Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Old Blog - aka So Two Thousand and Late

So you know this is one of the oldest blogs in the blogosphere, right?

Yep.  Yep.  Been typin' round these here parts since way back in Oh-Five.   'Course, back in the day, it was a lot more photos and a whole lot less of my own take on the world.  At that point,  with a three month old baby and a two year old, I was celebrating more than four hours of consecutive sleep in any one night and speaking in full sentences once in a while.

Now.  By the standards of modern blogging in 2011, this here blog is downright homely.  That's right - I said it.  Homely.  Not obnoxious, with huge blobs of multi-colored scrapbooking paper strewn about.  But just... plain.

I've been stewing over this sad & homely state of affairs for quite some time now.  Never mind that I have a posting schedule that could only generously be called haphazard.  Never mind that I go long stretches where the cleverest thing to cross my head is by jove, I've got it! Oatmeal for breakfast! I just keep pretending that if my blog was high-class, high speed and self-hosted (dontcha know) then I would absolutely be inspired to post every day.

So here is where I share exciting news:  do you remember katdish, who so kindly invited me to guest post last summer? At this very moment, she is hosting a giveaway on her blog - sharing the giveaway, in fact, with Peter Pollock - that offers the chance at a new life.  A new blog life anyway.

If I win [she fluttters hands over her chest excitedly] Kathy & Peter would help out with getting me switched over to Wordpress, sorting out my very own domain name, and getting the whole site hosted.  There are 3 separate prizes, and if you're at all interested I'd strongly suggest going on over there to check out what's going on.

Here's there deal:  I saw in my tea leaves the other day that I am totally going to win the Big Enchilada.  But... if you enter too you may be almost as lucky as me and win like, second or third prize.  And I promise I won't lord it over you on the winner's podium.  Scamper on over and check it out.  Tell 'em I sent ya.   But don't delay - the giveaway ends tomorrow!

In the meantime, I will carry on with my fake Gold Rush Miner accent and massacring metaphors here on my homely site,  counting the hours until I hit the bigtime.

So.  I'll let you know if the tea leaves were telling it straight.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beach Blanket Bingo

Sometimes, there is deep meaning to a photo, profundity in a post.

Sometimes, a snapshot is just exactly that - a sliver of a moment, a tiny snatch of a silly birthday party in the dead of winter.  Mr NilsenLife welcomed one of the final years of his thirties yesterday, and we needed to greet a grim number like that with a heavy dose of tropical thinking.

the girls were in full-on swimsuit mode, Lars modestly stuck with just flip flops

each of the coasters is an atoll
sometimes, it really is as simple as making your own sunshine

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Resume

It's been a rough few days, mothering-wise. You know those days, where you start to mentally brush up your resume for your imminent return to the workforce? Like, tomorrow?  This thought process is always aided by the tax season and a few unexpected bills that drop in uninvited.

So I've tossed around a few points I can now add to my CV, points that will surely secure a high-powered role in this brave new world of back-to-work moms.

NAME:  KIRSTEN SCHNEIDER NILSEN, aka Mooooooooooooooooom!
DOB:  after JFK died, but before Grace Kelly and Rock Hudson did
CONTACT: just stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell for me. That's what everyone else does.

EDUCATION: elementary/highschool/college/gradschool [does my high school GPA really matter? my college GPA even? can't I just confirm I was there, loved every minute, would do it all over again, but feel that at this point in my life that none of it will get me any sort of gainful employment?]

  • 2003 - present:  Commander in Chief of NilsenLife Inc.  All-round ringmaster, part-time teacher, extremely part-time housekeeper. Utter failure as PTA member, but bake kick-ass chocolate chip cookies.
  • 1998 - 2003:  Human Resources Manager.  Management training and development, employee policy develop....[hang on, are you yawning?!?!  It FELT important at the time, ok?]
  • 1991-1998:  Professional Student, aka The Golden Years.  Student loans, overseas education, lots of travel, fair bit of wild oat sowing. (purely metaphorically, you understand)
  • 1988-1991:  Lifeguard.  Best. Teenage. Job. EVER.

  • Proficient with middle-of-the-night soothing (measurable success rates over 8 years: can now boast that rates of 2am cries decreased 300%)
  • Efficient self-dressing skills: my entire routine, shower :: fully make-upped can now be completed in under 18 minutes. (Levels of beauty will vary.)
  • Skilled in reading aloud in character.  Best demonstrated in stories with regional dialects, e.g. Eloise, Madeline or Mrs Piggle Wiggle
  • Potty Training Ninja
  • Finely-tuned Reflexes: recently caught all vomit in intended receptacle when wakened from dead sleep by a faint but ominous cough.
  • Strong constitution re: shots, blood, poop, snot, and stitches.
  • Proficient in artful draping of crepe paper streamers
  • Create delicious and nutritious sandwiches, with or without crusts
  • Making up stories after 9pm
  • Any child-oriented activity after 9pm
  • Resolutely weak-stomached when confronted by vomit
  • Profound lack of sympathy for generalized weepiness (see also: Whining)
  • Restoration of laundry to proper drawers or closets
  • Patience with unnecessary drama
  • Tracking lonely unmatched socks
  • Darning. [What is darning?]
  • Homework submission. [theirs. not my problem if they miss recess, right?]
  • Tolerance of picky eaters
  • and... job hunting, apparently.  


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 Minutes that Mattered

What 5 minutes would you give your kids?

Over at The Red Dress Club they've started a new Memoir feature on Tuesdays.  Hey, ya'll know me, I can *do* memoir.  Their first prompt was this:  after you have died, your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see?

Maybe there are more noble moments in my life.  Certainly there are more touching, more gentle, more 'me' moments in my life.  But when asked what 5 minutes should my kids know about me ?  This is what instantly came to mind.

I knew immediately which 5 minutes I wanted my kids to know about me.  Five minutes that instantly foretold what courage laid within me, that I would fight the fights in which my kids needed me, that I wouldn't always worry about not rocking the boat, that I absolutely would stand my ground when I needed to.


I heard it before I felt it.  A screeching, whining gut wrenching sound of sheet metal scraping against sheet metal.

My equilibrium shifted along with the front corner of my Ford Ranger, angling up off its front wheel,  lifted by the sheer force of the school bus grinding along my front left corner.  I watched a wall of bright yellow travel the arc of its lane change, scraping along my truck the entire time.

The stupid green pickup truck.  The ridiculous truck that I carpooled my younger brother back and forth to school in.  My father and brothers had insisted that guys dig girls in pickups! but I didn't buy it.  (Still don't.)

I sat in shock at the red light, looking at my brother with goggle eyes, speechlessly gaping my mouth with the unsaid question hanging:  Did that bus just hit us?!?! 

I did hate that pickup.  I hated it with all the passion a spoiled suburban parochial school girl could muster.  But I knew in that suspension of time, in that split-second of hanging between present and future, that there was no future that involved me walking into my house and  telling my dad I'd banged up his precious truck.  Knew with certainty that my protestations of but but but! BIG! YELLOW! BUS! would hold no water with the person who paid the insurance.

Here's what you need to know about your 17 year old mom, my treasures:

At the next stoplight, I hopped out of the driver's side, sprinted up to the school bus in front of me, and banged the crap out of the driver's window.  Banged until she was forced to slide open that 12x14 pane of glass and demand what the hell I wanted.

Photo courtesy of

The girl who never complained, the one who in her lifetime stoically endured all manner of insults, shouted up at that school bus driver that she'd just HIT MY TRUCK, and that she needed to hop on out of that yellow behemoth and come check it out. That ponytailed introvert planted herself there in the middle of Randolph Road until the Montgomery County police rolled up (this was in the long-ago days before camera phones and speed-dial 911 on your cell phones, dear children).

Insurance details were exchanged, accompanied by the diarrhea of complaint from the bus driver about my punk ass self makin' sure she was goin' to traffic court!  I practiced a steely stoicism that I'd need often in 20 years or so.

Your 14 year old uncle cringed with mortification, there in the cab of that pickup truck.  His sister didn't pull stunts like this.  But here's what you need to know:  I did.  Without a second's hesitation, I pulled a stunt like that.  Not for a show, not for the thrill, but because it was What. Had. To. Happen.

This, my cherubic offspring, tells you so very very much about all that your mother was to be.

That stupid pickup in happier times (me with my Norwegian)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Everything Good Between Men and Women

"...has been written in mud and butter and barbeque sauce."

This was the beginning of the poem my husband gave me on Valentines Day.

You might be sick of Valentines by now.  The holiday, full of its chocolatey, stuffed-bear and balloon cynicism draws to a close tonight, and I have a dispeptic belly-full of cheap jewelry ads and schmaltzy marriage proposal stories. 

But the mystic in me finds it hard to hate a day that remembers how central love is to our existence.  Remembers that all the world for love may die. [Ben Jonson] Love, in all of its iterations, is reason to exist.  Ok - a bright pink stuffed bear has not nearly enough gravitas to make it real.  I'd submit that a half-pound of dark chocolate sea salt caramels just might. 

But love is real.  Realer than anything else that drives us.  Here is what I know, today, about love:

Love is the husband who calls his wife driving home from the city in the middle of the night, just to keep her awake over the miles.

Love is the husband who jumps up later that night to get a bowl for a feverish wife who feels like she's about to hurl.

Love is the husband who makes the kids heart-shaped waffles on Valentine's morning and lets his wife sleep until 8.10 when he absolutely-has-to-really-must-leave.

Love is the husband who posts a poem that he knows will break his wife's heart in a million (mostly good) ways as a gift, right out there for all of Facebook to see.

Love is the husband who leaves work after a quiet, miserable call from his sick wife.  Leaves work, arrives home with laptop in hand and plops himself on the floor to build a marble maze with three cabin-feverish kids.

It wasn't your standard Valentine celebration at the Yellow House this year.  But oh, it was filled with love!  The kind of love that makes days, weeks and months into rich and full lives.  Not happy perfect filled-with-glitter-and-champagne-and-swanky-dates lives, but lives filled with Quality.

Surely we can't hate a holiday that celebrates that.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Soupish sort of Sunday

The novelty of cutesy soup titles will wear off eventually, but in the meantime, I guess soup is a vaguely entertaining way to distract ourselves from unending weeks of freezing temperatures.

So you're ok with green soup, right? I mean, we're not talking a plehgmy week-old pea soup green.  We're talking kelly green, emerald green, GREEN.  This is my new favorite winter soup, and the fact that it is perfect for St Patricks Day or, I dunno, Green Day at preschool is just extra happiness.

The recipe originates from a Silver Palate cookbook, but honestly I can't tell you which one.  I have a grubby wrinkled & dog eared photocopy of the recipe that I got from someone at work, carried around in my purse for a month or so, and then finally managed to get all the ingredients in the house at one time and decided to dive into the green.

And lest you needed any further encouragement to embrace the green, I'll go ahead & deliver the punch line now:  it's got BACON.  You know my feelings on that wonder food.  Now, technically it can absolutely be made without it, or with those Bac-O chips again, but [sucking teeth] you really want to try the bacon if its at all ok with your ethics/diet plan.

Winter Vegetable Soup

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-in pieces
4 Tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 C finely diced leeks (white part and 1 inch green)
1 1/2 C finely diced onions
1 C finely diced celery
1 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp dried thyme (I used fresh, then you'd do about 1 Tbsp)
salt and freshly ground pepper
5 C chicken stock
2 1/2 C finely diced potatoes
1 pound tender spinach, well rinsed, stems removed, cut into 1/8" slivers
1/2 C heavy cream (I use half & half, and I'm pretty sure even whole milk would work)

1.  In large soup pot, cook the bacon over low heat, until fat is rendered, 5 minutes.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and discard. [They say discard.  *I* say keep keep keep for garnish.]

2. Add the butter to the pot.  When it has melted, add the leeks, onions, and celery.  Cook over low heat until wilted, 15 minutes.  Season with teh tarragon, thyme and salt and pepper.  Stir well.

3. Add the stock and potatoes.  Cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes.

4.  Add half the spinach.  Simmer for 1 minutes more.

5.  Remove the soup from the heat.  Puree half the amount in a blender or food processor, and return the puree to the soup pot.  [Here is the part where it is pretty much day-glo green.]

6. Place the pot over low heat, and add the remaining spinach and the cream [cream = deelish. But sadly, it does soften the shade to a brackish jade color.]  Heat through, stirring well, but do  not boil.  Adjust the seasonings, and serve.  I top each bowl with a spoonful of sour cream, and the bacon you saved back at the beginning.

You know the drill - serve with crusty bread, a great salad, and you're golden.  Or green. Or, you know. Happy & full of soup anyway.   Make sure you have brownies for dessert.  Bathing suit season is so far off.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Renewal: Not Just at the Library

I wasn't a runner.  And then I was.

I wasn't a writer.  And then I was. 

I wasn't a teacher.  And then I was.

I have become things that I'd categorically dismissed - those definitions?  Those people?  They weren't Me.  I was the armchair athlete.  I was the enthusiastic supporter of other writers - people who were good, you know?   I was in awe of my kids' teachers, certain that it was nothing I could ever organize, this teaching children to ... do stuff.

Yet.  Yet.  Somewhere deep in there was a spirit that refused to let those definitions stick. A spirit that fought against decisions I thought had been made.  A spirit that kept piping up, whispering but you might be that.  You could be that.  

Indeed.  This year, I became all of those people.  

Here we run up against the word that gets tossed around at spa days, at therapy sessions, after a good cry:  "I feel renewed."

Renewed.  Made new.  NEW.   It isn't a fluffy word that simply means "oh hey I feel so much better!"  It isn't the lazy woman's way of saying "wow I'm so relaxed and now I feel happier about the world."  Renewed is when the raw materials are taken, re-molded, and transformed into something entirely new.

I have been renewed.  I have been remade, by these deep gut messages that say You are NOT only this, just that, merely these things.  In seismic, unalterable ways, I have become new. A new person who does do things like sign up for a half marathon.  Who returns to the writing again again again like a horse returns to the stable each evening.  Who teaches a small boy every morning, never failing to marvel that he is actually learning something.  

And I am not finished.  I have been renewed, have become something new, and the most transformative thing of all is realizing that we are never finished.  I will be formed, and then formed again.  The raw material that makes Me will be many things.  

Renewal - again and again and again - is the sign of a life well lived.


At this point in my life, I have to say that the first thing to come to mind when thinking "Renewal" is all of my overdue library books. But I was grateful to be asked to think further. This post is part of the One Word at a Time blog carnival: Renewal hosted by Peter Pollock.  To read more posts considering Renewal, visit his blog,  

Also, anyone out there interested in a Christian perspective on renewal - the "making all things new" - please do read this by Rev. Doctor Ken Kovacs.   Powerful words, transformative words.  The very best kind.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Surprised by Sad

Heaving with sobs.  Silent, huge, racking sobs.

I can count on one hand the number of times in his entire almost-six-years my son has cried like this.

It took me a second to jolt out of my Family Movie Night, room-darkened, popcorn coma to realize he wasn't kidding. He climbed onto my lap, buried his face in my neck, and cried and cried and cried.

He begged us to turn off the movie.  Insisted, over and over, that he didn't want to watch another minute, and please could we just go upstairs to read stories.

Were we watching Old Yeller, at the bit where the dog dies?  Nope. Were we watching Finding Nemo, at the bit where Nemo gets flushed down into the sewer?  We were not.  Were we watching the super scary part in Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker battles both Darth Vader AND the Emperor, the part that still makes me pee my pants a little? NO.

Ramona and Beezus.  That's what we were screening tonight.  A fun family film, so innocuous that even Focus on the Family couldn't find fault.

But here's the thing:  when I realized what was breaking my son's heart, it broke mine too.

Ramona, the middle sister in a family of 5 had decided she wasn't important in the family any more and was running away.  Her mother, being the reasonable and clever parent that all movie moms are, had helped her pack, including one of Daddy's sweaters, "you know, since you'll be gone forever."  The movie then pans over Ramona trudging through Portland neighborhoods, dragging a heavy-ass suitcase.


We hadn't gotten to the part where the family finds her, and insists they could never live without her.  Lars really thought Ramona had left her family forever.

It is heart-shattering, to feel emotion that strongly.  I watched the storm of sadness, identification, empathy and confusion pass over my boy's face and felt it as viscerally as watching a hurricane on the Atlantic coast.  Raw emotion, with no filters.  Just a child, knowing the hurts of another child.

In those few moments, before I was able to calm him to explain what might happen next, to reassure that really sweetie, I promise she's not headed for a life of prostitution, I felt I'd seen right to the bottom of the human heart.  To the dark places in all of us that want to yell Turn it off!  Turn it OFF!  I just don't wanna feel that anymore!

Emotions aren't comfortable. But the only way through them is to live them. Just like a five year old.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Soupity Soup Soup

This recipe is the soup of my life.  This soup is the end of an afternoon of leaf-raking, it is the welcome back after sledding, it is families at our house for potluck suppers.  I watched my grandmother ladle it from her giant soup pot, I watched my mother spoon it into bowls.

It is comfort food at its best.  Rich, creamy, and decidedly not recommended by Weight Watchers.  But it will feed your spirit as well as it feeds your belly, and it will garner all kinds of mmmhmm! from the people gathered around your table.

Now.  My entire non-bacon eating childhood, I ate this soup made with Bac-O Chips.  Yes, the soy-laden, sodium bombs sold in a handy plastic jar. What did I know what I was missing?   So whilst I am a bacon lover of the first order, I'll tell you that this soup is delish with those Bac-Os, and just Off. The. HOOK. when made with real bacon.  You decide.

So:  Grandma Joan's Corn and Cheese Chowder

2/3 C Bac-O chips
1/2 C butter (yep, that's a whole stick)
1/2 C onion, finely diced
1/4 C flour
*** melt the butter in large pot until foaming, then cook 2 minutes at a low heat.  I add the flour after the butter, Bac-Os and onions have had their time in the sun, so to speak. If you use real bacon, you could use the rendered fat from the bacon in place of some of the butter. Make sure you saute the bacon until nice & crisp, but not crunchy.

4 C Water
2 C Potatoes, diced small
1/2 tsp dried sage (I use fresh, as it still sort of survives out in my garden, but dried is ok)
2 large bay leaves
*** add these, cover, cook 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

2 C cream, evaporated milk, or half & half
2 C boiling water
2 C grated cheddar (I use orange cheddar, to add color, but a well aged sharp cheddar is most delish)
4 C corn (if frozen, you don't have to defrost.  Frozen from the farmer's market = heaven.)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
***Add these ingredients, heat just to a boil

The very most important thing to remember here is, once you've added that last batch of ingredients, do not let the soup boil.  Really, I'm not kidding here.  It curdles and gets remarkably gross, very quickly.

That's it.  Pretty simple, pretty humble.  But sooooo delicious.  As always, the better quality ingredients, the better the soup will be.  It is perfect with a crusty wholegrain bread, a huge green salad, and maybe some fruit for dessert.

Soup.  Does the body good.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trying to Be Positive Here

So.  Winter is not taking our breakup very well.  In fact, as I look out the window at freezing rain coating the streets, I realize it is entirely possible Winter has decided to turn stalker, and seriously punish me for even trying to break up.

So I decided to try and find just a few things about Winter I can still appreciate, that'll get me through until I score a Restraining Order, or until the Vernal Equinox.  Whichever comes first.

1) Soup Weather.  It may be cold, we may be stuck inside with each other, but somehow it all fades away when we gather around bowls of steaming hot soup.  Tomorrow I'll share a recipe for one of my favorites.

2) Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day in the UK.  I guess down South they call it Fat Tuesday, the idea being that you use up all the butter and eggs before Lent.  I'm not so hardcore with the Lent thing, but hoo boy do I love some crepes for dinner.  Yes sirree. [Strictly speaking, with Easter so late this year, Pancake Day is March 8, which will be in spring-ish weather.  Can you tell I'm grasping at straws here?]

3) Coming inside to toasty warm houses.  That welcoming whoosh of hot air as you re-enter your home??  Loverly.  I mean, walking back in to an air-conditioned room after a steamy summer day? Also nice.  But walking into the warmth is particularly cozy.

4) Ice Skating.  The players of NilsenLife have just re-discovered this little diversion recently, and all three kids have taken to it like, well... like ducks to a frozen pond.  Cecilie doesn't think she needs lessons, because I'm about as fast as it gets!, she told us at dinner last night.

A little out of focus, but how sweet is that girl?  She insists on choosing skating outfits that are 'elegant for twirling.'

5) I'll get my money's worth out of this tricky snow gear I scored.  What, you thought I was kidding about getting Mama geared up for snow?  Well I was NOT.

Sometimes, when shopping clearance sales, it pays to be the biggest kid on the block.   Go me!

6) Reading.  Somehow everyone is much happier about cuddling up on the sofa to read a new story or listen to an old favorite when the weather outside is frightful. Summer reads for us are lighter, quicker, more on-the-fly.

7) Of course we can still count Valentines Day on our list of things to look forward to.  We've had a busy few days with stickers, scrap paper, glue sticks and glitter here at the Yellow House. Don't be offended if you don't get yours in the mail - the kids lose interest before it ever gets to addressing envelopes.  They are 'process people', apparently.

8) Last but not least we have the Dad of the Nilsen's birthday.  The kids and I love to plan a new theme every year, and as Cecilie gets older the themes only get more and more elaborate.  This year, my main man has requested a Beach Party.  Even the most stoic of Norwegians needs a little sand, sun and margarita in his February.


So that's it.  That's the very best I could do to find positive bits of winter to wax poetic about.  What about you, my lovely readers?  Can you think of anything I've missed?  Throw us a bone here - tomorrow's Groundhog Day and I will weep if that dumb rodent says 6 more weeks of winter.
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