Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Love of Cursive Writing; or, Cursive Adds Class, Class!

An AP article that I came across in the local Sunday newspaper (which this old-fashioned lady still reads in its physical, newspaper form!), which I've located online, for your linked convenience, basically summarizes that cursive writing, as a form of correspondence, is dying.

I don't know why I'm surprised. I've found that the art of writing thank you notes, in ANY form, handwritten or otherwise, is dying. So is the art of sending seasonal cards, moving announcements, or any other kind of correspondence or stationery that doesn't directly or indirectly hint at the senders' solicitations of some kind of gifts for themselves or their children. Etiquette has died, & proper grammar has died & rolled over in its grave a few times. Not it's grave - ITS grave.

(Why, why, WHY is it so hard to understand the difference between plural&possessive? WHY???)

Nonetheless, I was surprised. Perhaps it is because I so adore cursive handwriting. I much prefer to make my to-do lists on actual lined, paper lists (back to my love of stationery, I suppose). I almost always use cursive handwriting, even for my planner, writing out checks, writing out recipients' addresses on mail, etc. On the Stickies I use on my MacBook, I even use a cursive font!

Cursive just seems to elevate whatever the reader or writer is reading or writing to a more attractive, classy item to look at. If done properly, it is no harder to read than any other kind of printing or typing. Frankly, a well-written piece of cursive handwriting, with proper capitalization, grammar, punctuation, & spelling - well, I find that a LOT easier to read than these horribly abbreviated text messages & chicken-scratch graffiti fonts that "kids these days" are using.

I suppose this is yet another of my soapbox moments, for which I apologize. I really will get back to posting my photos of my cooking&crafts. ASAP.

I promise I'll save you my further opinions about homeschooling, private education, public education...or how this article relates to those opinions. (Suffice it to say that I will be darned if my Pretty Little Bare Feet doesn't have pretty cursive penmanship one day, like any good little educated Southern belle should.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Locked In at the Library

The other night, My Prince & I were talking about books, as we often do, mostly because books are one of my favorite things. They are not necessarily as high on his priority list as they are on mine, but I am proud to say that he has read a lot more since we've been together, & he's even agreed to read a lot of my favorite childhood books that he's realized he missed out on. There are a lot of things that I don't love about my in-laws, but the fact that they somehow completely overlooked the importance of instilling a love of reading in their children - well, that's a big strike against them, in my book.

I've accumulated something like twenty boxes of books over the last few years, which are currently unopened - the only boxes that have yet to be unpacked in our new house. Frankly, until we have enough bookshelves to shelve them on, I'm not even entertaining the idea of just stacking them up in the office. There are already about a dozen stacks of books there, many of which are books that have been read but are just too good to get rid of. & we purged a good deal of books that weren't too good to get rid of!

I don't remember ever not reading. My mama claims that I pretty much taught myself to read around the age of two. I can't argue with her because my mama is not given to exaggeration (at all), & I don't actually remember learning to read. I just know that I was very, very embarrassed when my aunt introduced me to my new first-grade class, in my new school, as "an exceptionally smart little girl that would have been skipping a grade if she were staying at her old school. In fact, she reads at a seventh grade level."

Try making new friends after that.

Fortunately, the smart-alecky boy behind me, who became a very good friend, knocked me down a few pegs rather quickly, after learning that I couldn't tie my shoes. Once we established that he'd be tying my shoes, & I'd be helping him with his reading work, I was able to work my way in to the elementary social order of my rural town.

(I'm just grateful that I didn't have to transfer in during junior high, which always seemed to be nightmarish for people. I doubt many of my friends from high school even remember that I didn't attend kindergarten with them.)

I read
on the playground,
at the dinner table,
in the car,
in bed,
in bubble baths,
in the lunchroom,
at the pool (before it was cool to lay out & read),
at church,
Pretty much anywhere that I could pull out (or sneak in) a book, I read.

So, back to that discussion that My Prince & I were having. I was recalling one particular teacher that I had in the second grade. Second grade was the grade that we began going to a different teacher's classroom for reading class. We didn't switch for any other classes until fourth grade, but I was absolutely delighted&thrilled to be able to walk to a different classroom, to read more challenging books with different classmates. & my reading teacher - she was amazing!

Mrs. Les Paul recognized pretty quickly that "voracious" didn't even begin to describe my appetite for books. I do not recall another teacher that so candidly catered to my habit, but Mrs. Les Paul allowed me to read pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, so long as I had already finished whatever had been assigned. My Prince couldn't believe that this teacher actually let me bring in a pillow & keep it under her desk, which is where she let me curl up & read books. I read all the ones in her classroom, kept a regular stack checked out from both the public&school libraries, & bought as many as my mother would let me on our shopping excursions.

(These days, my tendency to prefer books to playing my classmates' games would probably get some kind of special label put on me, but back then I was just considered "gifted." & I made friends just fine, most of which tolerated my bookworm habits just fine, although they still tease me for it, to this day.)

But one of my most vivid book-related memories from childhood was the special night that the aforementioned reading teacher planned for her reading students. My mother & several of my friends' mothers served as chaperones, the teacher brought her husband&daughter, & we SPENT THE NIGHT in the public LIBRARY! Can you think of a more suitable place for a sleepover? Me neither!

It was wonderful. There were scavenger hunts, where clues were hidden in various books, & I'm almost certain my little team won at least one of them. Pizzas were ordered, & the moms had brought homemade cookies. I remember that a movie was put on in one room at some point during the evening, & a lot of the kids fell asleep in front of the television. A lot of students didn't make it all night, having either already arranged for their parents to come get them at a certain time, or calling their parents after having woken at 2am in a strange place.

But that may well have been my very first all-nighter (of many). I clearly remember the sun coming up. I remember going to bed in my bed at home, the next morning, after breakfast. In fact, I think I was pretty impressed with myself that I had a heart-to-heart with a fourth-grader (the teacher's daughter) at something like 1am, before even she left & went home with her daddy to go to bed. (& I remain friends with her to this day.)

My mama had gone to sleep on a sofa that the moms were taking shifts on in the library. She & my teacher had checked on me several times throughout the night to make sure I was okay.

& I was more than okay! I was the happiest kid ever! I roamed from room to room, reading different books in different places.

I probably read six books over the course of that night. I know that I read at least one of the Ramona books that night, as well as one of those books about the platonic boy&girl friends that lived in the same apartment building in the city...oh, what were their names? (This will drive me crazy!)

Of course, these days that kind of event would probably never be allowed (or even considered). For a lot of reasons. But this isn't a soapbox, & I don't want to taint such a lovely memory.

I am quite sure that I would be just as happy today to be locked in at the library. I'd hope that I could still read my way through that many books, but my choices have become considerably longer since the second grade. I still read pretty much anywhere that I can, although those places are a lot fewer & farther between now.

I only hope that I can do as great a job as my mama (& a few teachers) did in encouraging my daughter to read...& not just to read, but to really, truly love to read in the same passionate way that I did (& do).

A great book doesn't just provide a means for escape or fill a void with something to pass the time. A great book makes you feel, identify, & think - not just with the characters, while you're reading - but also after the book is finished, when you're living.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monster Caramel Apples

As I mentioned, last Halloween I made the monster caramel apples recipe from the Taste of Home Halloween Food&Fun digest. I also made a couple other recipes from that, but I believe this is the only one that I have photos from.

According to iPhoto, I made these ON Halloween, October 31, 2008.

monster caramel apples

(yield: 8-10 servings)

  • 8 to 10 medium apples
  • 8 to 10 wooden sticks
  • 32 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup butter, cubed
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 squares (1 ounce each) white candy coating, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup orange&brown sprinkles
*Wash & thoroughly dry apples; insert a wooden stick into each. Place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet; chill. Place cookie crumbs in a shallow dish; set aside.

(We had a hard time finding wooden sticks like you would normally think of for caramel apples on a stick. I ended up using chopsticks...I think they were plastic, not wood. I distinctly remember having my husband cut them off at the point where you would not see Chinese writing on them!)

*In a heavy 3-qt. saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, milk, & corn syrup; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook&stir until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla.

*Dip each apple into hot caramel mixture to completely coat, then dip the bottom in cookie crumbs, pressing lightly to adhere. Return to baking sheet to cool.

(I suggest recruiting help for that stage. It was not easy to do by myself. I called my husband in to help because it was a slow process to take each apple, dip it in & cover it, & then transfer it to the cookie crumbs. The mixture was also hardening very quickly, which made it very difficult to completely coat the [heavy] apples. The recipe does not tell you how to completely coat the apples, so I would like to point out that unless you use the perfect saucepan, with a perfect depth&width for this project, you will be twirling the apples in the air above the mixture to get them completely coated. Beware of burns! Also, keep in mind that unless you coat them very thinly...& what would be fun about that?...you may want to consider cutting these pretty apples up for the actual consumption, as the mixture hardens & may be challenging for little - or big! - teeth.)

*In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat white candy coating at 50% power for 1-2 minutes or until melted; stir until smooth. Transfer to a small plastic bag; cut a small hole in a corner of bag. Drizzle coating over apples. Decorate with sprinkles.

(If you're Type A like me, you may find yourself frustrated at the difficulty of decorating these apples. However, if you have a fun, laid-back husband, like I do, you may decide they look pretty fun&whimsical if you throw caution to the wind & just scatter the yummy goodness everywhere! I was told by more than one person that they looked [& tasted] like Mrs. Prindable's apples. Remember those? I worked in a candy store that sold them once, & they were quite expensive! I think the kids that received them also appreciated the "fun" look they had.)

*The editor's note recommends that you test your candy thermometer before each use by bringing water to a boil; the thermometer should read 212 degrees. Adjust your recipe temperature up or down based on your test.

(I should also mention that at the time that I made these, I did not own a candy thermometer & thus relied on the time & the consistency of the mixture. This may or may not have contributed to the challenge of dipping&coating these. I do own, test, & properly use a candy thermometer now. Regardless, these were delicious, by a unanimous vote!)

*Another fun tidbit from the digest: Dark brown sugar & light brown sugar are both mixtures of granulated sugars & molasses. Light brown has a delicate flavor while dark brown has a more intense molasses flavor. They can be used interchangeably depending on your preference.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Post-Grad Panic

Yesterday, after dropping the White Dog off at the groomer, which we refer to as her "spa day" around here, Pretty Little Bare Feet & I took some of my delicious maple ginger fudge to my mama's workplace.

(Yes, I am going to post photos&reviews of the maple ginger fudge recipe. & a separate, detailed post of last year's monster caramel apples, too.)

My mama is a wonderful, wonderful lady.

She's always been so proud of me & eager to show me off to her coworkers&patients, which has always humbled me & made me love her even more, for loving me so much. Of course now she is a doting granny to Pretty Little Bare Feet, who usually gets top billing for the showing off (which I don't mind a bit!).

When we were there yesterday, we met one of her oldest patients, "Mr. Scrape," for the first time - a tiny little black man with lots of crow's feet from years of smiling with his eyes.

Mr. Scrape asked me what kind of job I was doing. I told him that Pretty Little Bare Feet was my job right now & that I was loving it.

He said,

"Let me tell you a story...A long time ago, I had a job in an office on campus. It was just me & this one other fella in this office. & I'll never forget this one student that the professor we worked for was an advisor for. She was really smart, & she did one of those thesis projects, which take months&months of time to prepare. She spent so much time on it, & she worked so hard in all of her classes, & I'll never forget what happened to her. She came to campus the night before she started her first job, to do the last thing she needed to do for her degree, which was to defend her thesis. It was all of that hard work paying off. The next day she called the office to talk to the professor. He wasn't in, which is what I told her. & let me tell you, I could hear the PANIC in her voice. She was absolutely panicked, this girl. She had been at work all day at this new job in some office, & sometime after lunch she realized that she had nothing to study, no thesis to edit or prepare to defend, & her days of studying were finished&over. & she was completely&totally EMPTY. Ohhh, I could just feel the emptiness&loss in her panicked voice."

Well, bless his heart. Obviously this girl had made a great impression on him. I simply replied with,

"Yes, sir. I can completely relate to that girl's feelings. I also did a thesis for my undergraduate degree, & it is quite a shock to graduate & enter the working world after being surrounded by academics & devoting so much time to studying. I went through the same thing when I finished college several years ago."

The point Mr. Scrape was trying to make, at least I think, was probably that I was going to...need something to do? That I was going to go through some kind of post-grad panic myself? Some kind of haze of confusion or jarring jolt to reality? I honestly couldn't tell if he thought I was doing myself a disservice by staying at home with Pretty Little Bare Feet...or that I'd be doing myself a disservice by going to work one day...or whether he just tells this story to anybody he meets that has recently graduated.

Anyway, I CAN relate. I DID go through that post-grad panic after college. It's horribly lonely, realizing how mundane the real world can be. How cruel it is when your planner goes from full to empty in a matter of weeks, when you can't just pop downstairs to hang out on somebody's futon & drink their beer & philosophize about God&love&morality&time, when the bills are suddenly showing up in your name.

Any void that I felt after graduating from college has been filled with all of the things that have made tangible the philosophical questions&theories of my college days - true love, a sense of purpose, renewed faith, a desire to make my loved ones happy, the intent to keep myself healthy, the wholeness of family, the loyalty of a canine companion, shared laughter, well-tended friendships, & the gift of raising a child...which brings with it a whole other set of virtues that I'm grateful to have learned. 

I never spend my post-lunch afternoons in an empty post-grad panic, checking off databases & wondering if this is what life is really about. I spend these afternoons curled up on the couch with my precious cherub of a child, watching her sleep while I pet my dog, taking in the smells of supper slow-cooking in the kitchen, & smiling to myself when I receive a text message from my husband, in between patients, that says, "I love you."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Taste of Home Halloween Food&Fun Round-Up

Last year I was about twenty-seven weeks pregnant when Halloween rolled around. Although I'd always enjoyed baking (but had frequently been too overburdened with school&work to really find the time for it), & Halloween, the kitchen-centric portion of my celebration reached new heights for several reasons:

1. I was a lot...rounder...than I had thought I would be, when I (as has been my tradition) decided on my 2008 Halloween costume - on November 1, 2007. I had planned to be Princess Leia. In the gold bikini. Which would NOT have been cute with a pregnant belly. So for the first time, possibly ever in my life, I was not dressing up for Halloween at all.

2. Pregnancy means sobriety. Sobriety means attendance at our usual Halloween Bash would be less fun, as the lone costume-less, pregnant, sober attendee - that I would also have to drive an hour, one-way, to attend.

3. My "nesting" instinct kicked in way before my third trimester. In fact, in some senses, it kicked in before I even found out I was pregnant. It kicked in pretty much when my husband, "My Prince," & I, moved from the "Mold Hole" (i.e. the townhouse we leased when we got married, which we strongly suspect had a mold problem) to our cute little garden home in a cute little subdivision on the outskirts of our cute little city. The home (& subdivision) screamed, "Nest! Nest!" at every turn. So, inspired to do just that, I convinced my sweet husband, in his agreeable state of newlywed bliss, to let me turn our new kitchen into a paradise of green&pink. My side of the bargain was that in making the kitchen into such a feminine scene, I'd spend a lot more time in it, making yummy things for him.

4. The Taste of Home Halloween Food&Fun digest. You know, one of those little mini-magazines at the checkout at the grocery store, in between the tabloids & the Archie comics. This particular one had an inviting batch of lollipop ghosts & pumpkin cookie pops on the cover, which made my pregnant belly rumble & my pregnant heart pitter-pat. The fact that My Prince's boss had two small boys, who rarely got sugary treats, justified my impulse - I HAD to buy it.

My Prince thumbed through it, took it to the office with him, let his boss thumb through it, & came home to inform me that I was going to have to make ghastly pear ghosts, monster caramel apples, & pumpkin cookie dip. I had been thinking I'd possibly get around to a quick&easy cookie recipe, but the men (& boys) won out:

(monster caramel apples)


Fast-forward to the present...

My baby girl, "Pretty Little Bare Feet," was born.
My Prince received his dream job offer less than two weeks afterward.
Shortly after that we moved into our new (bought!) house, in our new (quieter) subdivision, in our new town.

& for now I am happily busy...

...being a wife to the sweetest, sexiest man in the world...

...being a mama to the most adorable little girl in the world...

...aspiring to be a full-time socialiate...

...baking&cooking...& amassing more&more brightly colored, cute cookbooks...

...cleaning & making beds...

...decorating our new home (& making it colorful!)...

...doing my Crunch Yoga Body Sculpt DVD, & EA Active on the Wii; running; & walking...

...doing laundry...

...dressing our whole family as colorful&cute&preppy as I can manage (on a budget right now, since we just bought a home, & are paying off student loan debt, on one income)...including our Maltese, "the White Dog"...

...learning to sew on the sewing machine Santa Claus (my mama) gave me last year...

...lunching with other ladies who lunch...

...playing games with, & reading stories to, my baby girl...

...reading actual books (fun ones!, novels!, things that aren't assigned for class & aren't cases!)...

...running errands, including endless grocery shopping...

...taking bubble baths...

...taking Pretty Little Bare Feet to baby gymnastics classes...

...& whatever other projects I give my A.D.D. self to complete!


My current project:

My Taste of Home Halloween Food&Fun Round-Up (2009 edition)

I saw it at the checkout again. I bought it again. & this year I have the gumption&time to really take it head-on & make as much out of it as I can! (& I still have last year's copy.)

Photos&reviews to come...