Don’t Cook in Your Bikini – a letter to my sons

Today, I was working on my cookbook. It’s a book I’ve been working on for my sons for the past 10 years. First, handwritten, and then entered into the computer and now organized and digitized, it’s almost finished. I’ve got a few more recipes to add, and a few pictures to throw into place, but I think it’s almost done.

If I can just get them to stop asking me to add more recipes…cover-image

But as I was reading and editing, I found this – the introduction to the cookbook (aptly named “Don’t Cook in Your Bikini, and Other Things I’ve Learned in the Kitchen”), a letter to my sons as they turn from boys to men.

I hope they listen.

Dear boys – 

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Probably days or weeks, if you add it all up.

And I’ve learned a lot from all that time sautéing, roasting, spicing, creating and burning… I mean, browning… the meals that y’all have mostly enjoyed. I’ve learned from my successes and I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Mostly, I’ve learned enough to keep you all from sending me on to “Worst Cooks in America.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s  Don’t cook in your bikini.

Why not cook in a bikini?

Well, let’s just say “grease splatters.”

It’s all well and good to think that even though a summer storm has popped up outside, you can still grill burgers inside on your griddle. But, when you decide to keep your bikini on and only cover up with a holey sweater, then you’re not really thinking.

And I wasn’t.

Right up until the moment when some of the grease from the griddle jumped up and splattered burn marks all over my stomach.

Then I started thinking a lot of things, many of which ended with “%$#@!!!”

Not that there are that many people who actually WOULD cook in a bikini, but it occurred to me that if I was stupid enough to do it, then YOU might think it was a good idea too.

Apple. Tree. You get the idea.

It occurred to me, however, that cooking in a bikini was a lot like wearing a three-piece suit to garden in – it’s just not a good idea. For every particular job or activity you’ll do, you’ll  have “appropriate clothing.” And there’s a reason for that clothing. You don’t see chefs wearing bathing suits in the kitchen. You see them in long pants and comfortable shoes, and short-sleeved shirts.

Why?

To protect themselves from spills, or dragging their sleeves through the food, or, you know, catching on fire. Yes, honey, that’s a real thing. And you don’t normally see businessmen in jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because the formality of their attire matches the air of importance they give to their products and services. It’s simple sales, really.

All that got me to thinking … there are a lot of things that I’ve learned in the kitchen that  apply to other parts of your life.

Little bits go a long way. When you’re seasoning something, the best thing to remember is to add a little at a time, and let it cook for a bit before adding more. Think about it – if you added pepper to something and throw in a full tablespoon of it, you run the risk of having whatever you’re cooking come out way too hot. But if you add a pinch or two at a time, you can get to just the right taste.

And that’s kind of like life too. When you’re adding things to your life, try not to add too much at once. Don’t decide you’re going to start a new job, start playing softball, start dating a new girlfriend and move all in the same month. Pick one, do it for a while and then add another until you feel like you can take on something else. Add too much at one time and you’ll be overwhelmed by it all.

You’re not always going to be able to do that though. Life has a way of looking at all of your well-laid plans and happy little dreams, and saying “HA! You are SO cute when you think things are going to go your way like that…” Sometimes life is going to throw a million things at you at once. The best thing you can do when that happens is to just sit down and eat a little at a time until you’ve cleaned your plate. Then you can take a step back, rest up and get ready for dessert.

Don’t be afraid to try something new or make something up, but be creative with a measure of caution. You really should never be afraid to try new things, seek out new people or combine things you love together. For every goofy idea, there is a great success, as much as there is an abysmal failure. You know, buffalo chicken quesadillas started out as a crazy idea, but it worked! Same with the Skyline Lasagna. You should never be afraid to mix things up – whether it’s with a recipe or in your life.

But, remember… just because you like two things, doesn’t necessary mean they go well together. You may like chicken and you may like bananas, but that doesn’t mean chicken and bananas should ever, under any circumstances, in any part of the world, and in any way, shape or form, be combined in one dish and put on a plate.

Similarly, beer and skiing; steak and strawberries; Chuck E. Cheese and a migraine; lima beans and …well…anything… probably not a good combination. Be careful, but always be brave and try new things.

Know when you can fudge a little. Sometimes in cooking, you have to measure carefully. Sometimes, you can wing it. You just have to know which time is which. For example, in barbecue and pizza, really, there’s not a lot of measuring. In those cases, a little of this, a little of that goes a long way. But when it comes to baking, if the recipe says “1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda” you’d better damn well be sure that you measure out exactly 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda. I’m not kidding. Exactly.

The same is true in life. You may be able to be to skip sweeping under the coffee table every other day at home, but when it comes to work, you have to do the best and most thorough job you can as quickly as you can. You’ve got to know when it’s okay to wing it, and when it’s important to do your best. It makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be in the long-run.

Be careful where you put your fingers.  You know, it’s important to know where your fingers are when you’re slicing something. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told you all to curl up your fingers when you’re holding something to cut, and to be careful with knives and food processors. That applies to burning your fingers in the oven (note my hands some day) and putting stuff in hot grease too.

But it applies to other people’s business as well. You don’t need to go sticking your nose or fingers (or any other body part) into someone else’s business. If they want you to know about something, they’ll tell you. If they want you to get involved, they’ll ask you. If they want your help with something, they’ll let you know. I’m not saying, don’t ask if someone needs your help, but certainly don’t take on someone’s problems if they don’t want you there. Be loving and caring with people, and by all means, let them know you are there for them, but don’t stick your fingers in places they don’t belong.

Quit holding on to your recipes  Everyone has secret recipes and things that are theirs and theirs alone. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to hold on to them too tightly. Sharing your gifts with the world is the only clear way to get something back in return.

If I weren’t to share my recipes with you, either by writing them down for you, or cooking them for you, they’d all sit on a shelf and go to waste. But by sharing them, not only do they get a life of their own, but you give me something in return. Whether it’s “Oh, Mom, this is the bomb,” or “I loved your recipe for chicken bog, did you want my recipe for chocolate cola cake?” you get a little quid pro quo action going. When you give a little of yourself, you get a lot in return.

The things you make with love will always surpass the things you throw together Every time you cook, you should absolutely put your heart into it. And by that I mean, when you are creating something, care about the result, because someone is going to be eating that. Do you want to eat something that someone threw together without caring how it tasted, whether or not it was burnt, what kind of texture it had, whether or not the ingredients were rotten? Of course not. You want to eat something that shows someone took the time to do the best they could just for you.

Would you want something that showed someone took the time and effort to make something really great? Or would you want something that someone threw together without thinking about the end result? Put effort into what you do, care about the result – whether it’s in the kitchen or not – and your results will always be better.

Simple ingredients and simple cooking methods are sometimes the best – Eating at a French restaurant can be an amazing thing. Your Dad and I have always said French cooking is about taking out every ingredient you own and cooking them in every pot you own, cleaning all the pots and using them again to come up with an entrée the size of a walnut. It’s all very expensive and very complex and very beautiful and very tasty.

But none of it compares to a bowl of soup beans, or chicken bog, or a really good fried bologna sandwich. Not everything has to be about microgreens, or vodka-infused something or the other, or even about pan roasting something with black truffle oil and pink Himalayan salt. Sometimes, the good stuff is just about three or four ingredients put together and cooked up in the most simple of ways – strawberries and sugar with whipped cream; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; scrambled eggs with cheese. It’s the simple stuff that makes a difference.

And in that same vein, when you’re working, sometimes just having good quality products, without all the bells and whistles and razzle dazzle, is all you need. Got a Powerpoint slide show to do? Just do the presentation and make the information sing. Do you need slides that swoop on to the screen and blast the text from out of nowhere? Not really. Let your work stand on its own without trying to baffle people with bullshit. People know what bullshit looks like, regardless of how much glitter you sprinkle on it. Trust me.

I wish I had some beautiful, lyrical words to tell you about living a great life and making a success of yourself and being happy. I don’t. Because I really don’t know what the secrets are.

But I do know this. You only get one chance at life. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Take the risks that will make you happy. It’s always better, in my mind, to look back with a smile at the end of your life and say “I can’t believe I actually did that” instead of looking back with regret and saying to yourself “I wish I had tried to do that.”

I love you both so much. You have made my life better just by being a part of it. Even when I was screaming and angry or crying and worried, you have been the biggest part of my heart and you always will be. I never knew that I could love someone so much that I would give up anything to make their life better. I know I haven’t been able to give you everything. I know I’ve made mistakes. But I also know that I tried to be the best mom I could be. And I know that no matter what, I will forever keep trying to be that and that I will always be here for you.

Probably will still be asking if you’ve brushed your teeth and done your laundry, but still… I’ll be here.  :-*

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2017

Not so “Gaga” over the Golden Globes

Yesterday, my topic of choice for my blog was my family’s unnatural obsession with hoodies.

But then the Golden Globes happened.

gaga upset

Pensive Gaga

Or rather, Gaga happened.

It’s no coincidence that Gaga sounds a lot like “caca” in my mind.

Really.

As I normally do when I wake up on a Monday morning and don’t want to work, I was browsing through Facebook and saw people commenting on Lady Gaga winning the Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Limited Series or Miniseries.”

Initially, I figured it was a joke and someone was pulling the Onion over our eyes.

But no, it was true… the Golden Globe went to a woman who destroyed a series.

Let me explain…. I am an American Horror Story fan. I love horror and I love the idea of something for grown ups on television that isn’t sappy, sarcastic or insipid.

But, this season’s American Horror Story? Not so much. In fact, I’m really looking forward to the finale this week just so I don’t feel compelled to spend any more time on it.

The first season of American Horror Story, I was hooked. I loved it. Wouldn’t miss a minute of it. Evan Peters, Jessica Lange and Zachary Quinto? Yes, please! Throw in some of that McDermott guy and I could sit there transfixed all day. With all the plot twists, shadowy figures, ghosts, suspicions and blackmail, I couldn’t wait for more.

But when the second season came around? Ehhhh. Not so much. Once we got to the sadist with mommy issues and the serial killing Santa Claus, I was pretty much done.

When the third season started, I was skeptical, but the coven, the New Orleans location, Delphine LaLaurie and Stevie Nicks pulled me back in. So too did season four, where I simultaneously felt sorry for killer clowns while finding my irrational clown heebee jeebies suddenly justified.

But this season?

gaga intrigued

Smoky Gag

Gaga me with a spoon.

Between the gratuitous sex and graphic drug use, the proliferation of blood during sex, the confusing and uninteresting plot line and the lack of any chemistry/dynamic tension/range of emotion from Gaga, Wes Bentley or Chloe Sivigny, I really didn’t want to watch it.

However, my 15-year-old son was watching it and I wanted to make sure that I was okay with him seeing whatever they decided to show.

To be completely honest, I almost didn’t let him watch it. The graphic drug use and sex were a little over the top for me. But he pointed out that everyone who did drugs died, so I relented.

Every week I slogged through it, waiting for it to get better.

But every week, it just got worse. Gaga awful, in fact.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

Let’s see if I can wrap up the plot in less than a 40-page dissertation….

gaga happy

Stoic love-sick Gaga

“Recovering alcoholic cop John stumbles into the Hotel Cortez while working diligently to solve a serial killer case and has a complete mental and emotional breakdown when he develops a relationship with a dead drug addict hooker with an insatiable desire for eternal love, Sally, who, in turn, introduces him to the true evil behind the hotel, a glamorous movie starlet turned vampire, the Countess, who has a love/hate relationship with clothing (on, off, on, off, on, off and covered in blood, on, off, on and covered in blood, off), and the sadistic murdering hotel owner and builder, J. P. March, who is madly in love with her. Along the way, the cop finds his missing six-year-old son, and when his soon-to-be-ex-wife finds out, she abandons John and her other child to be a vampire buffet for a flock of night-crawler Stepford children whose lives revolve around intravenous blood infusions, candy and video games, but not before she, a pediatric doctor, manages to infect an entire classroom of pre-teens and create a “lost boys meets lord of the flies” band of merciless killers.

Meanwhile, a black-plotation actress decides to seek her revenge on the Countess for something that happened 30 years before and finds herself locked in an abandoned area of the hotel waiting for the day she can attack her nemesis, while a cross-dressing receptionist and an aging female hotel manager (who gives new meaning to the term helicopter parent) join forces with her to rid the hotel of the Countess. Somewhere along the way, John has a complete break with reality and realizes he is the serial killer he sought and falls into the clutches of Sally, whose solution to her abandonment issues looks like something akin to the Human Centipede, only vertical.”

Whew…. And that’s just the highlights… seriously.

Again, here we go with the mommy issues with the over-protective mother, and the love triangles – only this time, we get to see the love triangles up close and personal-like in what I assume is the first graphic threesome ever broadcast in a limited run television series that involved a sewing needle. There were times I wasn’t sure if I was watching a television series or soft-core porn on Skin-emax.

And we got to see Lady Gaga.

gaga sad

“Look! I’m almost naked without my make-up” Gaga”

A lot of Lady Gaga… a lot of Lady Gaga covered with blood, with pasties, with long blonde hair… More of Lady Gaga than I personally ever wanted to see.

If her acting had been good, I probably wouldn’t have minded. But her onscreen emoting reminded me of lawn furniture in winter – the dressing may change, but it’s still the same uncomfortable chairs.

And, since her expression is the same whether she’s happy or sad, or excited, or mad, really it was kind of difficult to figure out why she was undressed in the first place. Did she think her hair was going to do her acting for her?

I finally realized that when she opened her mouth it was a sign she was really happy or really sad. It’s when her mouth was closed that she was pouty, promiscuous or petulant.

So, we’ve got a bad plot line, bad story and bad acting all of which left a bad taste in my mouth, and you’re going to give the worst actor in it a Golden Globe? What the ever-loving heck?

And I’m not the only one, I promise. Just a quick perusal of the web and Facebook and you can see, a lot of people weren’t happy with her getting the award.

None of us, of course, reacted like Leonardo DiCaprio, but then again, not many of us could pull off a cringe like that in a tux and still look dashing and debonair.

A lot of people that I saw weren’t happy that she was in American Horror Story in the first place. I can’t say I blame them.

I don’t watch a lot of television – shows with seasons like this are one of the reasons why – so I don’t have any clue whether any of the other nominees were any good. I’ve seen Kirsten Dunst in other things though and I know that she can at least act. I can’t imagine that all four of the rest of them were so bad that Gaga was the best of the crop.

Gaga said she always wanted to be an actress… as far as I can tell, she’s still wanting… in a lot of ways.

I hear she’s been asked to be in Season 6 of the series. I sure hope she figures out how to say “No.” Or if she can’t and ends up in the cast, at least maybe she can get some acting lessons from Jessica Lange. Are you listening Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk? Are you paying attention to the falling ratings – this season’s ratings looking worse than those of season one, and only doing marginally better than the dismal season two… trust me, it’s all Gaga-induced.

One thing’s for sure, if she’s a part of it, I doubt I’ll be watching… once you’ve found yourself watching a really beautiful train wreck, you find it’s a lot easier than you thought to look away from the next one.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2016

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A mother’s curse

When I was 12 years old, my mother cursed me.

And I don’t mean she yelled profanities at me, I mean, she put a curse on me through my future progeny.

I remember the day clearly. I was home watching ZOOM! in the living room.

Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34

Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34

Remember ZOOM on PBS? It was an after-school show where kids did all sorts of fun stuff sent in by other kids. It was one of my favorite shows and identified me early on a dork of enormous proportions.

On this particular episode, they were capturing spider webs. In this scenario, clearly not intended for children without adult supervision, you took a piece of construction paper and placed it behind a spider web. From there you softly sprayed spray paint onto the web. What wasn’t web would show up on the construction paper as paint, leaving behind the design of the web in negative. Easy enough, right?

My sister was at work.

My mom was at work.

I was home alone, hoping to find something interesting to do.

“Well,” my little pre-teen brain said. “This looks like fun.”

pedal carSo, I went into the garage and got the only can of spray paint I could find. It was bright red. Fire engine red, in fact. I know it was fire engine red, because it was the same spray paint I used to paint the antique powder puff blue convertible pedal car my Dad had gotten me… I don’t recall mom or dad being too happy about my actions that time either.

Anyway, spray paint in hand, I went looking for construction paper.

One would think that the house of a kindergarten teacher, my mom, would be filled with construction paper in many different colors, but I couldn’t find any.

Granted, I was 12, so without it being in the open, on top of a stack of anything other than laundry and with a six-foot-tall neon sign saying “THIS IS THE CONSTRUCTION PAPER YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” pointing to it, I wasn’t likely to find it even if I tripped over it.

After more than six whole minutes of dedicated searching my pre-adolescent brain decided I didn’t need it. In fact, it came to the conclusion that in this activity, construction paper was like coconut in a cake, completely optional and most likely not at all necessary.

Armed with a spray paint can and an eagle eye for anything arachnid, I ran outside and searched the yard for spider webs to create art.

I didn’t see any webs on the grass and I didn’t find too many in the bushes and I didn’t notice any at all in the trees.

I did however find a number of them in the garage windows.

spraypaint11Let’s take a moment here to recap the ingredients in this particular activity – several spider webs, one can of red spray paint, one willful 12-year-old tom boy, several garage windows framed with white paint.

No matter how you mix it, it was a recipe for disaster.

When my mom came home, every window on her garage facing the street had little circles of red covering the corners of the window frame and onto the glass itself.

To say my mother was a more than just a little mad, would be like saying that Ghandi was on a low calorie diet for a while.

“Mary, what have you done?” she screamed.

As hard as it may be to believe, this wasn’t the first time I had heard those words.

“My windows, Lord Almighty, my garage windows!” she screamed. “What on earth possessed you to spray paint the garage windows??? What were you thinking?”

I looked at her incredulously.

momdaughter yell“They were they only ones with spider webs on them,” I replied matter of factly.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I didn’t say “duh!” is the reason I am still alive today.

Mom closed her eyes, grabbed her head in her hands and gathered together her wits. You could almost hear her counting to 10 in her head.

And then, it came.

“Mary Elizabeth Carey, I swear, one day I hope you have a child just like you,” she said.

There it was.

The curse.

The longest running curse in the history of womankind, bestowed at one time or another on every misbehaving kid on the planet by their mothers.

And it worked.

I have a child who is just like me.

When I was a kid, for a while I wanted to be an Olympic bicyclist, until the day I wiped out on gravel and ended up in the hospital with 22 stitches in my leg.

Boy jumping

Boy jumping

My youngest son, Max, was determined to be a super hero when he was five, and jumped off a slide to prove he could fly. When he landed successfully the first time, he decided to do it again to show his friend, and promptly fractured his foot on landing.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t find a brush one day, so I used one of those little pot holder loom thingies to comb my hair. The resulting rat’s nest of a tangle required an emergency visit to the stylist.

Max decided one day he didn’t like his bangs or his side burns, so he cut them himself, using a razor, leaving one inch stubble over his right ear and bangs slashed diagonally across his forehead. This also required an emergency trip to stylist and an entire summer growing out a crew cut.

When I was a kid, I wore my favorite red patent leather go-go boots until they were so tight that my second toe on both feet grew crooked because I wouldn’t let them go.

Max had one pair of pants that he would wear all the time. All. The. Time. until they could no longer be called “floods” or “highwaters,” as much as really long shorts which I had to steal from his room in order to throw them away.

When I was a kid, I would stay up late at night, reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries until my Dad came to tuck me in or I passed out asleep.

Max will sneak his way to reading Creepy Pasta and other things online on his Chromebook until the wee hours of the morning, or until I walk into his room at 1 in the morning and tell him it’s time to go to sleep.

I have a nasty habit of just walking off, away from the people I’m with, if I see something that interests me. When Max was little and we visited the zoo, as we often did, my husband, older son and I routinely took turns at “Max duty,” to make sure he didn’t walk away and end up figuring out a way to get into the giraffes cage or end up petting the Bengal tigers.

Now I understand what my Mom went through raising me.

I understand the sheer terror of wondering what your child is up to because the house suddenly goes quiet.

I understand the fear of not knowing whether or not you child will survive into adulthood even without the threat of you beating them to death.

I understand what kind of conflicted emotions she must have felt the day I accidentally sucked the gerbil into the vacuum cleaner trying to help out with the chores, or when I spilled India ink on her new carpet while drawing her a picture.

I’ve stood in her shoes.

It’s not exactly a true curse, and it’s not exactly a true blessing, but I think it’s a little of both.

581719_3662309190010_2038050352_nMothering any child had its heart-stopping moments. But having a child like me, helps me to see the world through my mom’s eyes for a while, and helps me to understand the world Max sees as well.

I hope that as Max grows into a man, that I can be like my mother was with me – patient (most of the time), willing to let me be me and understanding of her willful adventurous little girl.

Mom taught me a lot about letting your child be independent and responsible and capable of facing up to the consequences of their actions – especially if it involves stealing the family car for a joy ride at 14 and knocking over a basketball pole, something I pray Max never does.

And I hope I can be as firm as she was in her resolve to teach me how to be a better, calmer, more focused person. It’s a daily task, I’ve learned, that isn’t easy and forces you to look into your child’s hurt and confused eyes while you dole out punishment. She taught me how to do that, even if she never told me how hard it was.

How she did it alone, and without killing me, is beyond me.

Thanks to her, I think I turned out pretty good. And because of the things I learned from her, I think Max will turnout pretty good too. After all, he’s well into his teen years and he’s still alive, so… there’s hope.

It goes without my saying anything that one day Max will have a kid just like him.

And my mother and I will have given Max all the tools he needs by then to deal with the curse.

Hopefully, he will see it, as I do, as a blessing instead.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Why the Easter Bunny still visits our house

Even though my sons are 16 and 15, the Easter bunny still visits my house.

easter-basketGranted, the baskets aren’t as elaborate as they once were, but they are still full of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and the occasional Peep.

This year, there was none of the plastic grass that clings to every living thing in the house, and it lacked its usual bevy of toys. But each one did include an envelope full of money, which is all my sons really wanted in the first place.

The solid chocolate break apart bunny was just a bonus.

After all, they’re teenagers and toys, candy, colored eggs and plastic doo dahs don’t do it for them as much as cold hard cash-ola.

Ever since they were born, they’ve been the recipients of gifts brought to them by anonymous mythical creatures who wish to buy their love through sweets and trinkets.

At the same time, we’ve spent their formative years telling them to beware of evil men in cars with lollipops and missing puppies who are waiting for the opportunity to kidnap them and of “stranger danger.”

No wonder this generation is completely screwed up.

Throughout their childhood, from the tooth fairy to the Big Guy himself (you know – Mr. Claus) to the Birthday Monsters, there seemed to be no end to the parade of mystical creatures bestowing gifts on my kids.

Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters

Sandra Boynton’s Birthday Monsters

Spoiler alert kids – Some of them are completely made up.

Take for instance, the Birthday Monsters.

When my guys were very little, every year on the night before their birthday, I read to them Sandra Boynton’s “The Birthday Monsters.”

In the story, a group of monsters comes to visit you and proceeds to celebrate your birthday by wrecking your house, opening your gifts and eating your cake, only to make it all perfect again before they leave.

Somewhere along the way, in our house, this turned into a tradition of waking up on one’s birthday morning to find presents on the kitchen table and eating birthday cake for breakfast.

All these early morning discoveries, of course, required a lot of late night basket decorating, stocking stuffing, quarter leaving and present wrapping on the part of one particular person in our household.

I remember one year talking online with a friend and asking them if they thought it would be okay if I left the boys alone in the house, since they were asleep upstairs, and ran to the store to grab more Easter candy for their baskets. They weren’t particularly enamored with the idea. I ended up filling some plastic eggs with spare change that year instead.

More spoiler alerts kids – now might be a good time to go watch a YouTube video or something.

My oldest son, Mason, figured it all out when he was 8 years old. He came to me and said “You’re the birthday monsters, aren’t you?”

Look! Mom has wings!

Look! Mom has wings!

I admitted that I was.

“That makes you the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Oh… then that means,… hmmm,” he said. He knew it all.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” I said.

When my youngest son, Max, found out he was nearly 13. For years, he had been a believer, even to the point of ringing a Christmas bell around us (while we had to act like it was broken) to prove that the magic in it still worked.

Once the realization the Big Guy was just me, all the other night visitors fell into their appropriate places in history for Max. His belief suspended, he realized the myths for what they were.

“My whole life has been a lie,” he lamented.

I guess it never occurred to him before then that it was a little strange that every few months supernatural beings were breaking into our house, not to mention stalking us and keeping tabs on our behavior.

Of course, these mythical entities were great discipline tools. Mom had Santa’s cell phone number. She would let the tooth fairy know if one of those bicuspids didn’t exactly fall out on its own. And no one wanted to see what the Easter bunny would leave if he got an email telling him they weren’t picking up their room.

But now, those tricks don’t work. They know there will be an Easter basket on the kitchen table even if they fail to change their sheets and that their Christmas stockings will always be full of the little joys they never expect.

So why do these gifts keep appearing?

finger-pointingMaybe it’s because I want them to be my kids always. I want them to know that they are loved. I want there to be one moment every once in a while where I can still surprise them to make up for the all the times I’ve yelled at them about grades and jobs and dirty laundry.

Maybe it’s a chance to spoil them when I’m so hard on them the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s because I like carrying on a tradition we started and which will one day be carried down to their kids.

Maybe it’s because the gifts are so appreciated. Today, when they got up at the crack of noon, they both got their Easter baskets and began to immediately make plans for the cash. Soon thereafter, Max came in the living room and hugged me. Mason, in turn, got out of bed and kissed me on the forehead.

They liked the baskets, even if they’re not full of jellybeans and Reese’s pieces and Peeps.

Those are the parts of the basket the Easter bunny kept for herself…

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Liz Carey

8 life hacks every teen MUST know

Everyone knows that there are secret life hacks that can make their lives easier.

As parents, we know all the little tips and tricks learned over years of housework. There are just some things that make life all the much more livable.

But, spend few minutes living with any teen and you’ll realize, if it comes out of a parent’s mouth, it can’t be true, it has to be on the Internet for that.

So, here it is, the top 8 life hacks every teen must know – on the internet no less!

1 – Clean hair dyeIMG_20150119_183101 from a white bathroom sink using just bleach and an old rag! Pour bleach on stained area, wipe down with old rag and cover stain with bleach a second time. Let stand for 5 minutes, or more depending on the darkness of stain. Wash off bleach with water and rag. BONUS HACK: Use a white rag and allow the bleach to clean stains out of the rag as well.

2 –  Writing assignments and their due dates on a calendar, the day they are assigned, prevents forgetting them until the last minute or missing them entirely. Result? Less stress and better days!

3 – Use a relatively new invention – the trash can – to store all of your old candy wrappers and empty soda bottles. When full, carry trash receptacle to the garbage can outside to dispose of all of your garbage in one trip! You’ll be able to tell when the can is full when pieces of garbage start falling out of it. Being ahead of the game and taking the garbage out before being asked can save you from being interrupted during a great run of Call of Duty by Mom yelling to get to your chores.

4 – Folding your laundry and putting it away immediately after it is finished in the dryer helps to prevent the need for ironing clothes as well as keeps your mom from yelling at you that you look like a street urchin or homeless man. As an added bonus, this saves countless hours of looking through your clothes for what to wear that day, or confusing clean clothes with dirty clothes, requiring you to wash all of them over again.

IMG_20150119_1836445 – Shave minutes off chore time by simply putting dishes IN THE DISHWASHER instead of in the sink five feet to the side of it. This is an even more effective hack instead of leaving dishes in your room.

 

6 –  Rub a toothpaste tube along the side of the sink and bathroom countertops from the bottom of the tube up, in order to move all of the toothpaste up into the useable part of the tube. Hint: This only works if you remember to put the cap back on.

7 – If you smell the cat litter box when you come in the back door of the house, chances are, it’s time to change it. Doing something simple like this can save up to 20 minutes of nagging per WEEK!

8 – Using Kleenex or toilet paper to blow your nose, instead of picking it and wiping it on your gaming chair or your jeans will not only save time cleaning your chair, but also help to make you look like less of a loser in your friends and families eyes – they do see you do it, you know.

IMG_20150119_183253 9 – When it’s your turn to clean the bathroom, make sure you take a long hot shower first. Then, after drying off with your towel, use the moist towel to clean loosened dirt on the countertops and sink. Wet towel with a little water from the now clean sink, and use the towel to “mop” the floor. After you get dressed, throw away the garbage and clean out the toilet and you’re done!

With just a little planning and a few extra steps, you’ll be on your way to a calmer, more grown-up way of life. In many ways,

And now, it’s on the internet, so it HAS to be true…

 

Eight ways you know the holiday honeymoon is over

I’m pretty sure I am all Christmas’d out.

Seriously.

As I sit here on my couch on a rainy 60 degree Sunday, some of my friends are celebrating their fourth and fifth family holiday today. Heck, some of them have had more than eight holiday celebrations in the course of the last month.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas as much as the next person… christmaseveprobably more than some in fact. I love the secrets, the smells, the sights… even the sappy Christmas specials where the evil shopkeeper realizes there is more to the season than commercialism and peace returns to Happyville and little Timmy gets his dog back.

Yeah, I know, I’m a bit sentimental, but life can’t be all sarcasm, moonshine and zombies now, can it?

So, after countless batches of Christmas candy, a seemingly endless stream of holiday engagements and a month-long marathon of shopping or making gifts, I think I’m done for a while.

How can I tell? The signs are all around us… Here’s the top 8 ways to tell you’re done with Christmas.

  1. smoking-credit-cardYour credit card is no longer smoldering and your mailbox is busting at the seams with with bills.
  2. The desire for rich foods like turkey with all the fixings, crown roast of pork and prime rib has been replaced by an urgent need for salad, soup and sandwiches or a plain baked potato.
  3. No one in the house wants to eat any of the goodies you’ve painstakingly made over the past month. Christmas cookies and peanut butter fudge go uneaten, while jelly beans and Doritos disappear by the handful.christmas-tree-dry-211x300
  4. The sight of Christmas trees and the not-so-green-anymore greenery around the house brings less feelings of nostalgia and holiday spirit and more thoughts of kindling and the growing concern over how long into Spring you’ll still be sweeping up pine needles.
  5. The pangs of guilt over things you didn’t get accomplished – including not knitting your grand niece and nephew matching glove and hat sets because you ran out of time and not mailing out handmade Christmas cards because you forgot they were in your glove compartment – have dissipated and been replaced by nagging thoughts of “I should probably still try to do that sometime before Valentine’s Day.”
  6. ragincajungatorsYou’d rather watch “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators” on Syfy than suffer through yet another showing of “Elf,” “Shrek the Halls,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “A Christmas Story.”
  7. The long list of holiday engagements has been replaced by long afternoon naps and curling up with a good book for hours on end.
  8. As temperatures here in South Carolina reach up into the 50s, planning holidayspring_vegetable_garden_guide_when_to_plant travel schedules is replaced with an urgent desire to plant a garden.

So, let’s take a few minutes and say goodbye to 2014’s holiday season. It’s been one to put in the record books… well, the keepsake books anyway, if indeed we keep any of those. And remember, there’s just 363 shopping days left to find the perfect gifts for Christmas 2015.

Copyright Liz Carey (c) 2014

Dear women’s magazines, I give up

Okay, women’s magazines, you win.

can't I give up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to stop reading you, I’m just not going to succumb to your particular brand of torture anymore.

I’ve read women’s magazines since I was a little girl. I drooled over recipes and wondered what it would be like, as a teenager, to have the freedom to make “Pan-seared Duck with orange confit and a bed of microgreens.”

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a foodie since I was knee high to a Kitchen Aid, but now… I just don’t think I can take this anymore.

You’ve all just gone over the top.

Like any good foodie mom, I read your “How to make a gourmet dinner for your family in less than 30 minutes” and I want to be able to do that.

Making a dinner for my family that would please the palate of Gordon Ramsey in half an hour using only 15 simple ingredients? So doable, I thought.

Gone are the days of salmon patties with buttered egg noodles and corn. Tomorrow, it’s Korean beef lettuce wraps with soba noodles and edamame. I can do this!, I thought.

But now, you’re just being silly. Now, you’re putting in your magazines things no kid who isn’t starving or on a forced diet would eat.

It’s just that, recently, reality has hit me.

I don’t care what your cooks do in your kitchen, no matter how hard I try, there’s no way I’m making a three course dinner for four in less than an hour. I know, I know, you’ve got all those timing things outlined in your directions, but honestly, how you do all that chopping when you’ve got to help with homework and clean the house is beyond me.

And another thing, do you think you could start printing recipes that use ingredients I might actually have in my kitchen?

One recently included mashed parsnips.mashed-parsnips

Parsnips?

Really?

Who the hell buys parnsips on a regular basis?

I’d like to make gourmet meals, really I would.

But I think if I were to serve pomegranate, watercress and roasted macadamia nut salad my guys would look at me like I had stepped off of the pages of Bourgious Kitchen and straight into the world of la-la land.

And as much as I’d like to make a panko and peanut crusted chicken breast with orzo and a side of pan roasted broccolini, I’ve only got stove top stuffing mix, a can of cream of mushroom soup and some french-style green beans in my pantry.

I can’t go out spending $40 on one dish that my family will say “Eh. It was okay” to, when I’ve got another 13 dishes to make and only $300 to spend, over the next two weeks – and that includes money for pizza night!

A quick look at some of my cookbooks proves my point. In the Betty Crocker Family Dinners in a Hurry cookbook, circa 1969 (yes, I’m well aware that some of my cookbooks are just as old as I am – almost), there’s a recipe for Broiled Round Steak with Mustard Butter and Herbed Tomatoes that lists 8 ingredients for the main and side combined – and that’s INCLUDING the round steak! – that takes less than 20 minutes to make and serves 6.

In Southern Living’s May 2014 edition, the recipe for Flank Steak and Cucumber Salad lists 16 ingredients, including Asian chili paste (“such as Huy Fong” it says) and English cucumbers (in my head, I swear I was thinking “I say, are you a regular cucumber, or do you come from across the pond, dear chap?”).

Sixteen ingredients. For a salad. That takes nearly an hour to prepare. And serves 4.

Are you kidding me?

When the boys were younger, I was an industrious chef.

witches fingersI’d make Halloween dinners that looked like witches’ fingers with ghostly shaped mashed potatoes. I made weekday dinners of tuna melts that looked like little boats with American cheese slice sails. I made decorated cupcakes for school birthday parties.

(Just a note – when you make cupcakes in ice cream cones decorated to look like.. well, ice cream cones… uhm, there’s no way you can ever get over the look in your kids’ school friends’ faces when they realize it’s not, in reality, ice cream.)

But today, … uhm… not so much.

Tonight when I went into the kitchen, I had no idea what I was making until I found a freezer bag of the poultry variety, a box of long grain and wild rice mix, some potato chips, shredded cheese and a can of mushroom soup.

Thank God, for cream of mushroom soup.

Throw that together with sauteed onions, pimentos and frozen peas, and viola! Casserole surprise!

Still took an hour though. And that’s not counting the time spent pondering what the hell am I supposed to make tonight.

But it was affordable. I would say I probably spent $7-$10 on the whole meal, and that’s including the meat substance – whatever it was.

And they ate it! They actually ate it and said “Not bad, Mom.”

Running to the store to buy the ingredients of the aforementioned flank steak and I would have easily gone through $40, and that’s not including Huy Fong (whatever the hell that is, and depending entirely on whether my small town Southern grocery store would have actually had anything remotely resembling it).mom in store

It’s just too much.

If I’m honest, I just don’t have the time for that crap. Heck, I don’t even know where I would find pomegranates in my hometown.

I’m all about good cooking and living with nice things, but enough is enough. I’m not ever going to host a party where my friends are going to turn up their noses at my cornbread salad, or homemade guacamole. I like all your stuff, but, damn, it’s just too over the top anymore. Can’t you just print normal recipes?

I want my family to be happy, but not at the cost of spending beyond my means. And I’m not alone. Making a gourmet dinner for my family at the cost of their college funds? Not likely.

You all go ahead and make your spinach infused fish fillets with cous cous and sauteed Italian eggplant.

I’ll be the one making fried chicken in my cast-iron skillet and smiling when my kids actually eat it.

Course, that does cut down on the money I save in eating leftovers though…

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2014