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Side Effects of the Morning Rush

Photograph by Getty Images

My husband Jeff and I have been married for 19 years. We are yin and yang—complete opposites. He’s neat, orderly and serious. I am organizationally challenged, and think fart jokes are funny.

When he goes out of town (which is often and for long stretches) our house falls into chaotic disrepair. Stacks of school papers collect on the kitchen counter. Half-finished class projects take over the dining room table. Laundry sits, clean and folded in baskets for weeks on end. And everything goes missing.

My husband is the archetypal mother figure in our house—if something is lost, Jeff knows where it is, because he just put it away.

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So last Monday, my alarm failed to go off and I woke up 20 minutes late. Anyone with school-age children knows that 20 minutes can be the difference between warm oatmeal eaten in a cozy kitchen, or cold, dry toast eaten in the car. I was running from bedroom to bedroom waking up my four daughters, yelling (because, of course, yelling makes things happen faster), “Wake up! We have to leave for school in 20 minutes! Get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair and get downstairs!”

The girls trickled down in their usual order: Youngest (most orderly, like her father) is first—teeth brushed, dressed smartly, then oldest (at 16, she’s gotten her make-up routine down to a speedy science), followed by a long pause … and finally the last two girls, who march downstairs and begin to gather up their book bags.

I finished packing lunches and glanced at the clock. “If we hurry, we’ll make it to school on time!” I enthused. Then I took a good look at the last two girls—they both had bedhead. “What’s with your fuzzy heads? Why didn’t you brush your hair?” I asked, as I hustled the girls toward the front door. “We couldn’t find either of our brushes. Should we call daddy and ask where they are?” my youngest girl said. “No time,” I yelled, as I unlocked the front door and held it open for us all to exit the house.

Tess picked up the dogs’ brush and began brushing her hair.

I looked around and snatched the only brush I could find. It was sitting on the foyer table; the small, lime green brush that belonged to our longhaired dachshunds. As we scurried to the car, I pulled black and cream colored fur out of the brush, and let it softly float to the leaf-covered yard. I handed the brush to Tess, my smallest, most orderly girl; she looked at me in disbelief. “Mommy, that’s the dogs’ brush!” She yelped. “I know, but the dogs take the monthly flea and heartworm preventive. It’s fine…” I tried, unconvincingly to soothe. Having no choice, they got on with the task at hand and brushed their hair. With their dogs’ brush.

I had every intention of buying a few new hairbrushes, but the day got away from me. After picking the girls up from school, running them to and from after school activities, getting home in time to put the kick-ass autumn vegetable and chicken casserole (that I made in the morning, between dropping the kids off at school and going to work) into the oven, doing homework and eating dinner—we all dropped into bed and overslept again the next morning.

It’s funny how things work, how quickly humans can adapt. As we rushed around the house (pulling on pants in the hallway, buttoning shirts as we walked down stairs, eating breakfast on the fly), Tess picked up the dogs’ brush and began brushing her hair. In the car, Tess and her twin, Mimi, told me that they liked the dogs’ brush better because it didn’t pull their hair as much. Adaptation.

A few evenings later, I worked late in the restaurant and came home stinking of food. The house was dark, the children asleep (one of the tremendous benefits of having teenagers—built-in babysitters). I took a steaming hot shower and snuggled up in my thick, ugly robe (which I love but only wear when my husband is out of town). I was tiptoeing around the house, looking for a hairbrush, and there it was—that lime green dogs’ brush, shining on the table, under the moon’s light. I was tired, and it was the only brush I could find. I took the towel off my head and brushed my hair with our dachshunds’ brush. The twins were right—it didn’t pull my hair as much.

The next day, I bought a new brush at the grocery store, only it wasn’t for my daughters; it was for the dogs—we were keeping their lime green brush for ourselves.

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Autumn Vegetable and Chicken Casserole

(That’s so good it will blow your mind)

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

4 small leeks, trimmed, washed and chopped (or 1 medium onion)

8 ounces sliced crimini (or button) mushrooms

1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 (raw) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1 ring smoked turkey sausage (like Hillshire Farms), sliced into rounds

1 can cream of celery soup

1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded, smoked gouda cheese (a must!)

1 bag frozen hash browns

1/2 stick butter, melted (don't panic—this serves 8 to 12)

Directions

1. Sauté all the vegetables with olive oil, in a very large pan for 5 minutes, then add in chicken and sausage, stir and cover.

2. Braise for 5 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through, a little pink is OK, as it will cook more in the oven. There should be some liquid (from the chicken and vegetables) in the pan—this is good.

3. Place everything into a large mixing bowl and stir in soup (just the soup; do not add water or milk).

4. Pour into an oiled casserole dish and scatter smoked gouda over top, then pile on the hash browns. Cover and store in the fridge until ready to bake, or bake immediately.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, cover casserole with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, pour melted butter over the hash browns and continue baking 15 to 30 minutes more (longer, if the casserole is coming from the fridge).

Serves 8 to 12; makes AWESOME leftovers!

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