Monday, December 31, 2012

Project 2013 Set To Begin Almost 8 Years After Conception

Every time I open the door to the office closet, I have to face the possibility that I made a mistake. Lurking in that closet are stacks of boxes holding school supplies, lesson plans, notes from former students, and 171 young adult literature books. Remnants from my time as a middle school English teacher. At this juncture, I don’t know if I’ll ever return the classroom as a teacher, but I keep clinging to my teacher “stuff.” I think I’m waiting for it to make a decision for me. Silly? Yeah. But I’m not quite ready to let it all go.

What I am ready for is to tackle a project I’ve wanted to complete since the day I became a teacher. In the beginning of my career, I had grandiose dreams (Ideal Reality) of reading everything my students read so I could give recommendations and help them select books that would motivate them to read and learn. I was the Queen Pack Rat of Young Adult Literature, foraging garage sales and used book stores for anything I thought my students would enjoy. I was going to read them all and write stellar summaries for each book.

That plan never came to fruition (Real Reality). Until now. I declare 2013 the year I plow through the 171 YA lit books in my closet (Ideal Reality becoming Real Reality!). At the minimum, I will list and link them on a YA Lit page on my blog. At the most, I will write summaries and offer my recommendation to read or not to read. I do reserve the right to abandon any book that doesn’t light my fire after 100 pages. I trained hard over the years to get myself to ditch yucky books. I can’t slip now.

I’ll also be reading other genres: kid lit, adult lit, professional development lit, non-fiction, memoirs, and who knows what else. I’ll pop these onto the site, too, on respective pages.

I hope you’ll follow – or even join me – on my journey.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Drinking in the Holidays

Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc
We hosted the first of three Christmas celebrations at our house last night. What fun! We filled the evening with chatting, eating, gift opening, more eating, more chatting, and a rousing game of Bingo! I tested two new adult beverage recipes from the Hy-Vee Seasons Holiday 2012 magazine. My mixology efforts were well worth it because both were a big hit! I'm looking forward to imbibing a bit more of both delicious drinks during the winter months as well as adding them to my list of "must have" item each Christmas.

Sparkling Cranberry Martini
3 c. Hy-Vee cranberry juice
4 oz triple sec or other orange liqueur
2 tbsp grenadine syrup
2 (750 ml each) bottles sparkling wine, chilled
Citrus peel, for garnish

In a pitcher, combine cranberry juice, triple sec and grenadine syrup and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. At serving time, pour 1/4 cup of cranberry juice mixture into a sparkling wine flute. Top with 4 ounces sparkling wine. Garnish with a citrus peel.

White Hot Chocolate
2 c. Hy-Vee 2% milk, divided
3/4 c. Hy-Vee vanilla-flavored white baking chips
1 c. whipping cream
4 oz Godiva white chocolate liqueur*
4 oz Absolut vanilla vodka
Whipped cream and ground nutmeg or cinnamon, for garnish

*I substitued Bailey's Mint Chocolate Liqueur

Combine 1 cup milk and white baking chips in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until baking chips have melted into the milk. Add remaining milk and cream, and continue stirring until very hot but not boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in white chocolate liqueur and vanilla vodka. Serve in mugs garnished with whipped cream and ground nutmeg or cinnamon, if desired.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing ... Keep It Real!

Monday, December 24, 2012

From the Blog Archives: Christmas 2009: Ideal Reality Achieved

Image courtesy of gubgib/
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that at least some of your Ideal Realities become your Real Realities in 2013. Below is from my archives. Christmas 2009 remains one of my Top 5 Christmas' ever. Enjoy!

We wrapped up an extended holiday season today, just in time to start exploring the new year. Our Christmas celebrations started December 19 and were slated to wrap up on December 26. However, a blizzard of the snowed-in for days variety forced us to postpone the final celebration until today. I enjoyed each family gathering, but it's good to be done.

For the first time in many years, I eagerly anticipated Christmas. Not only are the peeps at an age where they know what's going on, but I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with MY family. And by "MY family," I mean it was just me, my husband, and the peeps. No one else. We didn't have to drive anywhere, bring anything, or tolerate anybody else or their holiday rules. The days were all ours. It was my ideal reality come true. A cherished event.

While I'm sure our celebration would not light the world on fire, it was the stuff my dreams are made of. Christmas Eve night we played a pre-pre-school version of Candyland by a semi-roaring fire. Each person got to do a victory dance when they won. When we tired of playing the game, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The peeps sat through the entire story and loved it. Later, the peeps and I snuggled and played on the sofa, and when bedtime arrived the little ladies climbed into bed and drifted quickly off to sleep.

Cartoons in bed and Mark's homemade cinnamon rolls (a new family tradition) sparked our Christmas Day celebration. The peeps opened their presents and oohed and awed over each packaged and the surprise it contained. Hot Wheels. Thomas the Train. A saxophone. A kitchen and shopping cart. Games. Santa was kind to them. Not a lump of coal in sight.

On Saturday, we were stilled snowed in. We romped in the snow (approx. 9 inches!) and drank hot cocoa to defrost. Correction: Mark and I drank it hot. The peeps wanted "coldy" hot cocoa. I don't recommend it, but they slurped it down and wanted more. Late in the afternoon, I snuggled with the peeps under our "magic shawl" and watched "Cars" and "Snow White."

Did we squabble? If we did, I don't remember. Did cabin fever invade our cozy habitat? Yep. By Sunday we were all looking to fly the coop. Regardless, Christmas 2009 will go down in my personal history as one of the rare times that my ideal reality jived with the true reality.

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and I wish everyone the best in 2010.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How To Work the Word "Dementor" Into Your Christmas Blog Post

Photo credit: 4rank via photopin cc
In my Ideal Reality, I love the Christmas season and all its trappings: the lights, familiar carols on the radio stations, chilly air, the excitement of the first snow. Fa la la la la.

But in Real Reality, the Christmas holidays make me a total Scrooge. There are days when I am filled to the brim with mean Christmas spirit. I bristle in crowds of shufflers, zombie gawkers, and photo-taking filibusterers who hold up foot traffic for as long as it takes to get a snapshot in which all 7 billion family members are smiling with their eyes open. The holiday season puts a spotlight on my misanthropic tendencies.

But I don't want to be a Scrooge, and over the years my family has developed  few traditions that fill our hearts and home with Christmas cheer.

Salt-dough ornaments. My twin daughters and I have been making salt-dough ornaments since 2008, when the girls were almost two years old. The tradition started from my selfish desire to stave off the boredom that often clouded our winter days. Our family Christmas tree is adorned with these creations. It's been fun to watch the girls' artistic skills grow. Here's a sample from this year:

Harry Potter and a reindeer (clicking the link will take you to my other blog, Mind Full of Literacy, which explains the HP ornament!)
Visit With Santa. I just can't stand in a line that stretches from KC to Canada to spend 30 seconds with the fat man. Sorry, dude. Put coal in my stocking. Put me on the "Worst Mother Of All Time" list. Do whatever you have to do, but I refuse to stand in line. For the past two years, we've addressed this quirk by visiting Santa at The Kansas City Zoo. He's usually there on a weekend in December. Admission is discounted, crowds are low, temps are bearable, animals are out. And it's a good Santa, too. We can take our own pictures, or order one from the official photograph for $5. We go early, pop in to see Santa, zombie gawk at a few animals, and then eat lunch out. Love this new family tradition!

Eat Early/Drive Far. I also can't stand to wait more than 30 minutes for a seat at a restaurant. No restaurant food is that good that I should have to wait that long. So, we do what the old folks do and eat dinner early. Like at 3 or 4. Restaurants are deserted and quiet, and the service is typically spot on. As for driving far, this refers to a new tradition I hope to start this year. There are so many great drive-through Christmas light displays in my area. But again, the line thing. (An aside: I can only hope we will never see a bread line/gas line situation while I'm alive. I won't make it). When you decide to invest time in a drive-through display, you are stuck. In your car. With kids. No way out. No way to turn around. I've read about a display that's about 30 minutes north of us. Smaller town. I want to try my luck. Maybe between Christmas and New Year's.

Truthfully, I do enjoy the holidays. I just enjoy them more when I can celebrate without a slow-moving mass of people sucking at my Christmas spirit like Dementors.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, CT

It's 1:30 pm CST. I was out and about this morning, living my Real Reality. Yoga, returning shoes that were too small, finishing up some freelance work. I took a breather and checked Facebook about 30 minutes ago. A friend's vague status struck me as odd, and I knew instantly that something bad had happened. I scrolled frantically through the updates until I saw it.

A mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Someone brutally murdered little kids. Kids who were looking forward to mini corndogs and chocolate milk at lunch.Or a school party. Or a choir concert. Or recess.

My little ones are just up the street. I can just about see their school from the window in our office, where I am sitting and typing. I texted my husband to let him know. I typed, "I just sat here and cried. Just want to run up the street, get the girls, wall us in, and homeschool."

I won't do it ... but I want to.

Most days, I look at the clock at think, "It's almost 3:30. Where did the time go? I didn't get half of my To Do List taken care of, and it's time to get the girls." Today, I'm thinking, "It's only 1:37. I have to wait two more hours to get the girls."

Thoughts and prayers to everyone in Newtown, CT, and to their friends and family around the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Stooped To Their Level, and It Felt Good

Photo credit: Chrispl57 via photopin cc
Things got ugly at the homestead the other night. Real ugly. In fact, our family reached a new low point. 

I won't bore you with all of the gory details, but here's the back story. Mark and I spent at least two hours preparing dinner (roast, mashed potatoes, gravy). The peeps kept strolling through the kitchen, badgering us for something to eat. Badgering. Badgering, I tell you. We couldn't get dinner on the table fast enough. And when the food was served up, guess what happened. They. Wouldn't. Eat.

Peep #1 did a fair job, but she spent most of her time playing around, waving her fork full of roast and singing I'm A Little Snowflake at the top of her lungs. Just jimmy jackin' like the Queen of Jimmy Jackers.

Peep #2 nibbled on a bite of potatoes. That's it.

Like all good parents, we begged, pleaded, bribed and threatened. But the peeps were impervious to our efforts.

Well, mama don't play that. I looked at Mark and said, "I'll take care of this." I calmly stood up, picked up their little plates full of food, and placed them on the floor. Nixon, the dog, was in heaven.  The peeps wiggled out of their chairs, chattering about what imaginary game they were going to play, thinking they were off Scott free.  Uh, not so fast. Oh no. Mama wasn't done. I looked straight into their sweet faces and said, "Please get back into your chairs. Dinner isn't over. Mom and Dad haven't had dessert."

We had about 15 Hershey's Kisses left, and I ceremoniously dumped them onto the table, where they landed with a tiny thud in all their shiny, chocolately holiday glory. Mark and I proceeded to devour  every. single. last. morsel. We slowly unwrapped each one, sniffed it, savored it and waxed poetic about how totally yummy it was in the tummy. The peeps went ballistic. They screamed, cried, and gnashed their teeth. They clawed at us and at the candy like zombies competing for the first bite at a brain buffet.

In a moment of desperation, I stooped to their level, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Was it a moment of immature parenting? Yep.
Did it feel totally awesome to stick it to the peeps? Yep.
Was it an effective form of punishment? 100%, baby.

The ugly night continued to get uglier, but I will spare you the details and me the embarrassment.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, Keep It Real.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How I Sort of Attacked The Stack

On January 8, 2012, I published the post, Stack Attack.I suggest you read it first so you will have a clue as to what I'm talking about. As the year winds down, I thought it would fun to see if I conquered or cowered. I'm proud to report that I did well! Check it out!
Sanctuary - William Faulkner Update: Read it, loved it, watched the movie again.
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy Update: Read it, loved it, want to read more!
Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins Update: Read it, liked it.
The Help - Kathryn Stockett Update: Read it, loved it. Even liked the movie!
Basic Teachings of the Buddha - Glenn Wallis Update: Didn't even crack it open.
Selected Letters of Martha Gelhorn - Caroline Morehead Update: Didn't even crack it open.
The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin Update: Didn't reread, BUT I read Happier At Home
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens Update: Didn't even crack it open.
The Wonders of Solitude - Dale Salwak Update: Didn't even crack it open.
Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins Update: Finished it, finished series (see above). I'm 1 billionth on the library list for the Hunger Games DVD.
This isn't to say that I didn't read a ton of other stuff. Jennifer Brown's Perfect Escape, Seth Godin's Poke the Box, Lisa Lutz' Trail of the Spellmans, Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds and Rebecca Nichols Alonzo's The Devil in Pew 7 are just a few that come to mind. 
I still plan on tackling Selected Letters of Martha GelhornI love Martha. Need to read more Martha. But, I also have a super duper giganto reading project lined up for 2013. I'm super excited about it, and I can wait to share it with you by year's end. I alluded to it in my Stack Attack post Can you guess? Can ya? Can ya?
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hey! Unto You A Child Is Born!

Recognize that line? It's from the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. I had forgotten all about this little gem (a tidy 80 pages) until I stumbled upon it in a box of books while gearing up for a personal project I'm going to launch in 2013 (more on that later).

If you haven't read this story, or if, like me, it's been decades since you have, you owe it to yourself to grab a mug of hot cocoa and dive in. Written from a child's point of view, it's a hilarious and realistic take on the Christmas story, complete with cigar smoking, baby burping, and collection plate stealing. It made me giggle, and it sparked my Christmas spirit. It's also a charming example of Real Reality Vs. Ideal Reality.

I must confess: I also like the story because it takes me back to my childhood and my own experiences with the church Christmas play. I was always tapped to play Mary, and my friend, Kurt, suffered the role of Joseph year after year. (To this day, I do not believe this seasonal pairing was a coincidence. I highly suspect his mother had visions of the two of us hooking up in real life.)

In the 80s, the novel was made into a television special, starring Loretta Switt. You can watch it here.  


Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.