August 22, 2013

Cheesy Bread Sticks and Not Looking Creepy in General

I don't really like pizza that much. I have this weird thing with tomato sauce. I don't like pizza with lots of sauce on it, and if it has too much, I wipe it right off with a napkin. If there is no napkin available, I will wipe it on the plate. By the time I'm finished customizing my pizza, I look like I've committed a heinous crime. You know, because of all the red sauce (not because I look creepy in general. I hope). 

So, there is no better way to improve on the concept of pizza than by removing that God-forsaken sauce. That's what cheesesticks are to me--the perfect, ideal pizza. With lots of cheese. And zero sauce, unless I put it there on purpose. 

Here's how you can make your own delicious cheesesticks without really doing all that much. They remind me of CiCi's cheesebread. 

Cheesy Breadsticks 

1 10 oz. tube refrigerated pizza crust dough (I used Pillsbury)
1 T. butter, melted
1/4-1 t. garlic salt
1 T. dried basil
1 C. mozzarella or provolone cheese, shredded
2 T. Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray
Pizza sauce

Preheat oven to 425 F. 

Lightly grease a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Roll pizza dough out and stretch it to fit the cookie sheet. 

Brush the melted butter onto the dough. Sprinkle dough with garlic salt (I use a teaspoon because I like the garlic taste a lot), basil, mozzarella/provolone, and Parmesan. 

Use pizza cutter to cut dough into 12 long strips, then cut across halfway through to make 24 strips. Do not separate the pieces.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly on top. Cut again along the lines and serve hot with pizza sauce for dipping. 
Or, forget the sauce and focus your attention solely on these melty-cheesy-garlicky darlings. 

Make your own garlic salt!

Just mix garlic powder and salt in a 1:3 ratio.
If you're putting in a tablespoon of garlic powder, add 3 tablespoons of salt. Store in a tightly covered container.

August 13, 2013

Mom-inology: Talk to me, baby

Three years ago, my vocabulary was entirely different than it is today. I’m not just talking about “bad words,” which are definitely a no-no with a parroting young lady following me around, but also the words I use in everyday life. I mean, I just used “no-no” in a serious sense. Did you even catch it? If not, you must be a mom (or dad!) too. I never thought I’d be one of those moms, and yet, here I am. Mom terminology (mom-inology) has taken hold of me full-force—and if I’m totally honest, I think it’s kind of cute. Kind of. 

At some point between giving birth and taking our daughter home from the hospital, word substitutions started to occur. At first, they were on purpose. No one wants to talk to their newborn in a coherent manner, right? That’s boring. It also lacks that special “Mom” feeling that I looked forward to for nine semi-miserable months. So instead, I subbed potty for toilet, “dipey” for diaper, and bunny for rabbit. My sleepy newborn didn’t seem to mind, or even know what was going on, for that matter. I took this as encouragement to continue building my mom-inology.

I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that no-no and dipey weren’t the worst of it. I started developing an entire language to share with my daughter. Snacks became “snicky-snacks” or “snickety-snacketies” if I felt like adding a few extra syllables, which I often did, and occasionally still do. The new word for kittens was fuzz-bumpkins (it rolls off your tongue, right?) and “wunchy” for lunch. I know, even for my standards, those two are a little weird.

Our fuzz-bumpkin, who apparently loves his daddy

If I’m totally honest about the mom-inology phenomenon, I guess I got roped in because of the feeling of closeness and exclusiveness it brings. It’s a secret code that you share with your child. Others don’t always understand it, and that makes it special. It’s something you’ve done since their weight could be measured with a single digit (jealous, much?) and it helps you pretend they’re still little-bitty-tiny (another favorite made-up term). It’s more for us parents than it is for the child. And come on, if we’re dedicating most of our waking lives to our children, waking up in the wee-morning hours, making their food, teaching them letters and numbers, and doctoring their boo-boos, can’t we at least have this? This one, small thing?

All joking aside, I understand the importance of teaching your children real words, and not made-up mommy-dreamland ones. It’s fun while they’re little, but little minds are the most impressionable. They take all their cues from us. No pressure, though, right? Sometimes, we make up words because we don’t want to use the actual ones. They seem rude, somehow. If you’ve ever made up a name for your child’s body parts, you know what I mean.

Somehow, even with all the so-called language misguidance on my part, my daughter ended up talking like a normal person. Actually, more like a person with an advanced English degree. There were times when, as a tiny toddler, she would give me a serious look and correct my usage. “It’s called a cat, or a kitten, not a fuzz-bumpkin, Mama.” This is the part where I cry a little. Not only because I’m sad she’s growing up so fast, but also because fuzz-bumpkin is my preferred term for kitties. And maybe because I’m a little worried she’s already smarter than me.

August 12, 2013

Skill-less Skillet Lasagna

I hate making lasagna. 

I love eating it, looking at it, and taking pictures of it...but putting it all together is a real pain. There are a couple reasons it sucks SO MUCH, like the amount of dirty dishes waiting for you when the dish is complete. Or the preparation involved. The baked-on cheese that never wants to come off the baking pan. The way it's really hard to spread the cheese mixture without messing up the noodles and layers underneath. The huge amount of leftovers when there's only 3 people to feed in my house. 

Clearly, lasagna could stand to be improved a little. For my sake. 

When I found a recipe for Skillet Lasagna that promised to use only one pan, I was skeptical, but mostly elated. Then, I kept reading and found out this woman expected me to make the sauce from scratch, use pre-boiled noodles, AND use more than the original single pan she called for. Disappointment was the result.

But not for long! 

I decided to completely screw up a perfectly good recipe for skillet lasagna and make it 

I'll let you benefit from my laziness, and reap the rewards of my recipe refusal. Whoa, that's a lot of R's. 

Deb's Skill-less Skillet Lasagna

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 26 oz. jar pasta sauce
  • 1 pkg. Oven-ready (No-Boil) lasagna noodles

Alright, Suzy Homemaker. First, brown the Italian sausage in a large skillet (12 inch works best). You shouldn't have to drain, but if there's excess fat, get it outta there. Stat. 

Next, while that meaty goodness is getting nice and brown, mix up your cheese mixture. Combine the ricotta, water, salt, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella IN A SEPARATE BOWL. I'm sorry, this brings our dirty-dish total to 2, but it's the best I could do. Anyway, mix that mess up. Set aside. 

When the sausage is browned, add 2 cups of your sauce to the pan. Mix it up. This is the bottom layer of your lasagna. 

Place 2 lasagna noodles in the center of the pan, side by side, and break noodles to fill in the spaces around the edges. 

Take your cheese mixture and drop spoonfuls of it in even intervals on top of the noodles. That makes it easier to spread out. Spread it until it completely covers the noodles. I had some cheese mixture leftover. 

Layer more noodles, just like you did the first layer, then add the remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese on top. Cover your skillet, set the timer for 20 minutes, and get on with your freaking life. For 20 minutes, I mean.

The lasagna is done once the noodles are tender. Remove the skillet from the heat and let it set for about 5 minutes. This makes it easier to cut and serve. 

Stuff your face and thank me silently when you have only 2 dishes to clean up.

August 7, 2013

A birthday underground (It's not what you think)

A lot of people will tell you that as long as you’re above ground, you’re doing well. That’s not necessarily true. What about being underground--in a cave? My husband decided he wanted to spend his birthday exploring a local cave. While I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic at first (I’ll get to that in a minute), I came around and ended up getting a killer workout out of it. Also, it made me feel really adventurous and daring because I could have possibly died in there. The chances were small and insignificant (just how I like it), but there was a chance, okay?

My lack of cave-related enthusiasm wasn’t without reason. When my husband and I first started dating and we were still trying to impress each other, he asked me to accompany him and a friend into a cave. Underground. The only female with two males that I hardly knew. With no cell phone service, or anyone who could hear my potential cries for help.

Being the bright, discriminate eighteen year old I was, I agreed. I shudder at the thought of my daughter one day making irrational decisions like that, but let’s move on. I went, and when I noticed the last speck of daylight had completely disappeared in this underground chamber, I realized my mistake. I didn’t know these boys well at all (at the time), and I had never been in a cave before. I was relying on them to guide us through the cave. It occurred to me that maybe they were leading me to a slow, painful demise. I hadn’t even told anyone where I would be! No one would know where to find me if I went missing. I started to panic. But I continued to try and act “normal,” in case they really were psychopaths. I didn’t want to anger them unnecessarily or let them know I was onto their (nonexistent) evil plan.

Suddenly, a voice came from the other end of the cavernous room Michael and I sat in. It sang, “I wanna be where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancing. Walking along on those…what do you call them? Oh, feet!” It was a song from my favorite Disney movie, The Little Mermaid! Michael’s friend (or as I had begun to imagine—his henchman) was singing Disney songs, enthusiastically and without shame! I knew no danger could possibly come from a man who knew every word to songs from The Little Mermaid, so I immediately felt relieved. I joined in, and together we sang the entire song. I survived the ordeal and felt a bit ridiculous for being scared, but relieved nonetheless when we reached the surface again.

I can laugh about my heart-stopping fear and paranoia in the cave now, almost five years later. But the uneasy feeling the cave gave me stayed with me all this time. So when my husband said he wanted to go spelunking for his birthday, I agreed, but wasn’t thrilled. However, since I am now nearly 99.9 percent sure my husband isn’t a psychopath or one-half of a murderous duo, I did feel a little better about caving. I bravely suited up in my ugliest clothes and boots and mentally prepared for the underground adventure. We dropped my daughter off with her grandparents for the day and made our way to the cave.

It turned out to be incredibly fun, slightly dangerous, and extremely wet and muddy. I was so busy enjoying our exploration that I completely forgot to be paranoid or sing a verse from The Little Mermaid for old time’s sake. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’m willing to go back!

When we showed our daughter pictures from our little expedition, she was amazed. “You were under the ground? But how did you get there? Did you dig?” She wasn’t offended in the slightest that she didn’t accompany us. After she saw the pictures, we asked if she would like to go into the cave one day. She replied “No, you and Daddy can go underground. I’ll just stay at Grammy’s.” That’s a smart girl.

August 2, 2013

The Facebook Breakdown: GTFO

I recently had a Facebook Breakdown.

My Facebook account was supposed to be a way for me to stay connected to my friends and family when I couldn't see them in person. Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of that and accepted friend requests from strangers and people I've never liked. Among these "friends" were people that judged my statements, like saying I needed a break from motherhood for 20 minutes or that I can't stand my next door neighbors. I found myself wishing I could voice my opinions as honestly as some of my friends, who seem confident and fearless in what they say online. But I was worried about what the deleted people would think about me once they saw we were no longer "friends." However. We don't talk now. I wouldn't go out of my way to talk to them if I saw them in public. So why were they on my friends list if they aren't my friends? Why should I provide them a window into my life? That should be a privilege that select few should get. There is just no room in my life for those who don't actually want to be there. 

Clearly, I'm not alone. Lots of people have clogged-up friends lists.

You could call what I did next a deleting spree. I started clicking unfriend left and right. From the aunt that judges my opinions to the guy that asked for my number 5 years ago--I had to show them the door. I went from a friends list with numbers in the 500s to one with less than 300. Still leaves me some people to get rid of--I'll save that for my next breakdown--but it was cathartic. 

After spending 22 years on this planet being worried about how what I say might affect or offend others, I finally saw the light. My life is my own; my voice is my own; and my Facebook page, which sounds trivial but is a reflection of who I am, is my own. Those that like me or find me (however slightly) interesting don't get hot and bothered when I curse or say I don't like the depressing feeling of Sunday nights. They don't mind when I post pictures of my husband and I kissing. They don't comment on pictures of my face--and my face only--with judgmental statements like, "It looks like you're not wearing any clothes here...please tell me I'm wrong." No, honey, you're right. I was naked as a jaybird. These folks would have a heart attack if they entered my home on a random day for 15 minutes. 

It's normal to want to be liked by everyone, but it's also unrealistic. Especially when you're as opinionated--wait, no, I like the word "vibrant" better--as me. 

It works by eliminating those who didn't like you to begin with.

I'd like to think that those who aren't completely put-off by my intense personality are really the ones worth knowing. Given the choice or normal or bizarre, you can bet I'd pick the weirdo any day. And if you're here, reading my shit (sorry, I had to weed more people out with that one), it's safe to say I like you, too. 

It took some courage to be honest about this. But the best things in life often require us to suck it up and be fearless for a minute, even if we have to fake it (orgasms, clearly, are not on this list).

Now, GTFO. ;)


August 1, 2013

The 30-30 deal: How I stay (relatively) sane

The 30-30 deal

Thirty minutes. It’s a relatively short amount of time, right? But I’m convinced these little half-hour segments are the key to a happy life and marriage. A while back, my husband and I realized that there were lots of things we both wanted to do, but felt like we didn’t have time for. As a mom, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out on some things others might take for granted, like a long, hot shower, or uninterrupted sleep. Parents can always find time for their children, but sometimes we neglect to find time for ourselves. We came up with a simple, but life-changing solution. We call it the 30-30.

Here’s the deal: every day, we each take a thirty-minute break from our lives as parents. We are “allowed” to use that precious half-hour doing anything we want; exercising, napping, showering, meditating, swimming, pinning recipes, staring into space, and anything else we’d feel compelled to do. Well, anything that takes 30 minutes or less. It’s a great setup. It keeps us from going crazy or forgetting we exist outside of our parental identities. There’s no set schedule; sometimes I take my thirty minutes at 8:00am, and other times, right before bed.

Taking our breaks separately is a necessity, but I like it. Michael can participate in his manly hobbies without me tagging along, and I can do pilates without him checking me out the whole time. Not that I mind all that much. I’ve only been married for three years, but I know how important it is for both of us to have our own hobbies (as well as hobbies we enjoy together). Since our hobbies are so different—his include biking, music production, and drawing, while mine include singing Disney songs (don’t judge me), hula hooping, and trying new recipes—it only makes sense to take some alone time to enjoy them. Plus, when you’ve got weird hobbies (finger knitting, anyone?), the absence of others that might be married to you is a real bonus.

I always feel rejuvenated after spending my 30 minutes doing something solely for me. I’m totally aware of how selfish that makes me sound, but I love my “me-time” enough to ignore it. Completely. I feel especially great when I use my half-hour to exercise, but let’s be honest. A thirty minute hot shower sounds a little more appealing than a thirty minute hot run. Am I right? Ask my hamstrings.

I’m surprised when other parents tell us our plan is revolutionary. Like they’ve never even considered that they could take advantage of the built-in-babysitter (your spouse) they have living with them. It may have taken us a few years for us to figure it out, but there’s no turning back now. In fact, we’ll probably continue to up the ante by adding time to our parenthood breaks. Thirty minutes becomes an hour, an hour turns into 3, and eventually, we’ll be taking individual week-long vacations to Cabo before we come home. I mean, that sounds doable, right?

Debra Carpenter, a Lebanon, TN native, is a novice mother, wife, and college student.
She writes about the parts of parenthood you didn’t expect when you were expecting.
Email her at and visit the website at

Loudmouth strikes again!

I’m not shy. In fact, ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m the opposite. For as long as I can remember (which may not actually be very long), I’ve been known for my talkative nature. The only times I got in real trouble at school were for talking during class (and once for getting up to check my hair in the classroom TV—during a test). My cheerleading coach from junior high nicknamed me Debra “Loudmouth” Fulcher. I didn’t mind because I couldn’t deny it.

I come from a long line of talkative, outgoing women, with the most notable being my mother, Teresa. She is one of out twelve Denney children, and it’s safe to say she knows everyone in town. She’s a force of nature, and most people know her by her boisterous laugh that can be heard clear across Wal-Mart (or the state of Tennessee, if it’s something really funny).

Growing up, a trip to the grocery store that should have taken 30 minutes could easily turn into a three-hour expedition. We couldn’t take a step without being stopped by someone that knew my mom. And she couldn’t just say “Hello”—she had to reminisce with them, find out detailed histories of their life events, inquire about their children, job, husband, wife, and family pets. While I didn’t like standing there for hours, I was always proud that my mom had so many friends and was well-liked. I figured I would grow up and be the same way.

Fast forward a few years—I started dating my then-boyfriend, now-husband Michael. I began attending Cumberland University, and I was still working part-time at a local bookstore. I was surrounded by people all day, everyday. I loved it! Then, I got married and once we had our little girl, we decided it would be best for me to stay home with her. It was the obvious option because I wanted to continue working toward my degree and I didn’t trust anyone else to keep my daughter. I wasn’t even sure I trusted myself to do it!

In order to be a stay at home mom, I left Cumberland to start taking my classes online through MTSU. And without a job, I had no real reason to get out of the house everyday. I was totally focused on my little girl, who completely amazed and entertained me--even though all she did at the time was eat, sleep, and poop (but mostly poop). I started losing contact with a lot of my childless, single friends. My mom always told me you could count your true friends on one hand, and that’s if you were lucky. I found that out first hand.

A few weeks ago, I started to really miss the feeling of being productive and just being out in public. My personality had even begun to change. I wasn’t as outgoing or talkative anymore. I felt like a hermit, and I’m not talking about the crab. I knew something had to change. I missed feeling social and connected. So, I found a part-time job that works with my schedule and allows me to be around people that don’t share my last name.

So far, it’s great and now I’m well on my way to being “me” again. Pretty soon, I’ll be chatting people up in Wal-Mart for three hours while my daughter stands there, wishing she had stayed home. And maybe one day, she will write some futuristic newspaper column about the valuable lessons she learned from her mother everyday, even while standing in the produce aisle for the better part of her day. Or maybe she’ll be an introvert who avoids Wal-Mart like the plague because of her traumatic memories of grocery trips that lasted a few hours too long. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed on that one.


Debra, a Lebanon, TN native, is a novice mother, wife, and college student. She writes about the parts of parenthood you didn’t expect when you were expecting.
Email her at or visit the website at

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