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It’s a car smash car world out there

Driving in the city is a totally different experience. Parallel parking into spots one inch larger than your car, squeezing past double-parked delivery trucks, people darting between cars to cross in the middle of the street, merging across 3 lanes, construction, potholes the size of an elephant, you name it. You can’t be afraid to bull your way in there, sometimes using your car as a shield, sometimes using it as a weapon.

This is a long way to say that I put a 2 foot gouge in the side of my 1 year old car the other day. It was not pretty, my friends. I never really saw exactly what happened; all I know is I was late for ballet, there was a truck with its flashers on and traffic coming the other way, and I thought I could fit through. Ollie said there was a piece of metal sticking out on the side. It smashed my mirror (not broken!) and put a deep scratch across both doors.

A day in the life.

My point is, if you live in the city, you have to expect that your car is going to get a little dinged up. I don’t know how many times I’ve come back to find a ding in my door and no one around.

Whaddya gonna do?

So Sara was getting out of a tight parking spot the other day, and she maybe kinda-sorta backed up until she nudged the guy behind her. She was creeping backward, watching in the rearview, so it wasn’t a hit, more of a…gentle rocking. Let’s be honest, you’ve done it, I’ve done it.

Except this time, it turns out the guy was sitting in his car.

Super embarrassing. Sara could see the guy freaking out, gesturing wildly and yelling. So what are you going to do in that situation? You know there’s no mark on the cars, but you have to get out and look. Give your insurance information if he wants it, after all, you did technically hit his car.

So Sara gets out of the car, with this maniac still gesturing. “Is it all right?” she asked. “Oh,” said the man, poking his head out of the door. “I…thought you were a guy.”

Sara looked at him, and then they both got back in their cars. Sara proceeded to go back and forth until she was out of the spot, and then drove away.

So, what exactly does that mean?

What was this guy thinking? Is it okay to yell at guys, but not at girls? I mean, she’ll take it, because she didn’t want some dude screaming at her, but maybe you shouldn’t be screaming at anybody, you know? Is escalating a little, harmless bump into a fistfight on the street just bros being bros, but women are too fragile to take it? Or is it just okay for a woman to be a bad driver?

More importantly, if he’s so concerned about his car, and he’s sitting in his car watching this person going back and forth, back and forth, trying to get out of the spot, and he’s the last car in the row, why not just, you know, turn on the car and back up a foot or two?

I guess some guys are just spoiling for a fight.

But only with dudes.

See, this is why I like having a 2 foot long gash on the side of my car. If someone’s trying to merge in and I’m not letting them, or if *I’m* trying to merge in and they’re not letting *me*, I just lock eyes, nod towards the scratch, and they move out of my way. “I’m coming over,” says my scratch, and, “You should see the other guy.” And, “If you don’t want to get hit, turn your car on and back up. I don’t give a f@^k.”

I need my car to say that, because I’m far, far too much of a pansy to say it myself.

Poinsettia on your butt – a psychological experiment

So, Evie’s class has a holiday breakfast yesterday morning. Somewhere between admiring the drawings of “where they live” and admiring Evie’s “book”, I must have leaned against a wall in the classroom. I don’t actually remember it happening, but I think it’s pretty clear that it did happen, because when I leaned against the wall an exact replica of a pastel poinsettia transferred onto my posterior. I’m pretty sure I could have found the specific picture I leaned on, because it would have been a one-to-one match.

Sara noticed it first, though I suppose I don’t know how long I was walking around with a poinsettia on my butt. Keep in mind this was in a room full of the worst possible people: people who I don’t really know, but am likely to run in to again frequently. If I knew them better, we could probably laugh about the beautiful mural on my butt. If they were total strangers, I could probably just pretend I’m the type of guy who can pull off a pastel butt mural. “Oh, you don’t like it? Well, it’s very European.”

I went to the bathroom and tried awkwardly to wipe my butt in the mirror (like you do), but it didn’t help much. It just sort of smeared it from “beautiful pastel poinsettia” to “big, mostly-red with a little black, butt smear”. Also by this time, Sara and Evie started referring to me as “poinsettia butt”.

Now, I must admit, situations like this are when it comes in handy to have no shame. I mean, I wasn’t HAPPY about the situation, but it was what it was, so, you know. ::shrug:: Ain’t no party like a red baboon butt party.

But you know what’s weird? Not ONE PERSON mentioned it to me. Not even to say, “Hey, uh, hate to be the bringer of bad news, but I think you accidentally squished a my little pony.” That’s weird, right? I mean, it was kind of hard to miss, so I know people were seeing it. I wasn’t sticking to the wall or anything. I guess no one wants to admit they were looking at my butt?

After this I had to go to work, so I debated going home to change. But, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound, right? Besides, I mostly sit at a computer all day.

Every time I went to get coffee or went to the bathroom, I expected someone to say something. Nothing. Not one person. I actually started to get self-conscious about them NOT mentioning it. “Hello!” I wanted to shout. “Can’t you see my butt?” What if I really didn’t know it was back there? Wouldn’t anybody tell me, or would they let me go like that all day?

I started trying to make my butt more conspicuous. What would it take for someone to say something? A hip thrust? A little wiggle? I don’t know. I never found out, because no one ever said anything.

So what’s going on here? Is it just uncouth to talk about someone’s butt? Do we all just assume someone else must have mentioned it, so nobody ends up mentioning it? (Kind of how nobody will call an ambulance in an emergency)

Or is it just me? Am I actually the type of guy who can pull off a pastel butt mural?

Apparently, I am.

Evie’s Big Surprise

We had quite the surprise on Saturday morning.

I’m sleeping peacefully, minding my own business, when suddenly the door bursts open, the light from the kitchen shining directly on my face. Is there a more horrible way to wake up than a light suddenly shining directly on your face? I squint over at the clock: 6:30 a.m. I’m feeling extra grumpy, but before I can put the pillow over my face and yell at her to close the door, Evie says brightly, “Happy St. Lucia Day!”

St. Lucia

It was one of those Sixth Sense-moments, where a hundred little flashbacks run through my head and all is made clear: her insistence on making scones the day before, the way she asked the date 3 times a day every day that week, her desperation over not being able to find her old white dress, her panic at not having clean leggings when I was tucking her into bed.

She had secretly assembled this costume and prepared for St. Lucia day, without so much as a whiff of this tipping us off. Look at the detail on that crown: she finger knit the main part and then obtained her own materials to make the holly leaves and berries. I’ve never seen those holly leaves. This girl is a 7 year old; to say I was surprised doesn’t say the half of it.

But it goes back *so* much further than that.

Now, if you’re like me, you have no idea what St. Lucia Day is. Allow Wikipedia to explain:

The custom involves the eldest daughter arising early and wearing her Lucy garb of white robe, red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs with nine lighted candles fastened in it awakens the family, singing Sankta Lucia, serving them coffee and saffron buns (St. Lucia buns), thus ushering in the Christmas season.

And arise early our eldest daughter did, waking up at 4:55 a.m. so as not to miss her chance to surprise us. “Sorry,” she said, “I couldn’t make the coffee. And they’re supposed to be St. Lucia buns, but I have scones instead. And I didn’t think I should light candles.”

Until about a year ago, I had never heard of St. Lucia Day. However, Evie read a book about it, and it really captured her imagination.

(I found this picture when writing this post, but now that I look at it, I can’t help but notice the pose is *identical* to the one Evie struck above. As we’re talking about Evie here, I have no doubt that even the picture was part of her plan.)

She has talked endlessly of St. Lucia Day since reading that book. She read that book last Christmas. She has been planning for this moment since last Christmas. My 7-year old daughter has the wherewithal and attention span to plan a surprise and keep it a secret for A YEAR.

Don’t believe me?

You see that red ribbon she used for a belt? You know how she got that ribbon? She asked for it for her birthday. Last August. I really couldn’t understand why she was insisting on ribbon. “What do you want it for?” I asked. “For my projects,” she replied. What she didn’t say was, “I have a surprise planned four months from now, and that surprise takes red ribbon. I’m 6, just turning 7, and I can’t exactly just borrow the car and get what I need, so I’m going to have to find other ways.”

How can I compete with that? What is she going to be able to accomplish when she’s older? How can I keep her from pulling the wool over my eyes when she’s already capable of year-long con jobs? HOW DO I EVEN KNOW SHE’S MY DAUGHTER AND NOT JUST SOME EVIL MASTERMIND USING ME FOR HER OWN DIABOLICAL PLANS?

Sara: “Isn’t it nice when all your plans work out?”
Evie, ominously: “That’s not ALL my plans.”

Quote Monday lets the cold seep in

Ollie: “Why is winter a long time, but other seasons are not?”

Unfortunately, winter has a loooong time to go yet. :(

Evie: “What’s a garage for?”

You can tell she’s a city girl!

Me: “Okay, 4 letters, ending in ‘t’. A safe place to keep your babies and eggs.”
Evie: “A den?”
Me: “That’s a really good guess, you’re on the right track. But it doesn’t end in a ‘t’.”
Evie: “…”
Me: “Well, where do you keep your eggs?”
Evie: “The refrigerator!”

St. Nicholas

At Evie’s school, parents can sign up to come in and talk about a holiday that they celebrate. This is a great tradition, and we have learned a lot about Eid, Diwali, Kwanzaa, St. Patrick’s Day, and Hanukkah. Evie really wanted me to talk about a special holiday that we celebrate, which is St. Nicholas Day.

St. Nicholas Day is a much smaller holiday, and none of the other kids in her class celebrate it, though several were familiar with it through friends. I decided that we would have the kids take their shoes off and line them up, so Evie could put a clementine in each one (something she was VERY proud to do), while I read a story about St. Nicholas.

There are lots and lots of stories about St. Nicholas, including a set of stories that we read leading up to St. Nicholas Day every year, but I couldn’t find just the right one that covered everything I wanted to cover. So I wrote my own, based in a large part off of a few of the stories at the link above.

So after a short discussion, this is what I read to her class:

***

You know how the year is 2014? The real person Nicholas lived back in the 300s, before they even used four numbers for the year. So about 1,700 years ago! That’s a really long time ago, right? Most of the people who were alive back then have been forgotten for a long time, but Nicholas was so generous that we still remember him now, 1,700 years later. Imagine how generous you would have to be, to be remembered longer than anyone else who was alive at the same time as you!

Nicholas was a priest, and eventually he got a promotion to bishop. A bishop is sort of like the boss of many priests. Bishops often wear a really tall hat (sometimes the more important you are, the bigger your hat is) and carry a big staff with a shepherd’s crook on the end. Nicholas also had a long white beard and wore white robes and a long red cloak, which is kind of like a cape. (Like Superman)

Nicholas was actually rich. His family had lots and lots of money. When you’re rich it’s maybe a little easier to give SOME of your money to people who need it, but Nicholas gave ALL of his money to people who needed it. But, he didn’t just give it all at one time, he gave it little by little to lots of different people.

Remember that Nicholas was very, very generous, so into his clothes, and his red Superman cloak, he sewed many, many pockets, and he would keep things in there to give to people. Maybe some coins, or a little toy, or a cookie, whatever he could give to someone that would help them out, or make them feel happy.

So let me tell you a story about St. Nicholas.

In the city that Nicholas lived in, there was a family that was very poor. The father worked hard all day long for not very much money. The mother was sick and needed special medicine that they couldn’t afford. They had a little baby boy, Nikko, who was sad and cried all the time, and a daughter, Alexis, that was 7 years old.

Oh, let me tell you about Alexis. I’m sad to tell you, Alexis was very, very selfish. She didn’t like to let anybody have a turn at things, and she only played games if she knew she could win. Naturally, people stopped playing with Alexis, and she became very lonely. She even refused to share her toys with her little brother, Nikko. Maybe that’s why he was always crying, who can say.

The only thing that made everyone happy was when the father would come home in the evening and play the fiddle. Nikko would stop crying, Alexis would smile for once, and the mother would feel better. It was a wonderful time.

Until the poor father broke a string on his fiddle, and he couldn’t play anymore.

This is a sad family, right?

Now, Bishop Nicholas knew this family very well. He knew all the families in the city, and he always seemed to know just exactly what they needed. And remember, nothing made Nicholas happier than helping people and giving them secret little gifts whenever he could.

In this city it was very, very muddy, so many people would take their shoes or boots off and leave them on the porch by the door so they wouldn’t track mud through the house. So while the family was sleeping, St. Nicholas crept up onto the porch and put a present into each person’s shoe.

In the morning, when the family came outside to put their shoes on, they found a little gift. When little Nikko put his foot into his shoe, he found a beautiful carved wooden train. When the mother put her foot in her shoe, she found the medicine she needed, and the father found new strings for his fiddle. They were overjoyed.

What do you think Alexis found?

(Many children guessed “nothing” or “mud”!)

When she saw how everyone else got such amazing presents, she couldn’t wait to reach into her shoe! So she reached in and pulled out…an orange.

Now Alexis was NOT very happy with her orange. Everyone had gotten something they really wanted, and all she got was a piece of fruit?

Many people in town did not know how gifts appeared in their shoes at night, but Alexis guessed that Bishop Nicholas was the one who had put the presents there. So she marched right over to Bishop Nicholas and demanded an answer.

“Bishop Nicholas!” she cried. “How could you give my brother Nikko a beautiful toy train and give me only an orange?”

“Only an orange?” said Nicholas. “Why, an orange is the best present of all! An orange is so sweet, and when you are sweet, everyone loves you!”

But Alexis, who never remembered to be sweet, stomped her foot and said, “Bishop Nicholas! How could you give me only an orange, when everyone else got just what they needed?”

Nicholas said again, “Only an orange? An orange is like a little sun. The sun shares its warmth with everyone equally, whoever they are, and therefore everyone loves the sun!”

But Alexis, who never shared anything with anyone, stomped both feet and said, “Bishop Nicholas! How could you give me only an orange? All you can do is eat it, and then it’s gone, and all you are left with are a bunch of worthless seeds!”

Nicholas smiled and said, “But Alexis, the seeds are the best part! With the seeds you can plant more oranges, and give the oranges to others. Everyone loves those who give to others.”

Alexis realized she wasn’t going to get anywhere with Nicholas and took her orange and went home in a huff. But later, when she thought about what Nicholas said about oranges and sharing, she started to see how she had not been like an orange. So, even though she ate the orange, she remembered the orange, and that helped her remember to be kind and giving. Before long, Alexis had lots of friends, and she was so kind and generous, that people called her, “Little Sunshine”.

And that’s when she knew that St. Nicholas had given her just what she needed after all.

Around this time of year, there are lots and lots of holidays that help us remember about giving, and being generous and thankful, and St. Nicholas day is another one. But hopefully we can remember all year long how to be like an orange, and the example of St. Nicholas, a man so generous that we still celebrate him 1,700 years after he was alive.

***

I also explained how we celebrate St. Nicholas Day by putting out our shoes and finding presents in the morning. I asked them what they thought we got, and many guessed oranges. I explained that some of the other traditional presents were chocolate coins and candy canes, which reminded us of St. Nicholas’ staff.

Finally, I let them get their shoes, and I have to say that I was surprised at how excited they were about the clementines! I was also a little surprised at how enthralled they all were with the story. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m hitting the age right (you have to admit, this is a little heavy handed), but so far I haven’t gone wrong. It was certainly rapt attention; they literally had their mouths hanging open.

I guess even in this day and age, children are just hungry for well-told stories.

(And oranges!)

Quote Monday is insulting

Me: “Look, Ollie, it’s the Christmas Frog! I made this ornament when I was only 3 years old.”
Ollie: “It looks like you didn’t really know what a frog looks like.”

Evie: “Did you toot?”
Me: “No!”
Evie: “Maybe that’s just what you smell like.”

Me: “…twenty two.”
Ollie: “TWENNY two.”
Me: “Twenty two.”
Ollie: “Everybody in my class says twenny two.”
Me: “The correct pronunciation is TWENTY two.”
Ollie: “How do YOU know?”

Ollie, very seriously to Sara: “I feel like…when you were a kid, you were a Bears fan.”

I assure you, there is no graver insult in this family…

Hearty Beef Stew and Yorkshire Pudding

The first Friday of the month is reserved for recipes. You can see additional First Friday Food posts here.

The Reason:

Beef stew. What could be better on a cold, December day? I’m talking a hearty beef stew, thick, with big chunks of meat and potatoes, the kind that fills you up, warms you up, and sticks to your ribs. I’m talking real beef stew, man. The kind of meal my Grandpa Halbach would have inexplicably served when we arrived at his house at 12 p.m., as if meat and potatoes were the food equivalent of saying, “hello”.

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But wait, there’s more.

You need a little bread to go with a stew like that, and Yorkshire pudding is just the thing.

2014_11_21_0412This is an 18th century meal. This is the kind of meal civilization was built on. You eat a meal like this, and you’re ready to take on the world. You’ve got the energy to do whatever you need to do: overthrow a tyrannical monarchy, pen some important documents with a feather quill, invent electricity, wear buckles on your shoes, whatever you want.

Take a nap, maybe. You earned it.

Patriot.

The Journey:

When it comes to cutting onions, I cry faster than James Van Der Beek watching The Notebook.

The last time I made this, I made a double batch. That’s 4 onions. This from a guy who cries cutting green onions. Luckily, I came prepared.

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(Onion Goggle Selfie)

Unfortunately, onion goggles cannot prevent me from weeping big tears of joy at the site of this delicious plate of hearty meat:

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Big Plate of Meat Selfie

Before Sara made it the first time, I couldn’t have told you what Yorkshire pudding was. An English dessert, right? Wrong.

However, I fully endorse any recipe that can be described as, “biscuits + meat drippings”. In fact, we use leftover bacon grease to cook ours, just in case you had any part of your heart that wasn’t already in failure from that meat picture up there.

The Verdict:

If I had one knock against this, it’s that perhaps I need to dial back the pepper a bit. It’s actually decently spicy, and it doesn’t really need to be. Other than that, though, delish.

2014_11_21_0415

The Recipe:

Hearty Beef Stew, from about.com:

  • 1 lb boneless chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground pepper (this makes a pretty peppery stew, you may want to adjust down)
  • 2 yellow onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
  1. On medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil to a large heavy pot (one that has a tight fitting lid).
  2. When it begins to smoke slightly, add the beef and brown very well. Do in batches if necessary. Add the salt and pepper as the beef browns.
  3. Once browned, remove the beef with a slotted spoon set aside.
  4. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, until softened.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add the flour and cook for 2 minutes stirring often.
  6. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. The flour will start to thicken the wine as it comes to a simmer.
  8. Simmer wine for 5 minutes, and then add the broth, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and the beef.
  9. Bring back to a gentle simmer, cover and cook on very low for about 1 hour.
  10. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery, and simmer covered for another 30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  11. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Yorkshire Pudding, adapted very slightly from The Magic Onions:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • a muffin tin
  • leftover bacon grease
  1. Pour the milk and eggs in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Put the flour and salt in another bowl. Make a volcano hole in the middle of the flour.
  3. Pour the milk and egg mixture into the center of the flour.
  4. Now for the trick… use a wooden spoon to gently swill the milk and egg mixture around in the middle of the flour volcano hole. Each ‘swill’ will grab a little of the flour from the side of the bowl and mix it into the mixture. Around and around and around until, slowly and gently, all the flour mixes in.
    **Note: Honestly, I don’t know why you have to do it this way, instead of just mixing it. I followed the directions, but I’m not sure it makes much of a difference.**
  5. Set your Yorkshire pudding mixture aside for at least an hour.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. Put 2 teaspoons of bacon grease in the bottom of each pan in the muffin tin.
    **Note: Try not to put too much bacon grease in. It doesn’t take much, less than you think.**
  7. Put your muffin tin in the hot oven for 10 minutes or until the oil is very hot (almost smoking)
  8. Carefully (it’s VERY hot) take it out of the oven (and close the oven again to keep the heat in) and quickly pour or spoon the Yorkshire pudding mixture into the muffin tins, filling about two thirds full. Try to do this as fast as you can as you don’t want the oil to cool.
  9. Return muffin tin to the oven and bake for 20 minutes at the same high heat. You can NOT peek! Don’t open your oven until the 20 minutes is up.
  10. After 20 minutes, your Yorkshire puddings should be perfect.
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