Monday, November 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Thirteen years!

I've really fallen off the blogging bandwagon in the worst way. I can't even muster up any excuses.

I've got a lot on my to-do list to get this blog current. I'm going to resolve, for the 99th time, to do a better job...

-Jen

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Math Education: We Don't Need Algebra 2

I was cashing out at Gymboree earlier, and as I started to walk away, another customer set some items on the counter and asked, "I am buying these as Christmas gifts, but if they don't fit, will they be able to return them?"

The cashier said, "We have a 180-day return policy with your receipt." 

The customer then asked, "So, will that work?"

I won't go on a soapbox here about all that's wrong with education, but c'mon. She didn't even know enough to know she should have been embarrassed. We don't need Algebra 2 for all kids. We need to rethink our priorities and content so adults can function (moderately intelligently) in society.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reason Number Infinity I Love My Husband

CAM was down in Saco all day today for a baton twirling convention. It's a full-day skills clinic, really (or a series of clinics, if you will).  We have had a long week, and if she wasn't exhausted already, she was certainly exhausted by the end of the day. (Evidence: one of the coaches said that by 2pm, she was "meowing" in response to questions.)

The convention is for all of the Northeast, and so this evening there was a cookout and party at the "headquarters" hotel.  They really did a nice job -- lots of outdoor games and competitions for the twirlers (I'd say "girls," but there were also a few boys), a cookout, and at the end, a campfire and s'mores.

We stayed for all the team events and dinner (CAM didn't eat, and I hadn't paid to attend, nor was I hungry) and then out of a combination of being cold and it being late -- and Day Two is tomorrow, and we live an hour away -- I decided to head home in that downtime while people were still eating and the bonfire wasn't ready.

Mind you that I checked with all the coaches that we'd miss almost nothing by leaving.

CAM broke into full sobs.  One of her coaches gave her a big hug and said she just needed rest.

I promised CAM we'd make s'mores in the oven when we got home, and when she was still upset because she was missing her "first fire," I reminded her that her Uncle Mark makes amazing fires at their house upstate and that she's been there before ... and we'll go again soon.

I then called Mick to ask him to start the oven, so that when we got home we could make s'mores, stat!

Well, when we got home, the boys had made this:

That's a paper campfire, complete with flames, colored red.  And pillows and stuffed animals are circled around the fire so we could "roast" our s'mores.

WHM was actually the one who suggested that he and Mick make CAM her very own campfire, and he and Mick made it.

CAM and I sure are lucky.

--Jen

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rage Tears

You all know I teach high school math in a public school here in Maine. I've occasionally voiced my frustrations, both with what public school is and has become, and the idiosyncrasies of my particular school.

I don't have the emotional energy to get into it all here, but I left work today in rage tears.

Below is my Facebook post about it.  Comment if you are curious, and I'll write more. This is far, far too important to ignore, but most people are so far removed from what actually happens in schools that all they know is what they see on TV.  That is to say, folks see angry unions against angry politicians. There's no honest dialogue because there's too much name-calling and too many agendas and egos in the way.  All most people know about schools right now is spin, and that there's this thing called Common Core.  People have mixed opinions, if any at all.

I am not political. I can't say anything about my ego -- that's for you to judge.  But I'm in the schools, and my voice is SILENCED because I need a job.

Well, screw it. I need a job, but I also need to do what's right for kids.

Here's my Facebook post...

Feeling incredibly, ridiculously discouraged after a meeting about the Smarter Balanced assessment. It's not our school, it's not our kids, it's the exam. The implementation idiosyncrasies on top of all of it will make me lose my mind. I have a moral problem with setting our kids up to fail, and that is what this test does. I can not defend that *to anyone.* I can not, in good conscience, put my head on my pillow at night when I am one of many cogs allowing this to happen. When good people do nothing, evil prevails. That is what is happening, people. In the meantime, my colleagues think I am crazy. This isn't just poor practice. This is BAD FOR KIDS, and those of us to try to stand up to stop it risk losing our jobs.

Then, someone commented, and here are my two replies:

I wanted to quit. I was crying rage tears. Mick says it is time to be LOUD and attach my name to it.

That doesn't even get to how much instructional time we lose to practice for these and how my AP class keeps getting time taken away, including time to take these tests PRIOR to our AP exam. When I already only see them every other day. RAGE TEARS.

--Jen

Sunday, September 7, 2014

New Kicks

WHM's super-fast Spiderman sneakers had a blowout this week.


To be precise, that happened on Tuesday, exactly one day after the BOGO sale ended at Stride Rite.  This photo is when he showed me the issue while he and I had dinner and waited for CAM's ballet class to end. (Side note -- I am so excited that he and I get to have "dates" every Tuesday while CAM dances!)

Our nearest Stride Rite is precisely 60 minutes away, at the Stride Rite Outlet in Kittery, Maine.  That's okay, because I prefer to shop the outlet and it's a nice excuse for a drive to Southern Maine. Sometimes we wander the outlets in Kittery, sometimes we go to Portsmouth, NH, and sometimes we meander our way back to Central Maine and stop at the mall in Portland or at Stonewall Kitchen in York, or any of a million other beloved detours.

In any case, WHM can't go to school -- especially since this past week was full-on July weather -- without sneakers.  He can't exactly wear dress shoes and shorts, or snow shoes and shorts.  And sandals are not allowed.  So, we promised him we'd buy new sneakers on Saturday, when we could most easily head down to Kittery.

He went straight to the superhero shoes again.

Mick and I were really trying to get him to go with lace-up sneakers, so he could learn and practice tying his shoes.  In fact, before he had Spiderman shoes, he had lace-up sneakers.  (Also, for some reason we don't quite even know ourselves, we'd been steadfastly opposed to superheroes, cartoon characters, anything like that on shoes.  CAM never had a pair, and WHM only had Spiderman because the last time we went shoe shopping, I was without Mick and was, apparently, a softie that day.)

In any case, Mick and I tried everything yesterday.

"Mommy, I wealllly want theeese."

"But, WHM, these are so stylin'."

"No, but these hurt."

"No, they don't."

"But I weally wike this style."

"Daddy would like you to try some big-kid shoes, like his ... and CAM's, and mine ... see this super-cool color?"

"I don't wike that color."

"What about these?"

"I don't like those bottoms."

"What about these?!  Super awesome with red and black! And check out the bottoms!  Spikey! Come on, WHM, we really want you to get a pair that has laces.   You need to learn how to tie your shoes since you're in kindergarten!"

"Mommy, I want these.  With velcro."

"Let's just try these on, okay? Let's see how they look. You USED to have a pair with laces, you know!  A pair just like these!"

"Those hurt."

"They only hurt when they got too small.  We'll get your right size and they will feel great!"

We tried on the black-and-red sneakers, but they were a half size too big and even Mick regretfully admitted that they were not a good choice.  Too big is almost as bad as too small, especially with our little fall-prone man.

At this point, the Ironman shoes were not coming off his feet.

"Come on, WHM, those sneakers are just like the Spiderman shoes you already have. Let's try a new style."

We found an adjacent pair in a style we could live with and Mick chimed in: "Look!  These have laces AND velcro! Look how the velcro goes across!"

But WHM sat on the floor and pointed to the shoes he wanted, and said "Wook. These have velcro and it doesn't just go across. The velcro on this one goes here and here.  These are just like my Spiderman shoes and I already know I wuv this style."

Suffice it to say, the day's negotiation went to WHM.

Before:

These were well-loved and were on my "replace next" list, anyway.  The blowout forced the issue.


After:  (Note the similarities in velcro and style!)



We have also been informed that these shoes are EVEN FASTER than the Spiderman ones, and that it was a very good decision to buy these.

Thank goodness.

--Jen

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Some Afternoon Photo Fun

I love that we have essentially this same pose in countless photos in the past seven years.  This is CAM at play, deep in concentration in her chalk art. 













WHM only wanted to make silly faces to start. He's been hamming it up all day!












Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Day of School 2014

WHM is in kindergarten.  I think because he did full-day Pre-K last year at the same school, and because I am working full-time, I don't feel the "empty house" blues as much as some of my friends have. My little man is giddy, and so I am, too.

CAM is in second grade!  She is beside herself with excitement about school, and I love that.

We moved here with a toddler and a kindergartener!  Oh, my!

--Jen





I am so upset that this is blurry. I didn't want to mess with the camera and don't trust myself well enough to shoot manual, so I let it ride on "auto," and am punished with a focal point on a basket.  Oh well.  Do-over later!


p.s. I am back to teaching again, still at the same place I started when we moved to Maine. My first day is also today, but I have made a "tradition" (three-years running) of taking my own kids' first day off so I can do drop-off and pick-up. The rest of the week will be "early care," but today? Today's special.  (Besides, today is only freshman for me, and I only have an advisory group. Tomorrow is the day all the rest of the students arrive. Tomorrow is "go time" for me. Today is "frantically-clean-the-house-because-you-won't-get-this-chance-again-for-ten-months" day.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

DVR Makes Us Better Parents

When we moved to Maine, we re-organized our lives in a lot of ways. One of them was to take a much stricter approach with our finances, and that meant (among other things) that we scaled our cable bill way back.  Got rid of the premium channels, got rid of DVR... we cut it all out.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Mick swung into* our local cable place to ensure that we would have the SEC Network the second it comes live on the air.  While he was there, he worked some Mick magic and we now also have a DVR again.  Best of all, our bill went DOWN!

Man, this week keeps getting better and better!

(You want to know what else awesome happened?  I just sat down to eat some Chinese food leftovers and bit into a bonus water chestnut!  WHAT?!)  

My week is made.

In any case, last night Mick and I were watching Suits last night when, about ten minutes into it, CAM came out from her bedroom.  Her head hurt, her tummy hurt, she felt sick and wasn't sure quite what was causing it.  She kept talking and we kept ssssshhhhing her ... until we realized we could PAUSE to listen to her woes and then REWIND to catch anything we missed.  We then became more attentive and interested in her various problems**.  See?!  DVR makes us better parents!

--Jen

* are you a college football fan? We are. Our kids were born in Tuscaloosa, for goodness' sake.  The idea that an entire network dedicated to our beloved conference could exist and we might not be able to watch it was terrifying.  As it is, not too many folks in Maine care about college football and we are our own little island of Alabama here on Saturdays. We weren't going to be left out of the television element, too.  This was not a mere "oh, let's check."  This was a well-planned-out, let's-give-them-a-couple-of-days-in-case-something-is-wonky visit to ENSURE that we would have the SEC Network when it goes live today.

** for the record, she had all sorts of "ailments" because we had told her to go to bed and that she could watch Suits On Demand tomorrow (now today).  Once we said she could stay awake with us, she was healed! Her problems were solved!  It was a USANetwork Miracle!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Update to the 101 Things Update

My mom, who reads this blog faithfully but prefers to call or email me her comments, has informed me that my last post was lacking in two places.

First, I didn't link to the 101 Things list, and since I only named the items by number and not description, it was a bit tricky to navigate.

I've updated the post in that it now includes the link to the list, but I haven't gone back to give the descriptions (yet).

Second, there was at least one place where we arguably have accomplished the goal.  I went back through the list, and wherever that was true (there turned out to be a few places), I've updated the list to reflect that.

In doing so, I discovered one item that we can legitimately cross off:

#86: Swim in the ocean with the kids

DONE!  Not only did I take the kids to the beach a few times this summer, but we also went as a family last summer. Since the objective for most of the items on the list is that we do these things as a family, this summer's Mick-less outings might not count.  But last summer's outings definitely DO count, so that one is DONE!

--Jen

Monday, August 11, 2014

101 Things: #9, #27, #44

You're tired of hearing me use "the move" as an excuse, so I won't. I'll just say that while it made some things easier (for example, #9), it has also made some things more challenging.  (I have no idea, for example, where my cake pans are. That's two years' of baking that didn't happen!)

It's pretty clear to me that we won't cross of anywhere close to all of our things on this list, but we've done a lot, and there are still a fair number we can finish by October...

... and then we can make a new list!

101 Things in slightly more than 1001 Days!

--Jen

Oh, what are the things, you ask?  Here you go:

9.    Get CAM and WHM on skates! Done! Fall/Winter 2013-14 WHM started, and CAM followed with figure skating lessons Winter 2014 and they both did a hockey clinic at the start of summer 2014. They love it, and hockey will likely be in our lives for some time to come!

27.  Unpack/sort/file every box – no piles, no boxes to go through later Done! August 8, 2014. 

44.  Take the kids to the movies – six separate times  #1:  The Lorax, April 20, 2012; #2: Pirates Band of Misfits May 1, 2012; #3: Brave, June 25, 2012; #4: Monsters University, June 20-something, 2013; #5 and #6 -- drive-in movies here in Maine Summer 2013. (Planes, Despicable Me 2, Smurfs 3, and Monsters University (again, part of a double feature!))



Abundantly Blessed

I was going to write this on Facebook, but I decided that this blog is a better place for it.

I think the best way to describe the way I fell asleep last night is to say that I felt abundantly blessed.

I don't usually go for the mushy-emotional-sappy-religious-whatever-you-want-to-call it publicly. That's not to say I don't feel or act all those ways, but I tend to keep it to myself.  (And Mick.) 

But this weekend I really just felt like I was on top of the world.  And it wasn't any one thing, and it really wasn't even any specific little things. It was just a darn good weekend. A productive weekend. And when I finally got to bed last night (our bed! from Georgia! We finally have it set up!), it was an amazing feeling.

Let's see if I can recap here all that played a role in that feeling.

I didn't go in to the office Friday, but took the day to run errands and clean.  I have a four-drawer filing cabinet that pretty much holds our lives, and over the week I had sorted everything that has needed filing for the past TWO years. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I have not filed anything since we moved.  It was in piles, relatively unsorted, in boxes both under my desk and in the basement.  It is now 100% sorted and filed.  It took me days, but the feeling of being done is somewhat euphoric.  Maybe that's the Monica Gellar in me!

Also as a result of that project, we generated three giant boxes of stuff to shred.  In an effort to keep the momentum of cleaning and organizing, those boxes were promptly taken to the incinerator at the dump.

At the same time, all of our accumulated cardboard recycling was taken to the dump to be recycled.

The kids and I returned our library books, they picked out the ones they'd earned from their summer reading club at the library, we went to the school department offices and I dropped off paperwork that was again (at least in my head) long overdue.  I picked up books I need for a program I'm starting in the Fall.  We went to the post office and submitted my teaching certificate renewal -- another thing that's been hanging over my head, written on lists, and generally giving me agida -- done! We stopped by the kids' school and picked up their supply lists and reading lists and summer math homework.  (For the record, the kids did their summer work the week school ended.  I put it in a safe place.  So we'll just take that as a sign we should review and do it over again.)

An electrician came to finish some projects at the house in the afternoon, so we cleaned and tidied and organized, including scrubbing down the stove and oven.  And I did all the laundry in the entire house -- washed, dried, folded, hung, and put away. (For the record, I now have just as much laundry to do today, but I am in denial. Eh ... maybe I'll go throw in some sheets and towels. They are easy to fold and will make the pile feel remarkably smaller!)

Our old, dead dryer that was sitting in the basement, we brought up, clearing basement space to work on our next project-in-the-works, expanding the kids' play area and organizing some of our boxes from the move.

We went to the storage unit, thanks to my in-laws who were able to give us kid-free time, and Mick and I managed to purge a bunch of stuff, consolidate a bunch of stuff, and combine the smaller unit into the bigger unit, thus freeing us of one bill per month.  We donated a fair amount of stuff to Goodwill. (Opinions about Goodwill notwithstanding, they really do make it very easy to donate. And more than that, they are our only viable local option -- I'd typically prefer St. Vincent dePaul, or the Salvation Army, but those aren't local to us.)

We mowed the lawn. We have peppers growing on our serrano and anaheim plants.  We took WHM to swimming, did a kids' craft at Lowe's, and -- thanks again to our in-laws -- cooked a fabulous lobster dinner at home Saturday.

Sunday we went to a family cookout a few towns over and ate like royalty. I made a cole slaw to bring, and it was a pleasantly surprising hit among everyone -- who knew a vinegar-based slaw would be so well received?!

Mick and I finally got our king size bed from the storage unit and we were able to set it up (again with help from my in-laws) in our room yesterday.  Because of the layout of doors, closets, windows, etc., we have to re-arrange the bedroom to make it work, so that's a project to finish today and tonight. But, we got it.  We had to go to Target to get bedding because when we moved our comforter was destroyed, and we already purged our sheets, saying we'd buy new ones ... Target was running a Cartwheel sale and had a coupon for $15 off $75 of bed linens.  When you need King, everything is at least that much. Of all the weeks to have such a nice coupon, the timing was absolutely perfect.  We were able to wash and dry the sheets and make the bed last night. On our way home from Target, we stopped at Mick's aunt's house and she gave us garden veggies ... buckets and buckets of garden veggies that we can't wait to dig into!

The list goes on and on. Nothing is earth-shattering. But all of it together made for a weekend of feeling on top of the world (even when my back hurt, which it did, and I wanted to cry, which I did).

Life is good. We have our health, we have each other, things are going well with both of our jobs, we still have two weeks left of summer... and my friend Becca just brought me into a wonderful little lead where she and I will get to lead some professional workshops for another school system, which is incredibly exciting and a fantastic opportunity.

So, when I woke up in my amazing bed this morning, I thought if I could vent and whine here to complain, I sure as anything should tell you all when I am contently feeling just amazingly blessed.

--Jen

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

PW: Steak Fingers

I have no idea how I ended up finding this recipe last week.

Pinterest?

Sweet As Pie?

Facebook?

Just plain landing on The Pioneer Woman page and seeing it?

No clue.

I think it came to me in a vision.

But in any event, I bought the chop steak, or finger steak, or whatever it's called near you, and as tends to happen, I didn't get to cook it promptly.  Into the freezer it went -- and then this past Friday, Mick and I grabbed a few things to defrost to cook.  That was kind-of silly, because we knew we were not going to be home on Saturday.  We cooked Sunday and Monday and then, staring at me as it had done a week ago, was the tray of chopped steak, all alone in the fridge, waiting for some attention.

And slowly turning brown while it waited.

I made stuffed pork chops yesterday, and I've got a crazy-busy afternoon and evening ahead of me, so I got home from work just now and thought, "It's now or never."  I despise throwing away food. To me, it's the epitome of wastefulness, and I'm ashamed to say we end up doing it too frequently. I'm working on that. WE are working on that.

But back to today's lunch:  I loooooove country fried steak.  I also love pan gravies.  When I first started blogging and Sweet As Pie started, I made PW Chicken Fried Steak.  I was so excited about it, and it was nothing short of a disaster.  One of the reasons was that the steaks were just unbearably tough.

Today, my friends, I beat the ... bliss ... out of the chopped steak.

These are delicious!


Okay, so the plate doesn't photograph well, not one bit -- and to make it worse, I used my cell phone. But man, it's pretty and delicious in person.

And pretty delicious.

Best of all, from the time I walked in the door to the time I sat down and ate was one hour -- and that included emptying the dishwasher, checking the mail, and prepping and cooking the entire meal.

--Jen

Full disclosure: CAM was my breader-eggwasher-breader.  But still ... this is easy, quick, tasty, and (at least in person!) pretty. Also, the recipe called for two pounds of steak, but I only had slightly over one pound -- and we just about ran out of breading.  I'd do 1.5 times the flour mix if I made the full batch.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Soooo Much Catching Up to Do!

I don't even know where to begin.  And I'm not going to the beginning, because I've already written one novel this summer.

Instead, in the interest of preserving two precious conversations, I'll just start there.

We -- the redheads, that is, because Mick had to stay back for work -- went to NY for a little over a week, so CAM could attend a baton twirling camp on Long Island.  Of all places in the world*, it was 20 minutes from my parents' house!

WHM and I typically drove CAM in to her camp and rode back home (or to shopping or some other fun excursion**) together, and then went together to pick CAM back up in the afternoons.

On one of those drives, WHM asked me when we are going to buy a new house, and I said I didn't know.  He started talking about what kind of house he wanted, and then said he wanted to live with me forever.  I told him that he would probably change his mind one day.

WHM:  When I get married?

Me:  Maybe... maybe before then.

WHM:  Well.  I still want to wiv with you forever.  Even when I am married.

At this point, the kids started talking.

CAM:  WHM, you need to have a girlfriend before you get married.

WHM:  I know. I'm going to have at weast 6 or 7 girlfriends. Then I'm going to see which one is the best, and pick her and get married.

I love the idea that it was so simple to him. He'd try six or seven versions and pick the best one. I wish I'd written this down as soon as we got to baton that morning, but this is still pretty close to verbatim, and I thought it was absolutely precious.

Fast forward to our drive home this past Monday.  A week ago today -- yikes!  We had great weather and the drive was gloriously easy.  WHM took a nice 9,864-hour nap and was in a fabulous mood when he woke up.

As has been his habit lately, he started asking me what something spelled.

O-N-N-T

That doesn't spell anything, buddy. (He's been fixated on "on" and "no" lately, so at first I thought he was doing something with that.)

He corrects himself:

No, wait. I missed a wetter.  O-N-E-N-T

That's still not a word, buddy.

I mean, O-N-C-N-T

No, wait -- O-N-E-C-E-N-T

At this point, I have the EUREKA! moment that he is reading from a penny!

Oh, that's from a penny!  Silly me, I didn't know what you were reading from!  It spells, "ONE CENT."

And I was promptly (and brilliantly!) reprimanded:

NO, Mommy. It starts with an "O," not a "W!" "O" says "ahhh"!

And we promptly got into a discussion of funny words and homonyms and all sorts of general Mommying.
__________________________

In other "news," I had grand aspirations of setting aside just a little time every day or so to catch up on all my delinquent blog posts, especially as related to Sweet As Pie.  I didn't do *anything* related to that in July, but I'm hoping August is kind to me and gives me a chance to make some progress towards getting current here -- so that when school starts in a few weeks, I only have to maintain.  I'm trying!

--Jen

* we found four baton camps this summer. Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and NY. I'm sure there are others, but those were the reasonably-viable ones.

** like finding a walk-in clinic where we could get his stitches removed and then waiting three hours for the pleasure, and following that with a Chinese-food-and-sushi lunch date because we love it but CAM won't eat it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Leftovers

Remember yesterday's soup?

Still delicious.

Re-heats quickly and easily.

And yes, it's still about 90 out.

That's all!

--Jen

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sweet As Pie: Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

This is a Sweet As Pie Pioneer Woman recipe from way back in April.


I even picked it, but I never had a chance to make it!

(False: I surely had plenty of chances; I just never got my act together.  I believe in honesty in blogging.)

In any event, today was one of the first real days that felt like summer here in Maine -- 82 degrees and humid.  The way our house sits (and due to my aversion to fans, which I can't stand because they are loud and make messes and just are always dirty), it was actually cooler outside than inside, but no matter where you were, it was warm.  Couple that with the fact that I made cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip muffins this morning, and that meant two things:

1. The air conditioner was on by noon, and 

2. that made the house chilly.

Jackpot!

So for dinner tonight, at long last, I made this soup.

WHM was on a birthday outing with his aunt and uncle, so CAM played outside and I prepped this.  

Pioneer Woman: Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup

Verdict: Delicious!  And, despite being hearty and made with heavy cream, it's not super heavy -- not inappropriate for a rainy summer day.  (Even though it was sunny and hot here!)
Cook it again: Absolutely. Mick and I even reflected that it would be a nice dinner with company, if we doubled the recipe.
Cost factor: Italian sausage is the most expensive.  We usually have heavy cream and kale and red potatoes in the house, but if you don't, then those are other factors.  $15ish?

PW says this is a recipe meant to mimic an Olive Garden recipe.  Since we moved away from Alabama, we haven't been to an Olive Garden, so I can't comment on whether this is a good effort -- but I can say without reservation that it's a darn good soup!

I didn't take any prep photos, so I will just recap here.

(Also, I'll insert a photo of the finished product, just so you can see how pretty it is.)


You need red potatoes, kale, milk, chicken broth, heavy cream, and sweet Italian sausage.  

Boil the potatoes and set them aside. Remember to slice the potatoes before you boil them! I forgot to do that, and the price I had to pay was trying to slice boiled red potatoes.  It wasn't easy to do that and have them look pretty.  (Not that they need to look pretty, but it's nice bonus!)

In a stockpot, crumble and brown the sausage.  When it's ready, drain any fat and add red pepper flakes, oregano (I used dried), salt, and paper.  Add two cups each of chicken broth, milk, and heavy cream.  (The recipe calls for half and half, but I don't keep that in the house. We go big!)

Simmer it all together for 30 minutes, and then add the kale and potatoes.

That's it! Delicious, pretty, and very filling.  

And for the record, even if it's nearly 90 outside, this is still worth it.

--Jen


An Extraordinarily Belated Thank You

Do you ever think to yourself, "I need to do [blank], but I can't do it right now...." and the next thing you know, three months have gone by?

Because that's what I did.

My friend, Jackie, who blogs over at Life is Too Important, is a crocheting genius.

(So is my mom, for the record. For my part, I regret never learning how to crochet.)

Back in April, Jackie sent me an awesome little surprise in the mail -- a washcloth and dish scrubber.  She included a very sweet note with them, and it was totally unexpected. Isn't that the best kind of mail?!  They arrived the day before we headed to NY for Spring Break, so I set them aside and thought I would photograph them, use them, blog about them, and send a thank-you note when we returned.

In case you're not doing the math here, that didn't happen.

In the meantime, I absolutely love the set, and every time I use them I get a little pang of guilt ... but naturally, by the time I am done with the dishes a thousand other things have come up and I never get to the thank-you notes or the photos.

I did, however, take some photos right away.  Even better, I recently found them -- after some Mac and iPhoto issues (literally. My mac died. d-i-e-d. So there was a delay.) -- the original snapshots I took to show you how pretty these little dish helpers are. Here's a photo:

The tan disc is the scrubber.
Look how thick that is!  It's fantastic!

Seriously: take another look at these.  Aren't they awesome?!  Who doesn't need a little bit of love in their kitchen? There's nothing fun about doing dishes, but there is at least a little smile when you do them with something handmade and pretty.  Bonus: they work!  They aren't just decorative!


Originally I thought I'd take these lovely photos, then use the scrubber and washcloth, wash them, and show you how well they held up.

Well, they are awesome, as I've said a few times.  They work great and are super durable, and both have held up well with washing.  But I can't seem to find any of the photos I took to show you that.

(In fairness, it's summer. I may actually get to look for the photos sooner than later!)

The stitching is super tight, so the scrubber looks good but also WORKS. If you look at this and think that it is soft crocheting, you'd be wrong.  The yarn is a tight weave that is super durable.

I never expected anything less than that from Jackie, but as usual, I find myself impressed.

Jackie's moving from Kentucky to Washington state this week and next, but if you're in the market for a gift -- or just want to dress up your kitchen with something other than a green-and-yellow sponge, please check out her Etsy shop or her Facebook page.

You won't regret it!

And Jackie -- THANK YOU.  I love these. I promise I'm working on a handwritten thank-you note ... with any luck, it will be waiting for you at your new place!

Because who doesn't love fun mail, right?!

--Jen


Friday, June 20, 2014

Let There Be Summer

It's finally here.

Not officially, since according to the calendar, Summer starts tomorrow.

Not by the weather, since it's presently in the 60s and breezy enough to comfortably wear a light jacket.

But it's sunny. It is, for the moment, humidity-free.

And I am officially done with school and, for the time being at least, meetings.

What a crazy year this has been.  I started to write about it a few weeks ago but found myself writing a novel.  A picture-less novel, no less, in 0.0009-point font, and it was still about as long as War and Peace.

There were some wonderful highs and some terrible lows at work, at home, and in general. We made it, of course, and in many ways we're stronger for it.  I think I am going to go back and work some more on that draft, add some photos, split it into a few posts, and upload them sometime soon. Now that it's summer and all, I should have time to do all the things I haven't contemplated since August.

At least, that's my plan. It's starting today with some sewing (okay, okay, so that's really just so I can clear the kitchen table, where my sewing machine has sat since Sunday, but who's counting?!) and will continue with some serious cleaning, packing, and all the laundry in the history of laundry.

In the meantime, some other news:

My former teammate Victoria has accepted a job in Braintree, Massachusetts. I am so excited for her.  She's said all along that all she wanted was to stay in Maine for two years to get some teaching experience and then to move to Boston. She's a few miles short of Boston proper, but she's on her way. She's a new teacher who loves what she does and she is passionate, driven, and quite frankly, pretty darn amazing. I'd be thrilled if CAM or WHM had her as a teacher.  And it's fun, being on the other side of "just starting out," to see her so excited and happy. What's more exhilarating than  plans working out?! She's rightfully on Cloud 9, and part of me is as well. Joy is contagious, and I am thrilled for her.  We've made a lot of wonderful memories in our crazy two years in our dysfunctional amazing workplace, and I count her among my dearest friends.  Victoria is proof that things all happen for a reason.  (And also that God loves redheads!)  We made a great team, and we will continue to make a great team even when she's in Mass and I'm who knows where doing who knows what.

Of course, her move has also made me a bit reflective on where I stand in my own life.  I've had an interesting few weeks at work, and I've been in the dumps more than not. When I wasn't down, I was definitely soul searching -- whether I should apply for department head/content leader (I decided not to); whether I still want to teach (I decided yes, for now); whether the common denominator of unhappiness is me, not crazy schools (I decided yes, perhaps. But I have certainly had my share of craziness); whether I want to stay at my current school (until yesterday, that was the million-dollar question).  Yesterday at end the day -- literally, as I was walking out of the building on the verge of tears -- I found out that my schedule for next year is still not what I wanted or hoped for, but I do at least have a classroom again.  And for that, I am incredibly thankful. Relieved. Happy. I can't quite find the words to say what a burden has been lifted, to feel like "at least I have that."  It's more than an "at least," though. It's huge.  I'm grateful.

In the span of a day I went from crying about what I'll do next year to actually having some of that sense of dread lifted.

Sure, I'm losing my "work BFF," and my other work BFF is moving upstairs to work with freshmen -- which means we more than likely won't see much of each other during the work day.

But I'm not facing hating everything about everything anymore, and a little part of my exhausted self is -- here, on Day One of summer -- thinking about Fall.

Goodness, help me!

--Jen



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Filling in the Dash

A friend of mine from Georgia -- who's long since moved away, as have we -- posted about her amazingly wonderful past two weeks, filled with a trip home, family weddings, birthday parties, trips to her alma mater with her daughter ... just a series of fun and joy-filled events.  She said in her post that she was filling in her dash.

I knew there had to be more to that saying, and I felt certain I'd heard it before, but I just couldn't remember the context.  Google came to my rescue, and brought me to this blog, where a poem explaining "the dash" was posted.

It's a bit sad, of course, but that's not the point. It's also a lovely sentiment.

I like to think we do an okay job filling in our dash and making memories with the kids, but I occasionally need a little reminder that it's the everyday that matters.

Enjoy.

--Jen

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning... to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. (1934-1998)

For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth...
and now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we won; the cars...the house...the cash,
what matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.. are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left, that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real,
and always try to understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives like we've never done before.

If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile.
Remembering that this special dash might only last a while.

So, when your eulogy's being read with your life's actions to rehash...
would you be proud of the things they said about how you spent your dash?

by Linda Ellis

Monday, June 16, 2014

Totally Normal


"Look, Mommy!  I made a distabooshun!"

WHM just called for my attention and that was what I turned my head to see and hear.

It was completely unprompted.  I don't even know where he got the red construction paper!

Since I teach AP Statistics, I happen to think this is pretty amazingly awesome.

--Jen

Sunday, June 15, 2014

One More Week 'til Summer

It's a funny thing, the end of the school year. I am over it and beyond done and it's been a long year with lots of highs and lows, and I am so very ready for it to end.  I can't wait to have no grading to do, no emails to check, no responsibilities to contemplate.  I signed up for absolutely no professional development or workshops or committees this summer.  I don't have a bar exam to study for or a move to pack for.  I can't wait be a full-time Mommy -- to play, and read in the sunshine, to make crafts and have fun ... and of course, to do all the house cleaning that hasn't gotten done since August.  I do have an opportunity to be a practicing attorney. I am ready for summer and opportunity and sleeping in and snuggling and cooking real food and -- outside of attorney'ing* -- not having an agenda every day.

(Point of fact: that last statement about no agenda is false. I signed the kids up for twice-weekly swimming lessons. CAM is Mon-Wed and WHM is Tues-Thurs. So we most definitely have a daily agenda, and I may well come to regret this ambitious commitment.  But it's at the Y and I will be able to work out and I am quite looking forward to the idea of getting fit again. I may even break out the nook and get back to reading the same Mickey Mantle biography I last read in June 2012, before we moved.)

And yet I am incredibly sad, because it means I now have a second-grader and a kindergartener, and here we all are, another year older and the kids are another year closer to being grown-ups. (And as for me, I'm another year older and still don't feel like a proper grown-up and in the wee hours of the night while everyone is asleep this causes whole other issues I shall save to discuss on a rainy, melancholy day!) I feel like I've missed so much of CAM's and WHM's lives already.  I can't believe that we moved up here with a brand-new three-year-old and a girl just about to enter kindergarten, and now I've got a little boy about to enter kindergarten, and a little girl who's about to enter second grade!  Maybe it's hitting me harder because I have several specific but limited memories of kindergarten and first grade, and I have more vivid memories of second grade. I suppose I am thinking that CAM is starting to form her own memories and I wonder, sometimes, what they are and whether I've already messed her up enough to need therapy.  And whether insurance will cover said therapy or I should start saving.

I've said this before, but it has been a hard adjustment to go from being a stay-at-home-mom in Georgia to working full-time in Maine. Either of those alone would have been enough for me, and together it's taken me probably even more than twice as long to get adjusted. Don't get me wrong: I live my life pretty well-adjusted every day, but I do get sad. I don't have that many friends here, and I miss that. I miss my sister, who of course is in Orlando now, anyway, but I miss the idea of her being 20 minutes away.  I miss my days of going to Hobby Wobby with my little guy while his big sister was at school.  My goodness, when we first moved back to Georgia from Alabama, he was in an infant carrier and I carried him in to pick CAM up from ballet once a week!  I have no idea what happened that I am sitting here with a second grader and a kindergartener.  In Maine.

I don't do change well, and this has been a lot of change all at once. I made it through two school years, but it still feels like only yesterday we were in Georgia.  Stuff is still in boxes in storage. At the same time, it feels like an eternity ago. I haven't seen my friends in Atlanta in two years.  What?!?!?!

I don't mean to sound whiney or melancholy. I'm incredibly thankful. We are happy and healthy and I don't take that for granted for a millisecond.  I am well aware that even if we blinked our eyes and were back home in Atlanta, nothing would be as it was. I get that. I am not sad in the "I want to go back" kind of way. I just have no idea where the time has gone.  Maine has been good to us, to be sure. But I have no idea how we got here. Does that even make any sense?

I take photos of the kids almost every morning when I drop them off at school.  They're all on my cell phone, and I usually post them as a morning snapshot to Facebook.  When I look back at August 2013 and compare it to now, the difference is amazing.  I am hardly ever in any pictures -- neither is Mick -- and I want to change that. I wish I had photos to compare our August 2013 to now, too. I wonder whether we look happier now, as things in our lives have taken some positive turns this year, and especially recently.

I didn't mean to write a sad post, but I've definitely been hypersensitive to the bittersweetness of the end of this school year.

Ah, but as one of my sisters used to say, "no worries!"

It's going to be a busy and awesome summer, and it is going to go quickly, since it won't even start until June 21. I'm going to start it by cleaning the basement and getting the kids a giant playroom area that they can actually access, spacious and uncluttered enough that they will be able to keep it clean(ish) on their own.  Then I'm going to attack their bedrooms, with the same goals.  Then I'm going to go through closets and purge too-small clothes.

I know that sounds like last thing most folks would want to do, but I'm looking forward to it. I look forward to the first rainy day that we're trapped inside and there's a viable awesome playroom.  I'm looking forward to writing and publishing the 99,000 blog posts I have on my backlog list. I'm looking forward to catching up on Sweet As Pie recipes, and hopefully to a vacation to see my sister and some friends; to doing a whole lot of pleasure reading that I didn't get to do when I was studying for the bar exam; to hopefully taking a weekend to Acadia National Park; and hey -- I'm looking forward to summer.

I just can't believe that's in only two weeks!  Holy cow!

Happy Almost Summer!  The "bitter-sweetest" time of the year. :)

--Jen

* I am also really looking forward to "attorney-ing." I know it's a full-time job that I won't quite be doing full-time, but I'm incredibly excited about getting to do it at all.  Funny how six years ago I had no desire to go to court -- ever -- and now I'm almost giddy (and okay, nervous, too) at the idea of it becoming reality very soon!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"TH"ings WHM Says

CAM used to switch her "th-" sounds for "f" sounds.  We asked about it years ago, and we were told it was developmentally appropriate.  Last year as she made her way through kindergarten, we thought it was probably beyond developmentally appropriate, so we took her to be tested by a speech therapist. The therapist agreed with us that CAM had a small impediment and should have been past that stage.  Naturally, speech therapy was not covered by insurance, because the insurance company insisted it had to have been diagnosed years earlier -- right at the time when all the doctors and teachers wouldn't refer us to therapy because they all said it was entirely appropriate!  It was a catch-22.  We won't treat her because it's developmentally appropriate; we won't treat her because you waited too long.

In any event, now WHM is 4 years old, CAM's in first grade, and we've worked diligently all year to resolve CAM's speech issue.  (For the record, it's all better, she's awesome, and her first grade teacher, a former speech therapist, was and continues to be amazing!)

Because we stress it so much, WHM has taken to fixing his "f" sounds as well.

So now we have THootball. And THriday. And THRee instead of "free."

It's pretty funny.  (And rest assured -- easy enough to fix!)

While I am at it, though, we also have Octimus Prime (instead of Optimus Prime, and instead of Octopus Slime, which is what he called the Transformer originally).

I'm trying to capture all these because one day, just like he stopped saying "cacos" for Costco, he's going to stop saying all of these things, too.

Like "be-lease bepartment" for "police department," and "bepartment" for "apartment," and "Tractor Be-ply" instead of "Tractor Supply."  And let's not forget "be-ghetti!"

And we may remember them -- my sister Courtney used to call Chinese food Shiny food, and we still call it that, 35 years later -- but we may well not.

So, here it is.  Even if this post is only ever for me, it's here.  And that makes my heart happy.

I'm probably going to think of 99 more things WHM says, and I'll add them here as well.

--Jen

update 6/16/14 -- we just celebrated THather's Day yesterday. The gems keep on coming and I never seem to write them down fast enough!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Maine Baton Twirling Championship

I'm not sure I've mentioned this on here before, but CAM is a baton twirler. She loves it.

When we arrive at the competitions, we usually are corraled in the cafeteria to get ready. This Saturday we had to be there by 7:30, and we were ready super early. This is CAM being silly while we waited for her teammates to arrive. 

This weekend was a two-day tournament/competition in Kennebunk, Maine, and she had six events on Saturday. She only had one on Sunday, but we still had to be there all day.  That meant that she had a lot of time in the lobby and running around, playing, twirling, practicing, and so on.

I try, when I don't need to be watching, to grade papers or do other productive stuff, but even I get a tired bum sitting on gym bleachers for 8 hours a day.

So, at one point yesterday, I went out to the lobby with CAM and WHM. CAM had been watching the older twirlers with all their super-high tosses and was playing around, tossing her baton and trying to catch it.

Here's a conversation:

WHM:  C!  Can you throw your baton up in the air, and then spin around?

(She does, attempting a pirouette, but she misses the baton and it falls.)

WHM:  Oh. (pause while he thinks) And I forgot, "catch it."

What was perfect was that he quite seriously thought that he needed to have said that as part of his list of things for his sister to try, and she only dropped the baton because he hadn't added "catching it" to his request.

These are the things that keep me laughing -- and sane!

--Jen

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Mornings Are Okay

We just finished our Spring Break here in Maine.  We made the decision not that long ago to take the family and head down to see my parents in New York. Mick had to work the bookend Saturdays, so we were going to leave after he got home from work Saturday afternoon, and head back to Maine Friday so he'd be home in time for work the next Saturday.

Naturally, we all -- the four of us, plus my parents -- spent the entire week sick!  Seriously: we have had a winter (and now, Spring!) unlike any other we can remember. It's been one wallop after another!  In fact, CAM spent all of Friday night when we got home, awake and sobbing because her ear hurt. A call to the doctor and we ended up at the on-call office Saturday at 8, and she has a full-blown ear infection.  (Thank goodness for amoxicillin. That stuff is pure miracle liquid with CAM; after two doses, she was back to herself!)

The good news was that we had no agenda for break, so we were able to guiltlessly nap away our days.

The bad news was that it was a wash of a break.

But then we were back in Maine, and Mick went to work Saturday and as a family we lounged about and did nothing Saturday. (Except for hockey clinic and the doctor's office. But once we got home, we were back in jammies and doing nothing!)

And Sunday morning -- no alarm set, no agenda again -- I woke up to hearing WHM singing.

"Time to get up!  Time to get up! It's morning time ....

"Time to get up! Time to get up!  It's morning time ..."

(If you're familiar with the "Elmo's World song from Sesame Street, it was sort-of that type of sing-song-y.)

His room filled with sunlight, and he was well-rested and happy and sang himself awake.

That swelled my heart overflowing with joy every time I thought about it and quite literally got me through the Sunday blahs and the grind of Monday. Every time I think about it, my heart smiles.

Boy oh boy, do I love my little guy.

*  *  *

CAM lost her second front tooth this morning!  We actually thought it would go for sure last week, so we brought her tooth fairy pillow with us to New York.  Nope.  Darn thing hung on.

It was barely there this weekend and Monday we thought, "oh ... it's going. She's hanging on to it to have the thrill of it coming out at school, but it's coming today."

Nope.

We could twist it about 360 degrees around and wiggle it and jiggle it, but it would not come out!

Mick was convinced she was going to swallow it while she slept.

Nope!

This morning I woke CAM up for school and she covered her head with her blanket.  I was in her closet looking for her gym uniform for today when she bolted upright, "MOMMY!  My tooth came out!"

And a dreary, gray, damp and cold, rainy Wednesday turned into a morning filled with smiles and joy.

*  *  *

Truly: some mornings are okay!

--Jen

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Three Things.

You know that game two truths and a lie?

Three truths:

1.  I have officially been sick for the entirety of March and now one full week into April. This cold is relentless.

2. Someone hit my car the other day, with the kids in it, and ran. I got his plate and they caught him but now he's lying about what happened.  The kids and I are fine -- my back is tweaked, but I am not aware of anything worse (I am almost afraid to write that, for fear something will rear its head).  The idiot hit my left rear bumper and essentially drove along my driver's side. I was scared to death for CAM, but she seems fine.  And WHM was, luckily, on the other side of the car.  So my car is trashed and Lord knows how we'll deal with it ... but we are okay!

3.  I just submitted my first-ever assignment as a practicing attorney!  I'm quite sure it's awful -- but I still feel pretty great. I never thought this day would come, and I wasn't sure I'd like it if it ever did. But I did enjoy the project and am grateful for the opportunity.  Finding someone to not only take a chance on five-years-out-of-law-school-with-no-legal-experience me, who additionally is willing to work around my teaching schedule, is a gift.  With all our struggles lately, I'm pretty thankful for this opportunity and hopeful that it's a sign of things changing for the positive.

I'm going to go have a happy afternoon!  I hope you do, too!

--Jen

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Once Again, I am Behind!

Ouch. I know it's not quite April yet, but I am quite glad to see March go.

I have been sick for the entire month.  The entire month!

People ask me, "Oh! You're still sick?!"

Nope.

I'm sick again.

I think I was healthy-ish -- which is to say, barely past strep and still not quite right -- for a solid four days before I started feeling icky again.  I am glad to say it has not been a relapse of strep (also known as the worst sore throat in the history of sore throats), but just one bug after another.  I've been voiceless most of March and my body has run through the sniffles, stuffy-head, cough, dry-cough cycle now two times.  We've also been exceedingly busy with CAM's twirling competition season kicking off, WHM's hockey wrapping up, and CAM taking on figure skating!

I am thankful to feel this latest cold moving past, thankful to have had a few weekends tucked in there where we did not have too much to do (except the perpetual grading pile, but I've made some progress), and thankful, finally, that the weather seems to be turning.

I don't think I've been sick because of the weather but I sure have been sick of it!

This week promises to be very busy as it's the close of the quarter and I have taken on some other responsibilities that will stretch my time. But I'm hoping that next weekend, things will calm down a bit and I'll be able to update the blog with some photos and some cooking!  Heck, I'm hoping that next weekend we get to do some cooking!

Happy Almost-April, everyone!

--Jen

Polite Company

A morning one-sided conversation with WHM, while he sits on the potty:
(It's best if you read it out loud.)

Mommy! You know, if you fot a wittle, it's a toot. But if you fot a biiiiiig fot, it's a fot.

Pause.

Mommy!  I fotted.

I fought it was a toot... but I was wrong.

--Jen





Monday, March 24, 2014

Morning Light

When I get up in the mornings, I get in the shower.  Then I usually wake up the kids and let them go in our bedroom and snuggle with Mick, if he's still in bed, or just under the covers, if he's up.  They love it and it makes our early mornings a little easier on everyone.  (I get up at 5 a.m., so the kids get up between 5:30 and 6:00, depending.  That's early.)

This morning, WHM was in my bed and I turned around to turn on a lamp and get something from my dresser.  As I rummaged for a slip, I heard him hop out of the bed, run across the hall, and hop back in.

This is what I saw when I turned around.




I guess that solves the bright light problem!

--Jen