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Life Lessons Learned

Try to ignore the flat screen above the door. We did.

My family and I just got back from our Ramos Road Trip 2010.  I wanted to take the kids to the Rockies, but we decided that was just too much driving (thanks Laureen).  Instead, we drove south through Illinois and Indiana and camped in the woods of Kentucky for 4 nights.  Ok,  so our “camping” involved hot running water and Direct TV.  But I know you would never judge me for that.  It did involve unpleasant smells and vermin, so it was almost like real camping.

I like vacation.  I like it for the obvious reason that it’s a chance to rest and relax. (Although, despite practice, I’m not very good at either of those things.)  But I mostly like our vacations as a chance to build memories and to learn things about your country and about yourself.

Our cabin came with the important essentials.

You learn about history and geography when you stop at State Historical Sites.  But you also learn a lot about humanity by stopping at scary Interstate truck stops.  And by (accidentally) stopping in Gary.  These are the life lessons I take away from vacations.

The view from our hotel.

1. I learned that every bad thing I have heard about Gary, Indiana is true.  My apologies to Michael Jackson and anyone else from Gary.  What an  indescribably depressing place.  We accidentally stopped there at 10PM on our drive south.  The hotel desk clerk warned us not to leave anything in our car overnight “cuz someone stoled his shotgun right out his truck last night.”

2.  I learned that here are a shocking number of McDonald’s between Wisconsin and Kentucky.  And we actually stopped at a shocking number of McDonald’s (9) on our 6-day trip.  Don’t judge.  A girl needs coffee.  And southwest chicken salad.

3.  I learned that Neenah really needs a Chick-fil-A.  But not a Waffle House.

I swear we didn't actually eat this. I just took a picture in the camp store.

4.  I learned that there exist entire “dry” counties where you can’t buy alcohol.  And that these counties are usually very large and not worth driving out of at 9PM to get a beer.  Except on your 4th night of camping and eating camp food.

5. I learned that Kentucky has a confused time zone identity.  Whatever time zone Kentucky is in,  Louisville is in a different time zone.  Mammoth Cave National Park has tons of signs warning us that it is in Central Time Zone.  Which we thought we were in already.  I asked the worker at our campground what Time Zone we were in .  He said he didn’t know.  So, I asked him what time it was.  He said he didn’t know.  I left it at that.  The clock at the Ranger Station said 5:20.  My iPhone said 6:20.  The clock in our cabin said 3:47……..

6. I learned that 6-year-olds only care a little bit about the Civil War.  And that 9-year-olds do not care at all about the Civil War.  People in their 30’s are newly fascinated by the Civil War.  And people in their 90’s that you meet in the parking lot stopped caring either way about that war.

I had to bribe him with chicken McNuggets to get him to smile. But he's 9 and it's a Civil War mural, so this was the best he could do.

The Green River through Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

7.  I learned that Kentucky is really beautiful, with green rolling hills and a rich, fascinating history.  Wisconsin is beautiful too.  The more I travel, the more I appreciate Wisconsin.   Indiana is….. meh.  Indiana does have a lot of windmills.  And colleges.  I guess Indianans aspire to bigger, more beautiful things……..

8.  I learned that Subey-stores are worth 20 points and that Subey-commercials are worth 10 points.  This is VERY important.  And watch out for pseudo-Subey-stores.  They’ll wipe you out.  (See previous blog post.)

8.  I learned that sometimes the best part of going on vacation is the drive home.


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Spring Rolls

My sister and I made spring rolls with our kids last week.  And by “my sister and I”, I really mean “my sister”.  She chopped the veggies and bought the wrappers and made the rolls.  I did contribute Mini-Pepperoni (more on that later).

My sister’s kids are amazing eaters.  They love candy and Taco Bell.  But they also suck down tofu and spicy peppers and almost-raw black-eyed-peas.  They mooch the salad right off your plate if you don’t guard it well.  My sister is an amazing cook and she has just always exposed them to wonderful whole foods.  That’s just the way they eat in her house.  She doesn’t deny them treats or fast food.  It’s just not a part of every day eating.  Junk food and candy are not held up as evil or as the holy grail of a reward for good behavior.  They’re just food.  Food you eat sometimes.  But not very often.  So, my nieces and nephews have some of the healthiest attitudes towards eating I have ever seen.

Don’t I sound smart about how to feed kids?  Doesn’t it sound like I have it all figured out?  Not so much.  I don’t know what I did wrong, but my own kids are dubious eaters.  They eat well, but it’s hard work.  They’re skeptical of anything green, unless it is a fresh peapod.  Tacos can only contain beans and cheese, not lettuce or sauce.  Tomato sauce is ok on spaghetti noodles, but not baked with ziti.  Raw carrots=good.  Cooked carrots=poison.  Gage will eat all nuts, but not chicken.  Solon will eat chicken, but not broccoli.  One of them never eats breakfast and one of them refuses dinner most nights.  It’s exhausting just keeping them alive.

So, I saw this spring roll adventure as a great way to introduce the boys to some new foods.  The act of rolling your own spring roll was sure to interest them.  They could choose their own fillings, thereby empowering them and actively involving them in making their own healthy food choices.  Blah blah blah blah.  They took one look at the cilantro, bean sprouts, grated carrots, and green onions and recoiled in terror.  (Meanwhile, my sister’s kids are shoving handfuls of cilantro and raw oni0n into their eager little mouths.)

“Is this dinner?” they shrieked in horror.  When I said that it was only the first course, their eyes narrowed.  “What’s the rest of dinner?” they demanded.  When I couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer, I could see them start to panic.  This is where the min-pepperonis came into play.  I figured I could entice them into trying spring rolls if I let them include something I knew they really liked: miniature processed meats.  The spring roll experiment was not a success.  It was not a whopping failure, though.  They both actually rolled a spring roll with the  intention of maybe possible eating some of it.  One son even included a little grated carrot.  (The other son included nothing but mini-pepperonis……..)  At the end of the meal, one of them had taken a tiny nibble and the other had almost touched a spring roll with his tongue.  I count this as not a total failure?  At least now they know what spring rolls are.  One tiny step in their nutritional education.

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Mothers, Daughters, and Christmas Salami

Christmas means many things in my family.  Gifts, candles, carols, blah, blah, blah.  In my family, Christmas is about the food.  We don’t even pretend anymore.  We don’t dress up or set the table or use forks.  That fancy stuff  just gets in the way of the eatin’.  We even abandoned an actual menu for Christmas Eve.  We just load up the living room coffee table with all our favorite dips and appetizers and desserts and go to town.

Shrimp, artichoke dip,  salsa…….these are a few of my favorite things……..

But, one of the most important parts of our family Christmas Eve, our “yule log” if you will, is the Christmas Salami.  We’re not usually much of a sausage family.  But, what’s Christmas without the salami?  So, on Christmas Eve, my (vegan!) sister and my (carnivore!) mom and I went to the grocery store to get the essentials.  Wow.  You should grocery shop with my mom sometime.  Wonderful, but painful.  I regret that I don’t have any daughters I will be able to subject to the Christmas Grocery Shopping.  It’s a rite of passage in our family.  But I doubt that any daughters-in-law will be willing to accompany me.  Only mom knows how to get the RIGHT cocktail sauce (refrigerated, not canned), the RIGHT crackers (stone-ground wheat), and the RIGHT salami (not too soft).  My mom rejected the salami I chose and went back for one that was “harder”.  Seriously.  You can’t make this stuff up.

As usual, my mom was right.  I hate that.  (Someday, it will be my turn to always be right.)  Christmas Eve “dinner” was painfully good.  And filling.  And big enough that I’m still eating artichoke dip and corn chips for breakfast.  But, not the salami.  That was gone right away.

My mom, triumphant in the quest for the 2009 Christmas Salami.

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Sasquatch is a boy.

We have a bunch of hens in our backyard.  One of my favorites is a gangly Rhode Island Red named Sasquatch.  Actually, she was named Chocolate, but she was so big and her feet were so huge that we started calling her Sasquatch. 



Seriously, this bird looked like a velociraptor.  Huge feet, long neck, gangly walk.  It was charming.  The funniest thing was that she was a total push-over.  The other birds would steal her food and chase her away from the water.  She’s only a few months old, so she’s still immature and shy.  We figured she’d find her voice soon enough.

Well, she found her voice alright.  This morning at the crack of dawn, she started cock-a-doodle-doo-ing.  Like a rooster.  Like the rooster she is.  Sasquatch is a boy.  We suspected something was up.  But the farmer we got her from said she was a girl.  Was he trustworthy?  I don’t know.  He had a lot of chickens.  My husband even sexed her.  “Sexed her” as in examined her gender not “sexed her” as in, well, you know…..  Anyway, my husband is a doctor at the VA and he said she’s a girl.  Who’s gonna arugue with a government doctor?  (Lesson: Don’t go to the VA for chicken-sexing services.)

So, I loved ‘Squatch when I thought she was the world’s ugliest hen.  Now that she’s just another immature rooster, I don’t know what to think.  First of all, he/she has to go.  No roosters allowed in the city.  (Thanks, Jake.)  By the time you read this, we will have “found her a nice farm to live on for the rest of her life”.  Either literally or figuratively.  Maybe we’ll take her back to the farmer who sold her to us.  Maybe we’ll slow-roast her at 375 with a little butter, garlic, and rosemary up under her skin and dilled new potatoes fresh from the garden.  Not that I’ve really thought about it.

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