Monday, October 30, 2006

Things to Know If You Want to Throw a Halloween Party

People like toothpicks.

Specifically, people like food skewered with a toothpick. Even having toothpicks right by the dish isn't as good as having things already pierced. Which means either I have some lazy-azz friends, or there is some sort of psychological thing going on.

This year, one of the items I made was salami with pesto cream cheese. Some were layered and cut in wedges and toothpicked. Others were wrapped into a cone shape, with no toothpick, but a bowl of 'picks by them. The wedges disappeared first.

Other things to know:

It's all about eye-appeal, baby. One of the dishes that flopped was a cold curry chicken salad in wonton cups. Brown on brown. Those who tried it, raved. But the majority of folks didn't even pick one up. Next year: will add some chopped celery to the salad and put a couple of rings of green onion on top. If I do that one next year.

Plates will disappear at an alarming rate ... apparently you need 2 plates per person, which I did not plan on. A friend had to run out and buy more plates for me. Message for next time: Have some plain white plates stashed as a "just in case."

People love punch bowls. Drinks for the adults were in pitchers, and your standard juices-mixed-with-Sprite was in the punch bowl for the kids. It got hit on by both kids and adults, even those who weren't trying to avoid alcohol.

If you have great food laid out, people will assume that everything on the table is special. To whit: last year, I heated up a box of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for the kids. Many of the adults grabbed one. This year, on the title card, I put "Just for Kids." They still disappeared as soon as they were put out. Next year, three boxes.

And speaking of title cards ... using my computer and some card stock, I make fold over cards to put next to each dish, saying what it is, and whether it is vegetarian or vegan. It's great for the guests -- don't you hate not knowing what you're biting into? -- but even better, it allows me a way to lay out my table beforehand. And I don't have to worry that I've forgotten a dish, because the cards are there, waiting for their respective dish.

More thoughts and ideas later. I'm fighting a cold today, which is probably a direct result of not enough sleep or eating right last week. C'est la vie. Still worth it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Party Scene in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" ...

... is not too dissimilar from our annual Halloween party. Except ours has great food and a ton of children.

A great time. It was muddy outside and my house is tracked up with dirt, but hey, that's what vacuum cleaners and steam machines are for.

Gotta write down my notes for next year, some specific, some more philosophical ... "Make twice as many falafel balls. Have more whipped cream for the lava cakes. Find a good way to make new people feel more comfortable."

I am feeling good. Anthropomorphizing our house, she seems like a lover after a long night ... a bit tired, sore, and with smudged makeup, but a satisfied look on her face.

Funny moments include the mother of one of the kids's classmates asking, "How do you know all these people?" "Oh, different places, but the majority are from our church." "Church! Oooh," she teased, wagging a finger at her margarita.

I smiled. "We're Unitarians. We're not that kind of a church."

Which is one of the understatements of the night.

Another funny moment, from another parent of a classmate: "We had such a blast! Y'all throw a great party! We thought this was just going to be a kids' party!"

Will muse on how to word the invitation that goes home with the kids' classmates so that somehow it comes across that this is a grownups' party that the kids get to come to, not the other way around.

A question expressed more than once was: "Why do you do this?"

I can understand the question. Unless you're in college, or can hire a staff, these kinds of parties seem to have gone out of vogue, at least for those who are now parents.

I popped off several shallow answers, because the long answer is, well, too long. And navel-gazing.

We do this party because it affirms and symbolizes what The Husband and I value.

We value the family we've made, both as individual members and as a group. We value our friends, who have taught us more about being a friend than we ever knew. We value FUN ... we consider it a priority not to be pushed aside for clean carpet, or budget tightening, or all the little chores that keep us all so busy.

For us, this party is a case of us making a dream come true. It's part of our family identity.

There was a little girl, who had lovely parents, but they had already raised one set of kids, so they were in different phase of their life than her friends' parents. It was quiet, just the three of them, and sometimes the girl felt a bit lonely. She went to college and met a wonderful boy and they decided that they wanted to grow up together, and make a family with a bunch of kids, where everyone felt they were part of a family team. They wanted to have an annual event that everyone would look forward to, and be surrounded by a big circle of friends. They wanted their kids to bring their friends, and the friends' parents, so that everyone could get to know each other. So they did all that, and along the way, the not-so-little-now girl realized that she really loved feeding people and the now-a-man boy learned that he could make delicious drinks and those two talents contributed nicely to the party and made people say "ooh" and "ahh." And they found musician friends who brought their talents, and photographer friends who brought their talents, and just-plain-friends friends, who brought themselves, and that was plenty good.

And each year, the party gets a little different, as the children get older, and their circle of friends changes and grows. But it makes them happy, and it makes other people happy, and so far, it makes their kids happy.

And that's why we do it.

Postscript: Little Warrior can be renamed Little Party Girl as she was one of the last to sack out. She went from one set of arms to another, happily. When the karaoke broke out, she began to dance and apparently already knows how to shake her diaper-clad booty.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Do the right thing, get busted anyway

I can't remember if Maslow did another pyramid that referenced this, or who, but I remember learning about a pyramid for "why we do right."

At the top was something about, "because we know that to do right helps society as a whole, makes us better people, blah, blah, etc. etc.

At the bottom was, "afraid to get caught."

Both Lizard Eater and The Husband are there at the bottom. Perhaps we could achieve a higher part of the pyramid, except that we are bound to get busted. If LE were to say something bad about a person, you know who would walk up behind her. If The Husband were to ever do cocaine, he'd be the person you read about, where they say, "it was his first time, and he just dropped dead."

Now, we don't even have to do wrong.

The Husband was pulled over by an officer of the law. Reason: not wearing his seatbelt. Except he was. He wears it even if he's backing his car out of the driveway. It was obviously the truth, so the cop said, okay. But I need to see your license and insurance. The Husband gives his license, and fumbles for the insurance. Umm, umm, it's here somewhere. Cop takes license back to car. When he comes back, The Husband has found his insurance card. Too bad, says The Cop. You didn't have it when I asked for it. Here's your ticket.

No real big deal, since if you go to the courthouse and give proof of insurance, it's just a $10 fee. Plus the time to do it. And the time to get there. And ... and ...


You know, if we're going to get punished, even for not doing anything wrong ... hmmmm. That's it. I'm taking the tag off my mattress.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Pissed-Off Winnie-the-Pooh

This is why some adults refuse to dress up for a costume party.

Blame the mom.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Death sucks.

I know, that isn't very deep, and frankly, immature, not to mention, a poor use of what is normally an extensive vocabulary. And quite simplistic. And not in harmony with the circle of life.

Bite me.

LE is feeling mad. LE's parents' best friends were in a car accident Friday. Husband is hurt, wife died.

My parents are in their 70's, as are their friends. Having parents at this age, you worry about health. There's part of you that worries about that inevitable phone call .. the "there's a lump" or "there's a clot" or "they say it was a heart attack."

Not a car accident.

Death wouldn't be so bad, I said to The Husband, if it weren't so permanent. That's what I can't get my head around. My mom will never sit down with S----- again, having a martini, laughing uproariously.

I hate that I really, really understand "Both Sides Now" -- now. I hate that I had to find out that I really was "that person" -- the wide-eyed, naive, happy-go-lucky girl who saw rows and floes of angel hair -- and now, I'm not.

But I'm also not the daughter of S-----. My heart goes out to her.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Menu for a Halloween Party/Menu for Denial

First, thanks to all for your kind words. They sustained me.

Now, I want to think about the Halloween party. Not just because it's a week and a half away, but also because my brain and heart are hurting. Give with one hand, take away with another ... while we were celebrating the good news about LW, one of my close friends was asking her alcoholic husband to leave their house. It's sad and it's frustrating, because he's a lovely person. But he has the disease. She has to take care of herself and her children. I am feeling helpless because that's exactly what all of us are in this situation. All we can give is love. Sometimes, it's not enough.

So ... turning my thoughts to good times. Here is the preliminary menu, which will change a half a dozen times over the next week, as I try new recipes, find what works and doesn't, and run out of time.

Curry Chicken Salad in wonton cups
Salami/pesto cream cheese triangles
Marinated Tortellini-tomato-cheese skewers
New Mexico Roasted green chile tortilla rollups

Heart Attack Bites
Goat cheese Jalapenos/Vegetarian Goat Cheese Jalapenos
Garlic cheesy bread
Jezebel’s purses
Caramelized onion nachos
Jambalaya pockets

Queso Pigaterian Dip

Heart Attack Bites are the family-friendly euphemism for the real name of the dish, as popularized in the fourth Sweet Potato Queens book. They are awful! Disgusting! But delicious. And they will be the first thing gone at the party. I'm making three pans-full. You take some of those itty bitty cocktail sausages, and wrap each one in half a piece of bacon. You pack 'em in real tight, single layer, in a baking dish. Then you sprinkle brown sugar over the whole thing and broil til the bacon is crispy. I begin all this by microwaving the bacon in the microwave for about 5 minutes to render out some of the fat. Oh, and the original name of the dish -- Bacon and Beagle Dicks.

Hmm. Just realized there's nothing vegan. In a gathering with a significant amount of Unitarians present, there will surely be at least one vegan. My friends are also contributing to the groaning table, so I'll check and see how much vegan stuff is coming. And I think I have a recipe for something using Kalamata olives and eggplant. Some kind of puff.

Puff the magic appetizer. Okay, now I'm just getting silly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just a Night

How will I look back on tonight
Will it be barely a glance back
Just a night among other nights
A night like so many nights
One of many
One of a blur


Will it be the last night of an innocence
The last night of smiling
And feeling optimistic
The last night of wondering
And hoping that the nightmare is past

Must be up in 6 hours
No, 5 hours 53 minutes
Go to sleep shut your eyes turn off relax your mind
Don't think
Don't think
Of what tomorrow might bring

Could be more hope
Could be more smiles
Could be more days

Of just

Lower the volume
Turn off the worry
Stop the wonder of

How I will look back on tonight.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dreaming of an "All Goes Well" Christmas. And Halloween. And Thanksgiving.

I am very actively and deliberately doing happy this week. Watched "The Little Vampire" tonight with our little vampires, eating frozen pizza and roasted green beans. (No, I'm not crazy. Recipe is below. You MUST try the green beans.)

Anne has me thinking about Christmas. Before All of This, I was a major Christmas lover. Two Christmas trees, everyone to our house, stockings, roast beast, all of it. Christmas Eve was tamales and me playing guitar while we sang those traditional songs like "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" and "Merry Christmas from the Family" and "God Bless You, Unitarians." Well, traditional for us.

The emphasis on happy this weekend is because Little Warrior gets an MRI of her abdomen on Monday. This is her three month check. A biggie. Tuesday morning, we meet with the doctor and find out the results.

Tuesday evening, if all goes well, I send out invitations to our annual Halloween party. Wednesday, if all went well, I begin cooking and freezing canapes. Thursday, if all went well, I'll go to the "party store" to start laying in supplies.

If all goes well, LW won't get another scan til January. After the holidays.

If all goes well, can you imagine how insanely wild I'm going to be at Christmas? I will be the crazy lady with the wreath on her car, wearing the light-up Santa Claus sweater.

(That's hyperbole, Peacebang ... I promise ...)

Oh, God. Please. Please. Let it all go well.

Roasted green beans

Get about a pound of fresh green beans from the grocery. Pinch off the stem ends and put in a foil-lined cake or cookie pan. Toss with about a tablespoon of oil and plenty salt. Roast at 450 for 20 minutes. Stir/flip the beans. Back in the oven for about 15-20 more minutes. By now, they're shriveled and brown in places. Per my son, "Wow! How can green beans taste like french fries?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Choosing "Happy"

I haven't blogged in several days, not because things are bad, but because they are good and I've needed some time to gather my thoughts.

My trip to Corpus was terrific and provided just what I needed. I sat, looked at the waves, talked with The Husband and how All Of This has changed us and just let go.

Cried. Thought. Sat. Talked.

And as I walked away from the shoreline, I was given my gift. A quick moment of clarity.

First, some history from long ago.

Lizard Eater was about 12 years old. She walked into one of her middle school classes, dramatically dropped her books next to her friend Marla and announced, "I'm mad."

Drily, Marla said, "You're always mad."

Eureka! Aha! Kaboom!

Three little words but they changed me. At 12 years old, I realized that gee, I don't want to be known as the person who is always mad. People don't enjoy being around someone who is always mad. And people don't take you seriously when you're genuinely mad, if you're mad all the time.

In my little Judy Blume diary, I wrote, "That's it. I'm changing. I'm going to be known as 'the happy person' from now on."

Fast forward.

Walking away from the shoreline, I had the thought ... I can be happy for my children's sake. Their lives will be better if I'm happy. It will affect who they are.

This is perhaps very obvious to many of you, but to me, something new. To be happy is, in this case, to be NOT selfish. Or as Willy Wonka would say, "Strike that. Reverse it."

Now, I'm not talking about denying true feelings. I'm not talking about being ooooh so sweet and pretending to be happy. I'm talking about saying, okay, if I *can* be happy, I'm gonna be.

Last spring, I couldn't have been.

The future ... well, who knows.

But now. Right now, today, I can be happy.

So when I can be, I will be.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Halloween Costume Ideas

Every year, we have an all-ages Halloween party. It's not a party for kids, but kids are invited to come with their parents, if you know what I mean.

So, since Anne needs help coming up with a Halloween costume, some of the more creative ones we've had come through -- or done ourselves:

Last year, I wore a white shirt, with a big yellow circle attached to it, and some devil horns.

I was a deviled egg.

A friend of mine attached sponges all over herself. She was "self-absorbed." Same friend, another year, attached mini cereal boxes all over her and carried a machete. Yes. A serial killer.

Let's see, then there was the year I rubbed some black under one eye and wore a giant "P" on my chest.

Black-eyed pea.

As you may be picking up on, I am usually too busy planning a party and cooking to give much attention to my costume. This year is different. The Husband and I have already purchased the main parts of our costumes.

The last time we put a lot of effort into our costumes was a coupla years ago. I was pregnant with LW, and needed a costume with a little give. So I went as Sita and he went as Ram (Hindu god). I had on a gorgeous sari and all the gems around my eyes. He had an Indian tunic and we painted him blue.

Everyone thought he was supposed to be a member of Blue Man group.

This year, we go as another famous couple. More on that later.

And all of this ... the party is October 28. LW's big MRI is Oct. 16. We sit down with the doctor to go over the results Oct. 17.

So, everything might be canceled alluvasudden. But hopefully it won't be. I work with that in mind.

Oh, and hey ... got any absolutely to-die-for party recipes? Send 'em on!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pink Campbell's Cans

Okay, I've been fighting the urge and fighting the urge, and it was my grocery store flier that finally pushed me over the edge. They had a picture of Campbell's Soup Cans that are pink ... special edition cans to help in the fight against breast cancer.

I'm certainly not in support of breast cancer; I don't think that we need to hear its side of the story or anything. And I don't begrudge the Susan B. Komen org any of the research it can get.

But dammit, I want it some of that corporate sponsorship, too!

Of course, childhood cancer is personal with me and I want more funding for research there. Childhood cancer gets very little of the pie. And Wilms Tumor suffers from its very success. Because Stage 1 Wilms Cancer, non-bilateral, has such great statistics, good luck getting any research money thrown that way. I just found out that there is NO PROTOCOL for relapsed Wilms'. Doctors just have to make it up as they go, getting ideas from other doctors who often their patients tell them about.

And how about ovarian cancer? Liver cancer? Things that aren't as commercially chic right now?

You can't buy a product marketed to women that doesn't have a breast cancer tie-in. Kitchen-Aid mixers, Avon ... even stamps! US stamps!

I applaud those working for breast cancer research for doing this. It's brilliant. Now, teach the rest of us.

It's a hard road ahead, perhaps most for childhood cancer research. When Melissa Etheridge stands up, bald, and plays her guitar, we cheer. When a child stands up, bald, we cower. We don't want to see it.

Can you imagine ... a green-braceleted Barbie? Or Barbie with a lemonade stand, sending her profits to CureSearch?

How about "Hammers for your Hammer" -- a tie-in between testicular cancer research and Home Depot tools?

Eggbeaters for Ovarian Cancer Research?

You probably know that this month is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Last month was Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

Who knew.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"I need an onion!!!" The Princess just hollered

We are decorating for Halloween and she just picked up a little Dracula figure. Her brother, 10, swiftly explains that it is garlic she needs, not onion.

All four are home today and we are making pumpkin-ade out of pumpkins, metaphorically. The two school-age ones showed up for breakfast yesterday morning with what looked like hives. Took them to the doctor where a quick swab of the throat (accompanied with much gagging) revealed that they have scarlet fever, which sounds scary to those raised on "Little Women," but thanks to antibiotics, is just another strep infection. They're on their meds and will be back at school tomorrow. Just sick enough to be contagious, not sick enough to feel bad. So, we decided we'd make today a holiday. We started the day with pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins, and are now decorating, listening to our Halloween party music and watching Halloween videos. Tame ones -- Winnie the Pooh and the Adventures of the Mutant Chain-saw Killer or something like that.

"More cow bell! I need more cow bell!!!"

Sorry. Don't Fear the Reaper just came on.

Happy October.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Shout Out to Chalice Chick

Who goes by CC on her blog ... and whom I couldn't stop thinking about this weekend, thanks to Corpus Christi's new marketing flags that were everywhere.

"The Cancer To Have"

I believe that without exception, all of us whose children have been diagnosed with Wilms' Tumor have been told, "This is the cancer to have."

Last night, another child with the cancer to have departed this earth.

He was cute and he loved his Superman pajamas and his mother always ended her emails with "BE KINDER THAN NECESSARY, FOR EVERYONE YOU MEET IS FIGHTING SOME KIND OF BATTLE!"

I know they are trying to give you a ray of hope ... but I really hope that doctors/nurses will cease describing this as the cancer to have.

Cancer Kids Often Look Like Aliens

They do ... bald, no eyelashes/eyebrows, super-skinny, which means their eyes and ears looks abnormally large for their faces ...

We don't hold it against them, of course, but consciously or subconsciously, their appearance puts them in a category in our brains: "Cancer Kids." It is easy to see them as a separate type of being.

I know, because I did this. The Husband and I talked about that, this weekend. How we'd see those commercials for St. Judes and how foreign it all looked. It was like they were "special." We didn't have the feeling that something like that couldn't happen to us, more like it wouldn't. We were so ordinary. They were special.

They were so foreign.

But here's the deal ... they weren't always. Many of the "Wilms' Warriors" post pictures on their sites of what their child looked like pre-diagnosis.

They look completely ordinary.

They were.