I heart fingerling potatoes.

I'm now singing Taylor Dayne as I slice the remaining potatoes.

I’m now singing Taylor Dayne as I slice the remaining potatoes.

I can't decide if this potato is a manatee or a human embryo.

I can’t decide if this potato is a manatee or a human embryo.  What do y’all think?

These potatoes did not save themselves Charlotte's Web style.

These potatoes did not save themselves Charlotte’s Web style.

I probably ought to add some of this fresh rosemary before roasting.  Def.

I probably ought to add some of this fresh rosemary before roasting. Def.

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39 was so last year

I like to wear shirts with clever statements and / or movie references on them.  Here are some of my favorites.

Imagine my delight when my husband gave me this shirt in honor of my birthday last week.

A friend answered, "I think it makes you look 30."  I heart her.

A friend answered, “I think it makes you look 30.” Thanks!

Yes!

I had big plans for my birthday.  After school, we’d pack up the boys and take them over to my sister’s and brother-in-law’s place to spend the night.  With three kids of their own, this was a generous offer, and I was a bit nervous that my kids would overwhelm them.

Anyway, Jamie and I were planning to go out for dinner together.  I mentioned my favorite sushi restaurant, Ariake.  (I love everything about that place.)  Ariake seemed like a great choice because it has a tranquil atmosphere to go along with the exquisite food, and we were planning a big party on Saturday night.  BIG party – my family, Jamie’s family, friends from work, friends from former work, neighbors, sorority sisters, parents of the kids’ friends who have become our friends – I needed to prep a ginormous amount of veggies and dip to go with the wine and cheese.  And ham biscuits.  And meatballs.  Also, cake.

Balance.

I figured a quiet night at dinner, a follow-up bottle of wine while cooking for the party, and an early night to sleep would be just the way to turn forty.

There were certainly signs that scheming was afoot:

  • Jamie, who ADORES sushi and is typically effusive in his praise of this restaurant, didn’t engage in a discussion of what he’d be ordering when I brought it up a couple days beforehand.  I was all, “should we get a bento box, or do you want to see what the special sushi options are?” and he was just, “yeah, let’s see.”  Hmmmm.
  • My husband got fancied up for dinner early.  I thought he was just excited, so I went along with it and put on a dress and some make-up.  (Meanwhile, I was thinking that we would have had plenty of time to get dressed after we dropped off the kids, but whatevs.)
  • We took the dog over to my in-laws on our way to take the kids to my sister’s place.  Jamie said something vague about wanting to sleep in.  In fairness, our dog does rise at an hour one would expect from a septuagenarian.
  • My sister met us in her driveway, and my husband and hers moved off to talk about something.  (I assumed Jamie was still jealy of his new truck.  Man talk, must’ve been.)
  • As we pulled away for dinner, Jamie fired up the GPS and said casually, “I thought we’d go to this winery for a pre-dinner drink.”  As if we’d ever just do that kind of thing.

A rational person would have been mentally adding these aberrations. Somehow, I was so joyful about turning 40, being in good health, having a date with my main man, and seeing folks the next night, that I just rolled with it.

The wine tasting was fun- we should totally be those people who do this kind of thing.  Then we ordered a glass each (I had the cabernet franc and Jamie had the meritage) and sat by the fire together.  Jamie took about a jillion photos of me wearing my new aquamarine pendant.  (Later I would recognize this scenario as a way to move my back toward the entrance.)

Cheers!

Cheers!

And then he started chuckling.  I glanced behind me and caught sight of a woman wearing an outrageous and somewhat 80s-esque sweater, and I thought Jamie was being a bit less than subtle.  But I can really only see out of one eye, so I missed what was actually happening in the periphery to cause my husband’s bemused look.

My whole family had arrived: my parents, my brother, my sister, and my brother-in-law.  (It turns out they’d hired a brave sitter to manage all those kids.)  We enjoyed a lovely glass together by the fire, everyone sharing their delight at pulling off the surprise.  And watching the UVa game.  It was fabulous, except for an intrusion by a wayward Carolina fan, trash-talking and clutching a mostly empty bottle of peach wine.  “Tarheel.  Born and bred!”  When we inquired from where in North Carolina he hailed, he replied, “Well, actually, I’m from Alexandria.”  Not so much “born,” then, champ. (The Hoos did lose, unfortunately.)

We left the winery to head out to a tiny Greek restaurant, where I ate my weight in Shrimp Korfu.  Delicious – I’ll have to get the details on that place from my sister, because I’ll definitely be returning in the near future.

Then my parents took us to an adorable B&B, where we shared a bottle of Veuve Clicquot before crashing to sleep.

The next day, we scrambled a bit to organize all the details of who’s driving where and when, cooking and cleaning, etc.  Thank goodness my mother was there to help, because I was way behind after the whirlwind blitz of surprises.  It all came together with the help of many hands, and the party was a grand confluence of amazing people from different realms of my life.

Notice my mother-in-law's crab dip and my mother's spiced shrimp - yum...

Outside the scope of this photo are a giant cake, my mother-in-law’s crab dip, and my mom’s spiced shrimp – yum…

My sorority sisters and I did not sing, but we thought about it.  (Perhaps if we’d had the Goldschlager that one bolder sister suggested but mercifully did not bring.)

Has anyone seen Bob?

And knowing that my jonesing for sushi had not yet been abated, Jamie treated me to a glorious spread of take-out on Sunday.  {sigh}

I think it’s auspicious to turn 40 on Friday the 13th.  Let’s hope the good fortune continues!

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‘nuther snow day

Snow day #jillion = lots of bitter folks venting frustration.  And I get it, because I also had plans and work to do at school.  And my kids are in desperate need of some professional learning.

That said, I’m all about noticing the joy, beauty, and blessings.

C'mon, that's amazing.

C’mon, that’s amazing.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

So in that vein, I’d like to celebrate what I’ve accomplished on this glorious, bright, blessed day:

  • Some serious laundry – last month, I shared a bit of fun about laundry chicken.  But today, having so many unencumbered hours of time indoors, I made it happen.  I folded and sorted the clean clothes.
    Now if I can only get these up and into drawers . . .

    Now if I can only get these up and into drawers . . .

    I ironed the shirts and pants and put them away.  I can actually see the bottom of the ironing board, as it is no longer being used as a staging area for the permanent press items.

    I forgot about this cheerful cover.

    I forgot about this cheerful cover.

    I even pressed and organized the napkins, cuz we’re trying not to use paper stuff quite so often.  (We have different holders for identification purposes.)

    doing right by Mother Earth

    doing right by Mother Earth

  • Pet maintenance – we changed Mike’s water.
    Happy snow day, Mike.

    Happy snow day, Mike.

    And Jamie walked the dog, but I didn’t take a pic of that scene.  Imagine lots of prancing, flying snow, and sniffing.

  • Playroom hoo-ha – we sifted through the toys, craft supplies, etc.  We donated, trashed and rearranged all this jazz.

    {contented sigh}

    {contented sigh}

  • Miscellaneous celebration – we admired the lilies, still perky from Valentine’s Day.  (Thanks, Jamie.)
    These smell heavenly.

    These smell heavenly.

     

  • We relived some fun – William had a birthday on Tuesday, and we all stole away from our lives to spend it together.
    Pregame family shot

    Pregame family shot

    snowboarding brothers

    snowboarding brothers

    "dinosaur"skis

    “dinosaur”skis

    clean-ip following an unexpected ketchup anointing

    Da cleans up following an unexpected ketchup anointing at lunch.  Good times.

    I do hope we’ll have school tomorrow.  But if not, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. Like day drinking and movie watching.  Or napping.

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In which I cut Catwalker 2 a break

I have a new understanding of my neighbor, and I’m going to give her some slack.  For the past several years, my encounters with Catwalker 2 have been uncomfortable, to say the least.  (Background info here.)

I’ve been forming an opinion of Catwalker 2 based upon these harsh admonitions of my pet and my presence in my own neighborhood.  And it hasn’t been a good one.  Her words and actions have been rude.  It’s hard to be congenial to someone who seems to be aggressively anti-dog.

But today I saw something that I didn’t realize before, and it has changed my perspective.

I was walking my dog on her 6 foot leash.  She was sniffing and turning, examining the familiar soil with fresh enthusiasm.  A group of fashionably dressed power-walking women in their fifties walked past on the sidewalk across the driveway into our neighborhood.  They waved; I waved.  The dog sniffed.

A few seconds later, I see Catwalker 2 on the sidewalk on the same side of the road as we are.  For the first time ever, I see her without her cat.  She’s out exercising, pumping her arms fiercely and shifting her hips in an impressively fast gait.

Suddenly, she sees us.  With the speed of a hummingbird’s wings, she bolts across the street and tries to pretend that she’s with the first group of ladies.  She awkwardly smiles and waves, but I can see it.

Terror.  Absolute, sweaty, bowel-wrenching terror.

She’s afraid of us.  Specifically, she’s afraid of my dog.  And dogs in general.

I had thought that Catwalker 2 had an anti-dog attitude, and I treated her accordingly for all these years.  But now I can see her actions as a result of her fear, and the dynamic has shifted.

So the next time I see Catwalker 2, I’ll be gracious in the face of her shouting.  Because she can’t help it.  And now I know.

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Get out of my bubble. Please.

I’m all about the positive.  I’m that slightly annoying, cheerful person who seeks out the good news amidst the darkness.  I’m calm, patient, and reflective.  All smiles and rainbows.

Mostly.

Until someone encroaches upon my sphere of  personal space.  Which has been happening more and more frequently as of late.  Anywhere I’m waiting in a queue, folks are invading my bubble, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I mean, what’s going on here?  What makes a person think that standing within three inches of a stranger’s body is socially (or hygienically) appropriate?

When you accidentally shove your grocery basket into my heels, I forgive you because, hey, we’re all hoping finish here and get back to the juicier parts of our lives.  Stuff happens.

But once I’ve angled myself to encourage a greater distance between us by aiming my shoulder toward you and holding my basket between us, once I’ve made eye contact with you to show you how close you are to me (and that it’s not natural for people with no relationship to be able to feel one another’s body heat,) back the f@&# up.  Back it up.

For serious.  Don’t be in my personal space.   Don’t force me to fake a cough or sneeze, or failing that, actually ask you to back up.  It’s too awkward for all of us.  Just stay out of my atmosphere, and I’ll stay out of yours.

And on a tangentially related note, please don’t go to Subway and order “a sandwich with no bread.”  Because A) that stack of meats, vegetables, and condiments you’re ordering does not actually constitute a sandwich without bread, and B) none of us need to know that, “I don’t like their bread,” especially the folks facing you who baked the bread.

Alright joy seeking folks, I’m finished whingeing.  I promise the next post will reflect my celebratory, positive outlook.

 

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laundry chicken

laundry chicken

laundry chicken

We’ve begun deliberately placing our clothes on top of the overburdened hamper, balancing with precision, delicately attempting to avoid the likely clothing avalanche.  We engage in this Tetris-like dirty clothes game for way longer than it seems possible.  After four days, we’ve reached the point where we have to consider the precarious picture frame in our approach.

This morning, my husband boldly positioned a towel on the pile.  A big, bulky towel.

Challenge accepted.

This isn’t going to be one of those heartwarming posts in which I declare the new year to be the year of managing the laundry, or describe some phenomenal new system I’ve implemented to make laundry simpler, or liken to pile of laundry to unresolved issues in my psyche.

Nah.

I’m playing chicken.  I don’t want to carry the clothes down to the laundry room (what I affectionately call the unfinished part of the basement where the machines sit atop a peeling gray paint layer, flecks of which cling to our feet while we curse the former owners who should have used epoxy . . .)

Anyway, I’m not doing it.  I’ll sort, wash, dry, and fold up one side and down the other.  But getting the clothes to and fro is just beyond my tolerance.  Wrestling the mesh bag out from the squeaky PVC hamper frame, gathering the strewn items not secured in the bag, managing a grasp in which the strings don’t crush your fingers, navigating this awkward, dirty entity down two flights of stairs – gah.  I hate all of it.

I’m fairly certain he’ll give in before I do.  (Thanks, dear.  Darn nice of you, too.)  He hates doing it, too, but he loves me enough to let me win.  Most of the time.

Next house deal breaker = laundry chute.

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“. . . the hap, hap, happiest Christmas . . .”

Last night, I hosted a dinner for twenty people.  In addition to our family of four, we had my parents, my brother, my sister, her husband, their three (soon to be four) kids, my husband’s parents, his sister, her husband, their three kids, and my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law.  I felt just like Clark Griswold, scheming out the “hap, hap, happiest Christmas since . . .”  You get the point.  I was jazzed.

The big Christmas Eve affair went imperfectly, with lots of little and a couple of glaring deficiencies.  But what was great far outweighed what wasn’t.  And that’s how I roll.

I super love Christmas, even though there are moments of stress and grief.  Christmas brings bountiful opportunities to celebrate the joy I’m constantly seeking.  Here are some of the ways I’m focusing on joy this season:

1. I’m honoring my heritage.  Until I started eating Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with other people’s families, I didn’t realize my family ate exotic ethnic foods.  (I sorely missed the sweet and sour red cabbage and the holiday lebkuchen my Mom makes every year.)  This year, I brought my kids into the tradition.  We spent a lovely morning carefully following the recipe on which their grandmother’s grandmother made little notes and spilled orange juice.

Holiday lebkuchen - a family favorite

Holiday lebkuchen – a family favorite

Yum.

Yum.

It got messy, and the boys lost interest after awhile.  But we shared a special project with generations of kinfolk, and we’re all enjoying the outcome.

2. I’m connecting with people.  In addition to the Christmas feasting with family, I’m getting together with a childhood friend for drinks tomorrow, chatting with folks on the phone (gasp,) and sending and receiving holiday cards.  Social media can be fun, but I’m enjoying all the old-school ways of keeping in touch.

Not exactly a Pinterest-worthy display, but we've been loving the cheer as our collection grows.

Not exactly a Pinterest-worthy display, but we’ve been loving the cheer as our collection grows.

3. I’m keeping things simple.  For last night’s dinner, I outsourced the Beef Wellingtons, made the cabbage, mashed potatoes, and pink salad ahead of time, used store-bought crusts for the tiny cherry pies on sticks, and accepted everyone’s offer for appetizers, wine, and desserts.  I wanted to spend time with everyone, not spend the evening in the kitchen.

tiny cherry pies on sticks

tiny cherry pies on sticks

4. I’m going with the flow.  Like when we tried to go to Mass yesterday.  It was like the Black Friday of worship – people walking from four blocks away in all directions, aggressive parking interactions, questionable adherence to fire codes – it was intense.  I gave a yeoman’s effort before conceding to the crowd and coming back home.  We can try again today.

I also kept it cool when suddenly all my cloth napkins went missing during our big dinner.  So folks paired the china, silver, and crystal with paper napkins.  Nobody cared.  (Except me, for like four seconds. But then I let it go.)

5. I’m making every moment count.  I’m sipping coffee and playing Lexulous with my husband, building Nanoblocks and Lego structures with my kids, taking long walks with my dog, literally smelling the flowers my mother brought, and otherwise committing to a philosophy of savoring the moments in life.

classic - the box is always more interesting than what's inside

classic – the box is always more interesting than what’s inside

Merry Christmas to you all, and best wishes for a joyful, healthy, and successful 2015.

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Card game: Society (or Battle)

I want to call it “Society.”  But since my son invented the game, it may be called “Battle.” Anyway, it’s easy and entertaining, so I thought I’d share it.  I imagine we’ll be playing a bit of it with family in the next few days.

Players: 2

Supplies: One die.  One standard deck of cards, jokers excluded (poor buddies)

Set-up: Shuffle the deck and deal it out evenly between the players.  Players do not look at their cards.

1. Players put forth a card from the top of their deck.

2. The player with the higher card value rolls the die first.  The amount rolled equals the “damage” to the opponent’s score, and that amount is subtracted from the score.  (For example, if I dealt a 3 and you dealt an 8, then you would roll first.  Then if you were to roll a 2, my score plummets to 1.)

I'm going to lose here.  Ah, well . . .

I’m going to lose here. Ah, well . . .

3. And then the player with the lower card value rolls, and the ‘damage” is subtracted from the opponent’s score.

4. The first player to wipe out the other player’s points wins the round and keeps both cards, placing them on the bottom of his dealing stack.

5. The player with the most cards when everyone’s sick of playing wins the game.

I had a great time playing with my little guy even though I really wanted to finish the episode of Breaking Bad my husband and I had sneaked off to watch.

(Insert Jesse Pinkman impression here.)

Play it, and let me know what you think we should call it.

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Family breakfast, winter edition

Breakfast is a big deal in our house.  (Read about it here.)  And I tend to get all jazzed up about Christmas, too.  I love the lights, I love the music, I love the personal introspection, and I adore the time with my family.  Jamie and I are both teachers in the same system where our kids go to school, so our whole team has time together for winter break.  I’m some kind of excited, let me tell you.

This Sunday morning, I got a little fancy with the family breakfast since we’re going to a later mass and had some time to spare.

French toast men.  And wreaths.  (The bread was too small for my snowflake cutter.  Dag.)

French toast men

French toast men

Toward the end, I had a couple of casualties.  But the partial decapitation still plated nicely, and it tasted just as delicious as his brethren.

The guy on the left left the pan in two pieces.

The guy on the left left the pan in two pieces.

And since it was a family scene, I accommodated my son’s desire to have regular toast.

Plain toast.  mmmmm

Plain toast. mmmmm

But it was still cheerfully thematic, because that’s how I roll.

 

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Back (in brown)

"Feeling good, Todd."

“Feeling good, Todd.”

Well, November is over, and I did not write a novel.

Still, I’m really glad I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, because I learned so, so, SO much about writing, about myself as a writer, and about my (still gestating) novel.

Thank you to my family, friends, and readers for your patience with my hiatus – I have genuinely appreciated the space to just write.  It was luxurious to claim an entire month of evenings and weekends to nurture this daunting project, and I feel re-energized.

I’m shooting to finish by next November.

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