December 20, 2015

what's for dinner?

Ah, the age old dilema of what to serve for dinner.  Recently my offspring helped me answer this never ending question.

When the kids were younger, I fixed dinner based on what available items appeared on the pantry and freezer shelves.  Although I felt like a master chef at the time, I admit that the meals I offered were limited to those that I could whip up without much effort since I was caring for little ones.  I didn't feel guilty that meal time wasn't full of unique dishes.  Instead. I took pride in the fact that we didn't rely on fast food for sustenance.  My grocery runs typically included those ingredients needed to create one of my 'regular' dinners.  Therefore, meals didn't require much thought.  At the time, dinners fed our small but growing family, so any 'real' dinner I whipped up stretched out for more than one night.  Those days are long gone.

Fast forward several years to a different house, a larger family of serious eaters, and a new approach to meal time.  Each week I map out our seven day menu.  Coach used to grill at least once a week.  Since he chose to take on the basement renovation two years ago and more recently a fellowship, his availability to grill has dried up like an overdone turkey.  Leftover night no longer serves much purpose except that it forces me to clean the fridge out of annoying little Tupperware containers of half servings.  By considering the amount of prep time I have, the number of dinner hour activities family member will be involved in, and what time food needs to be on the table, I methodically plot out which meal I will prepare each night for the upcoming week.

On Monday, December 14th, I was slated to cook dinner for the Small family whose son has been in the hospital for over a month.  When I filled out the online calendar, I committed to cooking our family favorite 'cheesy chicken.'  The recipe is easy enough to make and typically a hit with most appetites.  I wrapped up my Christmas card poem and emailed it to the printer.  (I swear this year end summary in rhyme gets completed later and later each year).  Next on the agenda:  start dinner for the Smalls.  Imagine my surprise when I couldn't locate the multiple bags of frozen, boneless chicken breasts that I had just purchased on Saturday.  I've never been one to freeze butter, but there in the freezer was a bag full of sticks of butter.  I opened the fridge in a panic suddenly fearing the outcome of asking kids to help distribute groceries to the downstairs fridge.

Four bags of boneless chicken huddled together on the top shelf of the fridge.  Still in the plastic grocery bag.  Eight pounds of chicken.  Thawed.  Although I believed this once frozen meat needed to be cooked and eaten immediately, I called the 1-800 number to verify.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Raw chicken couldn't be re-frozen.  Since this pile of chicken had begun to thaw approximately 48 hours prior to my discovery, it needed to get cooked asap.  Strap on the apron lady.  Grab the cook book.  Preheat the oven.  Unstack the glass pyrex pans from the cabinet shelf.  It was time to prepare more chicken than we typically eat in two weeks time.

My taco dinner was put on the back burner -figuratively speaking.  I assumed while planning the week's menu that I would need to avoid using the oven when preparing a dinner for our family, since the Small's dinner would occupy one of my few refuse-to-die appliances.  I made more cheesy chicken than I thought possible, and was relieved when Coach agreed to toss some chicken on the grill.  As I dumped cans of soup on the pink chicken breasts, I began to fret about how long it would take us to ingest this much chicken.

I was grateful that I had agreed to cook dinner for the Smalls.  Perfect night to unload some must-eat-or-soon-toss chicken.  While I longed to solve the mystery of who swapped the butter for the frozen chicken, I was relieved that I had stumbled upon the thawing poultry before it had spoiled silently cowering behind several gallons of milk.

The kids hadn't arrived home from school when the chicken cook off began.  As they entered the house, the finger pointing began.  I accused Tetonka first.  He insisted he hadn't delivered any groceries to the basement.  His alibi 'I-didn't-want-to-help' checked out.  I realized that the mystery child had even asked me to review the instructions as I raced out the door that Saturday afternoon.  Rummaging thru the grocery bags, I had ordered kids who were not accompanying me to my next errand to start storing the cold items.  I offered to do the rest later.  Although I was convinced it was Eddie, he reminded me that he was the one waiting in the car to go pick out new basketball shoes while I dealt with the groceries.  Mini, my final suspect, was the last one home on chicken fiesta night.  Fortunately for her, the raw chicken drama had subsided.  As the house filled with the smells of cooking chicken, I began to accept that a frantic chicken cook off against the clock would serve my menu needs for the remainder of the week.  Still, I had to know . . .

'Mini, why did you put chicken in the fridge and butter in the freezer?  Especially after you asked me to remind you of their cold storage requirements.'  She grew flustered, not wanting to cross into uncharted 'trouble' territory.  This was her brothers' turf.  Her response surprised me.  'I guess I got mixed up.  It's your fault, anyway.  I was only trying to help.  You should've just done it yourself.'  My ally, my good girl, the one I've always assumed would be willing to help out- refusing to follow in the footsteps of older brothers who shirk responsibility as often as they toss dirty socks around the house willy nilly.  There it was.  I felt cold.  Almost as cold as thawed chicken.

Oh, and my worries were wasted.  After dropping off chicken at the Smalls' house, our family polished off the remaining 6 plus pounds of chicken in a couple of days.  It was nice to not have to think about dinner for a couple of days, but I think I prefer that the kids don't dictate what mounds of meat I am forced to prepare on short notice any time soon. 

December 15, 2015

occupational hazard

I raced out the door at 2:35 yesterday and grabbed Reg and Curly from school just before dismissal.  Next we stopped at the high school to pick up Eddie.  I hauled the three kids to the dentist for our string of five appointments that started at 3:00.   At 3:30 by shuttling Eddie back to high school for his sports pictures, I temporarily avoided the vacant chair that awaited me.  Sports pictures ended up being planned for the same day that our dentist appointments were cemented on the calendar.  Semi annual dental cleanings are becoming increasingly difficult to schedule.  If I don't lock in early enough, I won't get a block of appointments together.  Being on the ball doesn't serve me well either.  By the time advance appointments pop up on the calendar they compete with countless other conflicts. 

The two high school boys' cleanings were originally scheduled for last week during their study halls, and Coach managed to get a solo appointment one morning without having to drag any kids along.  So after swapping out the two high schoolers for Tetenka and Mini's cleanings last week due to a field trip, and two junior high basketball games, I was finally about to check this unpopular activity off my to do list.  First I had to survive my own cleaning.

Two hygienists manage the cleanings at our dental office.  Jan is thorough, fast, and energetic.  Lori is typically slow and far from careful.  In order to get all of us seen without making unnecessary additional trips, I divide our group up between the two of them.  As an act of kindness, I try to load up Jan's schedule with the kids.  Coach and I take the less comfortable time slots with Lori.  Jan can typically see three kids in the time it takes for Lori to inflict her uniquely styled cleaning on one patient. 

Perhaps I didn't see Lori for my prior cleaning, so I am unsure when I last felt her 'skill'.  My memory is failing me.  At any rate, I noticed a shift in Lori's performance this visit shortly after she started scraping away at my gums.  I had to wonder if perhaps Lori had recently been given a diagnosis.  Could she have just learned that she was suffering from Parkinson's disease?  Her hands shook like a nervous patient about to have a root canal with no Novocaine.  Pain accompanied each uncontrolled jab.  It was difficult to ignore the blood stained gauze swabs she dabbed at my mouth.  Curly popped into the torture chamber where I longed to be done.  Proudly displaying her prize, she stopped suddenly and gasped at the evidence of the crime scene trauma that my mouth had endured. 

There is such a thing as an occupational hazard.  This is why I do not work in the medical field.  A string of incidents that caused me to pass out influenced my career options.  My father wrote me letters in college and frequently reminded me that he thought I should study nursing like my sister.  I wisely chose to follow a different career path knowing that I could not be successful as a nurse.  I would need to request that patients insert their own IV lines or injections while I dabbed at my sweaty face in the hall.  Maybe it's time for Lori to reconsider her profession, or it's time that I tweak our appointments and request we all file into Jan's chair.  Maybe extra trips are worth it.

December 9, 2015

24 Hours

Inevitable.  Predictable.  Unreal.  Unfortunate.  Frustrating.  Mind blowing.  Those are just a few of the emotions I encountered yesterday.  It didn't take long.  It was bound to happen, but so fast?  Even I couldn't have predicted that one of my offspring could manage this.

With Coach wrapping up his basement renovation project after almost two years of blood, sweat, and tears (admittedly, I generated most of the tears as a result of living without a functioning basement for an extended period of time), we scheduled the carpet installation a few weeks ago.  It would arrive on a Thursday.  While Coach slaved away to complete a few of the tasks on his 'to-do-before-carpt-arrives' list, I counted the hours.  I longed to gather the large cardboard box of toy weapons from my once-walk-in closet and relocate them to the basement.  It gave me great joy to stack the generous collection of Lego bins outside my closet in anticipation of arranging them on basement shelves.  Housing the Lego toys is the sole purpose of these shelves tucked into a back corner of the basement.  Only smart, veteran parents arrange a basement layout to accommodate these awesome, tiny toys that easily end up EVERYWHERE.  Of course for months I had stumbled across small, colorful pieces misplaced from bins and strewn across my closet floor.  Evidence proving that sneaky hands had discovered the dozens of small stacking bins with snap on lids that organized these classic favorites.  Other bins chock full of the kids' play things were stashed in more mainstream locations throughout the house.  Now I tingled with excitement knowing that these space invaders would reunite in various corners of the soon to be newly finished basement.

Before I could reclaim my closet, my garage, and all four corners of my supposedly spacious, temporarily-not-so-formal dining room, I opted to assist Coach in prepping the dusty, tool ridden area for the carpet installation.  After a bit of time in the bowels of our home, I deduced quickly that even a partial, mid-construction, clean-up task had failed to take place during the 22.5 months of renovations.  The layers of dust were deep and relentless.  I enlisted the aid of the four youngest children on the eve of the carpet delivery.  The hell with firm bed times.  The damp dusty rags piled up quickly as they raced up the stairs for additional supplies and I directed them to other stashes of worn out towels.  It was a bit like Christmas morning when they uncovered the buried air hockey and foosball tables.   With each cleaned up cabinet, shelving unit, and floor space the excitement for the upcoming kid-friendly recreation area grew.

After school the appearance of the new carpet was greeted with shrieks of joy.  How easily the space had been converted in a few hours!  The kids rolled, laughed, and sprawled on the carpet.  I anticipated the joy of regaining my sanity, my closet, and my dining room along with a more available life partner who at times is cursed by a handy-man fixation.  Not sure which was worse, almost two years without a basement for six kids to hang out in or such a lengthy overhaul for a husband to be devoted to?  There was light at the end of the tunnel, and we all relished the end of this bumpy stage of our life.

That night the three older boys requested permission to watch a movie in the basement stretched out on the new carpet.  Although there was no furniture down there yet, they gathered up family room pillows and selected something to watch.  Coach and I settled into the family room browsing through channels on the TV.  We were excited to be able to watch a grown up show without worrying if inappropriate scenes would pop up while teenagers lingered. 

At some point a scuffle broke out in the basement.  Shouts including phrases like, 'Clean it up!' sent  me racing to the door.  Eddie answered my inquiry.  He claimed Laddie was dripping a red popsicle on the carpet.  I refused to investigate further.  I barked something down the stairwell along the lines of, 'That better not be true.'  The fact that we didn't own any red popsicles eased my mind a bit as I returned to the peaceful family room. 

The next morning I shuffled across the carpet in the basement in order to retrieve a gallon of milk from the spare fridge.  Just as I was relishing the fact that I no longer had to wear shoes thru the construction zone to get milk, I saw it.  Red.  Smeared into the carpet.  The sticky smudges appeared on the couchless-coffee table.  Less than 24 hours.  That is how long it took to soil the new carpet and christen the new kid area with gross stickiness.  My blood boiled and I felt my face grow the color of the stain. 

Over the summer Mini had rummaged thru an enormous box of ice cream bars in the basement freezer.  She hauled up enough treats for her siblings and all of their visiting friends.  In the process, she neglected to put one of the boxes back in the freezer.  After sitting at room temperature unnoticed for about a day, I stuck the lone strawberry box back in the freezer.  Of course Laddie would realize that this box of deformed ice cream bars existed and were fair game now that they had refrozen into oddly shaped edible desserts.  Perhaps their new make up made ingesting them challenging.  Could that account for the mess created by our 17 year old?

Laddie insisted he hadn't left a trail of ice cream across the floor.  Despite witnesses.  Seriously?  Fortunately when he finally cleaned up 'someone else's mess', the dark pink color disappeared without a trace.  Still . . . 24 hours!!!!