Monday, December 21, 2009

Lightening it up a bit

So Olivia and I are reconnecting. And that is awesome. I have missed this girl immensely over the last few weeks, and I have--more than once--felt very guilty for running all over creation trying to keep up with schedules while she has been hanging out with Baba and Gramps, Papa and Mimi, Nana and Grandpa, daycare and babysitters. So last night we started our very own Christmas break. We went shopping, came home and ate dinner and played with her new toys. Then we got into our pj's and watched Mickey's Christmas Carol and ate popcorn. It was awesome. This kid loves some popcorn. I let her stay up extremely late, and subsequently learned the trick to getting her to sleep in on Saturday mornings...then back to the routine today - daycare and work, and home again. I made chili for us (recipe below - I'm very proud) and now she's eating ice cream and watching Mickey's Christmas Carol.......again. I don't mind a little repetition. She's always tired on Monday nights - a full day back at daycare after the weekend wears her out, even if the weekend was full of activity.

I love these times - relaxed, simple, sweet. I haven't been able to cook for us very much lately, so I'm loving making dinner for us, even if I can only do it one more night before our schedule kicks back up and we head into the LR for various gatherings. Tonight I made turkey chili. I have a hard time getting this little girl to eat meat, but she will tear some chili up. I've been wanting to try it completely from scratch for a while now, so I went for it. I have to say, the result was quite satisfactory -- her empty bowl sits on the kitchen counter as proof. Here's the recipe:

Andrea’s take on Chili…

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
1 can tomato paste
1 can chopped green chiles
1 pound ground turkey
1 (12-ounce) Mexican lager-style beer
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, chili powder, oregano and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and the green chiles; cook 1 minute more. Add the turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until the meat loses its raw color, about 3 minutes. Add the beer and simmer until reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes along with their juices and the beans; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 10 minutes.

Notes: This is perfect for young children because it has a decently smoky flavor without being too spicy for them. For more spice, add a chopped chile en adobo, with about 1 tbsp of its juice, or a couple tbsp of diced jalepeno. You could also just add ground cayenne.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Unexpected

Olivia and I were stranded in Kroger tonight. Their POS system had crashed, and it took them about an hour to get it back online. In other words - no checkout lines were working for an hour. The Friday night before Christmas week. For whatever reason, though, I just didn't feel like getting bent about it. So we played patty cake and sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider and the ABC song. I looked at People magazine and she looked at a book about cookies. Then she ate a cookie. She entertained some of our fellow shoppers, who in turn tried to entertain me. Very sweet of them. They finally managed to get things up and running again, we paid and left, and that was that. Or was it?

You know, as soon as I saw what was going on, my first thought was: alright. Let's hit up the Kroger in the Heights. But I had a basket full of stuff - really, really random stuff - and I honestly would have rather waited in line than walked all over another Kroger looking for all that junk. Lots of people abandoned their shopping carts and left. Those poor clerks are probably still putting Cheerios and green beans and loaves of bread back on the shelves. But I stood and waited. And because I had chosen to wait, I think I unknowingly chose to be happy about it. I say unknowingly because this has been a taxing week, and today especially left my brain in a world of hurt. Under such circumstances, my normal response is crankiness. But you know, that takes a lot of energy. Thank goodness for fatigue and its ability to flip the cranky switch right back off.

As we were leaving the parking lot, I looked at the time on the clock in my truck, and I figured up where I would be in the process if I had gone to the Heights Kroger. I would have just then been checking out probably. With lines that were just as long, even if they were moving, and then I would have had to drive back to Leawood. So I came out on top, in both time and money (they gave everyone who hung in there a discount).

And so I'm thinking about all of that. About waiting, and being patient, and being content in the meantime. And I think part of the challenge of being content in the meantime is not seeing the meantime as, well, the meantime. I was so happy that I had waited, and that's partly because I was happy while I waited. It would have been far more difficult to walk out of there relieved and contented if I had been a stinker about it. Those kinds of negative emotions can just really be hard to shake, you know? What's more, I would have missed out on some very real blessings if I had chosen not to wait, mainly in the form of time with my daughter. Oh, for the courage to apply this principle on a much grander scale...

So I came back to Mom's. I made my new holiday tradition: homemade Irish cream liqueur. Incredibly excited about that. Finished everyone's Christmas presents (the 4th annual Christmas cookie bakeoff starts tomorrow a.m.), helped Mom get the tree done (down with the ting ting...) and just enjoyed being with Mom/Charlie, Rachel/Jeff and my baby girl. What a blessing tonight has been. Now if only I can remember all of my lines and blocking in dress rehearsal tomorrow......

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let it be

The December issue of La Cucina Italiana lies on the floor, completely unread. My kitchen is a barely bearable mess. I just hung up roughly 25 articles of clothing, and there are three more loads of laundry at various stages of the washing/drying/folding/hanging process. My Christmas tree probably needs water, there is a random folding chair in my living room from, I think, a week ago that is driving me bonkers to look at, every floor in this entire house needs to be cleaned, and I can’t find my favorite grey wool trousers.

And this…is our life.

Tonight was date night for me and the Livster. I picked her up from school, and we hit up Target. A little Christmas shopping, a little restocking our home. Then we headed back towards the house. I was just about exhausted, and I really just wanted to get in the house and get comfy. But I had already told her that we would go out to dinner. Now, I know that she’s only 2, but this kid remembers things. So I decided to test it out. I drove past our favorite little hole-in-the-wall down the street from our house, and sure enough, from the backseat I hear: “Eat!” So we went in and had dinner. A — thankfully — relatively uneventful dinner (except for some spilled milk and one minor cry-fit) and we were ready to get to the house.

We came in and opened a Christmas box (her name for our Advent calendar), she watched some Dr. Seuss, colored on books that she probably shouldn’t have colored on, tried to get me to play ring-around-the-rosies (Mommy gets dizzy, y’all), washed her hands, brushed her teeth, laughed, climbed, ran, made mischief, and just generally reminded me of the fact that nights like this ought to not be the exception rather than the rule.

I’m looking forward to a slower pace after this weekend.

I have really struggled to reframe Christmas this year – to eek some joy out of it, get into the spirit, feel warm and glowy and benevolent, you know, all that jazz. The last Christmas that I felt this absolutely icky was in 2006. I would find out that I was pregnant three days after Christmas Day. I had gone through a surprisingly painful breakup that October, and I really think it left me a little angry, so naturally all of that pain had to go somewhere (thank you, Martina McBride)…it went into skinny jeans and late nights and Damien Rice and downtown. I really just can’t even talk about how I really and truly felt right then. It is just that private, and so very few people know exactly what was going on during that time. But I ended up pregnant. And the next two Christmases were great. In 2007, Livi had just been born, so I was loving all of the shopping and planning and scheming…for a 3 month-old…that goes along with baby’s first Christmas. Last year, I was dating Bo, and everything seemed so perfect and wonderful, plus we were living in the Cove, and I had just taken the job at AREC, so there was all of that newness and excitement to keep my sleigh in the air. But this year? This year.

This year has kind of sucked.

And I don’t even feel like explaining myself on that one. Just suffice it to say: it’s been a hard one. But then I feel like such a jerk for not being able to say: but grace has prevailed. Even though it has, it’s almost like it’s done so in spite of all of my best efforts. Lately I’m astonished at just how much God takes care of me, despite my own hard-headedness, my questioning, my flightiness, my…buoyancy. Ouch. So I am releasing myself from this burden of guilt for not swinging from the rafters just because that’s what you’re supposed to do this time of year. Am I grateful that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? You had better stinking believe it. But when you’re identifying more with the sinner and less with the saint, it can be a little difficult to put your hands on just a whole lot of that grateful joy. It’s more of a sober, humble, solemn gratitude and petition for betterness. Like the man in the temple who cried out for God to have mercy on him, a sinner, while the Pharisee beside him was thanking God that he was not like other men. (And God was up there thinking: I wish you were!!)

So that's where I am right this second. And maybe, in a few days, I'll be somewhere else. I've got some thinking to do about Mary. And I have a feeling that's going to swing a door or two wide open.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones. Take this soul, and make it sing.