, it's the texture. I give you Exhibit A, the rice cake.

I shouldn't be selling them short, as I actually "enjoy" (a relative term) the cheddar version. And these babies pull double-duty! You can snack on them AND, in a pinch, use them as packing material for that precious glass ornament you are mailing to Aunt Mildred.

Last but not least in my food rant, the portions. I understand that portion control is a big part of losing weight. Honestly, I never really had a problem with portion control, until I started seeing the portions that the fine folks at Lean Cuisine dish out. Good God, no wonder it's only 4 points...it's only four freakin' bites!

To prove my point, I'd like to document a little experiment. Step into my laboratory...

...or to most of you, a child's play kitchen. You're thinking, why is she showing me this teeny tiny pot on a fake burner, aren't you? Well, I'm going somewhere with this people, if you'll work with me. But I'll warn you, the place I'm going ain't pretty.

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. In that pint-sized pot on that wee little burner is an ENTIRE Lean Cuisine meal. EVERY. BITE.

Now I really don't want to come off as if the only thing I'm drinking on this diet is the HATER-ade, but you can only push a person so far. Apparently week seven is my breaking point, in case you hadn't figured that out.

I'm not giving up though, just venting. And to prove my point, my next post will be from Sweet Stephanie Sunshine (the good twin). I'll be posting some of the more delicious things I've come across on my journey to weight loss. I have a funny feeling it will be a much shorter post.