Mom’s Beef Stew

There are some smells that will automatically take you back to childhood. Comfy nights after school when you’ve made it through the snow and wind to change into comfy pajama pants and watch a cheesy Christmas movie in the family room on a blissful night when everyone else is out (Mondays could give me this delicious alone time in high school). The smell of my mom’s beef stew always takes me back to nights like that. Also, good family times too. There is nothing like opening your apartment door and smelling home and this stew never fails me there.

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Leftovers on Monday; still looks delicious!

This recipe can be made in a crock pot or in a dutch oven. I had planned to try the oven for the first time this week but remembered I had to be out of my apartment for two hours on Sunday morning volunteering so the crock pot it was. That turned out to be a very good thing as later on Sunday, Tallahassee got hit by wicked thunderstorms that took out power all over the city (some only just got it back Tuesday afternoon/evening). If I’d been using my stove, the stew would not have been done yet and that would have been tragic. Luckily, it was pretty much finished in the crock pot and my biscuits were just done enough to eat when the power went out on me. I also managed to save all the leftovers in a cooler until the power was back on 4 hours later and the fridge could handle them. Win-win all around! Also a win, following the storm, we went back to much more seasonal weather around here so the stew (which makes for awesome, and lots of, leftovers) has been fabulous to come home to every night this week.

[Note: this is one of those recipes that Mom could really only give me the ingredients and cooking instructions, not how much of most things to put in. I have a smallish Crock Pot and these amounts for the ingredients fit perfectly (i.e. just barely and if I shove the top down hard). A more normal sized crock pot or a dutch oven would take more ingredients]

Mom’s Beef Stew
Serves: 6-7

Ingredients:
1.5 -2 lbs. Russet potatoes, skinned and cut into large pieces
1 lb. Carrots, skinned and cut into large pieces
1 med. Yellow Onion
1 lb. stew beef
1 can tomato soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Directions

  1. Chop and add all the vegetables to the crock pot
  2. Add meat over the vegetables
  3. Empty the soup cans over the meat. Do not mix!
  4. Place the Crock Pot on high for the first hour and then on low for the rest of the cooking time. Should take 7-8 hours of cooking for stew to be ready. [In the oven, Mom says she cooks it 8-9 hours at 200F]
  5. Serve over Bisquick Biscuits (follow recipe on Bisquick box, will take 9-10 minutes to bake)

First Book Loves

My uncle pointed me at this Question of the Month and it’s right up my alley so I’ll jump in with some thoughts. I came at it via the post on Tossing It Out where there were even more questions added! I do love answering questions about reading. Mainly because it’s an excuse to go remind myself of books that somehow I’d slightly forgotten.

This is also a perfect time to discuss because I’d actually already started drafting a post somewhat along the same lines. After a visit home last month, I brought back with me all the books I still had at my parents’ house. It was mostly my childhood books; picture books, early chapter books etc. However, I’ve been re-reading them all to see if I really did want to keep them all. So, I’ve already been thinking about first loves when it came to reading. So far, only one has broke my heart (Sideways Stories from Wayside School did not hold up for me which is quite tragic and then I realized my favorite vignette is in the second book in the series and I immediately felt better).

So, to get to the question of the month: “What was the first book (or book series) you fell in love with?”

 

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Image from Goodreads

Full disclosure, I have no idea what the first book was. I vaguely recall my grandmother had a book about camels that I had her read to me on repeat but I have no idea what its title was or where it ended up or even if I really loved it or it was just the only book at her house. What I best remember are some of the first book series my mom would read to me and my sister: The Berenstain Bears and Amelia Bedelia. We had a ton of the Berenstain Bear books (mainly I just wanted to live in their treehouse) and I thought the Amelia Bedelia books were hilarious. Amelia seemed like a less put together Mary Poppins to me. Sadly, none of those books were in the books I still had at home. The one book that is still with me, with one of the nicest author-signed notes ever, is Sarah’s Unicorn. Bruce Coville came to my elementary school in kindergarten and I had somehow forgotten about it! My copy of Sarah’s Unicorn is well-loved (i.e. basically falling apart) and I had forgotten how much I adore it. Looking back now, it sent me down the fantasy story avenue very young and suddenly a lot of my reading makes a lot more sense now.

Those were the first ones; they weren’t necessarily the most influential though. If I would to pick the book series that comes to mind fastest, it’s the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. I read through those at a blistering pace during 5th and into 6th grade and they have stayed with me all my life. I could never pick a single book; that is just not going to happen. Even trying to keep my Favorite shelf on Goodreads at a reasonable number is challenging. I resort to picking “representative” books from series or authors there in the hopes to keep it manageable.

Tossing It Out also threw in some more questions with his post: Do you remember Little Golden Books? What was the first book that you ever received where someone inscribed a message to you? There were many books series like the ones I mentioned: Was there a set that you owned as a child? I do remember Little Golden Books but not as fondly as some other bloggers did. We had them, but I don’t think I thought of them as a “series” in the way some people do. My first book with an inscribed message is Sarah’s Unicorn but the one I think of most fondly is a copy of Beauty and the Beast (Disney Edition) from my Aunt Michele and Uncle Joe for my birthday in 1992.

In terms of owning series when I was a kid, I know I had a lot of American Girl books but I don’t think I owned a completed series for any of the girls. I really think the first series I read through in its entirety, bought, and still own today are the Anne Books. After that, it might not be until Harry Potter that I felt the need to own all of a series. That may explain my anger when everything is a series these days; for a long time, I apparently wasn’t very drawn to them! Nowadays, they plague my to-read list since people don’t seem to just write one-offs anymore – everything must be a series! Which reminds me, quick update, I am down to 5 books in my to-read pile!!!! So, I’ll be returning to my reading goal of the year to finish all the unfinished series on my to-read list now that I have room on my nightstand again. I am excited to get back to them for sure!

Ready Player One

From Goodreads

I have always wanted to be great at video games. But, if I am being honest, I really am not. It took me and three friends to finally beat Myst and, if I continue with my honesty, I don’t think I contributed all that much in the end. I spent hours playing Commander Keen but never got very far. Same with Sonic the Hedgehog, the original Mario Brothers, any of the Sim games I played, you name it, I probably tried it but never got anywhere. But I wanted to. I wanted to be one of those awesome video game uberplayers. But really, the only ones I’ve ever gotten very far on are the Tycoon games – Rollar Coaster, Mall, Zoo. I made one heck of a zookeeper, people.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline may just inspire me to find some app version of Pac Man and dive in. This book is a classic gamer’s dream. Also, if you wish it was still 1987, this is the book for you. Ready Player One takes place in 2044 (if I recall correctly) and the human race has succeeded in completely destroying pretty much everything. A world wide energy crisis has led to world wide poverty, crime, disease and overall chaos. Wade Watts (whose Dad actually gave him a name that would echo the comic book alter egos) is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who escapes into the OASIS every chance he gets. The OASIS is like Second Life had a kid with World of Warcraft and the kid was like a billion times cooler than his parents. When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he has no one to leave his billions so he creates a game within the OASIS. The first person to find all three keys, open the three gates and beat them, wins his estate. Wade, along with thousands, dive into the hunt. The hunt requires everyone to love what Halliday did; ’80s pop culture, video games and MMO games etc. So Wade and his fellow “gunters” start on the ultimate game but, as usual, the stakes get higher the further along the game goes.

One, the geeky sixteen year old I carry in me has a serious fictional crush on Wade. He is adorable; a geeky, socially awkward teen whose real life is so bad, escaping into a computer simulation makes perfect sense – in fact, its self preservation. His virtual friends are also awesome – Aech (pronounced H) and Art3mis. In fact, if I am ever as cool as Art3mis, I will have reached my nerdy goal. These kids are all up against insane odds and you root for them, you yell at the book, you wish you knew enough to yell the answers along with them. As the game’s stakes rise, you really wish these kids had an adult, someone with authority, they could ask for advice or maybe just someone who could ground them as they move forward. Luckily, a character like this does appear towards the end which led to a major fist pump from me. These kids deserved a little help; I was glad Cline gave them some.

Cline is also just a great writer – he has a great sense of pace which must come from his screenwriter background. He doesn’t waste time telling you anything you don’t need to know. Every piece of obscure ’80s trivia he throws at you has a reason for being there. In fact, at one point, I thought he was going on a tangent. As I read, I was thinking what is he doing? He is wasting mine, and Wade’s time, the clock is ticking! And then later, that scene, that time he took, was essential to saving the day. As the dust settled and Wade explained what had happened, I just sort of sat there and thought, well played Mr. Cline, well played.

Highly recommend this read for anyone who has a love of ’80s pop culture and video games, then and now but also, this is a just a great action adventure story with characters you root for. Now excuse me while I dig up copies of WarGames and The Goonies and indulge in some childhood nostalgia.

(Also, sorry Wade, but Aech is totally right about LadyHawke….even I do not like that film and on paper, I should adore it but then I watched it…)

A Short Ode to my Favorite Park

Actually, ode is probably the wrong word since you won’t find poetry here. But I did feel the need to mark the 30th birthday of my all-time favorite Disney park.

You see, I was an odd kid (I can see your mock shocked expressions from here) and while most kids liked the glamor of the Magic Kingdom or the thrill rides of what was then MGM Studios, I couldn’t get enough of Epcot. Something about hearing that futuristic music as I entered the gates and seeing that giant geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth enchanted me as no castle could.

In Epcot, I could see what the future would look like if I rode Horizons, a ride that has sadly left us but that I still have a crystal clear memory of, even how Dad used to let me choose how the ride would end. I also have very clear memories of the original Journey into Imagination and Dreamfinder’s marvelous presence alongside his Figment. I remember the Land before it was “that building where Soarin’ is” and the Living Seas before Nemo invaded and you got to ride in a hydrolator to Sea Base Alpha. While I love Epcot just as much today and all the new attractions, I still have a pang for the Epcot of my childhood which seems more whimsical than the Epcot of today and also more hopeful, like we were still excited for the future would bring, rather than worried about it. In a sense, the Epcot you visit today is much more concrete and based in reality than the one you would have seen on opening day.

World Showcase though seems very familiar still. Not much has changed over the years; the landscaping grew in, they updated the boring boat ride in Mexico to include Donald Duck and Martin Short narrates the Canada film. The trolls are still threatening to send us over the waterfall in Norway, the department store in Japan is still one of the neatest places to shop on property and France still has the best bakery. I was one of those kids that had to do a passport through World Showcase every trip and the thrill of seeing my name in different languages never got old. I appreciate World Showcase more now though. As a kid, Future World was my favorite but now I love exploring the countries. I think being able to explore each country’s drinks is also a plus!

So Epcot, Happy 30th – that Mimosa Royale in Morocco yesterday was for you!

(Sadly most of the photos from when I was a kid at Epcot are still actual printed photos and not digital files. Someday I need to digitize those…)

Did Cinderella Eat Your Daughter When You Weren’t Looking?

From Goodreads

Sigh, I need to be careful here, I know. I don’t have a daughter of my own nor will I have one any time soon. I only have my experience as a daughter myself, along with four years of women’s studies where I read books like this by the dozens – particularly ones that look at how fairy tale mythology operates in today’s culture. I wrote my thesis on that after all. It was even focused on Cinderella. My conclusions dealt with the idea that Cinderella is an ever-adaptable myth; whether you put her in science fiction or horror. She is also at her best when she is surrounded by strong support groups, often female, rather than isolated as she is often pictured. Even Disney’s Cinderella had her band of faithful animal friends to fall back on for a dress. So, I’d say I came to this particular examination of Cinderella and how she translates in the modern world “girlie culture” with a fairly solid background of knowledge.

In Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, I agree with the main thesis. I cannot argue against the fact that the way culture and society inundate girls from the second they leave the womb with conflicting messages of pink, princess, sex and more pink is a problem. However, that problem goes in both directions because don’t we inundate boys with black, blue and how to be a “real” man from the start as well? I’d say gender modeling hasn’t quite gotten to the equality stage we’d like and science, as Orenstein explains, may not ever let the sexes be entirely on the same footing because, like it or not, some of it is genetic. There are some things we do seem to be hardwired to do, to be. What made me anxious reading this book was how anxious that made Orenstein. Is it a bad thing if there are a few inherent differences? Shouldn’t we celebrate those as much as we do when we make a step forward in gender equality? Wouldn’t it be slightly boring if we were all the same?

I know, it bugs me that I was wondering that too. But Orenstein is anxious, worried, almost obsessed with the fact that she might be somehow either not raising her daughter anti-girlie or not raising her girlie enough. As I am not yet a parent, I have to ask – does everyone get this worried about this? As I thought about my own childhood, I tried to think about my parents and how they approached raising my sister and me, opposites from the day we were born. I come from a Disney family so the Disney Princesses were always there in some fashion. I had a Beauty and the Beast lunch box for years in elementary school, I saw all the movies when they came out, and we went to the parks all the time. I, however, wasn’t a kid when Disney Princesses was a brand, when parents spend fortunes to let their daughters go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, when it seems like a family vacation to Walt Disney World is now somehow ruined because the little princess doesn’t get to have breakfast at the Castle with Cinderella.

Personally, I loathed wearing dresses as a kid (still do), had more guy friends than girls (that changed when I got to high school), could play tackle football with the best of them and wanted to be smart, brainy Belle when I grew up. The fact that she was a princess somehow didn’t really seem to register. She liked to read, she spoke her mind and she wasn’t afraid of the Beast. Oh, and I hated the color pink. I have made my peace with it over the years but I’d still pick blue over it any day of the week. My sister? Adores dressing up, loves pink, can ride any horse you put her on and will give you an opinion of any college basketball team in the country on demand. Now, I’d need to ask but I don’t think Mom and Dad ever fretted over whether to buy me the Barbie house versus a book nor do I think they worried when Ally discovered horses, makeup or declared her wish to become a sports broadcaster. I think they were just always present; paying attention, supporting us and letting us find our own way whether that was by decking out in pink and frills or enjoying earth tones and hiking boots.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with this book – I don’t think Orenstein needs to be that worried. She is ever present in her daughter’s life, a little girl who seems to have a healthy curiosity, who enjoyed Disney Princesses until she graduated to Wonder Woman and who sounds, quite frankly, that she is more aware of women stereotypes than I am. This is a little girl who asks questions and who has a mother informed, interested and open enough to answer and then see what her daughter does. Culture and society are not going to change any time soon. We still see trends today that we’ve seen from the 1950s. At the same time, there are new trends, trends yet to show themselves and trends we haven’t even thought of yet. Yes, Cinderella is always going to be there, be she in Ashenputtel, Cendrillon or Cindy garb, but I think the best way to deal with her is head on and see what happens. I think we may find our daughters just might surprise us. Or, maybe I’ll go into spasms of worry the second I have a baby daughter of my own but I think having a little more faith in ourselves as caretakers and our daughters as bright, intelligent women with equally strong women ahead and behind them will be the best cure to Cinderella fever we’ll ever find.

sigh, for the disney channel movies of my youth

I  watched Avalon High through Netflix last night and while it was enjoyable, it just didn’t have the fun creativity of the old Disney Channel original movies. Does anyone even remember those anymore? I don’t think the Disney Channel even shows them anymore. Which is sad because they were awesome though missing dance numbers (the one thing that I do kind of like about most of the newer movies)…

From I Was a ’90s Kid

Let us start at Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Now the two sequels, they were just sad to see, but the original Zenon rocked. Kirsten Storms as Zenon Kar, a girl living on a space station in AD 2049 who gets grounded, literally when she is sent to Earth once she breaks one too many rules on the space station. Add in one neurotic aunt, the popular guy (who is a requirement for movies like this), his delusional “girlfriend,” and their favorite rocker who is supposed to give his first concert in space just as a major crisis hits the space day. Sigh, I watched it whenever it was on and still to this day dance around like an idiot to Supernova Girl (yes, back in the days of Napster, I downloaded it and have managed to hang onto it this long.)

From Wikipedia

Next is Stepsister from Planet Weird. To this day I quote from my favorite scene in this movie so if I ever turn to you with a scared look in my eyes and say “I fear the wind,” just go with it. Stepsister from Planet Weird tells the story of Megan Larson who is thinking this year will finally be her year until Ariel Cola shows up and the whole school suddenly thinks she is the coolest kid around. And to make matters worse, Megan’s mother just fell in love with Ariel’s dad (Bonus, Ariel’s Dad is The Last Starfighter which is awesome). Oh, and the Colas also happen to be aliens…I still think Tamara Hope’s portrayal of the ethereal and bizarre Ariel is delightful, this generation is missing out on a quirky original movie.

I got this from here, I’m not sure where it is…

Sigh, Erik von Detten, you broke my heart when you played the douchy spotlight seeker in The Princess Diaries. Because, you were first one of the twins in a delightful TV version of Escape to Witch Mountain and then you were Brink, a blader who dreams of the X-Games (or the non-trademarked version of them created for this movie) but almost lost sight of his friends and family in his pursuit of them in the Disney Channel original movie appropriately named Brink! I think I may have just enjoyed this movie because of von Detten because I don’t actually remember much of the movie other than bits and pieces….Also, I kind of love that Sam Horrigan pops up in Brink! too after being in Escape to Witch Mountain also. I love when actors keep popping up in the same movies together. I am weird like that.

From Wikipedia

Last one, and this movie made me want to promptly run off to Hawaii and learn how to surf. Rip Girls was about a girl who learns about her dead mother by learning about her life in Hawaii and how much she loved to surf. Seriously, this movie was like an advertisement for Hawaii. I wanted to move to a delightful bungalow near the beach and try to learn how to surf. Luckily for all of us, I realized that was more a fun daydream than a reality I could handle. Still Rip Girls was a lot of fun, always liked it better than Johnny Tsunami (about a surfer who gets moved to the north and learns how to snowboard).

Sigh, I feel the need for a marathon of classic Disney Channel original movies. I know I am forgetting some I enjoyed but these are my favorites; original, clever movies about kids facing challenges and coming out on top. But I always liked how these kids had a great hobby or were in a unique situation. They were always people I wanted to be friends with. I miss those movies. Or maybe I’ve just outgrown what kids like these days…wow, now I feel old for admitting to that…

I Was Always One for a Good Cry

A friend recently sent me this blog posting at Blue Rose Girls where they were discussing sob inducers they read when they were kids. The one book they discuss that I remember sobbing over was Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, Mr. Clark, my fifth grade teacher, let the girls go and read the last chapters out in the hallway to avoid the teasing from the boys. We sat surrounding a box of tissues and worked our way through the heartbreaking ending. My favorite memory of that day? Coming back into the classroom and seeing the guys trying to hide their red eyes and runny noses. Apparently it was a book we all could have cried over together.

Honestly, Where the Red Fern was a fairly typical book for me to cry over though. Put an animal in peril and I will be sobbing about three words in. I am the girl who freaked out over killer whales eating seals (my poor father…explaining the circle of life to a distraught three year old who didn’t get that Shamu had to eat too). The streak has continued. Mom cried me through the end of Shiloh, one of the few books I can remember Mom reading to both my sister and me. My younger sister wasn’t one to sit and listen to stories.

We had a reading program in elementary school called PARP, Parents as Reading Partners, where we had to read so many hours and so many books with our parents to get our rewards. Dad had a rule that he got to choose one of the books I would read. He chose some doozies over the years (I came late to the wonders of science fiction. Have Space Suit, Will Travel was excruciating to try to read in 5th grade). But none quite got to me like Call of the Wild. I think I’ve blocked most of it out if I’m being honest but I remember the first chapter. There is a dogfight. That was it; Dad found me with tears streaming down my face fifteen minutes into the book. I don’t remember him recommended another animal book after that. Apparently he’d finally learned his lesson. (Until about 12 years later when he thought watching Eight Below was a good idea. I think I cried the last 40 minutes of that film. I had a husky growing up; I think this makes these stories even worse for me to try to read.)

Me giving Luk, my husky a bath. Heavens, look at those bangs. This is circa the mid nineties…

But I have to admit I am hard pressed to think of a book that has made me cry that doesn’t involve animals. I am apparently heartless when it comes to human characters in my books. I’ve been thinking about this since I read the aforementioned blog post. I think maybe there were tears when Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables in sixth grade. I was more interested in that series that I devoured that year than Bridge to Terabitha that I was supposed to be reading for class. I know I didn’t cry in that book; I just found that girl annoying. In fact, she was the first character I was sort of actively gunning for. A new phenomenon for me. It wasn’t until I encountered Dora Copperfield many years later that I rooted for a character to mercifully exit the narrative (and heavens did I laugh when I found out Jasper Fforde shared my view of the situation).

OK, I shed some tears in the Harry Potter series, notably the fifth and seventh books where Rowling just decides to blindside you several times. I also shed tears in The Hunger Games but made it through its two sequels without nary a tear in sight. Maybe I just don’t usually read tearjerkers? They aren’t usually my style. I will be the first to admit I enjoy “chick-lit” as much as the next hopeless romantic and there aren’t usually tears to be found in what is essentially a romantic comedy film in book form.

Or maybe I just don’t have the same sympathies when it comes to humans that I do to animals. Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t. I wonder what that says about me? I will always send money to the ASPCA or the World Wildlife Fund over anyone else. I would rather volunteer at an animal shelter than a homeless one. Maybe I feel safer with animals? Or maybe I am more on a footing I can handle? I am not always the best people person, I’ve worked hard over the years to get over a shyness than makes me want to hunker down with a movie rather than go out to a bar (let me tell you, that was especially not fun to handle in college). But I’ve always been good with animals. Dogs, cats, rodents, and the odd exotic one I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with. I volunteered during a demonstration at The Raptor Project a couple summers ago to feed a bald eagle. It may have been the highlight of my summer that year. Right before they let me have an awesome picture taken with an Eagle Owl. That completed my life.

Well, for whatever reason, the books that make me cry usually have an animal that I want to reach in and save from the clutches of the author. So whatever that may say about me, I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Photo: Scott Thomas, check out his blog! That is a scanned slide that had been stored in our basement for years. I did the best I could with color correction. The archivist in me cringed…