Sunday, August 25, 2013

Meet the neighbors before raccoons attack

I write a weekly column called “Neighborberry.”

I post these essays on my blog a few weeks after each one is released. The publishers get first dibs. :)

If you would like to see "Neighborberry" in your local paper/website, please tell the editor to email me at Thanks so much! 

Meet the neighbors before raccoons attack (released July 26, 2013)
By Kris Kolk

Would your neighbor come to your aid in an emergency? Helping one another sounds good in theory, but one recent occasion prompted me to reconsider this basic directive.

When I am unable to sleep, I obsess over thoughts which rarely cross my mind during the day. From wondering if I remembered to coil the hose to speculating whether week-old chicken casserole has spoiled, distress comes easily at two o’clock in the morning.

One sleepless night when the rest of the family was away, I pondered what would happen if raccoons attacked me in my bed. I practically convinced myself that raccoons had already settled downstairs with some Perry Mason reruns and dicey chicken casserole.

I decided this would be a good opportunity to redirect my heebie-jeebies into a preparedness exercise. This felt productive. It also took the sting out of the fact I was hiding under the covers from imaginary animals.

Raccoons know instinctively that the television should not be used as a babysitter, so I figured they would eventually come looking for me. I would feel persistent tugs on my blanket until finally my eyes would open to find a nursery of adorable bandits piled in my bed.

“I’m bored,” one would say. “My tummy hurts, and there’s nothing to eat in this house,” another would contribute. The thought of this scene gave me goose bumps, but I wasn’t only worried about the raccoons. Since survival would depend on my neighbor’s willingness to get involved, I was more concerned with his impression of me.

You see, if something isn’t fit to wear in public, I wear it to bed. My neon green stirrup pants, circa 1983, often pair with a ratty t-shirt from my husband’s pre-marital days. The pants offer a roomy fit since the elastic in the waistband went brittle. Across the chest of the t-shirt is printed an outdated message of “available.”

For crimped hair, I sleep with ten miniature braids around my head. When I really get going on the beauty routine, I apply lotion and put tube socks on my hands to contain the moisture overnight.

I hoped my neighbor appreciated frugality in nightwear and wouldn’t get nauseated by the dark side of vanity. My life could one day depend on his ability to trust me despite appearances. I needed to create a plan, and I was too nervous to sleep, anyway.

Have you ever seen raccoons in the wild? They waddle. I probably do, too, so my escape strategy hinged on out-toddling the fastest of the gang through my garage door to the yard. I imagined the sequence of events would unfold as follows:

After hearing a woman yell “The raccoons are bored with Perry Mason!” my neighbor would look out his kitchen window. From sleepy eyes, he would spy the neighbor lady trotting towards his house, tripping over a garden hose then getting up again.

My pants would surrender to the added weight of caked mud while tube sock mittens would sabotage every attempt to pull my pants up. I would arrive at my neighbor’s glass patio doors where he would be standing on the other side. His lips would mouth “available” while reading my nightshirt. Through sweat, mud, and ten tiny braids, my eyes would plead into his. He would naturally question my intentions.

My neighbor would assess the situation then his mythology training would kick in. To avoid being turned to stone, he would attempt to look away from who appeared to be Medusa.

At this point, there is a fork in my fantasy road. Perhaps my neighbor would provide refuge in such a situation or maybe the whole thing would just confirm his suspicions that the neighbor lady really is nuts. I fell asleep before visualizing the outcome.

The next morning, I found our television blaring and the refrigerator door open. I noticed a muddy trail from my yard leading to a soccer-ball-sized rock resting against my neighbor’s back door. 

Many tips can be gleaned from that restless night, such as: wear decent nightclothes, discard old chicken casserole, and put the hose away after each use. More importantly, though, get to know the neighbors so they are willing to help when bizarre stuff happens.

You never know when raccoons will come for YOU.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blue jean organizers

I had quite a collection of blue jeans with holey knees. It was time to re-purpose a few of them!

I grabbed a curtain rod and glued some red ribbon to it.

Then I cut the jeans at approximately the same lengths. 

The curtain rod was threaded through the belt loops of the jeans. 

Finally, I tied the curtain rod to shelf brackets.

The pockets come in handy for storing odds and ends.
Here is how the whole thing looks:
The parts of the jeans I cut off are still being stored. 

Isn't denim great? You never know when even the smallest bit of it will come in handy.

Have a lovely day!

Shared on these sites:
Handy Man, Crafty Woman
Life with the Crust Cut Off

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where bobble heads rein

I write a weekly column called “Neighborberry.”

I post these essays on my blog a few weeks after each one is released. The publishers get first dibs. :)

If you would like to see "Neighborberry" in your local paper/website, please tell the editor to email me at Thanks so much!
Where bobble heads reign (released 7/19/13)
By Kris Kolk

My family hosted a yard sale last week. We outwitted spiders and bugs to unearth treasures from the basement. For a few days the house was a frenzied prep zone.

“Sell it all,” was our mantra. My son’s wardrobe got sucked into the fervor. We priced most of his fresh laundry before realizing our mistake.

“If it’s nice, it gets a price,” his siblings and I jingled in unison as he sheltered t-shirts, boxers, and jeans from his yard-sale-possessed family.

While getting change, I told the tellers about our upcoming sale. One of them gave me a sympathetic half-smile. I initially interpreted it as “better you than me,” but shrugged it off. Our till was counted and put into a powder blue plastic toy tackle box, our cash register.

Exhaustion led to giddiness. We were too excited to go to bed at a decent hour on Sale Eve. Clothes were hung. Goods were priced. A stash of empty grocery bags was ready for customers’ loot. We wondered if we forgot any details.

The advertisement listed our hours as seven o’clock until noon. We expected early bird shoppers and agreed on a store policy: sell stuff no matter what the time.

We merchandised in pre-dawn dew. Tables almost buckled under the weight of our inventory. We hung clothes on a rope. A stepladder offered belts, shoes, and purses at a variety of heights.

“No early birds yet,” I said, grateful to prepare without distractions. By opening time, a parade of cars started on our street.

“Look, here comes another one,” I’d say. “No, don’t look.” We didn’t want to appear anxious.

Almost every potential customer slowed their car to window shop from the comfort of a front seat. More often than not, the car accelerated and left. We were tired and sweaty and discouraged, too.

I began hoping for just one sale. The kids worked so hard. Our house had been in sale mode for three days and was still a huge mess. Was it all worth it? I was beginning to wonder.

Then a family arrived. Kids poured from the van like clowns from a miniature car. I lost track of how many there were; but one thing was certain: they wanted toys. My kids’ faces glowed as their favorite things were once again appreciated.

These young customers were savvy negotiators. It became apparent that none of them intended on paying full price. Their parents stood behind them, beaming as their offspring were successful in getting discounts just for being so darned cute. I was grateful one car finally stopped, and it felt good to put some quarters in the tackle box.

There was a trickle of customers after that. One man paid us in a fifty-cent piece. I don’t think my kids were impressed but I was excited. Shoppers wanted jewelry, bobble heads and stadium cups, none of which our establishment offered.

We packed leftovers in our pick-up for delivery to the donation drop. Then the most surprising thing happened: swarms of customers arrived. Just as early birds want first dibs at the good stuff, people who arrive after the sale want deals.

I regret allowing the latecomers to peruse what we had already packed. There was a pillaging spirit about them as they ravaged boxes in the hull of our truck while searching for booty. Though they didn’t buy anything, I was relieved when the ransacking concluded.

Our profit was a mere $15. It sounds like it wasn’t worth it; but we did get some of the basement clean, made a substantial donation, and had fun. As we were enjoying our reward of take-out pizzas, my son entered the room. For one moment, I thought I heard a DJ scratching a turntable.

“Are you wearing shorts and leg warmers?” I asked him.

“I hate yard sales,” he said.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Monday, August 12, 2013

Nachos with chicken aka tornado chicken

My kids kept reminding me about the time I was making chicken nachos the night the tornado sirens blared. We all headed to the basement and had to delay dinner. 

I guess the kids now associate chicken nachos with tornadoes. 

They keep saying, "Make that tornado chicken again."

All you need is some cooked chicken, spices and nacho stuff, of course.

After we had the baked chicken the other night, I put a few leftover cooked chicken breasts in the freezer.

Tornado Chicken Nachos

Shred two cooked chicken breasts.
Put them in a microwave-safe dish.

A splash of water
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

Put a lid on it and microwave it for about a minute and a half.

Melt some cheese on top of tortilla chips, add the meat, salsa and black olives. 

Don't you love having leftover cooked meat on hand? 

I know. Me, too!

This post was shared on:
The Prairie Homestead
Mad in Crafts
Adventures of a DIY Mom
Growing Home Blog 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mr. Cool's video!!

I've been wanting to post a video for a long time.

Well, here we go! 

The neighbors are mowing outside.

And, we have a power drill making noise in the house. 

And, I would rather be at Mr. Cool's level than over his head.

And, the lighting is kind of dark.

I didn't want to really get into it, because the living room is kind of cluttered this morning. 

Also, this video really just helped me learn how to produce it and load it here.
Mr. Cool got so exhausted being a star and everything.

Have you posted video on your blog yet?

Do you have any tips for me?

Have a lovely day!

This post was shared on:
Snoopy's Dog Blog

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Porches bring back whoopee

I write a weekly column called “Neighborberry.”

I post these essays on my blog a few weeks after each one is released. The publishers get first dibs. :)

If you would like to see "Neighborberry" in your local paper/website, please tell the editor to email me at Thanks so much! 
Porches bring back whoopee (released 7/12/13)
After decades of deprivation, residents have had it. It might not be a violent uprising, but this revolution should not be underestimated.

“Who stole my porch?” people are asking as front doors swing open across the nation.

Porches have always been a good idea; it’s just that we forgot this fact for a few years. Make the lemonade, baby. Porch living is back. We just may have to improvise a bit.

Humans have a need to interact. Jobs and T-ball kept us preoccupied for while; so we didn’t realize porches had been gradually fading from our social landscape. Nowadays, many of us live behind stoops.

The porch offers us an opportunity to have a good time without much commitment. There is no need to have the house clean before socializing and no need to check the calendar ahead of time. It’s spontaneous. This outdoor parlor is always in the mood for company.

Porches allow us to be semi-social while keeping one foot inside our comfort zones. When on the porch, we invite others to have a “sit” and chat a while.  Though, as quickly as it materializes, the visit may conclude. Everyone can retreat to their homes and check email. This lifestyle is the best of all worlds.

My grandparents lived on a dead-end street and would people-watch from their front porch while sitting on the flowered vinyl cushions of their outdoor white furniture. Only 10 homes lined their gravel road, and they had to identify every driver on it.

“What car is that?” Grandpa would ask. They would both lean forward to get a better look.

“It’s Ron coming home from work,” Grandma would answer, and then they would relax back into those vinyl pillows which emitted loud whoopee cushion noises. That furniture provided an orchestra of sounds so offensive; it could send a lunchroom of second graders into giggle spasms.

My other grandmother had a wrap-around porch with no railings. It often became a stage, perfect for putting on a make-believe tap dance show. A cherry tree grew in front and draped its branches onto stage left. It didn’t discriminate against bratty pretend dancers. Low hanging fruit was offered in abundance to everyone.

My mother-in-law’s sturdy bungalow porch was a playroom for her kids and then, later, for her grandkids. It was a convenient spill-over area when the living room became over capacity and also offered ample seating to an aged, yet vocal, hopscotch audience.

Our first home as a married couple had a solid concrete porch covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting. We could dangle our legs over the edge without touching ground. We lived on a corner, so there were many neighbors to greet as they took evening strolls. It was also an opportune spot from which to leap and chase the ice cream truck.

Some porches face boring cul-de-sacs while the real action is on a main road near the backyard. In that case, a rear deck can serve as a neighborly perch. It’s close to the bar-be-cue grill, too.

Though porches have been eliminated from blueprints for quite a while, the good news is that porch sitting always finds a way. Those who want to watch the world go by will not be deterred.  Many of them sit in open garages. This arrangement works fine as does a lawn chair in the front yard. Just being visible and open to socializing is all that’s needed.

Though I don’t have a porch, I am thankful they are in fashion again. I can make do with my concrete front stoop. 

Now, all I need is a whoopee cushion.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at
Email her at
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Friday, August 9, 2013

Blondies with chocolate chips

Made these the other night and man, did they go fast.

They were very easy and super good.

Blondie Brownies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 bag of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
Mix the flour, powder, soda and salt together. Set aside.
Cream the butter and brown sugar together.
Add the eggs and vanilla.
Stir in the flour mixture.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Spread into a 9 x 13 pan.
Bake for about 35 minutes 
     or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Hope you like 'em!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

D is for daycare

I'm going to post my menus, activities and paperwork from when I had a daycare.

Who knows--might be of use to somebody.

I'll post the exact menus I used. I won't jazz them up for this blog or anything. It's all real life here.

Theme: the letter "A." (I'll post activities separately.)

Breakfast: Oatmeal with baked apple pieces
Snack: zucchini bread or bananas
Lunch: turkey, sweet potatoes, Mandarin oranges and bread
Snack: yogurt
Supper: Hot dogs or brats, baked beans, chips and marshmallows. (cookout)

Breakfast: bagels and banana
Snack: graham crackers and pears
Lunch: ravioli, green beans and peaches
Snack: vanilla pudding
Supper: Tater tot casserole or Boca burgers

Breakfast: English muffin and peaches
Snack: Cheerios and peas
Lunch: ham, cheese, mashed potatoes, applesauce, bagel
Snack: cheese crackers
Supper: frozen pizza and a salad

Thanksgiving Holiday

Breakfast: Cheerios and Mandarin oranges
Snack: peas and cheese
Lunch: ham, cooked carrots, applesauce and bread
Snack: animal crackers
Supper: Thanksgiving leftovers

Notes (please read):

The kids in my care ranged from 1 1/2 to 3 years old. No matter what is being served, please make sure to cut foods into small pieces so little ones don't choke! I always erred on the side of too small. I worry. Can't help it. 

The meats I used are lunch meat unless otherwise noted.

Also, run every food by the parents before getting into a menu routine. Of course you need to know about allergies, but if the baby hasn't had blueberries yet, for example, you don't want to serve them. 

Also, you probably want the kids to try new foods at home (in case of issues). Same goes with medications. Don't give the first dose. Let baby's mom do that. :)

Missouri didn't require me to be licensed, so my meal plans don't follow any specific nutritional guidelines. Of course, I tried to keep things healthy, though!

My meals plans also include suppers for my family which *may* include some convenience foods. 

Hey. Cut me some slack, Jack. It's not easy to run a daycare, have a family AND cook everything from scratch! more note I'm adding since this posted: I think I will back-date the upcoming daycare posts and put them all under the "daycare" tab above. This is so that the daycare topic doesn't take forever to accumulate and so that the topic of daycare won't hog my content stream. My readers can just go to the tab if they're interested.

Yes, that's what I'll do. Thanks for being patient while I sorted it all out.

Hope you find this useful!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Baked chicken is so easy

I buy those three-pound bags of frozen chicken breasts. 

It's the best deal, isn't it? I think it is.

Anyway, here is my recipe for baked Panko chicken.

Baked Panko Chicken

3 pounds of thawed boneless chicken breasts
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Butter a 9 x 13 pan. 
Place chicken in the pan and drizzle butter over the top.
Mix the Panko and spices.
Sprinkle over the top of the chicken breasts.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until done.
  (Chicken is done at 165 degrees.)

Mr. Cool says baked chicken smells good to him!

Have a lovely day!

Monday, August 5, 2013

If you visited me

If you visited me, I would probably do something lame like serve chocolate kisses from a plastic ice cream dish. It's not fancy or showy, but really, would you complain?

If you popped in on me right now, you would notice that...
1. We have the air conditioning off, so it's a bit sticky.
2. School supplies are everywhere.
3. Little Weirdo is confined to the kitchen because of his pee-pee issues.
4. Mr. Cool is conked out on a pile of people blankets because he got so much fresh air this afternoon.
5. My pizza pans are still soaking from last night. 
6. One of my drummer boys is practicing. WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU.
7. We have a collection of miniature flash lights on our hutch. I don't know where they came from.
8. I have chicken "brining" aka thawing for supper tonight.
9. I baked yesterday and could offer you a blondie and/or a sugar cookie bar...with icing!
10.  My husband's project is on the coffee table. It involves poster board and sheet metal. I nod a lot but don't really understand what he's doing.
11. We have baby gates and no baby. We are nervous about Mr. Cool using stairs. Even though his back legs are better now, we block off risky areas.
12. Beagles love to bark. Sorry again about the noise.

I know a lot of bloggers lead you to believe they have it all together. I really doubt it. I have NEVER hit that magical day when motherhood, home decor, fashion, and cuisine meshed beautifully. Heck, most of the time I can't even master one of those. 

But that's OK.

We aren't perfect and don't care to be. It's more fun to be messy and noisy.

Whoever started these competitions about having the best (fill in the blank) or the most enviable (fill in the blank) or the cleanest...or prettiest...or most effective (fill in the blanks), well, that person is a great big meanie. 

The whole mindset of perfection has contributed to women distancing themselves from one another. It's a sad, sad shame. 

We need to get over it. Those big meanies can just go wash mini blinds all day.

What do you think?

Pork without much touching

This recipe works with pork chops and pork loin chops.

I use this recipe if the cut looks like this or is similar to it:
Pork Chops

8 pork loin or rib chops 
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup catsup 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the pork in an ungreased 9 x 13 pan.
Salt the meat if you like (I don't do this anymore).
Stir together the onion, brown sugar and catsup.
Place a dollop of the mixture on each chop.
Cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove foil.
Spoon some sauce (from the bottom of pan) over the chops.
Bake for another 30 minutes or until done.  

I like this recipe because I don't have to do anything with the meat ahead of time. You don't have to cut it, beat it with a mallet or watch baseball with it. 

Meat has cooties, but I'm sure you knew that.

Have a lovely day!


Saturday, August 3, 2013

It is party time

I write a weekly column called “Neighborberry.”

I'm going to start posting these essays on my blog a few weeks after each one is released. The publishers get first dibs. :)

If you would like to see "Neighborberry" in your local paper/website, please tell the editor to email me at Thanks so much!

It is party time (released 7/5/13)

By Kris Kolk

Someone should get the ball rolling and be neighborly. It might as well be you. If you feel your home isn’t presentable enough for company, try these tips.

“Do I get the grand tour?” a guest might inquire upon arriving. If such a notion gives you twitches, just lie. You may want to rehearse your lines before the party.

“I would love to show you the bedroom, but my boa constrictors, Wilma and Leon, don’t fancy strangers,” you could say. Practice making sweeping motions with your arms to shepherd the nosy one into what you term “the safe part of the house.”

Perhaps you have a bathtub full of something you don’t want others to see, such as dirty dishes or Donny and Marie fan club memorabilia. Just dump those unmentionables into laundry baskets. Shove the baskets in the bedroom with Wilma and Leon. Define this as “organization” and feel good about the day.

Before hosting a party, my grandmother would wash, line-dry and iron her kitchen curtains. As a new bride, I caught myself doing the same thing. Grandma and I shared a chuckle about it. Nowadays, I just smack the top-layer dust out of the curtains with a dishrag.

Has paint peeled and left a 4-foot by 3-foot patch in the shape of The Ukraine on your living room wall? Cover it with construction paper and have the kids draw on it. Tell your guests it would break your heart to remove this precious artwork.

It astounded me to hear that other people clean a few days in advance of a party.  When my kids were young, I would tidy all day; but it always looked like a giant had been shaking our home as if it were a doll house. Pillows and blankets would appear in front of the television. Measuring cups and mixing bowls would be discovered in the baby’s room. Miniature fighter jets would wage wars in my underwear drawer. Though I am not a fan of “ahead of time,” some chores, such as cleaning the refrigerator, are best tackled prior to a gathering.

“Here. I brought you this 36-inch chocolate chip cheesecake,” your friend offers. “You might want to stick it in the fridge until we’re ready for dessert.” It is such a bittersweet moment when a guest contributes something chilled and decadent but also bigger than your pool.

Another help is to put away all the everyday dishes before the get-together. Clean. Dirty. Clean. Dirty. It’s the dishwasher circle of life. But when a party is afoot, an empty dishwasher can save your sanity.

After Thanksgiving dinner at my home, the dishwasher was busy washing sippy cups and cereal bowls. In the meantime, cranberry relish and turkey gravy hardened on 45 stuck-together plates. As pie was served, Grandpa tried to trade his great-granddaughter a cigarette for her clean fork.

Here’s another do-ahead tip: clean in and around your furniture. Just as soon as a guest gets out a pacifier for the baby, she drops it somewhere deep, dark and scary: under the cushions.

“Let’s move the furniture and look!” a booming voice proclaims while the baby shrieks. You witness in horror four men and an eight-year-old boy lift your couch. Unveiled is a well-established, thriving eco-system of dead and undead bugs, broken crayons, loner socks, fuzzy potato chips—and one pacifier. The scene is so ghastly, the baby stops crying. Her mouth falls agape.

Everyone has areas of their home in need of cleaning or renovation. So what? Confront these insecurities with a sense of humor and dedication to the neighborly crusade. You have the right to share life with friends and family in your own home!

Now, all that’s left to do is poop-scoop the front yard and turn on the one porch light that still works. Be neighborly. Not perfect.

Kris Kolk has been a writer and neighborliness promoter for more than a decade. You can also visit her at Email her at

Friday, August 2, 2013

Corn on the cob in the microwave

I would rather make corn on the cob in the microwave than on the stove, especially when the burners are occupied with other things.

Microwave Corn on the Cob

Husk and rinse 4 ears of corn.
Place corn in a microwave-safe baking dish.
  (no need to add water)
Cover. I use plastic wrap.
Microwave on high for 7 to 10 minutes.

For 2 ears: microwave 4 to 6 minutes.
For 6 ears: microwave 9 to 12 minutes.

For the photo above, I added butter and rosemary. 

Pretty isn't it?

We've grilled it, too, right in the husks.

How do you prepare corn on the cob?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Toy box for big kids

It all started with the Rubik's cube I found before the yard sale. I thought how fun it would be to keep it in the living room so people could pick it up and noodle around with it.

Then I thought of other things big kids (and grown ups) might like to play with. 

Here is what's in the box:
  1. Three ball pit balls to juggle or play catch with. I allow ball throwing in the house and I'm proud of it.
  2. The black bag behind the balls contains plastic cups to stack.
  3. I'm hoping a rousing game of Mancala might break out soon.
  4. Who doesn't like an Etch a Sketch?
  5. Ball on a string. Catch it in the cup!
  6. A wooden puzzle.
  7. Silly Putty.
  8. A yellow egg-shaped rattle for shaking a beat.
  9. And, of course, a deck of cards.
Hey look! 

One of the kids wants to play!
Have a lovely day!

This post was shared on:
Pursuit of Functional Home
Snoopy's Dog Blog
Frugally Sustainable