Floundering

Like many people, I’ve been walking around the last few days on the verge of tears. I burst into tears on the way to the grocery store when I heard a Christmas song with a line about children laughing. I’ve been at a loss for what to say, what to do. I think Jonna summed up exactly how I’m feeling right now. Especially the part about how being a parent puts a crystal-clear picture in my head. Those kids were Matilda’s age. I’ve had to stop my brain 100s of times in the last several days from going there.

The sadness is being replaced by anger. Anger with how weapons that fire multiple bullets per second are readily available. Anger with the media for glorifying evil. Anger about violence as entertainment (a chicken and egg question – I know). A BLIND RAGE with anyone who is voicing support for more guns. I can’t. I just can’t.

So I’m doing what I can. Yes, I’m hugging and squeezing my kids harder and longer with this fresh reminder that it’s all so fragile. I’ve thrown money at it hoping that one of those families can feel the outpouring of love and support.

And yes, I’ve gotten political. I’ve always been in favor of more sensible gun control. I grew up in a house with hunting rifles. I shot our BB gun as a kid. I’ve trained on handguns and semi-automatic weapons during ROTC training (for the record, guns terrify me). I think having felt that power in my hands – having the kickback rattle through my bones – is part of why I think guns need to be regulated and controlled. So I wrote to all of the politicians in offices representing me: my Senators and Representative, my State Senators and Representative and Governor. In case you’re wanting to do the same, here is what I wrote. Feel free to copy if you want… I started with the letter posted on Daily Kos and added my own opinion. Did it make me feel better? Not totally, but at least I felt like I did something.

Dear Senator [Smith],

It’s way past time to pass reasonable gun control legislation. In the wake of the horrific massacre of 20 innocent children and 7 adults in Newton, CT, I implore you to work others in the Senate to enact sensible gun control legislation.

Specifically I would like to see:
– Ban the sale and possession of automatic/assault weapons in this country.
– Limit the size of large capacity ammunition clips, and create a database for all purchases of ammunition (similar to database used for the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing products).
– Require a criminal background check, mental health check and mandatory waiting period for anyone to buy a gun, eliminating gun show loopholes.
– Mandate spousal notification before a gun can be legally obtained (similar to Canadian gun laws).
– Institute a gun-ownership permit or license that requires the passing of a test and annual renewal (similar to drivers licenses and license plate renewal).
– Require legal gun owners to safeguard their weapons against theft and misuse.

People claim the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but this is not an unlimited right. I believe we’ve let the gun lobbies and fear mongers exploit the Constitution to an absurd level. There is nothing in the document providing a right to possess assault weapons that can shoot 100s of rounds in seconds. We regulate everything from driving to drinking to buying cold medicine; it’s beyond time to regulate gun ownership.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to a response.

——

So, how are you doing? What have you done that makes you feel marginally better? If you need a place to vent any frustrations, grief or  feel free to do so in comments. However:  my blog, my rules – I will not debate my opinions on gun control. You will not change my mind and any comments supporting civilian possession of automatic or assault weapons will be deleted, as will calls for more guns. Fair warning.

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Christmas Cookies

I am the baker in my family. Have been since about middle school or so. For years I’ve been the one to make the sugar cookies for cut outs at Christmas, loaf after loaf of zucchini bread in the summer, and birthday cakes year-round. As a newlywed I made extra money for gifts by selling my Christmas cutouts to co-workers! Now, I’m the one to provide the sugar at our family Christmas gatherings.

I have some tried-and-true recipes that I make year in and year out but I every year I also try something new. After a consultation with twitter, added 2 new recipes to the mix this year and both were fantastic. On Saturday and Sunday I made 6 different types of cookies, most of which are hanging out in the freezer until the celebrations begin. Here’s what I made…

Peanut Butter Blossoms. These are my husband’s favorite and a must every year. I use a recipe from a family friend but it’s similar to the one I linked to. I makes a ton so it’s good for a cookie exchange. If you want to up the ante like I do use mini Reese’s cups instead of the Kisses. They will melt so I usually pop the finished cookies into the freezer for 5-10 min after they cool to room temperature which will harden the Reese’s cups.

Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, this is the recipe that’s been floating around since email was invented. Yes they are delicious. My recipe is double what I linked to and makes a TON of cookies and even my trusty Kitchen Aid can’t handle that much dough. So I halved it and the linked recipe is the smaller version. I got to use my new Vitamix to make oat flour and to chop the chocolate this year so it went much faster. Make sure you use really good chocolate (this is not the place for Hershey’s bars). I baked 1 dozen of these then scooped the rest of the dough into balls and froze them so I can easily make fresh cookies when I need them.

Mexican Wedding Cookies. These are new this year – I don’t know why I’ve never made them before becuause they are super easy. I made them on the recommendation of Crystal via Twitter. I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe because I always have good luck with recipes she posts. And, I got to use my new Vitamix again! These are so yummy, I will be making them again.

Sugar Cookie Cut Outs – This is what started it all. I took over making the cut-outs in high school, I think. True story: my dad used to take us kids out of the house when my mom made cut-outs because of all of the cursing. At some point she switched to making them with the pre-made dough in a tube you can get at the grocery store and I thought homemade were better so I took over and have been making them ever since. I’ve tired dozens of recipes but I find the simpler the better (again, I linked not to my recipe but to a similar one). I like to roll them thin to get the maximum frosting:cookie ratio. These are frozen, undecorated and will be frosted at another time. This year, given Matilda’s sensitivity to red dye I’ll be trying out some natural (and expensive!) food coloring. And please, no royal icing… only buttercream in this house!

Orange Sugar Cookies – This was one of my “trial” recipes that made it into regular rotation. I love these cookies with or without the chocolate. I linked to the recipe I use but I up the orange zest to 3 tablespoons, increase the orange extract to 1.5 teaspoons and add 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract to the glaze. Sometimes instead of dipping the cookies I drizzle them with the glaze because I’m lazy. These are great in the summer if you use lemon instead of orange.

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies – These were a trial cookie that hit it out of the park. They are insanely good – sweet with just a hint of heat. I read through the comments and decided to add the cinnamon and chili to the dry mix and rolled the cookies in plain white sugar. Next time (there will be a next time) I’ll add half a bag of chocolate chips. I’m not exactly sure how I heard about hot chocolate cookies but I looked at probably 8 other recipes before discovering Martha’s, but all the others had bad reviews in comments except for this one. I highly recommend.

I still plan on making America’s Test Kitchen’s Gingerbread Cake for our Christmas dinner dessert. That will also be a new recipe so I’ll have to report back later.

Here are a few tips if you want to make 6 kinds of cookies in a single weekend (I didn’t count, but I think when I was done there were  around 21 dozen cookies).

1) A Silpat is your saving grace (0r any other silicone baking mat). As are heavy half-sheet pans (I got mine for cheap at a restaurant supply store). Having these mean no washing cookie sheets between batches and nothing sticks. Plus the big pans can mean more cookies per batch.

2) A cookie scoop (again, I got this for cheap at a restaurant supply store). Makes scooping cookies super easy and uniform.

3) Parchment paper. I lay this out when rolling dough so I can get away with less flour which makes for a better cookie. I lay out a sheet and put pre-scooped dough balls on it while waiting for the oven. That way I can empty my mixing bowl, wash it and move on to the next dough even if all of the first kind of cookies aren’t done baking.

4) Read through all your recipes. Know what order you’re going to make them. Does it need chilled? Great – make it, throw it in the fridge then make and bake your next recipe while that one chills.

5) Mise-en-place – I know that might sound too “Iron Chef” for some but it makes all the difference. On day one I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. So that night I got all my dry ingredients mixed, my wets mixed (where I could) and laid it all out. On Sunday morning I was able to have 3 kinds of cookies (nearly 10 dozen!) DONE before 10:30 AM (I started around 7:15 thanks to the Madman alarm). I was shocked at how much time it saved.

6) A spouse who will keep the kids out of the kitchen while you work. I love to have my kids in the kitchen with me but I was in cookie-mode and just needed them out of my hair for several hours. At kitchen with doors (like ours) so you can close everyone out is also a nice thing to have.

What are your holiday baking traditions? What recipe should I try next year?

Cleveland: Disney On Ice Rockin’ Ever After Event & Discount Code

Cleveland – you all know that Disney on Ice tickets make for FABULOUS holiday gifts for kids, right? Because they do! And you know that Disney On Ice Rockin’ Ever After is coming to Quicken Loans Arena from January 11-21, right? Okay – now that we’re all on the same page, you want to know how to get some free tickets, right? Here’s how…

There is a community-wide book drive* starting this Saturday, December 8 at the University Circle Wade Oval Ice Rink. 300 tickets will be given out to every family that donates new or gently-used books (two free vouchers to the show per donation). After all 300 free tickets are given away, a big discount code for the show will be given out in exchange for donations. The event runs noon-3:oo PM so get there early, visit some of the great museums and take a spin around the rink.

Can’t make it on Saturday? You can donate books from December 9 – December 22 at any of the following ice skating rings and you’ll be be entered to win 4 tickets to the show!

  • Halloran Ice Skating Rink at 3550 W. 117 St., Cleveland, OH 44111
  • Winterhurst Ice Rink at 14740 Lakewood Hts. Blvd., Lakewood, OH 44107
  • Lock 3 at 200 S. Main St., Akron, OH 44308
  • OBM Arena aka Hoover at 15381 Royalton Rd., Strongsville, OH 44136
  • Quicken Loans Arena at 1 Center Ct., Cleveland, OH 44115
I love this promotion so much! You can help teach your kids about giving back while checking an item off your to-buy list and visiting University Circle – one of our family’s favorite places in Cleveland. And it’s books…I love giving books to kids who need them!
If you just want to buy tickets for someone’s stocking, you can get some discounts: Get 4 tickets for $44 on weekday performances (M, W, TR) using CODE ROCK4, or 25% off weekend (F, S, Sun) using code ROCK25. Fine print: $3 facility fee.  Expires on 1/21/13.  No double discounts.  Not valid on FR or VIP tickets.  Limit 6 per order.  Not valid on Opening Night.
* Books donated at the UC kick-off event will go to the University Circle Education Department. Remaining books donated throughout December 22 will be split between Cavs Learning Centers and the Cleveland Clinic.
I have partnered with Feld Entertainment for several years to promote Disney on Ice shows that come to Cleveland. I was not compensated for this post. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

Things I Won’t Apologize For

Is it me or does life feel a little upside down lately? Things are happening in life and online that have me shaking my head and wondering if I’ve gone beyond the looking glass. I’m feeling a bit ranty lately so I’m going to get it off my chest.

Here’s a list of things I won’t apologize for:

1. Using twitter any damn way I please. If you don’t like what I’m saying or what photos I’m posting or the hashtags I’m using you are free to unfollow. I don’t care, seriously. I won’t hurt my feelings and I likely won’t notice.

2. Attending events for local companies and using said twitter account to talk about it.

3. Buying an expensive product at full price from a locally owned company that happens to be large and tweeting about it. Supporting local does not mean you have to buy only from small mom-and-pop shops. If you think that large local companies don’t deserve our support you’re crazy.

4. Calling you out if you post the Ben Stein “Confessions for the Holiday” piece that is 2/3 false and has been proven to be lies year in and year out. Just stop it.

5. Wishing you  Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. (should note here, because I didn’t then, that I’m not Jewish. But in that moment I just wanted to shut that lady up. I’m not apologizing for that lie, either.)

6. Raising money. I AM a fundraiser, after all.

I think that’s it for right now, but I’m in full honey badger mode right now so watch out.

What’s getting on your nerves lately?