Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sneaky Spinach

I'm on a kick to try new recipes. This shouldn't be a problem since any recipe I could possibly want is just a mouse click away, along with reviews and advice on how to make the dish perfect. The problem is finding dishes that both John and I will eat. He's pretty much a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy (and sushi, too, oddly enough). I generally hate anything that's green and plant-like. Oh, and green beans. They taste like little chewy dirt capsules.

Unless Amelia inherits my wacked out taste buds (and if she does I promise not to force her to eat things that repulse her), I want her to grow up eating vegetables. In order for this to happen, I have to (A) serve vegetables and (B) eat them myself since I don't subscribe to the "do as I say, not as I do" school of parenting.

So that leads us to tonight's experiment: Monterey spaghetti casserole. It has spinach in it which by itself I despise. However, mixed with cheese (lots of cheese) I can get it down.

1 egg
1 cup sour cream (I used a little extra since I had it and it's almost out of date)
1/4 grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups of shredded Monterey jack cheese (also used a little extra of this since I LOVE cheese)
8 oz pack of spaghetti, cooked (unsalted) and drained (recipe called for thin but I used regular)
1/2 bag of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and dried thoroughly

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil water for spaghetti. While you wait, mix egg, sour cream, Parmesan and garlic powder. Add Monterey jack. Stir.

Thaw spinach and add to bowl. Stir.

Cook spaghetti. Drain and add hot noodles. Mix.

Lightly spray 8 x 8 casserole dish. Pour in mixture and bake for 30 minutes.

My thoughts:

John and I both liked this dish. Very cheesy and rich. I forgot to take a picture of the dish since I was starving and was busy stuffing my face as soon as it came out of the oven.

I liked the spaghetti, but I'm going to try it again but with a different pasta. Maybe farfalle or some penne lisce. I actually think I may add more spinach next time since I could barely taste it (even though I hate squeezing the water out of it because raw spinach smells unholy to me and I swear I still smell it on my hands). The only problem I had with this dish is that once it sets out for even 10-15 minutes, the cheese cools and gets "goopy." If you make this and go back for seconds, pop it in the microwave.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Emergency Cookies

When I heard about this recipe, I thought that there was NO WAY these cookies would be edible. Turns out, they're pretty darn good. And the best part is I almost guarantee that you'll have these ingredients on hand at any time. They are truly "emergency cookies," the perfect cookie for when you have a sudden craving or for when you suddenly remember that you signed up for the potluck in one hour.


  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (if you don't have brown, the original recipe actually calls for 1 cup of sugar so you can substitute)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (or 1/2 T. of self-rising flour)
Preheat oven to 325.
Mix peanut butter and both sugars until smooth. Add egg, vanilla and soda and mix until well blended (don't overmix, though, or your cookies will be tough)

Roll dough into 2-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Press cookies lightly with fork in criss-cross pattern.

Bake 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before removing from cookie sheet.

The cookies are very "peanut buttery" and are on the chewy side. I would have never known they weren't "real" cookies if I'd eaten them without knowing the recipe.

Simple Quiche

Last night, I decided to make a quiche. Since I haven't made one before, I didn't want to try anything too fancy, so I used a very basic recipe

I didn't have a quiche/tart pan, so I just used a plain pie pan. I also used a refrigerated crust (though I didn't have much of a choice--I realized that I don't have a rolling pin!)

While I preheated the oven at 375, I cooked some sausage. While it was cooking, I beat four eggs and stirred in 1 1/2 cup of milk and 1 1/2 cup of mild shredded cheddar. I also added some salt and a little Cavendar's seasoning (since John doesn't eat black pepper).

Once the sausage finished, I drained it and crumbled it into very small pieces. I added it to the egg mixture.

I put the pie crust in the oven for five minutes and then removed it and poured in the egg mixture. I baked it for about 30-35 minutes until it was set.

It turned out pretty good. We ate it with some grapes and apple slices and some leftover biscuits from Sunday that I wrapped in foil and stuck in the oven with the quiche.

I cut another piece today and warmed it in the oven for a late breakfast. It was even better than last night.
Think I'm going to try it again with spinach and a different type of cheese, maybe feta or Swiss. Possibly add some bacon in place of the sausage.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sweet Amelia

It's October and Amelia is almost three months old. I'm already having a hard time remembering what life was like without her. I've spent many years loving other people's children. I've loved my friends and family's children and I've loved my students. But nothing--nothing--could have prepared me for what I feel when I look at my daughter. Now that I'm not sleep deprived, I want to start writing more about her. Before I had her, I said, "My blog is not going to become 'mommy central.'" Yeah... about that...

Tonight when I gave Amelia a bath, John said he couldn't believe how much of the tub she fills up now. It's like that with everything: her bassinet, her swing, even that damned car seat that has become the bane of our existence (but that's another story). She even wore a 3-6 month outfit yesterday. I was just so sure it would be too big, but I wanted to try it on her since it has a pumpkin on it. As I snapped those little buttons and realized that there was almost no spare material, I had tears in my eyes. My baby girl looked at me and grinned her big toothless grin as if to say, "It's okay, Momma. I'm still pretty little."

She's growing every day it seems. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and look at her lying there beside me, and I swear she looks different than she did the night before. It's as if some fairy sprinkled magical dust over her while we were sleeping. She's picking up new things so quickly. One morning I put her on her playmat and spent a good half hour rattling the toys and trying by best to get her to grasp the little rings. By lunch, I was standing in kitchen and heard a commotion from the living room. There she was with both hands clutching rings, shaking the hell out of the entire baby gym while kicking both legs in the air. Now I have to pry her little fingers off of the rings sometimes or we carry the entire playmat with us to the nursery.

Every day I'm amazed at how much more my heart swells. I tell her if I love her any more, I may just explode. And the closer I get to my sweet Peanut, the more I find that every aspect of my life has changed. Even watching a movie is a totally different experience. I sat down today to watch My Sister's Keeper. I wasn't incredibly interested in watching it, but since I'd read the book I thought I'd give it a shot. Note to self: NO MORE MOVIES ABOUT SICK KIDS. While I've always been one to cry when I watch something sad (especially when children are involved), being a mother has unleashed an entirely new wave of emotions. I cried and I sobbed and I heaved and I cried some more. And when it was over, I didn't put Amelia down for over an hour. I cried over her and talked to her and promised her that I'd do everything I could to make her happy and to keep her safe. I told her that she would never be alone as long as I'm on this earth. I told her she's beautiful and how complete she's made me.

And it started with a movie. A movie with Cameron Diaz, for Pete's sake!

I am crazy about my little girl. At one point in my life, I said IF I ever had kids, I hoped it was a boy. I was terrified at the thought of having a little me running around. And while I would have been just as happy and blessed if God had given me a little man, I am so thankful that I get the chance to raise a daughter. I swear sometimes I cannot stop staring at her. I'm glad you can't creep out a baby. I can't stop, though. I sit and stare at her like I'm afraid I'll forget what she looks like. And I know she's my child and I'm biased, but she is gorgeous. I wonder sometimes how something so beautiful came from me. She's her daddy made over which makes me happy. I love looking into her face and seeing him looking back at me. But even though she looks nothing like me, sometimes I feel I'm looking in a mirror. Does that make sense?
I could write more, but it's terribly late and there's a chance Little One will get up with the proverbial chickens. It's okay, though. I've always hated mornings, but I'm finding myself excited now since I start every day with her.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Three Minute Ficton

NPR has been running "three-minute ficton" contests. Entries cannot exceed 600 words and this particular contest required the stories to begin with "Some people swore that the house was haunted" and end with "Nothing was ever the same again after that." I STRUGGLED with the word limit. I decided to write the story and then whittle it down. When I finished, I was just certain I was only a tad over the limit. Nope. I had over 900 words. I'm not happy with the story since I had to cut so much, but considering I wrote it while I was a completely sleep-deprived new mother, I don't think it's too awful.   

Some people swore that the house was haunted. During the summer of ’91, my friends and I were consumed by our quest to sneak in and witness one of the fabled apparitions. Determined to start sixth grade with stories of the supernatural, we spent countless hours plotting how the three of us might escape the nighttime confines of our homes and the watchful eyes of overprotective parents.
It was an oppressively hot Tuesday toward the end of June when Clay decided it was time for the three of us to “grow a pair” and just blatantly sneak out. No grand plan necessary.

At 10:20, I threw on a pair of black jeans and a Bears t-shirt, gathering courage to slide my bedroom window open. I was halfway across the lawn when the flood lights illuminated me in all my rebellious glory. I turned toward the house, defeated.
Minutes later I was sitting in our breakfast nook, explaining to my father why he must let me go. He didn’t even begin to understand our fascination with the haunted house; in fact, he was more displeased with my destination than with my actual sneaking out.

“Going inside that house is breaking and entering, Jake. You could be arrested. And ghosts? Spirits? It’s not even Biblical, son. You and I both know what happens when we die. Haven’t I taught you better?”

He reached toward the counter and picked up his worn copy of the New King James, thumbing through it as I continued my appeal. I begged him to understand how much a venture inside of the house would elevate my status among my peers. Wearily, he closed the Bible, his finger still marking whatever New Testament book he’d been browsing. I lapsed into defeated silence, preparing to accept my punishment. He met my eyes across the table and sighed.

“If it’s that important to you, then you can go. But I go, too.”

I considered how many cool points I’d lose if dad chaperoned our late night outing and reasoned that I’d rather be marginally cool than not at all.

Clay and Whit glared at me as dad and I arrived at the rendezvous point. I mumbled an apology, explaining what had happened. Clay rolled his eyes but started walking toward the haunted house.

While walking around to the back door, I glanced at dad, suddenly realizing that he was about the break the law. For me. He caught my eye and the corner of his mouth turned up slightly.

Once inside, Whit turned on his flashlight. The floor was littered with empty cans, the walls tagged with anarchy symbols and a giant orange “666.”

“Okay boys, you’ve got half an hour to find your ghost. Don’t make me come find you.”

Twenty minutes later, we were thoroughly bored and completely disappointed, having seen nothing scarier than a dressmaker’s dummy on the third floor that creeped Whit out.

Dad was waiting for us outside the back door.

On the way home, he was quiet and spared us a lecture. He never even said “I told you so.”

It was after midnight when I went to the kitchen to sneak a soda. At the table sat my father, his Bible open, hands clenched in prayer. His body shook slightly as he quietly wept. Between sobs, I heard him mumble broken pieces of Psalm 23.


He jumped, hitting the light above the table and knocking his chair over.

He turned toward me, his eyes wild with terror, his face locked in a silent scream.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Mother and Child by Ronnie Biccard
Every time she saw the girl, Harlene Johnson would say a silent prayer to Lord Jesus to give her the strength to smile and keep her mouth shut.

“Mornin’ Missus Johnson.”

Strength, Lord, Harlene thought. Just give me strength. “Good mornin’ to you, too. How’s your momma and daddy doing?”

“Oh, fair to middlin’. They’re worried sick about Frank, Jr., but I keep telling Momma that the Lord will deliver him back home to us.”

‘Cause you and the Lord are real close, I’m sure. You know how he loves lying little tramps.

“Well please tell them both they’re in my thoughts and prayers. Junior, too.”

Harlene breathed a sigh of relief as the young woman smiled, nodded and flitted off to greet a group of her school friends.

Lord knows they need prayers with a son off in war and a daughter like you.

Harlene could feel the lines in her forehead deepening and her cheeks growing flush. Her hands began to shake.

I’m sorry, Lord. Please forgive me for my hateful thoughts.

She took a deep breath and ran her hands down the front of her jumper right as Lorraine Booth approached from across the fellowship hall.

“Why Lorraine, hon, did you get a wave in your hair?


It was quarter to one by the time Harlene left church. She knew Emmit would be waiting outside for her when she arrived home. A small part of her dreaded seeing her son, which in turn brought a twinge of shame. But Harlene occasionally allowed herself the indulgence of resenting her son, justifying her feelings with thoughts of all she’d done for him.

As she turned onto Mullins Street, she could see Emmit standing in the yard. Her sister-in-law, Tallie, was sitting in an old metal folding chair with a bowl in her lap, undoubtedly breaking beans or shelling peas.

Emmit ran to the carport, waiting for Harlene to pull up. Before she could even get the emergency break set, her son had the door open and was pulling at his mother’s sleeve.

“Momma, did you go to the Lord’s house? Did you go there, go there today?”

Harlene forced a smile as she got out of the grey Chevette.

“Yes, dear. You know I go to church on Sunday mornings.”

“But Momma, you didn’t get me up. You didn’t get me up for the Lord’s house. How do I get to heaven without going to the Lord’s house? I need to go, Momma.”

“Emmit, the Lord will understand if you aren’t there. He knows you love him in your heart of hearts. We’ve talked about this. We talk about this every Sunday.”

“I know, Momma, but I love to hear the choir sing and putting my money in the plate. And I want to go and do the talking back to the preacher.”

“It’s called responsive reading, Emmit, not talking back. And you’ll get to go back. Just not now. We gotta wait ‘til September.”

“Why September, Momma?”

‘Cause that’s when she leaves this town.

“That’s when the worst of the heat is over. You know how bad the heat makes you feel, hon.”

“They has fans at church, Momma. They has fans. I’ve always managed to be nice and cool.”

Harlene suddenly felt very tired. And very old.

“Emmit, no more talk of this. We read our Bibles every night and your Aunt Tallie plays hymns for you all the time. You’re getting enough church at home right now. The Lord’ll understand if you ain’t there on Sunday morning.”

“But Momma, that’s the only place I get to see her…”

Harlene winced at the word “her.”

“Dammit, Emmit, that is enough!” she snapped, instantly regretting both her words and her tone as Emmit flinched and backed away from her. He dropped his head and made his way to the porch, past Tallie and her bowl. She watched his lanky frame disappear into the house.

Harlene closed the door of the car and walked toward the house. As she climbed the three stairs up the porch, Tallie kept her eyes on the peas in her bowl as she spoke.

“Har, you gotta take that boy back to church. You can’t keep him locked up here forever.”

“I will take him back. But not ‘til school starts.”

“You gonna have to forgive that girl ‘ventually, Harlene. Lord don’t like us to harbor hatred. Makes our very hearts hard.”

“It’s not hatred,” Harlene snapped. “I’m just protectin’ my son. My only son.”

She opened the screen door and glanced over her shoulder at her dead husband’s sister.

“’Sides, that girl ain’t yet to ask for forgiveness.”


Maxine McCalahan was seventeen when she married Louis Bethune, a twenty-year-old farmer’s son who convinced Max to cross state lines, lie about her age and become Mrs. Bethune. She was pregnant before her eighteenth birthday and gave birth to the first of four children in the spring of 1944.

The baby, a girl, was named in honor or her great grandfather, Harlow Bethune. Louis took one look at his new daughter and fell head over heels in love.

Harlene was as good a baby as anyone could want—-sweet natured and independent. She rarely cried and seemed just as content in her crib as in the arms of her mother.

It got around town quickly that Maxine Bethune was suffering from a bad case of the baby blues. Louis had confided to his mother that Max didn’t seem to like to hold the baby and that he would often come in from the fields to find Harlene in her crib, his wife sitting on the back porch smoking a cigarette and crying. Ella Bethune, who disliked Maxine solely for being born a McCalahan, made a point to share this news with her hairdresser, sewing circle and her Sunday school class.

Maxine’s bout with the blues lasted longer than the usual few days. Six weeks after his daughter’s birth, Louis found himself doing the largest share of feeding and changing. He would return from work to find a hungry—but oddly quiet—Harlene in her crib, her diaper soaked and soiled.

Then one day when he came home for lunch, Harlene was lying on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket. Maxine was nowhere to be found. She didn’t arrive home for almost three hours.

As she walked through the door, Louis, holding their sleeping daughter to his chest, could not contain his anger.

“What the Sam Hill do you call yourself doing, leaving our baby alone?”

“Louis, calm down ‘fore you wake her up. I just had errands to run. Now move if you will, I need to soak awhile.”

“Errands? What errands? What was more important than watching after our daughter?”

“You’re blowin’ this way out, Louis. I fed her ‘fore I left. Not like she’s gonna get into anything anyway. She can’t even roll over yet.”

“What if somethin’ had happened? A… a fire, or somethin’?”

“There wasn’t no fire. Nothin; happened. She’s fine. I’ll bet she slept the whole time.”

As she breezed past him, removing her coat and tossing it on the sofa, Louis fought the urge to grab his wife. He wanted to shake her and scream at her for leaving their child alone, helpless. He took a deep breath and addressed her as she made her way to their bedroom.

“God only knows who saw you out there, Maxine. Don’t you think they were wonderin’ where the baby was? What are they gonna say?”

When she turned on him, there was fire in her eyes, but not the fire she had lacked since the baby’s delivery. It was anger as fierce as his own. She took a step toward him, her thumbs clenched inside her fists.

“I don’t give a good goddamn what they say!”

Louis sucked in a breath and stepped back. He wasn’t sure whether it was Max’s anger or the blasphemy she had never even uttered before that rocked him most. He took in a shaking breath and stepped back, setting the baby down on the couch.

He met her eyes and cautiously chose his tone.

“I don’t understand, Maxine. I don’t understand why you’re doing this. She’s just a little baby—“ His voice broke. “Our little baby. Why don’t you wanna take care of her?”

Maxine stopped but didn’t turn around. She felt like a bubble, ready to burst if blown any bigger. She knew better than to tell her husband the real reason she didn’t take care of the baby.

Maxine hated her new responsibilities, even more than she’d hated being pregnant. She hadn’t wanted to have a child, but being young and motherless since the age of six, she had no knowledge of how to prevent it. She had hated the way her body expanded and the lines it left in her soft skin. She hated the mornings spent leaning over a bucket, throwing up until she dry heaved. And as she lay with her legs spread on the delivery table and writhed in pain, she had secretly sworn this would be her first and last.

Now she hated all of the late night feedings and disgusting diapers. She hated the sour smell on her clothes from where the baby spit up. She hated being stuck at home all day with no one to talk to, her schedule dictated by someone else.

But mostly, she hated the way her husband stared at this child like it held the secrets of life. She hated how he no longer kissed her deeply when he arrived home. She hated the way he ran his fingers across the baby’s cheek.

The baby. She was sick and tired of the baby. She was tired of hearing about the baby and talking about the baby and even looking at the baby. All Louis cared about was that little lump of a human.

“I am going to soak for awhile, Louis. We can talk about this when you simmer down.”

As she shut the bedroom door and began to undress, she could hear her husband weeping in the next room, his sobs punctuated by occasional words.

“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

Never, not even when he’d been angry enough to raise a hand to her, had Louis apologized to Maxine. Could it be he finally realized how little attention he’d paid his wife? Did he possibly understand how lonely and unhappy she was?

Maxine crept to the door, cracking it open just enough to see her husband sitting on the couch. Harlene, awake now, was across his lap, her eyes gazing up into his face. As he rocked, his tears fell into her pink baby blanket.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

And then, in an almost whisper, “Don’t worry. Daddy will take care of you. Daddy will always take care of you.”

Maxine shut the door. Her lips parted, trying to form around a word.

Lost, she said, though no sound came from her lips.

I have lost.


“Now Harlene, I need you to listen and listen good. I know it hurts, I know you’re scared, but you must keep breathing, must keep pushing!”

Harlene shook her head and bit her lip hard enough to draw blood.

“I want Sam!” she bellowed. “Get him in here now!”

The nurse cooed and pushed Harlene’s hair from her face.

“Now Missus Johnson, you know we don’t allow the men back here. We’re trying to spare them from seeing all of this.”

“Sp-spare him? He ain’t a fool! Get him back here! I need him, don’t you see that? I need him!”

The doctor and nurse glanced at one another, their eyes drifting to the nurse across the room, diligently working on the child Harlene had just delivered. The doctor nodded his head toward the door.

“But Doctor Wilson, we—“

”Hush. Just go get the father.”

Better he see us in here trying to save that baby, he thought.

The nurse hurriedly left the room.

“Harlene, I need a couple good pushes to get this baby out. Can you do that for me?”

Harlene sobbed from both exhaustion and fear. She was yet to hear a sound from her firstborn child. Sam burst through the door, ahead of the nurse, and rushed to Harlene’s side.

“I’m here, Har, I’m here now. Shh, I’m here.”

“You have to get her to push, Sam. A couple more pushes and we’ll have the other one delivered.”

Sam took Harlene’s hand in his but looked at the doctor.

“Other one? You mean one’s been born? Where is it? I don’t hear no crying, Doc!”

Harlene wailed and pulled at her hair as she was struck by both a contraction and the reality she would soon face. The doctor pushed away from the table and dropped his head. He spoke without looking up.

“We delivered one, Sam. They’re working on him, doing all they can do. But we can’t forget about the other one. I need her to push.”

Sam turned to his wife and took her other hand in his own.

“Look at me, Harlene. Look right here in my eyes.”

Harlene locked eyes with her husband, clutching his hands hard enough to breakt them. Sam began to take deep breaths, occasionally whispering, “It’s gonna be fine” and “You can do this.” Soon she was doing the same. Within a few short moments, she was calmer. A look of determination returned to her face, her impending sorrow momentarily forgotten.

“I’m ready,” she said quietly. “I can do this.”

In took only two hard pushes for the tiny life inside Harlene to enter the bright, cold delivery room.

“Please breathe,” she heard the doctor saying. “Please, God, please breathe.”

Suddenly a squall pierced the air as the newborn spent his first breath making known his arrival.

“Thank God!” one of the nurses shouted.

Thank God, Harlene thought, as exhaustion took over and she lost consciousness.