crock%20pot.jpgDid you know that there has been an invention that will forever change my mind set about cooking dinner? It's called a "crock pot". I'm fairly certain my mom owned one when I was young, and that it had a brown lid, but I wasn't privy to the awesome (yet simple) chain of steps that led to dinner via the crock pot.

Apparently all one needs is a pound of beef (you can buy it pre-chunked at Safeway or PW), three carrots, two potatoes, tomato juice, water and a package of "beef stew mix". Chop and throw it all into the crock pot, replace the lid and let it sit for hours. Did you hear that? Hours. Six hours of blissful non-kitchen-related activity later, you'll have yourself a meal!

And we did. The succulent scent of beef stew welcomed us after we returned from lunch with Jon's folks and a trip to Alameda to see Josh perform in Aida (he did a wonderful job, by the way, and totally creeped me out as the evil man with a plan, Zoser). On the drive home, both Jon and I whined about how hungry we were, which wasn't obnoxious at all. But rather than make a quick stop at the nearest drive through for grease with a side of fat, we trucked on home to enjoy the fruits of our efforts earlier in the day.

Yum!

This is the second time we made stew, both times on a Sunday. Stew is the perfect Sunday meal, you know? I think because it can be described as "hearty". Especially as the days turn chilly, it's a delight to come home to.

How did this start, you ask? As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago we were discussing how little we actually spent cooking for ourselves. For a long time we justified our lack of domesticity with our level of contribution to local restaurants. Without people like us, the little guys would go out of business. We owed it to the entrepreneurs of Livermore to keep being lousy and lazy when it came to the kitchen.

Then Redz and Chuan Yang went out of business. Our argument left town with them.

On a completely innocuous trip to Target, the kind we take frequently and end up spending way too much money, we took a detour through the Home section. I'd just picked up some new lip gloss, Jon had new sunglasses, and we were looking for a cheap movie to take home when Jon grabbed my arm.

"Let's get a crock pot," he said, navigating me down a completely unfamiliar aisle. Before I could say a word I was surrounded by kitchen appliances. Coffee makers and blenders and teapots, oh my!

I felt edgy. "A what?" I asked, keeping a weather eye on a suspiciously violent looking waffle iron.

"A crock pot," he repeated. I kept my back to the wall and shot a glance at my husband, who was leaning in and examining several strange looking items on the shelves.

"Are those crock pots?" I asked.

Before I try to describe the look of disgust/irritation that was flung in my general direction at that point, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about one of the best parts of marriage. Trust. No matter how dumb I sound, no matter how ignorant I appear, I can always trust that Jon will love me anyway.

He gave me a slightly exasperated look. Of course those were crock pots. In another moment the look had passed, and was replaced by the generally loving, patient expression I enjoy so much. "Let's get one. They aren't very expensive."

"Why do we need one?" The waffle iron had decided I wasn't much of a threat, and had gone back to grazing.

"For cooking. Dinner," he said, lifting lids and turning knobs. "Stews and stuff."

I was catching on. "We'll never use it," I said, and I wasn't being pessimistic, either. Merely honest. We'd registered for so many nice things for our wedding, the majority of them for cooking and baking. I'm proud to say that we've used almost everything at least once, but almost nothing has been used twice. Except the toaster. We put a lot of miles on that baby.

"Sure we will. It's so easy." And he went on to explain the ability to leave the thing on and working and unattended all day.

I was skeptical. But eventually I caved. It was a combination of the eager light in his big blue eyes and the fact that I got to choose the crock pot we bought. It's red, in case there was any doubt. And now we've used it twice, both times with yummy results. With autumn just around the corner, my favorite season by far, I'm looking forward to fending off chilly evenings with the occasional pot of stew.

If you are ever in the neighborhood, and you encounter the thick, enticing scent of simmering beef and potatoes wafting toward you, give me a call. There's always the chance that I'm playing Susie Homemaker for the day. And I promise, if I'm wearing my full skirt, apron, high heels and pearls, I'll invite you it for a Leave It To Beaver style dinner you'll swear I spent hours slaving over. You'll know the truth, though. Jon and I chopped, dropped, crocked and walked.

That's just the way we roll, thanks to the miracle we call the crock pot.

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ducks-in-a-row-red.jpgSeptember really got away from me.

I was sick this week, very sick. And my husband was in Washington D.C., and there wasn't anyone to hold my hand. Of course, I'm better now. I can stand upright, eat regular meals, sleep through the night. And thank goodness, because Jon comes home soon. The week was a blur.

Every single week this month has felt like that. On Saturday I try to sleep in; on Sunday I just can't quite get up the energy to push Jon out of bed so we can go to church; Monday hurts. Then, in a split second of phone calls and insurance policies and volleyballs flying and horses trotting... it's Saturday again, and I am desperately trying to sleep in.

My puzzle is finished now. Jon bought it for me last weekend to help me wind down from the insurance class and exam I'd just pushed through. It was my first 3-day CIC class. The two-hour test took place Saturday afternoon. My eyes were spinning in opposite directions, having been so overwhelmed with information. Driving home I witnessed a traffic accident on 580. An oil tank truck rolled backwards and crunched the front of a Ford F250. It was fairly scary, as you can imagine. But scariest of all was that my first thought wasn't for the safety of the drivers. Rather: Wow, I hope that guy is listed as an owner on the business auto policy. Otherwise his personal auto policy will kick in and the BAP will only be excess.

Do these sound like the thoughts of a normal person? I needed help.

At home, Jon gave me a foot rub and talked to me about things other than insurance. Just to give me a break. He had some code to write before his trip to the east coast so, while he did that, I popped in Gone With The Wind and started a 1000-piece puzzle depicting an early 20th century winter outdoor scene.

I lost myself in the methodical movement of my own hands, marveling at the connection between my eyes, brain and fingers. I felt childlike as I clicked the piece together. Finding the little girl's orange scarf or the tip of the Christmas tree soothed me. And, when I couldn't find the middle of the brick chimney or the lower part of the horse's harness, Jon stepped in. He has an uncanny ability to find any piece in two minutes or less (which could be perceived as agonizing if I were feeling competitive, but in my current condition, he seemed more heroic than irritatingly better than me at puzzles).

On Sunday we went for a walk downtown and, to our chagrin, discovered that our favorite Chinese food place had closed! Chuan Yang, the site of so many fun downtown dinners and at least one volleyball banquet for me, is no more. It has been replaced by something called Hawaiian BBQ, which I will steer clear of in protest.

Don't ask me to be rational about this. Hawaiian BBQ is probably fabulous, but I'm just quirky enough to pull off such a boycott. The Hawaiian BBQ people probably won't care, anyway.

And to add to our restaurant-woe, Redz the hotdog place closed its doors, too. Jon is devastated. That place served great hotdogs, great bratwursts, great onion rings. It will be sorely missed, and Jon will be going through withdrawal.

Sometimes I get to the point where I wish I wasn't doing so much. The second I have this thought, though, I remember what a disloyal friend I've been (haven't spoken to the Ya-Yas in two weeks) and how I haven't volunteered one minute of my time to aid the community (I'm too selfish about my Saturdays as it is) and how I really ought to write a letter to my grandmother and pull the weeds in my backyard and finish reading An American Childhood and write a second blog entry in September!

All of that cold, hard truth makes me feel guilty, and slightly sick. Why can't I get all my ducks in a row?

To cut myself a little slack, there is a whole flock of ducks in my life. Is it all right if I'm a little proud that I'm sitting in a clean, vacuumed room with a completed puzzle on the table and big basket of folded laundry? Or is that simply to be expected? And expected by whom?

There's my answer. If I look to myself for the expectations, naturally I know better than anyone what I am capable of, but I also know my patterns. I know the limits I allow to stand in the way of simple things. At my riding lesson today I posted for fifteen minutes and my inner thighs ache. I know that I can and will stretch in the middle of my living room, but I also know that this will keep me from walking downstairs to clean the kitchen. So, when I surprise myself by doing something like cleaning the kitchen, I am pleased. I am proud. One little duck has swung through the water and into the proper row, and my own pride is all I should have been seeking in the first place.

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crochunter.jpgToday we mourn the loss of a great adventurer, a life-enthusiast, a loving husband and father of two. Steve Irwin, 44, suffered a fatal sting ray wound while diving off of the Australian coast. It is believed he died instantly; the dart pierced his heart.

I had a major, major crush on the guy when I was in junior high and high school. When he married his wife, Terri, in the early nineties, I was devastated. I have to admit, though, she's quite the studmuffin herself. She dove into the muck with him, held the angry croc's feet while Steve tied it's jaws shut. What a gal! She went everywhere with him. And I understand the dedication.

Something about the way he smiled through every wrestling match with every crocodile, I think there was some John Wayne in him... which may have been the real attraction. That and his cargo pocketed khakis, the way he deftly handled the poisonous snakes, the way he curled his lips around that ever-excited, "Crikey!"

crochunter2.jpgWhile I didn't try to catch every episode of his show or anything, I do have a picture of him on the first page of my first scrapbook ever. I dreamed of his sunny, Australian accent. Naturally, this led to some teasing, from both brothers and friends. I didn't care. In my mind, Steve Irwin was the last outlaw, the last really rugged, fearless guy.

When I was a sophomore in high school, rumor of his death was circulated on the Internet. The claim was that both he and Terri had died after being bitten by poisonous spiders. Everyone at school said, "Well, we all knew that was gonna happen." No one seemed to care. I, on the other hand, mourned in typical teenage fashion: I wrote a poem.

crochunter3.jpgA guy named Justin let me in on the hoax. The poem was discarded and elation set in. The man braved death. He was like a god.

Granted there have been times when good ole Steve stretched the boundaries of normal behavior. Not only did he continue letting spiders scurry across his face, poking ticked-off cobras, juggling poisonous dart frogs... but occasionally he did so with his newborn under one arm. Oh, all right, he only did that once (on camera), and he acknowledged it was dumb. I forgave him. He seemed like he would be a very cool dad.

But as of yesterday, that has changed. He was filming a documentary, and the sting ray didn't appear to be a threat. I suppose, just as he handled every other excursion of his life, Steve Irwin smiled and splashed right in, eager to share his knowledge of exotic sea creatures with the world.

crochunter1.jpgHe leaves behind his wife of fourteen years, Terri, and his two children, daughter Bindi Sue and son Bob Clarence. And the rest of us, his fans, are left behind, too. The world won't be the same without his thick, muscled legs stomping through the brush, stalking lions or dangling writhing copperheads by the tail. I won't be the first to say it, of course, but he did die doing what he loved, and I hope that is counts for something. In the meantime, Steve Irwin's zoo will remain open.

I hope I get to visit it someday.


crochunter7.jpg

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