Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thanksgiving, Clower Style

In case you haven't picked it up by reading this blog, let me just tell you flat-out that my family is goofy. We are weird and dorky and we love each other very, very much. My dad was career Air Force, so we moved around a lot when I was a kid. My mom is originally from Montana, my dad was born in Arizona but his parents are from Maryland, I was born in California, and my brother was born in Montana. Throughout the years, the closest we've ever lived to any of our immediate family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, & cousins) was when I was 3 and my brother was a newborn, and we were still four hours away from our grandparents. It was only natural that we'd grow to be an extremely close nuclear family, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

So here's a belated Thanksgiving post, heavy on the pictures, serving up a snippet of "Why I love my family."

Come Thanksgiving, my dad insists we refer to him
as "The Mashed Potato Maven."
Since I was five or six, our family has always played a "Turkey Bowl" touch-
football game on Thanksgiving morning with our friends and family.

Recognize that foil? Ooh yeah, it's mimosa time at the football game!

My mom's delicious cranberry-almond mini-muffins.

Fun fact: my mom prefers salty to sweet any day, but she LOVES marshmallows.

My brother is a "traceur"--he free-runs/does parkour. This means he's usually
on top of something of which people aren't usually on top.
My fingers were stained red from the annual making of Cranberry Jell-O Salad,
which requires mushing crushed pineapple and whole-berry cranberry
sauce into a pan of partially-set red Jell-O. 

Another wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. I couldn't imagine it anywhere else.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Snowflake Ballerinas" -- a simple craft

Initially, I saw this craft on Pinterest and followed the link to this page. I took the ballerina template but used a couple of the snowflake templates from the "mom" version. My first thought was "NUTCRACKER DECORATIONS!"

Here's what they'll look like, if you don't screw everything up TOO terribly. They are beautiful and wonderful to hang on your ceiling fan because they distract your guests from the globby dust all over the fan blades (which, y'know, you probably could wipe off BEFORE hanging these princesses everywhere, but that would require forethought and who has THAT?). Your house will be a winter wonderland and you all will have ME to thank. You're welcome in advance.

Gather your ingredients. Or supplies. Is that what they call them in the craft world? Anyway, ingredients:
Rumchata & hot chocolate (see below)

Step #1: create your ballerina. Trace; cut.

I'd already gone through the process of hanging my other ballerinas before
deciding to blog about the craft, hence the ribbon.

Step #2: create your snowflake.
 2a: take your printer paper and cut it into a square.
Pictured: fold; cut. Save the stub for small snowflakes.

Step 2b: fold your triangle into a triangle the other way.
Like this.

Step 2c: uh, make like a pyramid?thing? 

Easiest way that I can [think of to] describe this: hold your square in front of you, square-shaped. Then fold it backwards in half horizontally while poking the vertical sides in to the middle.
It should look like this from the bottom.

I hope that makes sense. Then squish it flat.

It should look like this when all is said and done:

Step 2somethingorother: fold it into thirds. This step will be a bitch, I'm sorry to say. Just try your best. It may take some experimentation to get it right.

It should end up looking like a spaceship from one end and a cute pointy fox head from the other end. Now you're going to maul that cute little fox head, but before you do, you need to take a break to build up your courage.

Step 3 or something: Go get your Rumchata and hot chocolate and make yourself a nice little Rumchacolate (copyright pending).
It helps if you drink it out of a grumpy-gummy-bear coffee mug.
Step ___: Shear the ears right off your li'l fox's head.

Start cutting...

Open it up and put your ballerina through the middle...

and then watch the "Sisters" scene in White Christmas, because it's the best. (But make sure you also watch the OTHER "Sisters" scene, because it's actually even better.)

Pictured: the reason I like crafting during the holidays. CHRISTMAS MOVIES.
Also, be jealous of my vintage tree topper that I got for $1.99 at the Salvation
Army, and which my mom and Spencer fixed for me.
At some point, loop a piece of ribbon through your ballerina's arms and then suspend her somewhere. Or don't. It's up to you.

Obligatory cat picture.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Easy-peasy closet organization!

This is such a simple tactic that I'm ashamed I didn't bite the bullet earlier. Our coat closet was stuffed full of scarves, hats, and gloves (or "glubs," in the Clower colloquial), and my "running bag" was packed with bandannas, headbands, extra [snot-covered] glubs, and the like. It was frustrating to find anything, and it hasn't even gotten especially cold yet!

So, I nipped over to the housewares department at Walmart and for something like $7.98, I got an over-the-door shoe pocket organizer...and it transformed the coat closet almost instantaneously. First, the "before" pictures:
Running stuff, which was all muddled together in a bag or
tossed on the kitchen table
Crap on the top shelf (box of more stuff fit in that gap on the right,
and is shown below)
A bunch of cold-weather gear was shoved in a box, and Spencer's
scarves were bundled together. Have you noticed that at least one
in every set of my household pictures must include at least one cat?

A total of maybe 10 minutes of sorting, rolling, and tucking produced the lovely "after" pictures:

My running bag now has only my essentials in it; that blue plastic box is all emptied and tucked away in storage; Spencer and my's scarves are readily available. I love opening that closet now! What a difference that simple organizer made.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Bagel Thins

Okay you guys, guess what new deliciousness I found! The answer...well, it's the title of this post, so that wasn't a great way to start. Anyway:

Thomas makes yummy bagel thins that are only 3 PPV apiece. Since a normal bagel usually runs about 6 PPV, this is very obviously a bargain. I was home over Thanksgiving (in Oklahoma) when my mom and I went to Walmart and found these (limited edition) Pumpkin Spice suckers, and boy were they yummy! (I have yet to find them in Nebraska, though.)

Partner them with some 1/3 Less Fat Laughing Cow Cream Cheese wedges (cinnamon flavored, of course) and you have yourself some bona fide deliciousness with a very reasonable total of 4 PPV.

And of course, feel free to sprinkle some cinnamon-sugar on top for a pretty little accent, and steal your mom's Thanksgiving decorations to use as set dressing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Terribly delicious recipe of the day: PEANUT CLUSTERS

Peanuts and chocolate are pretty much the ideal combination. Salty and sweet and chocolaty and tooth-rottingly good.

If you're nodding emphatically with the above two sentences, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven when I introduce you to a Clower family holiday favorite: peanut clusters. 

"But wait!" I can hear some of you exclaiming. "I see peanuts and I see chocolate chips, but what are the other brown things there?" (Or maybe you're not exclaiming that at all. Maybe you just thought they were some more peanuts. In that case, you should kindly bugger off, because that is NOT the proper ratio of chocolate chips to peanuts, and we don't want your kind 'round these parts. For those of you who WERE wondering, please continue reading. You're in for a treat.) Well, my friend, those are what make our peanut clusters so incredibly addictive: the secret ingredient, butterscotch chips.

4 cups chocolate chips (2 11-oz bags)
1 cup butterscotch chips (1/2 11-oz bag)
24 oz dry-roasted peanuts
cocaine (okay, okay, just kidding.)

Nuke, stir, clump, eat.

Fiiiine, more detailed directions
Cue the mouth-watering.
Simply combine 4 cups of chocolate chips and 1 cup of butterscotch chips  in a microwave-safe bowl. Nuke them for one minute and stir, then nuke and stir at increments of 30 seconds until all the lumps stir out.

(If you've never melted chocolate chips before, this is an important step. Chips don't want to give up their shape on their own. You can nuke them for five minutes and they'll still look like chips if you don't stir them, but that'll scorch them to heck and you don't want that. Make sure you stir!) 

Once you have your smooth delicious bowl of melted chocolate and butterscotch, taste-test it. Perhaps with a soup-spoon. Then stir in 24 ounces of dry-roasted peanuts and glump your clusters by rounded spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Feel free to make them as large or as small as you like: my mom and I prefer smaller clusters, so that we can eat more clusters without feeling AS guilty. Freeze, refrigerate, or otherwise let harden, then snarf as if your life depends on it. Serves approximately fifteen (15) people, or one (1) girl on her period. (True story.)

And don't you dare ask me what the PointsPlus value is for these suckers. You, my friend, are a terrible person.

The Clowers prepping for Thanksgiving. I think Dad might have
been admonishing me for licking out the bowl. What was I
supposed to do, leave the leftover chocolate  to mourn the loss
of its departed brethren? I am not that kind of monster.

3 PPV Apple Crisp Oatmeal

Sometimes, I make these super delicious and easy recipes, get all excited about them...and realize that they're so simple and delicious that the whole world probably figured them out before me.

Such is the case with my Apple Crisp Oatmeal. I love oatmeal, but a bowl is never quite big enough to keep me full until lunch. Since I add bananas and peaches and other fruits to my cold cereal in the mornings to bulk it up, I figured I could do the same for my hot cereal.

I came upon the idea of cutting up an apple when I was eating a bowl of--wait for it--apple cinnamon oatmeal. Apples, in oatmeal? WHAAAT?! Enter my wonderful Apple-Corer-Peeler-Slicer.
This guy.

I actually have a couple of these, since my mom apparently buys me every one she finds at garage sales and thrift stores (much the same way I buy Sleepless in Seattle DVDs--I don't know why, but whenever I see one, I think "Ooh, Sleepless in Seattle! I need this!," conveniently forgetting the fact that I already own it about three times).

HANYWAY. I first apple-corer-peeler-sliced (yep, that's the verb form of that noun) an apple into my apple-cinnamon oatmeal, and it was pretty good. I stuck it in the microwave for three minutes, stopping every minute to stir, and added a little extra cinnamon at the end. Warm and filling!

One day, however, I realized I was out of my apple-cinnamon oatmeal packets and decided to use a packet of maple-brown-sugar oatmeal instead. (Note: for lower PPVs, I always use the "lower sugar" packs of oatmeal. The Walmart "Great Value" brand is just as good as Quaker.)

Corer-peeler-sliced apple + maple-brown-sugar oatmeal = APPLE CRISP HOMG I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING.

So. Damn. Good. I added some more cinnamon again, because why not? 

Check out my hoity-toity ceramic bowl. Moving up in the dishware world!
(We used to only have plasticware, but Spencer's brother handed some nicer
ceramic dishes off to us.)

PointsPlus value breakdown:
Apple: 0
Lower-sugar oatmeal: 3
Water: 0
Cinnamon: 0
This whole numtastic bowl only cost me 3 PPVs and kept me full until lunchtime! Nothing better than a nice hot, filling, delicious breakfast.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In which I lure you in with a picture of a kitty, and then present you with a demon...and something even worse

Aww, see? What a nice kitchie! She is the prettiest princess.

Here, have another!

Here, she's kinda doing a "WHATEVERRRRR MOM" slash "BLAH BLAH BLAH,"

...and here, she's preparing to eat your soul. But wait, it gets even worse!

Behold, the reason I brought you here:

Hahahahhahah ewwwwww. I know. I got a black toenail about three weeks ago, and I've vastly been enjoying watching its progression. Sorry to all of you who are normal people and don't take delight in gross bodily abnormalities.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

October Photo Challenge, Day 23: Dark

A dark (k)night, lent light by the fire and the nearly-full moon (right next to the girl on the right).

October Photo Challenge, Day 21: Air

I went for a bike ride with Spencer on a recent foggy day, and thought something along the lines of "Welp, this is one of the few days when one can actually SEE air."

October Photo Challenge, Day 20: Nature

This tree is right outside our porch door. I may hate colder weather, but MY do I love nature in the autumn.

Accents, Bill Bryson, and Audiobooks

I'm sure we can all agree that accents are important. Now, hear me out. I'm not trying to offend (although I normally do anyway), but what's the first thing you think when you hear a Southern accent?

If you said anything but "hick" (or maybe "a genteel Southern Belle drinking a mint julep on a wraparound porch," or I guess "Foghorn Leghorn" too), you're lying. I spent five years of my life in Oklahoma (and my family still lives there, the poor bastards), but I still associate "idiot" with a Southern accent. I do declare! Although I suppose there's a distinction between a Texas-southern-accent and a Mi'sippi-southern-accent, but we won't go into that here.

Okay, next test. How about a British accent?

SMART, right? That person is quite intelligent! He drinks tea and eats crumpets and could easily lecture you on the difference between Keynesian and classical economic theory (I think that's a thing?) while playing polo. Someone with a British accent (again, we're going to assume this is your typical Queen's-English British accent, and not cockney or something) just sounds smart.

Your basic American accent (a non-accent, from the Midwest) is just average. Can we all agree on that? That person is your Everyman (or -woman). They aren't a moron, yet they aren't overwhelmingly scholarly; they don't talk through their nose like Chicagoans or New Yorkers. They don't pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd or eat clam chowdah; deir friends aren't dere in da woodchipper, eh? Oh ya. 

This whole (overwhelmingly offensive, to those of you with your panties in a twist, I'm sure) discourse on accents is really just the prelude to my main point. Do any of you read Bill Bryson? He's a hilarious travel writer and a very intelligent man. He's from Iowa (your aforementioned "Midwest Everyman") and presents his stories within that frame of reference, so he's very relatable. He's travelled all across the world: his In a Sunburned Country is a comprehensive book on Australia, covering everything from the history of its discovery to what kinds of Ozzie flora and fauna will kill you (answer: all of them), all interspersed with a highly entertaining story of his extensive travels around the country/continent; A Walk in the Woods recounts his slog across the Appalachian Trail with a sublimely overweight companion (although it must be said that Bryson himself is not especially svelte). 

My history with Bryson began when I was probably 10 or so. I remember my mother sitting in the living room, laughing out loud, so hard that she was snorting and falling over on the couch. When I asked her what was so funny, she kinda clammed up and told me it was this book she was reading. I asked if I could read it. The answer was an emphatic "NO." Eventually, she decided that while most of his books were absolutely NOT child-appropriate, I'm a Stranger Here Myself--his collection of essays on returning to America after spending 20-some years in Britain--wouldn't scar me too irrevocably. And oh, my, gawdddd were they funny! My particular favorites dealt with his experiments with the garbage-disposal:
     "...there are certain things that are so wonderful in American life that I can hardly stand it myself. 
Chief among these, without any doubt, is the garbage disposal. A garbage disposal is everything a laborsaving device should be and so seldom is--noisy, fun, extremely hazardous, and so dazzlingly good at what it does that you cannot imagine how you ever managed without one. If you had asked me eighteen months ago what the prospects were that shortly my chief amusement in life would be placing assorted objects down a hole in the kitchen sink, I believe I would have laughed in your face, but in fact it is so. 
     ...Coffee grounds in quantity are the most likely to provide a satisfying 'Vesuvius effect,' though for obvious reasons it is best not to attempt this difficult feat until your wife has gone out for the day and to have a mop and stepladder standing by."

and his disdain for warning labels on everything, although he admits that he might need them sometimes:
     "...I went out to run two small errands--specifically, to buy some pipe tobacco and mail some letters. I bought the tobacco, carried it straight across the street to a mailbox, opened the lid, and deposited it. I won't tell you how far I walked before it dawned on me that this was not a 100 percent correct execution of my original plans.
     You see my problem. People who need labels on mailboxes saying 'Not for Deposit of Tobacco or Other Personal Items' can't very well smirk at others, even those who iron their chests or have to seek lathering guidance from a shampoo hotline.
     I mentioned all this at dinner the other night and was appalled to see the enthusiasm and alacrity with which all the members of the family began suggesting labels that would be particularly suitable for me, like 'Caution: When Door Says "Pull" It's Absolutely No Use Pushing' and 'Warning: Do Not Attempt to Remove Sweater Over Head While Walking Among Chairs and Tables.'"

and I actually used his essay entitled "Word Play" as a performance piece when I participated in Drama & Debate in 10th grade:
     "...Haggis, you see, is not a good word for a food--too sporty, too rakish--but it would be an ideal word for a piece of knitted headwear. ('Oh, Tom, you look so handsome in your new haggis.') Haggis simply doesn't sound like a food (but then, as anyone who has eaten haggis will know, it doesn't taste like a food either).
...Sometimes you wonder what they were thinking when they named a thing. Take the pineapple. If ever there was an object that was less like pine and less like an apple, and in nearly every respect, this surely must be it. Or grapefruit. I don't know about you, but if someone handed me an unfamiliar fruit that was yellow, sour, and the size of a cannonball, I don't believe I would say, 'Well, it's rather like a grape, isn't it?'"

(just reading these excerpts is making me laugh out loud.)

Eventually, I was allowed access to his whole collection and devoured them with gusto. Bryson doesn't limit himself to travel, though, but has also penned several fascinating tomes of science and history, notably his recent Home (dealing with the history of all manner of things we have in our houses), and the acclaimed A Short History of Nearly Everything, which covers the Big Bang, dinosaurs, genes, evolution, plate tectonics, and many, many other potentially dense and uninteresting topics. However, since he is your Midwest Everyman (if this phrase isn't already trademarked, I want the credit for it), his tone is light and informative, but never stifling or overly intellectual.

Enter A Short History of Nearly Everything: the Audiobook. I've become a huge fan of audiobooks, as my job requires a lot of driving and having books on my iPod is one of the few ways I entice myself into running as regularly as I do, and I was thrilled at the prospect of learning all kinds of things about our universe while simultaneously distracting myself from the overwhelming boredom of driving in the Plains states.

Remember our earlier discussion about accents? I forgive you if you don't, as that was quite a while ago at this point. I should cut down on my rambling in these posts. Anyway, Bryson is an American. The narrator of the audiobook is British.

FOR. THE. FAIL. Remember how Brits sound scholarly? If you give a Brit a book about many scholarly subjects, even if it's presented in an entertaining format, it will still sound like that guy playing polo and talking about economics. 

Take this excerpt (which is from the very first page of the book):
     "A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this 'i' can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.
     Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe."

 Imagine those paragraphs as spoken by your Everyman. Your thought process should be something like, "Wow! That's a lot of protons, huh? I sure am excited to hear how this building-of-a-universe goes. Let's continue!"

Now a Brit. The proper response is :HONK HONKKKKKKK:, as you have just fallen asleep at the wheel and narrowly avoided a collision. 

I don't really have a wrap-up statement, as I feel like I've made my point perfectly clear: Don't let Brits narrate interesting things. Also, go buy all of Bill Bryson's books, or at least check them out at the library. Just make sure that the narrator knows that "iguanodon" is pronounced "ig-wanna-don," and not "ih-goo-on-oh-don." (True story.)

October Photo Challenge, Day 26: New

The kitchies don't get to go outside very often, so this is a somewhat new experience for Kriegz0rz.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How to know for sure that your box of hand-me-down china came straight from your grandma's house in New Mexico

I present to you, the creepy-crawlies.

Yep, that's a mummified scorpion exoskeleton.
That was my cue to fetch some rubber gloves while unpacking the rest of the china. ...What's that? You want to see the rest of the china? Well, all right.

Is purty, na?
Of course, the kitchies had to help me unpack.

Stella is examining the garbage can...
...and the box of packing materials...
...with brother Krieg as an onlooker.
(I really like my new/old china.)