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December 2012
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February 2013

Adventures in eating. Also? I'm sorry.

We get our beef from a local provider that raises grass-fed cows in a humane environment. The owners of these cows also happen to be nuns, so yeah. Basically if you think you eat any more smugly justified beef, you're kidding yourself, unless the cows that were killed to make YOUR burgers lived their lives being hand-fed by the angels themselves, in which case, can I come to your barbecue? Actually, I would love to come to your barbecue no matter where you get your meat from because yum. Barbecue. 

Anyhow, the last time we placed our order, I womaned up and asked for the "extras" - the organ meats. Without sounding too self-righteous about it, I feel like if I'm going to have this animal killed for my food, it's more respectful to use as much of it as I can. I've learned a lot about how to cook different cuts of meat, and so it was time to move onto organ meats.

In case you're wondering, heart is pretty good. It has a slightly firmer texture than, say, stew meat, but the flavor is pretty much the same. I'm not admitting here that I snuck some heart meat into a random beef stew, but if I HAD, I can tell you that my children wouldn't even have noticed. Liver is...well, liver is liver. I tried making pate' and liver. Not my favorite, and no one else will touch it. 

And that left the tongue. We're getting to the end of this batch of meat (new shipment coming at the end of March) and so I decided it was time to tackle the tongue, as it were. 

I went online, to troll the recipes and comments, just as Julia Childs did when faced with a new cut of meat. A thousand tongue recipes assured me it was DELICIOUS and EASY and just needed proper cooking. I can do this! I thought. I made my plan of attack. All the recipes recommended cooking it in simmering water for a good long time to tenderize it (except one rogue commenter who claimed to have slow-roasted it for hours, until it was meltingly tender, the madcap FOOL), so simmering it was. Here I hit my first decision. Half the recipes called for tossing all manner of aromatics in the water. Onions! Garlic! Peppercorns! Bay leaves! The other half of the recipes said meh, don't bother, it doesn't affect the flavor of the meat at all. Now, "don't bother" is directly in line with my desire to not be bothered, and so that's what I opted for. I did not bother.

So I thawed the tongue and unwrapped it, ready to lick this dish. As it were. And I met my first obstacle. Because the idea of eating tongue putting. But when you're looking at the tongue? It LOOKS LIKE A TONGUE. Like a great big black and white tongue, bobbing away in your pot. With taste buds. Urk. But okay. Pushing ahead. I scrubbed it, put it in the only pot I own that is large enough for a great big cow tongue, and set it to simmer.

And then I learned my first important tongue lesson. The aromatics? They are there, not for the benefit of the meat. They are for you. Because simmering tongue smells...funky. Quite funky. For the rest of the day I kept throwing fistfulls of stuff in the water every time I passed. Here, have some garlic! Have some bay leaves! Dear God in heaven, peppercorns?


After some five hours of simmering, it was time to move onto the next step, peeling it. Peeling buds. I pulled it out of the broth and ran cool water over it. Time to peel it. Yeah. This would be where the major misgivings hit. The taste buds, man. They were RIGHT THERE. 

But I am a STALWART and POWERFUL woman, because I pressed on (also, I had told everyone we were having tongue for dinner, and maybe mocked a few who looked unenthused at the prospect). And in the process, with my sleeves shoved up to my elbows, and the special funky scent of simmering tongue all around me, I gripped the slippery tongue skin and peeled. And realized that I did not, at all, in any way, want to eat this dang thing.

To make matters worse, it turned out that the tongue wasn't quite cooked. Dinner was nigh, and it was still too tough. I tossed it back in the pot to cook some more and scrambled to make something else. The kids have never been so happy to see tacos in their lives. 

But today was time to finally face the tongue. As it were. I heated it up, then shredded it. And I discovered that SOME tongue meat is just plain meat textured. However, SOME tongue meat is...not. It's sort of soft and spongy, although some of the blame for that could be my cooking "technique." I sauteed the meat with taco seasoning, and turned it into a topping for nachos. And I invited my parents for dinner, too.

Everyone was very gracious about the meal, but I did notice that I asked them three times what they thought about it, and have yet to get a single response. However, when most of it was eaten, the jokes began. Max took a shred of meat and walked around, "licking" his brothers with it.

"MAX," I said, "please hold your tongue."

"Mom," Tre said, "that was tasteless."

"I think you really licked this meal," my dad offered.

"Everyone's being so tongue in cheek, I don't know what to think," I said.

By this point Raphael was threatening to spend the evening in his room, just to avoid the puns.

And I am done with this particular cut of meat. We'll be getting another tongue with the next batch of beef, but I'm thinking I'll pass it along to a friend. Maybe she'll have better luck with it than I did. My only real problem now is this: can I resist asking her to meet up with me so I can slip her some tongue? Because that would really be tasteless.

Blessings here and now

This Sunday was the one that falls closest to the commemoration of Jesus' being presented at the Temple. I don't know how they calculate that, exactly, but I know it came earlier this year than it did last year. I know because on this day, at our parish, they bless all the parents who have had a child die. Last year I stood and gripped the pew and cried helpless tears during the blessing. Finally I excused myself and went to the bathroom, where I closed myself in a stall and sat, folded over, hugging my legs, and weeping like I would break.

And I would. I would break, because that was February 5, and the next day I would see Eva on the ultrasound screen, perfect...and perfectly still.

But that Sunday I already knew. I woke up that morning and pressed my fingers into my belly, feeling for the taut roundness of my uterus. There it was, just a bit below my belly button. Nothing seemed to have changed, but I felt a growing dread. Ever since she'd begun, her presence felt like a song I could just barely hear, even before I knew she was there. But I got distracted by life, and in an unattended moment, I failed to notice the quietness that meant death. 

But by then, I knew.

And now, almost a year later, when the priest invited the parents up for our blessing, I froze. I didn't want to go. We'd had something of a bumptous morning. Sophia was being awfully squirrely, and Raphael'd spent the night at a friend's house, during which they'd failed to sleep. At all. So throughout the whole service I was perpetually giving Clay the hairy eyeball, because Sophia was sneaking off to his deaf side to commit acts of mayhem. And Raphael kept falling asleep against my shoulder and drooling on my arm. It was not the most contemplative Mass I'd ever attended, but it was okay. Busy and real and here and now.

I'm better. I'm so much better that I'm afraid of getting lost again. 

But I went up with Clay and held his hand and we received our blessing. And I leaked tears, as I always do, as I always will. I did not fall apart. I cried, because the tears are always there for her, but then I turned and walked back to my seat, to here and now.

The story of the chicken who went astray and the boy who rescued her.

We have fourteen chickens (I KNOW, right?), which turns out to be exactly the right amount. I know this is the right amount because recently I read about a nearby farm that was going bankrupt, and giving its chickens away, rather than slaughtering them. And I read this in the newspaper, then peered over the top of the paper at my long-suffering husband, looked back at the story, and pondered. Out the window I saw the whole gang of chickens running with wobbly intensity from one side of the yard to the other. One of them had probably just noticed that the yard HAS another side other than the one she was standing in, and her ensuing dash toward this new horizon had incited this riotous race. I looked at Clay again, and then let the idea of driving two hours to adopt just a FEW more chickens go. So clearly we have enough. Just. Either that, or I am growing in maturity and restraint, and should probably be rewarded.

So, fourteen chickens. They are: Nip-Nip, Speck, Haystack, The Empress, the five black chickens, and the five red chickens. I feel sort of bad for the black chickens and the red chickens, but they're pretty much identical. Except for the day that one of the red chickens distinguished herself, and earned her name.

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This is Soup. Clay doubts my ability to pick her out from the others, but I totally can. She's slightly smaller than the other red chickens, and the darkest of them all, with a few more black tail feathers. 

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Oh, and she is always, always, ALWAYS trying to get in the house. Hence the name "Soup." It's meant as a warning to her, and as a defense against Clay. Because if she does succeed in getting in the house, I can remind him that she has a name, and you cannot eat any animal you have named. It's a Rule.

On this particular day, Soup earned her name by sneaking into the house not once, but three times. It was a warm November day, and a door was left open twice. Raphael found her nesting in the school cupboard, which made her the most interesting thing he'd EVER found there. But it was the third time that was the dramatic one. 

Max was heading out the back door, and Soup must have lying in wait, because the minute he opened the door, she squirted right past his legs and into the house. This was in the least finished area of the house, and right behind him was a section of wall that was framed but not drywalled, so it was open - all the way down to the crawl space under the house. This crawl space had been...I guess you'd call it "insulated?" the previous owners with randomly scattered straw. (Note to homeowners everywhere: this is a GREAT idea, because straw - well, it doesn't insulate all that well, but it's fine down there as long as it doesn't get damp. You know. In the crawl space.)

Soup took one look at this dark, straw-lined cave and said to herself, "THAT is for ME!" She dashed in and was swallowed up by darkness and draped curtains of dust-matted spiderweb. 

"GAH!" said Max, and he promptly yelled the rest of us over (Clay was at work and Tre was at school. But Carmi was there to lick our hands and look guilty, so that was helpful). I appraised the situation and concurred. 

"GAH!" I said. We looked at the hole, listened to Soup's contented clucking, and repeated our consternation for good measure. "GAH" we said, and we meant it.

"I'll get her!" Raphi announced. I turned to tell him all the reasons he didn't want to crawl under there, and how it was a "crawl" space in name only, because what it should really be called is an "avoid at all costs" space because you never know what might brush the back of your hand down there, I'm not SAYING rabid and mostly bald raccoons, sort of like the Gollum of under-house rodents, but HOW DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE, but he dashed off to get suited up for the crawling.

Sometimes I just don't know how I could have given birth to the child. I swear.

He came back in a hoodie and sweat pants. I made fussy noises about the dust, so he grabbed some safety glasses and a mask off his dad's work bench and moments later he was army-crawling his way into the cobwebby dark, abandoning the flashlight quickly in favor of speed. 

"I can hear her!" he shouted back, "I'm really close...she's gotta be...GOT HER!" And then he reverse army-crawled with a chicken under one arm, something I'm not sure anyone in the actual Army ever attempted. 

He emerged into the light, positively swaddled in ancient cobwebs and dust, and Soup flapped an indignant exit out the door. 

And that's how Soup got her name, and how Raphael found himself the hero of yet another Chicken Story.

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Wild-eyed scholarly panic is totally a thing

You know, I guess I figured that once you got to 17 years old without needing glasses, you were home free. I mean, isn't it little children who turn up squinty one day? And if you sail past the fifth grade or so with nary a squint, then you're safe, right? 

Well, cross another item off the list of things I thought I knew. A few months ago, Tre turned up squinty. "Why are you doing that?" I asked him, ever the obvious one.

"I TOLD you. Because everything's fuzzy," he replied.

"Take a nap," I countered. The truth is that I was convinced that his problem was good old fashioned eye strain. This school year has been brutal. I have never seen him with his nose in a book so often, or up so late, or surrounded by so many papers and such a wild-eyed look of scholarly panic. Brutal. Bru.Tal.

So I, in all my wisdom, held off until winter break. Then, after two solid weeks of him sleeping like it was his job, I took him into the eye doctor, all ready to be told his eyes were fine.

Hey, guess what? 

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I was wrong.

So he picked out these frames, and I love them. He loves them too, so I'm allowed to love them. I told him he looks like Clark Kent in them, and he agreed.

Being 17, I know he can feel the surge of life in his chest, and he is pretty sure that in the right circumstances, in just the right moment, he is just one glasses-whip away from being Superman. Not that he would think of it in those terms, but he knows that he is, every day, just a moment away from being something amazing. That he is more than meets the eye. 

And he's right. But I know his heart, and I know that while he may appear kind and thoughtful and gentle and good, that when life suddenly appears, when he whips off his glasses and becomes who he is, that he will be kind and thoughtful and gentle and good. It's just who he is.

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Underneath it all, he really is Superman.

Random thoughts during a really really really cold week

I mean really cold. Like, yesterday the high was something steamy like 9. Nine. Nine degrees. Did you know hand lotion will freeze as hard as a rock at 9 degrees? Do you know what it feels like when your nose hairs freeze? Did you know that it's weeks like this that make me foggy on why, exactly, I love Colorado so much?

Tonight Tre was doing the dishes, and he was scooping some mashed potatoes into a container. A small lump of potatoes fell on the counter, and he picked it up and spun around to throw it back in the bowl with a behind-the-back move that almost never works. This time was no exception, and the lump landed on the counter well to the left of the bowl. He shook his head and scooped it up, all set to try it again.

"NO," I said. Just to be clear, I followed that with, "DON'T."

He gave me his best shoulder-slump of disappointment, but he didn't spin into his "special" move again. This time he slam-dunked the mashed potatoes. You know. As one does. Sometimes, when I get to the end of the day, and the house is still standing, I just look at it and marvel. 

I read some old entries on this here rambling blog the other day, and you know what? I sure did complain a bunch about Sophia not sleeping. Guess what? She still doesn't! So now that I'm not whining about it, does that mean I've grown as a person and have accepted it? Wait. Does that count as whining?

I have always detested the title "stay at home mom," most of all because it's inaccurate. What I actually am is a "drive all the freaking time mom." I am so sick and tired of driving that I've invented a game to keep me entertained. It only works if you have a teenaged son sitting next to you. When you start getting bored, and he's looking at his iPod and failing to entertain you, just pretend you see a slug bug. Punch him, announcing gaily, "Slug!" OH, it is funny. Every. Single. Time. 

Speaking of me and driving all the freaking time, we went to the orcadontist again today. We got Max's second retainer! And it fits even worse than the first one. NO, REALLY. And then? And then? They did the WORST THING THEY COULD POSSIBLY DO TO ME. They sent out the kindest, most competent and helpful assistant in the whole bunch, so I couldn't even get satisfactorily snippy with her. She was so so SORRY, y'all! But I tell you what, I am mentally composing SUCH a stinging letter! OH yes I am! 

Raphael is reading the Hunger Games series, and he's being completely obsessive about it. I caught him listening to the audio version of the second book tonight, a good hour after his bedtime. I took it wordlessly away and left him to stew about what consequences THAT might bring, but between you and me? I think that is sort of awesome. Sneaking books. Rock on there, you sweet and rotten child. 

Maximum value

Two years and one bazillon dollars ago (that's a precisely calculated number. More on that later), I took Max and toddled off to the orthodontist. Or as Max preferred, the orcadontist, the only sea creature known to straighten teeth. We picked an office on the careful and well reasoned basis of "our dentist recommended him, and really, how bad can he be?"

Well, he wasn't bad. The actual doctor in that office is a personable, capable, and helpful young man. The STAFF, on the other hand, seems to have gotten the opinion somewhere that patients are the problem in the office.

I don't suppose it's right to complain about them too heartily, because the things they did that annoyed me weren't all that horrible. There was the reminder calls that were delivered in a tone that implied that they KNEW we weren't planning on showing up. The pot of coffee that sat in the waiting room, but was clearly ONLY FOR STAFF, because they hid all the cups. The way they sat behind the desk and laughed and talked about the patients that had just left. That one was annoying, because hello, rude! But it didn't actually bother me that much, even though I assumed they must be talking about me also. It turns out I don't actually care what they think of me.

They continually offended Max, by assuming the worst of him. When he got spacers put in (which are actually just bits of stuff that they wedge between teeth to make gaps; Max says they feel like having a dictionary stuck in your teeth), one of the assistants told me wearily, "And when they fall out, just bring him in, and we'll replace them."

"Why would they fall out?" I asked. She gave Max a sour look.

"Because he's eating something he shouldn't. They ALL do it."

Well. I'll have you know his spacers did NOT fall out, because Max did NOT in fact eat things he wasn't supposed to. There was one broken bracket early on, but only the one, and after that he was a model patient.

But today was the day. Finally, after all the time and the pain and the money and the icky stuff jammed in his mouth, today Max got his braces off! And LO, it was good.

They took a mold in the office, to make him a retainer, and told us to drop by and pick it up between 3 and 6 this afternoon. Drop by! Pick it up! Doesn't it sound SIMPLE?

Clearly that was office staff code for "we will extract our final portion of pain from you OH YES WE WILL! Cackle cackle cackle!" Because when we showed up it took them a half hour for them to find the retainers, and then they took Max off to the back room and left me waiting for another half hour while I texted irritable texts to Clay and used the calculator on my phone to figure out how much money we'd actually given that office. I may have included pain and suffering damages, but I'm telling you, it came out to exactly one bazillion dollars. Even.

When they finally returned Max to me, they explained that the upper retainer hadn't come out right (final snarky story from the office - when the assistant was fitting Max for the retainers, she put too much goop in his mouth. And he tried to hold still and breathe through it, but that stuff was creeping down his throat, and eventually he gagged a little. And so she ROLLED HER EYES and MADE IMPATIENT NOISES AT HIM). So they'd refitted him for a new upper retainer, and could we pick it up on Saturday?

The answer to that is no. I try to be as accommodating to people as I can, but when they asked that, our Saturday schedule flashed before my eyes and I said flatly, "There is no earthly way that is possible."

And okay, for a brief moment I thought about the feasibility of actually biting someone, if only for the irony value.

Anyhow, we worked it out (he will jam the ill fitting retainer in his mouth for now, and we will pick up the new one on Tuesday), and I all but grabbed Max and sprinted out of the office. 

And now, with the whole experience (mostly) behind us, I look at Max and his beautiful new smile. He looks so grown up, all of a sudden - even though he can't seem to stop running his tongue over his teeth. It may be expensive, it may be painful, it may include encounters with people that make you slightly crazy. But I gotta say...

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...totally worth it.

Hope for 2013

HI! How was your Christmas? Everyone got their decorations all put away, tidy-like? Great, great! Yeah, me too. You know. Except for the tree. And all the...decorations. But there was some white chocolate peppermint fudge around here, and that stuff? Gone baby, gone! Just as Martha Stewart would, really. If Her Stewartness was given to lolling on the couch like a beached whale, feeling ill and looking regretfully at an empty and faintly peppermint-scented tupperware container. 

Anyhow, Christmas was lovely. Santa brought the boys facial hair, which apparently is all they ever wanted in their stockings. Which...sounds weird, now that I've typed it there.

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And Sophia reacted to her lovely little Christmas dress (that I tore all over town to find) with the abundant gracious charm of any princess.

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We tortured our poor, long-suffering dog in the name of the season, or as I wished everyone on Facebook, Feliz Carmi Dog!


How can she look so guilty and reproachful at the same time? That's one gifted old dog, that is.

Once again, I failed to send out Christmas cards. I'm getting even worse about it now, though, because this year I even failed to feel guilty about it. *sigh* So bad, so bad.

Once again, my beloved Clay and I exchanged our favorite Christmas gifts ever - a pass on having to buy each other anything. Neither of us really care that much about gifts, so we're always terrifically relieved to be let off the hook of picking one or wanting one. This wouldn't work for you if you would feel the slightest pang of regret at choosing not to get anything (or give anything, if you're that sort of thoughtful twisted freak), but for us, it is purely a win/win. Oh, considering the financial aspects of Christmas, tack another win on there. Perhaps we have no souls. It works for us.

And now here we are in the new year. Did you all pick a word for your year? All the cool kids are doing it, you know. Um. Except for the ones who like to show the rest of us up and do amazing vision boards, that is. Anyhow, I not only picked myself a word, I harassed my whole family into picking their own words. They found the exercise really meaningful and energizing, as evidenced by the blank, slightly panicked looks they all gave me when I asked them today what there words were. 

Nonetheless, my word for 2013 is Hope. And I mean it not only as a promise, but as an intention. I intend to live in hope this year, to choose to believe that all will be well. It sounds sort of fluffy, but I'm finding it sort of rigorous, to be honest. And me without any peppermint fudge. But one of the ways I plan to live that out is to blog more, because once upon a time I told my story here because I believed it to be worth the telling. 

So Happy New Year to everyone! I pray 2013 finds you well, and living in hope.