Call Me Crafty

So the star banner that I started in January finally got finished today!  I was being so careful and literally right as I was ready to put the needle to the fabric, my sewing machine broke.  Major bummer.  I had to send it away to a service center, and even though they told me it would take about a week to fix, I didn’t see it again for two months.  I came in the mail last week or the week before, and I figured I needed to finish the project before DH got home.  I think it turned out really nice.

I have it hanging on my front door right now.  I’m a little worried about the sun fading it, but at the same time, it’s meant to be seen.  We all get a little tattered and washed out from deployments, don’t we?

The project was pretty easy and didn’t take any time at all.  All the pieces were cut out from my false start a few months ago, so I easily zipped it out this weekend.  I actually made two, one’s going to my mother-in-law.

It’s weird how little things like this make me feel more “in the club” of geographically single military spouses.  While I’m out walking M every night, I see other stars hanging in windows, and my heart goes out to those families.  Even with my hubby gone too, I hurt for them.  Hanging my star feels like an honor, a privilege I’m granted by letting my love go for a year to war.  Does that make any sense?  Somehow it makes DH’s absence feel more real.  It makes it hurt more, yet it feels like something I have to do.

Two months in (yes, we’ve clicked over another month), and I’m still struck by how different deployments feel from everyday military life.  I thought I knew.  I had no idea…

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River Of Doubt

I just finished a super cool book that satisfied the history nerd in me.  The River of Doubt by Candice Millard traces Teddy Roosevelt’s exploration down a tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil in the early 20th century.

First off, I am quite obviously a history buff, and I didn’t know Roosevelt had ever done this.  I knew he was an outdoorsman, is known for starting the nation’s national park system, and liked to go big game hunting in places like Africa, but I never knew he almost died in Brazil.  Perhaps it is because Roosevelt took the trip after he was president, and we tend to forget that former presidents continue to live after they’ve left office.

The book was a very quick read and did a wonderful job highlighting how completely unprepared the group of men was for this trip.  It was mostly because they plain didn’t know what they were going to run into.  No one had ever traveled the length of this river before, so they didn’t know how long it was, where it would end up, or what kind of journey it would be.  Their equipment was totally inappropriate for their environment as was the food they packed.  I am amazed that they made it out in any condition at all.  I don’t think people today could do it.

It got me thinking about how different people’s thinking was a hundred years ago.  These men had little to no information about where they were going.  Men in New York sat around planning this trip based on the experiences of a failed Polar explorer.  What made that seem like a good idea?  They sailed for days down to South America only to find out they didn’t know what they were doing.  Once the group started down the river, they couldn’t turn back.  It was impossible to walk through the rainforest or go against the rapids on the river.  They had to keep going forward even when they were almost certain that they were going to die.  I don’t think anyone today would undertake such a trip with so little information.  I don’t think many of us could imagine going into an area where no one else had ever been before.  We’d consider it crazy if not impossible.  But these men not only did it, but were eager for the opportunity.  That difference in thinking fascinates me.  It’s only very recently in history that the whole world has been known to everyone like it is now, yet we can’t imagine it differently.

While I really liked The River of  Doubt, I got really frustrated with the scientific filler that distracts from the story.  The author, Candice Millard, is a writer for National Geographic magazine, and it is painfully apparent.  She is a good writer, but it started to feel like either she didn’t have enough historical material to use or couldn’t break out of her geographical/environmental comfort zone.  She went into bountiful detail on Pangea, plate tectonics, and the evolution of plants.  At first it was helpful, but it quickly started to feel like filler and fluff to the actual storyline.  By the end, I was a little confused on what her main point was–Roosevelt’s expedition or the sophistication of the Amazonian ecosystem.

Here’s an interview with Millard on NPR about The River of Doubt.  It gives a great synopsis of the book and just a little taste of Roosevelt’s adventure.

What Was I Thinking

Do not try and make mashed potatoes in one of these thinking it will save you time.  It turns perfectly good potatoes into a gummy froth.  Yes, potatoes can froth.

Also…do not try and wash them down the disposal because the gummy paste you created will harden and literally need to be chipped away.

Ask me how I know this.

Last night was very close to the Thanksgiving ’06 disaster when I added way too much sour cream to the mashed potatoes and I ended up with a marshmellow-like texture.

I need to try take out for awhile because my cooking skills have gone on the fritz this past week.

Mabel Stark

I just’s been awhile since I finished The Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough, but I still wanted to share.  I picked it up at a used bookstore here in town before DH left. 

Mable was a real person, a tiger tamer in the circus world in the first half of the twentieth century.  Robert Hough’s book is a fictional biography of Stark, although the most salacious parts of the book turn out to be true.

Mable Stark was a really good read overall.  It went fast but appropriately dwelled on all the right, juicy parts.  The book jumps through time to cover Stark’s life out of sequence, and occasionally it is difficult to tell what time period you’re in.  Overall, however, it made for a more interesting read.  It has a seemingly abrupt ending, but it too felt appropriate for the book and Mable Stark’s life.  It could possibly be considered a surprise ending, but after going through Stark’s life with her, I couldn’t image it any other way.

It was an incredibly entertaining text and left me in awe that anyone could have such a fantastic life.  Hough’s writing captured the essence of Stark superbly, enhanced the story, and without his personal touch, the books would have a completely different text entirely.  I highly recommend it for your future reading lists.

The Wonders Of Cake Mix

A little background story…my grandma is a wonderful cook.  She can make anything from her cupboards not only work but taste fabulous.  A few years ago she started making cookies out of cake mix for my cousin’s preschool, and the whole family thought she may have finally lost it…but the cookies were fabulous.

Last year for Christmas, my mother gave me a cookbook called 101 Things To Do With a Cake Mix, and we both had a good laugh thinking of my grammy.

Even though we laugh, I was volunteered to make dozens of cookies for story time at work last week and I immediately thought of Grammy’s  cake mix recipe.

1 box of cake mix (white or yellow is best for plain sugar cookies)

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup of oil

2 eggs

Mix the ingredients together.  Roll dough in 1 inch balls and roll in 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon.   Bake for 8-10 minutes at 375.  That’s it!

You can also use lemon or chocolate cake mix if you like those flavors.  These cookies come out soft and chewy.  A box makes two dozen cookies or so in record time.  Everyone at work, the kids, and their mothers love the cookies.  And they are dirt cheap to make.  Can’t beat that.  Thanks Grammy!

A First

Today at work two guys were standing at the front desk with a handful of papers.  Everyday similar soldiers come up and ask to “clear” or for me to check to see if they have any outstanding materials so they can continue with moving to another duty station.  I plopped down in my chair and asked to see their ID card.  They were “clearing” for deceased soldiers.

My heart stopped.  This was what it looks like to have this happen.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  It was my first encounter with death during deployment.  It was my first realization that my husband might not come home since he left.  It hadn’t sunk in that the long breaks between phone calls could mean something else.  I hadn’t started worrying about seeing “those men” at my front door.

I am now.

I just didn’t have it in me the rest of the day.  I was sad and withdrawn and felt like I needed to do a lot of thinking by myself.  I had the stupid idea to straighten the books with call numbers in the 355’s this afternoon.  It’s the military history section–obviously one of my favorites.  I started crying right in the aisles after seeing book after book with titles about military wives, dealing with deployment, survivors benefits, combat stress, and military suicide.  It was my first time since he left that I just lost it in public just because I was afraid.

I feel more a part of the mil spouse club now, but certainly not in a way that I’m happy about.  I understand similar experiences of other wives now.  I’d been living in a bubble trying to avoid thinking about this stuff.  I dread month six, seven, eight…  I’ll be so much more tired and stressed.  I’ll be teary constantly.  In a way, I’m jealous of his family who doesn’t have to see soldiers all the time and run into instances like today’s.  They can keep their bubble safe if they want to.  I want to take back this first and forget it forever.

Tomatilllo Pork and Mushrooms

Before DH left I bought a cookbook specifically for using the crock pot for smaller meals.  It’s called Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for TwoThe recipes are not the usual chili or roast with potatoes.  It offers a nice variety, and I really like that it says what size slow cooker to use and how much it makes (like serves two with leftovers).  Since I started work this week, I wanted to try a new recipe from the book.

I ended up eating these like tacos and foregoing the suggested rice, and it was really yummy.  It had a distinct Mexican flavor, but was different than the plain tacos or burritos that I normally make.

1 1/2 lbs boneless pork loin or shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 tsp salt

1 chopped onion

3/4 lb thickly sliced mushrooms

1 garlic clove

28 oz green enchilada sauce

7 oz salsa verde

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Season pork with salt and pepper and sear pork on all sides in a very hot pan with oil.  It takes about 3 minutes.  Put browned pork in crock pot and add onion, mushrooms, garlic, and both sauces.  Cook on high for 3 1/2 hours or low for 5-6 hours.  Stir in the cilantro right before serving.  Eat with tortillas.

It was very saucy, so if I did it again I might cut the enchilada sauce by half or drain some of it off before serving the pork.  I didn’t add any cheese in the tortilla when I ate it, although I thought about it really hard because it sounded like it would be delicious.  Also, the cilantro was very strong.  Since it’s a common ingredient in a lot of Mexican sauces, it might have been a combination of the the brand I chose and the fresh herb.  I might cut back on that too the next time I make it.

I wish I had a picture to post as well, but I didn’t get one before I ate the leftovers.  I love mushrooms, Mexican food, and pork, so this new recipe was a winner all the way around.

Thanks Beth Hensperger for the great meal!

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