Squash It

I’m no chef. I can barely even call myself a cook.

But I love reading Hungry Girl cookbooks and magazines, and I love the website, http://www.hungrygirl.com. I’ve written about the site before. I’ve learned a lot about ways to swap high-calorie/high-carb foods for lower calorie foods over the years, and one of my favorite swaps is veggie noodles.

I was slow to buy into veggie noodles. I love my pasta.

But recently, I started to question whether it’s the pasta I like or the stuff that goes with it. Red sauce? I love it. Tomatoes? I love them. Bolognese? Yes, please! I even like Alfredo sauce, but it’s not my favorite.

So I started experimenting with some of Hungry Girl’s veggie noodle ideas. For months, I ate zucchini noodles. I didn’t buy them in the grocery store. I actually purchased the zucchini and brought it home to make my own noodles. I bought a handheld veggie spiral slicer, and I stayed busy making my own zucchini noodles. The first few times I ate them, I was so proud, and I liked them…but that changed. For some reason, the zucchini noodles just didn’t do it for me. I gave up.

Then a few weeks ago, after reading some info on Hungry Girl about spaghetti squash, I went back to the grocery store and picked up a couple of spaghetti squash. I will openly admit that I had no idea what a spaghetti squash looked like. I actually had to read the labels on the produce shelves, but I found them. They look like the gourds they are. I grabbed two and brought them home. Following instructions I found online, I cut them, cleaned them, brushed on a little olive oil and sea salt, and baked them, face down, in the oven. After I took them out of the oven and scraped the “spaghetti” out of them, I knew I had found my true veggie spaghetti love.

The difference in the zucchini and the spaghetti squash? The spaghetti squash absorbs the flavor of its pairing. The zucchini…not so much. There’s something about the texture of the zucchini that prevents it from absorbing the other flavors, but the spaghetti squash texture is perfect. It absorbs the flavor of tomatoes, onions, Alfredo sauce, red sauce, garlic…whatever I put with it! In fact, the texture of it is so perfect that I have actually fooled my teenager with it. I served it to her once with chicken, butter and sea salt, and she didn’t even realize she was eating squash instead of traditional pasta.

That is a win!

After cooking it in the oven several times, I tried cooking it in my Instant Pot. I got the directions from the Hungry Girl website here. Even before trying it, I knew it would be a little lower in calories, simply because it eliminates the need for the olive oil. I wondered how that would affect the flavor. But I wasn’t disappointed! I was thrilled! The Instant Pot method was super easy and super tasty! Hungry Girl wins again!

So now I need to get creative with the spaghetti squash. I’ve prepared it with marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, Rotel tomatoes, and even chicken/butter. Taking a look at the Hungry Girl site, I see lots of different recipes I need to add to my repertoire. Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Scampi? Yes, please! Spaghetti Squash a la Vodka? Bring it on! To see them all, click here.

Try cooking some of them without telling your family, and see what kind of reaction you get! My super-picky teenager didn’t even turn her nose up at it!

 

 

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February Celebrations

February. Yes, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day both fall in February, but for me, some very important anniversaries fall in February.

My parents were married on February 18, 1961, so today is their  58th anniversary. Of course, we lost Daddy 12 years ago, and we lost Mother in December of 2017. But every year, on this day, I think of my parents. All their wedding photos are in Alabama, so I don’t have access to them right now to share.

Every year on their anniversary, they would do something together…even if they just ordered in and had some wine. Sometimes they went out to dinner, and sometimes they went out of town, but every year, my mother would tell me about their wedding day.

In 1961, Mother was a nurse and finished her shift at Baptist Hospital in Birmingham the night before they married. As soon as they were married, she would be moving to Florida, where Daddy lived. The head nurse, who was an older unmarried lady (referred to as a spinster back then), asked her as she was leaving, “Do you feel like you can’t live without him?” Mother replied, “Oh, I can live without him. I just don’t want to live without him.” Who knew that was foreshadowing for her life 45 years later? After Daddy died, Mother lost a lot of her get-up-and-go. She seemed as if she didn’t want to go on. I never would have believed it if someone had told me that would happen, but it happened. She just didn’t enjoy life without him as much as she had enjoyed it with him.

So the day after finishing that hospital shift, she and Daddy married at my maternal grandparents’ home. Mother was quite practical…no big shindig for her. Her Aunt Ola helped her with the arrangements, including a beautiful cake, and Mother and Daddy left for New Orleans right away…their honeymoon. Mother got a job at a hospital in Florida, and the rest is history.

Two years ago, just two days before my parents’ anniversary, my brother married the girl he took to his high school prom. They celebrated their second anniversary two days ago.

Their wedding was nothing fancy…a civil ceremony. I could hear the joy in my mother’s voice when she called me to tell me my brother had gotten married. She was thrilled.

Both of them had been married before. He was 48, and she was 47 when they married. My brother had been divorced for two years. They didn’t rush into anything. They didn’t live together before they were married. In fact, they live together part-time now, and it works.

Our family has known his “bride” since the mid-80s. Her granddaddy was our family doctor and put stitches in my knee when I was 11 and diagnosed me with mono when I was 17. My daddy adored her back in the day, and he would laugh and laugh if he could spend time with them now. The bride has a quirky sense of humor, making her perfect for dealing with my brother’s crazy sense of humor. They laugh with each other…a lot. They take care of each other, and they help each other. They enjoy traveling together, and lucky for me, they’ll travel with us too.

My brother has two grown boys, twins who turned 21 in December. His bride has three boys, ranging in age from 15 to 22. They all get along, and my daughter is thrilled that she is the only girl in the bunch! She loves telling people all five of her first cousins are boys, and that she is the youngest. She adores them all.

So, February is a big month for us. I had a glass of champagne Saturday to celebrate my brother and sis-in-law’s anniversary, and I’ll have a glass tonight to celebrate my parents’ anniversary.

If my mother hadn’t decided in 1961 that she didn’t want to live without Daddy, my brother and I wouldn’t be here.

 

***Next entry: Squash…***

She’s Our Favorite Child

Just this week, when I told someone my 15-yr-old daughter was an only child, I got that look. That “poor thing” look. I’ve seen it several times over the course of her life. I’ve even had people say weird things. “Oh, she must be so lonely.” “When you die, she’ll be alone.” “When you die, she’ll have to handle everything herself.” “When you get sick, she’ll have to take care of you.” “She’s stuck in an adult world.”

Really? 

First of all, I believe our only child is pretty well-adjusted. I spent her early years making sure she was well-socialized…and many of her peers were/are only children too. Her preschool teacher once told me, “If I didn’t know she is an only child, I’d never guess it.” If we go on vacation and she wants to take a friend, she can. She can invite people over whenever she wants. We have an open door policy at our house…all friends are welcome. Getting ready for a school dance? Come on over! Snow? Come on over! Bored? Come on over! No invitation necessary…

She has never told me she is lonely. I know people who have lots of siblings who are way more “lonely” than she is.

She has never seemed jealous of her friends who have siblings.

She plays well with others.

She is happy most of the time, but she is a teenager, so she has her moments.

She relates to girls and boys well.

And no one can convince me that having siblings would make her life any better than the life she has right now.

My mother was an only child. My husband is an only child. Mother was a happy person. My husband seems fine with it.

Did we intend for her to be an only child? I don’t know. At one point, we considered having another child. I was 38. But then my daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and I knew I would need to help Mother as his illness progressed. I decided being pregnant while helping them wouldn’t be a good idea. The first three months of pregnancy had not been easy for me…migraines, nausea…I knew I couldn’t help them if I were sick.

And honestly, I didn’t want to push my luck.

We knew we were fortunate to have her, and we said, “One and done.”

Has she ever said she wished she had siblings? When she was about four, she mentioned it. I told her, “You’ll need to share your toys.” She was OK with that. “You’ll have to share your mommy.” No dice. That was a dealbreaker for her. She said, “I don’t want a brother or sister.” Of course, we had already decided she would be an only child, so she wasn’t actually making the decision. I was 40. We were having the time of our lives!

As for her having to take care of us when we’re old and dying, well, we can “get busy living or get busy dying.” I can’t sit around all the time thinking about that. I choose to live life to its fullest. Hopefully, we will all live a long time, and hopefully, my husband and I will have the wherewithal to know if we need to go to assisted living.

But till then, we are going to enjoy her, and hopefully, she enjoys us. We know the world doesn’t revolve around her, but our little family is important to us. Providing her with the tools she needs to naviage the world is important to us. She’s growing up, and we want to enjoy our time with her. She will be off to college in three years. Three years…hard to believe. We have plans to enjoy her while she still lives with us full time. We have vacations to take. We have colleges to visit. We have people to meet with her. We have new things to experience with her. We have things to teach her. We have memories to make.

And no matter what…she always knows she’s our favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Year of Blogs

I say it all the time, and the older I get, the more true it is: time flies.

It has been one year since I started “blogging.” I started it as my own form of therapy a month after my mother died, and I do believe it has helped me cope with her death. If you had asked me about that this past December, I might have said otherwise. The first anniversary of her passing was extremely difficult for me…maybe harder than when she actually died. I think I was in so much shock after her death that I didn’t fully digest what had happened. At the one year mark of her death, I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the holidays are a busy time, so I could find lots of things to occupy my mind: shopping, parties, wrapping gifts, spending time with family, spending time with friends. I still grieved throughout the year. There are still times I think I’m losing my mind with grief. But the blog was also a big help.

The blog has morphed somewhat over the year. Originally, I wanted it to be a place where I could share great things I had found and share the stories behind them. There has been some of that, but sometimes, I find myself just sharing stories. I love a good story. I also have a pretty good memory, so I have a story for lots of things that happen. I don’t profess to be a great storyteller, but I appreciate folks who are.

I love writing about my favorite products, but my favorite pieces are stories about my life, my friends, or family members. Yes, I have favorites. I’ll list them at the end of this piece.

Just when I think I’ve run out of stories or new things to share, something else pops up. Lots of times, I see someone or something that reminds me of something else. I make a note in my phone, and then, when I get time, I sit down and write about it. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Some things are easier to write about than others.

But here’s the thing: I write for me. Do I like that people read it and sometimes reach out to me? Of course I do! Does that make it more fun? You bet! But I’m really writing it for a selfish reason: my sanity. It’s a great outlet. If I’m mad, sometimes I write about it. I might not ever share it, but it’s saved in my “drafts” folder. If I’m sad, I write about it, and again, it might not make it past “drafts.” If I’m happy or amused, I might write about that too! In fact, I just took a look at my drafts folder and found that I have about 240 blogs in that folder! And I’ve published just over 140. And hopefully, one day, when I’m long gone, my daughter will still have some of my stories.

Thank you for reading me. I never expected this to become “the next big thing.” I expected it to help me get through the first year without my mother. And it did. Now, I hope it will help me through the second year without my mother. Readers have sent me messages about how some of my stories remind them of things that have happened in their own lives. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the feedback. I enjoy the interaction.

So thank you. I’m grateful.

***Some of my favorite pieces from the past year (click on title):

 

 

 

 

 

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Once Upon A Time…

Television made quite an impression on me when I was growing up. I like to think I wasn’t staring at the TV screen all the time, but back then, families watched TV together. These days, my husband mostly watches the news or business channels. Our daughter and I don’t watch much TV, but sometimes, she and I watch something together…a rerun of Zoey 101 or Drake and Josh…or maybe a new episode of Henry Danger.

But when I was growing up, the big three networks were the bomb. I remember going to school on Wednesday mornings in third grade, and everyone would be talking about Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, because those popular shows came on ABC on Tuesday nights. I remember pretending to be Laverne and Shirley with a friend, and  I remember how we all imitated Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie’s brief love on Happy Days. She had this catchy snap and point thing she did with her hands. Her sister, Leather Tuscadero, who appeared later, didn’t impress us so much.

Those shows were great, but I didn’t really want to be Laverne and Shirley or Pinky and Leather. They weren’t living my dream. I didn’t dream of living in a basement apartment with a roommate and having Lenny and Squiggy around all the time. And I didn’t dream of riding in a demolition derby like Pinky did.

My very favorite shows were shows that had women as the lead characters, and they were living good lives. I wanted to be those ladies. The shows that had characters I wanted to be were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bewitched, and Charlie’s Angels.

I still love those shows, in fact. I rarely see any of them, but occasionally, I watch on Amazon Prime.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one I remember from early childhood. Mary Richards, played by Mary Tyler Moore, worked at a TV station…glamorous. She was single and living by herself…exciting stuff! Sometimes, she wore leotards and did 1970s-style exercises in her living room. And often, her cool friend, Rhoda, would stop by. Mary was spunky, but sometimes got herself in trouble at work. I can still hear her saying, “Oh, Mr. Grant!” In the show’s opening sequence, Mary stands in the street and throws her hat up into the wind…I’ve always wanted to do that in a city. And Mary had great hair.09-mary-tyler-moore-show.w1200.h630

 Bewitched. Who didn’t want to be Bewitched?!?!? Heck, I still find myself thinking sometimes, “I wish I could just twitch my nose like Samantha Stephens.” In a traffic jam?   Twitch my nose and arrive at my destination! Someone gets hurt? Twitch my nose and rewind time. My team is losing? Twitch my nose and change the outcome! I loved Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens.  Samantha got herself into jams lots of times when her husband, Darrin, would bring his boss, Larry Tate, for dinner. And when she did, she would say, “Oh, my stars!” She also had a great wardrobe. She wasn’t fancy, but she had some groovy outfits. Plus, if she were sick, all she had to do was say, “Calling Dr. Bombay! Calling Dr. Bombay!” He would pop right in! And she could clean up messes just by snapping her fingers! Did I mention she had great hair? I’m starting to see a theme here. It’s likely I remember this mostly from reruns, because it ran from 1964 to 1972, meaning I was five when the series ended. I’m sure I was watching it in first run, but I probably remember more from reruns.https---s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com-nine-tvmg-images-prod-63-16-83-631683_p183952_b_h3_aq

And then Charlie’s Angels came along in 1976. I remember it vividly…sitting in my big yellow beanbag chair in the family den to watch it…right in front of the TV. The three original leading characters were Sabrina, Kelly, and Jill.  Lots of women who were little girls during the show’s run from 1976 to 1981 can spontaneously recite the show’s opening monologue by John Forsythe: “Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy. And they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.” They were the three most gorgeous private detectives ever, and I wanted to be them. Lots of women my age have at least one photo of themselves with their friends posing like the silhouette from the show’s logo. They were young, single, smart, brave, tough, and beautiful…and they had great hair. Last July, when I was in New York, Jaclyn Smith, who played Kelly Garrett, walked right past me on the sidewalk in front of the Sherry Netherland Hotel. I was speechless. She was talking on her cell phone, so I didn’t say anything, but she is still beautiful. I saw a real live Charlie’s Angel!

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You know what else all those shows had in common? Great openings. If you’re close to my age, you can likely hum the Bewitched theme song while remembering the animated witch on a broom in the opening credits. See it here. Surely, you can sing the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hear/see it here. And everybody remembers Charlie’s speech in the opening credits of Charlie’s Angels…see/hear it here.

Television made quite an impression on me. Now, if I could just twitch my nose like Bewitched and be dressed for the day with great hair before starting my private investigator work like Charlie’s Angels, I could end the day with some exercises while wearing a leotard in my living room like The Mary Tyler Moore Show!

 

 

 

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My Favorite Rescue Story (1 year later)

***I first wrote this story on February 10, 2018, but today, January 30, 2019, is the first anniversary of “the homecoming,” so I’m sharing it again. It makes me happy.***

Eight years ago, when my mother lost her Jack Russell Terrier, Sissy, to heart failure, she needed rescuing. I mean my mother needed rescuing. Daddy had died three years earlier, and Mother missed him terribly. So now, she was missing Sissy too. She needed company, so after a few months, she went to the local animal shelter.

FullSizeRender-28On that fateful day, it happened there was a young female Jack Russell Terrier who had been picked up and brought in by animal control. There was a hitch: she had only been there a couple days, so they had to hold her for two weeks to see if anyone claimed her. Mother waited. She called me and told me about the cute, little, white terrier with brown spots. Mother said she was a muscular little dog with lots of energy. She told the people at the shelter she would take the little terrier if no one claimed her. She was excited, and secretly, she was praying no one would claim that cute little terrier. She waited two weeks.

September 14th rolled around, and Mother went back to the shelter. The cute little terrier was still there, and since no one had claimed her, she was available for adoption. It seemed fitting that the cute little terrier, which Mother would name Sam, went home with Mother on Daddy’s birthday. Mother gave Sam a home, but really, Sam rescued Mother.

The two of them were together almost every single day for eight years. As long as she was able, Mother would throw the ball in the backyard for Sam. They “talked” to each other. They sat out on the back porch together. When company came over, sometimes Sam would run and hide under the bed, but she didn’t realize only her head was under the bed, and the rest of her wasn’t…just like  a two-year-old, “I can’t see you, so you can’t see me.” She made Mother laugh. She rescued Mother.

Mother died December 30. She fell on Christmas Eve. I’m sure Sam saw her fall. I’m sure Sam saw the EMTs carry her out. I’m sure she was confused. Heck, I’m still confused; I wish Sam could talk and tell me exactly what happened. For a few days, Mother’s friend/caretaker, Lois, would go feed Sam and visit with her some. When we realized Mother wasn’t going to make it, my aunt and cousin were with me at the hospital, and they offered to take Sam from Alabama to Florida to another aunt. (I would have loved to keep her, but we have three non-shedding dogs at my house, and my husband’s allergies can’t handle shedding.)

Sam is ornery, doesn’t adapt well to change, and she must have been scared and confused. She couldn’t get along with the aunt’s dog. My cousin, Patti, found her another home…and another. She was loved at the last home, but because of her shedding and her running into the road (a lot of acreage but no fenced yard), after a month, the lady couldn’t keep her.

Patti called me and told me she was looking for another home for Sam. I immediately texted my brother, whom I affectionally call “Brother,” and said, “We need to bring Sam back to Mother’s house.”   Because he lives near Mother’s house and would be responsible for her, I held my breath, thinking he might text back a firm “no.’

To my surprise, his first response was, “Maybe.” I knew, if Sam went back to Mother’s, she would have lots of company and be loved, because my brother stays there sometimes, my nephew was planning to move into the house, and friends visit all the time. Most of all, Sam would be comfortable. I typed back, “We can pay someone to come clean the house once a week.” Brother typed back, “Yes.”

Next, I texted, “I think Sam would be so happy.” He immediately responded, “OK.” Yippee! I promptly called Patti to start arranging Sam’s homecoming. I relayed messages between Patti and Brother, and they made it happen.

Patti called me after picking up Sam from her most recent temporary home, and said, “Sam went absolutely wild when she saw me!” Patti used to visit Mother and Sam a lot, and Sam is crazy about her. I could hardly wait for Sam to see Brother. A week ago, Brother met Patti at the halfway point between their cities and picked up Sam.IMG_8703.JPG

Sam was as excited to see Brother as she had been to see Patti. She and Brother’s dog, Amos, don’t always see eye to eye, but when she saw Amos in the car, she was even excited to see him! The three of them drove back to Mother’s house.

Brother called me after he got Sam home and said, “She was so excited. She ran into the house, and then she ran and ran and ran around the backyard.” He said, after a little while in the house, things got too quiet. He thought Sam had escaped. (She loves to slip out the door and go for a run if she can.) He looked in the bedroom, and there was Sam, piled up on the bed, sound asleep. It was probably the best sleep she’d had since December.

Mother would be happy to know, this time, we rescued Sam. She’s home. She’s comfortable, and she’s happy. I haven’t even seen her since her return(I live 400 miles away), but every time I think about her homecoming, I cry. I’m crying now.

We rescued Sam. I engineered it, and Brother and Patti made it happen.

Give your dog an extra treat today.

***One year later, Sam is living a happy life with my nephews in my mother’s old home, and she is enjoying lots of love and exercise.***

If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please share this post and invite your Facebook friends to like/follow it too! 

 

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I Hope They Don’t Call the Cops

I just got home from a long day, and the phone rang just as I was getting settled in to finish reading a book I started yesterday. It was the home phone, which is rarely used in our house, so I knew it was likely a scam, a robocall,  or someone asking me to donate to some fraudulent cause.

Now, I’m hoping it really was a scam or someone fraudulently asking me to donate to a cause.

I used to get downright angry about the stupid robocalls, scam calls, and fraudulent donation calls. Then I started having fun with them. I started playing games.

One of my games is to answer cheerfully and listen carefully to their spiel. Sometimes it’s a person, and sometimes it’s someone pressing a button with a prerecorded message…you know…they always ask for Bryant first. When you say they have the wrong number, they press a button so the recording might respond, “Well, you can help me. I’m calling on behalf of the Egg Handlers of America.” And they launch into a long speech about how your donation can help their organization. Since the number often shows the name of another company or “Unknown caller,” I feel pretty sure it’s fraudulent. I let them finish the long speech and then say, “I’m sorry, my child came in while you were talking. Could you repeat that?” They press the button to repeat the speech, or maybe it’s a real person who repeats the speech, and then they say, “Can we count on you to support us?” I then yell, “Touchdown! I’m sorry…my team just scored! Could you repeat that?” Often, they will jump straight to, “Can we count on your support?” I then ask, “Support for what?” They usually hang up at that point.

Another tactic is to answer with an unknown bad foreign accent. Don’t start saying I’m “appropriating” someone else’s culture by using a made up foreign accent. I’m just trying to stop the madness, people! Sometimes I simply will tell them early on that I don’t speak English. Sometimes, I let them go through the whole speech, and then tell them they “talk too fast.” I ask them to repeat more slowly. They go through it all again. I tell them again they “talk too fast.” They usually hang up.

Sometimes, I actually feel sorry for the person on the other end of the line. I know it’s likely they are working for pennies in a developing country. The person on the phone likely isn’t making much money at all from the scam. It’s their employers who are cashing in.

I know. I shouldn’t even engage with these folks, but dang it! I can get mad about it, or I can make it fun.

And that leads us to tonight. Tonight, I tried a different approach. When I saw a number pop up on the Caller ID that I thought was a sales/scam/robocall, I picked up the phone and yelled, sounding out of breath, “It’s done! There’s blood everywhere! What do I do now?!?!” Click. They hung up immediately. My husband walked in from the other room and asked me what I was yelling about. I told him what had happened, and he asked, “Who was it?” I said, “I don’t know.” He then asked, “How do you know it wasn’t a parent from school?” I explained it was an “unknown” caller from a familiar-looking number that always calls saying they are working for a nonprofit. Surely, if it had been a legit call, they would have said something. But they didn’t. Plus, no one calls me on my home phone.

My husband then said, “I hope it wasn’t a real person. I hope they don’t call the cops.” Yeah…that would be bad. But since I’ve had time to write all this, and the cops aren’t knocking down our front door, I guess it’s safe to say it was a scam call. Whew!

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Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

I don’t know how to block unwanted calls on my home phone, but on cell phones, there are lots of apps out there that can help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive. My favorite, though, is one called RoboKiller. I saw the creator talking about it on TV, and it sounds awesome. It plays games with them…the same kinds of games I mentioned before…wasting their time and decreasing their revenue. You can read about it here. Or you can see a news story about it here. You can download it from the App Store and get a one week free trial. Service for 12 months, is $29.99, or get one month for $3.99.

As for that call I received today, I hope they won’t call back, but just in case they do, I need to come up with something else. Any suggestions?

 

 

 

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