G-bye 2012

My idea of a New Year’s Eve party.

It’s New Year’s Eve and like Alicia Keys, this girl is on fi-ya.  Luckily the hot flashes don’t last long.  I know — you were hoping for something more glamorous, but I’m lame at New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Since mid-life, fuzzy footies, a warm blanket and the television remote have replaced high heels, dancing, and sparkling beverages in my New Year’s tradition.  My idea of partying looks more like “Fat Tuesday”. I snarf up prime rib or lobster or steak and as much of the leftover Christmas cookie and candy stash as I can.

My motivation?  Umm — to lessen the caloric temptations for the world in the following year. It’s a sacrifice, but someone’s gotta do it. Also, by making my January 1st weigh-in high, the weigh scale numbers have nowhere to go but down. This raises the bar for weight loss potential.  It’s a win-win!

And, we go to bed early, so sugar plums can dance in our heads one last time before the stuffy New Year’s resolutions kick them out.

Fan your “on fi-ya” self and have a cookie or three this New Year’s Eve!  Consider it your end-of-the-year moral obligation.

My Favoritist Charity

Our 1983 family Christmas photo.  We celebrated Advent anticipating the birth of Jesus and our third child.

As much of the world prepares to celebrate the birth of THE  Most Special  Baby,  we’re reminded  that  God saw fit to have His only begotten Son  raised on earth by an adoptive father (St. Joseph) so that the rest of us could become His (God’s) adopted sons and daughters.  Maybe this is why I’m so  psyched about a  charitable institution called Holy Family Catholic Adoption Agency (HFCAA). HFCAA  gives hope to women in  crisis pregnancy situations by offering loving homes for their babies.

Last year HFCAA hosted a ten-year anniversary celebration where I met and fell in love with some of the delightful children and their adoptive parents.  One little girl with bouncy curls hugged me as I stood in line for lunch.  Her affectionate nature seemed unusually bold — especially since I’d never met her before. Then she twirled, curtsied, and asked if I liked her dress. Once convinced of my — and everyone else’s — adulation, she pulled over her shy older sister (also adopted) and asked if I liked her dress, too.   “Our mom made them,” she said, pointing from the dresses to her adoptive mother, who waved, embarrassed but charmed by her precious, precocious child.

Teenage volunteers took the adoptive children to another area to make art projects as fathers and mothers shared stories of the priceless gifts they had received in their adoptive children. They wept with thankfulness — I wept — we all wept. It was a profitable day for Kleenex on Wall Street.

In this year’s HFCAA Christmas update, Mary L. Ball, Executive Director, shares, “One of our adoptive couples who opened their loving arms to a special needs baby is so happy to be blessed with this precious child.  This baby was a twin in the womb.  Now that the baby is with this adoptive couple the baby is a “twin again” so to speak because last year the couple adopted another baby born in the same month.”

Typically, when it comes to adoption, the most extraordinary act of sacrificial love comes from the birth mothers. Through HFCAA birth mothers receive the non-judgmental care and guidance they need. You can hear about two birth mothers’ journeys on the HFCAA website. One, Cesili, shared, “When I placed my baby for adoption I never considered myself any less a mother than raising my own child.  I feel like being a mother you need to set aside your own feelings and your actions and what you want to do in life, put those aside and put your child’s needs and feelings first.  I knew I could be a good mom and give my son all the love in the world, but I knew that I couldn’t give him everything I wanted him to have.  I was not going to settle for anything less.  The best option for my child was adoption.  I realized that there are good, loving families out there who would welcome my child in and love him as their own.  I found Holy Family Adoption Agency…I feel he is loved twice as much.”

Holy Family Adoption Agency is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. Gifts can be sent to:
525 Thomas Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55103
(651) 298-0133

Peanut Bristle–er–Brittle

My initial attitude about making peanut brittle was similar to my concept of writing children’s books:  Phhh — I can do that.  Mix some corn syrup and a handful of peanuts/write a couple of simple sentences and whallah! How hard can it be? Well — I’m in the hands-on-the-ground-I’m-not-worthy position begging mercy again — this time from peanut brittle chefs.  The creative process is not as easy as they make it look.

I started the way any self-respecting chef does.  I Googled for a recipe with the word “best” in it.  Mom’s Best Peanut Brittle rose to the top of the Google chain.  The word “mom” offered a comforting bonus.

I ignored the video portion. I didn’t need it. Phh — how hard could it be?

In the text, Amanda, the generous gal who submitted the recipe, said to move quickly to get the mixture out of the pan once it reaches 300 degrees.  I didn’t have a candy thermometer, so I tried to guess when it was 300 degrees.  I stirred in the butter and baking soda per the instructions and poured it in the pan to cool. I assumed it magically turned the desired peanut brittle color.

Peanut brittle try #1. Too soft

Two hours of running in and out of our cold garage to check the status, I learned it doesn’t.  I obviously hadn’t heated the mixture to 300 degrees.  (Kind of like some my half-baked manuscripts that I’ve sent to agents, family, and friends.)

So, I Googled Salvaging Undercooked Peanut Brittle and followed Tiffany’s helpful instructions to throw the pieces back in the pan, turn the heat up and stir, stir, and stir to a raging boil and wait to pour it in the pan until it reaches 300 degrees.  I had to take the pan off the burner midway, because I forgot to grease my aluminum foil, but eventually I had a boiling mixture that turned the color of peanut brittle. This looks better, don’t you think?

Peanut brittle try #2. Too chewy.

I thought so, too. I pried the last glob off the spoon with my teeth before preparing the spoon for the dishwasher.  The mixture burnt the roof of my mouth.  Then, my teeth stuck together and I had to wait until it melted, so I wouldn’t pull off a crown. I had considered sending some in a care package to a relative in the nursing home, but I envisioned her pulling out her sloppy upper and lower dentures, cemented together by my peanut brittle…and I changed my mind.

Again, I set the mixture on a shelf in the garage.  It did eventually cool enough to break.  I was so excited I put some of it in a holiday bag on my counter and the rest in the freezer.  The stuff in the bag melted together to make one big glob.  (In the writing stage, this is when I submit the manuscript at draft #781 and I should have waited until draft #962.)

Peanut blob square pants

Not to be beaten down by a blob of peanut brittle, I scoured the pans, slopped some butter on more aluminum foil and threw the obstinate concoction on the stove again.

Brittle Disposition

Burnt peanuts — not so tasty. The pan — and my temper — too hot, so the pan and I chilled as I chisled the brittle from the burnt pan into a mellower pan. Then, I stirred and stirred and stirred some more — until my right bicep popped out of my shirt.

Brutal brittle workout

…and the tip of my spoon melted.

Peanut brittle casualty

Now we’re going to die of plastic spoon poisoning.

Peanut brittle try #3.  Just right!

The concoction hardened immediately and shattered when I looked at it cross.  Ta da!  I ran up my stairs with the Rocky Balboa theme song in my head.   Then I forgot what I went there for.

Hopefully some of the peanut brittle will stay separated enough for our son to taste at his military base.  If not, he can throw it in the air for skeet shooting practice.

Peanut brittle Survivor spear

Or, he could tie it to a stick and use it for spear fishing. (I watch Survivor.)

Second thought — there’s not much fishing where he is.

Next year: less peanuts, more patience, a wooden spoon, and a candy thermometer.

Or, maybe I’ll just buy peanut brittle from someone else.  Then I’ll have ten extra hours to be humbled writing children’s books.

Twisted Paparazzi Christmas

Don’t trust a spouse with an iPhone camera.  If he/she suddenly takes an interest in snapping pictures of you, don’t be flattered too quickly. If he/she then snickers while running away — you might consider confiscating his/her electronic weapon.  Or, you, too, could soon be wearing candy cane tights and green, pointy shoes.

Anyway, Merry Christmas — sigh — from my twisted husband.

Click here to get elf to dance. Wait a few seconds for the video to download.

On a good note: I do look slimmer in horizontal stripes.

Twenty-eight souls

Hurricane Sandy Tribute

This October we mourned the plight of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Sandra Humphrey. Click above for the news story. Then click on her name in the blog text for Brian and Sandy’s tribute from their family and Sandy’s web site, where you can learn more about this beloved and inspiring author.

This Thanksgiving our MN SCBWI members mourned the death of children’s book author, Sandy Humphrey, in a house fire.  And now, another “Sandy” draws us to our knees — the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Our sympathy, love, and prayers reach out to offer consolation to those affected by all three tragedies.

All three events have impacted us — yet, this most recent tragedy cuts us deepest.  When a human hurts another human it hurts everyone.  When a human kills defenseless children, it steals life, peace, and joy from all humanity.

After Hurricane Sandy, we could offer tangible help with rebuilding.  When Sandy Humphrey and her husband, Brian, died, we could find comfort that no malice was inflicted upon them.  But, there’s an innocence lost in Connecticut that can’t be recovered.  In light of such unfathomable violence, what can we do?

Monsignor Stuart Swetland advises, “Hatred is an absence of love.  To overcome hatred, replace it with love.”

This might have worked in a feel-good movie with the Staypuff Marshmallow Man leading the way, but how can we do this in real life?

CNN interview of Robbie Parker

Many of us saw an example of extraordinary love in a television news interview Robbie Parker, the young father of Emilie, one of the six-year-old shooting victims.  He immediately looked past his own pain and offered his deepest condolences to all families directly affected, including the family of the perpetrator.  He selflessly noted that he couldn’t imagine what they must be going through.  Then he noted that Emilie would have been one of the first to stand before them and offer comfort.  She was that kind of compassionate person, “not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done…but because those were the gifts given to her by her Heavenly Father…The world is a better place because she has been in it…I’m so blessed to be her dad.”Such mercy and humility…It takes your breath away.

Those who believe in the power of prayer for the deceased will pray for the 27 victims.  But, this father’s empathy challenges us to reach even deeper.  We can and should pray for the soul of the perpetrator as well. Who knows the state of his heart? Only an irreparably wounded, emotionally bankrupt soul could do such a horrific act.

Yes, let’s hug the children and teachers in our lives, but let’s not stop there.  Let’s shake the hand of a stranger and offer an ear to the lonely.  Who knows what troubled soul may need to be filled with love today.

The Voice  Sandy Hook Tribute

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen