Monday, December 29, 2008

The Biology of Shopping and the Modern Caveman

The after Christmas shopping has been in full swing in my house. Gift cards and money are always great gifts for teenagers. My three hit the stores the day after Christmas and were quite successful in their hunt for bargains. The shopping adventure did, however, highlight the difference in biology that in spite of all my careful parenting....has produced a "man". My son explained to me his frustration with his quest for the perfect pair of jeans. He was "overwhelmed" with the choices and the time it took to also find a few shirts. My daughters on the other hand could have shopped on...... I really do think it is biology...think of ancient times, women were hunting and gathering...constantly looking for food to bring home all the while chatting with the other women in the group, carrying babies on their hips and making an event of forward to the after Christmas shopping frenzy...women with baby strollers and friends hunting down the best bargains store after store and gathering up all the needed items for their families at discount prices...eerily sounds a lot like the hunter gatherer women of ancient times!

On the other poor son.... the modern caveman. Single focused determination, irritated by distraction , the hunter needed to find and kill the wild boar (perfect pair of jeans) and bring it home triumphant in his conquest!! The crowds, the jumbled clothes on the sale table and the overwhelming number of options created a primal unease that spoke to his most primitive drive...shoot the boar and run for the cave! He was the conquering hero as he jumped into the car with his "game" in the bag!

I discussed this explanation with my son who actually laughed out loud...he agreed wholeheartedly and hopes that for his next shopping expedition, he can dispense with the browsing and make a surgical strike that takes him in and out of the store with no collateral damage.

Biology....and we thought our studies would have no meaning later in life!!!



Sunday, December 28, 2008

No Knead Bread.... revisited

Reflections from the Backcounter
I have previously extolled the many virtues of the popular No Knead Bread recipe and have posted it on the Backcounter Buffet. Truth be told, although the recipe yields a gorgeous, crusty loaf of artisanal bread directly from the home oven, it does fall a little flat on the tastebuds. This bread has become a mainstay in our family and we always have a loaf somewhere along the way to being baked. Recently, we experimented with the recipe and inspite of our lack of culinary training and an expert test kitchen, we have hit on a winning combination. The olives and garlic add just enough punch to make this bread irresistable. Try it and let me know how it goes!!

No Knead Bread

4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp of dry yeast
½-3/4 cup coarsely chopped olives
1 clove sliced thin garlic (roasted in olive oil)

Mix dry ingredients

Add 2 cups cold water

Mix with hands for 30 seconds. Let rise covered for 12-24 hours. The slower the better

Knead for 30 seconds on floured board add flour to keep from sticking.
Put in greased bowl, cover and let sit for 2 hours

Drop into preheated dutch oven (450 degrees) Bake for 30 minutes with lid on and 15 minutes with lid off.
Good luck....the original recipe may work better for you..this is our household's version

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas from the Backcounter.....a day of reflection, celebration and enjoyment in the company of family and good friends. Christmas eve dinner was a delicious rib roast, yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, carrots and rolls. Our only downfall was the yorkshire pudding...always a seems to track the barometric pressure or the alignment of Jupiter and Mars....this year we were obviously out of alignment as the pudding was rather heavy and leaden! May your day be Merry and may your loved ones be blessed with a day filled with fun and happy memories.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays... a Hannukah fest

Family and friends are the heart of holidays but food provides the soul! We just celebrated Hannukah with dear friends and the food was epic. This is the one party of the year where I do not have to contribute as my cultural and religious background does not qualify me for the delectable menu awaiting us at this party...nor have I yet scored any of the recipes.....

Suffice it to say...I do not think it could get any better than the brisket, latkes, homemade applesauce, noodle kugel, carrots in gravy and the spinach salad that we enjoyed. Hannukah is a meaningful and "delicious"occasion for our Catholic family and we feel privileged to celebrate with our dear friends. The prayers and the lighting of the candles always move me and I know my children come away from the party every year with satisfied appetites and hearts full of love

Happy Holidays!!!



Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas time at the Backcounter

A Merry Harried time of the year for all of the mothers on the planet. Shopping, wrapping, budgeting, cooking, baking and organizing family and friends characterizes the consuming and relentless march toward December 25th. Nothing short of the invasion of Normandy requires such skillful and expert planning. But the mothers of the world seem to always ensure a flawless execution on Christmas morning. Somehow ...each all gets done and the kids are met with beautifully wrapped presents promising excitement and and fulfillment of carefully constructed Santa wish lists. Even an economy in the biggest downturn since the great depression will not forestall the dedicated mothers. Bargains will be found, gifts will be regifted, bicycles will be rehabbed and the Christmas magic shine.

Kudos to those moms who are out there tonight worried that they just might not make it this year after all. Know that you will and that there is always one more ounce of energy hiding in that last cup of coffee......gotta go ...need to brew a pot of energy to help me coast thru the next few hours.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Blog Hiatus

Reflections from the Backcounter

Daily writing is a habit and once a habit is broken it is hard to reestablish it!! Proof of concept...The Backcounter Buffet!!! I have been on hiatus...ankle, work, life, holidays have all conspired to impact my writing time and inclination. I hope to get back on track as the month progresses.

Life in the Sonoran desert is beautiful this time of year and we have had a nice sprinkling of cool days and showers to ensure an abundance of spring flowers. The CCI Puppy, Ceres, continues to part at a time. This week it is her ears that have grown out of proportion to her head!

Hope all is well in your orbit!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Debates

Reflections from the Backcounter

A lot of time for TV at night now that I am relegated to the princess and the pea position of having my foot elevated on a pillow with ice....the debate was tonight and frankly...I am ready for it to all be over. Let's just vote and be done with it and maybe the economy will find traction and the country can move ahead with vigor...The stock market today was a disaster ...all we can hope for is a turnaround..before we are ready to retire or we will be working until the bitter end...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exercise can be deadly

Reflections from the Backcounter
What a fine kettle of a deranged ankle on top of my already deranged mind!! The change in seasons heralds a rapidly descending setting sun and darkness arrives with an abrupt change in visibility...especially as it relates to that critical interface between asphalt and the desert. Last night I was clearing my mind of all the accumulated daily stress, rocking out to my tunes and jogging with my trusty Lab, Hanna...when without warning I found myself face down in the dirt with the an ankle that had immediately morphed into a cankle. Luckily, no evidence of broken bones but the ligamentous damage is obvious to even the most naive observer and I am going to need to find a substitute for my evening running stress management sessions. We old girls don't bounce!!! I did discover why Hanna was released from her service dog destiny...she is my I was writhing on the ground she stood guard over me and acted like Lassie...when my Good Samaritan arrived, she actually took a stance and tried to protect me from harm...she has now earned her permanent place in our home!! I love this lab....Off to the ice packs..

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dog joggin? or Lab draggin?

Reflections from the Backcounter

It has been a long week. Mono in the house has been a real downer...lots of sleep ,lots of advil and lots of patience and it looks like we are slowly rising to the surface.. the blog has been silent because of the disease burden my life!

Had a chance to run tonight and realized that I am not the only jogger struggling to encourage my canine companion to keep up the pace. For Pete's lab is a real drag!! She is not a good jogger. I feel like a sled dog dragging a musher. She is really hard to motivate to keep up...but misery loves company! I ran past a fellow jogger and he too was draggin' a lab! Maybe it is the breed...we are quite the sight in our leash tug of was as we jog down the street.

More later!



Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Reflections from the Backcounter

Motherhood, Mono and Madness...yup that's right...we have mono in the house...the kissing has begun...I suppose that I should be happy that this has happened in high school and not college but what a seventeen year old is out of class, out of cross country and basically out of luck....he has hit the sidelines and has to wait out the acute phase of this disease....A few facts: those of you who know me know that I am qualified to comment!!!!!

  • Contagious but only with exchange of bodily secretions....kissing etc.....
  • The virus is shed for up to 18 months after the initial infection! (yikes)
  • The triad of lymphadenopathy, pharyngitis, and fever is the hallmark of the disease...and did I mention that the lymph nodes on my sons neck are the size of golf balls and are visible from across the street!!!!
  • The incubation period is very lenghty up to 30-50 days so sometimes it is impossible to determine who gave you the disease

So.... we are soldiering on...the good news is...this is a lesson in contagion and perhaps the lessons learned will be translated into "safe" behavior in other arenas later on (if you catch my drift)

Please post a get well message for Jeffrey...he could use some cheering up.

Peace and pathogens,


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scorpion Wars

Reflections from the Backcounter

It is definitely a war....for some reason...this has been a season of high scorpion activity. I have shared my scorpion terror stories before and have provided pictures of the creepy creatures but this picture is a real world picture of the scorpion who had set up housekeeping under our garbage can. He is headless as we had to take immediate action and by the time I got my camera out, the battle was over....He is sizeable....CC the scorpion killing hunter cat is expressing his opinion of it!
Scorpion rules of engagement
  1. Shake out your shoes
  2. Never walk barefoot in the dark
  3. Control cricket population
  4. Live with free ranging cats in the house
  5. Keep clutter to a minimun
  6. Keep things off the bedroom floors
  7. Get the house sealed

Luckily, we had not been stung this year. Scorpion stings are very painful and create a feeling of ascending numbness in the area that has been hit. The numbness can last up to six weeks. A very small percentage of people who are stung develop neurological symptoms (confusion, drooling, visual changes) and these are the ones who need urgent medical care. Children under two should all be taken to the ER. The rest of us poor victims just need ice, advil and a long time to recover...

Keep your eyes open



Shake out your shoes!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday wanderings

Menu: Armenian Noodles


1 package thin or medium egg noodles
1 pound Monterey jack cheese grated
½ stick butter
1 bunch finely chopped parsley (without stems)Lawry’s salt, pepper

Butter a 9x13 Pyrex dish
Cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender.
Drain noodles and layer half in the Pyrex dish. Mix parsley and jack cheese. Layer cheese mixture on top of noodles and cover with remaining noodles. Dot with butter salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees until browned on top usually about 30-35 minutes. This is a delicious casserole that can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 1-2 days or in the freezer. Serve with a salad and bread and your family is very happy.
This is also a great casserole to bring to a potluck.

Reflections from the Backcounter
This is one of my husband's absolute favorites. He grew up on these and he considers them a staple meal. We usually have one of these casseroles in the freezer for evenings that are short on time or energy. Tonight there was a cross country meet and two of my little darlings did not return home until 8 p.m. A perfect night for noodles...Try these will love them...I always like a little extra salt sprinkled on top ( Hypertension city!!!)

I have a few random thoughts on the election that I need to share. Forget your political affiliation. Think in broader and more humorous terms and I am sure that you will never look at the election in the same way again.. Think back to the days of the epic Hollywood production....
Charlton Heston at his best...parting the red sea, casts of thousands populating the big screen all in Technicolor!!!.. I am confident that the executives from central casting on those epic Hollywood movies have found a new calling...casting the presidential elections. Consider this...nothing short of a Hollywood casting director could have provided us with a better cast. We have: An African American man, a woman, a war hero, a husband of Eskimo descent, a Roman Catholic, a pregnant teen, a baby with Downs, a daughter of a beer baron, two darling little girls with perfect hair and patent leather shoes, a blogger, and an adopted child from none other that Mother Teresa's orphanage!!!
I think we are almost ready for the burning bush or at the very least a chariot race!

On to Thursday...try the noodles...your family will clamor for more


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to Blogging

Sunday night dinner:
Chicken on the Rotisserie
Fire Roasted Tomatoes
Armenian green salad

Reflections from the Backcounter
It has been a week without blogging and I truly missed it. My daughter and I traveled to Minnesota and enjoyed the respite from the routine of the week. The fall weather in Minnesota had taken a decidedly crisp turn and the fields were still full of corn stalks and the last blooms of the summer flowers. I am sure that after a few cold nights, the leaves will be falling and the Minnesota winter will be quickly carried in on the shoulders of the beautiful fall days.
So much has happened this week. Hurricane Ike has given cause for reflection. I am cannot help but remember the nuns and children who perished in the 1900 hurricane and for whom a memorial is placed near the sea in Galveston. Clearly, the urgent evacuation of the citizens of the gulf coast and the island of Galveston saved lives this time. My prayers are with those who remain displaced and who have suffered losses. Prayers and heartfelt sympathy to the families who lost loved ones on the train in California. Life is so short and precious.
Last night we had the chance to catch up with some dear friends who had us over for a get together. Some women just have a knack for entertaining. My dear friend Stephanie put out a spread worthy of Martha Stewart but with a warm and inviting Greek twist! I should have taken pictures. It is so comforting to be in the company of lifelong friends, especially when one considers the frailty of life so emphasized by the recent disasters.
I am looking forward to a rich and fun week of blogging.
More great creature stories coming up this week...I swear...I think I live on the Discovery channel

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Run like the wind

Running has become a therapeutic outlet in our house for both young and old. The young are experiencing the joy and challenge of competition while the old are learning to ignore pain, creaks, stiffness and an embarrasingly slow cadence that seems to engender a long gawk from drivers slowly passing any event it is a healthy endeavor as long as we stay out of potholes. The blog will probably be quiet this week as I travel to the northern territories, Minnesota for work. More later



Monday, September 1, 2008

Blog awards

Rebecca at Freaky Frugalite has kindly bestowed this blog award on the Backcounter Buffet. Thank you Rebecca for your interest in my postings from the Sonoran Desert! Desert life is more than a little different from your beautiful New York garden life!

With this blog award comes blogging responsibility! These are the rules:

1. The winner can put the logo on his/her blog
2. Link the person you received your award from
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4. Put links of those blogs on yours
5. Leave a message on the blogs that you’ve nominated

So here goes: I bestow this blogging award on the following wonderful bloggers:

1. Random Ramblings: Polly is an amazing observer of the world around her. Her postings are interesting and informative. She is also a kind and generous person. Thanks Polly!

2. Reginas Family Seasons: Regina has a beautiful spirit and encouraging posts. Not to mention her darling granddaughter.

3.The Junk Drawer Check out these great posts from a writer with a terrific sense of humor and view of the world.

4.Smitten Kitchen: Amazing photos of incredible food. A delicious visit!

5. Not Martha more power to those of us who are not Martha!!!
Out of time and energy...I reserve the right to send the award to two other bloggers...I wonder who you are?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Arizona Monsoon Season: The Mother of all Monsoons

Menu: Chicken Teriyaki strips on the BBQ

Reflections from the Backcounter

Long time Arizona residents are well acquainted with the summer monsoon season. Often used incorrectly, this term is used to describe the afternoon thunderstorms that predictably occur during late July through September in the Sonoran desert. These storms can be preceded by huge and violent duststorms and are often accompanied by severe wind. True desert dwellers have a healthy respect for the lightning, thunderstorms and sudden flash floods that can create serious danger in a short period of time.

So, last night...we had the Mother of all Monsoon storms. The lightning was incessant and the storm was accompanied by hail that was blowing sideways into our windows with such force, I expected the glass would break. As it turned out...the winds in downtown Phoenix reached speeds of 100 mph. My sister is a property manager and has reached the varsity team of property managment as she manages huge high rises...unfortunately, her building was at ground zero and this storm caused hurricane like damage on this building. She is just now returning home after more than 18 hours on the job trying to restore the building to a usable state.
This topic is especially pertinent this weekend as we await the U.S. landfall of Hurricane Gustav. My prayers are with the people of Louisiana and the gulf coast states.

For those of you who truly want to know more about the monsoon phenomenon read the following description from the ASU website:

The Arizona Monsoon is a well-defined meteorological event (technically called a meteorological 'singularity') that occurs during the summer throughout the southwest portion of North America. During the winter time, the primary wind flow in Arizona is from the west or northwest—from California and Nevada. As we move into the summer, the winds shift to a southerly or southeasterly direction. Moisture streams northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This shift produces a radical change in moisture conditions statewide.
Such a change, together with daytime heating, is the key to the Arizona monsoon. This wind shift is the result of two meteorological changes:
The movement northward from winter to summer of the huge upper air subtropical high pressure cells, specifically the so-called Bermuda High (H).
In addition, the intense heating of the desert creates rising air and surface low pressure (called a thermal low) in the Mohave (L).
These two features combine to create strong southerly flow over Arizona. The southerly winds push moisture north-ward from Mexico. The exact source region for the moisture of the Arizona monsoon is unknown. Researchers have proposed the Gulf of Mexico and/or the Gulf of California as the source regions but conclusive evidence has so far been elusive.This has lead to the creation of large data-collecting efforts and research programs such as SWAMP, the Southwest Area Monsoon Project .
By the way, the term "monsoons" as in "when the monsoons arrive ..." is a meteorological no-no. There is no such beast. The word should be used in the same manner that "summer" is used. Consequently, the proper terminology is "monsoon thunderstorms" not "monsoons."
Monsoon thunderstorms are convective in nature. By that, we mean that the thunderstorms are powered by intense surface heating. In addition, strong moisture influx into Arizona is also required. The operational criterion for the onset of "monsoon" conditions used in Arizona is "prolonged (3 consecutive days or more) period of dew points averaging 55°F" or higher." There is nothing magical, however, about 55°F. It originally was linked to the total amount of water in the atmosphere above the weather station (a precipitable water amount of 1", a quantity thought to be necessary for convective thunderstorm activity). In general, for Phoenix, the temperature limits for the production of monsoon thunderstorms are 100° to 108°F with the optimum temperature being about 105°F. Temperatures needed to produce Tucson's thunderstorms are somewhat lower.
The Arizona monsoonal circulation does not produce thunderstorms every day during the months of July-September but rather occurs in a pattern that has "Bursts" and "Breaks". According to climatologist Andrew Carleton:
"Burst": a movement into Arizona of a weak trough in the upper level westerlies (normally during summer these winds are far north of this location) which spreads upper level cold air into the region. In lower levels, during a "burst", there is strong surface heating and strong southerly or southeasterly transport of moisture into Arizona. This creates intense atmospheric destabilization and leads to strong widespread thunderstorm outbreaks.
"Break": an enhanced ridging of the upper level Bermuda and North Pacific subtropical high pressure systems which acts to stabilize the atmosphere and thereby cutoff widespread thunderstorm activity. Our own meteorologists suggest that a break usually occurs when the subtropical ridge re-develops over NW Mexico and drier air spreads into

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday Wanderings: Interesting blogs I have found

Beef Burgers with Feta and Tomato

2 pounds ground beef
3 t chopped fresh thyme or 1 ½ t crubled dried thyme
2 scallions chopped
1cup chopped fresh spinach
½ cup chopped tomato
4 oz crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 t mint optional

Mix all ingredients and form into a patty..grill or pan fry Makes four.

Reflections from the Backcounter

Monday, August 25, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Reflections from the Backcounter

Menus on Monday bring order to a chaotic landscape of afterschool activities and worn out parents who droop into the kitchen at 6 p.m. with very few firing neurons and no inspiration for independent thought let alone menu planning.
A few minutes of planning can make the rest of the week go smoothly and can ensure that dinner is accomplished with a minimum of fuss and cacophony. When the troops are clamoring for food...redirect them to the menu and use the enticement of the meal to come to encourage cooperation in the kitchen and maybe completion of a chore or two (empyting dishwasher and setting the table.)

This week there is an amazing soup from the Smitten Kitchen. Love this website. The pictures are amazing.

Hope this menu plan provides a little help toward improving your household this week. Tomorrow can't come soon enough....the exterminator arrives!




Rib eye steaks

Summer squash soup and homemade bread

Check out the Smitten Kitchen website. This soup is amazing and the pictures on this blog are mouth watering


This is a great low carb meal! Just watch the rice portion!!!

Stir Fried Pork with Water Chestnuts
1 pound pork loin
1 T canola oil
½ cup chopped onion
½ T peeled and minced ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup sliced water chestnuts
½ cup sliced mushrooms
1T dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T soy sauce

Cut pork into ¼ inch slices and then into thin strips. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet or a wok ove medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork and stir fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the pork begins to brown. Add the onion, gingerroot and garlic and stir fry for one minute. Add the water chestnuts and mushrooms and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the wine, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce and stir fry for 2 minutes. Serve immediately



Beef Burgers with Feta and Tomato

2 pounds ground beef
3 t chopped fresh thyme or 1 ½ t crubled dried thyme
2 scallions chopped
1cup chopped fresh spinach
½ cup chopped tomato
4 oz crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 t mint optional

Mix all ingredients and form into a patty..grill or pan fry Makes four.


Ham Steak with Shallot and Vermouth Sauce

1 T butter
1 pound precooked ham steak
4 shallots chopped
3 whole cloves
2 T dry vervouth
1 T cognac
1 T balsamic vinegar

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the ham steak, shallots, and cloves, keeping the shallots to the side of the skillet. Cook the ham steak, stirring the shallots frequently, for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the ham to a serving plate and keep warm.

Add the vermouth, cognac, and vinegar to the skillet. Bring to a boil, making sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Pour the sauce over the ham steak and serve immediately.

Brussel sprouts
Scalloped potatoes



Make it easy and use a Boboli crust topped with sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and goat cheese


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scorpion terror level orange

Reflections from the Backcounter

I could not make this stuff up...this morning at O dark hundred I was awakened by the whining (an improvement from the eardrum splitting howling) of the howler monkey puppy and thought that rather than get up for her I would read in bed for a while. Of course, one must first attend to the call of Mother nature and so not being a fool, I turned on the light, carefully scanned the bedroom floor to ensure that no well camouflaged scorpions were lurking and then trotted off to the bathroom.
I returned to the bed, settled in and started to read when I realized that there was something crawling on my arm.....and of course...being the scorpion magnet that I was a scorpion...and not just any scorpion...this one was less that 1/4 of an inch in size and was a perfect miniature replica of the larger relative that I annihilated the other night....I have never seen such a tiny one...this leads me to the very unpleasant conclusion that there is in fact a breeding program underway and I have visions of tiny scorpions swarming all over me in my sleep...
I have a call in to the exterminator.....we used a black light(scorpions fluoresce) and found nothing.. We plan to use it every night for a while to scan the premises before turning in....I have a feeling I will be interested in purchasing army surplus night vision goggles..what a picture that would make as I slink thru the house in my nightshirt and flip flops ( no more bare feet) looking for the elusive scorpion...Of course the way things are going I think I would have a better chance of finding all the scorpions in the house if I just staked myself naked to the bedroom floor (think of Gulliver and the Lilliputians) and waited for them to come (I am after all a magnet)....

Not very peaceful at this moment,


Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday at last

Reflections from the Backcounter

I can hear a collective sigh of relief from all the working moms in the country as they stand on the brink of the weekend considering the unlimited possibilities of unstructured time stretching out in front of them.
Oh, I insane...let's see...there is so much free time in between the cross country practices, horseback riding, puppy vet appt, quick trip to Tucson (2 hours away) to look at the University campus and of course let's not forget the 32 loads of laundry, 17 errands, house cleaning and the mountain of mail to be sorted bills to be paid....
I might as well just fast forward to Monday morning!



Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scorpion terror

Last night I was saved by my cat. Yes, that black and white, shedding, demanding, entitled feline who has never seen a counter he shouldn't climb on, actually earned his keep last night. After putting the howler monkey puppy into her cage at 1:15 a.m. I stumbled back to my bedroom to throw my exhausted carcass into bed and on the way made a pit stop...As I was leaving the bathroom, I noticed that the cat had once again weasled his way into our bedroom. ( He loves to jump on our bed and keep us awake all night long with his purring, kneading and need to be the focus of our attention...) Anyway, he looked a little too alert and actually was pushing at something on the floor with his paw...On closer inspection, I realized that he had captured a small bark scorpion and was keeping it from escaping. I of course in my calm and rational response to all things creepy with venom let out a moose bellow and awakened my sleeping husband who immediately jumped out of bed with a tennis shoe at the ready for crushing and annihilating any and all creatures of the night.

Scary...I have already been stung once and do not want to go thru that again...This darn scorpion completely blended with our carpet color leading me to believe that a breeding program is underway to encourage survival of the fittest scorpions in my house...those that blend in best will survive to procreate. So...I am sure that for the next few weeks, my nerves will be on total edge as I prowl around the house at more entering dark rooms....I am sure my electric bill will reflect it!

Anyway...hats off to the I won't complain about the cat box.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Fried Chicken: Any questions?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Running on empty

Menu: Chicken stir fry.

Reflections from the Backcounter

I am going to regret the conversation I had with a friend..."I think that I will get back to running, it will be a great opportunity to bond with the kids. "Am I crazy??? starting to run again in middle age?...Interesting what a different experience it is now compared to those college days...Now everything hurts.
That first mile is gruesome and then the creaks and aches settle down into a tolerable rhythm of discomfort and the beat of the road gains a comforting cadence. That is... until the i -pod abruptly stops ...and then the adrenaline pump from the tunes is replaced by enough mental whining to eclipse all endorphin production. Not to mention the heat. I got a little too ambitious this morning and started my long run a little too late. The joint pain was nothing when compared to the incipient heat exhaustion that I fought in the final half mile. But all is well...I did not succumb although I did fantasize about the orange cooler attached to the side of the cement truck that was playing hopscotch down the street with me as it filled in a series of holes in the pavement. I did make it to my destination without humiliating myself by needing assistance from the cement workers who were obviously tolerating without any difficulty the heat that was threatening to take me to my knees... Luckily, I was able to give them what I thought was a plucky smile and a wave as I passed only to be totally embarrassed when they called out " you need water" I waved them off and limped into the ranch where my teens were riding in the triple digit temps without any effect....humbling....and of course after completing my pathetic 2.5 mile run (limp) I was informed that my son had completed a cross country team training run : distance 7 miles in the same heat.....His only problem was that he was now starving and "MOM, there is no food in the house!"

So job is to reload my IPOD and get some running tunes to pump up this middle aged metabolism, I need some really good tunes to drown out my creaky joints and my panting. Any suggestions? I would love recommendations for running music.
So, please leave a comment tonight on the Backcounter! I am looking for help with:
Music suggestions
More howling puppy suggestions ( Where are those Bergamasco puppy raisers with their collective puppy raising experience?)



Friday, August 15, 2008

Loyal Readers: A Cry for anyone out there? Leave a comment!

Menu: NONE

Reflections from the Backcounter

Ok Loyal Readers.....the last post although slightly funny was really a veiled cry for help. I am serious... this puppy howler monkey cross is killing me and it is now 8:26 p. m.and I know that I am in for another night of tossing and turning howling agony....I have already invested in the "Hearo" ear plugs...plugs that meld to meet the architectural peculiarities of your ear canal...and I have had my glass of wine. I am confident, however, that this will not suffice and 1 a.m. will find me shuffling down the patio toward the grass with an ecstatic wide awake puppy who will take fifteen minutes to do her business and upon return to her kennel will again engage in the eardrum splitting howling, yowling, fever pitched screams that have populated my brain for the last two weeks.

I did receive one suggestion via email to administer bourbon via an eye dropper...what wasn't clear from the cryptic communique was whether or not the bourbon was for me or the puppy!!!!

So, Loyal Readers, rally around....send me some suggestions for my puppy management crisis. I know you are out there...I also know it is more fun to read than to write a comment...



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

Thursday: Tamale Pie (a standby favorite for a weeknight quick meal)

Reflections from the Backcounter

The blog has been very quiet this week and is a testimony to my utter and complete exhaustion. The combination of the first week of school and a new puppy is threatening to sink my proverbial ship. What is with the school? Why do I have to repeatedly fill out the same forms year after year....hasn't the school district heard of going green...I have filled out enough paperwork to wallpaper my bathroom. I believe that I have single handedly deforested a heretofore shady glen! (Now a sunny vale!) In the course of all of this form filling out exercise I have come to recognize that I have post traumatic application disorder. Truly....these forms always give me a flashback to the gut wrenching anxiety associated with college and grad school applications. I don't suppose I will ever be truly over it...I start to fill out the form for my seventh grader to participate in the science lab and suddenly the room begins to swirl and I am transported back to another decade ( I refuse to identify the year as ..on a blog I can be ageless) and begin to experience sweaty palms and a headache....

On to my next challenge...sleepless ,dog howling ,cage rattling, midnight pottying the dog ..nights...How can such a beautiful, fluffy, sweet darling little puppy go so far to the dark side at night? Just as I am drifting off into a deep and dream filled (ok ok nightmare filled: school application flashback) slumber, I am rudely startled back into a conciousness filled with the howls of a puppy turned werewolf crossed with a howler monkey. And...she will not be deterred from her goal of prying one of the adults in the house (all children have dog barking deafness at night) from the warm bed. This pup is a master...and just to reinforce our well trained response, she shows us the desperate need she has by running to the yard and after sniffing for at least 15 minutes does her full and complete number one and number two business and then returns to collect her praise.

Needless to say...I am pooped.!!
Nocturnal werewolf howler monkey cross
Don't be fooled by this innocent face. Beware the darkness......
More on this later

Peace and puppyhood,


Monday, August 11, 2008

Menu plan Monday: Week of August 10-17


Sunday: Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Monday: Roquefort stuffed Boneless Pork Chops

Tuesday: Tuna and Artichoke pressed sandwich

Wednesday: Pasta with zucchini
Thursday: Tamale pie
Friday: Leftovers

Reflections from the Backcounter

An inspirational story for Monday morning. Irene Sendler was a truly inspiring and heroic woman. Her story was unearthed by high schoolers. The power of this. Hard to believe that I did not know about her.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seriously Sunday

Reflections from the Backcounter

This face captures my mood. Too much to do and too little time between now and Monday morning when the gun goes off and the school year officially begins. All is not lost, however, because the school year does bring certain benefits to most households.

1. Less mess: Having the LD's (Little darlings) out of the house for 6-7 hours a day cuts down on sandy floors, black fingerpringts, dishes in the sink, half eaten peanut butter sandwiches in the play room and overflowing laundry baskets and trash cans.

2. Order to the day: No longer is my schedule the only driving force to pry the LD's out of bed in the morning. Now they must be accountable to a higher power...the school. GOOD MORNING!!

3. Lower electric bill: One would think that my teenagers were menopausal. The temperature in the house during the day is close to that of a meat locker. Now we can set the thermostat and no one will touch it for at least 6 hours.

4. Less TV: Homework means no TV. No TV means fewer arguments ...a win win

5. NO XBox: I hate that thing. There is a ban on XBox during the school year weekdays and weeknights.

6. A routine. Household ADD occurs during the one seems to ever finish a task...the dishwasher is not quite emptied....the laundry not quite put away...the chores not quite done. Maybe the LD's will be better with a can only hope.

7. Fewer weeknight negotiations for curfew exemptions. Sorry...refer to item 2....School rules...must get up on time in the morning

8. After school activities: These always wear out the LD's...tired LD's are compliant energy to be difficult.

9. The rhythm of the school year is a comfort. After all....most of us spent our most formative years in this calendar and there is comfort in the thought of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp white notebook paper and the endless possibilities associated with the opportunity to start fresh!

10. Enjoy...this too shall pass and my life will be a lot less hectic, a lot less full and a lot less too soon a time. Dogs just can't fill the hole in your heart like a child can...

Time to wipe the fingerprints off the doorjams, grocery shop and of course...I am off to puppy training...More on that later.



Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dinner interrupted: Dinner was a flop

Menu: Last night "A Flop"

Reflections from the Backcounter

A big fat flop. That is what dinner turned out to be last night. In concept, the Brie and Peach sandwiches sounded light and tasty; the perfect solution to a fast Friday night summer meal. Wrong...thanks for playing!!! This was terrible. The brie tasted flat and the peach mixture was way too sweet. All foodie experimental subjects in my house were great sports but the resounding NO to this recipe reverberated off the wall of the kitchen and into the pantry where the jar of peanut butter was hastily retrieved.

Thank goodness for peanut butter and bread...too bad there was no milk to wash it from the dry roof of their mouths.......I REALLY need to get to the grocery store.



Friday, August 8, 2008

T minus one weeked and counting: School is starting...Mothers start your engines

Water lilies for peaceful breathing meditation exercise...see below

Dinner tonight is easy....leaving lots of time to get ready for school next week! See below!

Reflections from the Backcounter

I am in near panic mode. (Breathe...look at the water lily picture...stay calm ) Every year at this time I am confronted with the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead....the re-entry process to the school year calendar. (Repeat breathing exercise) The purchasing of school supplies, organizing of closets and clothing are only a prelude to the onslaught of activities, car pooling, lunch packing and stress that lies before me. Not to mention....the homework. I have been in cattle prod mode all summer because my high school junior has had to complete a massive US History project for his AP class during the summer. The project is due on the first day of option for tardiness...or no credit. We are closing in on the finish line and of course this BIG PROJECT is not yet completed. Maybe a cattle prod is not enough...maybe I should contact the Taser company to see if they have made a technological advancement in teenage prodding any event, my whining did not fall on deaf ears. My dear friend, Ruth, was moved to again guest author on the blog to address my hysteria....I am off to buy a calendar and hope this bit of advice from a seasoned veteran of the motherhood wars will offer up some help to you as you face the challenge of school year re-entry.

The BIG Project

Guest blogger: Ruth

The imminent arrival of the new school year is an exciting time.
For parents, it’s the start of a new academic year, fresh with the promise of intellectual reversal of fortune, and the theoretical possibility of straight A’s, multiplied by the number of children they have, equaling scholarly nirvana.
For kids, it’s the end of summer bummer. Period. The mornings get darker, and so do their personalities.
The free-wheeling choices of their summer are replaced with the steady drum-beat of due dates and must-do’s of the teacher tyranny. They get surly just thinking about it.
The older your kids are, the more likely they are to be confronted with Big Projects That Are Due A Long Time From Now.
This speaks to the Conradian heart of darkness in parenting: how to handle the Huge Project without losing your sanity (or worse, doing the project yourself)?
Personally, I always felt that The Big Project was like the part in the wedding ceremony that says "speak now or forever hold your peace."

Sit down now, before school starts, and talk about the Big Projects that are in your future, stacked over "academic Kennedy Airport", waiting to land in your life. Your approach (because you are mature and sane) will be the steady, manageable, do-small-sections-at-a-time approach that breaks down The Big Project into bite-size, painless pieces and yields a project that is finished ahead of time. Your kids’ approach (because they are insane and inexperienced in the ways of the world) will be that they can’t even bear to think about it, and what are you…crazy? This is actually an attempt on their part to make it go away altogether, as if waving a magic wand can remove the dark cloud of The Big Project from their personal horizons. Don’t fall for it.
Plan it like a sales convention in another city. Get it on a paper calendar, and work backwards from the cold, hard deadline. Six chapters to read in six weeks? That’s one chapter each week. Allow writing and review time for essays, and factor in sick time, because it never fails to enter into the picture. Hang the calendar in plain sight, and cross it off daily. I am not joking. If you can start your kids scheduling academic projects this way in middle or high school, they will be organizational aces by the time they really need to do this on their own in college. And that, fellow parents of the world, is your Big Reward from The Big Project!

Thanks Ruth!



Thursday, August 7, 2008

We are not alone

Reflections from the Backcounter

Sometimes clarity and insight go hand in hand and are delivered to you without asking by a kind and helpful neighbor who happens to have a camera! Things that have defied explanation are suddenly explained and finally make sense. Small things like: understanding why your apple tree never bears fruit, or why the rock wall around the garden has always fallen down each time you return for a weekend trip to the cabin, and why the hummingbird feeder is suddenly empty for no apparent reason or visible leak... In this case...there is a four legged culprit.

In fact, a very large, four legged ,apple stealing, wall knocking , hummingbird feeder drinking, bull elk has invaded our yard at our summer cabin. Mind you in 20 years of weekend trips to this little mountain hideaway the most exciting wild animal sighting on our property has been a family of mother and baby skunks who prevented us from having our traditional marshmallow roast in the back yard...A spraying skunk can put a damper on your enthusiasm for trying to roast that perfectly golden brown nugget of marshmallow goodness.

Clearly, this animal is in a different league. He looks majestic and... rather comfortable as he ravages and pillages my flower garden and strips the apple tree. Notice that hoof action as it knocks over my tediously constructed garden wall. The nerve of that elk. I am confident that he is on his way to the hummingbird feeder. Next he'll be expecting cream in his coffee.....



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Apple Pie for Breakfast: Teenage favorites

Wednesday: Summer spaghetti
Dinner tonight is an easy pasta dish that is guaranteed to please the hungry hordes of teens who are now running cross country and are starving in my house.

Reflections from the Backcounter

Sometimes when surfing the internet you run into a site that has to be passed on to others. I saw an apple pie on Eat Me: Delicious this morning and it made me want to eat apple pie for breakfast.

If an "apple a day keeps the doctor away" then apple pie for breakfast might just make for a great start to the day. I am not much of a baker but think that I will try this later this week.

When time is short, a fruit cobbler is a great substitute for a pie. Fruit is layered in a dish and covered with a pastry or streusel topping. During the summer fresh peaches, nectarines and blueberries make for delicious cobblers.
Here is a tried and true recipe for cobbler that will please everyone in your family:
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/4 t ground cinammon
4 cups sliced peaches
1 t lemon juice
3 T shortening
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T sugar 1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup milk
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and cinnamon in a 2 quart saucepan. Stir in peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Poiur into ungreased 2 quart casserole. Keep peach mixture hot in the oven.
Cut shortening into the flour, 1 T sugar, the baking powder and salt until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the milk. Drop dough by 6 spoonfuls onto hot peach misture.
Bake until topping is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm and if desired, with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dinner review

Tuesday: Picnic Chicken Salad

Reflections from the Backcounter

This was a great, cool and fast weeknight dinner. We served it with french bread and the kids loved it. I did not have celery so substituted green pepper and it was great. Weeknights are very challenging for dinner prep and whenever I find a quick delicious meal it makes me VERY happy . So tonight....I am happy. Dinner was quick. Dinner was easy and clean up minimal. A triple play!



Monday, August 4, 2008

Menu plan: End of summer Get organized for School

Reflections from the Backcounter

Well the Backcounter Buffet is getting back on track for its primary mission. To help guide busy moms thru the week with menu ideas and menu planning. The goal is to provide meals that are different, tasty and relatively easy to accomplish. Menu planning is the thing that stands between me and insanity. It is impossible to return home from work and and construct anything that even closely resembles a nutritious meal without advance planning. I concede that there are incredible and talented women out there who can whip up a gourmet meal from two or three items in their well stocked pantry but this mom is inspirationally challenged. I need a plan....and sometimes when all is well in the world and Jupitor is aligned with Mars....I can execute said plan. With school starting again...hope springs eternal and we will once again embark upon the dinnertime menu planning odyssey.
These menus may not reflect the grocery ads in your area but I build mine using the ads to find the least expensive items. Check back on previous weekly menus to see if there are recipes that better reflect the bargains in your neighborhood. We made the pork last night and unfortunately, I did not get a picture of it. Suffice it to say, it was scrumptious. This is a busy week with prep for school and the heat is oppressive. The menu reflects both issues.

Ceres the pup is sleeping thru the night. What a miracle. Puppies are a lot of work.!! She has run through our yard and has found every last remnant of the seed pods that have fallen from the mesquite trees and has tried to eat every one. We have been sweeping the yard like maniacs as I am sure an undigested seed pod will lead to an emergency vet visit.


BBQ pork
Corn on the Cob
Cole slaw

BBQ pork

Pork Shoulder
Dry rub of choice
Garlic powder, Lawry salt, pepper, paprika, basil, sugar

Place roast on grill. Heat up opposite side. Place a fire proof bowl on hot side of grill and fill it with a mixture of water, molasses or coca cola. This adds a caramelized flavor. Smoke with chips of cedar that have been smoked. We used a plank and it straddled the active side of the fire.

Cook until done...we cooked for 8-9 hours. Keep adding to the water/molasses mixture as needed.

This is a time consuming but easy way to have smoked BBQ pork without having a smoker

Delicious and can be served sliced or shredded with or without barbecue sauce.

Cole slaw
1 head green cabbage
1/4 head red cabbage
Strips of carrot
1/8 cup diced red onion
1/8 cup diced green pepper
cilantro if desired
1 package ramen noodles crushed if desired


4 T sugar
1 t salt
3/4 cup veg oil
1 tsp pepper
5T rice wine vinegar

Mix well and toss with cabbage serve cold. This is a delicious and light salad


Picnic chicken salad
Sliced tomatoes
Sourdough rolls

Picnic chicken salad

1-2 cups shredded chicken (Make extra 2 cups for Thursday night Cobb salad wraps)
2-3 cups chopped celery
celery salt
1/3 clup green olives with pimento
1 box rotini pasta cooked al dente

Mix all ingredients and serve


Prosciutto and Mozzarella Heros with Olive relish

3 large celery ribs halved lenghtwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3/4 cup pitted mixed black and green olives, chopped
3 T chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 T coarsely chopped capers
1/4 cup plus 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
Six 6 inch hero rolls, split
12 large arugula leaves
3/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
3/4 pound fresh lightly salted mozzarella cut into 12 slices
3 large tomatoes cut into 6 slices
3/4 cup thinly sliced pickled peppers
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
In medium bowl, toss the celery, olives, parsley and capers and stir in the olive oil

Spread the rolls open on a cookie sheet and bake for 3 minutes or until crisp . Arrange 2 arugula leaves on the bottom half of each roll and top with 2 ozs of prosciutto, 2 mozzarella slices and three tomato slices. Top each sandwich with a layer of pickled peppers and about 1/4 cup of the olive relish. Close and serve at once. Can also drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar for extra flavor.


Garlic bread

Thursday (Too hot to cook)

Cobb Salad Wrap

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinaigrette salad dressing
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
6 (10") flour tortillas
1-1/2 cups shredded fresh spinach
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preparation:Combine chicken, green onion, tomato and avocado in medium bowl and gently mix. In small bowl, combine salad dressing and dijon mustard and whisk to blend. Add to chicken mixture and stir to coat.
When ready to serve, spoon chicken mixture into each tortilla. Top with spinach and blue cheese. Fold up bottom edge and fold in sides, and serve.

6 servings

Friday (Too hot and now too tired to cook.)

Brie Peach Sandwiches

You can add meat to this sandwich recipe if you wish (fresh shrimp), but the combination of tangy brie and the sweet and spicy peach preserves are perfect all by themselves.

1/2 cup peach preserves
1 peach, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. minced green onions
1 tsp. raspberry vinegar
dash white pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 crusty french rolls
6 leaves butter lettuce
10 slices brie cheese
Combine peach preserves, chopped peach, green onions, vinegar, and red pepper flakes; stir and set aside. Makes enough for 8 sandwiches.
Assemble sandwiches with the peach mixture and remaining ingredients just before serving.
You can also make this a hot and cold sandwich. Cut the rolls in half and spread cut sides with some butter. Divide Brie cheese among the rolls. Place in toaster oven and toast until cheese melts and bread starts to brown. Remove from oven and make sandwiches with lettuce and peach mixture. Makes 6 sandwiches


In our school district, this is the last weekend before school starts so food takes a back seat to the last minute prep for school. The crock pot is just the answer. This is simple but hearty and kids love it.

Crock pot: Complete meal in one pot
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 large clove garlic - minced
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
6 medium new potatoes (the red ones) peeled and thinly sliced
2 large onions (sliced thinly)
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of thinly sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1 cup of fresh string beans
Salt and pepper to taste
What you do:
Place ground beef and garlic in the crock pot along with the pepper and thyme.
Stir together.
Add the potatoes and onionsand the string beans.
Add the milk, mushrooms and flour to the crock pot contents.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.



Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ceres: The gorgeous CCI puppy

Ceres and O'Hanna

Reflections from the Backcounter

"Don't hate me because I am beautiful." This puppy is a looker and she has a personality to match. There have been a few sleepless nights so far as I think she is still suffering from separation anxiety from her littermates and mother. We are in the full throes of new puppy raising and are very excited to have her. O'Hanna is home and is still a little stressed. She had some hot spots on her legs from licking. We are thrilled to have her back.

Tomorrow we start the Kinderpuppy classes and we are on our way to training this latest CCI puppy.

Tomorrow menus are returning to the Backcounter as I need to make them to keep my sanity, keep the troops fed and protect my budget. We are T minus 10 and counting to the first day of school. Today, I was able to make a great purchase at the used uniform sale so there is another plus for frugality.

Please feel free to offer suggestions and leave comments for:

1. Varsity dog hair management. I have used the dustmop three times this morning and can practically weave a rug with what I have gotten off my floor. This will be an ongoing challenge...maybe I need to lower my standards?

2. Nighttime strategies to stop the howling. How one small puppy can make so much noise at night is beyond me. She sounds like a wolf howling at the moon and the sound reverberates off of our tile floor bounces off of our ceilings and pierces our eardrums. I have purchased some ear plugs...

3. School prep countdown..
4. Vacation reentry laundry marathon.
5. Any strategies for to help with post vacation blues

Wow ..I better get busy...the laundry pile is taller than me....I would much rather write.



Thursday, July 31, 2008

CCI Puppies: Ceres is here and O'Hanna was released

Reflections from the Backcounter

Well, yesterday was the much awaited day for the arrival of Ceres our new CCI pup. We have been anticipating her arrival and unfortunately at the last minute she could not be flown to Arizona because of the heat. We were in a panic because of the fact that we were in Albuquerque at Arabian Youth Nationals. To the rescue came the CCI puppy raising Chair....Michaele Conners and Pat Lawson volunteered to drive to Oceanside and pick up the new baby and also O'Hanna. We were notified that O'Hanna was being released back to us last week because she was too stressed and timid. We are very sorry that she didn't make it but are thrilled to have her back in our family.

I have found the perfect answer to those who ask me, "How can you give up your puppy, I could never do it" Yes you could. Just watch the video below and you will understand

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Top ten tips for traveling with teens

Reflections from the Backcounter

This has been a busy summer for our family and as a result, I have not had the opportunity to do menus and meal planning because we have been traveling so much. I thought it would be a great idea to share some of the lessons I have learned from being on the the road with my three teens.

So here it goes

TOP TEN tips for traveling with teens:

1. Allow them to sleep. Teenagers need infinitely more sleep than the average adult and their circadian rhythm is usually completely out of synch with that of the exhausted supervising parent. Just as the monosyllabic, grumpy, sleepy bordering on surly teenager is waking up and ready to engage in activities (5pm-7pm) the irritable wine deprived adult is ready to collapse into a heap and recover from the days activities(see below)

2. Herding cats is easier. Attention all feline wranglers. Teens are harder to wrangle than their feline counterparts. If you think it is hard gathering up a herd of those wily kitties, try to get a group of teens all together in one place at the same time ...on time. It never fails, just prior to departure one always goes missing and we can't even use catnip or tuna to entice them back to the herd.

3. Keep IPODS on hand. When the little darlings begin to bicker and the decibel level in the car is close to reaching that of a jet engine idling on the tarmac, do not panic! Merely, insert ear buds into teen ears and see immediate decrease in decibel level of noise and experience immediate depressurization of parental stress. No longer is a quick game of license plate bingo going to calm the troops. Those days are over and only electronic devices will stop the cacophany. If teen IPOD use fails, insert ear buds into parent ears ...Caution: always decrease volume before inserting ear buds into parental ear canals.

4. Food, food and more food. Food in the car, food in the hotel room, food in your purse and lots of money available to buy more food when they consume all aforementioned food.

5. Friends are a parent's best friend. Keeping teens connected with friends while traveling offers a huge benefit to parents who are attempting to engage teen in meaningful conversation. Warning to parents. Nothing you have to say has any meaning after 10 days on the road. GIVE IT UP. Plug teen into nearest wifi access and allow them to get a dose of facebook.

6. Carry phone/blackberry charger with you at all times. Get used to it. Your Blackberry is NOT for your use or for communicating with business contacts or work contacts. It is to be used solely for the entertainment of bored teenagers who need to immediately search Google, check facebook or when all else fails, play brickbreaker . Warning....Battery will always be low on this device. Forget the fact that you have plugged it in at night. Remember that teens are nocturnal animals who are most active after the sun goes down and parental awareness is in REM sleep. The Blackberry will be unplugged, used and tossed aside to slowly lose charge overnight while you are blissfully sleeping and thinking that all is well.

7. Request extra towels from the front desk and hide one for personal use. Invariably, you will find yourself naked, cold and trapped in a small hotel bathroom with only a pile of used wet towels on the floor or if you are lucky one dry fresh washcloth. If you have not requested extra towels from the desk, you will have only two choices, both unacceptable...1. run naked through the room littered with lolling teens and risk searing into their retinas the vision of beauty that you aren't or 2. dry off your body with a mildewed towel retrieved from the germ infested bathroom floor and risk contracting a skin disease yet to be identified but recently associated with a fungus found in the Amazon rain forest or the Cross country lockers at the high school.

8. Take them to movies. This will buy you 2-3 hours of uninterrupted peace that you can use for personal gain or if you are so inclined to watch the movie.

9. If in the US find a Costco. Food, snacks and water are essential and the best bargains are at Costco. Also hedge the bet and while you are finding the Costco scout out the location of the nearest ER that takes your insurance

10. Keep your sense of humor and remember...the family vacation will soon be a thing of the past as the little darlings graduate and go off to college and the rest of their lives. Just like childbirth the only memories that will populate your brain will be the pleasant ones of sun filled beach holidays and delicious restaraunt meals shared with teens who are actually interested in what you have to say and who engage in planning the next trip as they politely talk amongst themselves in the back seat on the way home. STOP daydreaming while you are driving and start looking for the nearest McDonalds...the pressure in the backseat is building and the hunger is palpable...chaos is next.



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reflections on mothering

Reflections from the Backcounter

The chance to spend time away from the day to day grind with my kids is truly a gift. Although a mom never truly gets away from the duty of mothering, the change in pace is energizing. Having said that we have already been to the laundromat to launder our mud encrusted jeans and the business of nagging the kids to pick up after themselves never ends. Hopefully, the opportunity to experience the shared passion of horses and showing will help to solidify our bond during the turbulent teenage years. I look at all the parents who are here to support their children and I realize the commitment they have made to enhancing the lives of their kids. I know that this is going on around the country on soccer fields, at swim meets, dance competitions and baseball fields. This investment of time and energy in our children is truly priceless. I know that they will look back fondly on our crazy early morning calls to the barn, our laughter about our horses and our long hours on the road.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Arabian Youth Nationals: The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

Reflections from the Backcounter also known as the barn:

Day 3: Held hostage on the show grounds. Dust, sun, manure and nervous tension threaten the integrity of my cardiovascular system let alone my gi tract. This is anxiety personified and the stakes are high. Not only are we dealing with the uncertainty of a national competition but we must also factor in the unpredictable variable of a living breathing member of the competition team, the fragile horse. Doing well at nationals is like going to Las Vegas. You can never beat the house. Your favorite youth competitor can deliver the ride of her life and still not make the cut . Yesterday we added another layer of complexity to the equation when my oldest daughter got tossed off of her horse onto the concrete pavement and we had the distinct pleasure of spending the next 6 hours in the University of New Mexico Emergency room. Luckily, no broken bones but plenty of bruises and of course a new layer of fretting for the already nearly frenetic mother. Add to that a less than enthusiastic teen age brother who is clearly put out at having to spend his precious summer break hanging around a barn and my nerves are frazzling. Hopefully, they will all look back on these experiences with fond memories and a desire to reproduce the
experience for their children.... and to think I was worried about the this point we are ordering pizza...daily...



Thursday, July 24, 2008

Road food: SOS

Reflections from the Backcounter

Road food!!

Keeping the ducklings fed while traveling is a constant challenge. Teen age appetites and my wallet are on a collision course with bankruptcy!! I am always looking for ways to feed them healthy fare and avoid restaurants and fast food chains. Having said this it is a challenge and I am being tested! I expected that there would be an available microwave in this hotel but to my dismay there is not even one on the premises. I am now rethinking my entire vacation menu plan and have to come up with ways to feed the crew cold food or premade food from the grocery. We can heat water in our little coffee maker..I am having a flashback to my freshman year in the dorm. I remember eating a lot of dry packaged soup and kool aid!
On a positive note, we made the road trip with a minimum of fuss and bickering. We have graduated from the "Are we there yet" phase of parenting (they know better than to ask that inflammatory question when they are perfectly capable of reading the road signs) to the "Why can't I drive on this straight stretch of semi-truck infested road?". Still a challenge and at the end of the four (or was it six) hours, my nerves were stretched taught on the way to being frayed.
And now the little darlings have the audacity to be hungry and somewhat disdainful of the leftover sandwiches that are being offered to the teenage god of hunger...I need some ideas

Menu ideas

Rotisserie Chicken from the grocery

French Bread

Bagged salad

Carrot sticks

Egg salad (Made from purchased hard boiled eggs)

Tuna Salad

Ramen noodles ( I hate them but the kids love them)

Sandwiches/cold cuts/PB and J (Hard for us because one of the kids has a peanut allergy)

Not a crisis but a challenge..I could use some ideas...Please send them to me and I will report back! I am confident that someone will have a better plan...I am the mental equivalent of burnt toast! Luckily, breakfast is provided...on for coffee..I am sure I will perk up with a little caffeine



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

View from the road

Well, the Clampetts made it all the way to Flagstaff without losing a bicycle or a suitcase from the exterior of the car. Road trips are infinitely less fun these days as I watch the fuel gauge consuming my meager wallet. Filling up on the road can actually induce hyperventilation. Hyperventilating at the fuel pump is fraught with difficulty as one can get more than a little high on the fumes! Maybe that is the key...self medicating with fuel fumes to ease the pain of the purchase! A quick eight hours of sleep and back on the road across the Northern Arizona moonscape and on to New Mexico. A long six hour trip across dry harsh landscape.

Arabian Youth Nationals or Bust!!

Reflections from the Backcounter

Early morning riding, sore muscles, saddle sores and many tears have built the foundation for the highlight of the show season: Arabian Youth Nationals. In Albuquerque, New Mexico hundreds of youth from around the country come to experience the thrill of participation in a national competition. Accompanied by their entourage of parents, friends and family each competitor will have the chance to show their stuff and have a chance at winning the roses. This is an exciting time and we are packed and ready to go. After twenty two trips to Walmart, a returned bicycle rack and the purchase of a roof top cargo holder we are ready to hit the road albeit looking a lot like the Clampetts of Beverly Hills Hilbilly fame. Our roadster is adorned with the usual campaign slogan: Youth Nationals or bust and the driver (mom) is prepping for the 8 hour drive a thon by studying a map to determine where the Starbucks stops are...hopefully, evenly spaced two hours apart to allow for achievement of steady state caffeine levels.

Blog posts may be sparse in the next ten days but that all depends on the hotel internet access and my caffeination



Monday, July 21, 2008

Did you know? Great tips to think about

Reflections from the Backcounter

It is too hot to cook and I am taking a break from menu planning until August. Sandwiches and salads are about all we can stomach in this heat and so no need to share those non recipes!

This was sent to me by a friend on my email and honestly I did not know many of these things. There is always a better mousetrap out there


Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little 'stringy things' off of it. That's how the primates do it. Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster.

Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresh much longer and not mold!

Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking. Add a teaspoon of water when frying ground beef. It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking.

To really make scrambled eggs or omelets rich add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream in and then beat them up.

For a cool brownie treat, make brownies as directed. Melt Andes mints in double broiler and pour over warm brownies. Let set for a wonderful minty frosting.

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic.

Leftover snickers bars from Halloween make a delicious dessert. Simply chop them up with the food chopper. Peel, core and slice a few apples. Place them in a baking dish and sprinkle the chopped candy bars over the apples. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes!!! Serve alone or with vanilla ice cream. Yummm!

Reheat Pizza Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on the cooking channel and it really works.

Easy Deviled Eggs Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up.

Expanding Frosting When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

Reheating refrigerated bread To warm biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

Newspaper weeds away Start putting in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers, put layers around the plants overlapping as you go, cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers.

Broken Glass Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up the small shards of glass you can't see ea sily.

No More Mosquitoes Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away.

Squirrel Away! To keep squirrels from eating your plants, sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper doesn't hurt the plant and the squirrels won't come near it.

Flexible vacuum To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

Reducing Static Cling Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and ... tada! ... static is gone.

Measuring Cups Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

Foggy Windshield? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car. When the window's fog, rub with the eraser! Works better than a cloth!

Reopening envelopes If you seal an envelope and then realize you forgot to include something inside, just place your sealed envelope in the freezer for an hour or two. Viola! It unseals easily.

Conditioner Use your hair conditioner to shave your legs. It's cheaper than shaving cream and leaves your legs really smooth. It's also a great way to use up the conditioner you bought but didn't like when you tried it in your hair. (Walter - That tip is not intended for you.)

Goodbye Fruit Flies To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass, fill it 1/2' with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid; mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

Get Rid of Ants Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, take it 'home,' can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains, but it works and you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

INFO ABOUT CLOTHES DRYERS The heating unit went out on my dryer! The gentleman that fixes things around the house for us told us that he wanted to show us something and he went over to the dryer and pulled out the lint filter. It was clean. (I always clean the lint from the filter after every load of clothes.He told us that he wanted to show us something; he took the filter over to the sink and ran hot water over it. The lint filter is made of a mesh material ... I'm sure you know what your dryer's lint filter looks like. Well ... the hot water just sat on top of the mesh! It didn't go through it at all!He told us that dryer sheets cause a film over that mesh that's what burns out the heating unit. You can't SEE the film, but it's there. It's what is in the dryer sheets to make your clothes soft and static free ... that nice fragrance too. You know how they can feel waxy when you take them out of the box .. well this stuff builds up on your clothes and on your lint screen. This is also what causes dryer units to potentially burn your house down with it! He said the best way to keep your dryer working for a very long time, (and to keep your electric bill lower), is to take that filter ou t and wash it with hot soapy water and a n old toothbrush, (or other brush), at least every six months. He said that makes the life of the dryer at least twice as long! How about that!?! Learn something new everyday! I certainly didn't know dryer sheets would do that. So, I thought I'd share! Note: I went to my dryer and tested my screen by running water on it. The water ran through a little bit but mostly collected all the water in the mesh screen. I washed it with warm soapy water and a nylon brush and I had it done in 30 seconds. Then when I rinsed it ... the water ran right thru the screen! There wasn't any puddling at all! That repairman knew what he was talking about!