Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kitchen Gadget Review

I'm always looking for fun gadgets that make cooking and food prep easier. Here are four that I purchased recently, with a review of how well each worked once I tested them out:


The minute I saw Bobby Flay use this on one of his Food Network shows, I absolutely HAD to have one. My kids love mangoes, but they're a pain in the neck to peel and pit. This splitter makes quick work of it, much like an apple corer, removing the hard, inedible pith in the middle with ease. It works much better with larger mangoes, though. When I tried it on the organic ones I got at the Co-Op market, they were too small and irregularly shaped for the splitter to work well. The halves with the edible part ended up being way too thin, and we barely got any fruit out of it. If you want to cube your mango pieces, then you can use the splitter on an unpeeled mango. If you want larger slices, I would recommend peeling the mango first, because I found it more difficult to get the peel off after it was split.
OVERALL RATING: 3 1/2 stars out of 5


This one was an impulse buy, but it's actually one of the best of the bunch. It's far from a necessity when it comes to kitchen tools, and it's not exactly an ingenious design, but it's a neat thing to have. It makes sliced veggies look a little fancier than if you were to cut them with a regular knife. The kids loved the wavy edges, and anything that can encourage kids to eat more veggies is ALWAYS a good thing!
OVERALL RATING: 4 stars out of 5


This is supposed make the job of chopping fresh herbs quick and easy. Now that spring is here and I've got a garden filled with thyme, basil, and rosemary, I thought this gadget would be a big help. Instead, it was a big bust. The herbs get all mushed up in the wheels, turning my beautiful fresh basil into soggy, bruised strips that have to be carefully pried out of the blades. It wasn't much better with the rosemary or thyme, so this one gets a big thumbs down.
OVERALL RATING: O stars out of 5


I saved the best for last. I LOVE THIS THING! It was a great purchase, and has made peeling and slicing avocados a breeze. Once you split the avocado and remove the pit, all you do is slip the rounded edge of this slicer into the area where the avocado flesh meets the peel, and run it down along the inside of the peel, scooping out the avocado and slicing it at the same time. You not only end up with perfect avocado slices, but the shells remain intact, giving you the option to fill them again to use for serving (for seafood/avocado salad or guacamole, for example). Finally--a simple gadget that does exactly what it's supposed to do!
OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bikinis Only

Yesterday, I went shopping with my hormonal teenager for swimsuits, because, I'm brave that way.

The good news is: she found a bathing suit that she absolutely loves, and it looks fabulous on her. Success!

The only glitch was that we ended up going to two different shopping malls and hitting 6 different stores in search of the perfect suit. She's still a bit modest (thank you, Lord) and prefers to have a one-piece suit for swimming. The problem? NONE of the swimsuit stores aimed at her age group carry anything but bikinis.

I couldn't believe it: store after store, filled with bathing suits, but every single one was a bikini. I asked one salesgirl, "Um, when will you be getting one-piece suits in?" and she rolled her eyes and said, "Ugh! Never!!"

I guess I must be way behind the times.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Idol: David Cook!

wow...everyone was saying that David A. would take the title, but David Cook managed to pull out a victory.

I'm so glad. David A. was an early favorite of mine, but as the weeks wore on, it became clear that his youth worked against him in terms of personality development. The poor kid couldn't put two words together, and seemed incapable of answering even the simplest off-the-cuff question with anything other than, "Um,"

David Cook has had his share of adversity this year, with his older brother Adam suffering from brain cancer. I can't even imagine all of the emotions his family is feeling right now. Congratulations, DC!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcome, Matthew

just got word:

It's a Boy!

Matthew Raymond
8lbs, 10oz
22 inches long

Mom and baby are doing great.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Night Before

Tomorrow afternoon, my cousin Karin will arrive at the hospital to give birth to her third child. No, I'm not clairvoyant--it's a scheduled C-section, just like my last two deliveries were. She and her husband Jimmy have two young boys (Ryan is nearly 4, and Robbie is not quite 2), and they have no idea what sex this one will be.

I remember it well: The Night Before. Such a wide range of emotions that wash over you as you prepare to bring another life into the world. There was excitement tinged with anxiety, and relief mixed with sadness.

When I had my third child, I didn't know what sex it was, and I already had two girls. I was definitely glad to put an end to the litany of thoughtless comments from strangers: "Trying for that boy, huh?" and "Wow, this is your third? Okay, after this, no more!"

Truth be told, I was convinced my third baby was a boy, because the pregnancy was so different from my other two. And, I'll admit it, I found the idea daunting--as much as I said I "just want the baby to be healthy," in my heart, I secretly wished for another girl. I had no brothers growing up, so little boys were still something of a mystery to me. I was comfortable with girls, and loved everything about having daughters. Sure, it would be great for my husband to experience the joy of having a little "mini-me," but it would also be wonderful to have a third girl, since I myself was a third daughter for my own parents. The Night Before, as I packed my bag for the hospital, I could only wonder which path awaited me the following day.

I had had two C-sections by then, so I knew what to expect when it came to surgery--the good and the bad. We already knew the date and approximate time the baby would be born, so finding out whether or not it was a boy or a girl was the one big mystery we still had to look forward to. These days, many expectant couples don't wait to find out the sex of the baby, and get the answer as soon as they have their sonogram or amniocentesis done. I know they have their reasons, but in my experience, it's definitely worth the wait.

So tonight, The Night Before, I am thinking of my beautiful cousin, and the little life inside of her, waiting to make his or her debut. Even though my last "night before" happened a little over 8 years ago, I find it's still so easy to tap into all of those feelings, and my prayers are with Karin as she stands on the edge of this new path in her life.

I'll post the good news as soon as I hear it. Boy or girl? We'll know by this time tomorrow!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thanks for the memories, Angelina

The minute I saw this photo of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at Cannes, it brought back some wonderful memories.

No, not memories of Cannes, or that stolen night I had with Brad Pitt all those years ago (oh, that there might be even one person out there who would actually believe that).

Seeing this picture of a very-pregnant Jolie reminded me of one of the constant realities of being with child:

The Belly Stains.

I know it's hard to see here on the blog, but have a closer look at her dress, in the area just to the left of her thumb and up a bit: a cluster of little non-descript stains made by lord-knows-what. The kind of stains that are just out of visual range for the pregnant woman who wears them, but are visible to the rest of the world. Of course, no one bothers to say anything, because they feel sorry for you and your blimp-like silhouette. They're afraid they'll make you cry, or even worse, that you'll just laugh and pee yourself.

So, nobody bothers to tell you that you're walking around with little spots all over your clothes. They're so common at this stage in the pregnancy, because the part of your belly that protrudes out the most is the most susceptible to catching every little drip and splatter that you encounter throughout the day. You don't see them yourself until you finally get undressed for the night. That's when you get to relive your day, in agonizing detail, thinking about all of the people you saw that DIDN'T bother to clue you in.

It's okay, Angelina. With someone like Brad on your arm, I'm sure most people didn't notice them. But I did, and it brought back some fun memories. Thanks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Last Laugh

This was written a while back as a flash piece for my writer's group. I thought it might be fun to dust off a few of my short fiction pieces and post one now and then.

Eleanor eased the sedan to a stop near the massive willow and peered warily at the sky. The sun had been peeking in and out all day, but now the clouds were growing thicker and darker. She figured she’d have no more than 10 minutes before the heavens opened up and soaked her through. “Well then,” she chuckled to herself, navigating her way amongst the neat rows of headstones and wilted flowers, “I’ll just have to make this a quick visit, won’t I?” As if there were any other kind. Truth be told, she never stayed for more than a few scant minutes at Edgar’s grave anyway. Coming here once a week wasn’t something she did out of love or loyalty. It was on her way home from Margaret’s house, and meeting up with the gals for Bridge Club every Tuesday was something she’d never miss, no matter what the weather. Stopping by to tend the gravesite on the trip back gave her the chance to keep up the lonely widow ruse with her friends and neighbors, a valuable form of currency that was certainly worth the minor detour.

She was glad to see Edgar finally go. Sure, there was a time—40 years ago, maybe—that she loved him, but that passed quickly once they’d been married. She thought she’d married a strong, silent type, but it turns out that still waters don’t always run deep. Other people may have found Edgar’s easy-going demeanor appealing, but for Eleanor, he was as boring as stale toast. She tried many times to tell him that she needed more out of life, that she yearned for excitement and spontaneity, but he’d just laugh it off. He never took anything she said seriously.

“Those days are over now, though, aren’t they dear” she said, kneeling beside the gray granite marker, her eyes glancing up at the meaningless words “Beloved Husband” before focusing back on the task at hand.

Eleanor picked at the few stray strands of crabgrass, plucking away the spent blossoms on the marigolds that blanketed the ground above Edgar, as the first sounds of thunder crackled in the distance. Although he loved every other type of flower, he’d always hated marigolds, she thought with a smile. Eleanor was finally, blissfully in control, and Edgar couldn’t do anything about it. “And that, my dear, is that!” she crowed triumphantly, brushing off her hands before reaching for her keys.

She was only about ten feet from the car when the sudden flash of light engulfed her. Just as Eleanor's startled heart took its final beat, the strike's rumbling echo reached her. It sounded oddly familiar, like laughter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Night TV

I must admit, I look forward to Thursdays all week long. It is, by far, my favorite night of television. ABC has turned me into a couch potato by airing three fantastic shows back-to-back.

Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy, LOST--a perfect combo of guilty pleasures, all in one night.

I start out by watching Ugly Betty with the kids, and reminisce about my old "glory days" as a magazine editor. The show is kid-friendly, and funny, but with just enough soap opera elements to keep us all addicted. At the moment, we're rooting for Betty to dump Henry and hook up with Gio, the sandwich guy. Can't she see that Henry is just not good enough for her?

At 9pm, the younger two head upstairs for bed, while the high schooler and I tune in to Grey's Anatomy. The show is a little on the racy side, but it gives me an opportunity to open a dialogue with my teenaged daughter about sexual themes. Plus, I still can't believe how hot Patrick Dempsey is, STILL, after all of these years. Talk about great genes.

Then, at 10pm, I get some solitude, and enjoy the brain-teasing puzzle that is LOST. The show has gotten so darn complex, but I love it anyway. Just when you think you've got it figured out, they throw you a curveball. I wish they'd pace the show a little bit faster, because the sheer number of loose ends is getting a bit overwhelming. Still, it's a great way to cap off the night.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Invasion, part deux

Last month, I was horrified to discover some old wasp nests in my attic. The good news: we sprayed the heck out of the rafters up there, and so far, yellow jackets haven't been an issue at all in any of the bedrooms.

Now for the bad news: they're finding their way into the basement.

One of the bushes on the side of the house was SWARMING with them today, so I think they're either building a nest there, or somewhere very close by. All I know for sure is that we've had three yellow jackets invade the kids' playroom in the basement in the past three days.

And, when I went down there to kill the latest one, I heard a low, steady buzzing sound. I couldn't tell if it was coming from inside the drop ceiling, or from just outside the window, or perhaps inside the walls.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Baby #18

I became fascinated by the Duggar Family about two years ago, when I first saw a show about them and their 16 children. I remember being amazed at how happy and well-adjusted they all appeared to be. I kept watching, and followed along as their quest to build a "dream house" was chronicled on TLC, and again when Michelle Duggar gave birth to her 17th child last August.

And now, she and her husband Jim-Bob have announced that they're expecting baby #18 on January 1, 2009. She has spent more than 11 of her 41 years being pregnant.

No matter what you think about the choices these two have made, you have to give them credit for being resourceful enough to support that many children, and resilient enough to raise them all.

Here's a link to their website, for those interested in learning more about them: DUGGAR FAMILY: About Us

I do love children, but 18 of them? Wow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Father Sal

Sal at his ordination

Congratulations to my "baby" cousin, Salvatore. He was ordained at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Saturday, and celebrated his First Mass yesterday. I was very fortunate to receive one of his first blessings, an honor that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Receiving my blessing

A special thanks to blogger Deacon Greg Kandra, for posting a link to, where I found a nice picture of Sal from his days at the seminary (he's in Photo #11 of the Gallery). I stumbled upon Deacon Kandra's blog today, and found it an interesting read that offers a unique perspective to the blog world. You can see it here: The Deacon's Bench.

Better still, he's a fellow Brooklynite. Yay Brooklyn!!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

3 Sacraments in one day

Today was a very special day for my big, Catholic family: four of our family members celebrated 3 different sacraments. My cousins Diana and Rachel both made their Confirmation, my daughter Cathy had her First Communion, and my cousin Salvatore was ordained a priest.

That's got to be some pretty solid leverage for getting into Heaven, don't you think?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tent Caterpillars?

This afternoon, my youngest daughter was outside exploring in the backyard when she came upon this large web, covered almost completely in caterpillars. (This photo was taken later in the day, when they were headed back inside their "web tent" for the night.) I'm not 100% sure what kind of caterpillars they are, but they look like some sort of "Tent Caterpillar", a variety known for making this kind of web to protect themselves from predators.

They're considered a nuisance because they are voracious eaters, and can decimate the leaves of whatever tree they happen to be living in. They've taken up residence in a large bush on the side of our house, but since they're not bothering anyone, we're just going to leave them be and let them munch all they want. If you think you recognize what type of caterpillar this is, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!

Here's a close-up:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Praying for Randy Pausch

I've blogged before about Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon professor who has turned his own battle with pancreatic cancer into a crusade to help others. His book, The Last Lecture, is a bestseller now, but for those of us who follow his blog, the news continues to get worse every day. On May 2nd, Randy posted that his cancer has spread to his lungs and abdominal area. He's also been slowed down by congestive heart failure and kidney failure, which has been making treatment more difficult for him.

For those of you who believe in prayer, please send one or two out there for Randy Pausch. I've never met him, but he seems like a kind soul who could really use the good vibes right about now.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Breakfast is served

Yes, that's breakfast you're looking at. Not the typical breakfast in this household, mind you. No, today is a very special day: my youngest daughter turns 8 years old today, and in keeping with our family tradition, she gets to have WHATEVER SHE WANTS for breakfast today.

This is, by far, my family's favorite custom. It's something the kids look forward to every year. They get to eat whatever they choose for their birthday breakfast, and can have it served to them in bed, if they wish. Usually, though, my youngest likes to barrel downstairs and take a look at her huge pile of birthday presents, so she eats her breakfast at the table.

This year's selection: two Barbie waffles each topped with a scoop of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, Redi-Whip whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and of course, a cherry on top.

Happy Birthday, baby!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our gosling saga...

We've had quite a bit of angst here in Casa Yak these last few days. My high schooler is learning about "imprinting" in her freshman Biology class. Her teacher brought in newborn goslings for the students to bond with. The experiment was to show how the goslings would imprint on the girl who spent the most time with the baby goose, and follow her around the school, thinking she's its mother.

Well, you can guess where this story goes from here, can't you? My daughter's gosling, Peep, adores her and followed her everywhere. He peeps nonstop if he can't see her, and as soon as she picks him up, he snuggles into her hands and goes right to sleep.

Unfortunately, the "imprinting" went both ways, and my daughter is now emotionally invested in what happens to Peep.

The teacher told the other students that they could keep their goslings if their parents say it's okay, otherwise, they'll go back to the supplier and be killed. Naturally, all of the girls want to keep their babies.

The problem? Well, first of all, it's illegal. Even if you do have a large enough piece of property and secure a special permit, you need to provide adequate housing, heat and care for the rest of the gosling's life. Once imprinted on a human, it cannot be released into the wild or it will die.

Most of the other girls don't understand this, and plan to set their goslings free in a park somewhere within the next couple of weeks. They're condemning their geese to death just as surely as if they'd let their teacher take it back to the poultry farm to be killed.

My daughter is extremely upset about the whole thing. She feels terrible that she took part in this stupid experiment, and has now ruined this gosling's chances for a normal life out in the wild. Her objections to killing the geese are met with matter-of-fact declarations of "This is what they were raised for."

I've been calling around to wildlife refuges, trying to find a place for him, but so far, no luck. She has had a few other students say they were going to adopt it, only to have them back out at the last moment. I'm going to be bringing Peep back into school later this morning, and if no one takes him, the Bio teacher will haul him back to the poultry farm.

A horrible situation all around.

UPDATE#1: I dropped him off at the school and spoke with the teacher briefly. He claims that the supplier will NOT kill the gosling, but I am not confident that's the case. He was a bit abrupt and wouldn't make eye contact with me. In the meantime, my daughter said that another girl at school plans to adopt the gosling.

The problem is, none of these girls that have adopted birds plan to keep them longer than a few days. They all think they can just dump them off at a local park and it will be fine. They won't be.

UPDATE#2: One of the other girls from school took Peep home with her this weekend. She had also bonded with this little guy during Bio class, and was thrilled to have him. My daughter felt sure that this other girl would be responsible in her care of the gosling, but only time will tell. In the meantime, I have gathered up some phone numbers for local farms that take in animals like these. None of the wildlife refuge centers in the area accept these kinds of animal donations, but some local farmers do. My daughter will pass along the phone numbers to the girl who adopted Peep, just in case.