The Blessing of Separation

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

For over 3 years now, my boys have shared a bedroom; not because they had to, but because they wanted to.  Well, in truth, I guess, Pierce wanted Smith to share a room with him and I thought it was sweet. For a time, it was nice and it worked for our lives then.

Recently, though, things have gotten harder. Constant fighting. Sleepless nights. Nobody would take responsibility for how their room looked, etc, etc. On and on.

I was exhausted. The boys were exhausted. We were all irritable. Finally, divine intervention interceded and the boys announced, unexpectedly, one day, that they wanted separate bedrooms. Oh yeah!

The only thing I said was that I would not make the decision as to who would stay in the current bedroom and who would move into the playroom.

BrothersGod was certainly intervening as the boys quickly decided that Smith would move into the playroom. They didn’t even fight over it; in fact, there was hardly even a discussion.

Over the next few weeks, I worked on refinishing furniture and cleaning out the playroom. Toys were separated; clothes were separated. Finally, the day came when Smith could sleep in his own room.

Since then, the boys have slept better and so have I. There have not been nearly as many fights; I think because the boys now have their own space from which to escape the prying eyes and hands of the other. We made a rule that each boy was to ask permission to be in the other’s room. Toys were not to be taken from the other’s room without permission.

And, oh my goodness, it has worked. They have also kept their rooms relatively clean and have played together much better.

Now, that is not to say that there have been no fights and that they haven’t driven each other crazy at times; they are brothers, after all.

But there has been a new respect found for each other and their respective possessions. Life is much more peaceful at the Kirby house these days.

The respect has even extended to other areas of the house as just this morning Smith asked Pierce if he could have the last container of yogurt that Pierce picked for himself.  Pierce granted his request with no whining or crying or intervention by me. Quite frankly, it feels wonderful.

Generally, we all view the word separation in such a negative light. However, in this case, there was a blessing in the separation.

A blessing of peace, joy, respect, and pride. For the boys and me.

Thanksgiving Traditions

With Thanksgiving only two days away, we wanted to hear how you, our readers, celebrate Thanksgiving. We asked the Every Woman Bloggers about their favorite way to celebrate the holiday. Check out what they had to say and then tell us about your own special traditions. Do you cook a special recipe every year? Play football before the big meal? Simply enjoy connecting with your family? We want to hear!

Thanksgiving

Katie Austin

Our Thanksgiving tradition is to get the family together for dinner and take our turn telling each other what we are thankful for. Beside the scrumptious food, that is my absolute favorite part about Thanksgiving. Then, after we have eaten dinner, we gather around to watch football or play a board game. At the end of our Thanksgiving gathering, I find myself taking in all the wonderful moments that make our family special.

Brady Evans

Our family doesn’t have any long-standing traditions. A part of me always wanted something concrete to depend on like getting the Christmas tree, watching the parade, or visiting with a specific group of relatives.  We, however, drift around on Thanksgiving, visiting different arms of the family each year in no set pattern. Meals vary from being catered to being eaten in a restaurant to being eaten at home and though the Macy’s parade is always on in the background, no one pays close attention. So I guess the tradition has become just spending time with our loved ones, whomever they may be.

Crissie Miller Kirby

Our tradition varies from year to year. We alternate Thanksgivings, spending one year with my family, and the following year with my in-laws. Regardless of where we are, the day is about being with family, catching up and just being together; something we all need to do a better job of.

We continue the Thanksgiving holiday by traveling to Monetta, SC and choosing a live Christmas tree from Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Trees. If we are in the Midlands for Thanksgiving, we get our tree that day. If we are on the coast for Thanksgiving, then we typically go out before Thanksgiving, tag our tree and go back when we return to actually cut it down and take it home.

Mary Pat Baldauf

For years, my family celebrated with my grandparents and extended family members at my grandparents’ house. Perhaps one of the most cherished traditions was the “kids’ table,” a card table with mismatched chairs where the grandkids ate. Over the years, the grandkids grew up, but we still always ate at the “kids’ table.” One year, we mixed things up and some of the kids got to sit at the “big table.” You know what we found out? The kids’ table was a lot more fun. We have sadly lost my grandparents, and we now celebrate Thanksgiving with family friends. They, too, have a kids’ table, and each year, I rediscover its magic as I take my seat there, a forty-seven year old “kid.”

Elizabeth Webber Akre

I’m not sure exactly when this started, but I think it was sometime in the 80’s. One year my Aunt Jennie made a sweet potato in which she mashed the potatoes with some orange juice concentrate, topped them with a sweet pecan topping and baked them. From the first time these showed up, it became THE ONLY sweet potato dish accepted by any of us. Aunt Jennie always gets this bashful look on her face because she says it was just some recipe she picked up one day and made. But, like it or not, they have become well-known to many, even to those outside of our family, as simply “Aunt Jennie’s Sweet Potatoes.” 

My Aunt Jennie’s sweet potatoes have become the end-all, be-all sweet potato dish. In 1988, I spent my fall semester living with a family in Rennes, France. On my Thanksgiving phone call home, I learned that my mom had offered to make the sweet potatoes that year, AND SHE DIDN’T MAKE AUNT JENNIE’S RECIPE. Seriously, I heard about it from my sister, each cousin who got on the phone and, most emphatically, from my Uncle Tommy (married to Aunt Jennie). Yes, everyone was most displeased. Lesson learned. I think the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Boursin!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Are you familiar with Boursin cheese? It’s a spreadable, butter based “cheese” that is delightful on crackers and crudités. It’s also pricey.

crackersBeing the coupon addict that I am, I sometimes use that addiction to bring items home that I normally won’t buy. Boursin is one of those items. A few days ago, I had a coupon that combined the purchase of bagel chips and Boursin. Overall, it wasn’t a stellar coupon, but given the fact that I was buying about $150 worth of groceries for only $65, I thought I could afford the “fluff.” So, I bought Boursin “light” garlic and herb. I considered it a special treat.
Last night, my little one asked for an after-dinner snack. I played my usual “I don’t know if you’ll like this. See right here? It says gourmet on the package. I bet not many other second graders would like this fancy stuff.”  Hook. Line. Sinker. I opened up the bagel chips and Boursin and the kid went crazy. She even went so far as to explain to me that the Boursin was a buttery flavor with an “herby undertone.” I promise, that’s what she said! There you have it.  Kids can and will eat pretty much what you give them. You just have to present it in a way what jives with their personalities.

A few years ago a good friend gave me the coolest Christmas gift. It was a little ceramic crock of homemade “Boursin” with a little spreader and the recipe attached.  If you know anything about my recipe/microwave/notebook deal, let me assure you, that same little recipe card is in the book…preserved forever.  And, I’m going to share it with you. Since the holidays are upon us, you may find this useful for holiday parties, hostess gifts, appetizers at the big family feasts, etc. You get my drift. Enjoy the cheese and toast a glass of champagne to my friend Mary Ann.

Boursin Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 8-oz tub whipped sweet cream butter
  • 2 8-oz packages cream cheese
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dill
  • 1/4 tsp marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Instructions

  1. Let the butter and cream cheese soften so that you can cream together.
  2. Mix all spices together and sprinkle on cheese mixture. Mix so spices are distributed evenly.
  3. Chill for at least an hour before serving. (May be frozen)

The Virtual House Hunt

By: Katie Austin

HouseAre you in the process of, or thinking about, buying a house? Not sure where to start? What if I were to tell you that you can start looking without having to talk to a real estate agent until you are absolutely sure that you are ready? It’s true! There is so much information available online that you can take the pressure off of house hunting until you are ready to take the first step.

My husband and I spent the last three years looking for a new house. We were in no way ready to buy a house, since we knew that selling our first house would have to happen first. But, we thought, why not drive by houses currently for sale to get an idea of the neighborhood, the type of homes available and the cost? It’s like window shopping, but in the real estate market.

House for saleSo, we took house hunting to the next level as we used our GPS navigation system, email, the internet and our car to find our current house. During my chemotherapy treatments in the summer of 2010, I had both good and bad days. Most of the good days came the weekend before my next treatment, so my husband and I would go out for long Sunday (and sometimes Saturday) drives, mapping out 8-10 houses we found on the internet that we might be interested in. It really took the pressure off of us until we knew we were ready to take the next step.

If you would like to start looking for homes without making a commitment, the first step you need to take is to sign up for email notifications from a real estate website so that you will receive updates when a new home gets added, or an existing property’s price or details change. A real estate agent may contact you to set up an appointment, but you can just let them know that you are not ready yet.

AppNext, create an account with one or two online services. We used Zillow and Trulia. Each have free mobile apps, which we used heavily. I need both hands and feet to count the number of times I used these apps from my iPad to read about available properties. You can set up filters (price range, square footage, number of bedrooms, location, etc.) to locate homes that match your criteria. You can also pull up a map to see where available homes are located. You simply select a house icon and it brings up property information such as pictures, price change history and much more. It’s like visiting the property but you are doing so from the comfort of being at home 🙂 It can’t get much easier than that!

Finally, when you are ready, reach out to a real estate agent you can trust. Our real estate agent (and friend), Tracy Vinson, is wonderful and we are beyond pleased with our home buying/selling experiences. (If you are ready to take the next step or have questions, reach out to her at http://www.kw.com/kw/agent/tracyvinson.) When we were ready to buy our house, we gave her the areas and specific houses we were interested in visiting in person, and she took care of the rest. We continued to use our house hunting tools and with Tracy’s advice, the long wait paid off as we found and eventually bought the house we will grow old in! :-).

Have you used any of the online tools mentioned? Are there others you have used that were helpful? If you have questions, comments or suggestions, post them here and we will get a discussion going.

Wishing everyone a wonderful day and happy house hunting!

Great Ways To Trim Your Holiday Wasteline

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day Americans throw away 25% more trash than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week. So, to help trim the trash while trimming the tree, here is a checklist of simple things you can do to reduce waste while you eat, drink and make merry this holiday season.

Recycle

Plan Your Parties

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s we like nothing more than to eat, drink and be merry, so we need successful strategies to cut down on the waste we create from our amplified entertaining.

  • Turn down the heat before the guests arrive. You’ll save energy while the extra body heat of your guests will warm up the room.
  • Walk to neighborhood parties, or carpool with friends if it’s too far to walk.
  • After the party, don’t throw away the leftovers! Put them in plastic containers or bags and send them home with guests, or donate to food banks.

Bring Your Own Bag

  • During the nation’s busiest shopping season, bring your own shopping bags. Paper, plastic and cloth are all good; the latter two can be folded easily into purses and pockets until used.
  • Consolidate your purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag at each store on your shopping rounds.
  • Instead of using wrapping paper, place your gifts in reusable bags. Your present will be two gifts in one: the actual gift and the bag, which the recipient can reuse.

Fuss-Free Gift Giving

  • Plan your shopping in advance. Consolidating your shopping trips saves fuel (and aggravation), and you’ll avoid that last minute frenzy when you won’t have time to make careful gift choices.
  • Rather than piling up “stuff” under the tree, think about what friends and family really want or need. Try giving gift certificates if you don’t know what someone wants, or simply make a donation in his or her name to a favorite charity.
  • Give gifts that encourage others to use less stuff, like a book about making crafts from reusable items, a cookbook for leftovers or reusable tote bags.
  • Or simply set a good example by giving homemade food or something you’ve made yourself from reused items.
  • For kids, start a savings account or give stocks or bonds. It’s fun to watch money grow and it teaches children the value of financial conservation.
  • Shop for gifts at antique stores, estate sales or flea markets, since one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
  • Donate unwanted gifts, along with last year’s gifts that the kids have outgrown, to charity.

Kid Stuff

  • When buying electronic toys and other portable items that are used regularly, remember to buy rechargeable batteries to go with them.
  • Instead of wrapping gifts for the kids, hide the presents, plant clues to where they’re hidden and turn the kids’ search into a treasure hunt.
  • Get the kids to make their own tree ornaments out of things you already have around the house or from materials they might find in the backyard: twigs, bark, flowers and herbs, pine cones, etc.
  • Old clothes and jewelry make a great dress-up box for kids.
  • Tools and gadgets make a great idea box for a young inventor.

Card Sense

This season our mailboxes burst with membership offerings and fundraising appeals, presents, gift catalogues and cards. What to do …

  • Send e-greetings to family, friends and business associates who are online.
  • Did you know…the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high? If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.
  • Save yourself time, money and hard feelings between friends – and reduce mail volume – by updating and paring down your holiday mailing list.
  • Be creative. Instead of buying placemats or table decorations, make your own. Cut old cards into shapes and press between two pieces of clear contact paper.

Shop Right…And Ship Light

  • When buying gifts you will send by mail, pick items that are easy to ship and won’t require excess packaging.
  • Reuse packing cartons and shipping materials such as peanuts, wood shavings, shredded newspaper and bubble wrap.
  • Drop off extra packing peanuts at local private mailing centers.

Wrap It Up

  • Or better yet, think of gifts that don’t have to be wrapped at all: tickets to concerts, museums, or sporting events, gift certificates, house plants, or even gifts of your own time.
  • When giving oversized gifts like bicycles or CD racks, instead of wrapping them in paper, just tie a bow around them.
  • Wrap gifts in old maps, newspapers, Sunday comics or fancy holiday gift bags. Kids’ art work is a perfect wrapping for presents to proud grandparents.
  • Use brown paper grocery bags to wrap small-to-medium size boxes that have to be mailed.
  • Make the wrap a part of the gift: Putting cookies in a flower pot or hiding jewelry in a new pair of gloves will keep your gift under wraps and the “wrapping” out of the trash.

Which of these changes can you commit to making this holiday season? Can you think of other ways to reduce your waste this holiday season?

The Tools in Your Toolbox…

By: Shannon Shull

As a drama teacher, all of my lessons revolve around using the tools in the Actor’s Toolbox: body, voice, imagination, concentration and cooperation. The cool thing is, we all What's in your toolboxhave our own individual toolboxes. If you’re a chef, your tools might include recipe books, cooking utensils, an apron, etc. If you’re a doctor, your tools might be a stethoscope, scalpel, thermometer, etc. If you’re a baseball player, your tools would be a bat, glove, ball, uniform, etc. You get my drift. But you see, the tools in the Actor’s Toolbox are all tools that any individual can use throughout their whole life. I always try to remind my students of this. As we mature, we all have to learn to control our bodies and voices, and life absolutely requires that we use concentration and cooperation. And without imagination, our days would be lifeless in a sense.

Years ago when I did a lot of my arts integration training, I was taught an amazing Actor’s Toolbox warm-up exercise created by Sean Layne of Focus 5 Inc., an arts integration workshop in Greenville, SC. I have since adapted this fabulous lesson that she shared and now, as a full time drama teacher, I find myself using this “toolbox” as the foundation of all my lessons. My students know what is expected of them and are taught that throughout their entire lives, no matter what they’re doing or where they are, the tools in the Actor’s Toolbox can benefit them greatly.

Voice and bodyFor instance, they learn to be aware of how to control their bodies and voices, although that doesn’t always mean controlling themselves in such a way that they cannot move or cannot make a sound. Rather, controlling your body or voice can also mean using it properly in any given situation. When a student of mine is speaking and they are not projecting, when I ask them to please control their voice for me, they know that I need them to speak up so that they can be heard. It can go both directions – control your voice and hush OR control your voice and project so that you can be heard. In acting, and life, we must control our bodies and voices depending on the given situation.

Concentration

As the years go by it seems to be more and more of a challenge for us to concentrate, and yet it is a required skill to succeed. And let’s face it: without cooperation, there would be a whole lot of us in deep trouble or even in jail! We must be able to cooperate with others in order to get along in life.

Cooperation

These tools in the Actor’s Toolbox can be utilized in anyone’s life, no matter their profession. For an actor in particular, these tools are what help us to create and become characters. It’s all quite fascinating once you step back and really think about it. But I like to think that by recognizing the tools in our own toolboxes we can better appreciate and use them to the best of our abilities to help us achieve success in everything that we do.

What are the tools in your toolbox? And are you using them to the best of your ability? 🙂

Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa

Just when I think I’ve got a well stocked pantry, I run across a recipe like this one that requires me to invest in a variety of ingredients that I have never used before. That’s all okay, though, because those oddball (to me, anyway…I found them easily in my normal grocery store) ingredients led to one of the best beef fillings for tacos, taquitos, and burritos possible.

Beef Barbacoa

I had my eye on this recipe for awhile now, but was turned off by the purchase of whole, dried peppers – something I’ve never done before. But really – it wasn’t a big deal. They were easy to find and made the flavor much deeper than any ground up spice from McCormick would have. The recipe for beef barbacoa takes awhile, but a lot of the time is hands off, and it makes the house smell amazing.  Anticipating a delicious meal is half the fun, right?

Beef Barbacoa (from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who adapted it from The Food Lab on Serious Eats)

Ingredients

  • 1 whole dried New Mexico, costeño, or choricero chili, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 whole chile ancho or pasilla, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 whole chile negro, seeds and stem removed
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
  • 1 pound beef ribs
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 4 chipotle chiles packed in adobo, chopped, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 whole chuck roast (about 4 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Tortillas, sliced avocados, cojita cheese, cilantro, salsa, limes, and other condiments for serving as you desire

Instructions

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Place the dried chiles in the bottom of a large Dutch oven and heat over high heat on your stove. Cook, turning the chiles with tongs occasionally, until fragrant and toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until chiles are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the now-empty Dutch oven over high heat stove-top until shimmering. Cook the ribs until they’re well-browned on all sides, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes total. Remove the ribs and set aside. Reduce the heat in Dutch oven to medium.
  4. Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil and heat along with the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the cumin, cloves, and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 6. Add the chipotle chiles and adobo sauce, vinegar, and remaining chicken broth. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, simmer until reduced by about half, then transfer the entire contents to the jar of a blender.
  6. Add the soaked chiles and their liquid to the blender along with the fish sauce. Start the blender on low (be careful of blowups!) and slowly increase the speed to high. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  7. Place the beef roast in the Dutch oven. Add the browned ribs, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, the bay leaves, and the prepared sauce.
  8. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place the lid on the pot, slightly cracked, then transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the beef occasionally, until completely tender and a cake tester or metal skewer inserted into the meat shows little to no resistance, about 4 hours.
  9. Discard the bay leaves and ribs (meat from ribs can removed and added to the roast to be eaten if desired). Transfer the chuck to a large plate. Return the Dutch oven to the stovetop, and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1½ cups, about 5 minutes.
  10. Beef can be shredded and served immediately or transferred to a sealed container along with the liquid. You may refrigerate up to five days. When ready to serve, shred beef into large chunks with your fingers or two forks. Return the beef to a pot along with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook, gently stirring and folding until the beef is hot, tender, and coated in sauce. Season to taste with salt. Serve as desired with condiments mentioned above