Monday, December 26, 2011

What a year, 2011

This year, the budget just wouldn't budge for a Christmas card.  I know some of you are holding back tears because our card was *that good* last year.  Maybe we can find a few bucks next year.  But don't be overwhelmed by despair because we have a great substitute.  The online holiday newsletter!

Dear readers/fans/loved ones/enemies,

2011 has been exciting for us.  For one thing, we bought a house!  Faced with the prospect of staying in the un-insulated Victorian in Northeast Kansas City, mere blocks from violent crimes (can you spell carjacking, Winslow?  good girl), we decided to get the heck outta Dodge and flee to the suburbs.  Only problem?  Our budget was in line with the same stuff we were trying to get away from.  In place of carjackings, we witnessed flooded basements, suffocating animal smells, neighbors with plywood signs lining their front yard (Obama haters with quite a beef, I tell ya), collapsed ceilings, decaying garages, and jungle backyards.  We spent a thousand bucks on one house only to be told it was sinking into the ground, making it insufficient collateral for a mortgage.  Right before we were ready to throw in the towel, we found this funky house in Roeland Park, with ceiling tiles, a tiny master bath, a severely outdated kitchen, and still managed to fall in love with it.  What a steal at $99k!  So that's awesome thing #1 (because newsletters have to be filled with awesome).

What else happened?  Andrew learned how to walk!  Who knew that babies did that?  For awhile, I thought he might never make it, but finally at 10.5 months, he took his first steps.  What a late bloomer.  Speaking of late bloomers, Katie, age four, is potty trained.  Almost.  I'd say this one is for the record books, which makes sense, because we are always out to be the BEST, even if it means being the best procrastinators on Earth.  And speaking of the best, Winslow is now a champion sofa jumper.  She can leap from the leather ottoman to the couch better than any other child on the planet.  If you're doubting me, you should know that I never lie or exaggerate.  Ever.  I am absolutely the best, most awesomest, brilliantest, humblest mom in Johnson County.  And you're so lucky to know me. Awesome things #2 through 438.

What about Ryan?  Well, he's a published blogger!  You already knew that, you say?  Dammit, I hate stating the obvious.  That will definitely affect my Klout score, which is well above 50.  That makes me a VIP in some circles--the "high school was the best time of life because I could crush nerds with my pinky and pretend that made me awesome instead of lame" circles. What's a Klout score? If you have to ask, yours probably sucks.  If it doesn't suck, keep it to yourself, you braggart.

What else made 2011 the awesomest year to date?  Well, I could tell you that I am Vitamin D deficient,  Ryan figured out that an AWD vehicle is not a savior in the snow ($$new bumper$$), Drew requires $45/month in diaper cream and has multiple food sensitivities, Winslow needs hernia surgery, and Katie had to have a molasses enema on Christmas Eve, but that would be complaining!  So instead, I'll say Happy Holidays!  Merry New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Decorations, Kiefer Cottage Style

How to decorate for Christmas without spending any money!

Cheap and easy holiday decor!

How I turned my cat's litter box into the most awesome Nativity EVER!  With only 436 easy steps.  And it was done with items I found around the house!

Yes, I'm selling out, y'all.  'Cause I'm gangsta.  A blog thug, if you will.  I'm here to offer you the most practical Christmas decoration project you've ever seen, and it won't cost you a dime.

Start with your beautifully made bed.  By that, I mean you've managed to put clean sheets on it and a few pillows, not that the bed itself is well-made because, you know, it's from IKEA, which makes much of its furniture from pressed board and paper (yes, paper!), so it's barely survived three moves and now has to be supported by old yearbooks.

Anywho, admire your bed.

Notice that maybe the large blue and white pillow is looking a tad grimy.  Perhaps it needs a bath.  It IS clean sheet day!

Wait.  What is under the case?

O.M.G.  It is a Christmas pillow!  And Christmas is just days away!

Place Christmas pillow back where it belongs on the bed.

And that's it!  The easiest Christmas project of all time.  And I did it with things I found around the house!  Try it yourself and report back.  I love hearing success stories like mine.  Since I am, in fact, a walking success story.  But that's for another post.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Berkey Family Christmas Village

Today we feature a dear friend of mine as our esteemed guest writer. Take it away, Heather! 

Well, here we are, with the holiday season in full swing! I don’t know about you, but I love it. I really do. I love Christmas music, I love buying gifts (which would be more fun if I had money…but still..), I love those sappy, crappy Christmas movies and will rarely tolerate anything else on my TV during the month of December. And I LOVE my decorations. They’re not expensive or elite, they don’t match, and they often get swallowed up by the clutter that inevitably takes over my house, but I’m crazy about them. I could tell you the origin of every single ornament on my Christmas tree, but I won’t. At least not today. Our lovely friend Starr has instead asked me to guest-blog about my Christmas Village.

Aaah, my Christmas Village. I’m admittedly pretty obsessed with it. I start pining for it around September, but my husband rolls his eyes and tells me I can’t put it up until after Thanksgiving. Meanie. It’s actually his family’s fault that I have a village to obsess about in the first place. His grandmother had the most impressive Christmas Village that I’ve ever seen. It sprawled out from under her Christmas tree, over hills and valleys made by cardboard boxes covered with snow blankets, and took up half of her living room. Man, it was awesome. When Grandma Berkey passed away, we inherited a few pieces of her Village collection – a train, a house, a church, a tavern, and a jail. We specifically got the church and the tavern because when my husband was a smart-ass kid helping his grandma put the village up, he thought it was funny to put the church and the tavern next to each other. Then Grandma (who didn’t approve of drinking at all) would hit him with a yardstick and make him move them apart. So this is where it all started, with those four buildings, which I proudly arranged under my tree the first year Mike and I were married. In the eleven years that have followed, my village has expanded quite a bit. I’m incurably cheap – no, frugal. Frugal sounds better – about buying stuff for it. My favorite place to look for pieces is Big Lots.  In recent years, I’ve even found some cute things at the dollar store! My sister supports my obsession by shopping the after Christmas clearance sales at Kohl’s. Those clearance sales are key to Village expansion.

Ok, enough talk. I know you’re positively dying to see the Village as it is today. You’re in luck, because I took lots of pictures. I can’t put the Village on the floor anymore because of lack of floor space, unruly pets, and my four-year-old daughter who loves to “rearrange” things. If I had a mantel, maybe I’d put it there. Right, Starr? But I don’t, so it goes on the shelves surrounding the most important thing in my living room: the TV. Here’s the village in its entirety:

I put in the Yule Log DVD for a more festive, mantel-like atmosphere. The stereo is Mike’s. It’s not festive at all, is it? I should hit him with a yardstick and make him put garland on it or something. The nativity there on the right side was MY grandma’s. Oh, the nostalgia of it all!!! The things on the bottom shelves are less sentimental, less breakable items that my daughter plays with and rearranges on a daily basis. The town itself is divided up into several well-planned sections. It takes me like an entire day to get everything arranged the way I want it. Who cares if my family needs dinner? I need to decide where the new clock tower is going!! All right, now for the shelf-by-shelf tour.

This is the downtown area. There’s a barber shop, kids visiting Santa, a chocolate shoppe, a toy store, an antique store/cafĂ©. When you turn Santa on, the kids in line move around in a circle and a light flashes on the photographer’s camera every few seconds. Wait, I think that sounds really dirty. Turning Santa on and taking pictures? Maybe it’s best if we just move on….

This is the residential section of town. That’s Grandma Berkey’s church there on the top. You’ll notice that the tavern is nowhere in sight. I don’t let Mike help put the Village up. The house in the bottom right corner is also one of the originals from Grandma’s collection. The other houses are from my beloved Big Lots.

As we move out of the suburban sprawl section, there’s a little wooded area. This is the first year I’ve gotten to use the whole river….usually I fit about half of it onto a shelf with a house. This year it got promoted!! I got that clubhouse and the skating kids from the dollar store. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how excited I was about them. “The Village kids will be so thrilled to have a clubhouse to play in!” Right, Heather. Right. That’s completely sane.

This is the farmhouse. I decided last year that I NEEDED a cow for my village, so my sister got me one. I love that it came with pre-decorated fences. Such a festive little bovine. My daughter keeps putting the pigs in with the cow. No honey, don’t mess with Mommy’s Village.

Here’s the other side of town. You’ve got City Hall on the top shelf. It used to go in the center of town, but I made the executive decision to move it over this year, to accommodate the new clock tower. That’s Grandma Berkey’s train, going over a bridge that I got for a dollar at a local church festival this summer. Score! On the second shelf is the Zoo. My mother-in-law got that for me several years back because she decided that my village HAD to have a zoo at all costs.  (This is because I work at the zoo in Pittsburgh. I teach kids about animals and such.) To make the zoo more fun, since it only has two exhibits, I put the carousel and the popcorn guy in there as well. The popcorn guy is bigger than the rest of the people in the village, but I figure maybe he has glandular issues….and who am I to judge?

And finally, here’s the seedy section of town - the storied tavern and the jail from Grandma’s collection, along with the brewery. That’s one of my favorite finds from Big Lots! If nothing else, the people in my Village need their beer! That little guy outside the tavern stands there and plays the accordion every year. I feel kinda bad for him. Maybe I should let him share his musical gifts in the middle of town next year.
And there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about the object of my Christmasy obsession. My daughter tells me that the people come to life at night. I can’t decide if that’s magical or creepy. Or maybe a little bit of both? Anyway, I hope they live it up while they can. It’s only a matter of weeks before I’ll have to imprison them in their boxes again. Sigh. I’ll shun that thought from my mind, and focus on what new pieces I need for next year. What will the clearance racks hold? A school for my uneducated children? A train station for Grandma’s train? A barn for that festive little cow? Oh, the possibilities are endless….
Thanks Starr, for letting me share a little bit of Christmas crazy with the blogosphere. Now go hang your stockings by the chimney with care (stockings! Oh man, you should hear about my stockings!), deck the halls, and all that. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Bronx is up, The Battery's down

My whirlwind tour of New York was loads of fun.  Exhausting.  Energizing.  The wedding was beautiful.  The two grooms have been together for twenty years and were finally able to be legally recognized as married. Sadly, it's not legal in their home state, how unfortunate.  But the love shared, joy expressed, both made the day celebratory and glorious.  I'm so happy to have been there.

And I highly recommend stopping by St. Ann's in Brooklyn Heights if you ever get the chance.  What a gorgeous church--they're currently looking for about $40 million to help restore the sanctuary.  One of you can surely cover that, right?

My mother and I also enjoyed a couple of delicious meals.  The first was at The Place, a cozy restaurant in the West Village.  I completely out-ordered my mom by having the corn risotto and then the seafood chowder.  You ordered SOUP as your main course?  Yes, meanie.  I am currently in a land-locked city. I wanted some fish, dammit! And I got it piled high in the bowl.

Our second meal was brunch at DBGB Kitchen and Bar.  Loved the pastry basket, loved the service, and apparently, the busboy loved *me*.  I even spoke loudly of my happy marriage and lovely children and still got some serious stares.  Jean-Luc (the guy was French and we all know that every French guy is named Jean-Luc or Pierrre), you'd better watch out because while Ryan agrees that I'm a sight to see, you'd better have been staring at the food in my teeth or my skirt tucked into my underwear, and nothing else!  Consider yourself warned.  Oh, and speaking of Ryan, our adorable waitress shares my husband's name--she put up with us asking about all the ingredients in the gumbo as well as the delicious mustard sauce.

We also saw a show!  No tickets to be had for The Book of Mormon (surprise, surprise) so we went to Seminar.  It was a smart, vulgar comedy about a writer (played by Alan Rickman--you know the guy.  The quiet, handsome Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility.  The cute fellah from Love Actually.  The greasy Severus Snape from The series-that-shall-not-be-named.)  who has four students seeking feedback on their work.  Anyone who has been in academia should see the play--I had flashbacks to courses in which some were praised for no apparent reason while others decimated for equally absent reason.  It was a 90 minute play, just about right. My booty was throbbing and the gal next to me was practically leaning on my shoulder. Guess she had a long day, too.

After the show, people waited outside for Rickman and Jerry O'Connell (playing one of the students) to emerge from the theater.  People were taking pictures with their phones and iPads.  I didn't bother because I had already gotten my picture taken with Alan (yeah, we're on a first name basis).

See how easy that was?  I didn't have to chase him down.  And he looks so realistically detached from our obvious bond! Oh, what an actor.

I would say, though, that the two grooms were a bit sweeter than Alan.  What a great trip!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guest post--Cinnamon Rolls!

We are at Type A Decorating today, sharing how we made those divine cinnamon rolls in our quest to make some new Christmas traditions this year.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

We'll Take Manhattan, and Brooklyn, too.

Loyal fans,

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity.  Thanksgiving was a blazing success.  And we've all recovered nicely without excessive bloat (note that I said *excessive*).

You'll notice a little button over on the right --------->.

Tammy over at Type A Decorating is having twenty-five guest bloggers for Christmas, and The Kiefer Cottage will be participating on December 3rd.  I'll remind you, so don't worry about missing it (yes, you're worried.  Don't try to tell me otherwise).  You'll finally learn how to make those yummy cinnamon rolls.

But my big news is that I am going to New York City next weekend!  My friend Charlie is marrying his partner of many, many years, and he's doing it in Brooklyn.  A gay wedding is just what I need.  (When I think of the wedding, the Flintstones' "We'll have a gay old time" pops into my head, too. Wonder if the grooms will be sporting animal skin?)  My mom is meeting me up there, and we plan on eating our way through town.  It'll be a very quick trip, but I know that for Ryan, it will seem like an eternity, so send him your patient vibes.  He'll need them.

What does that mean for you?  Well, you'll get to see pictures of our trip...and not much else this December--we might be doing a lot of cooking, but no new drywall, flooring, or crystal chandeliers.  NYC is so expensive to visit.  I had to sell one of my organs on the black market.  Ryan peddled handmade home insulation on the street corner.  The kids pitched in by offering to eat only three tons of goldfish this month rather than their typical four.  My lovely gal pals did actually throw together some dough as a complete surprise for me, and no, it wasn't bread dough. It was real moolah, and I'm so grateful to them for the treat (love you MMs!!).

Reservations are made, outfits have been chosen (I'm thinking burlap sacks, Mom), Valium has been procured (poor Ryan), stomach has been sufficiently stretched (thank you, Thanksgiving), and I've been breaking in my shoes for all the walking.  I even got my hair highlighted so I could be a New York City blonde (yes, that article is five years old, but I still remember reading it when it was first published).

And in honor of the trip, Katie dressed up as the Statue of Liberty.  Perhaps she can come next time.

I think the dinosaur as torch is brilliant, child.
Edited to Add: Chef Tio at Julian not only retweeted my post last weekend, but she also said to definitely get a picture when we come in next time.  See?  I'm mere moments from my 15 minutes of fame!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dynamics of an Exercise Class

Contrary to popular belief, I really enjoy exercise.  And not just the plate to mouth reps I do with my fork.  For the past few months I've gone to Zumba, and I've learned a few things.

1) Most people can't dance.  Thank goodness for that or else I'd feel even more foolish in those classes.  Sure, many have good rhythm, but nothing more than that.

2) There is always someone dancing to the beat of some other drum. Perhaps it's the lone man in class dressed in shiny blue running garb sporting a mustache worthy of a 1980s motorcycle deputy. He's busy jumping so high he forgets to cha-cha-cha.  Or maybe it's the lady in back who can't see the instructor, so she's doing some odd combination of Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda moves.  I think they come to class to show off their own special choreography and maybe even compete with the instructor.  Ready for a dance-off?

3) Many participants have to engage in something I call "Zumba-phone".  Remember that game "Telephone" that we used to play in elementary school where folks sitting in a circle whisper a phrase to the next person and when you get to the end, what started as "Enchiladas are my favorite food" becomes "I have a really bad wedgie and my mother still cuts my meat for me"?  Well, in Zumba, getting a good view of the instructor can be hard, especially if she is really awesome and the class is filled to the brim with eager wanna-be dancers.  So most of us have to rely in part on other participants.  The first line gets it sort of right. The second turns that cha-cha into a booty shaking spin, the third row is busy shimmying (you do a lot of that in Zumba) and the back of the room?  We've started break dancing because we have no idea what's going on. And someone always ends up leaving in a huff because she can't keep up.   Mr. Mustache and Ms. Simmons-Fonda (see #2) combined with an obscured view of the leader makes it all one big mess.  It sure is fun, though.

Sadly, I'm out of Zumba for awhile until my little boy can handle the gym childcare once again.  So I'm headed for Jazzercise, which meets in the evenings after Ryan gets home.  Whatever will I learn there?

Friday, November 25, 2011

I am a celebrity, and you can too!

My recent brush with fame is just the beginning of a life full of sparkling blingity-bling, private jets, adoring fans... notoriety... drunken appearances in court... and the sad epilogue that usually involves a run on Dancing with the Losers and eventually, a gig as nighttime security guard at the local funeral home.

Why am I so confident about my future?

Because Celina Tio, of Julian restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, not only cooked my supper on Wednesday night, but she also *personally* served me and Ryan our first two courses. She even said, "Enjoy". Or was it, "Bon Appetit"? Or perhaps, "I made this with my blood, sweat, and tears, and you'd better love it or else I'll sob for days!"? No matter, words were uttered in my presence, and in my general direction. And then I saw a smile. I'm sure it was aimed at me and not the family from southern Louisiana sitting nearby.

That makes me really awesome, of course. This chick was on Top Chef Masters! And The Next Iron Chef! And more importantly, she is in Kansas City, which is where I live, too!

Wanna see a pic of me and the chef?

Ryan's note -- we totally took the camera to Julian with hopes of getting a real
picture of Starr with a real living, breathing Chef Tio, but Starr totally got cold feet
 and wouldn't even let me ask her for the photo. It's probably better for all of us.
Especially Chef Tio.
See? Before you know it, I'll be on Star Search, because I'm *that* close to celebrity-hood.  Oh, that's not on TV anymore?  Okay, I'll be a Real Housewife of Kansas City.  And you can say you knew me when...

P.S. Our meal was quite delicious.  I really loved the shortrib "potroast" for my entree as well as everything else I ordered.  Only thing missing was a squishy roll so that I could sop up all the yummy gravy.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our delightful Thanksgiving feast. The squirrels were prowling outside,
wondering what we'd throw out for them...

But all they got was leftover Halloween pumpkin.
Oh well -- Better luck next year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What have *you* been up to today?

Busy day today.

Turkey carcass fun.

Post-brine-application turkey. Dry brine this year!

Pumpkin cheesecake prep.

Everybody's working hard, even Ms. KitchenAid.

My husband thinks he's a comedian. And artist.
(He says that's a portrait of his lovely wife)

Veggies for the stuffing.

Chewing on the scraps I threw outside. The wildlife has started making requests.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparation

I'm hosting this year.  And doing most of the cooking.  Woohoo!  Only took 31 years of living before I could do it.  My lovely in-laws are visiting, and some friends are coming, too.

I have to admit, though, that I am not a turkey lover.  I find it dry and bland. It takes a lot of work to make it taste good.  Brine it, baste it like crazy, inject it, cover it in gravy or some other sauce, stick a duck up its behind, do a voodoo dance.  

I'm sure you're thinking, You haven't tasted MY turkey.  It's wonderful.  

Yeah, I have tasted your turkey. I've tried it cooked so many methods and despite all the declarations and confidence, it has never impressed me.  So I think the problem is that I just don't like it.  I think I'd get just as much joy out of covering a piece of rubber with cranberry sauce and gravy.  

You don't like turkey? That is UN-American.  You probably say sir-rup rather than seer-up, too, right?  

Yeah, just call me French, okay?

But I haven't totally given up on turkeys.  This year, we ordered a heritage turkey. They're all the rage, haven't you heard?  Ryan found Vesecky Family Farms out near Lawrence, KS, and we ordered one a few months ago.  Picked it up yesterday.

Because this turkey isn't the subsidized type you can get for $.89/lb, I'm going to give this ol' bird the deluxe treatment.  I found a recipe in Sunset Magazine that will work well, and I'll report on its success later.  I'm hopeful because it is one of the few recipes I found that actually recommends cutting the bird up before cooking it--the breast will go in the oven while the dark meat is pan roasted.  

I'm going to report you to the Dept. of Homeland Security for treason.  Turkey should come out of the oven whole.  Brown.

You mean like this?

The turkey I got free from Hyvee a couple of weeks ago.

Why, yes!

I can't find the permalink to the article, but I read last year that restaurants who do turkey well don't even think about cooking them in one piece.  The breasts are overdone by the time the dark meat is ready--hardly a good outcome in a country where too many people actually *believe* that white meat tastes better.  Even Bobby Flay recommends cutting the bird up, and he cooks a lot of turkeys on Thanksgiving.  Didn't he cook a whole turkey for the Pioneer Woman Throwdown?  Yeah, he did, but that was for good television.  I'm not looking for beauty. I'm interested in taste.

And anyway, heritage turkeys have a lot more dark meat. Smaller breasts (confession: when I talk about turkey breasts, I find myself gesturing above my own chest.  Did it a couple of weeks ago in front of strangers and felt a tad silly).  To cook it exactly the same as those ordinary buxom turkeys would be foolish.  So I'm not ruining this bird if it takes all my energy.  I mean, we drove an hour each way to get it!

If I still don't like it despite all this work, I'm going to try one more time. My in-laws are hauling a smoker up from Georgia in the next few days, and we'll try to smoke a turkey at Christmas.  Only then will I throw in the towel if it doesn't turn out.  Until, of course, one of the kids asks why we're always the family eating Thanksgiving Shrimp.  Then I shall try again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Painting the Cave

You've seen bits and pieces of our family room.  When we purged toys.  When we framed our professional wannabe photos.  

This room is a cave.  Ceiling tiles.  Horrible light fixture.  Fake wood paneling--it's not even grooved. It's just photocopied wood grain pasted onto drywall.

The paneling was installed in such a way that we couldn't just paint over it.  Not only did we have to use that de-shiny-stinky-stuff to make it amenable to paint...

But we also had these seams to deal with.  That means someone had to seal the seams.  And that someone was not gonna be me.

Ryan graciously volunteered (yes, he did...if I keep saying it, it shall be true) to do the work. So he bought a bucket of mud and got to muddin'.  And despite my assumptions otherwise, this mud is not the kind you can make in your own backyard.  You can't give yourself a facial with it, either.  And muddin' does not entail going out in a rugged 4WD vehicle.  Or the Volvo station wagon your daddy gave you that you then crash so that it never drives again.  That's a totally different thing.

You can see which one he did first. And then he got better at it.

After he sanded it down, we painted the room "Winter Wheat" by Olympic ONE.  I've used this color before, so I knew it was a winner (just like me).  It's almost considered a beige, but in reality, it's a light yellow that turned our last house from a cave to a palace, so I figured it didn't hurt to do it again.  Technically, this work is temporary until we amass a fortune so we can gut the room, re-wire, put drywall in, etc, meaning I can change the color later to something new if I so choose.

And here it is as a final product.  The room is still a tad dark because we need more windows.  However, it is now not even close to a cave.  There are no chipmunks to be found hiding here (anymore).  I enjoy coming down the stairs to this room.  I'll love it even more when we get art back on the walls.  And the trim painted. And the ceiling demolished.  Oh, you get the point.

My lovely vintage sofa goes perfectly with the color.  I really adore this piece and don't care if that makes me a polyester-wearin' granny.

The great desk given to me by my brother Ryan.  Looks good against the wheat color.

All in all, we're not even close to finished with this room.  But in the meantime, it's a pleasure spending time here.

I linked up to A Bowl Full of Lemons, Type A Decorating, Domestically Speaking, Saved by Suzy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Open House Win

We're winners here at the Kiefer Cottage.  Not to say that everyone else is a loser.  Just saying we are most definitely cream of the crop, top of the heap around here.

How do I know this?

We had a great party.  And losers don't have great parties. Winners do.

More than thirty adults and little kids dropped by Saturday morning to wish the girls happy birthday and see our new house in person.  Friends, neighbors, although sadly no enemies.  That's okay. We'll have another party so everyone who is annoyed by us can attend.

Crudites with mint dip, chocolate meringue pie, fresh fruit.

Homemade, from scratch, take all day to make cinnamon rolls.

Deviled eggs with chipotle peppers.

The best gravy I've ever tasted.  And I've tasted a lot.

The most definitive sign of a successful party?  Well, other than people staying well beyond the invitation times, empty platters.  When it's all gone, it means it's all good.

I had several compliments on the gravy.  So I'm going to share this recipe with you. It's been in the family for quite some time. At least 1 week.  My mom sent me the November issue of Southern Living magazine, and there it was. Waiting for a winner like me.

Up-A-Notch Sausage and Gravy
Adapted from Southern Living

1/2 lb mild ground pork sausage
Butter (if necessary)
1/2 package of button mushrooms, quartered
2 minced shallots
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. white wine
2 c. half-and-half
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 T chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

1. Brown the sausage.  Take the sausage out and leave 1/4 c. drippings in pan.  If your sausage is lean like ours was, you'll have to add in enough butter to make 1/4 c. fat.  
2. Add the mushrooms and shallots in for a few minutes.  Then whisk in the flour.  Don't stop stirring!  Cook a minute or so, then add in the chicken broth and wine.  Cook a couple minutes while you scrape the yummy stuff from the bottom of the pan.  Add the sausage back in.
3. Pour in the half-and-half (recipe says slowly, I just dumped it in) and cook for a few minutes until it's thickened.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients.  Cook about 5 minutes. And serve with biscuits.

I needed it to be party ready so I put it in the slow cooker to keep it warm.  I also doubled the recipe for the party.  The only downside is that after a couple of hours, some of the liquid had bubbled off so it got a tad salty. Otherwise, it was worthy of a fistfight.  As in, Ryan and I almost came to blows over the leftovers.

Parties of five are fun.  Parties of thirty are funner.  I hope as the holiday season comes on, you'll enjoy one or two yourself.  And if you're interested in how we made the cinnamon rolls, hold on to your hats because we'll share that soon enough.  Have a great weekend, y'all!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yes, I understand

Friends, Fans, Stalkers,

I'm going to interrupt our usual programming to talk a little bit about a parenting challenge. Move along if you're not interested--it's okay.  I feel I need to provide some support for those who've had the same issue we have around here.

It's about potty training.  I won't get into the down and dirty because it's not really about the nitty gritty.  Instead, I want to commiserate with parents of kids who potty train later than many of their peers.

I want to say it's okay.  I'm right there with you.

I've read about some moms getting grief from their mothers-in-law about their 3 year old kids still using diapers (as well as other family members and perfect strangers--what's that about?  Why should Mrs. Grundy care about whether my kid poops her pants?  I don't get that at all) .  Although some people have felt the need to make fun of us, I haven't really been cursed like that; in fact, my mom-in-law, Nancy, has been pretty damn awesome, offering a bit of useful advice and otherwise making no comment.  I'm sure some of it stems from the fact that she knows my eldest pretty well.  This gal doesn't do anything except in her own time.  My mom has been very understanding, too.  Makes sense because I didn't potty train until I was about 4.5 years old.  And look at me now! I am someone worthy of envy!

We've tried a few times over the past year to get KB off the diaper train.  And it has failed miserably. Tears, begging, fussing...and I'm not even talking about Katie's behavior.

In the past couple of days, however, we've had success. It's almost been *too* easy.  I'm not cocky enough to say we're there, but the mood around here is hopeful, and Katie's having a great time.  All of this shows me that waiting was the right choice.  Patience paid off.  For the record, KB is one day shy of her 4th birthday.

So there you have it.  If it's taking awhile to get your kiddo to peepee in the potty, relax.  You are not alone. Brush off the veiled (and not-so-veiled) criticism.  Be sure to ask your critics about their own bathroom habits since it's obviously an interesting topic for them.  Or just let it go, while keeping in mind that you can remind your kiddo about this when s/he goes on her/his first date.

And now back to our regularly scheduled ranting and raving.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Party Preparation

Remember how I told you The Kiefer Cottage is hosting an open house?  Yup, I am a glutton for punishment because I scheduled it on a whim and now actually have to follow through.

What've we been up to in preparation for said party?


Mudding. Sanding.

Baking. Freezing.

I haven't planned a party in ages. My last one was pot luck and only involved impoverished graduate students. This time, we'll have small children and adults.  I'm not a huge "kid-friendly snack" advocate, so we'll see what we come up with.  Isn't the party Saturday?  A little late to still be making decisions.  Well, Georgette, you do the work and then you can start criticizing.   No thanks.  That's what I thought.  Anywho, Miss Meanie, we'll have homemade cinnamon rolls.  And some kind of beverage.  If we stopped there, it'd still be a success.

We don't know how many people are coming. In the digital age, I don't expect RSVPs from everyone--it's a given that many people will say *maybe* until a better offer comes along.  Others will assume that no response means "no". Adding to the uncertainty is the fact we invited the neighbors with just a little flyer and did not ask for a yay or nay.  So we could have as few as five people (just us--please I hope not--I have fifty sweet rolls that I cannot eat by myself.  Well, I could. But I shouldn't. My pants are begging me not to) or as many as forty.  Or more.  

On a funny note, I did get a bold-faced lie response.  A kindly reminder: Social media reveals all.  Also, if you're gonna tell a story (as opposed to just saying "can't make it!"), make it a really good one.  Like, I'm going to be recovering from my calf implant surgery.  Or I'm accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that morning.  Or I have this nasty hangnail that flares up each and every Saturday in November.  See how much more fun that is?

So all this is to say that if you need me this week, I'll be up to my ears in pie crust and doilies.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hidden Poo, Happy Home

Like many of you, The Kiefer Cottage is delighted to employ a kitty-in-residence as a recreational, stress-reducing, and pest-control device.

When we picked up our orange tabby model, dubbed "Rufus", a couple of months back, his disposal software was still in Beta. Like any buggy software, a little compromise was required, so we placed Rufus' waste output receptacle in an easy-to-find location while keeping it away from the stomping grounds of the small ones.

This worked well for a while, but with two issues. First, we wanted to start using the room given over to Rufus' waste management. Having his waste receptacle in there was no longer possible. Second, the small ones have gotten proficient at door knob operation, and with an abundance of curiosity that overrides any semblance of self-control or self-preservation, they will go anywhere at any time, including Rufus' waste management facility.

My Project Manager, ever the font of ideas, decided that we should relocate Rufus' waste receptacle to the basement. The only obstacle was the door to the basement, which for the preservation of the small ones, we keep shut and locked. As any kitty owner knows, a kitty must be allowed to access the waste receptacle at will, and at any hour, because the kitty will output waste, one way or another.

Thankfully, somewhere along the timeline of history, another human encountered a similar incompatibility between their kitty unit and small ones, and devised a solution: a door-within-a-door that is only large enough to allow passage of the kitty.

This model was even color-matched to our kitty unit. Awesome!

So, with a trip to Lowes for a plastic, premade version of the door-within-a-door and a few tools borrowed from my coworker, I set to work.

The kit of a man who knows no brand loyalty. 

Dumb old hinge pins never come out easily.

Caution: There Be Dragons. Or maybe just a step down that you won't want to miss.

Removing a door is always a prime pain in the ass. I have not yet devised a graceful way to do it. But off it came, onto the sawhorses.

The rule for cutting pretty much anything is "measure twice, cut once."

But that takes too much time. So I eyeballed it, taped down the handy template that came with the door-within-a-door, and drilled large, cannot-undo holes into the door. Then I drew some straight lines between those holes and went to work with a jigsaw (with the sloppy-but-fast blade attached, of course).

And suddenly, there was a large square hole in my door, into which I prayed fervently the door-within-a-door would fit.

Square-ish, I guess...

Thankfully, it did. Snugly. Very snugly. Next time I need to cut something, I'll employ Marge Innoverra to tell me what the outer acceptable boundaries are so'z I don't have to grunt and swear so much.

Doorway cat will watch you masticate. No, really. This door is in the kitchen!

Installed, it looks nice enough. It's $20 cheapness goes perfectly well with the wood-paneling encrusted door.

The kitty unit's software has downloaded the door-within-a-door app, but has only successfully attempted use once in the presence of a human. When the kitty's software fully integrates the door-within-a-door app into its native code, we will be able to relocate the waste receptacle, to the delight of all.
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