Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

Your Irish Eyes Were Always Smiling

September24

My Aunt Bonny died today. She of the ever-present smile, the mischievous grin, the jolly attitude. You knew her, right? Many of us have that aunt, the fun one.

She was the last of the Chapman sisters. The middle child. The funny one. The majorette, the first one to marry, the second to have a child. She of the Snowman embellished Christmas towels. The ceramic studio in the basement. The husband who cooked. (Unusual back then.)

She gave birth to four children: two girls, and twin boys. Three out of four had red hair like my sister and I. When the twins came, the whole family celebrated: finally, we had boys!. Double trouble, indeed. Some would say she spoiled Mark and Todd. I will not disagree. They adored their mom and she doted on them.

Visits to her house were easy, relaxed, laid-back. Eat, don’t eat. Stay up late or go to bed early. Eat dessert for dinner. Just don’t burn the house down. You didn’t just take off your shoes when you entered her house. You left your cares and fears on the other side of that threshold.

Her oldest daughter still lives in that house. It’s been renovated many times since then. The cabinets and counters and wall colors have changed, but Christie has kept the welcoming spirit intact. Christie inherited her mother’s ease. Kelli inherited her mother’s humor. The boys, her sweetness.

Aunt Bonny had a stroke when she was my age, in her late 40s. She was wheelchair bound most of the last twenty years of her life. Her speech was slurred and her words difficult to follow. Still, she laughed and made us all laugh. She couldn’t walk and was hard to understand but she still made us laugh and feel warm and welcome.

She and Uncle Bill came to my wedding seven years ago. My mom had been dead for years, as had the oldest Chapman sister, Sue. Aunt Bonny was the matriarch. But – I don’t know how to explain this – she didn’t wear the crown. She was still the same. Exactly the same. Down-to-earth, sweet, kind, funny Aunt Bonny.

Aunt Bonny, smiling in her wheelchair

Aunt Bonny, smiling in her wheelchair

It’s impossible to talk about her without talking about Uncle Bill. A love story for the ages. As her health deteriorated, he took care of her, even going so far as to retire early to do so. He never left her side. He never complained. You never got the sense that taking care of her was a burden. To those of who watched with wonder (could I ever be that good?), Uncle Bill just loved her and did what love does.

Are tributes to the dead boring? Probably. But aren’t they also necessary for the living? Don’t answer that. I didn’t write this for you. I wrote it for me. And for my dear, sweet aunt. I’ll miss you and your merry eyes.

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On 9/11- Stop Telling Me Not to Forget

September11

Of course we remember. Today and every day. Our country experienced a kind of collective PTSD. We struggled then – and now – for words, the appropriate response, how to tell our children, how to understand the unimaginable, the unbelievable, the unconscionable. It wasn’t just one day. It was that day and every day since then.

I appreciate the images on my Facebook feed. I do not appreciate the admonition to “Never forget.” As if we could.

But I hope my son can grow up in a country that is not under a cloud of fear. Do you remember bomb drills at school? I do – hiding, crouching under desks. Doorways marked “bomb shelter” (very scary signs). We lived with the constant fear of a nuclear bomb. God, what was that movie that came out in the 80′s that scared all my classmates to death? Was it “The Day After”?

The fear we have now is more dispersed. It could happen anywhere. A mall. A movie theater. A marathon. At an elementary school. The bad guys could be terrorists from abroad or home grown. We are suspicious, on alert. We see soldiers on a flight and we exhale, certain that our flight will be safe at least from bad guys on a plane.

Remember what Mister Rogers said about bad guys? To look for the helpers. I want to focus on them.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So today, I am going to try to relax. Exhale. Salute the helpers. Let go of Fear. Hug people. Look the scary people in the eye and smile. I will not remember what they did. I will remember how we responded. How we tried, how we stumbled. How we got up.

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Smells Like Raw Talent

April29

5th row, center aisle, 1994, Macauley Theater, Louisville, KY. Not long after Kurt Cobain’s death, I sat mesmerized as Tori Amos opened her concert first with a breathless, edge-of-your-seat rendition of “American Pie” and then sang a slow, agonizing ballad of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I looked at my friend, Terri, and whispered (cuz Tori at that moment, commanded whispers, not yells – yells would come later), “is that what I think it is?” It was so different from the loud, discordant original that it took me a moment (OK, more than a moment) to figure out what song she was singing. She would also sing some of my early favorites of hers – Little Earthquakes, Precious Things – but the way she wrapped her mouth and her body around her piano and  those first two songs is burned into my mind.

This was a time when radio still wouldn’t play two women back-to-back. (I know; I worked in radio at the time which is how I scored the awesome seats.) Tori Amos was/is maybe my generation’s Janis Joplin. Free, freaky at times, insanely talented and impossible to take your eyes off of. An original – even (or especially) – when she’s covering other’s songs. Do yourself a favor and listen to some of her covers.

A few months later. Not long after, I saw Courtney Love and her band Hole perform live at Phoenix Hill Tavern in Louisville, in support of their album Live Through This. Her husband had just committed suicide and she had to go on tour. I don’t have the talent to write about that night and what I saw. I witnessed bravery, despair, anger and power. I don’t care how fucked up she is. A lot of rock stars are and I think we are entirely too hard on her for behaving like a lot of her peers do. I remember her baby doll dress. I remember she brought her daughter on stage at some point wearing large headphones to protect her tiny ears. That album still gives me chills. And that concert was a true rock concert – daring, insane, loud, bad acoustics and one lead singer who begged, pleaded and stole my attention.

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Meatless Monday – Persian Potato Kookoo

March18

2013-03-18 11.55.14

This is super simple to make and delicious and one of my go-to recipes when I have leftover mashed potatoes. What’s a Kookoo? It’s the Persian version (does that rhyme?) of a frittata. Basically, an oven-baked omelette that comes out rather fluffy. This is made with eggs, potatoes, onion, saffron and salt. That’s it. The saffron gives it a subtle, more interesting flavor than a regular potato omelette. Also, all the ingredients are basically mashed/grated/mushed together so you have more of a uniform texture. Here’s how I make it:

INGREDIENTS (makes about 4 servings)

  • Leftover mashed potatoes – about 1-1.5 cups (if you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, just cook about 2 large potatoes in the microwave, get rid of the peel and mash ‘em up – just be sure and let them COOL before you put them in the egg mixture)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in a little bit of hot water (or not hot – it doesn’t matter and doesn’t matter if it doesn’t dissolve all the way)
  • 1/2 large onion grated (or one medium one)
  • Salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil (doesn’t matter what kind – I’ve used olive and canola before)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. I use a mortar and pestle and grind the saffron. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you could put the saffron stems in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Dissolve the saffron in a couple of tablespoons of hot water.
  3. Crack your eggs into the bowl with the dissolved saffron.
  4. Grate your onion and add it to this bowl (or grate it on top of the bowl – one less thing to clean!)
  5. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of oil onto the bottom of a 9-inch casserole dish. Stick it in the oven to heat up the oil.
  6. Add salt (about a teaspoon) then whisk/stir – you know, blend it up.
  7. Put the cooled mashed potatoes in the egg mix. Stir till mixed/combined.
  8. When the oven is at 350 and the oil looks hot, remove the casserole dish and pour your egg mixture into it. BE CAREFUL NOT TO TOUCH THE CASSEROLE DISH. Why do I warn you about this? Well, cuz I’ve done it before and burned my fingers. See? I put hot pads in the picture to remind you.
  9. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes. The eggs will look set. You may have hot oil bubbling around the sides. That’s normal.

When it’s finished, you can invert the kookoo onto a serving dish and enjoy. True Persians will sprinkle the top with powdered sugar – more for looks than for taste. It’s often served with flatbread and herbs with feta cheese. I’ve made this the centerpiece of many a brunch and served it with fresh fruit and a fruity bread, like a strawberry bread.

Many Persian families eat leftover kookoo cold. I re-heat mine in the microwave. I love it cuz I can eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And it’s perfect for Meatless Mondays.

There are dozens of varieties of kookoos – you can add spinach, peas, green beans, Persian herb mixtures – and I’ll try and make some and post updates. DISCLAIMER: this is not a food blog. I don’t have a recipe widget. I am most decidedly an amateur. I didn’t even break out a real camera; all photos were shot on my cell phone. I just occasionally share stuff that I find easy to make that still has a bit of a wow factor.

Not that you need pictures to help you with this, but here are a few just in case! Enjoy!

Grind the saffron and dissolve it in a bowl with a bit of water. It’ll look something like this. Note that my saffron did not dissolve very much. ‘Tis OK.

2013-03-18 10.59.44

Mix up the eggs, grated onion, saffron and salt.

2013-03-18 11.05.26

 

Mix the cooled mashed potatoes in the egg mixture (you can use leftover  mashed potatoes that have butter and milk in them – it won’t hurt this recipe – or you can cook 2 potatoes and mash them fresh, let them cool, then add to this).

2013-03-18 11.07.25

 

Pour your egg mixture into a casserole dish that has heated oil in it. The oil will come up around your egg mixture like this.

2013-03-18 11.09.41

 

If you touch this casserole dish while you’re adding your egg mixture, don’t be a dumbass like me – use hot pads.

2013-03-18 11.09.56

 

This is what it looks like fresh out of the oven, oil bubbling on the sides, top lightly browned.

2013-03-18 11.41.50

Loosen the sides of the kookoo with a knife, or spatula. Invert the kookoo onto a plate. Sometimes this doesn’t work. Use your hot pads to do this obviously.

2013-03-18 11.43.15

Of course, the one time I’m making this for the blog, it did not slide out of the casserole dish so I MacGyvered it; I used a spatula, broke it up into pieces and served it onto a platter.

2013-03-18 11.53.36

Then I started eating it. And just to show you what an amateur I am, you can see I was working on this post while the kookoo was cooking. Had I known I wouldn’t have had a pretty finished shot, I might have skipped the post. But alas, too much work has gone into the post (a lot more work than went into the making of this kookoo) so here ya’ go!

2013-03-18 11.55.59

 

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posted under Food | 1 Comment »

4th Birthday – Gymnastics Party (Wordless Wednesday)

December19

gymnastics party ideas for a boy

As I mentioned before, it was NOT easy to find gymnastics-themed ideas for a boy. Our son loves his gymnastics class and wanted to have his party there. We did a dual party with a girlfriend of his who practically shares a birthday. We only had 15 minutes to set up the party room so I needed decorations with maximum impact, but that could be set up quickly.

Previously, I shared with you pics of what we ordered for decorations and favors. I thought you might like to see how it all turned out! The cake was made by Sweets to the Sweet here in Atlanta. How frickin’ cute is this cake???

gymnastics party cake

Sharing a GOLD MEDAL birthday kiss:

 

Looking for more great photos? Grab a cup of tea or coffee and check out these sites that host more Wordless Wednesday entries: SevenClownCircus5MinutesforMom, and WordlessWednesday.

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Make a Marshmallow Wreath!

December18

marshmallow wreath with cranberries

I don’t know what it is with me and wreaths but I started making them last year (see here, here and here) and when I saw this marshmallow wreath on Pinterest, I couldn’t resist making my own. (Note on the photos: these are all from my phone so no groovy blurry background, no awesome close-ups, just rough and raw pics!) It might have something to do with my need for projects I can start and actually finish and all my wreaths have been pretty quick. This one took about an hour – less time than it would take me to wash and blow my hair dry straight, so there’s that.

supplies for marshmallow wreath

Supplies:

  • Styrofoam wreath form (I got a big one and a small one for my son to make his own)
  • 3 bags of big marshmallows
  • 1 bag of miniature marshmallows
  • 1 bag of cranberries
  • 1 bag of gummy bears (for my son’s wreath)
  • Hundreds of toothpicks
  • Damp rag – marshmallows get sticky

I found it easier to stick the toothpick in the big marshmallows first, then jab them into the wreath form.


But with the smaller marshmallows and the cranberries, it is MUCH easier to stick the toothpicks in the wreath first, then plop the little accents on. My 4 year old had fun finding the toothpicks I’d stuck in random places and thread a baby marshmallow on.

 

Note: toothpicks break. They also hurt your thumb when you jab ‘em in, so I used a rag over my finger to press them in. Some of the marshmallows have fallen off the bottom of my wreath (well, two and one cranberry) so I might have to patch it from time to time. I have read from many crafters that they KEEP their marshmallow wreaths from year to year and somehow, amazingly, they do not get bugs and still look great.

marshmallow wreath

I don’t believe them for a minute. This will be going in the trash. It just looks like a giant lure for ants to me.

 

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posted under Decorating, DIY | No Comments »

L.E.A.R.N. – Wordless Wednesday

October24

Looking for more great photos? Grab a cup of tea or coffee and check out these sites that host more Wordless Wednesday entries: SevenClownCircus5MinutesforMom, and WordlessWednesday.

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Gymnastics Party for a Boy – Good Luck with That

October19

My son takes a gymnastics class once a week – this is a “real” gymnastics class with a balance beam, rings, uneven bars, floor work, etc. It’s hilarious to watch these little 3 year olds bop around. We had him in a sports class last year which he did not like because he said the other kids were faster. Being the uber-competitive person I am, I told him that he needed to practice and he would get faster. Being the more astute person that she is, our nanny pointed out that he was the youngest and shortest, so you know, maybe that had something to do with it. Wow, I missed that one.

Anyhow, I digress. His birthday is coming up and I was hunting around for a theme. I figured race cars because he’s way into them and there are lots of cute (i.e. not Disney) race car ideas out there. But then I thought about how nice it would be to have his party somewhere that ISN’T MY HOUSE this year and he LOVES gymnastics, so we’re having his party there. The coaches take the kids through a whole circuit. I think it’ll be fun.

But decorating? A nightmare. Just like walking into a kid’s clothing store where 75% of it is for girls and we have one tiny corner of red and navy BORING clothes in the back – ALMOST ALL the gymnastics party stuff I found was for girls. Ugh. You can see some of the stuff I did find on this Pinterest board. (How did I plan parties before Pinterest? And where were you when we were building the house?)

So I really liked this cute cartwheel silhouette invitation but didn’t want to commit to a whole retro theme. Mostly because anything else I might buy (like favors) was likely to be red, white and blue. I decided to make my own invitation using Publisher. Here’s what I came up with:

And then I uploaded it onto Pingg, which is like Evite only you can upload your own design. I also printed it out (for the two people whose email addresses I dont’ have) and made some little “stamps” to put on the outside of the envelope. I used PicMonkey for that. I just uploaded two clip art images into a collage, saved it, uploaded it again as a single image and applied a ragged border to look like a stamp.

For favors, I ordered these sport bottles and I customized them with the “Jump Bounce Flip Play” words I used on the invitation. I also ordered these “gold” medals and will put those around the bottles. No favor bags or boxes needed this year!

  

For decorations, I found this personalized repositionable wall decal. Yeah, that’s a girl in the middle, but it’ll have to do. We only have 15 minutes to set up at the gym, so I’m hoping I can throw this up behind the cake and tie a few balloons to some chairs and voila! It’s a party – not quite Pinterest-worthy but we’ll see!

And for the cake? I found this idea and send it to Sweets for the Sweet; she made his awesome airplane cake last year.

She’s going to do something like this (but double layer) in primary colors for this year. And to make this even more fun, one of our good friend’s daughter is just 12 days older than our son. They hadn’t gotten around to figuring out what to do with her birthday, so we’re going to join forces. It’ll be one big gymnastics bash – and I’ll have an extra pair of arms to rush everything in and set it up!

I’ll post pics of how it all turns out.

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Cupcake Monster – Wordless Wednesday

May2

He’s three years old and has figured out that birthday parties mean one thing: CAKE! Last fall, his preschool teacher asked me if he didn’t like cupcakes because he wasn’t eating them during birthday celebrations at school. Huh? My kid? Oh, I told her, he doesn’t understand how to get the paper off and likes it cut up into bites.

Yeah, well, he’s clearly over that now, as he grabs and shoves them into his mouth with typical toddler abandon.

 

 

 

Looking for more great photos? Grab a cup of tea or coffee and check out these sites that host more Wordless Wednesday entries: SevenClownCircus,5MinutesforMom, and WordlessWednesday.

 

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Thank Heaven for Little Boys

April13

You see arms; he sees wings.
I see heaven in the form of a little boy.

 

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Airplane Birthday Party

April7

I am so far behind on publishing these photos! We had my son’s 3 year old birthday party at a local private airport. They have a playground for kids and a “hangar” with picnic tables. I took some boxes I’d printed up for a client that look like suitcases and re-purposed them as favor boxes by covering up the client info with a “Hunter Airlines” label. Once again, I ordered a birthday banner with a photo from each month of the past year from Mary Had a Little Party on Etsy. This is my third year ordering banners from her and they are so cute! The cake came from a local baker who does AMAZING work. The airplane is actually edible – made out of molded chocolate! I bought this cute take-apart airplane toy and used it as a table decoration along with the favor boxes. I got super lucky and found this outfit by Le Top on sale online. There are plenty of airplane shirts out there; I just loved that I found one in the party colors (yes, I am that ridiculous).

Need more ideas for your own airplane party? Check out my Pinterest board just for planes. I made the boarding pass invitations and favor tags myself; email me if you want the art and I’ll send it to you. I stuffed the favor boxes with little foam airplane flyers and gave each kid Richard Scarry’s “Day at the Airport” book. I also made some paper airplanes from a template that’s in Microsoft Word and set those out with crayons but it was so windy that nobody could really do that. The kids just wanted to play on the playground and watch the planes. They were plenty entertained!

 

 

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posted under DIY, Etsy love | 10 Comments »

Sweetheart Candy Wreath

February1

I’ve gone Valentine’s Day mad. I’ve decided that it’s my favorite holiday (it’s all about LOVE, after all!) and I’m decorating the house like it’s a pink Christmas. So far, I’ve made the yarn wreath and this sweetheart wreath. I have a few other ideas up my (pink) sleeves so keep an eye out on the blog or Facebook page. If you want to get an idea what I’m up to, follow my DIY/craft board on Pinterest.

This is another embarrassingly easy craft. We got a tiny styrofoam wreath form at Michael’s and spray painted it red. I poured some glue onto a paper plate and let my 3 year old glue Sweetheart candy all over the front. While he napped, I glued them around the sides, which proved to be a bit tricky (some of them slid off). If you’re patient and don’t mind holding the slippery ones a few seconds, this will work fine. If you want them to stick the first time, use your glue gun.

That’s it! Tie a little ribbon and hang.

This post is part of the Works for Me Wednesday series. For more great tips, check out WeAreThatFamily.

 

 

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I Did It Again

January28

I liked the turquoise yarn wreath so much that I decided to make a pink one for Valentine’s Day. Same as before, only this time I used a green Styrofoam form; it wasn’t as messy as the one I used before which flaked off everywhere. Also the one I used before was straight around the outer edge; this one was round which made for a tighter yarn finish. I spray painted it pink first just in case there was some wreath showing after I wrapped it. And this time, I wrapped the yarn around TWICE which also gave it a more finished look. I found these ADORABLE felt flowers on Etsy – the petals are heart shapes – and glued them on with hot glue. I debated wrapping the whole thing with ribbon but texted my friend, Ally, who said she preferred it plain. I used six flowers and doubled them up.

I’m kind of loving it!

SPRAY PAINTING THE WREATH OUTSIDE

WREATH, YARN, FELT FLOWERS, GLUE GUN - SIMPLE TO DO!

HAND MADE FELT FLOWERS FROM ETSY SELLER DOGWOOD CORNER

 

I THOUGHT ABOUT ADDING RIBBON BUT DECIDED AGAINST IT

THE FINISHED PRODUCT

 

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Recycle Your Baby’s Favorite Shirts into Awesome Wall Art

January4

BEFORE:

AFTER:


Y’all know about my Zutano obsession (if not, read here, here and here). As Hunter outgrew these cute clothes, I gave many beloved Zutano outfits to friends but held back a few that I just couldn’t part with for sentimental reasons. I have heard of some people turning their children’s clothing into a quilt but I can’t sew. I can, however, use a staple gun. I went and bought some small canvases at an art supply store, cut up my son’s shirts and pulled them around the back of the canvas and stapled them in place. And voila! Instant wall art.

Supplies

  • 5″x5″ canvases (on sale for around $2.50/ea) – if your shirts are really small, you might need 4×4″ frames
  • staple gun with 1/4″ staples
  • beloved/favorite shirts
  • You could also do this with leggings/pants/dresses. I contemplated using a variety of shapes and sizes of canvases, which I think would be cute, too.

Cut out the cutest part of the pattern of the shirt. Hold it on the front of the canvas while you pull one side to the back. Staple in place. Move to the OPPOSITE side of the canvas and pull the fabric down. Take a look and make sure you have the fabric pattern situated the way you want (stripes might be crooked so now’s your chance to straighten them out). Staple. Then do the other sides, folding the corners back like you’re wrapping a present. There’s no great way to do the corners. I stapled and cut away some of the excess fabric so the canvases would hang flat.

Simple DIY Wall Art Using Outgrown Shirts     

     

ANOTHER "BEFORE" - THEN "AFTER"

It took about an hour to do six shirts. I love looking at my little memory wall. Each outfit reminds me of those early (hazy) days of parenthood.

This is part of the Works for Me Wednesday series, hosted by We Are THAT Family. Great tips there!

 

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I’m Not Crafty but I Made This Wreath! (Works for Me Wednesday)

December21

Sooo . . . I saw these beautiful yarn wreaths on Etsy. Loved the vibrant colors and simple, modern aesthetic. Figured, what the heck, I’ll bet I can make that! And you know what? Turns out I can!

I didn’t take pictures in progress but it’s really simple. You need:

  • Styrofoam wreath core (messy)
  • One skein of yarn (you’ll have lots left so get a small one)
  • Hot glue
  • A silk flower – or make your own flower with paper or felt

That’s it. Pop your butt on the couch and watch “The Sing-Off” or something that doesn’t require you to look up constantly. Start wrapping the wreath with the yarn. Took me about 2 hours total and the yarn got a little . . . sideways but I think it looks fine. When you’re finished, glue the end in the back. Then take your flower – if you’re using a fake one like I did, just cut it off so there’s only about an inch of stem, jam it in the wreath, pull it back out, put some hot glue in the hole, then stick the flower back in.

That’s it. I like the results so much I might try other color combos. I’m feeling the need for pink right now . . .

This post is part of the Works for Me Wednesday series. For more great tips, check out WeAreThatFamily.

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