Yesterday, I checked my mailbox as I waited for my girls’ bus. In it, I found a big, glossy postcard– a political solicitation. On the front were pictures of four homes, ranging from a tiny, modest home to a full-on mansion. They were labeled, “How you see your home,” “How the bank sees your home,” “How the tax man sees your home,” and “How your mother-in-law sees your home.”
It was a good campagin, to be honest. Any homeowner knows that tax assessments are notoriously high and bank assessments often come in low, meaning you get burned on both ends.
I flipped it over to read the politician’s bulleted list of campaign points. Right at the top, I saw,
“STOP over-taxing homeowner’s.”
And I gagged a little.
Here’s the thing…
I have a strong grasp of the language. I understand lots of nit-picky rules that go right over many people’s heads. I know when to use whom, that a possessive pronoun precedes a gerund, and that judgment does NOT, in fact, have an “e” after the “g” in this country. Still, I absolutely make spelling and grammar errors in my writing. I’m sure you could easily find some here on this blog, in my Facebook statuses, and in casual email correspondence.
Being a grammar geek doesn’t mean you’re infallible.
And, contrary to what some may think, being a grammar geek doesn’t mean you expect everyone else to have and use perfect grammar. Yes, it would be nice if people could figure out when to use “its” vs “it’s.” I would also love it if folks would spend a few minutes learning how to not do dumb things like write “viola!” when they mean “voilà!” or “adieu” when they mean “ado.” But, at the end of the day, I get over it. I don’t really spend much time worrying about the average person’s grammar faux pas.
Here’s what I DO expect, however…
If you’re a corporation or a politician or are publishing something you hope might be widespread?
INVEST IN A PROOFREADER.
Newsflash– auto-correct is a lousy editor. Spell-check is far from perfect. You simply cannot rely on your computer, tablet, or phone to catch your errors.
That postcard I got in the mail? It wasn’t very big. It would have taken even the pickiest copy editor maybe ten minutes to go over with a fine-toothed comb. How much do you really think that would cost, in the grand scheme of things? Heck, I’d have happily done it for twenty bucks.
But the campaign manager for that policitican must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort or cost. He or she had this glaring error mass-produced and widely distributed.
I used to work for a HUGE bank and we’d receive marketing materials to hang that had significant errors. I’d balk and my manager would roll her eyes at me, “No one will notice, JL. You’re just a freak with your grammar.”
But that’s not true. I’m not the only one who will notice. Even if only 10% of the population will catch the error on that postcard (and, to be honest, that’s a modest estimate with such an obvious mistake), that’s a ton of people– a ton of people who will be seriously turned off by the carelessness of it.
I don’t honestly care if my political leaders have good grammar– I care that they have good judgment.
And not knowing when to rely on someone who has talents you lack?
Is poor judgment.
At the end of the day, we grammar geeks of the world can overlook the average joe schmoe’s screw-ups. We might roll our eyes at some of the more egregious errors that creep across our social media feeds, but, deep-down, we don’t have much trouble getting over it.
But, if you’re willing to invest in a marketer? Invest in a proof-reader.
My kids love it when packages arrive with “JessieLeigh” and “Parenting Miracles” printed across the label.
Now, part of that is just that they harbor hope that bubble wrap will be therein and they well-understand the simple pleasure of a good bubble popping session. The other part is that they get so darn excited to try new things.
There’s a part of me that thinks, “Really, kids? You have a mama who bakes nearly incessantly and who will make you any variety of cookie, muffin, streudel, or granola bar… and you’re this excited about packaged treats?”
But then I remember being in second grade and opening my lunch box. Inside, every day, my mom lovingly packed home-baked treats. And, while the kids at my table were jealous of my chocolate chip cookies made from scratch, I envied their cellophane-wrapped chocolate peanut butter wafer bars.
So, yes, I get it. And I’m totally fine with it. We all want what we don’t have and, well, it’s fun to try something new!
Homemade bread is such a delicious treat alongside soup, pasta, or even a big salad. Don’t be intimidated at the thought of making it yourself! This lovely loaf comes together quickly and easily and requires absolutely no special equipment.
A beautiful, flavortul bread, studded with bursts of feta cheese. This loaf comes together easily and has a wonderful texture for alongside soup or pasta.
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup butter (melted)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Dump water in large bowl and sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface. Let sit for 15 minutes-- it should get high and foamy.
Add salt, oil, and flour. Stir with large spoon (I like my big wooden one) for as long as you are able, then switch to using your hands. Squeeze together as much as possible, then dump the entire contents of the bowl onto a floured surface. Knead for two minutes, until smooth.
Place dough back in bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into three even balls. Roll each into a "snake", about 18" long.
Lay dough snakes on a greased cookie sheet and fasten together at one end by pressing the dough together.
Braid the dough. As you alternate sides, tuck crumbles of feta cheese into the braid. One you reach the ends of your dough strands, press them together and tuck underneath.
Cover loaf with tea towel and allow to rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
While loaf cools for about 10 minutes, mix melted butter and garlic powder, then brush evenly over surface of loaf.
Slice and serve. This bread is tastiest when warm, but can easily be reheated if you make it ahead.
Let me cut to the chase here– the grocery budget is not doing what it used to. Between rising food costs and (significantly) growing appetites, I’m finding myself scrambling by the last third of the month. Don’t get me wrong– we’re certainly not going hungry and I’m not complaining. I’m just consistently amazed by how quickly we burn through what SEEMS like a lot of food. My kids are all at stages where they consume large portions of meat, eggs, cheese, fruit, veggies, and, in two of their cases, starches. It’s madness!
While we’ve learned to allow some grace in the budget for this, I’ve also learned some tricks to keep those “end of the month” costs down. One? Is simply using what we have. I cook based on what’s in my fridge, freezer, and pantry, not based on what sounds good. That’s key. Another way I keep the extra spending down is by cooking more meatless meals. Meat– especially good meat– is expensive! Cutting it out two or three nights a week helps the bottom line.
So, here’s the meal plan for the week!
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch-Ham, Egg, & Cheese Skillets over Fried Potatoes
My A… he’s quite a kiddo, that one. Math prodigy, confident performer, compassionate little soul. Faithful, kind, and bright, he really is a great kid. Sure, he’s got his quirks and less favorable traits (fiercely driven by place/score/percentage would be one!!!), but, overall, I hit the Lotto with that child.
He’s also a really good runner. If I’m honest, I”ll tell you that it’s actually weird for me to type that. I’m still sort of wrapping my own brain around it because the truth is that, for a long time, I sort of assumed that A. was one of these kids who’s wildly talented academically, but perhaps lacking athletically. I never vocalized that, but it’s what I was thinking. Of course, since I arrived at that assumption, the child has gone on to get his red belt in karate and crank out some seriously fast race times.
Lesson learned– don’t assume.
Anyway, this past Saturday was our town’s annual K-6 Cross Country Run. Up until junior high, we don’t have “official” cross country teams around here. Sure, you can join private clubs/leagues, but it’s not a school sport. But each October, the six PE teachers for our K-6 population organize a meet for the kids who want to run. And, of course, A. wanted to run.
I don’t know how much you know about running– I don’t know much, myself– but my nine-year-old typically runs a mile in the low sevens– 7:11, 7:18. 7:08, etc… those are all recent times of his. And they’re good. A time like that, for a fourth grader, will almost always make you the fastest in your gym class and will catch the notice of adult runners. Is it record-breaking? Of course not. But it’s fast. And, when your time is already considered quite fast, it means a lot to shave even a few seconds off of it.
A. ran the mile on Saturday in 6:58.
That is STAGGERING, really. It’s an amazing time. But you know what’s even more amazing?
That time got him fourth place. Among fourth grade boys.
With only the top three receiving medals– AS IT SHOULD BE– he was the first to cross the line who didn’t receive recognition.
And it was rough.
I could see it all over his face– the harsh disappointment, the frustration, and, honestly, the surprise.
In that field of about 30 runners, we had FIVE fourth grade boys break a seven-minute-mile.
My competitive little guy was upset. He was angry with himself. He was bitter about his place. He was disgusted that he “lost.”
“Buddy– look at your TIME,” I tried to remind him. Your time was fantastic!”
He kicked a pebble.
“Honestly, kiddo, you were just in an incredibly fast group. A 6:58 mile? Would put you at the top of many fourth grade groups– just not this one. And that’s great! It means you’ve got lots of people to push you to get even better!”
He looked away.
The gym teachers praised his time. Other parents congratulated him. His peers remarked on his speed and high-fived him.
But none of it really mattered– because, well, fourth place is hard.
And then a group of high school cross country runners asked him, “So how’s you do today? Good run?”
And he responded, without expression, “6:58.”
“Dude! I can’t make that time!” A long-legged girl replied, her ponytail bobbing.
“That’s an AWESOME time,” her friend agreed.
“That’s a high school time,” a freshman boy told my son, giving him a nod of respect.
And A. looked up, still not really smiling.
I smiled crookedly and said, “He got fourth.”
Because, that’s the thing– it’s a total fluke that this particular group of boys housed that much talent. Truly? The gap between number five and number six was vast. Huge, really. Almost thirty seconds which, when it comes to a mile time, is gigantic. That’s not because the rest of those boys were slow! Nope– it’s because five of those boys were incredibly fast.
And when those slack-jawed high school runners shook their heads in disbelief and mavelled at this little group of upcoming speed demons, I think it finally sank in for A…
And he realized that those words of Greg King’s are indeed true:
“There’s a difference between losing a game and getting beat. If you lose a game, then you have made mistakes that cost a victory, but that wasn’t the case.”
Way back, well before we had children, when both of us worked in banking and I was just learning to cook and try new things, this was one of my favorite dishes to make. Of course, back then, I made it by buying the Spanish Rice & Sauce packet and a can of shoepeg corn. I’m gonna be honest with you– it’s mighty tasty made with those convenience items. But, with a little know-how, you can make it even better and cheaper and, likely, healthier.
Simple, flavorful, and frugal, this dish seems to please most people. There really aren’t any funky ingredients in it. Let’s get started!
Simple and flavorful, this meal comes together quickly and pleases a wide range of people!
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken breast, cut into small bite-size pieces
2½ cups uncooked white rice
8 oz. tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups water
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
1 bag frozen shoepeg corn (I use the Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers brand)
4 oz. colby jack cheese, finely shredded
Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat.
Brown up bite-sized chicken pieces until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove to small bowl for later.
Using the same skillet, pour in rice, tomato sauce, broth/stock, water, and all spices. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer for 17-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
Meanwhile, heat shoepeg corn according to package directions. (Mine steams in the microwave for 5-6 minutes.)
Once rice is cooked, stir in heated corn and cooked chicken pieces.
Sprinkle cheese over the surface and a pop a lid on it to melt it quickly.
This can be served immediately or saved and reheated.
*This can definitely be made with regular old corn– we just love the crunch and sweetness of shoepeg.
I’ve told you all many times now that my nine-year-old son is a Bengals fan. It’s funny, to be honest, to see my orange and black clad kiddo milling about with his Patriots- and Giants-loving friends. They don’t really understand his loyalty to Cincinnati, but they totally accept it as part of who he is.
Two weeks ago, the Bengals were playing the Patriots– on Patriots turf, which is driving distance from our home. My husband scoured the internet, checking out tickets and, excitedly, showed me the deal he had found. Now, don’t get me wrong– two tickets plus parking weren’t going to be CHEAP, exactly, but, in terms of NFL ticket costs? It was a bargain.
I remember cuddling my newborn baby, breathing in that incomparable smell, and blinking bleary eyes.
“Just wait ’til he can crawl!” seasoned moms would tell me, a knowing look of warning in their eyes. “THAT’S when things get interesting!”
And I trailed after my toddlers, hands outstretched behind them, marvelling at all their discoveries. As I did so, I heard–
“They SAY it’s the ‘terrible twos’, but really it’s age THREE you need to watch out for. Whoo–eee! That’s a rough one.”
And I’d look at these little ones, wondering what I was in for.
Three would come and three would go and, while it was never all sunshine and roses, it was a delightful load of fun. My three-year-olds enchanted me with their growing competence and independence. Their chubby legs lengthened and strengthened and I loved watching it.
“Well, sure, they’re cute now– just wait until they go to school and get influenced by all those other kids!”
And they went off to school. And made friends– some good, some bad. They learned lessons, formed opinions, strengthened convictions and, frankly, became even more fascinating little people.
“Kindergarteners are adorable, but, man, even by third grade, they get mouthy and mean.”
So I volunteered in the second and third grade classrooms– and I fell in LOVE with those kids. Wildly competent, they can read, manage self-care, carry on thoughtful conversations, yet they still care what I think! It’s like a miracle! I looked (and look) forward to spending time with those kids every week. Mouthy? Mean? Not usually. Typically, they’re kind and funny and considerate.
This past August, I prepared to send my oldest off to the intermediate school– it houses grades 4 through 6.
“Oh, you better brace yourself. This isn’t like the elementary school. These kids are totally different– they get cruel and crass and you just feel the unpleasant tween energy. Especially the sixth graders– oy, look out for them. You’ll see.”
And I did see.
I warily walked A. to the bus stop and watched as the group gathered. Over the first couple of weeks, I got to know this crowd of sixth grade boys and, you know what?
I LOVED THEM.
They were and are a clever bunch. They have a grasp of sarcasm that delights me. They are funny and determined and competitive. They are also kind and curious and willing to have all sorts of conversations. Why would I fear this age? Why would I dread these children?
And so here is where I tell you the truth as I know it–
EVERY STAGE IS AWESOME.
Yep, go ahead and read it again: Every.Stage.Is.Awesome.
Early elementary kids? Awesome.
Mid-grade elementary kids? Awesome.
Even now, I hear the whispers– “Just wait until they’re teens– you just don’t even know.”
And, you know what? I guess that’s true. I don’t really know. But, if I had to guess?
I know people have lots of hometown pride and like to argue about why their neck of the woods reigns supreme. Having lived a lot of different places all over this country, I’m one of the first to admit that there are amazing and wonderful things about each and every one of them.
But… people? I’d pit Connecticut autumns against ANY PLACE. It’s the combination of: 1) abundant trees, 2) hills and mountains, and 3) vast VARIETY of trees that combines to make it stunning around here.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We pay for it. The raking is ugly. The barren November trees aren’t so gorgeous. Our winters, while often pretty, are also cold and trecherous. So, you know– I’m not saying this place is perfect.
But, right about now? It’s pretty darn close. So let’s enjoy it!
In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!
There are people who love Elmo. There are people who love Big Bird. There are people who love Cookie Monster. And there are people who love Ernie.
Me? I loved the Count.
In fact, I loved the Count so much that, on my nineteenth birthday, my mom ordered a (DELICIOUS) cake for me from a local bakery in the shape of the Count that read “Count ‘em, Jessica– 19!” True story. I’ll always remember that cake. (Thanks, Mom!)