Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aunt Mindy's Cooking House of Danger

I had this great idea. Cale and Ramona, my niece and nephew, were going to be spending Sunday night at our house, and I thought of something fun for all of us to do on Monday. We were going to COOK.

Both Jeff and Cale are always watching cooking shows on The Food Network, and they both received a video game for their Nintendo DS called "Cooking Personal Trainer." It walks you through each step of a recipe with detailed instructions, and you can interact with it through voice commands. Brilliant! Since of course I know nothing about cooking this seemed like a way we could all learn together.

I drove all the kids and the game to Meijer where we picked out and purchased the items we would need. We even bought a pan. We had to double the recipe, so the kids got to practice their math skills! They had selected Chicken Chillindrone which is from Spain. (Sneaking in some Geography here too)

As soon as we got home the kids divvied up the peppers, onions, garlic, and ham that needed to be cut up. Then Jeff handed out cutting boards and knives. They enthusiastically chopped away and were very careful about avoiding their fingers. They were less careful about setting the knives down hanging over the edge of the counter, or walking to the sink while swinging them around. Luckily there was no blood but there were a lot of tears from those onions.

The program said that the recipe would take 35 minutes to prepare, and even times the steps for you. I had the kids calculate back when they would need to start the cooking in order to have it ready to serve when Mary Beth came at 5:30. (Time management!)

It told us to use chicken legs with the bones still in, and to cut it up into pieces. What size pieces? We squinted at the picture but it just looked like thighs and drumsticks to me, which is how we bought them. I remembered how my mom always talks about the germs on Chicken, and washes it. So I had Cale do that, and then wash his hands.

It said to cook the chicken in some oil until it was brown on one side. Cale put the chicken pieces in the pan but they didn't fit, so we added another pan to the stove. They started to hiss and pop and spray oil all over the place. The kids got scared because it hurt when it went on their arms. The chicken did not turn brown in the ten minutes that the game told us to cook it before turning over, so they had to keep yelling "repeat"into the screen to keep it going.

Ramona was safely in the other room, ironing the tablecloth.

The next step was to create a white wine reduction sauce. They all wanted to know if this would make them drunk. The game didn't say but I told them that I didn't think so as Jeff poured in the Chardonnay. Mary Beth arrived and the meal was nowhere near complete. It was time to add the vegetables but when they did that it sputtered and Jeff got a little burned on his arm. He gave me the onions to put in and as I did that some oil splattered onto my hand, I screamed and dumped the onions all over the floor.

We scrambled all around trying to clean up the mess and get the rest of the steps completed.

An hour and a half later than we had estimated, Ramona lit the candles on the table and we enjoyed the meal. Cale noted that it took only minutes to consume yet hours to prepare.

The next day I was talking to my mother and I asked her about washing the chicken. She said that she always washes and then dries the meats, otherwise the water will make the oil spatter all over. And there's the lesson that I learned from this experiment. A computerized program can be very good at telling you what to do and when to do it, but it would take a person to look at what you are doing wrong and tell you not to do it. Lesson served!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day Product Reviews

Well it's the day after Christmas and we are surrounded by piles of new stuff. For your reading convenience, I am providing useful product reviews of some of our family's newly acquired possessions:

Weather Prediction Machine

This handy gadget is supposed to predict the weather, but it did not include the information of the message of the girl or the boy being outside of the house. But it does mean something, and it looks as cute as the dickens hanging in my kitchen where the vegetable clock used to be.

+3 for retro kitchyness, -1 for unclear meaning.

IPod Nano

This was Jeffrey's number one wish this Christmas, and he got it, even though there are many more appropriate items for a ten year old to own.

+5 for being a newer version than the one that Timmy has. -1 for being small enough to possibly get put through the wash if left in a pocket.


This is a new product that is very popular, and Timmy likes it.

+3 for getting a thirteen-year-old interested in anything hygiene related. -3 for being a whole new way to annoy your little brother.

ZBT Cymbals

Timmy wanted to upgrade the high-hat cymbals that came with the "pre-owned" drumset that he got for his birthday. He says that they are far better than the ones that he had before.

+3 stars for crisp sound. -1 for being machine instead of hand-hammered. Whatever that means.

Noise Canceling Headphones

Mary Beth got an awesome deal on these by standing in line at 4am for the Kohl's Black Friday Sale. Worth it. I think they will change my life. They really do cancel out annoying sounds such as the moaning of our haunted refrigerator, the whirring of the computer, and, I'm hoping, the voice of that loud lady at work and all the lawnmowers in the summer.

+7 for actually working, -1 for making me look like a dork when I wear them.

Golf Ball Finder Glasses

My mom got these for Larry, and we have all looked through them but have yet to see any golf balls around, so I can't tell you whether or not they really work. But if they actually do, then think of the possibilities if they can expand this technology to other areas such as finding keys or TV remotes, or a pen to write something down when I'm on the phone.

+ 10 if they really do work, -5 if they don't but he can fake it and impress the golf partners anyways.

Chia Cat Grass

This actually did grow from seeds to 6 inch tall grass in 3 days. Jeffrey had set it up under a desk lamp in my bedroom closet (to keep it secret from Missy.) She loves it!

+10 for making our cat happy.


I almost didn't get this because there were 19 scathing bad reviews online, and only two moderately good ones. But I had to know. So thanks to lots of hinting and societal pressure from the Glenmoor Gals, Larry reluctantly got it for me. I set it up right after opening it on Christmas morning, and it promptly broke. One of the little flipper-arms came completely off and the batter distributor stopped working after 2 attempts. I nearly gave up but then I figured out a way to manually operate some of the parts and at least get a couple of donuts out of it. I was not discouraged, because I could visualize the wonder of how it would work if it really did...work. So I took it back to JC Penny today and exchanged it for a new one that performs perfectly!!! Yummy!

+ 10 for delivering hot crispy donuts just like the ones they used to have at Comerica Park. -1 for being so greasy fattening.

If you got anything interesting for Christmas, put your review in the comments or send me a link and I'll post it here.

Happy Boxing Day to the Canadians!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joy to the World!

Merry Christmas! I hope you got what you wanted too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Travel Advisory

Well GM got the bailout money and as far as I know I am still employed. Now I'm on vacation. Somehow I ended up with a few leftover vacation days and so the Christmas break is a long one for me this year. The kids have a lot of time off from school too.

I decided that this might be a good opportunity for us to go somewhere. Since we have a little bit of money available and investing it no longer holds any appeal I am going with new approach which is to spend. I looked into cheap last minute flights to Florida, but that still seemed like a lot for a last-minute trip. Plus the weather still might not be so great there. So I decided to take the boys to the Kalahari Indoor water park in Ohio. Since Larry still has to work I invited my nephew Cale to come along. It is less than a 3 hour drive from here, so the only weather risk is a sudden blizzard but I think I can vary the travel times to get around that if I have to.

I was upstairs packing the boys bathing suits when my mother called.

"So I heard about this thing you are doing." Translation: I can't believe you are risking the lives of my precious grandchildren by driving somewhere in the winter.

I put some T-shirts into the suitcase. "Yes, the boys are really looking forward to it."

"Did you see the weather report? They are predicting 25 mile per hour winds."

"Well, it looks like most of the snow will be North of here, and I think we should be able to make it to Ohio." I said as I tucked in some extra socks.

"It could be dangerous. Are you PREPARED to do this?"

I folded Jeff's pajamas neatly so they would lay flat. "Yes! Timmy and I went to get the car washed this afternoon, and we bought gum and snacks for the drive."

Her voice started taking on a mild shriek tone. "A car wash isn't going to help you get there safely. Do you have EMERGENCY SUPPLIES?" I remembered that my mother always has a "winter emergency kit" in her trunk. It includes a coffee can and candle for melting snow to delay death by dehydration. She went on. "What if you get stuck? Do you have a small shovel in the car? And a bag of kitty litter for traction?"

I did buy a new ice-scraper at the car wash. I stretched that one. "Yes, I have some supplies for that."

"What about a blanket? And extra food?"

"Sure!" I figured I might have some beach towels with us, and those car snacks count as food.

She wasn't letting up. "How about flares? Do you have flares in your emergency kit in case you have to send out a signal?"

I was trying to think if we had anything that lights up, but then I realized what was happening here. "Mom, I am going to be on a major, highly traveled highway the entire trip. In the daytime. And I have a cell phone. And if the weather is just too bad we'll wait to leave. I don't think I'll be needing flares."

"Well, I just don't know about this. I hope you're ok."

I told her that we would call her once we arrived there safely, so she could suspend her worrying until we had to drive home on Tuesday. She reluctantly accepted this. I said goodbye and added a sweatshirt and zipped up the suitcase.

And now I'm really hoping that the weather doesn't get too bad. But once we get there is should be a lot of fun. I'll let you know how it goes.


Well, the weather was pretty crummy but we made it there and back without event. Larry put a large snow shovel and boots for everyone into the trunk, but we did not need them. When we stopped to pick up Cale Mark topped off the washer fluid in my car and Mary Beth gave me a bag of chocolates, which did come in handy.

The water park was awesome, we stayed indoors the entire time, and would only occasionally glimpse the snow outside through the windows from atop a giant waterslide. It was an African themed water paradise. Every once in a while I would notice that the piped-in music was a Christmas Carol, which seemed comically out of place, but I'm not complaining. The boys had a wonderful time and I was glad to get away from everything and take them there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Thing

I was surprised when Jeffrey eagerly agreed to go to the store with me to buy the cream cheese I needed for a party that night. He was surprised when we pulled up at the small market by our house.

"I thought we were going to Meijers." He complained.

I asked him why he wanted to go there, and he showed me that he'd brought along his wallet.

"I wanted to buy something." He told me.

"What were you going to buy?" I wanted to know.

"Well, it's something that the other kids are playing with at school, and I wanted to get one too."

I was interested in the idea of a toy that he might want, I've been wanting to get him a couple more small gifts for Christmas, and he's almost outgrown most of the stuff in the toy aisle these days. I told him that he shouldn't be buying himself anything this close to Christmas, but that he should describe it to me, just in case I happen to be communicating with Santa in the coming days.

"Well, it's this thing, where a thing comes out of the thing." He tells me.

Not very helpful. I ask for a better description.

"I think that there is a TV show of it. And it starts with a "B."

And that's all I could get out of him. Then later I was describing this conversation to a friend at a party, and she knew what he was talking about! The hot toy of the season! She described it a little better, and I went to the toy aisle at Target, and there it was! So I bought him one.

I would tell you what it's called, but I already forgot, except that it starts with a "B," there's a TV show of it, and "the thing comes out of the thing."

OK, figured it out. Here it is:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Donuts, Snowcream, Elvis, and the Bailout.

You might be wondering what it's like to be working at GM these days, being that we're all over the news with goings on about bailouts and loans and such.

Well, it has changed some things and not others. At the moment everyone who still works here keeps coming in to work each day and doing what they are supposed to do. Sometimes I hear people walking out of the coffee room talking about the very incredible news events as they unfold each day. For a while I was reading all about it and listening to the news on the radio in my car. I found myself agreeing with the points made by GM (you can read their official positions here) but then sometimes I would find myself nodding along with what the critics had to say too. The conflict of it was too much for me so I switched the to Elvis Radio on XM, broadcasting straight from Graceland! Much better.

Some of the people around here seem nervous, and there are signs of things being different. The shop went to a 4-hour workday. It's kind of spooky to drive up in the morning to an empty parking lot and the lights out in the area that I have to walk through to get to my desk. They have also turned down the temperature to save money, and so it is uncomfortably cold in the office area. Bob has taken to wearing a hat while he works.

But there are occasional bright spots such as today which was bagel day. (FYI it's funded by coffee profits.) You never know when bagel day is going to come and today I had already eaten a half bagel from home on my commute, so I picked out a donut. It was the kind with no hole and chocolate frosting on the top. I expected there to be custard inside but was caught by surprise when it turned out to be LEMON filling. That's just wrong. Of course I ate it anyways, and then later noticed there was a similar donut in there but with nuts sprinkled on the top. I had to know. Sure enough, my investigation proved that the nuts indicate the filling type. Very useful information. I told Bob that I wished I could erase the calories of the first, wrong donut after I had discovered and eaten the correct one. He suggested exercises that I could do in my cubicle. Another guy was listening and came up with an invention for exercising using hangers tied together with rubber bands. This got us to imagining the possibilities in the wide-open field of cubicle exercise. Then we stopped that and got back to work.

It has been said that if they don't get the bailout (loan!) money that GM could cease to exist. That's difficult to even imagine. So many people have had their entire careers here. At least I had my little break about a year ago, and I think that gives me some perspective on what life could be like without GM. Others are faced with considering it for the first time. Often that can lead to interesting conclusions. In addition to cubercise inventions, one co-worker came up with this alternative career idea:
Can you just imagine the fun of pushing this thing around all day selling "snow cream" to happy customers? But don't even think about getting one for yourself, we don't want too much competition around here. And if my kids ever see this I'll never get them to go to college.

So while dreams of alternative careers and Rockabilly avoidance techniques are helpful, there isn't much else to do except keep on working, and perhaps contacting a Senator in the hopes of influencing the outcome their vote, or buying a car. I can get you the employee discount again, now through Jan 5.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Abraham Lincoln

My niece Ramona is a lovely little girl. She can sing like a bird, turn a cartwheel, dance ballet, and look as pretty as any picture when she wears a dress.

She also likes collecting rocks, and fishing, and recently ate an anchovy. But, I have also seen her flat out refuse to try something she doesn't want to do, such as go on a roller coaster, jump off a diving board, or let me braid her hair.

I used to be concerned when she wouldn't try something new, because as the only girl in the next generation of our immediate family, I don't want her to believe that she is limited in any way because of her gender. But as she has gotten older I see that she is perfectly fine at keeping up with the boys, and is confident in selecting for herself what activities she will or will not decide to participate in.

And I think it's great that there could now be a generation of girls growing up in a world where they not only can believe they can do anything, but can actually do it. In my case I think I had the believing part down, but when it came to the doing, such as being an automotive engineer, it was harder than I expected in a world where there were so many other people who felt that some jobs were just for men. By the time Ramona grows up I think that will finally have changed.

So maybe she really can do anything. Even be President of the United States. In fact, she already knows that. She can even be a specific President, such as Abraham Lincoln. All she needs is to make a construction paper hat, draw a beard on some paper, cut it out, and tape it to her face. Oh, and memorize the beginning of the Gettysburg Address. All because she read a biography for school, and decided to "add a little extra" to the presentation. Yes, she can.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Go to Bohemian Rhapsody

My cousin Pammy just opened a new store on 4th street in Royal Oak. Check it out if you are in the area, or read the review:

Say hi to Pam if you go during the day. The store is an extension of her exquisitely fun and funky sense of style, as you can tell from these pics.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How to make a snow day

We got a lot of snow yesterday. It's early in the year to have this much, and I hope it's not a sign of the winter yet to come. We seem to live right on the edge of some weather system, because just a few miles south of here they hardly have any, and at my mother's house there's no snow on the ground at all.

The kids remembered all the snow days off from school they got last year, and discussed taking actions to do what they could to encourage one for today. Apparently it is some kind of kid legend to do the following things to cause the cancellation of school:

1. Flush an ice cube down the toilet

2. Put a spoon under your pillow.

3. Wear your pajamas inside out.

There must have been enough people with their pajamas on correctly to cancel them out, because school was in session as usual. I think it's interesting how all kids seem to know about these procedures, yet I never heard about it when I was little. Who starts these things?