The Jello Project: Peaches and Cream and the Parent Trap

After a one week hiatus, the Jell-o Project is back and better than ever. This week’s Jell-o is Peaches and Cream (the non-alcoholic version) with what I believe is the ultimate Jell-o ingredient: sweetened condensed milk.

Sweetened condensed milk is such a brilliant Jell-o compliment. It’s as if Sharon and Susan have finally met each other at summer camp and have broken out into a rousing rendition of “Let’s Get Together”while simultaneously trying to bring their divorced parents back together.
I was confident the taste would win over my family of reluctant taste testers, but to make absolutely sure, I gave each kid a spoonful taste of sweetened condensed milk just in case they were put off by the solid, jiggly, white mass. All three boys gave the plain, sweetened condensed milk a hearty thumbs up.
Dinner time: the moment of truth. Would my family eat the Peaches and Cream Jell-o?
Yes!
Although no one finished their whole serving, I’m ready to declare Peaches and Cream Jell-o the most successful Jell-o in the Jell-o project to date. Here are the results:
Isaac – ate 10% of the Jell-o and said, “I kind of liked it, kind of in between. Kind of bad and kind of good.”
Ethan – ate 70% and said it was pretty good, but would have liked the sweetened condensed milk layer to be thinner. Like paper thin.
Jonah – ate 80% and said it was awesome, just take out the sweetened condensed milk layer.
Robert – ate 85% and said although it was delicious through and through, the idea of eating milk in Jell-o kind of grossed him out. (I’ll have to remember not to top his Jell-o with whipped cream anymore.)
Me – ate 200%, as Isaac kindly pointed out, because I had two whole servings.
I admit, the results tend to point to the conclusion that my family just likes plain Jell-o with a little fruit mixed in, so maybe Peaches and Cream Jell-o isn’t the success I’m claiming it to be. Maybe it’s not the Sharon and Susan of the Jell-o world. On paper, it certainly looks that way…
…until I present, for your consideration, the surprise evidence!
Surprise! Bekah and Aurora stopped by after dinner with a plate of brownies and became the willing recipients of the last two Peaches and Cream Jell-o molds. Not only were they impressed with the restaurant style presentation (their words!), they ate every last bit of their Jell-o and declared it to be delicious. Then Aurora proceeded to wash the dishes.
I have therefore developed the following theories:
Peaches and Cream Jell-o is the Sharon and Susan of the Jell-o world
There is something wrong with the members of my family (missing the Jell-o gene?)
I need an Aurora at my house
Brownies make a delicious bedtime snack

The Miracle of the Reader’s Digest on the Shelf behind my Toilet

On the shelf behind my toilet sits the November 2013 issue of the Reader’s Digest. It’s magic.

I used to be a Reader’s Digest subscriber. Every month the newest issue would arrive, spend a day or two downstairs, then go upstairs to the shelf behind the toilet. The Reader’s Digest, with its one or two line “Quoteable Quotes,” the mid-length quiz, “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power,” and the longer “Drama In Real Life,” makes the ideal bathroom reading material. There is just the right amount of content for every situation, if you know what I mean.

Back in 2013 I stopped my subscription to Reader’s Digest. While I enjoyed every part of it, I just didn’t have time to consume it all before the next issue came. I found myself tossing them into recycling only partially read and feeling quite wasteful about it.

But we still needed bathroom reading material, so the November 2013 issue stayed put on the shelf behind the toilet. And it’s a good thing I kept it, because as I’ve already mentioned, it’s magic. After nearly two years, no matter what page I turn to in that 180 page magazine, I find something I’ve never seen before.

See? Magic!

“Did you read this article by Billy Crystal?” I ask Robert from my echo chamber one evening.

“There’s an article by Billy Crystal in there?” He garbles over the hum of his Sonicare, mouth full of toothpaste. At least I think that’s what he says.

“I know! How have I not seen it before now? It’s hilarious.” I glance at the cover again to make sure the Reader’s Digest Fairy hasn’t gifted us with a different issue. Nope, still November 2013.

A few days later, I find an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Of course! I think to myself. This was when his last book came out. I seem to remember reading it before and I scan the questions and answers. They are fresh and interesting, as if I’m seeing them for the first time. Huh, I think.

The next week I take the “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power” quiz and score 13 out of 15. I wonder how many times I’ve taken the quiz and scored the same. Will I ever learn the definition of venal or bumptious? Is this something I should be concerned about?

Concerned? I think. That I have a magic Reader’s Digest filled with endless reading material? 

I put the November 2013 Reader’s Digest back on the shelf behind the toilet and try to recall that word I didn’t know the definition for.

Until next time, magic Reader’s Digest!

Things You Should Never Say To a Person Who Is Trying to Be Nice (And Things You Should)

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. In other words, I threw up day and night for months, unable to keep anything down for more than a few seconds. Eventually I got a picc line and was put on a 23 hour IV nutrition solution called TPN. Even though I wasn’t eating, I still threw up around the clock.

Everything made me vomit but especially seeing food, the fridge being opened, the smell when something was being microwaved, and dreams about food.

During this time, many people tried to help. Some of them tried to help by suggesting anti-nausea remedies (Seabands, ginger tea, smelling a lemon, hypnosis). Some suggested reasons HG may be happening to me (it was all in my head, it was Robert’s fault, I’d let it get out of control, our new house had too much new carpet which was probably releasing chemicals into the air and making me sick). And one doctor subtly, but clearly suggested a solution (abortion).

Despite my explanations about food exacerbating the problem, people still brought me food. One person brought in houseplants so they could clean the air. Someone else kept me supplied with lemons to smell. And, when I was finally well enough to sit through church, one guy asked me, “Are you able to keep food down now?” every single week, even several months after my baby had been born.

It never would have occurred to me reprimand these people for making an effort to be kind. In fact, when I felt well enough, I wrote every single one a thank-you note. Did some of their attempts miss the mark? Sure. But it wasn’t their failures I was paying attention to. That was secondary to their effort to do something. From my own experience, I know that doing something is not always easy.

So why do we have the myriad lists floating around the internet with titles like “stupidest things to say to someone with cancer,” “things never to say to a person with anxiety,” or “things you should never say to a pregnant woman,” or a black coworker, or a daughter, or someone who hates her birthday, or a creative person or even (and I promise I’m not making this up) “things never to say to someone?”

Sure, these lists tell me what not to do if I want to be sensitive in a particular situation, but they also provide painful reminders of how many times I’ve said the wrong thing, even with my heart in the right place. Beyond that, they focus only on the negative behaviors and seem to mock the very people who are trying. They make me want to never say anything or get involved with a struggling friend again.

It takes so little effort to become offended. It’s much more difficult to consistently see the good in others. More challenging still to do so when someone has said something unintentionally unkind.

How do you know if people are trying to be nice or are really trying to hurt you? Remember, people are usually dumb before they are malicious. Just assume that you are dealing with a good person who is temporarily afflicted with a little Dumb, and be kind. Instead of focusing on how they’re offending you, why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not show a little grace.

Yes. Let’s bring back grace.

Imagine a world where every time we said something dumb, or felt stupid, and wanted to hide under a rock and never come out, someone was there to recognize our good intentions? What if worked to build and love each other? What if we weren’t mocked when our efforts to reach out to others fell short, but were lovingly cared for and enlightened?

If you find yourself struggling with what to say to someone who has just been insensitive towards you, but who is a little clueless, try some of these phrases:

1. Thank you.
2. You are so nice to think of me.
3. I appreciate you taking time for me.
4. You are so thoughtful.
5. Thanks for sticking by me.

No more silent seething and passive aggressive list-making when people aren’t being nice to you. Theyare being nice . . . just not very well. Don’t punish them for it.

Every Time You Make Salad in a Jar, a Kitten Dies

Using canning jars for things other than canning is a hot trend. With a little electrical wiring knowledge you can turn canning jars into pendant lights for your farmhouse-style kitchen. In the bathroom your jar can become a soap dispenser. You can paint them and put candles in them and bake little cakes in them and even drink out of them because looking like a hillbilly is also a hot trend.

I’m a purist and think that canning jars should be used for their intended purpose: Canning. Every so often I will use one to hold some homemade salad dressing or spice mix, but for the most part, I use canning jars only for canning, the way the Good Lord intended.

I will not lie—these “cute” canning jar crafts get me a little riled, but there is one use of a canning jar that just puts me over the edge. It is the salad-in-a-jar.

Salad does not belong in a canning jar. Period.

Salad needs to be tossed and mixed and when you jam pack a jar right up to the top with salad ingredients, tossing and mixing become impossible. This is why for hundreds of years, people have eaten salads in bowls. We even have bowls just for eating salad. They’re called Salad Bowls. You can buy them in sets or one at a time. You can get a big bowl for a big salad, or little bowls for small salads. The structure of the bowl allows for tossing and mixing so all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Sometimes you might want to take a salad with you to work or a picnic. For these occasions, we have bowls with lids. It’s a clever idea and very convenient for portable salad making.

My second, and probably most important salad-in-a-jar gripe, is the fork-to-jar ratio. I assume that if you go to the trouble of making a salad in a jar, and then follow that up with photographing your salad in a jar, you probably intend to EAT your salad in a jar. But standard sized fork will be just about as tall as your Ball quart. So while your first few bites of misguided jar salad could be easily attainable, your mid-level bites will become awkward and messy as fork holding area gets smaller and smaller.

By the time you are at the remaining bites of salad, which, by the looks of any salad-in-a-jar picture on the internet, will be the only ones with salad dressing, your fingers will only be able to grip the very tip of the fork handle as you try and fish out the chunks of cucumber, radish or chicken. Your hand can not fit in the jar, so there is no way you can dig deeper in that jar than the length of the fork will allow you to go.

I concede that some may use the salad-in-a-jar folly as a clever way to store individual salads and when eating time arrives, they get dumped in a bowl. Friends, this just creates extra dishes to wash. Grab yourself the bowl you plan to eat the salad out of, make your salad in that bowl, and cover it with a lid. I’ve just saved you one jar to wash.

You’re welcome.

I realize it is fun to make our food look adorable, and putting salad in a jar is undeniably adorable. Google Images is filled with hundreds of thousands of pictures of everyone’s attempt at making salad in a jar. But what you don’t see on Google Images is anyone eating salad in a jar.

This leads me to believe that people who make and eat salad-in-a-jar are so embarrassed by their participation in this utterly inefficient hot trend, that they are not speaking out for fear of looking like a fool whose common sense is blinded by adorable hot trends.

People, please stop making salad in jars. Use a bowl and we will never mention this shameful period of hot trend history again.

How to be a Boy: Clothes Shopping with Mom

When your mom says she needs to buy you new clothes and asks you to go with her, your first response will naturally be a primal one: fight or flight. In an effort to save yourself, you might feel a rise in adrenaline. Maybe a sweat will start to break out as you look for the nearest exits. You might consider playing dead.
The bad news is you can’t get out of clothes shopping with your mom. The good news is there are a few strategies that when used correctly, just might make this clothes shopping trip the last one you ever have to go on.
Don’t Wear Socks
To avoid having to spend minutes trying on shoes you don’t really want anyway, simply don’t wear socks. Make sure you have long pants on so your mom can’t see you’re bare ankles. When your mom asks you to sit down and try on a pair of pinchy, fussy dress shoes, just kick off one of your sneakers and wait for her reaction. Trust me; it will almost make all this shopping torture worth it.
Insist on a Mom-free Dressing Room
Under no circumstances should you allow your mother in the dressing room with you. She will plead and beg and tell you she’s your mother for crying out loud, but do not give in. Even if she loudly proclaims that she used to wipe poop off your bare bottom and should be able to watch you try on a shirt and pants, hold firm. This little tactic will set you up perfectly for the next weapon in your arsenal.
Do Not Undress
Taking off your clothes is such a pain. Don’t do it. You should be able to get every article of clothing your mom wants you to try on over the stuff you are already wearing. Plus, when you open the dressing room door to show your mom how well the new button down dress shirt fits over the top of your Old Navy skull and crossbones t-shirt, the look on your mom’s face will almost make up for the poop-on-the-bare-bottom comment she made earlier.
Self-induced Nausea
If clothes shopping with your mom does not bring on the heaves, then having your nose in your iPod Touch/Nintendo DS/et al during the car ride to the store should do the trick. Don’t look up, whatever you do, and no cracking the window for fresh air. If you still don’t feel sick when you get to the store, bring your device with you into the store and keep your head down in concentration as you walk from department to department. As soon as you feel the least bit queasy, complain loudly and often that you feel like you’re going to throw up.
The trick is to make your mother as miserable about shopping with you as you are about shopping with her. If these tips don’t get you out of all future clothes shopping trips, it should be a long, long time before you are subjected to another.

How to be a Boy: Riding Your Bike to School

When you ride your bike to school, you have to have a lock to keep it from getting stolen. So bring a lock with you, and don’t forget the key. Don’t put the key on any kind of key chain, just throw it in your backpack. I’m sure it will be there when you need it.

When, after two weeks of riding your bike to school, you lose your key, call your mom to come pick you up and get the spare key from that drawer in your dad’s dresser that holds spare change, spare business cards, spare parts, spare wristwatches and spare keys.
Listen to the lecture from your mom about using a key chain, always keeping your key in the same place, and being responsible. Say NO when she asks, “do we need to put it on a string around your neck?”
After 2 more weeks, lose the spare key.
Bonus – How to Be a Mom: Lecturing Your Son Who Lost his Last Bike Lock Key
“Well, I guess that’s it. I knew we shouldn’t have bought you such a nice bike. Why can’t you be responsible? Didn’t you have a key chain on that key? Didn’t you put the key in the same place in your backpack every day? I knew I should have made you wear it on a string around your neck. I guess your bike will have to stay at school forever now. And it’s supposed to rain this weekend. I think it’s starting to rain now.”
Extra Bonus – How to be a Dad: Cutting A U-Lock From Your Son’s Bike
Check with co-workers who will tell you about the Bic Pen trick. Look it up on YouTube. Come home and find a Bic Pen and spend 15 minutes trying to pry the end off. Drive over to the school with the Bic Pen.
Come back home, have dinner, then google how to really get a u-lock off a bike. Go to Home Depot. Purchase a converter kit for your drill that makes it into an angle grinder for $8. Go back to the school and try and cut the lock off the bike with the angle grinder and your cordless drill. When the drill battery dies, go back to Home Depot. Purchase a power converter that hooks up to the car battery to power your corded drill for $80. Go back to the school in the dark and cut off the lock.

How to be a Boy: Wrapping a Birthday Present

1. Wake your mother up at 6am and ask her where the wrapping paper is.

2. Measure how much wrapping paper you will need to wrap your gift, then triple that amount. Tear the wrapping paper from the roll. If you don’t tear straight, try tearing another piece of wrapping paper.

3. Barge in on your mom while she’s taking a shower. Yell over the sound of running water that you can’t find the tape. (She won’t be able to understand what you are saying.) Yell a few more things, then tell her to “never mind” (which she also won’t understand.)

4. Locate a stapler. Staple all the edges of the wrapping paper so that your gift will stay securely inside.

5. Leave the stapler on the floor where someone can step on it when they get out of the shower. Do not put away gift wrap. Make sure extra wrapping paper pieces that were too small get left on your mom’s bed, the kitchen floor, the stairs—anywhere but the garbage or recycling bins.

6. You’re finished!

How to be a Boy: Building a Blanket Fort

Step 1: Wait until your mom has spent no less than 3 hours cleaning the house

Step 2: Go to the linen closet and remove everything that looks sheet-like by pulling neatly folded stacks from each shelf onto the floor. Don’t miss great grandma’s white tablecloths.

Step 3: If you’ve pulled down a fitted sheet, wad it back up and shove it on the floor of the linen closet. Fitted sheets are NOT blanket fort building material.

Step 4: Build fort. Stacks of books make great sheet anchors, so feel free to remove all the books from the bookshelves.

Step 5: Play in the fort for 5 minutes to 3 hours. Make sure to end blanket fort play-time by getting into a huge fight with your brothers.

Step 6: Whatever you do, do not clean up the blanket fort.

Step 7: When your mom insists, wad sheets, tablecloths and anything else you’ve used and shove it into the linen closet. Close door as far as it will go. You’re done.

You Get What You Pay For

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These days, cut rate content websites are as abundant as cat videos on YouTube. If you need writing done, you can find someone who will do it . . . cheap. For a couple cents a word, you can get content written within a day or two.

Think about it.

If you’re in a rush to get web content online, or working with a tight budget, these services may seem enticing. I know, because I was lured by their promises too—not for writing, but for a logo.

I don’t know the first thing about graphic design and after searching through portfolios at a popular discount marketplace, I chose a designer I thought would help bring my logo vision to life for a very small fee. I crafted a well-thought out request and explained my ideas. This was me, putting myself on display, advertising my skills and abilities to the world. I wanted it to be inspired.

Two days later, an uninspired logo showed up in my inbox.

After my initial disappointment had receded, I realized the old saying is true: You get what you pay for.

As a professional, you can pay a penny a word for blog posts, white papers or web content. It’s not difficult to find someone fast and cheap.

But, if you want writing that reflects who you are, if you want it to be smart and professional, and maybe even a little fun, if you want copy that flows and is easy to read and grammatically correct, a few cents a word is not going to cut it.

Don’t scrimp when it comes to presenting yourself, your business, and your services to the world.

Think about it.